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03-18-2022 Daily Edition March 17, 2022

Daily Edition

Amazon Closes $8.5B MGM Acquisition

Amazon has closed its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM, officially bringing the film and TV studio into its fold. The landmark deal was first announced last May, with the company citing MGM’s vast library as driving the purchase. “With the talent at MGM and the talent at Amazon Studios, we can reimagine and develop that […]

Amazon has closed its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM, officially bringing the film and TV studio into its fold.

The landmark deal was first announced last May, with the company citing MGM’s vast library as driving the purchase. “With the talent at MGM and the talent at Amazon Studios, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said after the purchase was announced.

MGM’s library includes more than 4,000 film titles and 17,000 TV episodes, including intellectual property like the Rocky/Creed franchise, The Silence of the Lambs, Thelma & Louise, and TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Survivor. Significantly, it also includes MGM’s stake (shared with Eon Productions) in the James Bond franchise.

“MGM has a nearly century-long legacy of producing exceptional entertainment, and we share their commitment to delivering a broad slate of original films and television shows to a global audience,” said Mike Hopkins, senior vp Prime Video and Amazon Studios, in a statement. “We welcome MGM employees, creators and talent to Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and we look forward to working together to create even more opportunities to deliver quality storytelling to our customers.”

The deal close came after the window for U.S. regulators to challenge it closed, though the Biden administration has warned companies that it reserves the right to challenge some deals even after they are completed. European regulators signed off on the merger earlier this week, writing in their approval that the deal “would not significantly reduce competition” and that “the overlaps between Amazon and MGM are limited.”

In the U.S., some labor groups had asked the FTC to challenge the acquisition, arguing that Amazon’s status as a producer and distributor of content, as well as of devices like the Amazon Fire products, would give it unwarranted market share and pricing power.

Earlier this year, federal antitrust regulators signaled that they planned to be aggressive about challenging mergers. However, with the clock running out on both the Amazon-MGM deal and the WarnerMedia-Discovery deal, it is possible that their focus is elsewhere.

With the deal closed, the focus will now turn to how Amazon plans to run MGM, which will join Amazon Studios, led by Jennifer Salke, and Prime Video in the tech giant’s entertainment arsenal.

Among the questions is how Amazon plans to structure Amazon Studios and MGM, which have some overlapping functions. While Amazon Studios is more TV-focused, both divisions produce films and TV shows. Michael De Luca oversees MGM’s film operations, with Mark Burnett leading its TV division.

There is also the question of whether Amazon will commit to traditional theatrical releases for future MGM projects (Amazon Studios has given many of its originals theatrical releases). And then there is Epix, the pay-TV and streaming service owned by MGM. With Amazon hosting its own premium streaming service in Prime Video, as well as a free, ad-supported service in IMDb TV, it isn’t clear that Epix has an obvious role to play in the combined company, though distribution deals with cable and satellite operators could hinder any efforts to move it to streaming-only.

Amazon has been investing heavily in entertainment assets in recent years, and the company says more than 175 million of its Amazon Prime subscribers have streamed its movies or TV shows.

Its original shows have included The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Wheel of Time, and the company is spending $500 million on the first season of its upcoming series adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Its films have included mainstream fare like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and such awards fodder as One Night in Miami.

The company has also spent handsomely to buy exclusive content from others, including Paramount’s Coming 2 America, and its new deal with the NFL for exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football.

All told, the company spent $13 billion on video and music content in 2021. And that was before its MGM purchase.

“We are excited for MGM and its bounty of iconic brands, legendary films and television series, and our incredible team and creative partners to join the Prime Video family,” said Chris Brearton, MGM’s COO, in a statement. “MGM has been responsible for the creation of some of the most well-known and critically acclaimed films and television series of the past century. We look forward to continuing that tradition as we head into this next chapter, coming together with the great team at Prime Video and Amazon Studios to provide audiences with the very best in entertainment for years to come.”

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Writer Placed on Administrative Leave Amid HR Investigation

Elisabeth Finch, one of Grey’s Anatomy’s most vocal writers, has been placed on administrative leave amid concerns that elements of her personal journey — some of which she wrote into the Shonda Rhimes-produced show — were allegedly fabricated. Sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that Disney’s human resources and legal departments are conducting an internal […]

Elisabeth Finch, one of Grey’s Anatomy’s most vocal writers, has been placed on administrative leave amid concerns that elements of her personal journey — some of which she wrote into the Shonda Rhimes-produced show — were allegedly fabricated.

Sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter that Disney’s human resources and legal departments are conducting an internal investigation to determine if elements including Finch’s cancer diagnosis and abortion while undergoing chemotherapy, among other subjects, were not accurate.

“Only Elisabeth can speak to her personal story,” Shondaland said in a statement to THR.

The Ankler earlier reported that an investigation was launched by Disney.

Finch has been a writer on Grey’s for years and has penned multiple episodes of the series for former showrunner Rhimes and current showrunner Krista Vernoff. Over the years, Finch has detailed her personal struggles in essays for publications including Elle, Shondaland.com and THR, while also doing multiple rounds of press for episodes that were allegedly based on her own experiences.

Multiple sources tell THR that the doubt over the validity of Finch’s personal details arose after the writer cited a family emergency and left the writers room to address it. When colleagues phoned Finch’s wife, Jennifer Beyer, similarities to the story Finch told her colleagues matched Beyer’s own story. Beyer raised concerns with Disney and Shondaland execs, prompting Finch to be placed on administrative leave. Finch and Beyer are now said to be going through an “acrimonious divorce,” as one source described it.

“Ms. Finch will not disclose her private health matters. Likewise, she will not speak about her pending divorce from her estranged wife, Jennifer Beyer, or comment on any statements that Ms. Beyer may have made to third parties about Ms. Finch,” Finch’s lawyer, Andrew Brettler, of Lavely & Singer, said in a statement to THR.

Multiple industry colleagues who have been friendly with Finch for years tell THR that they’re stunned by the rumors and no longer know what to believe, citing a lack of a “smoking gun” that proves Finch hasn’t been truthful. “You believe this poor woman was going through this awful thing and you want to support her,” said one of Finch’s longtime associates.

In addition to Grey’s Anatomy, Finch’s writing credits include The Vampire Diaries and True Blood.

Reps for Beyer could not immediately be reached for comment. Reps for ABC and ABC Signature, which produces Grey’s Anatomy, declined to comment.

March 17, 8:36 p.m. PT: This story has been updated with a statement from Finch’s attorney.

March 18, 9:26 a.m. PT: This story has been updated with a statement from Shondaland.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle’s Archewell Audio Decides to Stay at Spotify to Launch First Series

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s podcast studio, Archewell Audio, will stick with its multiyear exclusive Spotify deal despite recent pushback from the royals over the platform’s handling of COVID-19 misinformation. An Archewell Audio spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that the studio had encouraging conversations with Spotify executives regarding the platform’s misinformation policies and practices. […]

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s podcast studio, Archewell Audio, will stick with its multiyear exclusive Spotify deal despite recent pushback from the royals over the platform’s handling of COVID-19 misinformation.

An Archewell Audio spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that the studio had encouraging conversations with Spotify executives regarding the platform’s misinformation policies and practices. As a result, the studio is moving forward with the production of Archewell’s first podcast series, from the Duchess of Sussex, which is expected to release this summer, the spokesperson said.

In January, as musicians like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell began leaving Spotify in protest of COVID-19 misinformation spreading on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the royals — through an Archewell Foundation spokesperson — said they had expressed “concerns” to Spotify about its policies.

“We have continued to express our concerns to Spotify to ensure changes to its platform are made to help address this public health crisis,” the Archewell Foundation representative said at the time. “We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does.”

Amid the uproar, Spotify began adding content advisory labels to podcasts that feature COVID-19 discussions and published its platform rules. Still, the Rogan fallout was enough to compel podcasters like Roxane Gay to pull their shows from the platform, while Ava DuVernay’s Array exited its first-look deal with the streamer.

Since announcing the Sussexes’ exclusive deal with Spotify in late 2020, Archewell Audio has only released one show: a holiday special with guests like Stacey Abrams, José Andrés, Brené Brown, Deepak Chopra, James Corden, Elton John, Naomi Osaka and Tyler Perry.

Since then, Archewell has hired Rebecca Sananes, formerly the lead producer for Vox Media and New York magazine’s Pivot podcast, as the studio’s head of audio. Producer Ben Browning also joined in 2021 as head of content for both Archewell Audio and Archewell Productions.

Sandra Oh in ‘Umma’: Film Review

The 'Killing Eve' star experiences scary mommy issues in Iris K. Shim's horror film, produced by Sam Raimi.

An elderly Korean grandmother arrives to join her family on a remote American farm and soon causes trouble. No, I’m not talking about Minari, unfortunately, but rather the new Sam Raimi-produced horror film in which Sandra Oh experiences severe mommy issues. While the veteran actress does her best to infuse Umma (Korean for “mommy”) with some psychological depth to go along with its jump scares, this debut feature written and directed by Iris K. Shim proves the sort of minor chiller best experienced on late-night cable.

In this case, the grandmother happens to be dead, although that doesn’t stop her from popping up periodically (in the stern form of MeeWha Alana Lee) to wreak havoc on the lives of her daughter Amanda (Oh) and granddaughter Chris (Fivel Stewart, Atypical). Not that it’s hard to do, since the two seem to be already living a strange existence, supporting themselves on honey from their expansive bee colonies and living off the grid because Amanda apparently becomes ill if she’s anywhere near electricity. The two have formed a close, solitary bond, interrupted only by the occasional appearances of a friendly local (Dermot Mulroney, providing low-key gravitas) who sells their wares online. Although Fivel is approaching college age, she has no friends — and even if she did, she’d have no way of communicating with them since she has no cell phone.

Their peaceful life together is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Amanda’s uncle (Tom Yi) from Korea, who comes bearing a strange gift — a large box containing her recently deceased mother’s few possessions, as well as her ashes. Amanda, long estranged from her “umma,” wants no part of it, and for good reason, since bad things begin to happen not long after her uncle leaves. It seems that mother and daughter have some unfinished emotional business, which manifests itself by Amanda’s umma making eerie appearances and hectoring her daughter (in subtitled Korean).

“We started as one, and we’ll end as one,” Umma ominously warns Amanda as she seems to be slowly taking possession of her.

The film’s familiar horror elements are less interesting than the quiet dramatic moments in which Chris starts to come out of her shell with the aid of the business associate’s visiting niece (Odeya Rush), who befriends her and opens her eyes to the idea that her mother’s supposed allergy to electricity may be imaginary. Stewart’s sensitive performance as the confused daughter who loves her mother but yearns to establish her own life gives the proceedings some much-needed heart.

Writer-director Shin’s labored attempts to use genre tropes to explore the complexities of domineering mother-daughter relationships never fully develops. Plot elements are often left dangling and the storyline borders on incoherent at times, as if many scenes had been left on the cutting room floor (the film runs a brief 83 minutes including credits, which makes it seem less tight than choppy). There are more than a few scarily arresting moments, such as Amanda’s umma seemingly attempting to drag her daughter with her into her grave, but they never coalesce into a consistent visual style.

Oh, who’s on the other end of complicated mother/daughter relationship issues in the current Pixar release Turning Red, delivers a fully committed performance, gamely going through the physically demanding horror film paces and being unafraid to make her character sometimes unsympathetic. But her strong efforts are not enough to lift Umma above its mediocre B-movie status.