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MTV Announces Premiere Date, Hosts For ‘Punk’d’ Reboot

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 10:30pm PST
Nellie Andreeva

During its New Year’s Eve program, MTV revealed details about the long-in-the-works return of Punk’d: A new season of the celebrity hidden-camera series will premiere on March 19. Original host Ashton Kutcher will be succeeded by a bevy of guest hosts, including Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Kellan Lutz, Bam Margera and Punk’d alum Dax Shepard. A preview unveiled tonight features Cyrus orchestrating a prank on Khloe Kardashian involving a bizarre emergency. Unlike the original series, the new Punk’d will also offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the elaborate pranks were put together. Punk’d is executive produced by the show’s co-creators, Katalyst’s Jason Goldberg and Kutcher.

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Duet: ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 9:59pm PST

She may be the most annoying showbiz actress, and he the most promising actor. But enjoy Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt together singing a ditty by Nancy Wilson in this new video Deschanel posted to her website:

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2011 Movie Awards: Big Change, Big Chaos, Big Controversy, Big Academy Comeback

Pete Hammond

The 2011 movie awards  reflected the chaotic state of the motion picture business which was marked by uncertainty all year. Upheaval within the glacially slow-to-evolve Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences resulted in major changes. But an embarrassingly awkward stumble in selecting the producer and host of this next Oscar show put the brakes on innovation. So the powers-that-be sought comfort in tradition for the time being. With new leadership, new rules, and a stabilized Oscar show that promises a return to tradition rather than rocking the boat, the awards year is poised to close out 2011 with one of the most wide-open races in years. The showbiz community expects upheaval and controversy from within the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes (more on that below), but not from the staid Movie Academy. Undoubtedly the biggest black eye for the Academy in 2011 was set in motion on August 4th when it was announced that director Brett Ratner would be joining Don Mischer as producer of the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Ratner was considered an off-the-wall choice, clearly aimed at shaking up the telecast in hopes of appealing to more popular tastes. Then Ratner announced his Tower Heist star Eddie Murphy would be the host despite all that actor’s own controversies at past Oscar shows. Just two months later Ratner resigned under pressure after making a gay slur during a Q&A for Tower Heist plus some sexually graphic remarks on Howard Stern’s radio show (reported first by Deadline). Murphy followed Ratner out the door the next day. To resolve the chaos that November 9th, mega-producer Brian Grazer saved the day by quickly stepping in to take the reins of the show with Mischer, and on November 10 the pair announced that 8-time host Billy Crystal had agreed to become Master of Ceremonies. Disaster averted. Even without that turmoil, early November was rough because of the sudden death of 14-time Oscar show producer Gil Cates.

But, frankly, 2011 started out poorly with the terribly reviewed 83rd Oscar show back on February 27th. At least everyone now agrees that hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco flopped as hosts hired to draw a younger audience. Although the ratings were fairly flat compared to the previous year, it was interesting to see even the Academy acknowledge the pair bombed once the critics spoke. For instance, at the Governors Ball immediately after the show, I spoke with several Acad honchos who seemed delighted with their view as part of the audience, with one very prominent Board member even telling me it was “the best show in years”. But it became hard to find defenders of the hosts or producer Bruce Cohen soon afterwards. Even Franco and longtime Oscar show writer Bruce Vilanch publicly sparred about it a month later.

The competition for Oscar itself started off as a lopsided affair with Sony’s The Social Network rolling over every movie in sight in the major metropolitan critics awards. Then the Critics Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globes followed. But once Industry members beginning with the Producers Guild Awards had their say on January 22nd, Harvey Weinstein began to pull off a shocker. Soon The King’s Speech was rolling over the David Fincher-directed Facebook film. Producer Scott Rudin and Sony executives were glum-faced as they made a hasty retreat from the Bevery Hilton ballroom after the PGA Awards. In the lobby afterward, King’s Speech director Tom Hooper was almost giddy at the surpise win. That was just for starters as a slew of Industry awards followed including DGA, WGA, SAG, and BAFTA. By the time Oscar night came round, there wasn’t much suspense. Everyone knew the King would rule and the once and future King of the modern Oscar campaign — Harvey, of course — was back with his first Best Picture win for The Weinstein Company.

It wasn’t a complete sweep. Natalie Portman grabbed Best Actress for Black Swan while The Fighter took Supporting Actor for Christian Bale and Actress for Melissa Leo (who memorably dropped the F-bomb during her acceptance). The Social Network had to settle for three Oscars, the highest profile being Best Screenplay Adaptation for Aaron Sorkin.

The hubbub overshadowed the Academy’s announcement (on the show itself) that it was extending its agreement with ABC to air the Oscars at least another six years. That brings it to 46 telecasts on that network since the Oscars’ TV life began in 1953. The health of this long-term association was good news as the Academy needed some stability in light of a major announcement on April 7th of a big leadership change in the Academy’s paid staff. After 30 years, Executive Director Bruce Davis was retiring at the end of June. To replace him the Board brought in a surprise choice, Film Independent head Dawn Hudson who would take on the new title of CEO in a “partnership” with new COO Ric Robertson, Davis’ longtime No. 2 and presumed heir. How this new duo would learn to work together was anybody’s guess, and it still is a work in progress by all accounts. But Hudson has clearly taken the reins moving quickly on a number of issues and projects. Too quickly? Like we said the Academy is very slow to change so there have been bumps along the way and not everyone is happy with the pace. But even before Hudson officially arrived at the end of June, some significant changes were taking place.
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2011 Movies: Brands, Budgets, & Bankability Still Don’t Explain Why Studios Are In Crisis

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 7:24pm PST
Mike Fleming

The year 2011 was a schizophrenic scene for both indies and studios in film. It began with the promise of an avalanche of Sundance Film Festival acquisitions and promised new vigor and buyers in the independent film sector. But it ended with movies underperforming at the domestic box office and down hundreds of millions of dollars compared to last year. While some of those grosses were Avatar’s tail end in early 2010, studios in 2011 didn’t make enough compelling films that drew audiences into theaters. It was an alarming trend that started during the summer and continued through year’s end. Both the majors and indies also struggled to embrace shifting distribution paradigms; the indies are finding salvation in VOD while the majors are still sparring with exhibitors. Studio attempts to build new franchises brought some breathtaking flops. And efforts to build bankable new stars was a study in frustration as well. So is it an exaggeration to say that studios are in a state of crisis? The signs of strain are certainly showing. One of the most surprising continual headlines over the year was the number of major films that studios drew hard lines in the sand and unplugged major projects they paid millions of dollars to develop, alienating top stars, directors and producers who are not used to being told no.

From a quality standpoint, studios provided a lackluster film slate that felt too familiar and therefore boring. But it’s hard to blame Hollywood’s slavish devotion to sequels, prequels, reboots, and brands. Especially when 2011′s top seven grossing films of the year were sequels  — Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, The Hangover II, Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides, Fast 5, and Cars 2. The next three on the list were brands — Marvel’s Thor, Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Marvel’s Captain America. Despite the challenges and the doom and gloom, the year brought highlights and surprises that disprove every assumption. They include sleeper summer hits The Help, Bridesmaids and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the latter a gem that Sony Pictures Classics opened in the heat of summer. It out-grossed all of the director’s previous films with $56 million domestic and $145 million worldwide. After a year in which 3D conversions seemed to be little more than a gimmick to charge higher ticket prices, Martin Scorsese took the baton from James Cameron with budget-buster Hugo. And the year ends with Tom Cruise reestablishing his box office might with the refreshed franchise Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. And despite what I’ve said about sequels, who could not be excited about Christopher Nolan’s final Batfilm The Dark Knight Rises, or Ridley Scott’s return to Alien territory with Prometheus, or Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth with the first installment of The Hobbit?

As for budget-cutting, it’s to be expected after several attempts to launch new franchises blew up in the moguls’ faces. Warner Bros had a big swing and a miss with Green Lantern, whose $219 million worldwide gross only slightly eclipsed its $200 million budget. It was the second straight year that Warner Bros tried and failed to turn one of its DC Comics characters into hit films after last summer’s Jonah Hex debacle. And even the upcoming Man Of Steel has raised questions whether this Superman reboot can resurrect the troubled franchise.

Perhaps the biggest game-changing summer flop was Cowboys & Aliens, a film that had been developed over more than a decade by some of Hollywood’s brightest minds (Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jon Favreau), and a dream pairing of the actors known as Indiana Jones and James Bond. The genre mash-up lost a fortune for DreamWorks, Universal, and Relativity Media. Audiences didn’t connect with the concept, and didn’t care about Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. That left a reported $163 million budget film (I’ve heard it was higher) with a $174 million worldwide gross. Factor in the P&A spend, then cut that revenue in half to account for the exhibition split, and this is a big fat failure. The ripples were felt as far away as India where the film is rumored to have dampened the enthusiasm of DreamWorks’ financing partner Reliance.
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2011 TV: Comedy Is Back, Soaps Are Out, Charlie Sheen Is Out Then Back, Netflix Challenges TV, & Oprah’s OWN Struggles

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 4:50pm PST
Nellie Andreeva

Who knew that the biggest TV story of 2011 would be a sitcom cast change? The Charlie Sheen meltdown and subsequent public firing from the CBS hit Two And A Half Men, followed by the show’s successful  transition with new star Ashton Kutcher and Sheen’s comeback in the new comedy series Anger Management, grabbed the biggest headlines. But it was eventful year, featuring major shakeups in daytime and off-network syndication as well as ushering in new players in original programming and a comeback for comedy.

No other TV area saw more dramatic changes in 2011 than daytime. Soaps’ march toward extinction accelerated with the demise of ABC’s One Life To Live and All My Children. Two other staples of daytime TV, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and another longtime host Regis Philbin, made their departures. Winfrey’s exit changed the landscape of daytime television, which she had dominated for a quarter of a century. With her gone, two big names threw their hats in the daytime talk show ring this year — former Today co-host-turned-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, whose job change once again became a media circus, and Queen Latifah. Couric’s Disney-ABC talker launches next fall, Queen Latifah’s Sony TV-produced talk show is targeted for fall 2012.

Closing one chapter, Winfrey and the ABC soaps tried to open another, but the transition proved bumpy for all. On Jan. 1, 2011, Winfrey launched OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. A year and some $300 million in investment by Discovery Communications later, OWN is still struggling to find an audience and outperform the Discovery Health network it replaced. Heavily promoted entries like Mark Burnett’s reality series Your OWN Show, Oprah Presents Master Class and the Rosie O’Donnell talk show have disappointed, and the network has been mulling a more niche approach, catering to African American audiences. Winfrey will make another attempt to salvage her network with Oprah’s Next Chapter, a new weekly primetime show, which premieres on Jan. 1, OWN’s first anniversary.

There will be no next chapter for canceled ABC soaps All My Children and One Life To Live. After a five-month effort to secure financial backers and union agreements, Jeff Kwatinetz’s Prospect Park recently abandoned its plans to continue the daytime dramas online after licensing the shows from ABC in July.

While Prospect Park couldn’t find a business model that would sustain network quality series online, another company, Netflix, made a big bet this year that it can make it work. In the most significant challenge to traditional TV networks to date, the streaming giant last spring outbid the network with deepest pockets, HBO, for the David Fincher-Kevin Spacey drama House Of Cards in a deal that could be worth more than $100 million. Since then, despite the company’s stock price woes stemming from blunders in the core DVD rental/movie and TV shows streaming business like the ill-fated Qwikster spin-off and fee hike, Netflix has been aggressively building a slate of original series. In the past couple of months, it picked up Jenji Kohan’s comedy Orange Is The New Black, Eli Roth’s horror thriller Hemlock Grove and a new season of Arrested Development.
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2011 TV Awards: Change Badly Needed

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 2:22pm PST

To sum up how the major television awards went down in 2011, it would be that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Voting for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences kept honoring AMC’s Mad Men and ABC’s Modern Family at the Primetime Emmys. Ushering in the new in November, the Academy’s Board of Governors elected Warner Bros Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum as its new Chairman/CEO. He’ll have to navigate invigorating the telecast for 2012 and beyond. The year also found some encouraging signs for the broadcast networks in terms of the Emmys. Just when it seemed that cable’s quality advantage had rendered ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox to a supporting role, the nets mounted a comeback in September. There were five wins for Modern Family; acting triumphs for comedy leads Jim Parsons of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and Melissa McCarthy of the same network’s Mike & Molly; Julianna Margulies’ lead drama actress triumph for CBS’s The Good Wife; and writing (Jason Katims) and acting (Kyle Chandler) victories for NBC’s departing Friday Night Lights. The latter also took Program of the Year honors from the Television Critics Association, not a group typically known for its sentimentality.

Elsewhere on the TV awards spectrum, the SAG Awards last January showed that it can do a little evolving of their own by featuring first-time winners in the top TV series categories for the first time in ages: ABC’s Modern Family and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Moreover, Modern Family was … Read More »

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2011 International: Turmoil Affected Showbiz

By | Saturday December 31, 2011 @ 2:24am PST

Although the financial crisis worsened in Europe this year, a bright spot emerging is the region’s film financing. I’m told that European investors who have become increasingly skittish about putting money into the markets are more seriously eyeing film investment as a safer bet. At the same time, producers and studios want to let outsiders in to mitigate risk. In recent high-profile deals, France’s StudioCanal which is riding high with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy among other projects has signed a $200 million slate financing pact with London-based private fund Anton Capital Entertanment. But on a down note for France, the end of the year has been marked by upset in the post-production sector with the financial turmoil at Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Industries and the future of dozens of films in jeopardy. The next year will see much hand-wringing over a sector that has moved to digital at a breakneck – some would say reckless – pace. Buyers were in fine fettle at the Cannes Film Festival with many deals concluded and a sense that smart money and realistic prices have returned. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cannes’ persona non grata Lars von Trier and his controversial “Nazi” remarks. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cannes this year saw the debut of such award darlings as The Artist and Palme d’Or winner Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. Cannes programmer Thierry Frémaux in 2012 faces the daunting challenge of coming up with a better selection than his 2011 vintage which found favor with the typically harsh Riviera audience.

In Germany in December, the oft-morphing Senator entered a long-term strategic partnership with Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity which also took a significant stake in the producer-distributor. In other German news, there were troubles at Degeto, the film acquisition arm of broadcaster ARD whose chief, Hans-Wolfgang Jurgan, was let go in November following revelations that the company had overspent its budget. German independent producers were particularly anguished given Degeto’s position as a prime co-production partner. The situation remains somewhat tenuous and will likely be a hot topic at the Berlin Film Fest in February.
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2011 Big Media: Recalling Moguls Lost Year

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 12:37pm PST

YEARENDER: We’ll probably remember 2011 as a lost year for Big Media. Tech companies continued their drive to harness the Web in ways that could topple existing infotainment businesses. But most traditional media execs just smiled and said that their industry has nothing to fear but fear itself. You’ll go blind looking for major new initiatives, with one exception: Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen bought airwave spectrum and took Blockbuster out of bankruptcy as part of a plan to create a national video streaming service. Other companies didn’t even try to cut transformative deals although Comcast had its hands full trying to fix NBCUniversal, which the cable giant formally took over in January.

News Corp exemplified the sense of rudderlessness with its handling of the year’s most engrossing media story: the News Of The World phone hacking scandal. After years of confidently and indignantly denying that lawbreaking had become pervasive at the UK tabloid, Rupert Murdoch’s company was humiliated in July. The Guardian disclosed that in 2001 the paper hacked the phone of a missing school girl, Milly Dowler, and deleted voice messages – giving her parents and police false hope that she was still alive. Murdoch apologized, and accepted resignations from several close execs including News International’s Rebekah Brooks and Dow Jones’ Les Hinton. But Murdoch wouldn’t take responsibility for creating the anything-goes corporate culture that tolerated phone hacking. He couldn’t be expected to know everything that goes on at his global conglomerate, he told Parliament. His son, Deputy COO James Murdoch – who oversees the UK properties – looked even more foolish and incompetent as the year wore on. He says he wasn’t criminally culpable for covering up crimes. To make that credible, he portrayed himself as a hands-off manager who naively accepted information that confirmed what he wanted to hear, and couldn’t be bothered to even read at least one urgent message that tried to tell him otherwise. The tawdry story disgusted the public and News Corp shareholders, likely destroying Rupert’s plan to eventually turn News Corp over to James.

That fed into another growing concern in 2011: Who will run Big Media in a few years? In addition to the question about News Corp’s succession plans, Disney announced that Bob Iger will step down in 2015 with a replacement yet to be named. We also still don’t know who will eventually call the shots at Viacom and CBS as the actuarial tables catch up with Sumner Redstone, who controls both companies. The four jobs shouldn’t be hard to fill. The current occupants collectively received $194.6M in compensation in 2010, a 58% raise from the previous year.
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2011 Earnings: Media Stocks Beat The Dow

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 10:56am PST

YEARENDER: Wall Street throughout 2011 became starry eyed when they talked about tech stocks. But they still had a soft spot in their hearts for traditional media companies all year long. Five of the seven companies in the Big Media group beat the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 5.5% increase (through December 30th) — four of them by a lot. And they weren’t outliers: The Standard & Poor’s broadcasting index was +15.2% while the S&P movies and entertainment index was +10.2%. Many of the stocks were bolstered by the industry-wide improvement in ad sales. In addition, there was a general sense of relief — perhaps a pipe dream — that digital companies don’t yet pose a clear and present danger to the way traditional movie and TV companies do business. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Here’s how each of the Big Media companies fared in 2011, in order of how well the stock performed. Next to the company name is the percentage increase or decrease in the stock price this year as well as the price-earnings ratio (the stock price divided by the expected earnings per share) which is a rough measure to compare how cheap or expensive the stock is compared to its industry peers.

CBS (Stock: +41.3%, PE: 15.4)  Once it became clear that U.S. advertising would continue to recover, investors started to pay attention to CEO Les Moonves’ sales pitch to bet on old-fashioned network TV shows. He held the line on costs while CBS cranked out dependably popular, easy to syndicate procedural dramas including CSI, NCIS, The Good Wife, and Hawaii Five-0. Meanwhile Moonves beefed up CBS’ revenues by striking deals to license series to digital streaming companies including Netflix and Amazon. He also continued to play hardball to collect retransmission consent fees from pay TV providers, and reverse compensation from CBS affiliates. Moonves became cocky during the upfront ad sales season, asking for an unheard of 18% price hike before settling for a highly respectable 14%. That sets CBS up nicely for 2012 when it will benefit from the influx of political ads, and the growing popularity of original shows on Showtime. It also enabled the company to raise its share repurchase effort by $1.5B. But the economy remains a concern. And Moonves will have to show investors that he can tap other revenue sources to keep CBS growing in 2013. Consensus estimated 2011 Earnings Per Share (EPS): $1.90, +82.7%.

News Corp (Stock:+19.9%, PE: 15.9)  Investors strangely either dismissed the UK phone hacking scandal as a minor event at the global infotainment colossus, or a positive. They didn’t mind Rupert Murdoch’s decision to abandon his $12.6B effort to buy the 61% stake in BSkyB that News Corp doesn’t already own. Those who initially liked the transaction said it would use up cash and stop Murdoch from overpaying for less promising acquisitions the way he did with Dow Jones, MySpace, and his daughter Elisabeth’s Shine Group TV production company. Now they could count on the scandal to keep Murdoch sidelined while he closed News Of The World, sold MySpace, and agreed to $5B in share repurchases. Once freed of their concerns about Murdoch, investors focused on the company’s strong fundamentals. The cable networks, its biggest profit driver, led the way. Ad sales were up, and they benefited from the company’s big – executives said overdue — increases in pay TV fees for channels led by FX, Fox News, and regional sports services. Like with CBS, the Fox broadcast network saw additional revenues from retransmission consent and digital syndication deals. Although the movie studio didn’t have a megahit like Avatar, which helped the 2010 results, it more than held its own with solid results from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, X-Men: First Class, and Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Estimated EPS (Fiscal year ending in June 2012): $1.38, +16.9%

Viacom (Stock: +13.8%, PE: 12.7) Viacom’s shares probably would have closed the year much higher if it weren’t for the startling, and still perplexing, recent decline in Nickelodeon’s ratings. The drop in its live plus same-day audience accelerated from -5.4% in 3Q to -15.7% in October and -18.1% in November. CEO Philippe Dauman called the Nick situation a “blip,” touted the channel’s new programming plans, and questioned Nielsen’s measurements. He also announced in November an eye-popping increase in Viacom’s share repurchase authorization to $10B from $4B. Investors still want proof that Nick and other Viacom networks aren’t running out of gas. That said, they liked a lot of other things that they heard from the company in 2011 including its strong upfront ad sales and new digital syndication deals. Movie service Epix became profitable. Paramount also had a great year at the box office with releases including Transformers: Dark Side Of The Moon, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Viacom probably will have to settle for less in 2012 as the Marvel titles shift to Disney. EPS (FY ended in September) $3.78, +25.2%.
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Watch Deadline Hollywood ‘The Contenders’ – 12 Studios, 29 Films, 10 Moguls, 1 Event

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 9:45am PST

Deadline Hollywood’s ‘THE CONTENDERS event was held in Los Angeles at The Landmark theatre on Saturday and Sunday, December 10th and 11th. Click here to watch the Moguls Panels in full and excerpts from the Studio Presentations.

“Deadline Hollywood has always tried to innovate while other showbiz media outlets merely imitate. So I created a two-day event completely free to participants and invitees called ‘The Contenders’. Twelve studios and distributors, both major and indie, presented their Award contender films directly to invited members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and select Hollywood Guilds. Attendees heard from over 40 filmmakers including producers, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, and costume designers.” – Nikki Finke

Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond and Deadline Film Editor Mike Fleming co-moderated two PANEL DISCUSSIONS WITH STUDIO MOGULS:
■ Howard Cohen (Co-President, Roadside Attractions)
■ Rob Friedman (Co-Chairman and CEO, Summit Entertainment)
■ Jeffrey Katzenberg (CEO, DreamWorks Animation)
■ Ryan Kavanaugh (CEO, Relativity Media)
■ Rob Moore (Vice-Chairman, Paramount Studios)
■ Tom Ortenberg (CEO, Open Road)
■ Jeff Robinov (President, Warner Bros.)
■ Tom Rothman (Chairman and CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment)
■ Stacey Snider (Partner, Co-Chairman and CEO DreamWorks)
■ Harvey Weinstein (Co-Chairman, The Weinstein Company)

STUDIO PRESENTATIONS (click links for videos):
Sony Pictures: Moneyball, The Ides Of March
Weinstein: The Artist, CoriolanusIron Lady, My Week With Marilyn, W.E.
Cohen Media Group: The Lady
Focus Features: Pariah
Summit Entertainment: 50/50, A Better Life
DreamWorks: The Help, War Horse
Fox Searchlight: The Tree Of Life
Paramount Pictures: Like Crazy
DreamWorks Animation: Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots
Sony Pictures Classics: In Darkness, A Separation
Warner Bros: Contagion, J. Edgar, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Pt 2
Lionsgate: Warrior
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New ‘Ghost Hunters’ Lawsuit Filed Against NBCUniversal

By and | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 9:44am PST

There is a new chapter in the five-year legal battle between two producers and NBCUniversal over the hit Syfy franchise Ghost Hunters, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The producers, parapsychologist Larry Montz and publicist Daena Smoller, have filed a new breach of implied contract lawsuit against NBCUniversal claiming that Ghost Hunters is based on a concept they originally pitched to the company between 1996 and 2003. Along with NBCU and its cable networks division that includes Syfy, the complaint also names Ghost Hunters executive producer Craig Piligian and star/producer Jason Hawes. (Copy of the lawsuit can be found here.)

The new lawsuit, filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court, comes less than 2 months after the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by NBUniversal to review a lower court ruling that reinstated a complaint by Montz and Smoller alleging that Syfy stole the idea for Ghost Hunters. Montz and Smoller first filed a lawsuit against NBC Universal in 2006. They lost in district court on the issue of copyright, but the case was reinstated after appeal on grounds of implied breach of contract. NBCUniversal, with the backing of the MPAA, argued to the Supreme Court that federal copyright law trumped state contract law. The high court declined to review the appeals court ruling, which allows the suit by Montz against NBCUniversal, Piligian’s Pilgrim Films & Television … Read More »

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Jon Banner Named Executive Producer For ‘This Week With George Stephanopoulos’

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 9:35am PST
Nellie Andreeva

Former World News executive producer Jon Banner has been named executive producer of This Week effective Jan. 8 when George Stephanopoulos returns as host of the weekly political talk show while continuing his duties as anchor of Good Morning America. Banner stepped down as EP of World News in September when he was named Senior Executive Producer for ABC News, overseeing special projects.

Rick Kaplan, who served as executive producer of This Week with Christiane Amanpour, will focus on election coverage, including shepherding ABC News’ New Hampshire debate on Jan. 7. Kaplan worked on This Week for the past 8 months, returning to ABC News after a four-year run as executive producer of CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. The announcement comes 3 days after Amanpour signed off as anchor of This Week on Sunday. Here is ABC News President Ben Sherwood’s staff email about the change: Read More »

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Legendary East’s Hong Kong Partner PYE Shelves Deal, Cites Insufficient Share Sale

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 2:36am PST

UPDATE: Legendary East released the following statement: “The goal is to relaunch a placing exercise in 2012. Legendary East will issue a formal announcement when the new structure and transaction is solidified.”

PREVIOUS: Legendary East’s proposed partner Paul Y Engineering has put its $220.5 million investment in the venture on hold. The Hong Kong construction company said it had been unable to raise the necessary funds in a share sale to investors ahead of the year-end deadline. PYE chairman Ir James Chiu maintained that the placement had received “a positive and substantial response,” but said “we anticipate that under the current difficult environment of the capital markets the placing will not be able to close before the long stop date, being 31 December 2011.” Thomas Tull unveiled Legendary East in June in partnership with China’s Huayi Brothers and with plans to co-produce English-language features and related content for a worldwide audience. In August, publicly-traded PYE emerged as an investor saying it would raise the $220.5 million by issuing new shares in Hong Kong. Under that deal, PYE was to have owned 50% of Legendary East. PYE says it hasn’t entirely thrown in the towel, however, indicating in a press release that the joint venture parties may continue to discuss options to modify the structure of the deal and relaunch a placement in 2012. In August it was announced that Ed Zwick’s The Great Wall would be the first film under the Legendary East banner. Below is the PYE release.

PYI and Paul Y. Engineering Announce Lapse of Film Joint Venture Investment

(29 December 2011, Hong Kong) – Bulk cargo port and infrastructure group PYI Corporation Limited (“PYI”, 0498.HK) and its subsidiary, Paul Y. Engineering Group Limited (“PYE”, 0577.HK) announced the Independent Placing Agreement, the AID Subscription Agreement and the Legendary East Subscription Agreement, each as entered into by PYE, will lapse or be terminated with effect from the long stop date of 31 December 2011. Accordingly, the Distribution in Specie (or the Cash Alternative) and the Cash Dividend (or the Scrip Alternative) will no longer proceed as they are conditional on completion of the Placing on or before 31 December 2011.

PYE will remain in its present form and its shares should trade on the same basis as they did prior to the joint announcement dated 21 August 2011. PYE will not, at this stage, be investing any cash in Legendary East Ltd. (“Legendary East”) However, some or all of the parties to the Joint Venture Agreements may continue, in the near term, to discuss potential changes to the transaction structure with a view to agreeing upon prospective terms for a modified film joint venture, with the goal of relaunching a placing exercise in 2012. Both PYE and PYI will make further announcements if such changes are agreed and will likely seek fresh approvals from their respective shareholders on any new transactions.

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SAG Awards Ballot Instructions Mailed Out

By | Friday December 30, 2011 @ 12:01am PST

Postcards with ballot instructions for voting on the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be mailed today to nearly 100,000 SAG members. Eligible members who paid their November dues by Friday, December 16 can vote for outstanding performances in five movie and eight television categories. Online voting is encouraged. Paper ballots may be obtained by request only by calling toll free (877) 610-8637 before 5 p.m. (PT) on Monday, Jan.16th. A list of this year’s nominees is at All votes whether cast online or via paper ballot must be received by noon (PT) on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 at Integrity Voting Systems, the Guild’s official tabulator. Results will be tallied and sealed until the envelopes are opened onstage Sunday, January 29 at ceremonies telecast live from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center by TNT and TBS starting at 8 p.m. (ET) / 5 p.m. (PT). An encore presentation will follow immediately on TNT at 10 p.m. (ET) / 7 p.m. (PT). SAG’s members will also cast ballots for the 2012 SAG Honors for outstanding action performances by film and television stunt ensembles. Those winners will be announced during the Red Carpet Pre-Show webcast on and, which begins at 6 p.m. (ET) / 3 p.m. (PT).

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Joe Halderman, Foiled Blackmailer Of David Letterman, Is ‘On The Case With Paula Zahn’

By | Thursday December 29, 2011 @ 5:11pm PST

The former CBS News producer who tried to blackmail David Letterman for $2 million has joined the staff of Investigation Discovery’s On the Case with Paula Zahn, TVNewser reported today. Joe Halderman, who was a producer for 48 Hours Mystery, joined the crime documentary show On the Case as a producer a few weeks ago. Exec producer Scott Weinberger cited “Halderman’s professional accomplishments as an Emmy award-winning producer for 48 Hours and CBS News” in a statement, adding that ”we are confident that Halderman will make significant contributions to the success of our award-winning investigative newsmagazine.” Halderman is not expected to work in the field. Halderman pleaded guilty in 2010 to the attempted extortion which backfired with Letterman himself revealed the embarrassing details about his personal life on his CBS Late Show. Letterman admitted to sleeping with members of his staff including a woman Halderman had been dating. Halderman was released from prison in September 2010.

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‘Ghost Rider’ Rights Belong To Marvel, Federal Judge Rules

By | Thursday December 29, 2011 @ 3:29pm PST

Rights to the flaming-skull motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider belongs to Marvel Comics, a federal judge ruled. The vigilante played by Nicolas Cage in a 2007 movie and its upcoming sequel debuted in 1972 after Marvel freelancer Gary Friedrich first conceived him, the judge ruled. In his 2007 lawsuit, Friedrich claimed Marvel had infringed his rights to the character and its use in movies and merchandise. The judge said Friedrich relinquished his rights to Ghost Rider when he endorsed and cashed checks from Marvel. Those checks contained language relinquishing all rights. Friedrich’s lawyer said he would file an appeal. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opens February 17.

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SAG Extends David White’s Term Until 2014

By | Thursday December 29, 2011 @ 1:18pm PST

The Screen Actors Guild has extended executive director David White’s contract through 2014, Deadline has confirmed. The extension was not announced. White’s existing contract would have expired in February 2012, but with the proposed merger of SAG with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on the agenda next year SAG’s board wanted to maintain continuity in leadership. White has been executive director officially since October 18, 2009. He had been interim exec director since January 26 that year. White previously worked at SAG as general counsel from 2002 through 2006.

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2011 Basic Cable Ratings: USA Still On Top, History & FX Up, Nick At Nite & TBS Down

By | Wednesday December 28, 2011 @ 6:19pm PST
Nellie Andreeva

YEARENDER: There was little change at the top of the primetime basic cable rankings for 2011, with USA finishing the year as No. 1 in total viewers and adults 18-49 for a sixth consecutive time on the strength of its original series. The cable network added another hit to its original slate this year with rookie Suits. There was one change each in the Top 5 among total viewers and 18-49 from 2010. History broke into the Top 5 among total viewers after doing the same among adults 18-49 last year, while siblings TNT and TBS swapped places in the top 18-49 echelon. (Network rankings after the jump.)

History’s ratings ascent continued in 2011. With red-hot unscripted fare such as Pawn Stars and American Pickers, the cable channel once again posted its best year ever with double-digit gains in total viewers and adults 18-49 and a Top 5 finish in both categories after cracking the Top 10 in both total measures for the first time last year.

Also posting double-digit growth for a second consecutive year was MTV, which was fueled by juggernaut Jersey Shore, hit unscripted franchise Teen Mom, staple Video Music Awards and hot scripted newcomer Awkward. MTV moved up 5 spots in total viewers and 3 in 18-49 to finish in the Top 20/Top 10. Also posting double-digit gains this year was FX. With the help of breakout hits American Horror Story and Wilfred, the network rebounded from last year’s single-digit losses in a big way. Other networks that are up from last year include SyFy, AMC, Bio and Style. Nick At Nite tumbled, down 22% from last year in total viewers (10% in 18-49), and TBS also posed double-digit losses in both total viewers and adults 18-49. Also down year-to-year were female-skewing Lifetime and Oxygen. And for all the hoopla and big price tag associated with its launch, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network finished on par with its predecessor Discovery Health.

Fox News Channel once again dominated the news network race, finishing as No.1 in total viewers (1.9 million) for a tenth straight year. It was down 7% from last year in total viewers, while sweeping the Top 13 most watched cable programs. CNN rebounded after posting its lowest-rated year in primetime in 2010. The network was up 17% to 689,000 viewers, which was still CNN’s second worst yearly average behind 2010. CNN finished behind MSNBC (775,000) in total viewers for a second consecutive year. MSNBC was up 2% in total viewers though down 11% at 8PM following the departure of star Keith Olbermann.

Here is a list of the top cable networks in total viewers and adults 18-49 for 2011 based on most current data: Read More »

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Demian Bichir’s Surprise SAG Nomination Boosts Best Actor Oscar Chances

By | Wednesday December 28, 2011 @ 2:36pm PST
Pete Hammond

Summit Entertainment got a head start on on awards season the day after Labor Day, September 6, by sending out DVD screeners of their boxoffice-challenged A Better Life. Because this Oscar hopeful is a small human drama they opened June 24 (the same ”good luck” weekend Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker opened two years ago) the company knew they would have to define it in different ways. It became the first movie of the season to set up Q&As in June with star Demian Bichir for SAG’s then-newly formed nominating committee. Bichir and director Chris Weitz have since been doing receptions for press and awards voters, lots of interviews and generally beating the drum for their “little movie that could.” Both appeared for a Q&A at Deadline’s The Contenders event December 10 at the Landmark. Weitz was blunt about the importance of achieving recognition for the film even though it has been out on commercial DVD since October. “I’m glad some of the gloves came off during the moguls panel about wanting to get nominated. We lost the first round at the boxoffice but we’re going to keep fighting,” he said. He knows the film won’t get a Best Picture nomination but is hoping there will be recognition for Bichir. “The film is giving voice to the 11 million people (illegal immigrants) who will not be watching the Academy Awards, but millions of other people will be watching. I’m betting the President of the United States will be watching as well. This is our moment for the film.”

The movie about an illegal immigrant gardener Carlos Galindo (Bichir) who tries to create a better life for his U.S. born son — while also trying to stay and work in the country himself — has been a long shot. It pulled off a major coup December 14 when the SAG Awards announced their five nominees for Best Actor and leading the list was none other than Bichir who was understandably thrilled. “My name starts with a ‘B’ so I thought if I get it I am gonna be first. It was almost like a joke or something but then it happened,”  he told me during a recent phone interview. Read More »

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