Saturday, December 4, 2021

Apple TV Was Making a Show About Gawker. Then Tim Cook Found Out.

“It’s something that gave me pause and that I thought about, but I would do it the same way again,” he said. “There is a broader good in knowing more about the private lives of the people who run this society. If writing about the C.E.O. of Apple isn’t within bounds — then who would be?” (An Apple spokesman didn’t answer any questions about how Mr. Cook felt about the coverage at the time.)

Apple, a company whose corporate culture is firmly controlled by the same small group of men who have run it for two decades, and whose value to consumers is focused on protecting their privacy, doesn’t quite see the world the same way.

So now “Scraper” is heading back to the market, and could still see daylight with a different producer. Another company, Anonymous Content, bought the option to develop a New Yorker article about Gawker, a person familiar with the deal said. (The New Yorker article was written by Jeffrey Toobin, a frequent target of Gawker.)

Apple TV+, which started a year ago, has struggled to find its feet in a climate in which its top creative executives, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, appear to be constantly trying to guess what Mr. Cook and Mr. Cue might like, or might object to. That has mostly ruled out the sort of prestige drama that defined other breakout streaming services. The service is currently experiencing modest success with a show that would be at home on broadcast TV, the sweetly funny “Ted Lasso.” (The branding can be a little conspicuous: There are as many as three Apple devices in some “Ted Lasso” scenes, and Siri makes a cameo.)

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The company is in no hurry, though, and its strategy with other media projects has been to edge them from failure to, if not blowout success, a strong enough position that you’ll sign up if the thing is preinstalled on your phone — Apple’s true commercial advantage in the media business. That’s true of Apple Music, now the world’s second-largest streaming service; and of Apple News, a well-curated, if unexciting, app that is reportedly where President-elect Joe Biden gets his information. Apple’s greatest streaming coup of the pandemic was to pick up the film “Greyhound,” the World War II drama starring — who else? — Tom Hanks.

And Apple’s willingness to sacrifice creative freedom for corporate risk management is still an outlier. None of my reporting suggests that Mr. Bezos is reaching into Amazon’s studio (or The Washington Post) to kill negative depictions of either e-commerce or the police, or that Mr. Stankey is ostentatiously slipping AT&T routers into “Lovecraft Country.” The question, of course, is how long, even at those companies, the old law will be suspended — that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

But it is worth noting that, at a time when more American audiences are turning to streaming for their understanding of culture, history and even reality, the men running these companies have made their priorities plain. At Netflix, Mr. Hastings gave ground to the Saudi monarchy, taking an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s comedy talk show “Patriot Act” off the streaming service in that country, after the show criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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“We’re not trying to do truth-to-power,” Mr. Hastings said last year. “We’re trying to entertain.”


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