What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:27 AM 1/26/2018

by Ray Rahman

Casey Affleck BAFTA - Getty - H
Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

What's news: Casey Affleck will skip the Oscars. Plus: Jemele Hill exits SportsCenter, Damien Chazelle goes to Apple and Spotify looks to its future. — Ray Rahman

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  • Oscar Strategies

    What do each of this year's best picture contenders have to do to reach the podium at the end of the night? Can Get Out or Lady Bird really pull off the upset? Stephen Galloway lays it all out:

    The best campaign for Shape of Water would be a replica of the one Fox used with The Revenant when it was in a tight race with indie challenger Boyhood in 2016: Remind voters that your film is the work of a true auteur, a visual film artist nonpareil. (Spotlight ended up winning picture, but Revenant's Alejandro G. Inarritu won director.)

    Three Billboards, by contrast, should get Martin McDonagh out there, defying The New York Times' dig that "his movies are all strings. Often they feel as if other filmmakers are doing the pulling." And after winning the SAG Awards' best ensemble nod, Billboards should argue that it highlights acting more richly than any other movie this year. Read more.

    Elsewhere in film ...

    ? New Weinstein lawsuit: Harvey Weinstein's former personal assistant Sandeep Rehal says she was forced to work in a "pervasive and severe sexually hostile" environment for the more than two years she was employed by The Weinstein Co., according to a lawsuit against Harvey, brother Bob and TWC

    ? Casey Affleck won't present the best actress Oscar award after all. In fact, he won't even be there. Traditionally, the previous year's best actor victor does the job, but the Manchester by the Sea winner — facing criticism for past sexual harassment accusations — is withdrawing from the ceremony altogether.

    + The Academy's response: "We appreciate the decision to keep the focus on the show and the great work of this year," a spokesperson said.  

    + In other Franco news: James was scrubbed from the cover of Vanity Fair's new Hollywood issue at the last minute. "We made a decision not to include James Franco on the Hollywood cover once we learned of the misconduct allegations against him," a spokesperson for the magazine said.

    ? Sundance deals: Annapurna nabbed the much talked-about supernatural comedy Sorry to Bother You, starring Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Atlanta) ... Sony Pictures Classics acquired worldwide rights to the drama Puzzle, starring Kelly Macdonald as a jigsaw-obsessed housewife ... Saban Films and Roadside Attractions won rights to the Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart drama Lizzie

    ^Black Panther is due for a huge box office debut: Ryan Coogler's Marvel/Disney movie — the first big superhero tentpole of 2018 — still has three weeks before it hits theaters, but the film is currently tracking to open in the $100 million-$120 million range. Read more.

    ? Charlie Kaufman does Netflix: The filmmaker's next feature will be a thriller adaptation of Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things, which Kaufman will write and direct for Netflix.

    ? Jeffrey Donovan, Grace Victoria Cox join Zac Efron's Ted Bundy movie: Donovan (Burn Notice) and Cox, who'll star as Veronica in the upcoming Heathers TV reboot, will play pivotal courtroom roles in the modestly titled Bundy flick Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  

    ? Super Hans: After claiming to quit doing superhero movies after Batman vs. Superman back in 2016, prolific composer Hans Zimmer says he's returning to the genre to score Simon Kinberg's upcoming X-Men: The Dark Phoenix later this year. 

    + What he said back then:The Dark Knight trilogy might be three movies to you — to me, it was 11 years of my life. This one [BvS] was very hard for me to do, to try to find new language."

    ? Amazon's next book-to-movie adaptation: Hot off of news of The Nest, Amazon is announcing it will also turn Weike Wang's debut novel, Chemistry, into a feature, with playwright Ming Peiffer set to adapt.

    ? Tencent takes a stake in Skydance: Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings acquired a minority stake in David Ellison's Skydance Media as part of a new strategic partnership, a surprise deal that breaks from the recent trend of deep-pocketed Chinese firms shying away from major investments in Hollywood.

  • Zucker Reassures Staff

    Lots of news coming out of CNN, starting with a town hall led by president Jeff Zucker. Jeremy Barr writes: 

    At an employees-only town hall on Thursday, Zucker addressed the recent security threat against the network and promised to tackle the issue. "Nothing is more important than you feeling safe in the office and in the field," he said.

    He added that the recent threat is under federal investigation, but reiterated that "at no time did CNN feel their people were in jeopardy," calling the threat "a very, very rare occurrence."

    Zucker's future: He assured employees he wasn't leaving and has not had any talks with ESPN or parent company Disney, saying: "I fully intend to stay at CNN and have no desire to work at ESPN."

    In other CNN news ...

    Casey Neistat is out: CNN has decided to shut down Beme, the Casey Neistat-run video news app it acquired in 2016 for $25 million. "Maybe I struggled more in that environment than I had anticipated," Neistat acknowledged in an apology video of sorts.

    + Zucker's response: "This was a big bet, and if I had to make the call to make it again, I would. The only mistake we could make would be to stop taking chances."

    Ryan Lizza is back: Viewers tuning in to cable news last night might've been surprised to see the political reporter back on the air after an extended absence — Lizza had been M.I.A. ever since The New Yorker let him go in December for "improper sexual contact."

    + CNN's statement: "Upon learning of The New Yorker's decision to sever ties with Ryan Lizza in December, CNN pulled him from future on-air appearances while the network conducted an extensive investigation into the matter. Based on the information provided and the findings of the investigation, CNN has found no reason to continue to keep Mr. Lizza off the air."

    Elsewhere in TV ...

    ? Jemele Hill is exiting SportsCenter: Sources tell THR that Hill's last day on SC6 will be Friday, Feb. 2, two days before the Super Bowl. Michael Smith will host the program on his own, as he did when Hill was suspended last October for her controversial tweets about Trump and the NFL protests.

    + Hill will still remain at ESPN, where she is one year into a lucrative four-year deal. She'll write for the network's digital vertical The Undefeated, and also host town halls.

    ? ESPN may sell FiveThirtyEightThe network says it is considering "a variety of options" for the wonky data-loving site that Nate Silver brought to ESPN in 2013. There's reportedly "significant interest" from outside buyers, though relocating the platform to Disney's ABC News is on the table as well.

    ? Is Fox Sports ignoring the Larry Nassar story? According to a Deadspin analysis, the network isn't covering the massive sports scandal at all: "A closed captioning keyword search of the last six months for FS1 and FS2 reveals the Larry Nassar sex abuse case has never been discussed on any program." The report adds: "A Fox Sports spokesman declined to discuss the coverage on the record, but noted that the network doesn’t cover gymnastics."

    ? Jimmy Kimmel gets Stormy Daniels: The actress who reportedly had an affair with Donald Trump will appear on Kimmel on the night of Trump's first State of the Union address (Jan. 30). 

    ? Former Fox Newser meets with Trump: Eric Bolling tells THR he met in the White House with Trump to discuss the opioid epidemic, an issue that has had personal resonance for him since the death of his son from an accidental overdose in early September. "I have offered him 100 percent of my availability, whatever he needs me to do," he says.

    ^The 2 Dope Queens duo are "getting rid of the good ol' boy days" in comedy. Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are ready to bring their red-hot podcast to HBO when their upcoming four-part stand-up showcase debuts Feb. 2 — with guest Jon Stewart. Read more.

    ? Damien Chazelle jumps into bed with Apple. One man, two steamers: The Oscar-winning La La Land director, who already has a deal with Netflix for musical TV drama The Eddy, landed a straight-to-series order at Apple for what is being billed as an "innovative" drama. In a first, he's going to write and direct every episode of the show. 

    ? Michael Shannon joins AMC's Little Drummer Girl: He'll surely cut a menacing figure as an Israeli spymaster in the upcoming Park Chan-wook miniseries, a John le Carre adaptation that already stars Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgard. 

    ? ABC's Grey's Anatomy firefighter spinoff finally has a name: They're calling it Station 19, named after the Shondaland offshoot's central firehouse. The series premieres March 22.

    + ABC picks up The Greatest American Hero: The network handed out a formal pilot order to its female-driven reboot, a single-camera half-hour comedy from Fresh Off the Boat writer-producer Rachna Fruchbom.

    ? USA updates: The network canceled its poorly reviewed Depression-era drama Damnation and scrapped its straight-to-series order American Rust.

    Hulu's library gets bigger: The streamer inked a new multiyear deal with IFC Films for exclusive subscription streaming rights to current and future narrative films.

    ? Big Little Lies season 2: Everything we know so far. Plots! Cast! Meryl Streep! And... a third season? See it all here.

    ? Fullscreen president Ezra Cooperstein jumps to Rooster Teeth: Cooperstein will take on the full-time role of president at the Austin-based digital media company, which Fullscreen acquired more than three years ago.

  • Music's Class of 2018

    As we head into the Grammys this weekend, it's a good time to ask: What does the music industry's ruling class look like right now? The hierarchy:

    1. JAY Z It's not just musical prowess that propels him to the top of this list; it's also his business savvy. Mr. Beyonce upended the usual distribution model by bypassing Apple Music and Spotify and instead releasing 4:44 (nominated for eight Grammys) on his own streaming platform, Tidal, where in June it went platinum in just six days. By cutting out the middleman, Jay Z doesn't have to share the profits — or at least not as much of them. 

    2. TAYLOR SWIFT Even as the public's fascination with her life continues, she maintains that everything about her music starts with old-school fundamentals. "I still do a lot of prep work before I walk through the studio door," Swift tells THR. "I think that's the Nashville songwriting school of thought, which will always be deeply ingrained in me. With a songwriting baseline firmly in place, that's when we feel the freedom to go in and take risks with production. And we took quite a few with this one." See the rest of the list.

    ^Can Spotify pull off music's power move? The Swedish streaming giant plots world domination, but it has plenty of obstacles to navigate. Eriq Gardner writes:

    The music publishing industry hasn't traditionally cared too much about the formalities involved in mechanical licensing (typically, record labels have done the chore without issue), but when Spotify admitted it had trouble identifying co-authors of songs for the purpose of making payments, publishers found their leverage point — allowing Wixen Music Publishing to file a $1.6 billion copyright complaint against the company.

    "I think the lawsuits are driven by anger [over] licensing rates rather than licensing practices," acknowledges David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers Association. "I compare Spotify to Grubhub, which picks up food prepared by someone else and keeps 10 percent of the payment. Who decided for Spotify that 30 percent was the right number?" Full story.

    What else we're reading ...

    — "Gender diversity in the music industry? The numbers are grim." Ben Sisario writes: "Of the 2,767 songwriters credited on [the top 600 songs of the last five years], 12.3 percent were women." [New York Times]

    — "Taylor Kitsch forever." Anna Peele profiles the actor: "Real Kitsch is, turns out, much louder and more Canadian than Screen Kitsch." [GQ]

    — "O that's good." Laura Brown talks to the Oprah Winfrey about "braving the elements, the way forward for women, and why, for now at least, she doesn’t want to be president." [InStyle]

    — "TV's most joyous, authentic depiction of Latinx family life." Melissa Leon writes: "It might be impossible to overstate just what a miracle of a TV show One Day at a Time is." [Daily Beast]

    — "The tattoo industry is having its own wrenching, revelatory #MeToo moment." Anna Merlan writes: "Unlike accusations in entertainment or news media, the tattoo world’s reckoning is playing out primarily on social media, in anguished Facebook posts and secret-spilling Instagram Stories." [Jezebel]

    — "The White House asked to borrow a van Gogh. The Guggenheim offered a gold toilet instead." Paul Schwartzman writes about one curator's pointed offer to the president. [Washington Post]

    What else we're seeing ...

    + "Viola Davis on Melania Trump's love of How to Get Away With Murder." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Will Ferrell channeled Ron Burgundy for an interview with Roger Federer." [Tonight Show]

    + "Gwyneth Paltrow talks Goop and its 'sex and love' issue." [Late Show]

    + "Gary Oldman on his 'admiration' of Winston Churchill: 'He's incomparable.'" [THR

    What else we're hearing ...

    + "Hans Zimmer: Interview." Scott Feinberg sits down with the Oscar-winning composer. [Awards Chatter / THR]

    + "How to produce and direct a Super Bowl." Richard Deitsch talks to NBC Sports exec producers about covering next week's game. [SI Media Podcast]

    + "An evening with Rian Johnson." The SlashFilm crew chats with the Last Jedi director. [/Filmcast]

    Today's birthdays: Ellen DeGeneres, 60, David Strathairn, 69, Lucinda Williams, 65, Scott Glenn, 77.