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OSCAR: First Academy Screeners Arrived

Pete Hammond

And we’re off…  I received emails and calls from a couple of recently inducted Academy Award voters who reported that the first two screeners of the season arrived in their mailboxes Wednesday from Sony Pictures Classics. The studio beat the competition by sending out  the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom and the multi-story drama Mother And Child to all of the nearly 6,000 members. It’s a repeat of a familiar strategy employed by SPC in the past when they were first out in 2008 with Frozen River and in 2005 with Junebug. These small earlier-in-the-year releases clearly benefitted from separating themselves from the glut of November/December arrivals – and in the case of Frozen River landed Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay nominations while the little-heralded Junebug pulled off a supporting actress nod for Amy Adams.

With Animal Kingdom trying to stay alive at the box office since its August 13th release, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard recently told me they plan to aggressively go after a supporting actress nomination for the acclaimed performance of Jacki Weaver, whose dynamic turn in the film would probably be a slam dunk if it could generate any Oscar heat. It’s exactly the kind of gritty character role that actors love to reward. The early screener gambit is a way to start.

As for Rodrigo Garcia’s heartfelt SPC film Mother And Child, which seemed to open and close rather quickly … Read More »

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Chris Ball Hatches Wrekin Hill, Will Release Peter Weir’s ‘The Way Back’

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 8:02pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Chris Ball, Newmarket president and co-founder, will leave to form Wrekin Hill Entertainment, a new specialty film production and distribution label. Ball will continue his association with Newmarket’s owner, Exclusive Media Group, getting the new shingle started by releasing the Peter Weir-directed The Way Back, the harrowing period survival tale that stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong and Colin Farrell. Wreckin will also release the Billy Joel documentary The Last Play at Shea. Both pictures were financed by Exclusive. Wrekin will also release Hesher, the Sundance Film Festival acquisition Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson. All three films will be released in tandem by Newmaket and Wrekin Hill, but the latter will be the active shingle.

Ball will be joined at Wrekin Hill by longtime Newmarket colleagues Rene Cogan, who was Newmarket COO-CFO and John Crye, who had been Newmarket’s president of production and acquisitions.

The move comes at a time when Exclusive is building up its US theatrical releasing business. The overall company, funded by Cyrte Investments, is spearheaded by co-chairmen Nigel Sinclair and Guy East. Exclusive’s first production is Weir’s The Way Back, while sister division Hammer Films produced Let Me In, the remake of Let The Right One In. The third production division is Spitfire Pictures, which mostly focuses on documentaries like Last Play at Shea, which focused on Joel’s final concert … Read More »

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MTV CHANGE-UP: Tony DiSanto & Liz Gateley Exit For ProdCo Backed By Ben Silverman; David Janollari To Get Upped

Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: I hear that MTV’s president of programming Tony DiSanto and his top lieutenant, SVP series development Liz Gateley, will be leaving the network to form a production company that will focus on film as well as scripted and unscripted television. I hear Ben Silverman’s Electus, backed by Barry Diller’s IAC, will own a stake in the new company which has already lined up a number of commitments, including some from MTV. Meanwhile, former WB entertainment president David Janollari, who joined MTV in January as EVP scripted development, will most likely be elevated to a top programming position at the channel. Janollari, who may not inherit DiSanto’s president of programming title, would probably oversee series but not specials, news and events. I hear Janollari has been offered the job and has until tomorrow to accept, which he is expected to do. DiSanto and Gateley are expected to stay through the end of the year to help with the transition. Read More »

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WME Signs Kelsey, Reba, Little Big Town

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 5:14pm PDT

Kelsey Grammer, the 5-time Emmy winner and Tony nominee, is moving from CAA to WME where he’ll be repped by the same half-dozen agent team who handle Tyler Perry. Grammer has a very busy TV production business (Medium, Girlfriends, The Game which is restarting). WME also signed Reba McEntire from CAA. The major Nashville singing star had one of The WB’s most highly rated sitcom for years until it was yanked and moved to Lifetime. From Nashville, WME also signed Grammy-nominated Little Big Town whose current country album has been #1.

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Julia Roberts And Meryl Streep To Team In ‘August: Osage County’ For John Wells

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 4:07pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In a power pairing, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep are in talks to star for The Weinstein Company in the bigscreen adaptation of the Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony-winning play August: Osage County. I hear Roberts and Streep have agreed to the project and they are now working out deals and locking a production start. John Wells will direct the film from a script written by the playwright. Production will start by next summer. Streep will play Violet, the drug-addicted matriarch of the working class Weston clan. Roberts will play Barbara Fordham, the oldest daughter in the family. While mom’s problems and her penchant for revealing family secrets is a big issue, Barbara is melting because her husband is cheating with a college student. They are brought together when Violet’s husband goes missing and all three of their daughters come home to rally around mom. In the process, a lot of family secrets get revealed. The film has been developed for several years by Harvey Weinstein, who was involved Read More »

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Ryan Gosling Is George Clooney’s Choice For ‘Farragut North’

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 3:38pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: George Clooney is close to finding his star for Farragut North. I’m told he’s negotiating with Ryan Gosling to play the lead role of a young communications director who works for a fast rising presidential candidate. During the course of the campaign, the idealistic young man falls prey to the backstabbing and other dirty trickery of more seasoned rivals.

Gosling is in line to play a role once eyed by Leonardo DiCaprio when the Beau Willimon play was optioned by Warner Bros two years ago. Clooney  already was eyeing it as a directing vehicle back then. Willimon worked for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run, and his own experiences informed the play.  Right now, Clooney and his Smokehouse Productions banner partner Grant Heslov are running point on the project. They aren’t saying where the money is coming from or who’ll distribute, but they are confident they will begin production in March.

Gosling is expected to be a factor in the Best Actor race, by merit of his performance opposite Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, the drama that will be distributed by The Weinstein Company.

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Emma Thompson Joins ‘Men In Black 3′

Mike Fleming

Men in Black 3 is casting up. I’m told that Emma Thompson will be taking a lead role of Oh, the head of MIB. She’ll join Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed film for Sony Pictures Entertainment.  She’s negotiating. Principal photography begins in mid-November.

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Lifetime Greenlights ‘Meet Jane’ Pilot

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 2:18pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Lifetime has handed out a pilot order to Meet Jane, a drama from writer Andi Bushell and executive turned producer Mark Pedowitz. This is the first pilot order for Pedowitz, who segued into producing early this year with a first-look deal for his Pine Street Entertainment at Warner Bros TV. Before that, he spent 19 years at Disney-ABC, including a stint at ABC Studios which he ran as president for 5 years until he was pushed out by Steve McPherson.

Meet Jane centers on Jane Bilinksi, whose stale life as an unhappily married mother of two daughters in the Washington, DC area is suddenly re-energized and empowered when the FBI enlists her to spy on her husband, a computer technician the government suspects is selling top-secret information to Russia. Bushell wrote Meet Jane on spec and will executive produce the pilot with Pedowitz. Warner Horizon is producing.

Bushell serves as a co-executive producer on the new ABC drama My Generation. Her resume also includes writer-producer gigs on CBS’ The Mentalist and Criminal Minds and NBC’s Crossing Jordan. This is Lifetime’s fourth pilot order this year. The other 3 pilots, Against the Wall, Exit 19 and an untitled Josh Berman project, are in various stages of casting.

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Oxygen Greenlights Paris Hilton Docu-Series

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 2:17pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Oxygen Media has ordered a new docu-series starring socialite and tabloid fixture Paris Hilton from veteran reality producer Arthur Smith (Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares). Here is the show’s official description:  “With Hollywood on one side and real life on the other, this series follows Paris and four important women in her life, through all of their ups and downs, loves gained and lost, marriages, kids, divorce and more, revealing a lively group of dynamic individuals.” The 4 women are: Paris’s friend Brooke Mueller, Charlie Sheen’s wife and mother to his twin boys; Paris’s friend Jennifer Rovero, former Playboy model who once dated Fred Durst; Paris’ friend and fellow socialite Allison Melnick; and Paris’s mom, Kathy. The series is being produced by A. Smith & Co. and executive produced by the company’s founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, as well as Paris Hilton, Rick Hilton and Jamie Freed.

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Fox ‘Connected’ With Family Comedy From ‘American Dad’ Producer Nahnatchka Khan

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 2:00pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

After a bidding war, Fox has handed out a put pilot commitment to Connected, a single-camera family comedy from from American Dad! executive producer Nahnatchka Khan and  documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler. Khan will write and executive produce the project, an edgy family comedy about two families linked by their teens’ romantic relationship. She will executive produce with Cutler and Mosaic’s Ann Blanchard. Connected is produced by 20th Century Fox TV where Khan is under an overall deal.

Khan, who has been on Dad! since the beginning, has both live-action and animation background. She got her start in kids animated series at Walt Disney TV Animation after graduating from USC’s film school. She worked her way into primetime with gigs on such series as Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle, WB’s What I Like About You and NBC’s Good Morning, Miami. This represents Cutler’s first major foray into scripted TV. In February, the documentarian and reality producer inked a first-look deal with 20th TV’s corporate sibling Fox TV Studios with a focus on scripted development.

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Leno Narrowly Wins Premiere Week

Nellie Andreeva

Maybe it doesn’t matter who sits in the Tonight Show chair after all. NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno posted a 1.0 rating among adults 18-49 during premiere week, matching the performance of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien the same week last year. (In total viewers, the older-skewing Leno was up 58%). It was a close race among Leno, CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman and Nightline last week. Leno won in both total viewers (3.79 million vs. 3.78 million for Letterman) and adults 18-49, where he was tied with Nightline at a 1.0 rating, followed by Letterman with a 0.9. In actual 18-49 viewers, Letterman was virtually tied with Nightline (1.24 million vs. 1.25 million), while Leno drew 1.33 million. Letterman was down year-to-year in both total viewers (24%) and 18-49 (25%). Last year, Letterman’s average was boosted by an appearance by President Barack Obama, while this year his premiere week guest lineup featured former president Bill Clinton and actor Joaquin Phoenix.

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Writer Sascha Penn Sets Up Series Projects With Directors Brett Ratner & Marcos Siega

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 12:20pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Writer Sascha Penn has landed 2 premium script deals: one at Fox for Unknown, a drama with Brett Ratner attached to executive produce, and one at the CW for Confessions of a Back-Up Dancer with Marcos Siega attached to direct and produce. The CW pact is now being finalized.

Unknown is described as an action series in the vein of The Fugitive that follows a man on a journey to discover who he really is. Penn wrote it on spec, which Martha Haight, president of Rat TV, took to Bert Salke, the recently appointed president of 20th TV’s division Fox21. Fox21 is producing the Fox project, which is eyed to film abroad, possibly in China. Ratner is executive producing with Penn serving as co-exec producer.

Confessions of a Back-Up Dancer, from Warner Bros. TV and Alloy Entertainment, is an adaptation of Alloy’s young adult novel by Tucker Shaw. Penn is writing the project, which explores the glamorous and gritty behind-the-scenes world of a major pop tour from the point of view of the star’s troupe of backing dancers. The show’s producing team includes Alloy’s Les Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo, Penn and Siega. This is the second consecutive year that CW, Warner Bros. and Alloy are developing a series adaptation of Confessions. Last year, it was written by The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken and didn’t go to pilot. Siega, … Read More »

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Paramount Restructures Licensing/Consumer Products

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 11:49am PDT
Mike Fleming

Paramount has restructured its Licensing and Consumer Products division. They’ve laid off 53 people worldwide and will save $10 million annually. Here is the memo just issued:

To: Paramount Employees
From: Frederick Huntsberry and Rob Moore
Date: Sept. 30, 2010

We wanted to inform you of a number of changes we are making to better manage our overall business, as well as make our reporting structure more rational and efficient. Effective today, we are restructuring four of our divisions and realigning the responsibilities of several senior executives. The key changes are as follows:

· Licensing and Consumer Products will now be merged into Motion Picture Promotions and overseen by LeeAnne Stables, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Partnerships.

· The development and production of feature films made for home entertainment and digital platforms are being consolidated under Tom Lesinski in his role as President of Paramount Digital Entertainment.

· The distribution of motion pictures on digital platforms will now be handled by Hal Richardson, President of Paramount Pictures Worldwide Television Distribution.

This realignment will result in a staff reduction of 53 positions worldwide. The new structure outlined above will advance our ongoing goal of eliminating redundancy, rationalizing similar business lines, and optimizing our work force and cost structure.

The hard work and talent of the employees whose positions are affected by this change

Read More »

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HOT PROPERTY: Overbrook & ‘Proposal’ Writer Shopping ‘Hitch’ Series Adaptation

Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Will Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment and The Proposal writer Pete Chiarelli are behind a series adaptation of the hit 2005 romantic comedy Hitch, which has several networks bidding on it. Chiarelli will pen the series project, described as an action-packed one-hour, for Sony Pictures TV. The movie, which Overbrook co-produced with Sony’s Columbia Pictures, starred Smith as a date doctor. This marks the TV debut for Chiarelli who also is penning Most Wanted, an upcoming action comedy, which reunites him with The Proposal stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds and director Anne Fletcher. Overbrook and Sony TV first took a stab at adapting Hitch to series 3 seasons ago when it was developed as a half-hour single-camera comedy written by Ben Wexler that was set up at CBS but didn’t go to pilot.

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Gotham Indie Awards Fete Actor Foursome

Mike Fleming

 

 

New York, NY (September 30, 2010) – The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, announced today that director Darren Aronofsky, actors Hilary Swank and Robert Duvall, and Focus Features CEO, James Schamus, will each be presented with a career Tribute at the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards on Monday, November 29th at Cipriani Wall Street, New York, New York.

This year’s Tribute selection represents a range of individuals – all veterans well-versed in the journey between lower-budget independent films and large-scale studio releases.  In addition, the honorees represent some of the most critically acclaimed and highly anticipated films including: Get Low from Sony Pictures Classics (directed by Aaron Schneider and featuring Robert Duvall); the upcoming Fox Searchlight release Conviction (directed by Tony Goldwyn and featuring Hilary Swank); Black Swan from Fox Searchlight (directed by Darren Aronofsky); and Focus Features’ The Kids are All Right (James Schamus, CEO).

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RATINGS RAT RACE: ‘Law & Order: LA’ Solid In Debut, ‘Undercovers’ Takes Plunge

Nellie Andreeva

The new Law & Order spinoff Law & Order: Los Angeles did OK in its debut on what was a down night all around, with all other series except Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen posting double-digit declines from last week. Topping the list was NBC’s freshman spy drama Undercovers, which was down an alarming 24% from its soft premiere last week. (the rest of the drops were between 10-19%) Also hitting dangerously low levels is ABC’s new 10 PM legal drama The Whole Truth.

Law & Order: LA (3.1/9 in adults 18-49, 10.5 million viewers overall), won the 10 PM by a wide margin but was down 11% in the demo from what Law & Order: SVU did in the slot last week, while matching its total viewer delivery. Still, LOLA was up 19% from SVU‘s premiere in the slot in March and up 63% vs. what Jay Leno did in the hour last fall. As for SVU (2.7/7, 9.2 million), it was down 16% at 9 PM from last week despite featuring a publicized guest appearance by Jennifer Love Hewitt. The J.J. Abrams-produced Undercovers opened the night with a 1.6/5 and 7.1 million viewers, finishing distant fourth in the hour in 18-49.

The truth about new legal drama The Whole Truth is not pretty. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced series posted a 1.3/4 in 18-49 … Read More »

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Paradigm Signs Actor William Fichtner

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 8:57am PDT

I’ve often wondered why William Fichtner isn’t a household name since his face is so recognizable and his acting is always memorable. He came over to Paradigm from Gersh. Fichtner recently wrapped filming on Summit’s Drive Angry 3D penned by Paradigm clients Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer.

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Denis Leary And Jim Serpico’s Apostle Is Launching N.Y.-Based Management Division

By | Thursday September 30, 2010 @ 8:37am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

EXCUSIVE: Denis Leary and Jim Serpico’s Apostle is branching out into management. The duo’s New York-based film and TV production company is launching Apostle Management, whose main focus will be shaping up the careers of stand-up comedians who aspire to perform, write and direct their own material. “In this digital era, we will lend both our creative and production experience to help our clients achieve their potential,” Serpico said, adding that he and Leary are looking to tap into the “many resources and talented people” of New York City. To do that, Apostle has brought in veteran New York-based comedy representative Conan Smith.  “I just like the idea of having a guy named Conan in my office,” Leary quipped. “We actually had hired Conan O’Brien but then TBS made him a slightly better offer so – mark my words – one day when you hear the name Conan you will think of Conan Smith.”

Smith spent 15 years with William Morris and was involved in the creation of the agency’s comedy department in New York, which he ultimately ended up heading. The department’s clients have included Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Kevin James, Robert Klein, Colin Quinn and Tom Papa. Smith also spent two years at Endeavor before segueing into producing in 2007. Leary and Serpico launched Apostle in 1994. The company, which just inked a two-year overall deal with Fox TV Studios … Read More »

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It’s Official: Anderson Cooper To Host Warner Bros TV-Syndicated Daily Daytime Strip But Also His CNN News Show

Anderson Cooper has signed a deal to host a new one-hour NYC-based daily daytime strip for Warner Bros Domestic Television Distribution, set for national syndication launch in Fall 2011. This should be very successful: one week, I caught Cooper co-hosting with Kelly Ripa — and he was a natural. Cooper will continue to anchor CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ airing weeknights at 10 PM ET. And, geez, is troubled CNN relieved he’s staying even though his ratings have plummeted. Luckily, both CNN and Warner Bros TV syndication sit under the same Time Warner banner. Said Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide, “I am pleased that Anderson Cooper has extended his relationship with CNN and will be with us for years to come. I am also pleased to congratulate Anderson on his new relationship with Telepictures. We think it will be good for Anderson, good for CNN and good for Time Warner.”  And Cooper had this to say, “I remain as committed as ever to my program on CNN, and will be with CNN for years to come.” Here’s the news release: Read More »

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