What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:15 AM 3/7/2018

by Ray Rahman

Thomas Middleditch - Photographed by Sami Drasin - Embed 2018
Photographed by Sami Drasin

"Believe it or not, I'm actually into computers. You know, I've been to a few LAN parties in my day," Middleditch says.

What's news: The Weinstein sale is dead again, and this time it may be for good. Plus: Discovery completes its Scripps acquisition, Fox looks to reduce its ad load and Kim Masters reports on the Time's Up movement's next steps. — Ray Rahman

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

On the cover: The Silicon Valley cast and creators open up to Lacey Rose about the "darker side" of tech culture, a certain former castmember's departure and more.

On T.J. Miller's exit:

Mike Judge: "There are a lot of different ways you can find out somebody doesn't want to do the show anymore. And it's not fun to work with someone who doesn't want to be there, [especially when] they're one of the main people and you've got however many crewmembers and extras and people who are [not paid as well] and they're all showing up before 7 a.m., and then are just like, 'Oh, OK, we're not shooting today.'"

Alec Berg: "These guys are the Golden State Warriors of comedy. So, it's like, yeah, we've lost Andre Iguodala, but we still have Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and some other guy on the Warriors whose name I don't know. But I don't feel like we can't win championships anymore because we've lost … T.J. wasn't LeBron."

Kumail Nanjiani: "The truth is it can be pretty easy to get stuck in the formula and revisit the same rhythms, especially in a comedy. This forces the show to be different — and after four or five years, that's not such a bad thing."

T.J. Miller's response: "In real life, I'm not always high like Erlich is. And this will blow your readers' minds, but I'm not high when I work because it gets in the way of the comedy. I also am not a guy who's blackout-drunk, bumping into things on set. … What was occurring was I was out doing stand-up all the time, even if it meant I only got three hours of sleep. So, the thing I have a problem with? It's pushing myself to do too much."

On covering diversity and harassment in tech: 

Berg: "We certainly aren't like, 'Oh, let's not talk about that.' We talk about it all the time. The lack of hitting it head-on just comes down to the fact that we haven't done a great job of finding the definitive satirical take on it."

Judge: "There I was losing at the DGAs, and Amy Schumer makes this long speech about how [there are,] I don't know, too many white males and all that, and saying that every show should be 50 percent people of color. Well, if you're doing a movie about Nazi Germany, you can't do that. And if you're doing a TV show about tech that's satire, you can't do it. I don't think you do any service by pretending [Silicon Valley] is half female or half black. And not to pin bouquets on ourselves here, but I think we brought some attention to the gender imbalance by doing this show." Full cover story.

+ Life imitates art: The Silicon Valley stars are now startup investors, too. Thomas Middleditch has become an increasingly active investor, taking regular trips to Northern California to expand his portfolio, which is focused in two areas of personal interest: aviation and the environment. To date, his investments include plant-based meat-substitute company Beyond Meat, electric aviation startup Wright Electric and solar desalination company WaterFX. Read more.

  • Weinstein Deal Collapses

    The Weinstein see-saw continues, write Gregg Kilday and Pamela McClintock:

    For real this time? The on-again, off-again, on-again attempts by an investor group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet and Ron Burkle to buy the troubled Weinstein Co. is, suddenly, off again. This time it appears it may have fallen apart for good, as Contreras-Sweet issued a announcement that she and her group "have decided to terminate the transaction."

    Follow the numbers: Under the terms of the deal, the buyers had agreed to assume roughly $225 million of debt. But after signing last week's agreement and gaining access to TWC's books, they discovered an additional $50 million-$64 million in liabilities they had not been told of. One source suggests that could include $27 million in residuals and profit participation, $20 million in accounts payable and $17 million in a commercial arbitration award.

    Contreras-Sweet: "After signing and entering into the confirmatory diligence phase, we have received disappointing information about the viability of completing this transaction." Full statement.

    Leo attacked in lawsuit ...

    Defamation? The production companies associated with 2003's The Wolf of Wall Street — including Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures, Scorsese's Sikelia Productions and DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions — are being sued by Andrew Greene, who in the mid-1990s was general counsel at Jordan Belfort's former firm Stratton Oakmont, which the movie depicts. Greene contends in his lawsuit that he was the basis for the character of Nicky "Rugrat" Koskoff and was "portrayed as a criminal, drug user, degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics."

    The DiCaprio factor: Greene's attorney writes that "the three individuals most responsible for script development were Terence Winter, the screenwriter; Leonardo DiCaprio and Director Martin Scorsese. All three have discussed under oath their very limited attempts to research the accuracy of the portrayals in the film. ... Such limited research regarding portrayals of real-life incidents and individuals is clear and convincing evidence of Defendants’ reckless disregard for accuracy."

    Cinemark CEO talks MoviePass ...

    His view: "If you go to the movies multiple times a month, it's probably a good deal," Mark Zoradi said at a media conference. But he said that Cinemark's own program, Movie Club, might be better for some people: "If you go to the movies, like most people go, five or six times a year, then having one (loyalty program) where there's a rollover and benefits, I think it's probably a little advantageous."

    Bottom line: Zoradi said Cinemark has no plans to stop accepting MoviePass members into its theatres, in part because that traffic mirrors the subscriber take-up for Movie Club, which launched three months ago. Cinemark has so far signed up 120,000 Movie Club members.

    Frances McDormand's Oscar theft update ...

    Charged: The suspect, 47-year-old Terry Bryant, has been charged with felony theft, according to the Los Angeles D.A.'s office. Technically, the Oscar belongs to the Academy — all the awards are just on loan to the winners, which his why it is illegal to sell one. So, it is the organization that worked with authorities on the investigation. McDormand has yet to publicly comment on the situation. 

    Details: The suspect did have a ticket to the party, police said. It is unclear how he obtained one, but the Governors Ball ticket accompanies a show ticket. However, not all show attendees get a Ball ticket. Bryant was arrested around midnight and booked around 3 a.m. He is due to be arraigned Wednesday and is being held on $20,000 bail and faces a maximum sentence of three years in county jail if convicted. 

    Tommy Wiseau's next great film ...

    Scary Love: That's the name of The Room star-director's new movie, an L.A.-set drama in which he plays a bounty hunter in search of his long lost love. He didn't direct it, but it's still looks fun — watch the teaser.

    Elsewhere in film ...

    ? Henry Golding's year gets bigger: The star of the upcoming Constance Wu-starring Crazy Rich Asians and Paul Feig-directed A Simple Favor is set to play the lead in Monsoon, a drama from writer-director Hong Khaou.

    ? Ry Russo-Young will direct The Sun Is Also a Star: She's been chosen to tackle the YA novel's big-screen adaptation, which counts Yara Shahidi as its star. The movie is slated to hit theaters in May of 2019.

    ? "Cat Person" author sells a horror movie: A24 has picked up a horror screenplay from Kristen Roupenian, author of the viral New Yorker short story that became one of its top stories of 2017. The screenplay is called Bodies, Bodies, Bodies and is said to show "heightened sensitivity to character development and social dynamics in a subversive way."

    How it happened: Executives at A24 were familiar with the short story, and when they heard the author had separately written a script, they became intrigued and tracked it down. What the execs found was a shrewd character study where mystery and deep-seated scares blended in such a way that the company saw an opportunity to make a horror movie that could also be culturally relevant, sources say. The plan is to fast-track the script to production, sources added. Read more.

  • Discovery-Scripps Done

    Discovery has closed its acquisition of Scripps, creating a nonscripted content giant, writes Georg Szalai:

    New name: The company's shortened name will be Discovery Inc. to demonstrate "a new focus on growth in the areas at which Discovery excels, telling stories across deeply loved genres and empowering superfans to explore their world wherever and whenever they choose."

    David Zaslav: "Today marks another critical milestone for Discovery, as we become a differentiated kind of media company with the most trusted portfolio of family-friendly brands around the globe,” said the Discovery president and CEO. “As a new global leader in real-life entertainment, Discovery will serve loyal and passionate audiences around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains across every screen..." Full story.

    Streaming service on the way? “We’re looking at it ... we think there’s an opportunity for a global service because almost all other subscription video-on-demand services look the same,” Zaslav told the Financial Times. “We’re looking at whether we should do it alone or with others.”

    Fox's new ad plan ...

    Less is more: Fox Networks Group is planning to drastically scale back its ad load to two minutes an hour by 2020. "The two minutes per hour is a real target for Fox, and also our challenge for the industry,” Ed Davis, chief product officer for ad sales at Fox Networks Group, told The Wall Street Journal. "Creating a sustainable model for ad-supported storytelling will require us all to move."

    There are no details on whether that long-term goal will apply to all Fox programming, or certain genres like episodic content, and whether sponsored or product integration will help retain revenues after airing fewer traditional 30-second commercials.

    AMC passes on OTT ...

    Sorry, streamers: "No, that's not something we're contemplating," AMC Networks CFO Sean Sullivan said at an investors conference Tuesday when asked if his company was looking to stream its content direct to consumers to compete against Netflix and other digital disrupters. "I don't think it's an eventuality, as I sit here today. If you're asking if I'm going to offer an AMC linear viewing experience direct to consumer, that's not something we're looking to do.”

    CBS All Access takes on Netflix ...

    More originals: "We're increasing investment in originals," CBS COO Joseph Ianniello said yesterday. "We're doubling down there. You're going to see six to seven originals on CBS All Access in the next 12 months. ... Wherever Netflix is, I don't see why we won't be there."

    Transparent update ...

    Skipping 2018: Two weeks after Amazon Studios announced Jeffrey Tambor wouldn’t be returning, THR has learned that production on the Jill Soloway comedy has been scheduled to begin at the end of the year, possibly in December. That would mean that the critical favorite will not air in 2018. (The series had been slated to resume production and air this year before Tambor’s dismissal.)

    Rewrite: It’s unclear just how much of the new episodes will have to be rewritten, but Soloway and her team — including Jill Gordon, who takes over as showrunner for season five — have months to finalize a plan. It also remains unclear if Amazon plans to recast the character — the series in the past had taken heat for not casting a trans actress for the role — or write Tambor’s Maura out of the series altogether.

    ESPN's playbook ...

    Can Jimmy Pitaro pull it off? The hiring of Pitaro — a savvy, Silicon Valley-connected executive with experience navigating the digital landscape — is a clear sign of the Walt Disney Co.'s priorities for the sports behemoth, Marisa Guthrie writes. And the move was greeted with enthusiasm at ESPN headquarters, where Pitaro had his first meeting with direct reports March 7, sources say.

    First order of business: The April launch of ESPN Plus, the company's direct-to-consumer offering powered by BamTech, the MLB Advanced Media tech company in which Disney owns a 75 percent, $2.6 billion stake. The offering, with a monthly fee of $4.99, will stream more than 10,000 live events annually. 

    Univision changes ...

    Shake-up: Univision Communications is canceling a long-in-the works plan for an initial public offering, and it has replaced CFO Francisco Lopez-Balboa, a former Goldman Sachs banker who was hired three years ago to help the Spanish-language broadcaster with its IPO. The company is promoting Peter Lori, who had been a deputy under Lopez-Balboa, to CFO.

    The Marcia Clark renaissance ...

    New deal: Ahead of A&E premiering her new true-crime vehicle, Marcia Clark Investigates the First 48, the famous former prosecutor has signed an overall deal with Investigates producers ITV America to develop additional TV projects. Under her multiyear pact, Clark will develop unscripted projects with broadcast, cable and OTT platforms in mind.

    Elsewhere in TV ...

    Noah Wyle, CBS star? The actor has been tapped to topline the Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti-produced pilot Red Line, a racially themed Chicago-set drama that would mark Wyle's first return as a TV regular since ER. He'll play a high school teacher mourning the loss of a black student shot by a white cop.

    ? Dax Shepard joins Lake Bell comedy on Fox: The Parenthood album is set to star in and exec produce the Bless This Mess pilot, a single-camera comedy centered on a newlywed couple (Bell and Shepard) who move from New York to Nebraska for a simpler life.

    ? Amazon orders animated comedy from BoJack Horseman creator: The streamer has handed out a straight-to-series order for Raphael Bob-Waksberg's Undone, its first half-hour animated comedy series. The show, which will premiere in 2019, will star the voices of Rosa Salazar and Angelique Cabral.

    ? Colbert's big get: Former FBI chief James Comey will appear as a guest on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on April 17.

  • What's Next for Time's Up

    The leaderless group "became a brand overnight," but the anti-harassment crusade now seeks structure and a leader amid skepticism about CAA's role and "movie star cliquey" meetings. Kim Masters writes:

    At this point — about two months since its Jan. 1 unveiling as Hollywood's most high-profile effort toward gender equality — Time's Up is a work in progress, but it has some tangible results to report. Its legal defense fund has raised $21 million.

    But one question that has dogged Time's Up in the early going revolves around who was included in the early meetings and who wasn't. "Why is it a club?" asks one producer. "Why do you have to be invited?" Some say it seemed to them that at the core of Time's Up was a clique that included such A-list stars as Reese Witherspoon. "At first it felt self-promotional," says a talent rep who has attended the meetings. A television executive thinks that early Time's Up inadvertently felt "feature film, actress, movie star cliquey."

    At the March 1 news briefing, members said no one was intentionally left out. "Hollywood breeds a feeling of exclusion for people," Shonda Rhimes said. "There's this feeling that this must be something that you're invited to, because everything else in this town is built on that idea, but this just doesn't work that way." Read more.

    About those inclusion riders ...

    Where they come from: Inclusion riders are the brainchild of USC professor Stacy Smith and Cohen Milstein civil rights employment attorney Kalpana Kotagal. Smith first introduced the idea in a 2014 Hollywood Reporter guest column, but it lay mostly dormant until Oscar night. The media scholar says she’s not aware of any actors having used the rider, and entertainment attorneys say they’re unfamiliar with it. “Seen none. Have none,” says a top talent lawyer.

    Will studios ever agree to them? Some have their doubts. Loeb & Loeb management-side labor lawyer Ivy Kagan Bierman, while supporting the overall concept, predicts companies might try to soften the language. Even the rider’s authors acknowledge the risk of reverse discrimination suits, which could ensnare not just a studio but even the A-list star who demanded the rider. Read more.

    Over in Georgia ...

    Anti-LGBTQ adoption bill alienates Hollywood: Controversial new legislation has drawn ire from Hollywood toward a state that boasted 17 features (including Marvel's Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War) and multiple TV series (AMC's The Walking Dead, Netflix's Stranger Things) shooting locally in 2016, thanks to a tax credit of up to 30 percent offered by the state.

    Revolt: "With the institutionalized homophobia that's coming out of Georgia right now, we have a responsibility to not feed our money into their system," says Grey's Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff. "Showrunners and actors have more power in this than they may be aware." Full story.

    In other news ...

    Fyre Festival promoter pleads guilty: Billy McFarland, whose disastrously planned music festival in the Bahamas last year left guests in tents with little to no food, pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges, agreeing to serve up to a decade in prison for lying to investors and sending false documents.

    Brad Meltzer unlocks the secrets of his new novel: The best-selling author talks about what he learned at the military's main funeral home, how the Army's real "artist in residence" inspired his main character and why the Trump presidency is bringing back the villain. Q&A.

    Playboy mansion deal: An L.A. city councilmember's office has secured a permanent protection covenant with the property's new owner, which is tantamount to a legal commitment from the 34-year-old billionaire businessman who co-owns Hostess Brands that he will not demolish the main residence, will repair the façade of the structure and will maintain the original condition of the home as part of an upcoming renovation.

    What else we're reading ...

    — "Is Hollywood already done being angry?" Alison Willmore writes: "At the 90th Academy Awards, the film industry seemed anxious to put the #MeToo moment behind it. Are audiences ready to do the same?" [BuzzFeed]

    — "What makes for an 'Oscar movie' is changing fast." David Sims writes: "Just a few years ago, a gory, sexually explicit and fantastical monster movie by del Toro would have been a fringe pick in the best picture lineup." [The Atlantic]

    — "ABC bets big on American Idol." Joe Flint writes: "But at a time when broadcasters are losing viewers to cable and streaming platforms and new hits are rare, betting on known quantities has become common." [Wall Street Journal]

    — "... And justice for Al." David Edelstein catches up with Al Pacino: "Pacino has never been much for exhibiting himself in real life. Celebrity confuses him." [Vulture]

    — "Tony Kushner, at peace? Not exactly. But close." Charles McGrath writes: "In characteristic fashion, Tony Kushner is doing too many things at once these days, and he’s late with a lot of them." [New York Times]

    — "Oprah is the original celebrity influencer." Chavie Lieber writes: "Before style blogs, affiliate links or the Kardashians, there was Oprah." [Racked]

    — "Please do not pit Paddington and Pooh against each other." Devan Coggan writes: "There is room enough in this world for two small, fuzzy, extremely polite British bears without pants." [EW]

    — "'Bob Weinstein is on the line. He says he's from Buffalo.' A first-person perspective on the early years of Miramax films." Tom Brueggemann writes: “I spent 30 years as a film buyer, booking for theaters — and was a first-hand witness to Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s rise.” [IndieWire]

    — "The power of Tower." Ben Sisario writes: "The chain of record stores run by Russ Solomon defined the retail music business in the pre-digital era, with stars and fans embracing its slogan: ‘No Music, No Life.’" [New York Times]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Oprah reveals how she tries to 'bridge the divide' in America." [Late Night]

    + "John Oliver got into a hugging match with Oprah and lost." [Tonight Show]

    + "Neil Patrick Harris on hosting the Oscars and Kimmel." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Sheryl Sandberg on techlash and #MeToo." The Facebook COO talks to Kara Swisher. [Recode Decode]

    + "American Idol is back! But wait. Didn't we just say goodbye?" A breakdown of the show's demise and return. [Screengrab / KCRW

    + "Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry." The man who plays Paper Boi sits down for an interview. [It's Been a Minute / NPR]

    Today's birthdays: Laura Prepon, 38, Jenna Fischer, 44, Tobias Menzies, 44, Jay Duplass, 45, Peter Sarsgaard, 47, Rachel Weisz, 48, Bret Easton Ellis, 54, Wanda Sykes, 54, E.L. James, 55, Bryan Cranston, 62.