What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:19 AM 3/6/2018

by Ray Rahman

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

What's news: A closer look at the Oscars' downward ratings trend. Plus: ESPN finds its new president, Facebook poaches from BuzzFeed and Frances McDormand gets her trophy back. — Ray Rahman

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  • Oscar Ratings Low

    Kevin Winter/Getty

    The updated numbers are in, writes Michael O'Connell:

    Down: This year's Oscars broadcast, nearly four hours long, stumbled 19 percent from the previous year to 26.5 million viewers. That's easily the least-watched Oscars in history, trailing 2008 by more than 5 million. Overnight returns had the lengthy ABC broadcast averaging a 18.9 rating among households between 8 and 11 p.m. ET. Compared to the same stat for 2017, the night the wrong best picture winner was named, that was down a more modest 16 percent.

    Trend: The writing was largely on the wall for lows. All three marquee events of the U.S. TV calendar thus far — the Golden Globe Awards, the Grammys and the Super Bowl — were off significantly from 2017. Full story.

    Trump: “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY,” the president tweeted this morning. “Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore - except your President (just kidding, of course)!”

    The other major Oscars drama...

    Frances McDormand's stolen Oscar: For a brief moment Sunday night, the best actress winner had her trophy stolen. Terry Bryant was later arrested on suspicion of felony theft for allegedly swiping the statue during the Governors Ball, LAPD said. 

    Inside story: According to a source, Fox Searchlight publicist Barry Dale Johnson was handed the statue for safekeeping once it was retrieved. By that point, the actress had already exited the Governors Ball for the Vanity Fair party, so Johnson headed over there and hand-delivered the trophy to McDormand, who hugged him in response. However, she didn't hold onto it for long — she passed it off to husband Joel Coen to keep an eye on for the rest of the evening.

    Disney's big departure...

    Dave Hollis bolts: The longtime distribution chief is leaving the studio to become CEO of his wife Rachel Hollis' company, Chic Media, and relocate his family to Texas.  

    His replacement: Disney veteran Cathleen Taff will take over for Hollis when he departs at the end of May following the release of Avengers: Infinity War (April 27) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25). That makes her the only female to currently run theatrical distribution at a major Hollywood studio, a job dominated by men throughout the film industry.

    Eli Roth responds to criticisms...

    Death Wish: Why undertake a remake of such a violent gun-toting vigilante movie in these times? “I asked the same question,” Roth told EW. “The answer is, for me, so many of the same problems that were plaguing the country — that crime is out of control and police are overwhelmed and there’s no way to stop it — still feel very relevant today. It feels like however far we’ve gone in other areas, we have not progressed in terms of crime.”

    He went on: “One thing I’m very conscious of as a filmmaker in Hollywood is not telling the audience what to think, or how to think, and you can make the same argument about John Wick or Taken. Any action movie you can say is a pro-gun movie. It’s giving a story that allows people to discuss a difficult subject. In the same way Get Out came out, everyone was allowed to discuss race and racism because of the movie.”

    Release schedule update...

    Dwayne Johnson will Rampage earlier than planned: The Warner Bros. video game adaptation is moving a week up to April 13 (from April 20) in response to Disney's Avengers: Infinity War move to April 27 (from May 4), preserving a two-week cushion for the studio.

    All of this could now affect Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, which opens March 30 and was poised to be the only tentpole in business for a number of weeks.

  • ESPN's New Leader

    Monica Schipper/Getty Images

    John Skipper's replacement has been found, writes Marisa Guthrie: 

    It's James Pitaro: Pitaro, who leads Disney’s lucrative consumer products and interactive media divisions, has been named president of ESPN and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, the company said Monday. He'd been a leading candidate for the job since Skipper abruptly vacated the post in December.

    Background: Before Pitaro was upped to run consumer products in 2016, he was head of interactive, arriving at Disney from Yahoo Media. He has deep relationships in Silicon Valley and he is known to be close to Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger. Pitaro's ascension to the top job at ESPN is viewed by many in the industry as a path to one day taking over for Iger.

    His new task: At ESPN, he'll be tasked with steering the sports behemoth from its roots as a linear sports channel into a fully multiplatform offering in conjunction with the coming launch of ESPN's direct-to-consumer SVOD service, ESPN+.

    Speaking of ESPN...

    Lawsuit: Former ESPN legal analyst Adrienne Lawrence says she was passed over for a full-time position after completing the network's fellowship program because she complained about sexual harassment, according to a lawsuit.

    Details: Lawrence says she was retaliated against after complaining about unwelcome advances from SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. She also claims male ESPN employees have "scorecards" of female colleagues they want to sleep with, openly watch porn on their computers and make "repulsive" comments about women.

    The complaint: "ESPN is, and always has been, a company rife with misogyny. Talented and ambitious women come to work for the 'Worldwide Leader in Sports' with lofty career goals just like their male counterparts. But unlike their male counterparts, women are humiliated, degraded and forced to navigate a misogynistic and predatory culture." Full story.

    Bob Bakish discusses Paramount...

    Turnaround talk: “2019 is definitely the year” for a Paramount turnaround, Bakish said at a media conference, after making clear he was unimpressed with the studio's movie slate before Jim Gianopulos' hiring a year ago. "For those of you who haven't tracked this story — end of 2016, Paramount was a mess," the exec said. He added that the studio "consumed about $1 billion in cash, which is a pretty good trick for a company that has a library that throws off $350 million."

    AT&T-Time Warner update…

    AT&T CFO: “We are certainly prepared. Our position is strong, and we expect to prevail,” John Stephens said today ahead of the upcoming trial that’ll determine the of the deal. (The trial begins March 19.) Added Stephens: “We are open to discussions as we always have been, but we continue to expect to prevail.”

    From BuzzFeed to Facebook...

    Matthew Henick jumps ship: Henick, who has been leading BuzzFeed's push to make television shows and films, is decamping for a new job at Facebook. He'll head up video content strategy and planning for the social network, which has been in the process of building up its video business. He'll report to vp media partnerships Nick Grudin.

    Job opening: A BuzzFeed spokesman says a search is underway for a seasoned creative executive with deal-making experience and existing Hollywood relationships to fill Henick's role: "We're excited to bring aboard a new leader for the group who will take it to the next level."

    Facebook's music move...

    Facebook's songbook: Per the Financial Times: "Facebook, in its quest to become a bigger online video force... has signed a spate of licensing deals in the past three months, including agreements with Universal Music Group, the world’s largest label, and Sony/ATV, the sector’s biggest publisher. The deals mark Facebook’s major step into music, pitting the company more directly up against YouTube, and could potentially bring billions of dollars in payouts for the big music companies."

    The next Spotify? "One person close to Vevo, the site owned by Universal, Sony Music and Warner Music, which is home to about two-thirds of all official music videos, expects the company’s 250,000 videos could debut on Facebook as soon as this year through a partnership agreement."

    Over at Fox...

    Tim Minear is staying put: The key Ryan Murphy collaborator (who serves as showrunner on 911, American Horror Story and Feud) has signed a new overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. 

    Minear's journey: The producer's history of one-and-done shoes (Firefly, Terriers, etc) turned out to make him the perfect man for Ryan Murphy's anthologies, Justin Kirkland writes: "When Minear joined Murphy, he was pitching ideas that had fully realized beginnings and endings, even if they weren't meant for longevity. That ideology matched perfectly with Murphy's format for American Horror Story, which would single-handedly reignite the TV anthology." Full story.

    Recording Academy's new hire...

    Task force: Five weeks after Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow announced plans to establish an independent task force to address female advancement in the music industry, the organization has appointed Tina Tchen, who served as chief of staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama, to chair the task force and has lined up about half of the 15 to 20 member team.

    Portnow: "The fact that she lacks business ties to the music industry ensures her objectivity as chair,” he said in a statement. "In this moment, the Recording Academy can do more than reflect what currently exists; we can help lead the industry into becoming the inclusive music community we want it to be -— a responsibility that the board and I take seriously. Tina Tchen is an accomplished advocate for women and impact-oriented leader versed in convening disparate stakeholders for a common purpose."

    Tchen: "It’s probably both a blessing and a curse here in the sense that I come to this as a music fan but not a music industry insider. But I know these issues very well in lots of other contexts. I think that was viewed as an opportunity to be able to work with all different aspects of the music industry without any particular relationship to any of them." Q&A.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Beth Behrs teams up with Lee Daniels for Fox pilot: The 2 Broke Girls alum will play the female lead in Our People, a comedy from Daniels that revolves around a man (uncast) with a "bombastic African family" engaged to a Midwestern fiancée (Behrs).

    Yann Demange joins Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams in Lovecraft Country: The director of ’71 and the upcoming Matthew McConaughey movie White Boy Rick will exec-produce HBO's upcoming supernatural racial drama (based on a 2016 novel by Matt Ruff), as well as direct the first episode.

    Blacklist alum Ryan Eggold gets an NBC hospital drama: The actor will return to the network as the star of an untitled drama pilot based on Dr. Eric Manheimer's memoir Twelve Patients: Life & Death at Bellevue Hospital

    There will be more Black Mirror: In case there was any doubt, Netflix has announced that the Charlie Brooker series has been renewed for a fifth season. No premiere date or episode count yet.

  • 'The Graduate' on Stage

    Courtesy of Ed Krieger

    Melanie Griffith bares a lot in the fatally flawed Laguna Playhouse production of the play based on the iconic 1967 film. Jordan Riefe writes:

    The plot remains relatively unchanged — a boiled-down version of what audiences remember from the film. But under Michael Matthews' oblivious eye, it assiduously sidesteps laughs and drama, rushing through hilarious passages with little attention paid to either timing or delivery, and making light of the story's most impactful scenes.

    If you love the movie, then keep clear of the play, where most memorable moments have been drained of life, such as the seduction, in which Mrs. Robinson inhales her cigarette and must hold her breath through a surprise kiss from Benjamin before she can exhale. Here, the moment plays as incidental. Read more.

    In other news...

    Tower Records founder Russ Solomon dies at 92: According to The Sacramento Bee, Solomon died of an apparent heart attack while watching the Academy Awards ceremony. "Ironically, he was giving his opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked [his wife] Patti to refill his whisky," Solomon's son, Michael Solomon, told the newspaper. When his wife returned, the music retail legend had died. Full story.

    And now for our 11th edition of...

    ↱The Three-Question Interview: a series of short Q&As with interesting executives and personalities. Next up: Bryn Mooser, CEO and co-founder of RYOT.

    SXSW and Tribeca are coming up — what are RYOT's plans for the spring festival circuit? Well, we've just come from Sundance where we premiered a feature-length documentary called On Her Shoulders, the story of an incredible young Yazidi woman named Nadia Murad, which won the director's prize there. That'll go on to SXSW. Also at Sundance we had a virtual reality experience called Dinner Party, which is showing right now at the Ace Downtown L.A. And then we'll also have two films at Tribeca, which I don't think I'm allowed to say yet.

    I hear On Her Shoulders elicited strong emotional reactions at Sundance? It was crazy. Sundance actually sent a grief counselor to the screening, who sat outside in the hallway for when people would come out overwhelmed, they would have somebody there to support them. That was the first time something's like that has ever happened with one of our films.

    RYOT became part of Verizon a couple years back. How's that changed things for the studio? Well, what we have now is the reach of our parent company Oath, which reaches over a billion people a month through Yahoo and AOL. So, for us as filmmakers, that's the dream — that's why we were acquired. Because nothing is more frustrating as an artist or filmmaker or writer when you create something you're proud of and nobody sees it.

    What else we're reading...

    — "The Hulu factor: What Comcast may really be after in its bid for Sky." Elizabeth Winkler's theory: "[A] possibility is that Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts is trying to get himself a place at the table, hoping that he can pry away a prize asset or two from Disney. Hulu perhaps?" [Wall Street Journal]

    — "Does it matter if this year's Oscars were the least-watched ever?" Josef Adalian makes the case that it does not. [Vulture]

    — "Jane the Virgin is not a guilty pleasure." Emily Nussbaum writes: "It’s a smart show that parents and teen-agers can watch together — which, in a better world, might be a recommendation to a larger audience." [New Yorker]

    — "Rotten Tomatoes rolls out a fresh logo and visual identity after 19 years." Just in time for SXSW. [Adweek]

    — "Life on Oyelowo Street." Joy Press profiles the Gringo star: "He speaks with a plummy British accent that hums in your ear, often accompanied by a booming laugh. Though he’s best known in the United States for playing MLK, David Oyelowo is ready to be funny." [Vulture]

    — "Is Leonard Cohen the new secular saint of Montreal?" Dan Bilefsky writes: "More than a year after this poet, novelist and singer-songwriter died at the age of 82, he has become something of an urban prophet here." [New York Times]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Jimmy Kimmel on hosting the Oscars." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Chelsea Clinton's role as first daughter was different than Ivanka's." [Late Show]

    + "Katie Holmes passed on auditioning for Dawson's Creek for her high school play." [Tonight Show]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Sharon Stone." The actress enters the proverbial garage. [WTF With Marc Maron]

    + "Oscars highs and lows." THR's Matthew Belloni and Scott Feinberg break it all down. [THR]

    Today's Birthdays: Shaquille O'Neal, 46, Connie Britton, 51, D.L. Hughley, 55, Tom Arnold, 59.