The newspaper, citing producers and agents, claimed that the Cupertino, California-based company spiked a show about hip hop artist Dr. Dre's life because it was too violent. Apple’s rejection of “Vital Signs,” which contains scenes of drug use, an extended orgy in a mansion and drawn guns, is said to reflect its ambition to produce high-quality shows with stars and broad appeal that don’t contain gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.
Apple’s conservative approach has reportedly led several TV shows on its books to be shelved or delayed. Agents and producers told the Journal that the iPhone maker twice postponed the launch of its first slate of shows. They have now been moved to March from late this year and, according to one leading producer, are likely to be pushed back even further.
Citing one example, sources said Apple executives refused to sign off a psychological thriller in production until it eliminated the appearance of crucifixes. Sources also claimed that the drama it outbid Netflix Inc. (NFLX) and CBS Corp.’s (CBS) Showtime for, starring Jennifer Anniston and Reece Witherspoon, has been delayed, partly because executives took exception to some of the humor in the script.
Apple’s preference to avoid controversy is out of step with what many of its biggest peers in the streaming sector are doing. Platforms such as AT&T Inc.’s (T) HBO, Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Netflix have won critical acclaim for focusing on edgier original content.
Preston Beckman, a former NBC and Fox programming executive, told the Journal that Apple’s unconventional original content strategy reflects its status as a consumer-product company. For Netflix, the only risk is that people don’t subscribe, he said. “With Apple, you can say, ‘I’m going to punish them by not buying their phone or computer.’"
Apple Banking on Hollywood Success
Investors will be eager to establish if Apple, which earmarked $1 billion for Hollywood programming last year, can survive in the industry with such strict criteria. The company is banking on making a success of its move into Hollywood, particularly as sales of iPhones are slowing. (See also: Why Apple Is Selling Its High-End Phones First.)
So far, Apple has bought more than a dozen shows that generally appeal to family audiences. They include a series about poet Emily Dickinson and a “Friday Night Lights”-style drama about basketball star Kevin Durant. The company also signed partnerships with Oprah Winfrey and Sesame Workshop, the producers of “Sesame Street.”
Of the roughly two-dozen shows that Apple has in development or production, only a few could veer into “TV-MA” territory, television’s equivalent of R-rated films, reported the Journal. Mr. Cook told analysts in July that Apple wasn’t ready to detail its Hollywood plans, but said he felt “really good about what we will eventually offer.” (See also: Apple Options Traders Bet Shares Will Rise 15%.)