What's news: After a full day of fallout, Matt Lauer breaks his silence. But who will replace him? Plus: New claims against Garrison Keillor and Russell Simmons (among others), Disney's Mulan finds its star and THR's annual actor roundtable. — Ray Rahman
Yesterday, between the time Savannah Guthrie hosted the Today show and the time she lit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the world learned a lot about her absent colleague Matt Lauer. It made for a disorienting day at NBC, writes Marisa Guthrie:
Hours after Lauer was fired on Wednesday, a Variety report was published that detailed multiple sexual harassment allegations against him. In the report, three anonymous women claimed that Lauer had given a sex toy to a woman as a gift and told her he wanted to use it on her; that he reprimanded a female employee after he exposed himself to her and she rejected him; and that he made female producers play "fuck, marry or kill" games. He also had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door to prevent unwanted interruptions, according to the women, and had a pattern of inviting women to his hotel room late at night while traveling for the Olympics.
Shortly the Variety story broke, the New York Times reported that NBC News received at least two additional complaints related to Lauer on Wednesday; in one of them, an anonymous former employee claims Lauer "summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her."
The developments left NBC in disarray as the sexual harassment reckoning claimed the network’s biggest star and the linchpin of its $500 million Today show franchise. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack and NBC News president Noah Oppenheim spent the day going from show to show to talk about the earthquake that had just upended their news division, said one source. Said another: “It’s surreal.” Full story.
+ Lauer breaks silence: This morning, Guthrie — flanked once again by Hoda Kotb — opened the Today show with a statement from Lauer, who had remained quiet all of Wednesday. "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC,” the statement read. “Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I'm committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job.”
+ Lauer also denied some of the claims, though it’s unclear which ones: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed,” the statement said. Read it in full.
+ Who knew what, and when? Given Lauer's long tenure at NBC, it's possible more stories will come out in the coming days, raising questions about who at the network knew about the behavior and why no one acted. Megyn Kelly has already said in an interview: "I had heard rumors about Matt."
+ Who will replace Lauer? Kotb filled in again today, and she was with Guthrie for last night's tree-lightning ceremony, which Lauer was also supposed to work. As for a long-term replacement, a lot of names are being bandied about, from Today vets Willie Geist and Al Roker to high-profile outsiders Anderson Cooper and Ryan Seacrest. Plus, a dark horse: Megyn Kelly. In fact, a source with knowledge of the show says seems like the only viable candidate. Full story.
+ About that secret button under Lauer's desk: Many found that tidbit very ... unusual, to say the least, but Brian Stelter reports that other top figures at NBC have a similar button.
+ Late-night hosts, from Jimmy Fallon to Trevor Noah, had a lot to say about the saga. Watch them here.
+ Geraldo Rivera also had things to say about the matter, including a defense of Lauer's behavior in what Rivera calls the "flirty business" that is journalism. His comments inspired their own furor, forcing Fox News to say, "We were troubled by his comments and are addressing them with him."
+ Essential reading: "Matt Lauer's Today firing gives NBC a chance to remake a $500 million franchise." — Andrew Tyndall, THR. "Why NBC had to act fast in firing Lauer." — Al Tompkins, Poynter. "A failure of the network news star system." — Jim Rutenberg, New York Times. "Matt Lauer's firing leaves a franchise in crisis." — Joe Flint, Wall Street Journal. "12 notorious Matt Lauer stories." — Hunter Harris, Vulture. "Matt Lauer was the king of Today, but his reign was not benevolent." — Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times. "From John Lasseter to Matt Lauer, no one is too big to fail." — Kate Erbland, Indiewire. "Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and the sexism of morning TV." — James Poniewozik and Margaret Lyons, New York Times.
In other news...
► Garrison Keillor also lost his job over alleged improper behavior. The former Prairie Home Companion host said yesterday that he was let go from Minnesota Public Radio over "a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard."
► Jenny Lumet: "Russell Simmons sexually violated me." In a guest column for THR, the screenwriter of Rachel Getting Married and The Mummy recalls a terrifying encounter with the legendary music and TV producer, who earlier this month was accused of sexual assault and harassment by model Keri Claussen Khalighi. Read Lumet's story.
+ In response to these new claims, Simmons says that he is stepping down from his various businesses to "commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening." Full statement.
+ Andrew Kreisberg, an executive producer on shows like Supergirl and The Flash, was fired following sexual harassment claims ... Geoffrey Rush denied allegations of inappropriate behavior that allegedly occurred during a Sydney stage production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016 ... CNN senior producer Teddy Davis, who worked on the Jake Tapper-hosted State of the Union, was also fired for alleged inappropriate behavior.
Elsewhere in TV...
^Critic's Notebook: How a Hulu series starring Hugh Laurie disappeared right before your eyes. Chance, the intriguing San Francisco-set Hulu series starring Hugh Laurie, ends its second season as an emblematic victim of the Peak TV era, writes TIm Goodman:
Even in a world where professional TV critics can't watch everything and, in fact, often haven't heard of everything that's out there, the saga of Chance is an odd one. The first season had an 81 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 64 rating ("generally favorable reviews") on Metacritic.
But after those initial reviews, and in the midst of Peak TV, it lacked buzz. When the second season kicked off, there was no Rotten Tomatoes "fresh" rating because, apparently not enough critics reviewed it. The same thing happened on Metacritic. Chance, it seemed, lost its chance to stand out. Read more.
► Victoria's Secret Fashion Show sinks to new ratings low. The lingerie show averaged a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49, sinking nearly 30 percent from the previous low in 2016. Among total viewers, the event was off 32 percent from the year before.
+ Racked's Hilary George-Parkin asks: "Does Victoria's Secret matter anymore?"
► Viacom CEO: MTV's decision to end Jersey Shore was "really dumb." Viacom leader Bob Bakish, who supports the show's revival, also compared the company to a "stabilized" patient — but he said he has high hopes for the three planned new Terminator films.
► American Gods showrunners Bryan Fuller, Michael Green exit Starz drama. Sources say Fuller and Green — who developed the series for TV — had creative differences with producers Fremantle over the Neil Gaiman drama’s (rapidly expanding) budget. A replacement has not yet been determined.
► Renewals and pickups: SMILF was renewed for season 2 at Showtime ... Elementary gets expanded season 6 order at CBS ... Netflix acquires the gritty Chinese detective drama Day and Night, which has generated more than four billion views as a streaming show in China ... George R.R. Martin confirmed via his blog that Nightflyers, an adaptation of one of his novellas, was picked up for a full 10-episode season on Syfy.
The Actor Roundtable: Six of the season's top stars — John Boyega, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Tom Hanks, Gary Oldman and Sam Rockwell — sound off to Stephen Galloway on everything from fending off aggressive suitors ("There are predators absolutely everywhere") to dealing with nerves ("I've worked with people who vomit every night"):
OLDMAN: A doctor prescribed me something just to calm me down. And you know what? I walked onto the set and went, "Oh, I know where I am."
DAFOE: To overcome this fear, you need to hang on to something, and sometimes it can be as simple as a costume. I always go back to [1990's] Wild at Heart. I had these teeth, they were everything. I put those teeth in my mouth, and it kept me from closing my mouth. I always had this expression and I felt like I knew who the guy was.
HANKS: In The Post, I was competing with Jason Robards because he played Ben Bradlee [and won an Oscar for the 1976 movie All the President's Men]. He owns that role. And I was actually given permission to forget about it by Bradlee himself. I watched all the video I could of him, and he gave quite a number of interviews and talked about, "Well, ya know, they made that movie, and every day someone comes up and says, 'Well, ya don't look like Jason Robards!'" There's been a lot of Hamlets, a lot of Richard IIIs, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot of Ben Bradlees. Read more.
Elsewhere in film...
► Disney's Mulan finds its star. After a yearlong worldwide search, Chinese actress Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu, is set to star as the title woman warrior in Disney's live-action adaptation of the classic Chinese tale.
+ Reaction to the news has been mostly — but not uniformly — positive. "Fans rejoice!" said The Telegraph, citing recent whitewashing issues that have upset many. "She's perfect!" a headline at Seventeen exclaimed. Quartzy's Zheping Huang, however, put a damper on things: "Disney's pick for Mulan is one of China's worst actresses, according to China's IMDB."
► The Pokemon movie finds its female lead with Big Little Lies actress. Kathryn Newton has nabbed the film's female lead, where she'll be opposite male lead Justice Smith (The Get Down).
► Avengers: Infinity War: Parsing that epic trailer. The first footage from Marvel's biggest movie raised more than a few questions. Graeme McMillan breaks it all down.
^Donald Tang reveals his China-focused plans to make a real profit on movies. The founder and chief of Tang Media Partners opens up about his plans for Global Road Studios and what Hollywood can learn from China, writes Patrick Brzeski:
Born in Shanghai, Tang moved to L.A. at age 17 ("I had $20 in my pocket and spoke little English") and eventually earned a degree in chemical engineering from Cal Poly Pomona. His first act included a storied career on Wall Street, where he served as chairman of Asia Pacific at Bear Stearns, prior to that historic bank's disappearance into the maw of the 2008 financial crisis.
Now, Tang, 54, has stepped fully into the spotlight with an ambitious entertainment concern all his own, Tang Media Partners. He invited THR to his offices in Beverly Hills to discuss the vision behind his growing global studio. Read more.
► Car product placement in Star Wars? Sort of. Brands are jumping through hoops (and letting directors stomp on hoods) to link vehicles to franchises, sometimes without placement: "Telling my execs we can't put a Nissan Rogue in the Death Star was the hardest part." Full story.
► Oscar winner who fought sexual harassment to get biopic treatment. Rocky producer Gene Kirkwood has acquired life and some music rights to make a film about Judy Holliday titled Smart Blonde.
► Sundance: Keira Knightley, Daisy Ridley and #MeToo movement films make lineup. A Gloria Allred documentary titled Seeing Allred will make its world premiere at Sundance 2018, joining a lineup of films that also includes the Keira Knightley-starrer Colette, Gus Van Sant’s Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot and the Daisy Ridley post-Star Wars vehicle Ophelia. Competition highlights also include the post-apocalyptic drama I Think We're Alone Now from director Reed Morano (The Handmaid's Tale). See more.
Gotham Awards: Get Out team talks heightened resonance of film's racial themes. And elsewhere at the independent film celebration this week, Call Me by Your Name star Timothee Chalamet and director Luca Guadagnino tease the prospect of a sequel (or sequels) to the acclaimed coming-of-age romance, which won best feature. Full report.
Meteor Shower, reviewed: Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti and Jeremy Shamos square off in Steve Martin's absurdist stage comedy about the collision of the id and the super-ego in the treacherous marital cosmos, writes David Rooney:
The first draft of Meteor Shower dates back 20 years, and it has the unmistakable feel of a dusted-off bottom-drawer salvage job. Basically it's a 1960s-'70s-style comedy of marital manners channeled through the Dadaist sensibility of Martin's early standup routines.
The action takes place in Ojai, California, unfolding over a few hours in 1993 when the most spectacular Perseid meteor shower in recorded history streaked the night sky. The template is that of the destructive drinks party, perfected by Edward Albee in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Here, however, Martin outlines a get-the-host scenario before proceeding to the more traditional get-the-guests. It's fun but feeble; bulging with enjoyable jokes but thematically threadbare. Read more.
What else we're reading...
— "Hollywood's first major harassment case, 96 years before Weinstein." Gabrielle Bellot writes: "Four days before she died in 1921, the young American actress Virginia Rappe walked into room 1219 of the palatial St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, searching for a bathroom." [The Cut]
— "The layoff effect: What is ESPN after the carnage?" Bryan Curtis writes: "The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been forced to reduce its ambition and, once again, its workforce. So if it isn’t a planet-conquering force, what is its goal?" [The Ringer]
— "Jay-Z & Dean Baquet: On therapy, politics, marriage, the state of rap and being a black man in Trump's America." The New York Times executive editor kicks off his long-ranging interview with Shawn Carter by writing: "My conversation with Jay-Z began with O.J." [T Magazine]
— "Trixie Mattel is for men (and women and kids)." Caity Weaver writes: "Despite the stifling political climate, we are living in a Jazz Age of drag, and Brian Firkus's sudden success is a product of the boom: In the span of two years, he has gone from lip-synching for tips in Midwestern gay bars to co-hosting, in drag, a national TV show that airs on Viceland." [GQ]
— "Jedi confidential: Inside the dark new Star Wars movie." Brian Hiatt reports: "It's somewhat a reflection of society,' acknowledges Daisy Ridley. 'But also it is escapism, because there are creatures and there are people running around with fucking lasers and shit.'" [Rolling Stone]
— "The museum director will see you now: 'Office Hours' at DTLA's new Main." Deborah Vankin writes: "Allison Agsten, director of the Main Museum, sits patiently with her hands crossed on her lap. On the table is a vase of fresh flowers, a plate of chocolate chip cookies and pink file folders. The vibe is arts administrator-meets-high school guidance counselor-meets empathetic best friend." [Los Angeles Times]
What else we're seeing...
+ "Rob Riggle's marathon advice for Kevin Hart: Protect the nipples." [Conan]
+ "John Boyega shows off his best Michael Jackson dance moves." [Tonight Show]
What else we're hearing...
+ "The Shape of Water's Guillermo del Toro: Interview." [Awards Chatter / THR]
+ "Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's engagement." [Jam Session / The Ringer]
+ "Stars of The President Show present an 'off the rails' version of Trump." [Fresh Air / NPR]
Today's Birthdays: Kaley Cuoco, 32, Chrissy Teigen, 32, Elisha Cuthbert, 35, Gael García Bernal, 39, Robert Kirkman, 39, Marc Foster, 48, Lenny Abrahamson, 51, Ryan Murphy, 52, Ben Stiller, 52, Emmanuel Lubezki, 54, Mandy Patinkin, 65, David Mamet, 70, Terrence Malick, 74, Ridley Scott, 80.