New York Magazine

IS ANYONE Watching Quibi?

LAST YEAR, Scott Gairdner, a comedy writer and director who had worked on Conan and created the animated series Moonbeam City, went to the Hollywood offices of the new streaming platform Quibi for a pitch meeting. He is also the co-creator of a viral Adult Swim video called Live at the Necropolis: Lords of Synth, which Quibi was considering adapting. Gairdner was provisionally excited. In a business where new players pop up only to evaporate, he was used to deals never quite materializing. But a new, deep-pocketed buyer was cause for optimism. ¶ Quibi, the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney studio head and DreamWorks co-founder, had promised to reinvent television by streaming high-quality content in ten-minute-or-less chunks to “the TV in your pocket.” (Quibi, which rhymes with Libby, is short for “quick bites.”) Katzenberg believed enough mobile-phone users would want to spend their spare minutes of downtime—while waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus or subway—digesting small plates of premium, Hollywood-quality video, at a monthly cost of $4.99 (with ads) or $7.99 (without ads), when not surfing the amateur stuff on TikTok and YouTube, scrolling Twitter, or playing Animal Crossing for free. And he was spending lavishly on his hunch.

“I can honestly say I’ve never been in such a cocky pitch environment,” Gairdner recalls. “I would describe the atmosphere as almost Wolf of Wall Street, not in terms of actual debauchery, but it’s an incredibly nice office that just goes and goes. They had two lobbies; you went in and checked in at a nice, big lobby, then you were moved to another lobby. There’s massive jars of expensive, nice-seeming candy everywhere. It’s sleek and modern, and you see hundreds of people passing by. And there’s this energy of people who really believe they’ve got the next big thing.”

Quibi was to launch in the spring of 2020 with 50 original shows, and another 125 were to be rolled out by the end of the first year. Recognizing the risk of making something for an unproven platform, Katzenberg typically offered to pay producers’ costs plus 20 percent. “People on Quibi have $100,000 a minute to make content,” Katzenberg tells me. “That doesn’t exist on other platforms.” Producers who went into meetings with him skeptical walked out thinking he might be onto something. “He pitched me at Nate ’n Al’s, and my eyes lit up,” recalls Jason Blum, whose horror-focused Blum-house Productions was behind Paranormal Activity, The Purge, and Get Out. Blum signed on to make Wolves and Thieves, starring Naomi Watts, and, later, two other series.

Blum wasn’t alone. Drawing on his deep well of relationships earned after more than four decades in Hollywood, Katzenberg recruited an amazing array of talent: Sam Raimi would produce a horror anthology; Idris Elba would star in a car-stunts show; Chrissy Teigen would put on judge’s robes and comically preside over a courtroom; Lena Waithe would make a show about sneakerheads; Anna Kendrick would anchor a comedy in which her character befriends her boyfriend’s sex doll; and the Kardashians would do a mock reality show featuring a mythical fraternal twin brother named Kirby Jenner.

Katzenberg also went after buzzy scripts like about Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, which had ranked first in 2018’s edition of the Black List, an influential roster of the best unproduced scripts as adjudged by agents, managers, and producers. Dramatizing Snapchat’s origin story the way had Facebook’s, this was the kind of project that might do for Quibi what and had done for Netflix and would do for

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