In what could be the next mega-deal in the TV world, AT&T reportedly has an interest in the satcaster giant. The Wall Street Journal reported tonight that AT&T has approached DirecTV about a possible acquisition, which likely would be worth $40 billion, the paper said. Neither company would comment on the WSJ report. The deal would create a Pay TV behemoth potentially on the same scale as the Comcast’s proposed $45 billion merger with with Time Warner Cable. DirecTV is the No. 2 pay service, with about 20 million subscribers, and AT&T phone-based TV biz has nearly 6 million. AT&T has an existing partnership with the satellite giant to sell its service in areas where it offers broadband but doesn’t offer its U-verse TV service. AT&T just this week teamed with Peter Chernin in a venture to create an online service that can take the place of traditional pay TV.
Next time you’re on the Universal Studios lot, feel free to take a stroll down memory lane — also known as Jay Leno Lane. A gaggle of NBCUniversal execs were on hand with Jay Leno on Wednesday as the street was dedicated in honor of the longtime Tonight Show host, who bowed out in February. Leno might be tempted to cruise some of his myriad classic cars down the block, but Jaywalking obviously is encouraged.
Here comes the judge — in primetime. CBS plans a May 20 airdate for a one-hour special on the career of TV’s most powerful jurist ahead of the launch of her second syndication courtroom show. Judge Judy Primetime will trace Judith Sheindlin‘s career path from New York Family Court to Judge Judy, daytime’s No. 1 program. The special will include new cases and footage from a 1993 60 Minutes profile about then-unknown Sheindlin and another from 2003. The upcoming Sheindlin-created syndie, Hot Bench, is cleared in more than 75% of the country and bows in the fall. Like Judge Judy, which premiered in 1996, it hails from CBS Television Distribution.
Efforts to expand California’s $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit Program took a bit of a dousing today from the state’s Legislative Analyst Office. While not explicitly recommending nor rejecting the current legislation that’s moving through the state Assembly, today’s report says that “if the Legislature wishes to continue or expand the film tax credit, we suggest that it do so cautiously.” The 24-page report from the non-partisan office also takes a bigger-picture view that cast the “flagship” movie and TV industry as but one of many in the state in possible need of assistance. “Instead of approaching economic policy on an industry-by-industry basis, the Legislature may take actions that encourage all businesses to stay or relocate to California, such as broad-based tax reduction or regulatory changes.”
The current program was introduced in 2009 in an effort to try to halt runaway production and lucrative challenges from states such as Georgia and Louisiana as well as Canadian provinces and countries like the UK.
Today’s LAO report expresses doubt about the overall economic benefits of tax credits for the film and TV industry and whether they actually pay for themselves. It also worries about the “data limitations” on research to gauge the decline of the industry in the state is and warns against a “race to the bottom” with other states in terms of providing competing subsidies. “If a film project was attracted to the state because of the tax credit, and would not have otherwise filmed in the state, the economic benefit of the film is calculated based on how its spending trickles through the economy — a phenomenon called the multiplier effect,” points out today’s report. “However, the existence of a multiplier effect does not imply that the subsidy generates economic gains that are greater than its costs.”
I have learned that veteran actor Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap) is the first new cast member to join AMC’s upcoming series Better Call Saul, joining Breaking Bad alums Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. The prequel to the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, from Sony TV, centers on Odenkirk‘s unflappable criminal lawyer Saul Goodman before he became Walter White’s lawyer. Banks reprises his role as Saul’s trusted private investigator/fixer Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut. McKean will play a new character, Dr. Thurber, a brilliant attorney who is now restricted by an unusual affliction. Better Call Saul is slated to debut in November. Dream On alum McKean is repped by APA and Harriet Sternberg.
DreamWorks Animation will launch a YouTube family channel called DreamworksTV that will kick off this summer YouTube’s head of content and business operations Robert Kyncl told advertisers today at the company’s NewFront presentation in NYC. It was part of a campaign by the Google-owned company to promote itself as a place that’s safe for advertisers — with tons of data and, now, audience guarantees.
The problem with YouTube as an ad medium is that it’s too vast, and has too much inventory. Advertisers fear that their messages will be lost, and don’t want to pay up. But the service hopes to address that with a new sales initiative called Google Preferred, which it launched with support from ad agency Digitas. The program promotes the 5% most popular channels specializing in food, music, and entertainment. YouTube says it partnered with comScore and Nielsen to provide data in addition to Google’s real-time analytics. And Margo Georgiadis, Google’s sales president for the Americas, says it can make a “100% guarantee you’ll reach the audience you want to target.” That’s especially potent for those who want to reach 18-to-34 year olds. YouTube is the “No. 1 place [they] go to learn about a product or a passion,” she says.
EXCLUSIVE: Solipsist Films has acquired Spy Dance, the best-selling novel from D.C. lawyer-turned-author Allan Topol. Alex Hollister (Shotgun Cinderella) has been tapped to adapt the tale of Greg Nielsen, an ex-CIA operative who reinvents his identity after the agency sets him up, only to be sucked back into action against his former employers when his stepdaughter is taken hostage years later. Topol has penned 10 thriller novels with geopolitical bents, including Dark Ambition, Conspiracy and Enemy Of My Enemy, drawing comparisons to the likes of Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. Back in February, Solipsist Films acquired Chuck Driskell’s Gage Hartline novel The Diaries along with two upcoming sequels. Solipsist next has Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For hitting theaters August 22 and also produced the Blumhouse-Universal thriller Curve starring Julianne Hough. Solipsist is repped by CAA, which negotiated the deal with Topol’s reps at The Lichtman Group. Hollister is repped by Zero Gravity Management.
Theodore Bikel’s Associated Actors & Artistes of America Handing Its Reins To AFL-CIO But Staying In Business
The Associated Actors & Artistes of America, the 95-year-old labor organization through which all of the entertainment industry’s performers unions once were affiliated to the AFL-CIO, will be turning over all of its administrative functions to the AFL-CIO beginning in June. The move puts the Four A’s a step closer to going out of business, though that day might not be coming anytime soon. “Most of the functions of the Four A’s will be turned over to the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees, which covers white-collar workers,” longtime Four A’s President Theodore Bikel told Deadline. “That transfer will take place pretty soon, but the Four A’s is not going out of business. If there are any jurisdictional disputes between the actors unions, the Four A’s will still be around to help resolve the problem. But eventually, I hope that that too will be taken over by the AFL-CIO.”
EXCLUSIVE: Belgian actress Cécile De France has rounded out the cast of Vince Vaughn starrer Term Life, which is being directed by Peter Billingsley. The pic, scripted by A.J. Lieberman from his own graphic novel with Nick Thornborrow, tracks a crook (Vaughn) who takes out a life insurance policy on himself before going on the run with his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) with mob bosses, contract killers, and dirty cops on their trail. De France plays Lucy, the down on her luck mother to Steinfeld’s Cate and estranged wife of Vaughn’s Nick Barrow. Filming recently wrapped on the Universal Pictures-distributed pic, which was financed by PalmStar Media Capital and Merced Media. Vaughn, Micah Mason, and Victoria Vaughn are producing for Wild West Picture Show Productions. Kevin Frakes is exec producing alongside Raj Brinder Singh. De France is repped by The Artists Partnership, Artmedia, and Margrit Polak Management.
EXCLUSIVE: Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans director Patrick Tatopoulos has been tapped to helm New Babylon, an original science fiction fantasy pic from Hydra Entertainment. Tatopoulos’ background as a creature designer and production designer on films like 300: Rise Of An Empire, Total Recall, and the Underworld films will come in handy on the film, which is set in the Middle East in the near future when a war between angels and demons leads up to the building of a modern day Tower of Babel. Hydra’s focus on visual design-driven projects originates with its principals, Oscar-winning helmer Robert Stromberg (Disney’s Maleficent), Avatar franchise production designer Dylan Cole, and the founders of previsualization firm The Third Floor, Inc. New Babylon is scripted by David LoPresti from an original concept from co-founder Joshua Wassung. Hydra’s Head of Development Nathan Santell and GM Joel Newton will produce with Wassung. Stromberg and Hydra co-founder Chris Edwards are exec producing.
In a tight race, any bit of advantage helps. Two creators and stars of broadcast comedy pilots in contention for a series pickup, Jim Gaffigan and Jerrod Carmichael, got some good news today. Jim Gaffigan’s Comedy Central standup special on Sunday drew 1.1 million viewers and a 0.85 rating in adults 18-49, the highest marks for a standup special on the network in a year, topping 16 other specials that aired in the past 12 months. Gaffigan has a semi-autobiographical comedy pilot at CBS, a re-do of his pilot last year. The new pilot was an early standout. It doesn’t seem to be a sure thing by any stretch but today’s Comedy Central ratings are a nice reminder that Gaffigan is one of the most popular and respected veteran standup comedians working today who is yet to achieve mainstream success.
On the other hand, we have an up-and-come comedian, Jerrod Carmichael, toplining his first pilot, an presentation at NBC. The lower budget autobiographical project has been a dark horse at the network, with its chances increasing as does Carmichael’s profile. He is in the high-profile new feature comedy Neighbors, and he just landed his first HBO standup specialdirected by none other than Spike Lee, with Funny of Die producing. It will be taped at The Comedy Store in Hollywood on May 7.
The Television Academy today announced this year’s honorees for the Seventh Annual Television Academy Honors. They are The Big C: hereafter, Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor, The Fosters, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, Mom, Screw You Cancer and Vice. The recipients are being honored for using the power of television to bring awareness to important social issues. For the first time this year, beginning the week of May 25, the recipients will be celebrated with special daily content on the Television Academy’s digital platforms and on Yahoo TV. Dana Delany will host the awards ceremony set for June 1 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Click over for a description of the honorees:
Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin is going from her three-season run on the espionage drama to tangling with spies on the big screen. She’s been cast in Fox’s female comedy Spy, writer-director Paul Feig‘s next pic with Bridesmaids and The Heat star Melissa McCarthy. Baccarin, who last year was nominated for an Emmy for her work on Showtime’s Homeland, will play Karen Walker in the pic which has been slated for a Memorial Day 2015 release. Feig is also producing for his Feigco Entertainment banner alongside Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, and Jessie Henderson. Last week he added international stars Nargis Fakhri, Peter Serafinowicz, Bjorn Gustafsson, and Verka Serduchka to the cast, which also includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Bobby Cannavale, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Miranda Hart. Filming began last month in Budapest.
EXCLUSIVE UPDATED: I’ve learned that Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-star Terry Crews is in line to succeed Cedric the Entertainer as host of the syndicated game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I hear Crews last week reached an agreement for the show, though the deal has not been finalized. Cedric was told of that this past weekend, following his 50th birthday on April 24. The veteran comedian announced today that he would be leaving the show after one season, citing his busy schedule as well as the production’s move to Connecticut, done as a budget-cutting measure. Cost trimming may also have played a role in the show’s host change. Crews is a busy man too, juggling his Fox series, which has been renewed for a second season, and movies including The Expendables franchise.
EXCLUSIVE: It’s not White House Chief of Staff, but Allison Janney is back in government work with the Paul Feig-directed feature Spy. The Emmy-winning former West Wing actress will play top CIA agent Elaine Crocker in the comedy. Playing to the actress’ vast strengths, the character is described as tough but with a biting sense of humor. Janney joins a star-studded cast that includes Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Bobby Cannavale, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Miranda Hart. Showtime alum Morena Baccarin also joined the pic today. Spy started production in Budapest late last month. Fox is set to release it Memorial Day 2015. As well as directing, Feig wrote the script and is producing through his Feigco along with Chernin Entertainment and Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and Jessie Henderson.
The Spy role is far different from the recovering alcoholic, who’s also a mother, that Janney plays on CBS’ freshman Chuck Lorre comedy Mom, with Anna Faris. The actress, who also has a recurring role on Showtime’s Masters Of Sex, next will be seen on the big screen on July 2 in New Line’s Tammy, with McCarthy and Susan Sarandon. Janney is repped by Gersh and Thruline.
EXCLUSIVE: Scott Eastwood is set to star in Fox 2000‘s Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Longest Ride, which Notorious helmer George Tillman Jr. is directing. Published in 2013, the Sparks lit romance tracks a 91-year-old man trapped in a car crash who reflects on his life with his deceased wife as a young couple fall in love a few miles away. In his first major studio leading role, Eastwood will play Luke Collins, whose love affair with college senior Sophia Danko plays out as the youthful half of the romantic saga. Fox 2000 acquired rights in a bidding war last year and has already set an April 2015 release hoping to chase the success of big screen Sparks flicks like Safe Haven, Dear John, and the author’s 2004 hit adaptation The Notebook. Sparks is producing alongside Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, Theresa Park, and Robert Teitel.
Cedric The Entertainer is leaving Disney-ABC‘s syndicated game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire after a season as a host. There is no replacement yet though I’ve learned that Terry Crews is in line for the gig. Cedric cited his busy schedule and the show’s move to Connecticut for the decision. “With the many television and film projects that I have going on which shoot and promote in various parts of the country, a production-base in Connecticut would make it quite difficult to maneuver the many moving parts on my plate,” he said in a statement. “So, after much thought and some serious conversations with senior executives at the studio, I decided to let Disney-ABC know that, unfortunately, I’m not able to continue on as host. It has truly been a fantastic ride hosting Millionaire this year — a really great time! Thanks so much to all the fans, contestants, crew, and everyone involved for making it such a fun and gratifying experience. As I always say on the show in parting, ‘Watch your wallet’!” Cedric succeeded original Millionaire syndie host Meredith Vieira, who left last year after 11 seasons. Cedric took over the show last fall, and ratings have been stable with him at the helm.