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08-04-2022 Daily Edition August 3, 2022

Daily Edition

Behind the Cancellation of ‘Batgirl’

On Tuesday, Batgirl filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were in Morocco, where they had recently celebrated El Arbi’s wedding at a bash attended by guests such as their Bad Boys for Life star Will Smith. In the afterglow of the happy occasion, they received the stunning news that their upcoming DC film Batgirl […]

On Tuesday, Batgirl filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were in Morocco, where they had recently celebrated El Arbi’s wedding at a bash attended by guests such as their Bad Boys for Life star Will Smith. In the afterglow of the happy occasion, they received the stunning news that their upcoming DC film Batgirl would be shelved, despite it being deep into postproduction ahead of a planned HBO Max bow. The filmmakers are said to have been given a heads-up shortly before articles circulated online.

“We are saddened and shocked by the news,” the filmmakers wrote in a statement Wednesday. “As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wish that fans all over the world would have the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves. Maybe one day they will insha’Allah.”

Batgirl was a casualty of new corporate strategy from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who opted to shelve the project in order to take a tax write-down on the $90 million film, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. The film had been greenlit for around $80 million under former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who also teed up multiple DC projects for HBO Max that would be budgeted more modestly than a theatrical DC offering. Its budget jumped to $90 million due to COVID-19 protocols.

Just a few months ago, Batgirl was seen as one of the more intriguing of the upcoming DC films. It hailed from the duo known as Adil & Bilall, who became hot commodities with Bad Boys for Life (2020) and continued to build excitement with well-received episodes of Disney+’s Ms. Marvel, released this summer. Even Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige expressed interest in learning spoilers from the film. Batgirl was also seen as a win for representation, with Leslie Grace being the first Latina to front a DC Extended Universe film, transgender actress Ivory Aquino playing a supporting role and Adil & Bilall bringing their unique background as Muslim, Belgian Moroccan filmmakers. Plus, Michael Keaton was back as Batman.

For a time, according to multiple sources, Warners considered pumping more money into Batgirl to beef it up into a 2023 theatrical release. Another source downplays the notion that a theatrical upgrade was seriously in contention, as from the script stage it was conceived as a streaming play. Either way, when a very early version of the film test screened, with temp VFX and score, it landed a score in the low 60s and is believed to have only tested once. Film producers and executives have long noted that test screenings are best used to determine whether audiences are engaged or disengaged during certain parts of the film, not as a final judgment call on a movie. For example, horror films that end up doing well have been known to test in the 60s. Batgirl’s test score, which was for a director’s cut, is comparable to scores for the first It (2017), which wound up grossing $700.3 million globally, as well as an early score for the upcoming Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Both of those films tested in the 60s.

Batgirl felt more modest than, say, The Batman — which had a production budget nearly $100 million more than Batgirl’s — with Glasgow, Scotland, filling in for Gotham City. Warners leadership under Zaslav feared it would not deliver the spectacle DC audiences are accustomed to. Still, its smaller feel was baked into its DNA, as Batgirl was supposed to be the first in a number of smaller DC films.

That strategy has been reversed. In May, Zaslav killed a DC Wonder Twins movie for HBO Max that was in preproduction, just weeks after Riverdale’s KJ Apa and 1883’s Isabel May had been cast in the lead roles. At a certain point, a source notes, it doesn’t make financial sense to spend $80 million or $90 million on a streaming movie, as it won’t necessarily attract more subscribers than, say, a $40 million movie. (In an earnings disclosure in April, HBO and its HBO Max streaming service counted 76.8 million combined global subscribers.)

Going forward, a streaming film will be made for a more modest number, “and if it’s for theatrical, it better feel theatrical,” notes a knowledgeable source.

The death of Batgirl also hints at a diminished role for Keaton going forward. The actor’s Dark Knight, who hadn’t been seen since 1992’s Batman Returns, was being positioned as akin to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — an elder statesman who could pop up in multiple films and offer guidance. In Batgirl, he is said to have been at the center of a splashy action sequence.

He is also a key part of The Flash, the upcoming movie starring embattled actor Ezra Miller that is due out in June 2023. According to multiple sources, Keaton also filmed a scene for the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom that test audiences found confusing, as it was unclear what Keaton’s Batman was doing in this universe. Lost Kingdom previously was supposed to open before The Flash, which will explain Keaton’s return. But last week, Aquaman star Jason Momoa revealed that Ben Affleck was filming a scene as Bruce Wayne, suggesting Keaton had been replaced with Affleck’s version of the character.

The Batgirl news comes ahead of Warner Bros. Discovery’s earnings call Thursday, with rumors swirling that Warners is considering moving the release dates for two of its upcoming films — Shazam! Fury of the Gods (currently slated for Dec. 21) and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (currently set for March 17, 2023). On Wednesday, the studio revealed an October 2024 date for the Joker sequel, Joker: Folie a Deux.

While Batgirl was supposed to be a win for representation, the studio has another groundbreaking superhero project in the can. Just months after Grace was cast as Batgirl, Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña joined the DC universe as Blue Beetle — the fourth Latino actor cast in a DC movie that year (Colombian American actress Sasha Calle had been cast as Supergirl in The Flash, and West Side Story star Rachel Zegler previously joined Shazam! Fury of the Gods). Blue Beetle was originally developed for HBO Max before being upgraded to a theatrical release in December. As soon as Batgirl was shelved, a number of tweets circulated asking the studio to save Blue Beetle. Among those who liked those tweets? Angel Manuel Soto, the film’s director, underscoring the uncertainty Warners talent faces at this time.

As for Adil & Bilall, the duo say they are grateful for their time in the DC universe, praising their cast, “especially the great Leslie Grace, who portrayed Batgirl with so much passion, dedication and humanity.”

Added the directors: “It was a huge privilege and an honor to have been part of the DCEU, even if it was for a brief moment. Batgirl For Life.”

Kim Masters, Rebecca Sun and Borys Kit contributed to this story.

‘She-Hulk’ Producers Respond to CGI Criticisms

Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law team weighed in on a pair of CGI-related criticisms of the highly anticipated Disney+ series. First, director Kat Coiro responded to those who have chided the show for not making star Tatiana Maslany’s green alter ego even bulkier. “In terms of the CGI being critiqued, I think that has to […]

Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law team weighed in on a pair of CGI-related criticisms of the highly anticipated Disney+ series.

First, director Kat Coiro responded to those who have chided the show for not making star Tatiana Maslany’s green alter ego even bulkier.

“In terms of the CGI being critiqued, I think that has to do with our culture’s belief in its ownership of women’s bodies,” Coiro said at the show’s Television Critics Association press tour panel Wednesday. “I think a lot of the critique comes from feeling like they’re able to tear apart the CGI woman. There’s a lot of talk about her body type, and we based it on Olympian athletes and not bodybuilders. But I think if we had gone the other way, we would be facing the same critique. I think it’s very hard to win when you make women’s bodies.”

The team also responded to a question about how VFX artists have accused Marvel of overwhelming their companies with demands that cause them to work an unsustainable number of hours, resulting in second-rate visual effects and mistreated staff.

“This is a massive undertaking to have a show where the main character is CG,” head writer Jessica Gao said. “It’s terrible that a lot of artists feel rushed and feel that the workload is too massive. I think everybody on this panel stands in solidarity with all workers.”

“We stand in solidarity with what they say the truth is,” Coiro added. “We work with them, but we’re not behind the scenes on these long nights and days. If they’re feeling pressure, we stand with them and we listen to them.”

“I feel incredibly deferential to how talented these artists are and how quickly they have to work,” Maslany says. “Obviously, much [less time] than probably should be given to them in terms of like, churning these things out. We have to be super-conscious of the work conditions, which aren’t always optimal.”

The team also said the show’s fourth-wall-breaking — with Jen/She-Hulk talking directly to the camera — will be “not overpowering” as the series goes on. “It was tricky finding the balance because if I had my way, she’d be breaking the fourth wall every other sentence,” Gao said. “Everybody had to pull me back a little bit more from it.”

“She-Hulk was breaking the fourth wall way before Deadpool and way before Fleabag,” added Coiro. “Back in the comics, she was always very meta and she was always kind of taking control of her story and her narrative.”

Otherwise, Maslany expressed her excitement for the character, which follows Jennifer Walters as “she navigates the complicated life of a single, 30-something attorney who also happens to be a green 6-foot-7 superpowered hulk.”

“Jen has had her life planned out for her and has worked really hard to get to where she is as a lawyer, and to have this thing happen to her that sort of derails everything,” Maslany said. “It is a bit of an identity crisis. And what I find really compelling about the story is when she’s She-Hulk she’s treated very differently than when she’s Jen. There’s a lot of having to affirm her intelligence when she’s Jen and assert her role and trying to get respect, whereas when she’s She-Hulk there’s this inherent sort of awe inspired by her that’s at odds with how she wants to be perceived. … Her anger, her largeness, her taking up space in a room, is all fertile ground for us to play with, flip the standard on its head so you can laugh at it. … We’re so fixated on women’s bodies, whether it’s aesthetically or politically or in terms of rights or in terms of autonomy, I think what we do in this show is in touch with all of these concepts.”

The nine-episode series co-stars MCU veterans Mark Ruffalo as Smart Hulk, Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky and Benedict Wong as Wong. Also in the cast are Ginger Gonzaga, Josh Segarra, Jameela Jamil, Jon Bass and Renée Elise Goldsberry.

Gao is the head writer. Executive producers are Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Brad Winderbaum, Coiro and Gao. Co-executive producers are Wendy Jacobson and Jennifer Booth.

She-Hulk premieres Aug. 17 on Disney+.

Ellen Pompeo to Star in and Exec Produce Hulu Limited Series as She Scales Back ‘Grey’s’ Role

Ellen Pompeo is branching out. The Grey’s Anatomy leading lady has landed her first on-air series via her ABC Signature-based production company, Calamity Jane. The actress will star in and exec produce an untitled orphan project for Hulu. In related news, Pompeo will scale back her time on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and appear in only […]

Ellen Pompeo is branching out.

The Grey’s Anatomy leading lady has landed her first on-air series via her ABC Signature-based production company, Calamity Jane. The actress will star in and exec produce an untitled orphan project for Hulu.

In related news, Pompeo will scale back her time on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and appear in only eight of the expected 22 episodes in season 19. She will continue to be the show’s primary narrator for the bulk of the episodes but her on-screen commitment will consist of only eight episodes. Sources say there are no plans for this to be the final season of Grey’s, despite rumors over the past few years that the long-running show’s end is near.

Pompeo has been open about her desire to do more than Grey’s, which has produced more than 400 episodes and ranks as TV’s longest-running primetime medical drama.

Hulu says the drama is “inspired by the story of a Midwestern couple who adopts what they believe is an 8-year-old girl with a rare form of dwarfism. But as they begin to raise her alongside their three biological children, they slowly start to believe she may not be who she says she is. As they question her story, they’re confronted with hard questions of their own about the lengths they’re willing to go to defend themselves, falling into a battle that’s fought in the tabloids, the courtroom, and ultimately their marriage.”

In addition to starring, Pompeo exec produces alongside her Calamity Jane production company exec Laura Holstein. Katie Robbins (The Affair) created the series and serves as writer and EP. Erin Levy (Mad Men) serves as showrunner and exec produces. Mike Epps, Dan Spilo, Niles Kirchner and Andrew Stearn serve as non-writing exec producers.

The series comes as ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has continued to be a ratings winner ahead of its 19th season. Pompeo has continued to ink new deals to return to the Shonda Rhimes drama but has also been vocal about the show’s endgame. Rhimes, who created and exec produces the series, has also said that the medical drama will run for as long as Pompeo wants to do it and that there is no Grey’s Anatomy without the star’s Meredith Grey.

Pompeo landed her overall deal with ABC Signature years ago as part of a massive payday that made her television’s highest paid actress. Since then, she has had multiple projects put in development. This untitled orphan drama is the first that she has been attached to star in and is also the first one to get an on-air commitment.

Since signing on to star in Grey’s two decades ago, Pompeo has become a global superstar as the medical drama airs in more than 200 territories across the world. She also exec produces Grey’s, which streams on Hulu, and its firefighter-focused spinoff Station 19.

Pompeo is repped by CAA, John Carrabino Management and Hansen Jacobson. Robbins is with UTA< Aaron Kogan Management and Jonathan Shikora. Levy is with WME.

‘Days of Our Lives’ Moving to Peacock From NBC

An era is ending at NBC. Days of Our Lives, the longest-running entertainment series the network has ever aired, will leave the network in September. Its new home will be on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform, beginning Sept. 12. NBC will fill the daytime spot vacated by Days with NBC News Daily, an hour-long show anchored […]

An era is ending at NBC.

Days of Our Lives, the longest-running entertainment series the network has ever aired, will leave the network in September. Its new home will be on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform, beginning Sept. 12.

NBC will fill the daytime spot vacated by Days with NBC News Daily, an hour-long show anchored by Kate Snow, Aaron Gilchrist, Vicky Nguyen and Morgan Radford. Affiliates will also have the option to add local news to the hour.

“This programming shift benefits both Peacock and NBC and is reflective of our broader strategy to utilize our portfolio to maximize reach and strengthen engagement with viewers,” said NBCUniversal Television and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus in a statement. “With a large percentage of the Days of Our Lives audience already watching digitally, this move enables us to build the show’s loyal fan base on streaming while simultaneously bolstering the network daytime offering with an urgent, live programming opportunity for partners and consumers.”

Library episodes of Days of Our Lives stream on Peacock, and the service has also housed two miniseries (subtitled Beyond Salem) in the past year.

The soap opera, produced by Corday Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television, is in the middle of a two-season order that will take it through the 2022-23 season. The coming season will be its 58th, making it the second longest-running daytime drama in American TV history behind ABC’s General Hospital. Days will pass Guiding Light, which also ran 57 seasons, in the fall.

Days was the least watched of the four daytime dramas on the broadcast networks last season, averaging about 1.7 million viewers per day on NBC (an average that does not include any streaming lift). That’s about half of what the top soap, CBS’ The Young and the Restless (3.47 million), draws on a daily basis. Converting a portion of those viewers to Peacock subscribers (or keeping the business of those who already are) would be a boost for the streamer, whose paid subscriber numbers stayed flat at 13 million (along with 28 million active accounts) in the second quarter.

Ken Corday executive produces Days of Our Lives, and Albert Alarr is co-exec producer. Ron Carlivati serves as head writer.

Vulture first reported the news.