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Three years and $60m later, Amazon still doesn’t have a Phoebe Waller-Bridge hit

In 2019, after the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s smash hit dark comedy Fleabag closed to shimmering reviews, executives at Amazon thought: “We’d like a slice of that pie.”

And so, that September, just two days after Waller-Bridge scooped three Emmys for the show’s second run, it was announced that the British TV darling had signed a $20m-a-year deal with the company.

Waller-Bridge said she was “insanely excited” to get cracking. Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke added: “As evident in her great success at the Emmy Awards this week, she is clever, brilliant, generous and a virtuoso on multiple fronts including writing, acting and producing”. The executive said: “We are excited for what comes next…”

Three years and $60m later, and not a lot has come next.

Waller-Bridge has certainly been very busy. The star, 37, has appeared in the BBC’s His Dark Materials and HBO’s Run. She also has a role alongside Harrison Ford in Lucasfilm’s new Indiana Jones movie and will be a part of John Krasinski’s fantasy comedy IF, starring Ryan Reynolds and Steve Carell. And she is reportedly being chased by longstanding James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli to direct the next 007 film. But none of these are hit shows for Amazon Studios.

One of Waller-Bridge’s Amazon commitments has fallen through. She had been due to work with Atlanta creator Donald Glover on a Mr and Mrs Smith series based on the 2005 movie starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but she exited the project over creative clashes.

She is currently, however, in the writers’ room working on the TV adaptation of Tomb Raider. And she is attached to an adaptation of Claudia Lux’s novel Sign Here.

Amazon Studios has rejected recent claims that Waller-Bridge is being paid to do not much at all. The company’s head of television, Vernon Sanders, told The Hollywood Reporter that the writer is “feeling very committed” to Tomb Raider, adding: “When she does deliver, she delivers.”

A source told The Times that stars such as Waller-Bridge have been caught in “sinister, ‘golden hamstring’” deals to stop them from working for rivals.

Waller-Bridge with her three Emmys in 2019 (AFP/Getty)
Waller-Bridge with her three Emmys in 2019 (AFP/Getty)

Waller-Bridge’s case is not unique. Harry and Meghan ($100m Netflix deal), JJ Abrams ($250m Warner Bros Discovery deal) South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker ($500m Warner Discovery deal), all appear to have delivered less than some expected for the companies they’ve been courted by.

At least, when Waller-Bridge does put pen to page, we can expect great things. As Sanders said, the writer is “a perfectionist”.

The Independent has contacted representatives for Amazon Studios and Waller-Bridge for comment.