What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:10 AM 11/7/2017

by Ray Rahman

Kimberly White/Getty Images

What's news: An explosive new report exposes Harvey Weinstein's shady network of spies and informants. Plus: the story behind the Disney-Fox talks, BuzzFeed and Facebook team up for a new dating show, critics boycott Disney movies and a liberal billionaire takes on Fox News. — Ray Rahman

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  • Weinstein's Web

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    Former Mossad agents. Law firms paid to stifle newspapers while also representing them. Something called "Black Cube." Ronan Farrow's latest bombshell Harvey Weinstein report — detailing the intricate, and often shady, network of investigators employed by the former film mogul — reads like a novel you'd put down because it simply strained credulity. Chris Gardner writes:

    When Ronan Farrow appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Friday night, the investigative journalist promised that a new Harvey Weinstein piece was coming, one that would explore "this machine that was so instrumental in keeping this quiet as long as it was quiet — I think there is much more to be said about just how far that went."

    On Monday, The New Yorker published a new explosive investigation on its website titled "Harvey Weinstein's Army of Spies." It's a 5,300-word, intricately woven report with details examining just what Farrow teased.

    It is known that Weinstein has for years leaned on an aggressive team of lawyers, confidentiality agreements, financial settlements and bullying tactics in attempts to keep women from coming forward, but what has not been made public until Monday, through this story, is that he also employed two intelligence companies, Kroll and Black Cube, the latter of which promotes itself as "a select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units" including former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. According to Farrow's story, Weinstein began engaging the firms in the fall of 2016, showing how long the now-disgraced mogul had been working to silence or scare his accusers and the journalists investigating the long-whispered-about claims. Full story.

    + Rose McGowan figures prominently in Farrow's story, and the actress-turned-activist goes on the record to describe her troubling interactions with operatives from Black Cube, who used false identities to secure information from her, including details and/or pages from her forthcoming memoir. Farrow reports that one of those investigators masqueraded as a women's rights advocate and secretly recorded her conversations with McGowan. 

    + A Mutual Friend: Another major element revealed in the story is the role lawyer David Boies is said to have played in all this. Boies and his law firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner were representing The New York Times at the same time as he was helping Weinstein's private investigators spy on and discredit accusers and journalists.  

    + The Times issued a statement to CNN on the matter: "We learned today that the law firm of Boies, Schiller and Flexner secretly worked to stop our reporting on Harvey Weinstein at the same time as the firm's lawyers were representing us in other matters. We consider this intolerable conduct, a grave betrayal of trust, and a breach of the basic professional standards that all lawyers are required to observe. It is inexcusable, and we will be pursuing appropriate remedies." 

    + The National Enquirer is also involved in Farrow's story: The chief content officer from the company that publishes the tabloid is said to have shared with Weinstein "material obtained by one of its reporters, as part of an effort to help Weinstein disprove McGowan's allegations of rape," Farrow writes. 

    + Anthony Bourdain is not happy about any of this. The CNN star — whose partner is Italian actress Asia Argento, one of the women who alleged Weinstein raped her — said Weinstein's enablers were "beneath whale shit."

    In other news...

    + The Television Academy voted to expel Harvey Weinstein for life ... Kevin Spacey's All the Money in the World has been pulled from AFI Fest, though the movie is still set to hit theaters Dec. 22 ... Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo says James Toback asked her to "get naked in a movie." She says she "laughed in his face" in response ... Jane Seymour says she briefly quit acting after she was sexually harassed by "the most powerful man in Hollywood," whom she left unnamed ... Students at the USC School for Cinematic Arts are petitioning to have Bryan Singer's name removed from the Division of Cinema & Media Studies.

    Elsewhere in film...

    ^Why a Disney deal with 21st Century Fox makes sense now. Fox executives have signaled many times that "scale for scale’s sake," as CEO James Murdoch put it last year, isn’t something they’re interested in, write Paul Bond and Georg Szalai:  

    Disney has been considering a purchase of the Fox film and TV studios and other 21st Century Fox assets, which would leave the Rupert Murdoch-controlled conglomerate focused on its news and sports TV operations, including the Fox News, Fox Business Network and Fox Sports 1 cable channels, as well as the Fox broadcast network and TV stations it owns.

    For Disney, the benefits are obvious as it readies its streaming subscription service that is meant to rival Netflix. For now, it will contain Pixar- and Disney-branded TV shows and movies as well as Star Wars and Marvel content. Disney owns Marvel, but Fox has rights to some of the characters, like X-Men, and the Twitterverse is already lighting up at the possibility of reuniting the superheroes.

    The benefits are a bit less obvious for 21st Century Fox, as Murdoch isn’t known for scaling back his media ambitions. But focusing on sports and news — plus retaining the Fox broadcast network while not having to compete as much with a growing stable of content creators — could appeal to him, especially as his empire could still expand overseas. Plus, he also controls News Corp, parent of The Wall Street Journal and other publications, and re-merging a scaled-back 21st Century Fox with News Corp could be an option, as well. Full story.

    + Column: Michael Wolff on the Murdochs' sudden sale talks. Beyond the urge for scale may be the fate of their bid for Sky television, the arrest of a Saudi investor and the more immediate need for Rupert and sons to raise cash to possibly take their company private, writes Wolff. Read more.

    + Regardless of motive, Netflix shares slid after news of the potential deal broke.

    + In other Disney news: A number of journalists are boycotting Disney movie coverage after the company barred The Los Angeles Times from advance screenings. Disney made the move after the newspaper published a series of stories examining the company's business relationship with the city of Anaheim. Now The A.V. Club, Flavorwire and Washington Post writer Alyssa Rosenberg are pledging solidarity with the L.A. Times.

    + And now a host of critics groups — including the L.A. Film Critics Association, N.Y. Film Critics Circle, Boston Society of Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics — are disqualifying all Disney films from consideration of their respective year-end awards until the L.A. Times blackout is rescinded.

    Paramount shake-up: Megan Colligan out. The exec is stepping down as president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Paramount Pictures, effective immediately, following a dismal run at the box office. Her exit comes as newly installed Paramount chairman-CEO Jim Gianopulos tries to forge a new future for the struggling studio.

    + However, Colligan's attorney says she was pushed out because of gender discrimination, and that she is considering legal action. “She intends to pursue all her remedies,” says the attorney. "I think it is a systemic problem within Paramount.”

    AMC reports Q3 loss but beats expectations. The cinema giant swung to a loss in the third quarter due to "weakness" in its summer box office, yet still surpassed analyst predictions. CEO Adam Aron also told analysts that AMC was eyeing a foray into virtual reality exhibition, as well as considering moving ahead on plans to create a premium VOD window for movies in the event that studios and exhibitors agree on terms that would allow home viewing of popular film titles.

    Cast & Crew: Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult are set to star in True History of the Kelly Gang, a gothic Western from director Justin Kurzel (Assassin's Creed, Macbeth) ... The Notebook director Nick Cassavetes is returning to romance with Have You Seen Her?, an international romance he's co-writing and is set to direct ... David Castaneda is joining the Billy Crystal comedy We Are Unsatisfied, which co-stars Ben Schwartz. 

    ► George Lucas bemoans the challenges of launching a museum. "I have discovered in trying to build a museum," the filmmaker said at LACMA's 7th annual Art+Film gala, "that a lot of people don't like museums. Lucas was honored by Kerry Washington at the event, which raised $4.4 million and hosted Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Kim Kardashian. 

  • Fox News vs. the Billionaire

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    Watch any amount of cable news, and you'll no doubt end up seeing an ad in which a man named Tom Steyer calls for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The commercial even ran on Fox News — until the network decided to drop it. Now Steyer, a California billionaire and Democratic donor, is protesting, writes Jeremy Barr: 

    In a letter addressed to Fox News co-president Jack Abernethy on Friday, Steyer's attorney claimed that the network stopped running the minutelong ad on Oct. 31 — without offering an explanation — despite agreeing to run the ad for a second week.

    "We wish to protest this baseless and unethical decision," Steyer attorney Brad Deutsch wrote. "The cancellation is not only a breach of your agreement with Mr. Steyer — it is also a profound failure of journalistic integrity, a suppression of constitutionally protected speech, and likely a consequence of inexcusable political pressure." Abernethy confirmed and explained the cancellation in a statement, saying, "Due to the strong negative reaction to their ad by our viewers, we could not in good conscience take their money."

    Steyer's attorney argued that Fox News must have been swayed by Trump's Twitter criticism of Steyer and the ad. "The only plausible explanation seems to be that Fox News capitulated to political pressure from the Trump administration itself," he wrote. "President Trump has threatened retaliation against broadcasters who provide him with negative coverage and Fox News appears to have answered these threats with servility." Full story.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Group Nine Media acquires Jash production studio. The Great Pivot to Video continues: Group Nine, which runs media properties such as Thrillist, NowThis and The Dodo, is hoping to build out its video business by acquiring Jash, the comedy-centric production company co-founded by former Jimmy Kimmel Live! veterans. As part of the deal, the Jash team will work to develop new IP from Group Nine's portfolio of media brands, as well as help Group Nine grow its branded content business.  

    + BuzzFeed will debut an interactive dating show on Facebook Watch this week. This Thursday, the publisher will start airing a bi-weekly interactive dating show called RelationShipped on Facebook Watch. It's similar to The Bachelor, but with a catch: Over the course of the 18-episode season, viewers will have a say in how that love story plays out. Full story.

    ABC's American Idol reboot has a premiere date. After taking not even two years off, the show will return on its new network on Sunday, March 11 of next year, Ryan Seacrest revealed. As previously reported, the new panel of judges will include Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.

    ^Why Curb Your Enthusiasm is putting its fatwa storyline on hold (for now). Executive producer Jeff Schaffer discusses that, plus Larry David's recent SNL monologue and why no topic is off-limits for comics — not even the Holocaust. Q&A.

    Wentworth Miller to exit CW's Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. The actor revealed that he was leaving the network's DC Comics shows in an Instagram post that read: "Currently shooting some of my final episodes as 'Captain Cold/Leonard Snart' on the CW's Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. Grateful — now and in advance — to a pair of talented casts and hardworking crews … Thank you." 

    Ilene Chaiken developing medical and FBI dramas at Fox. The Empire showrunner and L Word creator is writing both projects as part of her overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television.

    + The first: Triage, described as a medical drama with a This Is Us-esque multiple timeline twist. The project follows two women's lives during three distinct periods: in 2008, when they're surgery interns at Stanford, and in 2018 and 2028, as they explore cutting-edge medical techniques and face both professional and personal challenges.

    + The second: Mrs. Otis Regrets, which centers on FBI Special Agent Clementine Otis — wife, mother, patriot — who is in the midst of investigating a domestic terrorism threat when an affair with a prominent government official shatters her life and career at the Bureau.

    ► Audience Network Head Chris Long to Depart. The programming chief at the former DirecTV-turned-AT&T Audience Network, is exiting the company ahead of the completion of AT&T's Time Warner acquisition. An interim replacement has not yet been named. 

  • Glor Meets World

    Courtesy of Timothy Kuratek/CBS

    Meet Jeff Glor, the next (and youngest) CBS Evening News anchor. He’s not a household name yet, but the network is betting on his news chops and youthful appeal, writes Jeremy Barr:

    One of Glor's primary attributes is his age: 42. Since his appointment was announced, he's been compared to ABC World News anchor David Muir, who is 43 and had a comparably low national profile when picked for the big job. (ABC News does not think the comparison is particularly apt.)

    Asked in an interview whether he will consciously try to attract younger viewers to the broadcast, Glor told THR simply, "We want as many people as possible." He added that he'll put his stamp on the broadcast and make long-haul changes, but won't turn his back on what has made the show successful. "You can respect the past and also look toward the future," he said. "We can do that."

    Glor said he will be "conscious" of ratings, but won't overdue it. CBS Evening News has been mired in third place in the broadcast news ratings for a while now — for the week of Oct. 23, the show brought in 6.22 million total viewers, compared to 8.14 million for NBC Nightly News and 8.46 million for pack leader ABC World News. Full profile.

    What else we're reading...

    — The truth about Mir-Anon, the secret support group for ex-Weinstein employees. Chris Lee writes: "The name started as an in-joke: an abbreviation of Miramax Anonymous deliberately evoking recovery support groups like AA and Al-Anon." [Vulture]

    — The brains behind The Real World on the show that changed America. Amy Zimmerman writes: "The man who helped invent reality TV reflects on why The Real World and spinoff series The Challenge still matter more than 30 seasons later." [The Daily Beast]

    Thor: Ragnarok proves that sex is sorely missing from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. David Ehrlich writes: "A lack of sex isn’t a problem for the Marvel Cinematic Universe unto itself, but it’s symptomatic of a franchise whose need to constantly resell its characters prohibits it from getting them dirty." [IndieWire]

    — Is making a Marvel movie good for directors? David Sims writes: "Nine years into the studio’s colossal franchise experiment, most filmmakers haven’t parlayed their success with comic-book projects into anything greater." [The Atlantic

    Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge is not the hagiography you might expect. Rob Harvilla writes: "The documentary from Alex Gibney — and produced by Jann Wenner — does not shy away from the magazine’s later years." [The Ringer]

    Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner's foray into fiction. Alexandra Alter writes: "After the popular television series ended, everyone was waiting for his next TV show. Instead, he wrote a novel." [New York Times]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Josh Gad can't turn off 'Olaf' voice." [Late Show]

    + "Idris Elba has women all sexed up." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Ellen Pompeo reflects on Grey's Anatomy's 14 seasons." [Late Night]

    What else we're hearing...

    + Reviewing Thor: Ragnarok and finishing Stranger Things 2. [The Watch]

    Today's birthdays: Lorde, 21, Adam DeVine, 34, Morgan Spurlock, 47, Christopher Knight, 60, Lawrence O'Donnell, 66.

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