What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:08 AM 4/6/2018

by Ray Rahman

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

What's news: Inside Amazon's massive Lord of the Rings deal. Plus: Trump declares his WHCD plans, the Force is heading to Cannes and Netflix has its eye on a surprising new target. — Ray Rahman

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  • 'Rings' for Amazon

    Illustration by: Tim Peacock

    The network's groundbreaking negotiation guaranteed a five-season commitment of J.R.R. Tolkien's adaptation, making it the "most expensive TV series ever." Tatiana Siegel writes: 

    On Nov. 13, Amazon Studios beat out Netflix for a $250 million rights deal with the Tolkien estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema that includes a five-season commitment to bring The Lord of the Rings to the small screen. With the clock ticking, Amazon must be in production within two years, according to the terms of the pact.

    $$$: When production expenses like casting, producers and visual effects are factored in, the series is expected to cost north of $1 billion.

    Spinoff? Within weeks of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos' directive last September to bring in the next Game of Thrones, negotiations were underway that also involved publisher HarperCollins and New Line. Attorney Matt Galsor, who served as the chief architect of the deal and repped the Tolkien estate, was hammering out terms that include a potential spinoff. Says Galsor: "This is the most complicated deal I've ever seen."

    Where's Peter Jackson? Whether Jackson is involved in the TV series as an executive producer remains to be seen and would be up to him. His attorney Peter Nelson was not a part of the 2017 rights negotiations but recently helped start a dialogue between Jackson and Amazon. "It's very much a creature of the times," Nelson says of the Amazon deal. Full story.

    Trump's WHCD plans...

    Skipping again: While there was hope that Trump would attend this year's dinner, he said finally on Friday morning that he "probably won't" come. The president made the remarks on a taping of the WABC/New York Bernie and Sid radio show, throwing in a dig at the "so fake" media.

    Following Trump's comments, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association said the organization was informed by the White House that Trump "does not plan" to attend. The organization said, though, that Trump "will actively encourage members of the executive branch to attend and join us as we celebrate the First Amendment."

    Who will be there: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be attending the event and sitting at the head table. Comedian Michelle Wolf, fresh off landing her own Netflix talk show, is hosting.

    Netflix's next conquest...

    Billboards? Per Reuters: "Netflix is attempting its largest acquisition, offering more than $300 million to acquire a company that owns billboards across Los Angeles, including West Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip. ... Netflix is just one of the bidders for the Los Angeles-based company, called Regency Outdoor Advertising, and there is no certainty that its offer will prevail."

    Will Ferrell's Netflix comedy...

    Dead to Me: That's the name of the dark comedy from Liz Feldman and Ferrell that nabbed a 10-episode, straight-to-series order from the streamer. The plot centers around a powerful friendship that blossoms between a tightly wound widow and a free spirit with a shocking secret.

    Jordan Peele's Amazon docuseries...

    Lorena Bobbitt: Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw shingle is spearheading a four-part project, with Bobbitt's full participation, that will tackle the infamous 1993 incident and ensuing media frenzy that made the Virginia woman famous.

    Peele: "When we hear the name 'Bobbitt,' we think of one of the most sensational incidents to ever be catapulted into a full-blown media spectacle. With this project, Lorena has a platform to tell her truth as well as engage in a critical conversation about gender dynamics, abuse and her demand for justice. This is Lorena's story, and we're honored to help her tell it."

    Kenya Barris lawsuit...

    Going to court? Kenya Barris could be headed to trial this spring over whether he essentially gave up the right to base works like Black-ish on his own life experiences when he created an unproduced pilot with a friend from college.

    Bryan Barber claims they partnered on a pilot back in 2006 and, when it didn't take off, each agreed to not use it without the other's participation. In September 2016, he sued for breach of implied contract, breach of confidentiality and fraud, claiming the ABC family comedy is based on that pilot. Full story.

    Nat Geo's Hidden Figures series...

    Adaptation: The 2016 film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae is being adapted into a scripted television series by National Geographic, sources say. The project is said to be in the early stages of development. Executive producers include Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping of Chernin Entertainment, who both executive produced the film.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Y: The Last Man moves forward at FX with a pilot order: More than a year after tapping Michael Green as showrunner and nearly three after the show landed at FX, the basic cable network is moving full steam ahead with its adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan's beloved comic book series. Details.

    Karl Urban's Amazon superhero series: The Star Trek alum has landed the starring role in the straight-to-series drama The Boys, set in a world where superheroes embrace the darker side of their fame. 

    Discovery's new off-the-grid survival show: The network has ordered Book of Hines, a reality show that follows former intelligence officer Brett Hines, whose distrust of the modern way of life and the dangers associated with it inspires him to move his family off-the-grid.

    Amazon Prime wins Friday Night Lights streaming rights: The service has made all five seasons of the beloved series available to fans again months after Netflix stopped streaming the high school football drama.

    ► iQiyi, the "Netflix of China," leverages local online movie boom: With its unique 50-50 revenue split and a new IPO, the streamer has struck gold with features made specifically for the Internet.

  • How 'Peter Rabbit' Won Over the U.K.

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

    Despite mediocre reviews, the film toppled Black Panther and held off Pacific Rim: Uprising and Ready Player One to claim the top spot for three straight weeks, writes Alex Ritman:

    The problem: Initial noise may well have proved worrying. Early reviewers didn’t fall for James Corden’s “cocky” and “cheeky” incarnation of Peter, picking out one scene where the animal actually twerks Miley Cyrus-style. The film also was accused of “allergy bullying” for a scene in which a group of bunnies attacks a man with blackberries.

    The strategy: "We went for a focus on older audiences," says Michael Horn, Sony’s president of international marketing. "We wanted to communicate in some way that we were still rooted in the tradition and wanted to do right by the tradition of this beloved franchise."

    The execution: Part of this approach came in February and March with a partnership with The Daily Telegraph newspaper, in which several content pieces explained the characters and had various stars discussing their own memories growing up with Peter Rabbit (like Margot Robbie revealing she had a “little teacup and saucers” with him painted on them).

    The box office: The movie's success over the Easter Weekend, its third weekend in theaters, brought its total revenue up to an astonishing 23.3 million pounds ($33.7 million), making it not just Sony Pictures Animation’s most successful film in the U.K. (beating Hotel Transylvania 2), but seeing it track well ahead of Zootopia, Paddington and now Paddington 2Full story.

    Star Wars corner...

    Solo: A Star Wars Story at Cannes: The Ron Howard film will be unveiled May 15 at this year's Cannes Film Festival, 10 days before the Lucasfilm project's official opening on May 25.

    Should Meryl Streep play Princess Leia? Fans are saying yes through a petition, currently more than 10,000 strong, but Mark Hamill is against it. "I think it would be tough recasting because she's so indelibly linked to that character," he said in an interview, before saying of Carrie Fisher: "She's irreplaceable as far as I'm concerned."

    Jake Gyllenhaal's next project...

    Book to movie: Focus Features has picked up film rights to the upcoming novel To Die in Vienna by Kevin Wignall and attached Jake Gyllenhaal to star in its movie adaptation, titled Welcome to Vienna. Gyllenhaal will also produce through his production company Nine Stories, alongside Riva Marker.

    Elsewhere in film...

    CBS films acquires election-hacking book Russian Roulette: The recently published New York Times best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn chronicles the connections between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and Moscow's hacking of the 2016 U.S. election.

    ► Sony Pictures release dates: Grudge, the studio's reboot of the 2002 Japanese horror film Ju-On (and its 2004 American remake The Grudge), will land in theaters Aug. 16, 2019, while Tom Hanks' World War II drama Greyhound, which the actor wrote and is producing and starring in, is set to make its debut April 5, 2019.

    The lost Chappaquiddick movie...

    Nixed: In 1979, late actor and first-time producer Glenn Stensel said he'd "swear on my SAG card we have money from several backers" to make an $800,000 film ($2.7 million today) called Chappaquiddick.

    It never happened. "Financial backers were worried about repercussions from the Kennedys and the Democratic Party," the movie's potential star says now. Read more.

  • Hollywood's "Copyright Troll"

    Illustration by Tim Peacock

    Has this man sued you? He might soon, writes Ashley Cullins:

    The explosion of social media and the resulting ease of sharing photographs online have created a host of novel legal questions. For Richard Liebowitz, a photographer turned New York attorney, it's been a business opportunity.

    In the three years his boutique firm has been open, he has sued just about every major media company — CBS, Vice, Yahoo, iHeartMedia and The Hollywood Reporter parent Prometheus Global Media, to name a few — for copyright infringement on behalf of more than 350 photographers.

    "It's very tough to make a living as a photographer," he says. "My goal is ultimately to get them paid for their work so they can focus on taking pictures." Full story.

    In other news...

    Josh Charles set for Broadway debut: The actor will join previously announced castmates Armie Hammer and Tom Skerritt in the dark comedy Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee.

    What else we're reading...

    — "YouTube TV eyes new linear channels from digital publishers." Among them: Cheddar, Tastemade and The Young Turks Network. [Digiday]

    — "Kenneth Lonergan goes back in time with Howards End." Meredith Blake writes: "Even Lonergan was unsure initially that he was the person for the job." [Los Angeles Times]

    — "Making the sound of silence in A Quiet Place." Mekado Murphy asks: "So was there actually quiet on the set?" [The New York Times]

    — "Sandra Oh's been waiting 30 years for a show like Killing Eve." The actress opens up to Yohana Desta about the new series, her post-Grey's Anatomy career, and her thoughts on Ellen Pompeo's heroic salary negotiations. [Vanity Fair]

    — "Gideon Adlon is ready for anything." Anna Silman profiles the Blockers star: "Pamela Adlon’s eldest daughter prepares to navigate stardom — and answer the tough questions — in the era of #MeToo." [The Cut]

    — "Ready Player One's real nostalgia trip is to an era when critics didn't hate pop culture references." Jesse Hassenger writes: " There was a time when a well-timed zinger about an old TV show or a recent movie was considered refreshing, rather than about on par with the band name-checking the town that they’re playing in." [AV Club]

    — "How does the music industry measure its devotion to God?" Ann-Derrick Gaillot writes: "The gospel and Christian Billboard charts highlight the challenge of codifying musical genres." [The Outline]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Jimmy Kimmel fires back at Sean Hannity after criticism of Melania Trump jokes." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Norman Reedus' Walking Dead co-star punches everyone in the face." [Tonight Show]

    + "Jason Clarke on how he perfected his Boston accent for Chappaquiddick." [Late Night]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "The politics of the Roseanne reboot." The panel chews on the topic. [The Brian Lehrer Show/WNYC]

    + "Blockers and the revival of the studio comedy with Kay Cannon." Sean Fennessey interviews the veteran screenwriter." [The Big Picture/The Ringer]

    Today's Birthdays: Eliza Coupe, 37, Zach Braff, 43, Paul Rudd, 49, Steven Levitan, 56, Michael Rooker, 63, John Ratzenberger, 71, Barry Levinson, 76, Billy Dee Williams, 81.