What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:31 AM 4/19/2018

by Ray Rahman

Courtesy of STXfilms

What's news: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes takes the stand in the AT&T merger trial. Plus: Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty battles lukewarm reviews, the company that owns MoviePass sees its stock tumble and Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in New York. — Ray Rahman

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  • Bewkes Makes His Case

    Francois G. Durand/Getty Images

    Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes took the stand yesterday, writes Eriq Gardner:

    Court drama: In federal court yesterday, Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes gave his reasons why the $85 billion merger with AT&T should move ahead, and attacked government theories on why the deal should be blocked as "ridiculous." He expressed confidence on the witness stand during a direct examination and then skated through a fairly unchallenging cross-examination that left trial observers openly questioning the government's strategy.

    What he had to say: "This combination gives us a good chance to compete effectively for digital advertising and get the benefits of being direct-to-consumers," said Bewkes. "It moves us in the direction of competing with Google and Facebook...." Read more.

    The end of Homeland...

    Wrapping up: As expected, the Showtime series will end with its upcoming eighth season. Claire Danes confirmed the news in an interview with Howard Stern, telling him, "Yeah, that’s it." A representative for Showtime said that the network has not made a decision beyond season eight.

    Danes: "I mean, I'll be ready. She's a lot, this Carrie-freakin' Mathison character," she said of the show's eventual end. "It's a workout, so I'll be ready for a reprieve from that." During the interview, Danes also revealed that she's pregnant with her second child with husband Hugh Dancy.

    Amazon Prime data...

    100 million: That's how many subscribers Amazon Prime said it had in a 4,300-word letter to shareholders. Comparison: While 100 million is a huge number, far bigger than that of any premium cable channel, it still is less than the 125 million subscribers that Netflix boasts worldwide.

    The streaming factor: Of course, that doesn't mean 100 million are watching Prime's streaming offerings. Those numbers are still under wraps, and Bezos played coy in his letter: “Prime Video continues to drive Prime member adoption and retention...” Full letter.

    Sky rises...

    Growth: European pay TV giant Sky, in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, reported yesterday that revenue rose 5 percent to 10.1 billion pounds ($14.3 billion) for nine months to end March, while core earnings were up 10 percent to 1.7 billion pounds ($2.4 billion). Sky added retail customers in the latest quarter, including 70,000 subscribers in the U.K., its largest market. Read more.

    Utopia moves to Amazon...

    New home: Four years after being ordered straight to series at HBO, Utopia has found a new home. Amazon Studios has handed out a nine-episode, straight-to-series order for Gillian Flynn's reboot of the British series. Additionally, Amazon has inked the Gone Girl author to an overall deal, with Utopia set as the first project under the pact.

    Backstory: The drama was picked up in 2014 at HBO as a six-episode order, with David Fincher and Flynn set to produce. But a year later, HBO's relationship with Fincher eventually hit a speed bump.... Read more.

    Netflix's newest pickups...

    True crime: The streaming giant is doubling down on true crime, acquiring the acclaimed documentary series The Staircase from Oscar-winning filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and greenlighting a four-part doc from Jay and Mark Duplass titled Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist. Details.

    Also, Ice Cube: Humbug, the Christmas Carol reimagining starring Ice Cube, has also been picked up by the streamer.

    CBS renewals...

    Eleven shows: Blue Bloods, Bull, Hawaii Five-0, MacGyver, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, Madam Secretary, Survivor, The Amazing Race, 48 Hours and 60 Minutes have all been re-upped by the network.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    NBCUniversal joins TV coalition for evolving measurement and ad buys: This deal marks a marriage of sorts between NBCUniversal’s proprietary Audience Studio data and OpenAP, the standardized data set launched by Fox, Turner and Viacom in April 2017. Read more.

    RIP, Taken? NBC has yanked the second-year drama — a reboot of the Liam Neeson film — from its home on Fridays, effectively canceling the show starring Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals. The handful of episodes remaining will be burned off on Saturdays starting May 26.

    Netflix cancels Seven Seconds: Less than two months after the streaming giant premiered the drama from The Killing showrunner Veena Sud and starring Regina King, the series from producers Fox 21 has been canceled. Read more.

    Nat Geo sets Genius season 3: Days ahead of the second-season debut of the scripted anthology, the network has selected its next subject: Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley. (Season two focuses on Pablo Picasso.)

    + Growing scripted roster: The network ordered The Hot Zone, a scripted drama exploring the Ebola crisis, and put into development two new series: secret service drama The White House Detail and Syria war drama Ten Borders. Read more.

    Syfy picks up Russo brothers series: The genre network has handed out a series order to the Russo brothers' take on the Image Comics graphic novel Deadly Class.

    TruTV renews At Home With Amy Sedaris: The variety sketch series will return for a second 10-episode run.

    ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas signs with A+E Networks: Vargas, whose long tenure at ABC News (including co-hosting 20/20 for 14 years) wraps up next month, has inked an overall development and production deal that will make her the face of new investigative banner A&E Investigates.

    Tonys hosts: Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban will co-host the 72nd edition of the awards show, set for June 10 at Radio City Music Hall.

  • A Quiet Weekend

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.; Courtesy of STX Entertainment; Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

    Don't expect any fireworks at the box office this weekend, writes Pamela McClintock:

    It's expected to be a quiet period at the movies as Hollywood ramps up for the beginning of the summer season next Friday when Disney and Marvel unfurl Avengers: Infinity War.

    Until then: Forecasts suggest New Line's Rampage, starring Dwayne Johnson, and Paramount's hit horror pic A Quiet Place will both earn $20 million or more.

    Amy Schumer's outlook: I Feel Pretty is tracking to open to $13 million to $15 million, which would put it in third place. However, STX Entertainment believes there's plenty of room for upside if women turn out in force.

    The rest: From Fox Searchlight, Super Troopers 2 is tracking to debut to $5 million to $6 million and Codeblack's and Lionsgate's thriller Traffik is pacing to open to $4 million to $5 million. Full story.

    I Feel Pretty, reviewed: "The film veers between inspired and strained and finally settles into the realm of self-improvement pop psychology," writes THR's Sheri Linden. The takeaway: "I feel underwhelmed." Full review.

    What others are saying: "If the people responsible for this comedy aren't embarrassed by that hypocrisy, they damn well should be." — Rolling Stone.

    "There’s a potentially funny movie in here somewhere. But it lumbers along, wasting some of its greatest assets." — Vox.

    "An open-hearted and occasionally funny story of self-confidence." — IndieWire.

    What Schumer is saying: “There’s all this backlash," she told Vanity Fair. "I can understand how [the trailer] can trigger some people,’ but it just made me excited for them to see the movie because it’s just so not the message or even the takeaway. It’s not about I’m ugly and I hate myself. It’s a girl with real self-esteem issues, which everyone can relate to..."

    MoviePass news...

    Tumbling shares Per WSJ: "Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. plans to sell up to $150 million worth of stock and largely pump the money into MoviePass Inc., the fast-growing movie-theater subscription company it bought last year. The news sent the stock of the cash-strapped company down 17% to $3.19 in after-hours trading...."

    Cannes developments...

    Look who's back: Seven years after being declared persona non grata by Cannes for jokingly saying he “sympathized with Hitler,” the provocative, and Palme d'Or-winning, Danish director Lars von Trier will return with his next project: The House That Jack Built, which will premiere out of competition.

    Other additions: Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is set to close the festival, while Kevin Macdonald's Whitney Houston doc, Whitney, and Ramin Bahrani's Fahrenheit 451 will be given midnight screenings. Full list.

    Saudi Arabia debuts its new cinema...

    Hollywood applauds: The historic screening of Black Panther went down in Riyadh last night — marking the opening of the first movie theater in the country since a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in December. The audience was mostly Saudi dignitaries and figures from the country's cultural scene, but Hollywood top brass paid tribute to the landmark occasion via a series of special videos shown before the screening.

    Sony's Tom Rothman, Universal's Jeff Shell, Paramount's Jim Gianopulos, Disney's Alan Bergman and Warner Bros.' Kevin Tsujihara all recorded messages congratulating Saudi Arabia on the opening of the cinema and hailing of a new era for film across the country. Read their messages.

    L.A. film report...

    Production up: FilmL.A.’s quarterly report has been released, and on-location filming in the greater Los Angeles area is up 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

    Numbers: In total, 9,724 shoot days were logged during the period, and on-location feature production experienced its first double-digit bump since 2015, up 11.7 percent.

    Lorne Michaels makes a move...

    Exit: The SNL kingmaker, who spent nearly 30 years at Paramount Pictures for his film endeavors, has left the Viacom-owned studio for Universal Pictures, where he and his Broadway Video have inked a first-look deal.

    First title: The first film being developed under his new pact is Baby Nurse, with SNL castmembers Leslie Jones and Colin Jost attached to star. Described as having the tone of Miss Congeniality, the movie centers on a special agent assigned to the most humbling undercover role in the history of the FBI.

    On the TV side: Michaels also renewed his TV deals and signed a new multiyear pact for SNL, with sources indicating that the mega-producer plans to remain in the job at least until he hits the 50-year mark: 2025.

    Bill Mechanic's Academy board replacement...

    It's Dan Fellman: The veteran distribution executive has been named as Bill Mechanic's replacement on the 54-person board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, becoming one of three individuals representing the organization's executive branch.

    Damon Lindelof alert...

    The Hunt gets a release date: The Lindelof film has landed a Sept. 27, 2019, release date from Universal Pictures, which is teaming with Blumhouse on the politically charged action-thriller. Craig Zobel is directing the film from a script by Lindelof — co-creator of Lost and The Leftovers — and Nick Cuse. (The trio also worked together on the two TV shows.)

    Plot: While the logline is being kept under wraps, sources say The Hunt is a subversive feature that takes its cues from the current political climate in America — elevating the current conflict between right and left wings to a more extreme, and violent, level.

    Elsewhere in film...

    The final Deadpool 2 trailer is here. Watch.

    Solo gets a China release date: Sources say that the Star Wars film will debut in the country May 25, the same day it unfurls across North America.  

    Kevin Costner will voice the dog in The Art of Racing in the Rain: If a deal is made, the actor would voice the canine that's central to the story in Fox 2000's adaptation of the best-selling novel, which stars Milo Ventimiglia as the dog's race car-driving owner.

    Lily Collins joins survival thriller Titan: The To the Bone star will play a young musician investigating her environmental activist sister's mysterious death.

    F. Gary Gray will direct Hasbro's M.A.S.K. movie: The Fate of the Furious filmmaker will helm the project for Paramount; no writer is yet attached to the project.

    Edgar Ramirez joins Dwayne Johnson in Jungle Cruise: Ramirez, who starred as Gianni Versace in the most recent American Crime Story, will play a man with a conquistador background who is one of the story's villains.

  • Tribeca Kicks Off

    Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

    Tales from the festival's opening night:

    Love, Gilda premiere: In a practically unprecedented move for a film fest, this year's opening-night offering — Lisa D'Apolito's doc about the comedian Gilda Radner — was preceded not just by the customary, bumbling "welcome to Tribeca" preamble by founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, but by a separate, heartfelt introduction by Tina Fey, who choked up twice while describing how inspiring Radner was to her own generation of SNL women. Read more.

    The Robert De Niro interview: "It's insanity with Trump and his gang. They all buy into it. The only one I think who has any kind of dignity in his whole group is [Secretary of Defense James] Mattis. The rest are all hopeless.... America's being run by a madman who won't recognize the truth." And more! Full Q&A.

    In other news...

    Bill Clinton's and James Patterson's thriller nabs a star audiobook narrator: Dennis Quaid will narrate the audiobook edition of the Clinton-Patterson thriller The President Is Missing. The book, Clinton’s first novel, drops June 4 and is widely expected to be one of the summer’s biggest beach reads.

    Barbara Bush's letter to Marge Simpson: "How kind of you to write," the late first lady wrote in a response to the Simpsons matriarch back in 1990, showrunner Al Jean revealed. "I am glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn't know you had one." Full letter.

    Michael Cohen drops libel lawsuits against Buzzfeed, Fusion GPS: Facing a criminal investigation, the Trump attorney has withdrawn libel lawsuits filed earlier this year against Buzzfeed and Fusion GPS over the publication of the infamous "Trump Dossier."

    What else we're reading...

    — "The Time 100." The magazine names its list of the year's most influential people, including Tiffany Haddish, Kumail Nanjiani, Cardi B and more. [Time]

    — "Passing the torch: Denzel Washington and Michael B. Jordan." The two sit down for dinner to discuss their idols, black superheroes and #MeToo. [The New York Times]

    — "Inside Katie Couric's disastrous Yahoo experiment." Tom Sykes writes: "She moved to online with great fanfare, but quickly became the forgotten woman of journalism." [Daily Beast]

    — "Olivia Pope was Helen of Troy." Kara Brown pens an appreciation of Scandal's protagonist. [The Cut]

    — "How Janelle Monae found her voice." Jenna Wortham writes: "After hiding behind an alter ego for years, the pop star is ready to step into a more authentic self." [The New York Times Magazine]

    — "The Female Persuasion should be a literary breakout. Will it?" Ruth Franklin writes: "Meg Wolitzer’s novel is a timely, dynamic examination of women and power that male readers and gatekeepers should take seriously." [The Atlantic]

    — "The instant message generation gap." Sue Shellenbarger writes: "Some older workers bristle as chat apps proliferate, adding new distractions on top of endless emails." [Wall Street Journal

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Cynthia Nixon says nothing's 'inherently wrong' with stars entering politics." [Late Show]

    + "Letitia Wright freestyle raps about vibranium and Red Lobster." [Tonight Show]

    + "Where Hollywood Eats: Rossoblu brings classic Italian recipes to downtown L.A." [THR]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Why cutting the cord isn't so easy in the U.S." A conversation with industry observer Amanda Lotz. [Marketplace]

    + "Love and relationships in the digital age with Joanna Coles." The Hearst queen talks to Larry Wilmore. [Black on the Air/The Ringer]

    Today's Birthdays: Ali Wong, 35 Kate Hudson, 39, James Franco, 40, Ashley Judd, 50, Suge Knight, 53 Tim Curry, 72,