TV Surf Report: Actors Who Produce … (Reese, Jordan, Elizabeth!) Taking Their Careers To That Next Level

{Updated Sept. 17, 2019}

Santa Monica, CA — More and more actors are producing their own starring vehicles, setting up their own production companies, and developing material to produce but not star in, or some combo of directing/producing, etc.

Studios and Networks and Streamers value Star Power. Their thinking is that Audiences will tune in to a series brought to them by an actor they already admire. They’re right.

Most, if not all of these actors, are highly visible on Social Media platforms like Instagram and Twitter where they are paid handsomely to promote their projects: A good place to start and check out what they are producing, promoting, reading, etc.

Here’s a current sampling of Who’s Who including What and Where:

  • Reese Witherspoon knows how to seriously multi-task. She has got a gajillion projects going, so where does one begin? Her production company, Hello Sunshine, is backed by AT&T and has series deals with HBO (Big Little Lies), Apple TV ( The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carrell has a 10-episode order for S1; click link for trailer); plus, there’s  Are You Sleeping starring Octavia Spencer in a true crime murder mystery, also 10 eps. for Apple TV); and Hulu with an 8-episode limited series adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel, Little Fires Everywhere, also starring Kerry Washington.  Witherspoon’s also got a successful Book Club and promotes her picks and their respective authors which is a style of personal marketing every major publishing house desires. She’s also a true Influencer (looking at you, Olivia Jade) with rich endorsement deals (Crate & Barrel, Elizabeth Arden). Importantly, Everything gets promoted via her personal Social Media:  @ReeseW on Twitter has 2.5m followers; and over on Instagram, @reesewitherspoon has 18.8m followers. Those are big big numbers. Witherspoon loves adaptations (she also produced Gone Girl) and has just signed on to star in and produce Pyros, an adaptation of a science fiction short story by Thomas Pierce for Netflix with Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix). In 2020, she’s starring in Legally Blonde 3, her very own super-shero franchise (Elle Woods!). Wow. Oh, and then there’s Draper James, her Nashville-based clothing store/line/brand, which she unabashedly promotes via her Instagram. These are rich, rich deals. Every actor in Hollywood (and beyond) aspires to this level of productivity. Note her strategic partnerships (Kidman, Aniston, Spencer, Washington). Witherspoon doesn’t have to carry every TV show on her own shoulders which is both admirable and smart. She’s also getting into the Reality genre with Home Edit, a new home organizing series she’s producing for Netflix. How Celebrity Book Clubs Fuel Sales, via Variety.
  • Nicole Kidman has a lot on her plate following the success of Big Little Lies 2, Aquaman, and Big Little Lies for which she won an Emmy. Her production company, Blossom Films, just inked a first-look deal with Amazon. She’s developing The Undoing with David E. Kelley at HBO, a story about a woman who learns her husband is not who she thought he was. She also has Crime Farm, a psychosexual drama about a married couple who investigate gruesome crimes, at HBO Max. Additionally, she and Witherspoon are developing Liane Moriarty’s next book.
  • Laura Dern is developing The Dolls, a limited series she’ll star in alongside Issa Rae, at HBO. She’s probably going to score an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women. Her star continues to rise following another stellar run on S2 of Big Little Lies that included lots of Emmy-worthy screaming. Expect big things.
  • James Franco has Masters of Doom at USA (along with brother Dave). He’s also starring in The Deuce on HBO which will end after S3. Franco’s not going anywhere.

  • Elizabeth Banks (along with partner Max Handelman) via their Brownstone Productions, has an overall deal with Warner Bros. TV. Their projects include the delightful Hulu comedy, Shrill, starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant in a breakout role; Love Me, a pilot for ABC that is a US re-make of the format from Welcome to Sweden, centering on a multi-generational Chicago family looking for love in the Age of Social Media and Internet Dating. Banks also has sold Over My Dead Body, an adaptation of a podcast about the trials and tribulations of a married couple, to HBO Max. And let’s not forget about Charlie’s Angels, Banks’ biggest directing gig yet which hits theatres in November. She also co-stars as Bosley. Hope it’s as good as the trailer suggests. Banks also hosts game show Press Your Luck on ABC. Ca-ching! Check out this podcast interview with Banks’ take on Hollywood via  KCRW’s The Business with Kim Masters
  • Kaley Cuoco may have ended her long and lucrative run on The Big Bang Theory, but she’s the voice of DC Universe‘s animated Harley Quinn and has several projects in development via her production company at Warner Bros. TV, including The Flight Attendant, a thriller, at HBO Max with uber-producer Greg Berlanti. WBTV sees potential here.
  • Oprah has her own monthly magazine, cable television network, and yet, she’s seriously considering re-booting her uber-successful daytime talk show. She’s pretty busy hosting Super Soul Sunday and avoiding wildfires in Montecito. She has a big reach on social media, including a staggering 42m followers on Twitter (@oprah) and 16.8m followers @oprah on Instagram. The network is OWN. Her production company is Harpo Productions. The Evolution of OWN, via Variety.
  • Tyler Perry may have retired from playing Madea, but he’s still got his own studio in Atlanta where he’s producing series for OWN, BET and BET’s streaming service, BET+. I have yet to watch any of his series which is probably my loss. Clearly, he’s a talented guy. His new company, Peachtree & Vine, reunites him with Tim Palen, who launched the Madea franchise for Lionsgate.
  • Mindy Kaling has a lot going on following successful runs on The Mindy Project for Fox and The Office for NBC:  There’s her re-make of Four Weddings And A Funeral at Hulu. She wrote and produced Late Night, starring Emma Thompson, for Amazon. She ‘s also got Never Have I Ever, a coming-of-age drama at Netflix. She’s also quite active on Social Media with nearly 12m Twitter followers (@mindykaling). Kaling Has That Maternal Instinct, per USA Today.
  • Tina Fey just sold a comedy to NBC with Ted Danson attached to star. With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt coming to an end, and 30 Rock racking up those syndication dollars, Fey shows no signs of sitting around in her Mom Jeans. I love her.
  • Mark Ruffalo isn’t just waiting for his next gig as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the Avengers. Ruffalo is exec producing and starring in HBO’s adaptation of Wally Lamb’s wonderful novel, I Know This Much Is True. Can’t wait. Great book. Ruffalo has an impressive 6m followers on Twitter @MarkRuffalo
  • Cate Blanchett is starring in and exec producing Mrs. America, a limited series for FX. She is known for producing quality theatre with her husband in Australia. I expect Blanchett to become more active in the producing arena in the next few years.

  • Jordan Peele, formally of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, has really made a name for himself with features Get Out and Us as well as his re-boot of The Twilight Zone for CBS All Access. Dude is busy. He’s also got Lovecraft Country at HBO with J.J. Abrams. His company, Monkeypaw Productions, also accepts open submissions. I loved Get Out and look forward to seeing where Peele takes us, story-wise.
  • Julia Roberts exec produced Homecoming for Amazon in addition to starring in S1. She will not appear on-screen in S2, though. Julia’s also got several projects in development with HBO. She’s no longer a workaholic, but Julia’s still a Player with 6.6m followers @juliaroberts on Instagram.
  • Amy Poehler just directed her first feature for Netflix, Wine Country, has created Making It, a reality competition series with former Parks & Rec co-star Nick Offerman, and is exec producing Russian Doll starring Natasha Lyonne for Netflix. She also produced the recently concluded Broad City for Comedy Central as well as Difficult People. Girl is busy with Smart Girls, her advocacy web company which has a deal with Legendary at Universal not to mention 1m followers @amypoehlersmartgirls on Instagram. Her production company is Paper Kite Productions.
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge is probably one of the hottest actor/writer/producers out there right now thanks to her two hit Emmy-nominated series Fleabag on Amazon and Killing Eve on AMC/BBC One. She also re-wrote Bond 25 at star Daniel Craig’s request. Check out this profile via The Hollywood Reporter.
  • Seth Rogen has been steadily producing quality series like Preacher for AMC (ending with S4), Future Man for Hulu, Black Monday for Showtime, and The Boys for Amazon. His production company, Point Grey Pictures, just signed a multi-platform deal with Lionsgate. Seth is cooking on all burners. He’s even got 7m followers @sethrogen on Instagram.
  • Dwayne Johnson, aka, The Rock has 153m followers @TheRock on Instagram and is currently riding high at the box office with Hobbs & Shaw, the Fast & Furious spinoff.  He also stars in and EPs Ballers on HBO (S5 will be its last); EPs Titan Games, an athletic competition series on NBC which just got renewed for S2; and is going to be a major presence in the DC Universe with Black Adam, a character associated with Shazam! The film is set to go into production very soon (2020, we hope). Don’t mess with this man. He can and will do everything.  Oh, and Johnson is Hollywood’s highest paid actor, per Men’s Journal (and Forbes). His company is Seven Bucks Productions
  • Jason Momoa hit the big time with Game of Thrones and then knocked it out of the park with his star turn in Aquaman (okay, and in Justice League). When he’s not protesting government telescope construction on ancient lands in his native Hawaii, he’s also producing television including Frontier on Netflix (likely cancelled after S3), and the upcoming Apple TV limited series, SEE. Momoa promotes his various lifestyle and clothing brands (and those of his friends) to his 13m followers @prideofgypsies on Instagram

N E X T   U P :

Summer Is Nearly Over, But The Surf Is Still Too Good!

Dawn Patrol in Venice Beach. Photo of Yours Truly by Luke Sandberg of Surreal Surf. Best Morning Ever!


About Surfing Hollywood

Steve La Rue is an internationally recognized leader in Film & Television with 20+ years experience as a Development Executive championing such series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape. He writes, blogs, and consults on All Things Entertainment from his home at the beach in Santa Monica, CA, where he balances his life by surfing every damn day.
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