Tim Cook reportedly intervened personally to stop Apple TV from producing a series loosely inspired by the antics of Gawker – the controversial and infamously combative blog, which routinely lambasted figures in media, tech, and entertainment.
The cancelled telly show was dubbed "Scraper", according to The New York Times, and was created by two former Gawker editors, Max Read and Cord Jefferson. Other alumni – namely Emma Carmichael and Leah Beckmann – were brought on as writers.
Any fictionalised retelling of Gawker would prove controversial. Although the site derived its popularity from a no-holds-barred approach to journalism and storytelling, it also regularly overstepped the boundaries of good taste. In 2010, it drew fire for publishing an anonymous account of a one-night stand with Christine O'Donnell, a GOP senate candidate, which was described as "public sexual harassment" by the National Organisation for Women.
Gawker was also the first major publication to publicly speculate on the sexuality of Tim Cook. In a 2008 post titled "Is Apple COO Tim Cook Gay?" it wrote: "We dislike stereotypes as much as the next guy. But an intensely private bachelor in his 40s, with a Southern background? We'd be remiss in our duties as a gossip if we didn't wonder if Cook was gay."
That wouldn't be the only run-in between Gawker and Apple. Two years later, the site's tech vertical, Gizmodo, purchased a stolen iPhone 4 prototype that had been lost by an engineer at a bar. It then set about dismantling and blogging it, revealing all the pertinent details months before its scheduled release.
This was a hugely embarrassing episode for Apple, which is notorious for its attempts to tightly grip the media. Apple retaliated by blacklisting Gizmodo, preventing it from attending events and product launches until 2014.
None of these events contributed to Gawker's downfall. That came in 2013, when professional wrestler Terry Gene Bollea – aka Hulk Hogan – sued the blog after it published portions of a sex tape involving him and the wife of a Florida radio personality, called, of course, Bubba the Love Sponge.
In 2016, a jury ruled in Bollea's favour, awarding him $115m in damages. It later transpired that the lawsuit was funded by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who the site revealed was gay in 2007. Gawker later filed for bankruptcy. Univision, a Spanish-language television network, acquired much of its remaining assets.
This isn't the first time Cook is believed to have intervened in the production of a TV series. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal alleged Cook's say-so led to the canning of Vital Signs, a semi-biographical drama based on the life of rapper Dr Dre, over concerns about its violent and sexual content.
Apple's control isn't merely felt on its own TV platform, but also how it handles product placement. Kit provided to studios always comes with strings attached, according to Rian Johnson, who directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Knives Out.
Fictional bad guys, can't, for example, use iPhones and MacBooks. During the run of espionage thriller 24, it became immediately apparent who was the antagonist, based on their computer of choice. If they used Windows, they were suspect. ®