What's news: O.J. Simpson is back in the media glare for a parole hearing and TV execs are racing to get an interview. Also: An investigation of a fatal plane crash during production of an upcoming Tom Cruise drama, the latest tracking numbers for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and what to watch for as Comic-Con kicks off. — Matthew Belloni, Erik Hayden and Jennifer Konerman
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New: Why did two men die in a plane crash on a Tom Cruise movie? A survivor of the crash during production of American Made breaks his silence amid lawsuits, questions about safety, and filmmaker finger-pointing, Scott Johnson finds:
Plenty of planes go down each year in the mountains and jungles of South America. This one, a twin-engine Piper Smith Aerostar 600, had been ferrying three pilots who were working on a film: Alan Purwin, 51, one of Hollywood's most sought-after helicopter stunt operators; Carlos Berl, 58, a well-qualified airman who knew how to navigate the red tape of the plane import-export business; and Georgia native Jimmy Lee Garland, 55, who could fly and repair just about anything.
The flight took off after a long day of filming for American Made, a Doug Liman feature starring Tom Cruise, 55, as a drug smuggler turned CIA pilot, which is set to be released by Universal Pictures on Sept. 29. Filming had been underway for weeks in the hills in northeast Colombia, near the border with Panama. But the filmmakers were based in Medellin, 35 miles to the southeast. This early-evening flight on Sept. 11, 2015, was supposed to be a short taxi ride home. Full report.
O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing in Nevada today has the makings of a public media circus but there's also a behind-the-scenes one too, Marisa Guthrie writes:
At least 240 media credentials have been issued, according to the Nevada Department of Corrections, with dozens of satellite trucks expected in Carson City, where the hearing will take place, and Lovelock, where Simpson has been incarcerated for the past eight years.
News divisions are already in a race to book Simpson for his first post-parole television sit-down. “I don’t think there is a news organization in the U.S. that wouldn’t want an interview with O.J. Simpson,” says one TV news executive. “Whether you consider him a murderer or not, he is a newsmaker.”
TV news bookers are working contacts close to Simpson, including friends and family. But so far, no one has emerged as a frontrunner in the Simpson sweepstakes. And many news executives, none of whom would speak on the record, acknowledge that there is potential for a backlash given Simpson’s pariah status.
+ Former CNN editor recounts covering the trial. Michael J. Socolow on the 1994-95 circus: "As CNN’s evening assignment editor in the Los Angeles bureau, it was my job to coordinate local breaking news coverage that night. I was 25 years old and had just recently been promoted to the job. At first I didn’t expect much because O.J.’s close friend, Robert Kardashian, had just read (what appeared to be) O.J.’s suicide note to a live national audience. All that was left, I thought, was to find the body..."
Elsewhere in TV...
► ABC's American Idol brings back Ryan Seacrest. After many months of negotiations, the longtime host has finalized a deal to return to the franchise that made him a star. He joins Katy Perry, the only confirmed judge, on the reboot, which is expected this spring.
► HBO plans alternate history Civil War series. Game of Thrones bosses David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will exec produce and write the series, which takes place in an alternate timeline where southern states have seceded from the Union. It is expected to air 2018 or 2019.
► FX's American Horror Story adds Lena Dunham. The former Girls star will join the upcoming election-themed season of the horror anthology, Ryan Murphy tweeted last night. He is set to announce the title of season seven today.
► Amazon orders Julia Roberts series Homecoming. The Universal Cable Productions podcast-turned-drama-series from Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail has landed at Amazon with a two-season pickup. Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg will write and exec produce.
^Meet the most famous Hollywood writer you've never heard of. Michael Green is on the hottest scriptwriting streak in town, with credits on four major films this year (Logan to Blade Runner 2049) and co-creating credit on American Gods. Andy Lewis asks: So how come nobody knows who he is?
► MGM TV developing Words With Friends. The company and Zynga have partnered to translate the spelling challenge to TV. Though there's no network attached, the development follows similar launches in CBS' Candy Crush and Fox's Beat Shazam (also from MGM TV).
► NBC's America's Got Talent touts most-watched season. The reality show led Tuesday night, posting a 2.4 rating among adults 18-49 and 12M viewers during its most-watched cycle in its 12-season history.
► ABC pilot watch: The Good Doctor. Daniel Fienberg takes an early look as David Shore returns to House territory with another story of a brilliant doctor, played by Freddie Highmore, who faces resistance from his peers.
► Fox's Empire adds Forest Whitaker. The Oscar winner has signed on for a multi-episode arc on the hip-hop drama, returning to Fox on Sept. 27. Whitaker will play Uncle Eddie, a music icon who gave Lucious (Terrence Howard) his big break.
Also: Trump will be the subject of Tony Kushner's next play. The Angels in America playwright has just begun a new work that will be set two years before the presidential election, and include Trump as a direct character, according to The Daily Beast.
War films don't have a history of opening to big numbers, but Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk could break that streak, Pamela McClintock forecasts:
War dramas have never been known for big openings, although Christopher Nolan is a powerful brand unto himself. Warner Bros., Nolan's home studio, is projecting a domestic debut in the $35M-$40M range. Most box-office observers believe Dunkirk will come in on the higher end, while some think it has a shot of doing more, thanks to a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 97 percent.
Among other relatively recent World War II films, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken debuted to $30.6M in 2014, while Fury launched to $23.7M in November of that same year. Last year, Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge took in $15.2M. To this day, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998) remains the top-grossing World War II movie of all time domestically, earning $216.5M, or $404.4M when adjusting for inflation.
Elsewhere, Valerian may have trouble hitting $20M in its debut, but the laugh meter looks strong for Universal's Girls Trip, which is expected to break the R-rated comedy curse and laugh past $20M in its U.S. launch.
Elsewhere in film...
► Analysis: Wanda's Hollywood future in question. Patrick Brzeski writes: A banking document alleging that state regulators ordered China's financial institutions to stop supplying financing to several of the conglomerate's overseas acquisitions may put the fate of Dalian Wanda Group's U.S-based assets in peril.
► Sandra Bullock to star in post-apocalyptic Netflix thriller. The Oscar winner will headline Bird Box, set in a future where aliens have driven the world to deadly violence. Susanne Bier will direct from a screenplay written by Arrival's Eric Heisserer.
► Spider-Man: Homecoming director to return for sequel. Jon Watts is in negotiations to helm the sequel to the critical and commercial hit, starring Tom Holland. The sequel, currently untitled, is already slated for release on July 5, 2019.
► Warner Bros. plans Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. Horror screenwriter David Leslie Johnson will pen the script for the film, which will be produced by John Davis (I, Robot; Chronicle).
► Matt Damon's Robert F. Kennedy biopic finds director. The Dark Tower's Nikolaj Arcel has signed on to helm the long-gestating RFK film for Warner Bros. Damon is on board to play the assassinated presidential candidate. Production is set to start early next year.
^New Janice Min column on Sherry Lansing: "How to age with class." The former editor of THR is back with a byline on the former Paramount chief, who has become a role model for growing older gracefully. Full story.
► Netflix accused of stealing Burning Sands story. Netflix and Mandalay Entertainment Group's film is at the center of a lawsuit from author Al Quarles Jr., who says the film is based on a book he wrote about hazing at black fraternities.
► Frank Coraci’s indie Hot Air rounds out cast. Steve Coogan, Neve Campbell and Taylor Russell will star in the project, which will start shooting in New York on July 24. It centers on a conservative talk radio host who finds his world turned upside down.
► Mega Man movie adaptation finds directors. The video game is heading to the big-screen with Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the filmmakers behind the documentary Catfish, in final talks to write and direct. Chernin Entertainment is producing.
► Skydance's animation movies hires directors. Kung Fu Panda co-director Alessandro Carloni and Shrek co-director Vicky Jenson have been hired for new projects for the company's film slate with Ilion Animation Studios.
Also: Heard about that Vespertine review? Some of the most influential dining critics think it's wrong to critique a restaurant on its fourth night in business. Gary Baum, the author of the original Vespertine review, defends his work and asks why a decades-old convention can't evolve.
In San Diego as Comic Con kicks off, here's what Heat Vision editor Aaron Couch is keeping an eye during a weekend of big hype and a few surprising reveals:
No panel is as highly anticipated as the DC portion of Warner Bros.' presentation Saturday. The studio is riding high from Wonder Woman's success and has a stable of in-demand filmmakers (Patty Jenkins, James Wan, Joss Whedon and Matt Reeves) who could potentially appear.
A first trailer for Wan's Aquaman and the official word that Jenkins is returning for Wonder Woman 2 are expected, but with DC having just dated a number of mystery films, fans are hoping to get clarity on Reeves' Batman movie, Whedon's Batgirl and perhaps even long-awaited word on who will be stepping in to direct The Flash (imagine the pandemonium if fired Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller emerged from seclusion to take the job?).
Marvel is expected to give closer looks at Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, the real draw will be Avengers: Infinity War, as it's the only film of the three yet to release footage online. (An extended trailer was enthusiastically received at D23 last week.) Marvel observers will also be watching closely for any news beyond 2019's untitled Avengers 4, as little is known of Marvel's plans beyond that date. Even a title for 2019's Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel would be welcome, as would any villain casting news for Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel.
On the TV side, surprise hit Stranger Things steps into the spotlight with a Hall H panel sandwiched between Marvel and DC Saturday. Netflix's once-under-the-radar series is now anything but, with the pressure on to deliver a look at season two that can live up to high expectations. Meanwhile, Friday's The Walking Dead panel could prove emotional, should the cast address the deaths of zombie maestro George Romero or fallen stuntman John Bernecker. Full TV lineup I Film lineup I Party guide.
What else we're reading...
— "The accent whisperers of Hollywood." Ryan Bradley writes: "Peak TV has brought in a flood of global acting talent. It’s the job of dialect coaches like Samara Bay to help them all sound right." [The New York Times magazine]
— "Black women in comedy are breaking out." Tre'vell Anderson writes: "For every Kevin James, whose stand-up led to a bountiful TV and film career, there’s a Wanda Sykes who most often plays a supporting character." [The Los Angeles Times]
— "The necessary intimacy of political cinema." Richard Brody writes: "It’s a commonplace that the personal is political. But artists, especially filmmakers, have more trouble facing the idea that the political is personal." [The New Yorker]
— "How will Dunkirk stack up against the great WWII movies?" Ellen Gamerman writes: "Directors who want to test their mettle continue to turn to World War II, the subject of more American movies than any other conflict in U.S. history." [The Wall Street Journal]
— "How The Fifth Element subverted sci-fi movies." David Sims writes: "Twenty years ago, Luc Besson’s visually stunning film hinged its story not on action or violence, but on love." [The Atlantic]
What else we're seeing...
+ "How to Be a Russian Oligarch with billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov." [Late Show]
+ "Harry Styles makes a wish to host The Tonight Show." [Tonight Show]
+ "Jon Favreau on Avengers & cooking." [Jimmy Kimmel Live]
Today's Birthdays: Julianne Hough, 29, Judy Greer, 42, Roberto Orci, 44, Sandra Oh, 46, Josh Holloway, 48, Carlos Santana, 70, Cormac McCarthy, 84.