What's news: Is Barack Obama nearing a Netflix deal? Plus: The American Idol reboot's high stakes, a departure at Pixar, a new Star Wars series and Ready Player One's box-office prospects. — Ray Rahman
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ABC's American Idol producers are defending high costs and Ryan Seacrest as TV's former 'Death Star' gets Disney's playbook and surprisingly strong ad sales. Marisa Guthrie writes:
The Seacrest question: ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey and Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of the show's producer, FremantleMedia, voice support for Seacrest. "We stand by the results of the investigation," says Dungey, referencing the independent inquiry commissioned by E! Adds Frot-Coutaz: "I've known Ryan now for almost 16 years. I stand by him. ... He seems to be very robust in his defense. And we'll see where it all goes."
Will ABC make money on the reboot? It has surely streamlined the fees from the original, though talent salaries — $25 million for Katy Perry, a little more than $10 million for Seacrest — are as eye-popping as ever. ABC and FremantleMedia executives insist Idol will not be a loss leader. "We're running a business here, so we certainly are always looking for things to be profitable," Dungey says.
Expectations: According to media buyers, the network is guaranteeing a 1.8 rating in the key 18-to-49 demographic, which seems achievable with seven days of delayed viewing factored in; ABC is averaging a 1.45 rating in the demo. Still, media buyers have been bullish on Idol and are ponying up nearly $200,000 for a 30-second spot, compared with a high of $150,000 on Fox during the last season. Full story.
The Obama-Netflix report...
Producing deal? Per The New York Times, Barack Obama is said to be in advanced talks with the streaming outfit to produce original shows in what would be his first big move after exiting the White House in 2017. The deal would also be with his wife and former first lady, Michelle Obama.
NYT: "Obama does not intend to use his Netflix shows to directly respond to President Trump or conservative critics, according to people familiar with discussions about the programming," the paper reports. "They said the Obamas had talked about producing shows that highlight inspirational stories."
More Star Wars on its way...
And it'll be streaming: Jon Favreau is set to executive produce and write a new live-action Star Wars series for Disney’s upcoming new direct-to-consumer streaming platform, with a late 2019 debut in mind.
Kathleen Kennedy: "Jon brings the perfect mix of producing and writing talent, combined with a fluency in the Star Wars universe," said the Lucasfilm president. "This series will allow Jon the chance to work with a diverse group of writers and directors and give Lucasfilm the opportunity to build a robust talent base."
What people think: For many, the initial reaction was not great, given that another white male was being given keys to the Star Wars kingdom — and on International Women's Day, no less.
"Bad PR timing," Anne Thompson of IndieWire wrote. "But women have a tough time getting the experience they need to compete for plum jobs like this. Even few men boast the array of proven skills — writing, acting, directing, VFX — that Jon Favreau has. Hollywood needs to give more women chances to build that tool set."
"I hope Favreau hires inclusively," Constance Gibbs of Black Girl Nerds said. "I don't even trust D&D [David Benioff and Dan Weiss] from GoT to hire other white women, so they're out. I just … I wanted better for this franchise that women of color love and support with equal measure."
Grey's Anatomy departures...
Farewell: Fan favorites Jessica Capshaw (Arizona) and Sarah Drew (April) are exiting the long-running ABC series at the conclusion of its current 14th season. "As writers, our job is to follow the stories where they want to go, and sometimes that means saying goodbye to characters we love," said co-showrunner Krista Vernoff, implying that the decision was creative and unrelated to any salary concerns.
A Suits spinoff is coming...
Picked up: USA is ordering the untitled, Gina Torres-led Suits offshoot, which centers on lawyer Jessica Pearson (Torres) as she adjusts to the dirty world of Chicago politics. Suits creator Aaron Korsh will exec produce the spinoff alongside showrunner Daniel Arkin.
Univision's next move...
Sell? Univision's owners have hired a consulting firm to go through a business review that could lead to cost cuts, including layoffs, before a possible sales process. The current owners are expected to look for a price target exceeding $14 billion.
Spinoff? Another option is to spin out Fusion Media Group, an entity that consists largely of English-language assets like the Fusion TV channel, The Onion, The Root and Gizmodo Media Group, which is made up of assets that used to form Gawker Media Group.
Who'd be interested: Billionaire media tycoon John Malone showed an interest in taking a stake in Univision, meeting with chairman Haim Saban last year, and Discovery Communications, in which Malone owns a stake, has already kicked the tires on Univision. Full story.
Robert Kyncl interview: "We should have done better," YouTube's chief business officer says of the recent Logan Paul fiasco. "We were fast on our PR response, but we were slow on our social response. I think that is what we got flagged for — and rightly so. Full Q&A.
Carrie Brownstein's show finds its stars...
Leading ladies: Taylor Dearden (Sweet/Vicious) and Aubrey Peeples (Nashville, Jem and the Holograms) have been tapped to star in Hulu's Search and Destroy, a half-hour comedy pilot based on Brownstein's memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.
Elsewhere in TV...
► My Best Friend's Wedding reunion: Or, if you'd rather, an August Osage County reunion — either way, Dermot Mulroney is going joining the upcoming Amazon drama Homecoming as a recurring star alongside Julia Roberts.
► New L.A. Confidential castmembers: The CBS reboot adds three new actors — Mark Webber and Shea Whigham will both play detectives while Alana Arenas joins as a reporter.
► Netflix's Sabrina adds Bronson Pinchot: The man probably best known as Balki from Perfect Strangers as been cast in a key recurring role in the Riverdale-related teen-witch series.
► TNT has canceled The Librarians: "Just got the official call," showrunner Dean Devlin tweeted. "TNT has canceled #TheLibrarians— I will immediately begin the process of trying to move the show elsewhere. Please keep your fingers crossed for us!"
Every rose has its thorn...
Is it Time's Up for The Bachelor? "Five years ago, I quit," novelist Allison Winn Scotch writes in a guest column. "I found that I felt liberated from those two hours on Monday, which fueled a certain toxicity in my life. And this is only my sense and I speak only for me, but it’s tough to reconcile being a champion for #MeToo and Time’s Up and then frantically tweeting comments about other women every Monday evening." Read more.
The animation powerhouse is losing a key producer, write Pamela McClintock:
Exit: Fresh off her Oscar win for Coco, longtime Pixar producer Darla K. Anderson is leaving the animation studio after 25 years to pursue other creative and philanthropic endeavors.
Anderson: "I've had a magical and privileged experience working at Pixar for over two decades," said the producer, whose resume includes A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc. "The creativity, imagination and innovation at Pixar is second to none. I'm truly grateful to have been a part of this historic journey and hold excitement for my next chapter."
Sopranos prequel incoming...
The Many Saints of New York: That's the title of the prequel screenplay New Line bought from Sopranos creator David Chase, who co-wrote with former series writer Lawrence Konner. The plot and its relation to the Sopranos characters unclear, but the story is set in a racially fraught 1960s Newark.
Ready Player One box office...
Sluggish start? Steven Spielberg's sci-fi action adventure is tracking for a $35 million-plus debut at the North American box office over the three-day Easter weekend — lower than the $50 million Warner Bros. and Spielberg were hoping for. Still, there is time: The film will have a major presence at SXSW — a screening is rumored, although nothing is official — and will get heavy placement on March Madness basketball games.
Bob Iger talks Fox Searchlight...
No rebranding plans: "We don't have any plans right now to change what they do," the Disney CEO told investors of Fox Searchlight. "We have every intention, once the acquisition is approved, to maintain the business of Fox Searchlight. We think they're in the business of making high-quality films, recognized often by the Academy and all the Oscars that they've won. And we think there's ample opportunity for us as a company to continue to support those efforts."
The Deadpool-Netflix connection...
Deal: The streamer has signed Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld with the intent to bring characters into a shared-universe series of movies. Some of those potential characters include: Lethal, Cybrid and Kaboom plus teams Brigade and Bloodstrike.
+ Another deal: The Noomi Rapace action-thriller Close has been picked up by Netflix in a multi-territory deal that includes the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
Elsewhere in film...
► The trailer for Benedict Cumberbatch's The Grinch has arrived: "Today we will do mean things," Cumberbatch's Christmas menace says, "and we will do them in style." Watch.
► Mackenzie Davis joins the Terminator reboot: The Blade Runner 2049 actress is in negotiations to appear in the movie alongside Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
► Lily James teams with Danny Boyle: The actress is in talks to star in a Boyle untitled comedy for Universal and Working Title. Details are thin, but the film is said to be musically themed and set in the 1960s or '70s.
► Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode's spy games: The pair are joining Keira Knightley and Matt Smith in the real-life espionage thriller Official Secrets.
► Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe's new thriller: The clown from It and the star of It Follows will star in Villains, a dark comedy thriller centered on a pair of amateur criminals who run into two sadistic homeowners.
► The Ice Cream Man is coming: That's the title of the new high-concept feature that indie horror director Nicholas Verso will helm for Covert Media and Broken Road Productions. The project, from writers Justin Powell and David Charbonier, follows two brothers who are terrorized by a sinister being.
Susan Sarandon remembers Paul Newman...
"He was a gem": Sarandon had only good things to say about her former co-star. And she revealed an interesting, timely anecdote about how Newman reacted when she told him her male co-stars were making more than her in 1998's Twilight: "He stepped forward and said, 'Well, I'll give you part of mine.'"
After a trial run in Denver, the show will hit Broadway with a tighter focus and a timely message, writes Suzy Evans:
When the musical premiered last summer at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the critical response was mixed. One of the most consistent notes was that the production relied too heavily on the darkness and didn't bring enough happiness to the forefront.
Said director Michael Grandage, "When certain things get said multiple times — whether it's by audience, a critic, or by ourselves — then it's worth listening to that voice."
About 30 percent of the show is different from Denver, Grandage explained, including a new opening number, new second act opener and a new finale. In Denver, the show opened among the mythic area of "hidden folk," the indigenous people of Arendelle, but Grandage figured out that the beginning needed to be lighter and happier. Full story.
Turmoil: "As you know, this has been a crazy, weird, bizarre, intense, depressing and joyful time at everyone’s favorite local newspaper," star columnist Robin Abcarian said of the Los Angeles Times, which was sold to billionaire doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong by Tronc last month at a time when Times publisher Ross Levinsohn faced allegations of sexual misconduct. "To say that we have been on a roller-coaster ride for the past few years is a shameful understatement." Read more.
And now for our 12th edition of...
↱The Three-Question Interview: a series of short Q&As with interesting executives and personalities. Next up: Jennifer Mullin, CEO of FremantleMedia North America.
The American Idol reboot is debuting this weekend. From your point of view, what's the marker of success for the new iteration? You know, I keep asking ABC that question too ... We would be very happy if it did better numbers better than it did in its finale almost two years ago. I'm very proud of the show, though. It's great talent, great judges, warm and funny.
One of the biggest x-factors of Idol is always the judging panel. Are you confident you've found the right mix? We really thought hard about who would fit within the show from a credibility perspective and who would have the right chemistry. And who cares — who was really in it to sign amazing talent. We think we nailed that with Luke, Lionel and Katie. We just did a screening here internally, and everybody really loved it.
Do you have a favorite Idol winner from the previous Fox season? [long pause] Carrie Underwood. I'm a country fan!↲
What else we're reading...
— "Which movies will be talked about for next year's Oscars?" Kyle Buchanan writes: "Contenders have already debuted at film festivals or the multiplex, behind-the-scenes buzz has been circulating on exciting titles, and all sorts of hires, release dates, and pickups will be made over the next few months with an eye on the film industry’s top prize." [Vulture]
— "Rereading A Wrinkle in Time, after a childhood enthralled by Madeleine L'Engle." Katy Waldman writes: "L’Engle has a gift for baiting intellectual hooks, for making life feel irresistibly mysterious." [New Yorker]
— "How Ava DuVernay, Storm Reid and A Wrinkle in Time light Hollywood's path forward." Tre'vell Anderson writes: "In many ways, the movie — like Black Panther weeks before it — is a light of its own for an industry seemingly open to grappling with representation issues in front of and behind the camera." [L.A. Times]
— "How much does Dwayne Johnson make for one movie?" Ben Fritz breaks down a term sheet for Red Notice. [Wall Street Journal]
— "Community three years later: Lessons learned from Yahoo's streaming debacle." Liz Shannon Miller writes: "The fact that it was Yahoo, not Hulu, that picked up the sixth season of the cult favorite is yet more proof that we're trapped in the darkest timeline." [IndieWire]
— "How tequila replaced cosmos as the celebrity quaff of choice." Sheila Marikar writes: "For some people, drinking tequila is a way to signal dissent from the presidency of Donald Trump." [New York Times]
What else we're seeing...
+ "Think Fast! with Sterling K. Brown." [Tonight Show]
+ "Adam Rippon won an Olympic medal and lost a shirt button." [Late Show]
+ "Reese Witherspoon on what it's like hanging out with Oprah." [Late Night]
What else we're hearing...
+ "Kim Masters on #MeToo coverage." Masters talks to Pete Vernon about the reporting on the industry. [The Kicker / CJR]
+ "How to make a hit TV show for Amazon." Graham Yost, in conversation. [Recode]
From the archives...
Today in 1933: THR's review of Christopher Strong. "Katharine Hepburn, so far as this reviewer's opinion runs, is the next big star of pictures. She is distinctive in that no other person on the screen is like her. She photographs good and bad. At times she looks beautiful, at other times she is hideous, but always an artist, and what an artist!" Full review.
Today's birthdays: Oscar Isaac, 39, Jordan Klepper, 39, Juliette Binoche, 54, Jean-Marc Vallee, 55.