Meghan and Harry’s $100 Million Netflix Deal Is a Hollywood Miss | Exclusive

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When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s lucrative Spotify deal fell apart in 2023, Bill Simmons, The Ringer’s founder and managing director, was incensed.

“I wish I had been involved in the ‘Meghan and Harry leave Spotify’ negotiation,” Simmons, the head of podcast innovation and monetization at Spotify, which owns The Ringer, said on his self-titled show. “‘The F***ing Grifters.’ That’s the podcast we should have launched with them.”

Simmons’ astonishing comments followed the collapse of the Montecito, Calif.-based Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s $20 million deal with Spotify, signed in December of 2020. They delivered just 12 episodes of Markle’s “Archetypes” podcast.

But the Spotify contract paled in comparison to the estimated $100 million Netflix agreed in September 2020 to pay them, a deal which produced a documentary series “Harry & Meghan” two years later — and little else since then.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in black tie on a red carpet
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the red carpet at the Salute To Freedom Gala in New York in 2021. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Aside from the docuseries, the exclusive Netflix deal has produced the “Heart of Invictus,” about Prince Harry’s games for wounded warriors, and “Live to Lead,” about inspiring world leaders and featured interviews with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem. The series premiered on Dec. 31, 2022.

Unproduced is an animated series created by Markle titled “Pearl” which Netflix axed in May 2022 as part of a series of cutbacks. And there is little else close to production.

What’s gone wrong? TheWrap spoke to multiple insiders who say the Sussexes have worn out their welcome in Hollywood with an iron-fisted desire for control, combined with a lack of experience. A revolving door of executives have departed the couple’s production company, Archewell, in the past two years while a long list of exhausted agents, producers and other industry veterans have stamped it with a “life’s too short” reputation.

The Sussexes founded Archewell Productions in the name of their four-year-old son Archie. It includes their non-profit charitable foundation, plus a for-profit arm focused on media projects.

“Everything with them was fraught and complicated because they wanted complete control,” said one Hollywood creative who has worked with them, who declined to be identified.

Another insider with knowledge of the management of Archewell agreed, saying the couple have proven to be stubborn to the point of alienating others. “It appears that they just want what they want and won’t take advice,” the insider said.

“Taking on Harry and Meghan was a great coup for Netflix,” public relations and image guru Mark Borkowski told TheWrap. “It probably got a lot of eyeballs and subscriptions, but they [Harry and Markle] never delivered.”

He added that the clients he works with are closely watching their budgets and costs, but, given the former royals’ lifestyle, “The amount of income this pair has to raise is enormous.”

An insider with knowledge of the Netflix deal with Archewell said it is an “overhead agreement,” meaning not all the money would go to the Sussexes, but it also helps fund their staff, office and development fees.

Archewell and the Sussexes declined to comment for this story.

Control issues

The former royal couple were initially a hot property. Before signing with Netflix, they also had discussions with Apple, Disney and NBCUniversal, The New York Times first reported. Meghan had previously narrated a documentary about elephants for Disney+, and Harry collaborated with Oprah Winfrey on a docuseries about mental health for Apple TV+.

The “Harry & Meghan” docuseries, directed by Liz Garbus, was a legitimate hit, setting a record for the biggest debut for a Netflix documentary with a total 81.6 million hours watched on its first four days of availability, amounting to more than 28 million households watching.

The series was an intimate glimpse inside the Sussexes’ marriage and made headlines for their criticism of the British royal family for failing to support them, including allegations of racism and a narrative that the couple was essentially forced to leave England for the U.S.

But production was apparently difficult. One individual with knowledge of the series said dealing with the former royal couple was a “nightmare” as they were fiercely protective of their story. “Harry and Meghan made the collaborative process very hard, to the point that there was no collaboration at all,” said the insider.

And other projects have not gotten off the ground.

Netflix and Markle announced “Pearl” with much fanfare in 2021. The animated series — co-executive produced by Markle and David Furnish — was to center on the adventures of a 12-year-old girl who finds inspiration in a variety of influential women throughout history. Netflix cancelled it the following year while it was still in the development stage.

There have been reports Netflix bought the romantic Carley Fortune book “Meet Me At The Lake” for $1 million for the pair to produce into a movie. Other plans included a TV drama feminist retelling of Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham and a documentary about Prince Harry traveling solo in Africa. But these all seem far from getting off the ground.

Another Archewell insider told TheWrap that “Meet Me At The Lake” was “in active development,” but has not yet been cast. And Harry’s trip to Africa has not been scheduled. Some projects will be announced in the next few months, the insider added.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle black and white still from Netflix documentary series
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in a black and white still from their Netflix documentary series

“They have a couple of unscripted things they’re working on,” Netflix’s chief content officer Bela Bajaria said at the “Next on Netflix” event on Feb. 1 of Markle and Harry, including “a movie in development” and “a [scripted] series.”

Bajaria emphasized that these projects were still in “early development,” which raises the question what exactly has been going on between Archewell and Netflix? COVID struck at the start of their deal, Markle went on maternity leave and then the writers’ and actors’ strikes halted production for much of last year. But with all that, it is remarkable how little the couple have actually made work for the streamer.

Reps for Netflix, which has also pulled back on its TV and film expenditure during the work stoppages, declined to comment. Harry and Markle do not have guild relationships so any non-U.S. productions would not have been affected.

Markle recently announced she’s joining forces with Lemonada Media — whose tag line is “Making Life Suck Less” — for a new podcast, and it will also re-run her “Archetypes” podcast. The company, founded in 2019 by Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, is small and is not expected to be a big pay day for Markle.

She is still earning residuals from “Suits,” which recently found an entirely new audience on Netflix.

Archewell turnover

Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic executive turnover at Archewell — particularly those negotiating TV, film and media deals. Mandana Dayani, a human rights activist and business executive, was the president of Archewell from May 2021 to December 2022 and stepped down just days before Harry and Markle’s docuseries aired, with no reason offered.

The company also lost its BAFTA-winning head of content Ben Browning in January 2023 after his contract expired. Browning, who worked on “Harry and Meghan” and the “Archetypes” podcast, returned to his former employer, FilmNation Entertainment as president of production.

Bennett Levine, their production manager, also left in January, as did Rebecca Sananes, Markle and Harry’s head of audio who left to work as a freelance writer and podcast producer after the “Archetypes” podcasts were concluded.

The company has also parted ways with their senior vice-president of scripted television, “Fargo” producer Nishika Kumble, who lasted less than two years in the role.

“Meghan and Harry don’t have a quality team around them,” Borkowski said. “They drive this ship, they are in the wheelhouse, whether you are the Obamas, or Meghan and Harry you have to defer to people who can really get the job done.

“They just need to sort out a proper production company, they need significant hires. People who can actually develop scripts, wrangle talent.”

The Archewell insider insisted the couple has hired talented new executives. Tracy Ryerson had been brought in as the new head of scripted content. She formerly worked at the production company behind “Peaky Blinders,” Caryn Mandabach Productions, and starred in a reality show titled “The Real L Word.” Former Disney+ executive Chanel Pysnik joined in 2021 as head of unscripted.

The Sussexes made a surprise appearance at the Jamaica premiere of the Bob Marley biopic “One Love” in late January, sparking speculation about a possible deal with the film’s distributor Paramount Pictures, especially given that they reportedly travelled with the company’s boss Brian Robbins — who is a neighbor in Montecito — via a Paramount private jet.

Yet parent company Paramount Global is strongly rumored to be up for sale, so it is unlikely to be a safe landing pad for the couple.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry walk underneath an umbrella on a rainy night in London in 2020.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry walk to a London gala on a rainy night in 2020. (Chris Jackson /Getty Images)

Last August it was announced that WME had signed Markle and she would be repped by Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, Brad Slater and Jill Smoller. Archewell is also being repped by the agency, which didn’t comment to TheWrap.

“She is extremely ambitious and knows what she wants,” an industry insider told TheWrap of Markle’s discussions with the talent agency. “But there have been issues with executive turnover inside Archewell.”

In the meantime, The Sussexes need to make money to keep up their California lifestyle and their $14.65 million mansion. The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported that they made around $20 million from their tell-all documentary, while Harry made an estimated $15 million from his memoir “Spare.”

“I think possibly Netflix has dodged a bullet,” Borkowski said. “They know their content, they are data wonks, they know where the interest is. So they’ve got a very good idea or not whether there is a huge amount of excitement around Meghan and Harry.”

The viewing public may not be interested in a romantic movie from the Sussexes, he said. “They create a lot of column inches but do people want content from them unless it is revealing something extraordinary [about themselves or the British royals]?” he said. “I don’t know how much more they can reveal.”

The post Meghan and Harry’s $100 Million Netflix Deal Is a Hollywood Miss | Exclusive appeared first on TheWrap.