What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:20 AM 3/23/2018

by Ray Rahman

What's news: A blaze breaks out on the set of Edward Norton's Motherless Brooklyn, killing a firefighter. Plus: Jeff Zucker takes Fox News to task, shortform video attempts a comeback and Hollywood offers its support for tomorrow's March for Our Lives. — Ray Rahman

[Note: To receive this Today in Entertainment newsletter by email each weekday, click here.]

  • Movie Set Fire

    Mike Pont/WireImage

    Overnight news from New York...

    Fire: Per CBS News, a five-alarm fire broke out late Thursday in the Harlem building where Edward Norton was shooting his film Motherless Brooklyn, starring Bruce Willis and Willem Dafoe. One FDNY firefighter, Michael Davidson, died.

    Statement: The film's producers, including Norton, released a statement: "Our deepest condolences to the family of Michael R. Davidson...our hearts ache in solidarity with his family."

    Timeline: Per the producers' statement, "A fire broke out tonight in the building where we were shooting our film. Our production was towards the end of our working day and had dozens of people working on site, when our crew noticed that smoke was coming into our set and into other parts of the building from below us.

    "As soon as we noticed smoke coming up into our set, our crew immediately alerted the fire department and began alerting residents of the building even as we evacuated our cast and crew."

    Marvel Cinematic Universe alert...

    Is Chris Evans ready to retire Captain America? It sure sounded like it in a New York Times profile that quoted Evans saying: "You want to get off the train before they push you off." According to the story, he'll hang up the character after Avengers 4, which should be done shooting later this year. 

    About Isle of Dogs...

    Culturally insensitive? Justin Chang's L.A. Times review of Wes Anderson's latest film encapsulates an issue that a number of critics are voicing: "It's in the director's handling of the story's human factor that his sensitivity falters, and the weakness for racial stereotyping that has sometimes marred his work comes to the fore.

    Chang continues: "The dogs, for their part, all speak clear American English, which is ridiculous, charming and a little revealing.... All these coy linguistic layers amount to their own form of marginalization, effectively reducing the hapless, unsuspecting people of Megasaki to foreigners in their own city."

    Steven Spielberg has Netflix thoughts...

    Not Oscar-worthy: Business Insider highlights comments the director made in an ITV interview, saying: "Once you commit to a television format, you're a TV movie." Spielberg added that movies released on streaming services "deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.... I don't believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations."

    Elsewhere in film...

    Joel Edgerton joins Timothee Chalamet: Edgerton will star opposite Chalamet in Netflix's modern-day Shakespearean adaptation The King, which he already serves as a co-writer on.

    Kyra Sedgwick joins Villains: She'll star alongside Bill Skarsgard and Jeffrey Donovan in the dark-comedy thriller, based on a 2016 Black List script by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. 

    From Dunkirk to Capone: Fonzo, the Tom Hardy-starring Al Capone biopic, has added Hardy's fellow Dunkirk alum Jack Lowden to its cast, which already includes the likes of Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon and Kyle MacLachlan.

    Claes Bang's sci-fi thriller: The star of the award-winning satire The Square is set to join The New Mrs. Keller, a sci-fi thriller for Lakeshore Entertainment to be directed by Pierre Morel.

    Carol screenwriter's next movie: Oscar-nominated Phyllis Nagy has signed on to write and direct a feature film adaptation of the best-selling nonfiction book The Vanished for South Korean powerhouse CJ Entertainment.

    Fox Searchlight's Alvin Ailey biopic: The studio reached a deal to develop a film based on the life and work of the legendary late choreographer, activist and founder of New York's Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

    Ferguson doc gets picked up: Stranger Fruit, the Jason Pollock-directed documentary about the controversial police shooting of Michael Brown, has been acquired by Gravitas Ventures.

    Cannes bans selfies: On the red carpet, at least. Festival director Thierry Fremaux said in an interview he decided to "outright forbid" the "untimely disorder created by the practice of selfies." 

    Galloway on film... 

    An open letter to Hollywood: Don't run for office. "I have nothing against actors running for office," writes Stephen Galloway. "The finest are highly intelligent; they must understand psychology and the human psyche, probe deeply into the meaning of things, and be open to all sorts of new ideas.... But I don’t want them running the government. I want someone who’s not just bright, but also effective. I want a driver who understands the car." Read more.

  • Return of Shortform?

    Courtesy of networks (Logos)

    As mobile viewing grows, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are experimenting more with 10- to 15-minute programs, writes Natalie Jarvey:

    In recent months, the major streamers have experimented with show formats and lengths, whether through Amazon's deal to fund Funny or Die-produced short films or Netflix's plan for 15-minute comedy specials — not to mention its expansive deal with Jerry Seinfeld that includes 24 new episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

    Hulu, meanwhile, has begun taking meetings with digital producers as it explores what programming chief Joel Stillerman calls "an emerging content lane" for the streamer.

    “It opens up some opportunities for us to incubate talent and ideas that might not necessarily find their way into a big, high-end series right out of the box,” Stillerman explains, adding that shortform content “might get people to interface with our platform for reasons other than to watch an entire episode of television."

    A growing trend: In addition to Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is seeking to build around premium shortform video with his new company WndrCo, executives at HBO and Disney's forthcoming streaming service are said to no longer be as constrained to the standard half-hour and hour formats that once dominated the TV landscape. Full story.

    Jeff Zucker slams Fox News...

    "State-run TV": The CNN president had a lot to say about his cable-news competitor yesterday afternoon. The nut: Fox News "is really state-run TV. It is a pure propaganda machine, and I think does incredible disservice to this country," Zucker said.

    He went on: "There are a handful of good journalists there, but I think they are lost in what is a complete propaganda machine.... The idea that it's a news channel, I think, is really not the case at all." (In related news, Fox News analyst John Bolton was elevated to national security advisor last night, perhaps buttressing Zucker's argument.)

    As for the state of his industry: "This is the heyday of cable news, there's no question," Zucker said. "All the cable news channels are doing incredibly well as different forms of TV decline.... There's no question: Live news and cable is probably one of the only genres that's grown. Everybody's doing well, including Fox News."

    Bannon to the rescue: "You can't name a more propaganda outfit than CNN," said Steve Bannon, who spoke a few hours after Zucker at the conference. "That is a propaganda outfit. Every night it's, 'Hate Trump.'"

    In related news...

    Bill O'Reilly sued again: Former Fox News anchor Laurie Dhue has sued O'Reilly for defamation, claiming he engaged in a "smear campaign" against her and other women who accused him of sexual misconduct. The suit alleges that O'Reilly damaged her reputation by claiming that she made up her allegations to get money.

    Meanwhile on CNN...

    Karen McDougal talks: "He always told me he loved me," McDougal, the former Playboy playmate who had an alleged affair with the president from 2006 to 2007, told Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview. "What everyone sees on TV, I didn't see in that man." Read more.

    The March for Our Lives is tomorrow...

    Bill Murray's essay: In an NBC News op-ed, Bill Murray expressed his support of the Stoneman Douglas students' gun-control rally. "I was thinking, looking at the kids in Parkland, Fla., who have started these anti-gun protests, that it really was the students that began the end of the Vietnam War," he wrote. "It was the students who made all the news, and that noise started, and then the movement wouldn't stop."

    George Clooney's letter: Writing in a special edition of The Guardian guest-edited by the Stoneman Douglas students, the actor congratulated the students on their advocacy so far, writing: "Amal and I stand behind you, in support of you, in gratitude to you. You make me proud of my country again."

    Lin-Manuel Miranda's and Ben Platt's song: The Broadway favorites announced that they'd be joining the performance lineup at the Washington, D.C., demonstration. Together, they'll perform "Found/Tonight," a mashup of songs from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen.

    Late night: Last night, Trevor Noah brought the Parkland students onto The Daily Show for a roundtable discussion, while Jordan Klepper taped The Opposition from the house of a Maryland student activist involved with tomorrow's march. 

    The Weather Channel's new owner...

    It's Byron Allen: The media mogul has made a deal through his Entertainment Studios to acquire The Weather Channel from its owners, The Blackstone Group, Bain Capital and Comcast/NBCUniversal. The terms of the deal weren't disclosed, though one source estimated the deal to be in the $300 million range. Notably, the deal does not include digital assets such as the Weather.com site and the Weather Channel app.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Abraham Higginbotham stays with Fox: The Modern Family executive producer is the latest in 20th Century Fox Television's stable of writer-producers to re-up his overall deal with the studio in the wake of its move into the Walt Disney Company.

    The royal wedding invitations have been sent: and you're probably not getting one. So what do they look like? See here.

    ► U.S. vs. AT&T: Opening statements. The merger trial had its official kickoff with each side delivering competing visions of the industry's future. A Justice Department lawyer asked the judge to make a prediction and block the $85 billion Time Warner merger while the defense ripped "preposterous" notions from a government "ignoring" tech behemoths. Read more.

  • 'Frozen,' Reviewed

    Courtesy of Deen van Meer

    The top-grossing animated film of all time finally comes to Broadway. David Rooney reviews:

    For anyone expecting more than a straight-up rehash of the movie on stage, this pricey production will seem low on inspiration. Disney Theatrical has had its misfires, most notably with The Little Mermaid, a boring, baffling mess that smothered the ample charms of its source material in design choices so hideous, they made your eyes bleed.

    Thankfully, this is not that show. Under the direction of Michael Grandage, Frozen doesn't entirely go wrong, but it does evince signs of the struggle to establish a consistent, unifying tone and to settle on a center in a story inherently bifurcated by having two heroines kept apart for most of the action. It ends up being merely adequate, a bland facsimile when it should have been something memorable in its own right. Full review.

    In other news...

    Music's best year in a decade: For the second year in a row, the U.S. music industry produced double-digit growth, with total consumer spending on music growing to $8.72 billion, a 16.5 percent increase from that of the prior year, 2016, when revenue reached almost $7.5 billion. Various streaming formats grew 43 percent to $5.66 billion.

    What else we're reading...

    — "Sexual harassment allegations plunge the Academy into its own Game of Thrones." Rebecca Keegan writes: "The industry group’s president, John Bailey, was accused of sexual misconduct — but who benefits if he’s ousted?" [Vanity Fair]

    — "How one new Netflix series shows teen gun violence is bigger than just Parkland." Krystie Lee Yandoli talks to the creators of Netflix's On My Block. [BuzzFeed]

    — "Steven Spielberg and Ernest Cline discuss Ready Player One." Josh Rottenberg sits down with the director and the author. [Los Angeles Times]

    — "Jay Duplass on Transparent without Jeffrey Tambor and his most devastating role yet." The actor tells Matt Wilstein: "It’s been an incredibly traumatic time." [Daily Beast]

    — "Cambridge Analytica and a moral reckoning in Silicon Valley." David Remnick writes: "The era of sanctimony has, in the past few years, given way to a dawning skepticism." [New Yorker]

    — "What in God's name happened to Ricky Gervais?" Brendan James writes: "Somewhere over the last decade, Ricky Gervais lost it. His nosedive is fairly puzzling...." [The Baffler]

    — "An open letter from Vincent Gallo — unfiltered and unedited." It's as Vincent Gallo-y as advertised. [Another Man]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "History of TV theme songs with Will Smith." [Tonight Show]

    + "Roseanne Barr on supporting Donald Trump." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Thomas Middleditch wants Silicon Valley to do a crossover with Game of Thrones." [Late Night]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Frankie Shaw." Scott Feinberg interviews the SMILF star-creator. [Awards Chatter/THR]

    + "Comic Roy Wood Jr. taps into America's psyche." Terry Gross talks to the Daily Show correspondent. [Fresh Air/NPR]

    Today's Birthdays: Michelle Monaghan, 42, Keri Russell, 42, Damon Albarn, 50, Marc Cherry, 56, Catherine Keener, 59, Chaka Khan, 65, Ric Ocasek, 69, David Milch, 73.