What's news: Amazon is betting that the next Game of Thrones is Lord of the Rings. Plus: White House intrigue over the AT&T-Time Warner proposal, Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller sues Warner Bros., and The Weinstein Co. faces a lawsuit over a $45M loan. — Erik Hayden
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If you bothered to ask, it was always clear that the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was broadly unpopular in the Trump administration, Michael Wolff writes in his new column:
In July, the last time I inquired, a member of the senior staff told me, in no uncertain terms, “Bet against it.” As a candidate, Donald Trump had publicly dissed the deal. It was a juicy, bash-big-business target; opposing it was in line with the administration’s anti-media agenda; and Time Warner’s CNN was, of course, ever stuck in the president’s craw. How could this be misunderstood?
Still, in the Trump maelstrom, nobody would say it was top of mind, either. And that seemed good enough for AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes to believe, in quite some ostrich fashion, that they would win approval for the deal. Even when directly told that the White House didn’t like it, and that senior Trump officials were saying it was going down, AT&T put its fingers in its collective ears.
I know this because, when I wrote about the deal in this space last spring, I told AT&T’s general counsel, David McAtee, who was leading the regulatory charge, that high-ranking Trumpers, whom I was also speaking to, were saying no damn way. He could not have seemed in a deeper, la-di-da denial. Full column.
Elsewhere in TV...
► Amazon bets big on Lord of the Rings series. The retail giant and streaming outlet acquired global television rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise, based on the best-selling novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Amazon has handed out a multiple-season commitment.
+ Amazon's LOTR series will be set in Middle-earth and explore new storylines preceding Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, where the New Line movie franchise started. The deal includes a potential additional spinoff series.
► Showtime's Damon-Affleck pilot finds stars. Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge are heading to Boston for Showtime. The duo will star in the premium cable network's drama pilot City on a Hill, from executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
► ABC extends Roseanne revival order. The network has ordered an additional episode ahead of the Roseanne Barr sitcom's highly anticipated return. That brings the episode total of the reboot to nine episodes set to bow in 2018.
► Angelyne limited series being shopped. Home news: Shameless star Emmy Rossum and Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail are teaming with THR to create a limited series based on senior writer Gary Baum's investigative feature about Angelyne, Los Angeles' mysterious billboard icon. Story I Original feature.
^Jimmy Fallon returns to Tonight Show. The host returned Monday and opened with a tearful tribute to his mother Gloria Fallon, who died Nov. 4 at the age of 68. "She was the best audience, she was the one I was always trying to make laugh," Fallon said. Full clip.
► Showrunner Mark Schwahn accused of sexual harassment. Schwahn has been accused of sexual harassment by the cast and crew of his former show One Tree Hill, who issued a statement on Monday in support of their colleague, writer Audrey Wauchope.
► Epix finds new president. Michael Wright is returning to the network space. The former head of programming at TBS and TNT, who exited the Turner-owned companies to serve as CEO at Amblin, has been tapped to take over for Mark Greenberg as president.
► NBC head of current programming steps down. Vernon Sanders is seguing to producing. He signed an overall deal with Universal TV and has come on board the studio's Amazing Stories anthology reboot for Apple.
► Madison Square Garden CEO exits company. David "Doc" O'Connor has abruptly quit after just two years as president and CEO of the company. Chairman James Dolan will replace him on an interim basis.
Rep Sheet: Pamela Adlon has dropped 3 Arts manager Dave Becky, who issued a statement earlier on Monday apologizing for not taking previous reports of Louis C.K.'s behavior more seriously ... Kristin Chenoweth has fired Primary Wave Entertainment amid sexual assault claims against former co-CEO David Guillod.
Warner Bros. finds itself stuck in an Australian court in a lawsuit filed by director George Miller over Mad Max: Fury Road, the celebrated 2015 film that grossed more than $375 million worldwide, Eriq Gardner reports:
Miller's loan-out company alleges that its deal for the movie provided a $7 million bonus if the final net cost of Mad Max: Fury Road didn't surpass $157 million. Miller is demanding payment, but by Warners' calculation, the film went over budget. Miller rejects this proposition, blaming a series of decisions which he alleges caused substantial changes and delays to the film. He asserts that Warner Bros. shouldn't take those costs into account.
Additionally, Miller is also claiming that Warner Bros. breached a provision of the contract that provided that if a co-financier was sought, Miller's company would have first opportunity to provide financing on terms comparable to similar financing deals. Warners made a deal with Ratpac Entertainment — a company co-owned by Brett Ratner and, at the time, future Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — allegedly without extending an offer to Miller's company.
► Lars von Trier producer accused of sexual harassment. Danish authorities are investigating allegations, from nine women, that Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who co-founded production group Zentropa with von Trier, repeatedly harassed female staff.
► Tom Sizemore removed from movie set for allegedly violating 11-year old girl. Gary Baum reports: A dozen cast and crewmembers tell THR that the actor was sent home from a Utah film set in 2003 on Born Killers after the girl told her parents about the incident. The incident has never been revealed publicly.
► Louis C.K. movie dropped by foreign distributors also. After I Love You, Daddy was ditched by The Orchard in the U.S., leading pan-Arab distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment has said it is also scrapping the title.
► Weinstein Co. faces lawsuit over $45 million loan. Financial pressures on The Weinstein Co. keep mounting, the latest is a lawsuit from AI International Holdings, which claims in New York Supreme Court that a $45 million loan is now in default and that repayment must be made immediately.
► MoviePass may launch streaming service. The owner of MoviePass, which sells a month's worth of movie tickets for the price of one, saw its shares surge 20 percent on Monday after CEO Mitch Lowe hinted the company might also get into streaming media.
^Doc filmmakers get personal with their own family stories. Don Steinberg writes: Artists trained their lenses on fellow artists in notable 2017 documentaries that told the story of their own relatives, as was the case with both Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold and Arthur Miller: Writer. Full story.
► Sam Mendes exits Disney's live-action Pinocchio. The feature, based on the classic 1940 cartoon, was penned by Rogue One scripter Chris Weitz. Mendes was previously in talks for the live-action James and the Giant Peach adaptation.
► Wonder Woman 2 release date moved. Warner Bros. has pushed the film to Nov. 1, 2019, from its previous date of Dec. 13, 2019. The shift comes after Disney and Lucasfilm pushed back the release of Star Wars: Episode IX to Dec. 20, 2019.
► Sony's Spider-Man cinematic universe expands. The studio is developing Morbius, a feature project centered on Spider-Man antihero Morbius the Living Vampire. Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, who worked on the Power Rangers movie, wrote the script.
► Are You Afraid of the Dark movie finds writer. Paramount Pictures arm Paramount Players has hired Gary Dauberman, the writer behind the New Line horror movies It and Annabelle: Creation, to pen the script and produce the project.
Kathleen Kennedy to be honored by Art Directors Guild. The president of Lucasfilm will be presented with the Cinematic Imagery Award at the 22nd annual Art Directors Guild's Excellence in Production Design Awards on Jan. 27 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Details.
A group of AIDS activists have signed an open letter asking for fashion designer Kenneth Cole to resign or be replaced as amfAR board chairman, following a report in October that detailed amfAR dealings between Cole and disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, Sam Reed and Stephanie Chan write. The letter.
What else we're reading...
— "Adam Driver’s nonprofit seeks soldiers for the stage." Reggie Ugwu writes: "Arts in the Armed Forces, founded by the actor and veteran Adam Driver, will grant $10,000 to a playwright who has served in the military." [New York Times]
— "Entertainment channels launch $16-a-month TV bundle with no sports." Cara Lombardo reports: Philo is "aimed at cable TV 'cord-cutters' who don’t watch sports and cable news channels." [Wall Street Journal]
— "We tried to stop James Toback decades ago." Bonnie Bertram and Julie V. Iovine write: "Nearly 30 years after first investigating the director’s behavior, the authors of a Spy piece recall their reporting - and reveal their identities." [Vanity Fair]
— "Bryan Cranston is as mad as hell, and brilliant at it." Benedict Nightingale on a new Network: "Cranston plays Howard Beale, the crazed, truth-telling newscaster, with a commanding fury and sense of bewilderment." [Daily Beast]
— Will Rupert Murdoch break up his empire? Meg James reports: "So many people were startled to learn the 86-year-old tycoon and his sons appear willing to sell some of their prized 21st Century Fox media assets." [Los Angeles Times]
Today's birthdays: Laura Ramsey, 35, Vanessa Bayer, 36, Olga Kurylenko, 38, Josh Duhamel, 45, Zhang Yimou, 68, Paul Hirsch, 72.