A new report from the Wall Street Journal provides some more insight into Apple’s ambitions for keeping its original video content as “family friendly” as possible. It was reported last year that Apple has aims to steer clear of the “edgier” content typically seen in many of the original shows from competitors like Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, but beyond simply looking at the types of shows the company has been ordering, it’s been less clear what the thought process has been behind the scenes. According to the WSJ report, the discussion gained steam when Tim Cook screened Apple’s first scripted drama, “Vital Signs” — a dark, semi-biographical tale of Dr. Dre that featured drugs, drawn guns, and an “extended orgy” — and axed the show outright as being “too violent,” adding “Apple can’t show this.” From that point, the message from the top within Apple has been to find high-quality shows that have top stars and broad appeal while steering well clear of gratuitous sex, profanity, or violence.
Part of the motivation behind this appears to be Apple maintaining its brand image, although it may also allow the company to carve out a niche for itself among many consumers who are looking for streaming services that are focused on producing quality, mainstream “family-friendly” content — something that’s almost non-existent among the big streaming players. Apple’s stance puts it in a unique position in Hollywood, walking a line that few other studios would even consider, and as the WSJ notes, the result has been to leave the company a bit out of step with the “triumphs of the video-streaming era,” which routinely feature original and critically-acclaimed shows from companies such as Amazon, HBO, and Netflix that include no shortage of rough language and “plenty of sex.”
Apple’s efforts to toe a cleaner line may also be contributing to the delays in launching its new video streaming service, with the company having already twice-postponed the launch, and a leading producer saying that the date may be pushed back again even further. Apple has already brought more than a dozen shows that fit well into its more “PG” objectives, including a series about Emily Dickinson, a drama on the life of NBA star Kevin Durant, and a partnership with Sesame Workshop to develop kids’ programming. The WSJ adds that of the roughly two-dozen shows Apple has in development, there are only a few that could even potentially “veer into TV-MA territory.” Perhaps ironically, the two executives at the head of Apple’s Worldwide Video Content team, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, previously oversaw the development of “Breaking Bad” for Sony Pictures, but are now required to devote considerable time to gaining approval from Apple CEO Tim Cook and SVP Eddy Cue. While the duo have managed to push in some slightly edgier shows, such as an M. Night Shyamalan thriller series about a couple who lose a young child, even these have been been censored by Apple executives to avoid saying into religious or political subjects. Apple also replaced the showrunners for its planned reboot of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stores”, with people familiar with the project stating that execs found the original team’s vision “a little dark.” Despite this, however, the company still has other potentially “TV-MA” content in production, such as the adaptation of Shantaram, a story about a man on the run from an Australian prison who is a former heroin addict and finds a new life in the underworld of Bombay, smuggling guns to Afghanistan.
Of course, despite the upsurge in edgier and more graphic content among the streaming and pay-TV networks, there are many successful network shows such and even streaming network hits that have little to no graphic content, and Apple is clearly banking on the belief that sex, profanity, and violence are not necessary for producing hit television shows.