NBC's Beatles Series Tripped Up Over Music Rights, Competing Project

The Beatles at the BBC Television Studios in London before the start of their world tour, June 17, 1966.

Central Press/Getty Images

News leaked June 13 that NBC has a team developing an eight-part mini-series on The Beatles. At the outset, it has two big challenges: no music rights and a competing project at Sony Pictures Television.

Marty Bandier, chairman/CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, publisher of all but six of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's Beatles compositions, says he has long pursued a Beatles TV show with the intention of it running on a pay cable outlet like HBO or Showtime.

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"About six months ago, we were working with Sony Pictures TV on a show centered around the journey of the Beatles, and at one point we were talking about working with Baz Luhrmann," says Bandier, noting Sony/ATV hasn't been approached by NBC. "We hadn't taken the next step, which is to reach out to the Beatles. The proposal is still on the table."

NBC has not secured likeness rights from McCartney, Ringo Starr or the estates of Lennon and George Harrison, a source says. "NBC couldn't produce a show without the songs, and we can't produce a show without approaching the Beatles for their likeness rights," says Bandier. (Sony Pictures TV declined comment. Executives familiar with the NBC project say the news report was premature). Filmmakers who have tackled elements of the Beatles story have done so by focusing on their early years: Nowhere Boy, released in 2009, covered Lennon's life from childhood to the formation of the Beatles and included two obscure Fab Four songs. Backbeat, a 1994 film, focused on their time in Hamburg, Germany, when they played all covers. Two of Us, a VH1 film based on a Lennon-McCartney meeting in 1976, had no Beatles music in it.

Using the band's songs is always expensive: Steve Van Zandt cut a deal for David Chase's 2012 film Not Fade Away and got four non-Sony/ATV-published Beatles master recordings for about $250,000 apiece.