To say the debut of Apple's (AAPL -0.86%) nascent streaming service, Apple TV+, was underwhelming doesn't really convey the lack of interest the viewing public had for the iPhone maker's latest offering. While rival newcomer Disney made waves by announcing 10 million sign-ups for Disney+ by the time the service launched and landed rave reviews for its first original, The Mandalorian, Apple had a very different experience. Its flagship series, The Morning Show, one of only about a dozen shows total currently available on the service, got mixed reviews from critics, and the tech giant quietly dismissed its programming chief amid a lackluster streaming debut.  

Apple just inked a landmark deal with one of the most successful names in entertainment in the hopes of getting its fledgling streaming service back on track.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in a scene from

Still from The Morning Show. Image source: Apple.

A bona fide hit-maker

Former HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler, who left the cable giant in early 2019 after a 27-year stint, signed a five-year deal to produce feature films, television series, and documentaries for Apple. Plepler stepped down soon after HBO's parent company, Time Warner, was acquired by AT&T (T 1.24%) in early 2019. Eden Productions, Plepler's new venture, will create content exclusively for Apple TV+. Plepler will be working with Apple's heads of worldwide video, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, to bring his hit-making magic to Apple.

Plepler is known in the industry for his keen insight into potential blockbusters and for greenlighting such megahits as Game of Thrones and Westworld. He also presided over the move of HBO into the digital realm with the creation of HBO Now, the cable giant's streaming offering. During his tenure, HBO won more than 160 Emmy Awards for programming, led by Game of Thrones, as well as for other hits like Big Little Lies and Veep. In his statement regarding the deal, Plepler said:  

I'm excited to work with Zack, Jamie, and the standout team at Apple who have been deeply supportive of my vision for Eden from day one. The shows that Zack and Jamie produced, The Crown and Breaking Bad, are among those I most admired. Apple is one of the most creative companies in the world, and the perfect home for my new production company and next chapter.

Richard Plepler

Richard Plepler is joining team Apple. Image source: HBO.

Billions invested already

Apple TV+ debuted in early November to mixed reviews and with only about a dozen programs for viewers. As early as 2017, reports emerged that Apple planned to throw its hat into the streaming ring and would allocate more than $1 billion to producing original content. While the tech titan has never revealed how much it has spent on programming, recent reports put the tally over $6 billion and climbing, which shows the company is continuing to build out its library. 

Apple was writing big checks for its nascent streaming offering, hoping to increase its chances of success. The iPhone maker spent more for its two headline dramas -- The Morning Show and the Jason Momoa-led See -- than was spent on the final season of Game of Thrones, which reportedly topped $15 million per episode. At least part of that investment may have paid off in the end, as The Morning Show nabbed three Golden Globe nominations, including a nod for best drama. 

Apple needs a hit

While the terms of the deal weren't disclosed, Apple likely spared no expense to bag Plepler, whose track record for spotting hit shows is well documented. He will join the ranks of other legendary Hollywood producers including Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and Oprah Winfrey, who have all inked deals with Apple TV+. 

If Apple is going to justify the $4.99-per-month price of its streaming service, the technology company will need to build a library of popular shows. With a certified history of making hits, Plepler just might help Apple along its path to success.