What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:11 AM 3/15/2018

by Ray Rahman

Tomb Raider Still 4 2018 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

What's news: Former ESPN chief John Skipper tells all. Plus: Disney reorganizes with an eye toward the future, Key and Peele go to Netflix and Tomb Raider looks to unseat Black Panther at the box office. — Ray Rahman

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  • John Skipper Talks

    The former ESPN chief goes public in an interview with James Andrew Miller about the real reason behind his abrupt departure, a cocaine extortion plot, a confession to Bob Iger and his hope to work in sports media again.

    On his substance abuse: "The statement I released was accurate. I had a substance abuse problem. I grew up wanting to be countercultural. I worked at Rolling Stone for the first 10 years of my professional life. I had a point of view that recreational drugs were recreational, that they weren’t dangerous. That they could be used without repercussions."

    On his cocaine habit: "At ESPN I did not use at work, nor with anyone at work, or with anyone I did business with. I never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments. I’ve never been a daily user. My use over the past two decades has, in fact, been quite infrequent. I judge that I did a very good job and that it did not get in the way of my work. I worked hard, I worked smart. I worked all the time."

    On what led to his resignation: "In December, someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me. ... They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well. I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob, he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign."

    On his replacement: "The good news is that Jimmy Pitaro is a good guy; I like Jimmy very much. He’s a good, smart executive. His style will work at ESPN. I wish him well, and (laughs) I hope he does better than the last guy!" Full Q&A.

    CNBC's loss, White House's gain...

    Larry Kudlow out: The CNBC senior contributor announced yesterday that Trump called him Tuesday night and asked him to be his director of the National Economic Council. "My immediate reaction was, 'Yes, honored to take the job,'" Kudlow said.

    Hannity's take: "I've known Larry Kudlow for years," Sean Hannity said on his radio show. "I love Larry Kudlow. He understands the economy as well as anybody."

    CNN changes...

    Cuomo goes primetime: Starting this spring, Chris Cuomo will leave his position co-anchoring morning show New Day and will take over the 9 p.m. primetime slot (currently the second hour of Anderson Cooper's show) indefinitely. Until Cuomo returns to the evening slot, he will remain with Alisyn Camerota in the morning.

    What his friends think: "Christopher has an opportunity to craft his own kind of show and to hue more closely to his reporter skills," Kellyanne Conway tells THR. "To succeed, he should shroud his politics more and argue with people on social media less.”

    New series ratings battle...

    And the winner is: NBC's Rise, which beat out ABC's Shonda Rhimes-produced legal drama For the People Tuesday night. The numbers: Rise earned a respectable 1.3 rating in the demo and an average of 5.7 million viewers; For the People settled for an 0.8 demo rating and a 3.3 million average.

    MTV expands TRL...

    More shows: "We're expanding the franchise and will have three TRLs by summer," MTV president Chris McCarthy tells THR. The components: Total Request Late-Night, which will air four nights a week come summer; and Total Request A.M., a morning show that'll be "pure music play." The afternoon version will remain. Full story.

    An American Idol in London...

    Deal: In a a landmark deal, Amazon Prime Video has snatched up the relaunched version of American Idol for the U.K. and will air episodes of the music competition show two days after they go out in the U.S.

    More: FremantleMedia, in fact, signed deals in 150 territories, with an exec saying: "To see one of the biggest entertainment shows on a streaming service is a not only a first, but testament to the appetite for American Idol." Those deals include CTV in Canada, Australia's Foxtel, Canal Sony in Latin America for the show and more.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    ? NBC News plans a streaming channel for cord-cutters: Per the L.A. Times: "NBC News Chairman Andy Lack and his division's digital chief, Nick Ascheim, acknowledged Wednesday that a streaming online video channel that would offer 24-hour news to viewers without cable or satellite is in the works. Details — such as whether it will be offered for free or require a subscription — have yet to be worked out."

    ? Leah Remini's Scientology series, renewed: A&E has re-upped Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath for a third season, an announcement that comes just days after the Church launched its network Scientology TV.

    ? American Housewife duo renews ABC Studios deal: Writing partners Rick Wiener and Kenny Schwartz are re-upping with a new three-year pact, under which the pair will create and develop new projects while continuing to write and exec produce American Housewife.

    Darrell Hammond's point of view...

    Trump's favorite? What happened when the president recently tweeted "Bring back Darrell Hammond, funnier and a far greater talent"? Says the SNL vet: "Lorne swept past me in the hallway with some of his people, and he leaned in and said [done in perfect impression], 'The president knows your name. Yes, he knows who you are.' I don't know why, it made me laugh." Read more.

  • 'Raider' vs. 'Panther'

    Can Alicia Vikander's Tomb Raider finally dethrone Black Panther? Maybe, Pamela McClintock writes: 

    Box office: Opening in more than 3,700 theaters, Tomb Raider is tracking to debut to $23 million-$25 million this weekend. However, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther also looks to earn $25 million or so in its fifth outing.

    Hot streak: If Black Panther does stay atop the chart, it'll be the first film since Avatar eight years ago to win for five consecutive weekends. Full story.

    The reviews...

    THR: "It's a new package for old goods in Tomb Raider, a grimly determined by-the-numbers rehash of the same sort of plots and action moves that animated the first two Lara Croft films back in the early 2000s," writes Todd McCarthy. The takeaway: "Nothing new, except a compelling Vikander." Full review.

    Elsewhere: The movie currently boasts at 53 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly critics are split. Sampling: Vanity Fair says "[Director Roar] Uthaug’s take on this material is almost aggressively boring," while the L.A. Times argues that Vikander "takes a soulless digital avatar and makes her a persuasive amalgam of flesh, blood and feeling."

    The Tomb Raider trolls have arrived... 

    How it started: "Do I have to be the asshole who says her [star Alicia Vikander's] tits are too small for me to see her as Lara Croft? Do I have to be that guy? Do I have to be the one who f—ing says it? I guess I do. Sorry," tweeted ?TJ Kirk aka The Amazing Atheist, who has more than a million YouTube subscribers.

    What happened next: Backlash was instant. To wit: "When Tomb Raider was released in 1996 [for console and PC], Lara Croft's boobs were triangular. Let's stop acting like the size/shape of a woman's breasts predict her ability to play Lara Croft," one user replied. "It doesn't really matter whether you 'see' Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft ... she is, deal with it." Full story.

    Changes at Disney...

    Shuffle: As part of a comprehensive reorganization, the company plans to consolidate its direct-to-consumer businesses, including its forthcoming streaming services, technology and international media operations into a single division. Disney chief strategy officer Kevin Mayer will lead the new group as chairman.

    In addition, parks and resorts chair Bob Chapek will add consumer products to his purview and will become chairman of a new Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products business.

    The takeaway: The company is retooling its streaming portfolio in a bid to be more competitive with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

    The other issue: As the Financial Times puts it, "The shake-up will also spark fresh questions about who will succeed Bob Iger as chief executive if he leaves after his newly extended contract ends in 2021."

    Key & Peele head to Netflix...

    Reunion: The Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key stop-motion animation film Wendell and Wild has landed at Netflix. The film, from veteran animator Henry Selick, features the duo voicing Wendell (Peele) and Wild (Key), two demon brothers who must earn their way out of hell.

    Alexander Payne eyes Amazon...

    Legal drama: The Oscar-winning director behind Sideways, The Descendants and Downsizing is in talks to direct the true-life legal drama The Burial for Amazon Studios.

    Plot: The feature, penned by Pulitzer-winning playwright Doug Wright, follows a successful personal-injury lawyer who takes on a David vs. Goliath case against a major funeral parlor conglomerate. 

    Jon Hamm in the cosmos...

    Spaceman: The Mad Men actor is in talks to star opposite Natalie Portman in Fox Searchlight’s astronaut-love-triangle drama Pale Blue Dot. Noah Hawley, of FX's Fargo, is directing. Hamm's role? A fellow astronaut who Portman starts an affair with — but who, in Mad Men-esque fashion, then begins another affair on top of that one. 

    Elsewhere in film...

    ? Kristen Stewart's next role: The actress is set to star in Against All Enemies, a thriller formerly titled Seberg, to be directed by Benedict Andrews. The movie revolves around actress Jean Seberg when she gets caught up in the civil rights movement in late 1960s L.A.

    ? A Spike Lee superhero movie? The director is circling to direct a movie for Sony based on the Marvel character Nightwatch. Sources say Lee's involvement is early at this point, but that he could potentially direct a film written by Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker centering on African-American scientist Dr. Kevin Trench, first introduced in the comics in 1993.

    ? Tim Blake Nelson's sci-fi movie: The actor and filmmaker is set to direct the genre pic Michael Zero, centered on a man who has to hunt down clones of himself who've gone AWOL.

    ? Iron Lady scribe's thriller: Abi Morgan, the writer between The Iron Lady and Suffragette, will write the psychological thriller Tangerine, a feature that George Clooney and Grant Heslov will produce via their Smokehouse Pictures banner along with Imperative Entertainment.

    Inclusion rider analysis...

    THR, Esq.: "For all the fuss that inclusion riders have generated, little attention has focused on how inclusion riders will operate in practice," writes Eriq Gardner. "Will there be hard minimums on the number of women and people of color to be hired? What about others who may be disadvantaged in the industry, such as older professionals and those with physical disabilities? Doesn't employment law discourage looking at protected classes of people when hiring? What will be the penalties for failure to comply with diversity obligations? And so forth..." Read more.

  • Bankruptcy

    iHeartMedia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday, writes Abid Rahman:

    Saddled with $20 billion of debt, iHeartMedia Inc, the largest internet radio broadcaster in the U.S., filed for bankruptcy late on Wednesday.

    In a statement, iHeart, which currently owns 858 radio stations, said it had ‍reached an agreement with the holders of more than $10 billion of the company's outstanding debt for a balance sheet restructuring, which will reduce its debt by more than $10 billion.

    “The agreement we announced today is a significant accomplishment, as it allows us to definitively address the more than $20 billion in debt that has burdened our capital structure,” said CEO Bob Pittman. Read more.

    In other news...

    Mockingbird lawsuit: Before a theatrical adaptation of Harper Lee's iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird debuts on Broadway, an Alabama federal judge is getting what should be the dream assignment of providing a critical reading. That's because on Tuesday, the late author's estate filed a lawsuit against Rudinplay, the production vehicle of Scott Rudin, over a new script by Aaron Sorkin. Read more.

    And introducing...

    Where Hollywood Eats: THR is launching Where Hollywood Eats, a new video venture co-produced by ReachMe TV. The 10-episode season will explore the buzziest culinary hotspots in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans and — for the first episode, available today — Atlanta, where Mandy Moore and Mindy Kaling flock to Gunshow. Read more | Video.

    What else we're reading...

    — "What the cancelation of shows like One Mississippi and I Love Dick may portend for the future." Robert Lloyd writes: "It was inevitable that, after this financial dizziness, some kind of correction was coming." [Los Angeles Times]

    — "I Can Only Imagine: a primer on the Christian indie that could surprise at the box office." Zack Sharf writes: "Although recent television ads for this Dennis Quaid movie have left some film fans scratching their heads, this wide release could surprise thanks to a devoted fan base." [IndieWire]

    — "The power of A Fantastic Woman's Oscar win." Martín Echenique writes: "Acclaim for the Academy Award­–winning Chilean film has helped revive a lagging gender-identity bill in its home country." [The Atlantic]

    — "An unwanted kiss on American Idol." Katherine Rosman interviews the kid who got it on the mouth from Katy Perry. [New York Times

    — "Corporate, the sitcom that dives into the bottomless void of soul-sucking office life." Troy Patterson writes: "This half-hour comedy should win a special Emmy for its skill in evoking the degraded radiance of life under the fluorescent tubes of a nauseating office environment." [New Yorker]

    — "The case for the prestige procedural." Alison Herman writes: "Yes, it is possible to make high-quality television with episodic rhythm, and even the occasional mystery — just look at The Good Fight." [The Ringer]

    — "Wonder Woman's music man." Paris Martineau writes: "The Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg, also known as Junkie XL, composes the themes that make heroines soar." [The Outline]

    — "Why podcasters love lipstick and pajamas." Jocelyn Vammer writes: "Women who podcast’s clothes are about comfort and attitude." [Racked]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Burt Reynolds' full interview with Hoda Kotb." [Today]

    + "Alicia Vikander won a Swedish talent show when she was 8 years old." [Tonight Show]

    + "Sean Bean's Lord of the Rings face will live in infamy." [Late Show]

    + "Lena Waithe explains why she wants to be like Kanye West." [Late Night

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Jason Blum." The Get Out producer talks low-budget movies and the Oscars." [Recode Media]

    + "David Mamet." The prolific playwright talks. [WTF With Marc Maron]

    Today's birthdays: Kellan Lutz, 33, Eva Longoria, 43, Will.i.am., 43, Greg Nicotero, 55, Fabio, 59, David Cronenberg, 75.