What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:26 AM 1/19/2018

by Ray Rahman

Morgan Freeman toasts the AFI during the AFI 50th Anniversary Gala - Getty - H 2017
Getty Images

What's news: Is Amazon Studios looking to make more blockbusters and fewer indie films? Plus: Sundance kicks off, Grey's Anatomy has a big trans moment, Snapchat lays off two dozen and a full preview of the 2018 SAG Awards. — Ray Rahman

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  • "Toxic" Work Environment?

    A Megyn Kelly Today writer says he was fired after reporting a "toxic" work environment, but NBC News begs to differ. Katie Kilkenny and Jeremy Barr writes:

    On Thursday, The Daily Mail published an email penned by former Megyn Kelly Today writer Kevin Bleyer and sent to colleagues after he was let go from NBC News this week. In the message, Bleyer forwards an email he says he sent to NBC News HR, which lists complaints he had with co-executive producers Jackie Levin and Christine Cataldi before he was fired. Bleyer didn't say whether Kelly herself was aware of the alleged work environment.

    Among the grievances Bleyer lists: the co-exec producers created a "toxic and demeaning environment" for employees, Cataldi frequently called her assistant an "idiot," Levin called him "a fucking whiner" and Levin used NBC resources to edit a video for her son's college singing group." Read more.

    + NBC News' response: "Jackie and Christine are being attacked unfairly. They are both excellent and experienced producers, and have the full support of everyone here. They, and the team, are fully focused on continuing the show’s momentum as it continues to climb in the ratings."

    Elsewhere in TV...

    ? Cosby prosecutors push for other accusers to testify in retrial: Pennsylvania prosecutors are asking the court to allow 19 women who say they were assaulted by Bill Cosby to testify at the criminal retrial over his alleged 2004 drug-induced sexual assault of Andrea Constand.

    ? Conservative Ed Martin out as CNN contributor: The former Missouri politician and pundit was brought on by CNN to help replace Jeffrey Lord, whom the network fired in August. CNN confirmed that Martin was no longer with the network.

    ? Snapchat lays off two dozen, relocates content team: The content layoffs come as Snapchat looks to relocate many of its New York-based team members to Los Angeles, where vp content Nick Bell is based.

    ? TCA winners and losers: Which shows had a strong showing out at the conference? Which didn't quite help themselves? And where does Roseanne fall in all this? Daniel Fienberg breaks it all down

    ^Grey's Anatomy's trans moment: "I'm a proud trans man, Dr. Bailey. I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history." That line comes from last night's episode, which showrunner Krista Vernoff says came after a lot of hard work and close partnership with GLAAD. Read more.

    + Inside the timely domestic abuse plot: "This story was broken before #MeToo and before the Harvey Weinstein story came out," Vernoff says. "I don't know if I believe in coincidences, but it's a fascinating moment of alchemy that these episodes are airing now." Q&A.

    ? Party of Five, rebooted: The bygone '90s show will see a revival more than 20 years after it left the air thanks to Freeform, which has handed out a put-pilot order to original series creators Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman

    + Freeform renews Grown-ish: The Black-ish spinoff, starring Yara Shahidi as a new college student, has been picked up for 20-episode sophomore season.

    + Network makeover: Those headlines come as part of Freeform's new look, including an updated logo, tagline ("A little forward") and overall mindset. 

    ? Will & Grace books Alec Baldwin, Blythe Danner and Sara Rue: The trio will all reprise their previous roles on the show: Baldwin as Karen's former lover, Danner as Will's mother and Rue as Grace's sister. No episode dates have been announced.

    ? NBC picks up Bad Boys spinoff for pilot: The network has given a formal pilot order to its female-driven reboot starring Gabrielle Union, who'll reprise her role from Bad Boys 2.

    ? Nancy Pelosi heads to RuPaul's Drag Race: The congresswoman's rep says she's a big fan and will appear as a judge on the show's All Stars edition. 

    ? The Office goes to India: BBC Worldwide India will co-produce a local version of The Office. Including the U.S. and U.K. versions, this will be the show's 10th iteration.

    Frank Darabont, CAA launch new Walking Dead lawsuit against AMC. In a sequel to explosive litigation over Walking Dead, the parties are suing the network a second time with new claims of being robbed of tens of millions of dollars in additional profits. Shady accounting practices are alleged as well as hidden evidence about Robert Kirkman's deal. Details. 


  • SAG Awards Preview

    SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris gives us a peek behind the curtain about what's planned for this year's ceremony. Ashley Lee writes:

    It wasn't until December that SAG-AFTRA announced that the SAG Awards will feature a lineup of all-women presenters. On the heels of weeks of sexual misconduct scandals that have rocked Hollywood, it seemed a timely choice.

    But in fact, it's a plan that had been in the works for more than a year, says Carteris. "We work so hard on creating economic and creative equity," she explains. "We're celebrating all of our actors but are really looking to highlight and celebrate the women and the great work they're doing." Read more.

    + Red carpet: Actresses aren't expected to be wearing black as they did at the Golden Globes, but Carteris notes that SAG-AFTRA has been actively collaborating with various human rights organizations and initiatives, including Time's Up.

    + Controversy? Globe wins for James Franco and Gary Oldman, both nominated at SAG, led to heated discussion on social media about their past conduct. Franco is reportedly showing up this weekend, despite skipping last week's Critics' Choice Awards.

    + The statues: How do they get made? Watch here.

    + The Morgan Freeman factor: The actor will be presented with a Lifetime Achievement award Sunday night. Tim Robbins spoke to us about the first time he met his Shawshank Redemption co-star, and his longtime producing partner Lori McCreary reveals his hidden talent: singing!

    Elsewhere in film...

    ? Colin Firth joins Woody Allen exodus: "I wouldn't work with him again," says Firth, who starred in Allen's 2013 film Magic in the Moonlight. He joins a number of actors who've recently sworn off Allen, including Rachel Brosnahan, Greta Gerwig, Timothée Chalamet and more. 

    ? Robert Redford kicks off Sundance: “It’s kind of a tipping point,” Redford said as he raised the curtain on the festival yesterday. “It’s changing the order of things so that women will have a stronger voice. They didn’t have it before. Too much control by the male dominance. Now I think it’s going to be more even-handed."

    ? Amazon's new movie strategy: bigger budgets, fewer indies. That's according to a new Reuters report, which claims the studio behind Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick "plans to shift resources from independent films to more commercial projects ... Amazon wants programming aimed at a far wider audience as it pursues its central business goal: persuading more people to join its video streaming service and shopping club Prime."

    + The numbers: "Amazon expects to go after films with budgets in the $50 million range at the expense of indie projects costing around $5 million..."

    ? Artios Awards winners: Lady Bird, Three Billboards and Dunkirk were among the big winners at the 33rd annual Casting Society of America ceremony. 

    ^Is Reed Morano the next Star Wars director? The Handmaid's Tale director opens up about her Sundance sci-fi romance I Think We're Alone Now and teases a potential collaboration with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy: "She's amazing. Any movie that I put my finger on that I loved when I was growing up was a movie that she produced. Anyway, it was a great meeting. Obviously, I can't say anything about what else we were talking about." Read more.

    ? Toy Story 4 finds a writer: Stephany Folsom, who recently had a feud with Marvel after being denied a "Story by" credit on Thor: Ragnarok, has been tapped to script the Pixar franchise's upcoming fourth film. 

    ? Danny Strong will write Disney's Oliver Twist movie: Strong, co-creator of Fox's Empire, will pen the musical take on the Charles Dickens novel, which will be adapted by Tony-winning Hamilton director Thomas Kail. Ice Cube is also on board to star and produce.

    ? Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Juri, Charlie Hunnam join Million Little Pieces: Their roles in the memoir adaptation: Thornton as a mafia boss; Juri as the female lead, a drug addict who falls in love with author James Frey (Aaron Taylor-Johnson); and Hunnam as Frey's brother.

    ? Tom Hardy raps: Want to hear the actor's 1999 rap mixtape, titled Falling on Your Arse? Well, here it is.

    ? Oculus alums launch film startup: Vets Edward Saatchi and Pete Billington launched Fable Studio Thursday with a slate of "made in VR" film projects. The company's first project: Wolves in the Walls, funded by Oculus and premiering at Sundance.

    ? Jeff Robinov's Studio 8 expands development team: John Graham has been promoted to head of the development team, where he'll oversee all Studio 8 projects, and Guy Danella, formerly an exec at Simon Kinberg's Fox-based Genre Films, has been hired as senior vp film.

    ? R.I.P., Bradford Dillman: The actor, who starred in the 1959 crime drama Compulsion and in the original Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, has passed away at 87.

  • Michael Douglas and #MeToo

    Editor's column: When a well-known journalist and author who was employed by Michael Douglas came forward to allege that he harassed her and masturbated in her presence, the star chose to go public with the claims before they were made, highlighting the media's responsibility and challenge in the post-Weinstein era. Matthew Belloni writes:

    In December, I was connected to a woman who was ready to share her story. The approach was familiar, something that has happened dozens of times to editors and reporters at THR and other media outlets since Harvey Weinstein's first accusers came forward and launched the #MeToo movement.

    The woman, a well-known journalist and author named Susan Braudy, had been telling this story to her closest friends for decades. She claimed she was subjected to sexual harassment by Michael Douglas that included near-constant profane and sexually charged dialogue, demeaning comments about her appearance, graphic discussions regarding his mistresses and more. The most traumatizing experience, she said, took place during a one-on-one script meeting in his apartment, during which Douglas masturbated in her presence, prompting her to run home crying.

    Thus began the vetting process. Read more.

    What else we're reading...

    — "No longer disruptors, Netflix and Amazon are now firmly in the Sundance Film Festival family." Mark Olsen writes: "Despite Netflix’s emphasis on launching titles on its global streaming platform, a raucous, enthusiastic screening in front of an audience at in Park City still plays a role in influencing decisions and strategy." [L.A. Times

    — "After launching Jennifer Lawrence and directing a best picture nominee, Debra Granik is finally back." Kyle Buchanan writes: "Few directors at the Sundance Film Festival have had their wildest dreams realized like Debra Granik. " [Vulture]

    — "Streaming TV's problem: Subscribers cancel service when their favorite shows are over." Cara Lombardo writes: "Cancellation rates for some services are over 50% as users sign up only for their favorite programming." [Wall Street Journal]

    — "YouTube's latest shake-up is bigger than just ads." Louise Matsakis writes: "YouTube is now excluding extremely small channels from advertising all together, and instead focusing both its monetization and its moderation efforts on larger, more valuable channels." [Wired]

    — "The Hollywood tide turns on Woody Allen." David Sims writes: "With Hollywood finally beginning to grapple with his enduring presence as an artist, could it be enough to destroy his career?" [The Atlantic]

    — "The evolution of Sesame Street on HBO." Troy Patterson writes: "The new episodes have the brassy splendor of The Bugs Bunny Show and the institutional dignity of a secular Sabbath school." [New Yorker]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Sharon Stone is proof women can play roles written for men." [Late Show]

    + "Catherine Zeta-Jones talks Griselda Blanco and cocaine godmother." [Late Night]

    + "Jessica Chastain gets SNL hosting advice from Gal Gadot." [Tonight Show]

    + "Handmaid's Tale director Reed Morano talks new film I Think We're Alone Now." [THR]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "We have a theory about Oprah." Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham talk Winfrey, Proud Mary and more. [Still Processing / NYT]

    + "Stories from Get Out, The West Wing and The Post with Bradley Whitford." The actor looks back on his career with Larry Wilmore. [Black on the Air / The Ringer]

    Today's Birthdays: Damien Chazelle, 33, Jodie Sweetin, 36, Rob Delaney, 41, Drea de Matteo, 46, Antoine Fuqua, 52, Katey Sagal, 64, Dolly Parton, 72, Tippi Hedren, 88.