VH1‘s half-hour unscripted comedy series This Is Hot 97 will premiere March 31 at 10:30 PM. It takes viewers behind-the scenes at New York’s No. 1 radio station HOT 97, known as the place “Where Hip Hop Lives.” VH1 also partners with Ryan Seacrest Productions on White Girls Of Rap (working title), slated for a fall 2014 premiere. Series follows five up-and-coming white female rappers as they hustle to establish credibility in an industry that isn’t known for being the most welcoming. Other new unscripted series are I ♥ Nick Carter which follows Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter as he prepares to take a walk down the aisle with fiancee Lauren Kitt. It’s set for summer 2014 debut. And Swab Stories follows entrepreneur Jared Rosenthal, the owner of “Who’s Your Daddy,” a mobile DNA testing service based in New York City. It’s set to premiere in September.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Chinese “Fifth Generation” Director Wu Tianming Dies; New BBC Dramas Feature Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Froggatt & More; Maurice Lévy To Give Mip-TV Keynote
Chinese director Wu Tianming died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack at his home in Beijing. Wu, known as the “Godfather of the Fifth Generation” directed several films in the 1970s and ’80s that helped reshape Chinese cinema including 1986′s Old Well and 1995′s award winner King Of Masks. He got his professional start at Xi’an Film Studios as an apprentice to Cui Wei and eventually took over the studio in the late 1970s, over the next decade-plus helped guide the careers of such noted Chinese filmmakers as Huang Jianxin, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. His last directing job was 2003′s Gadfly, a 20-part TV miniseries based on the E.L. Voynich novel.
Stellan Skarsgard has been cast in the lead role of Abi Morgan’s new BBC series River. Morgan, who has scripted features including Shame, The Iron Lady and the upcoming Suffragette, won an Emmy last year for writing the now cancelled BBC series The Hour. River reteams her with the BBC for a six-part series she created. Kudos is producing. The drama centers on John River (Skarsgard), a brilliant police officer who walks a professional tightrope between a pathology so extreme he risks permanent dismissal, and a healthy state of mind that would cure him of his gift. The series is due to air in 2015.
Also at the BBC, Ben Chaplin, Downton Abbey‘s Joanne Froggatt and Silent Witness‘ Emilia Fox have been confirmed to join drama showcase The Secrets. The strand is a series of five stand-alone films that highlights new writing talent. It’s made by Working Title TV for BBC One. The above are joining a host of British names that includes Olivia Colman, Alison Steadman, Ashley Walters, Helen Baxendale and Sarah Solemani. BAFTA-winning director Dominic Savage will helm the five films, each of which starts with one incident and then follows five different stories stemming from the event.
Eight months after Nancy Dubuc brought in BBC executive Jana Bennett to lead LMN and Bio and transform Bio into a lifestyle brand, the company has set July 7 as a launch date for Bio’s successor, FYI, and its inaugural slate of six series and two pilots. The series run the gamut of tried-and-true lifestyle areas: food, home/home renovation and personal makeover, with the network touting its programming as being younger skewing and upscale. Pilots include one featuring actress Jennifer Esposito and her gluten-free bakery. The project was first piloted by E!, which passed on it. Here is the slate:
EXCLUSIVE: I went out on a limb in January reporting how badly director Robert Zemeckis and TriStar head Tom Rothman sought out Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play the role of Man On Wire subject Philippe Petit for the 3D feature To Walk The Clouds, and now I can tell you that the young actor has committed to playing the French high wire artist who made a daring cross of the World Trade Center in 1974. Production will begin in May on this 3D experiential film that will be done with the spectacle of Avatar, Life Of Pi and Gravity, with a fun daring subplot that makes the film one part Ocean’s Eleven as Petit and his cohorts snuck to the top of the towers and managed to shoot a line across and get the rigging ready in time for Petit to shock the world in what is also a love letter to the Twin Towers and a simpler time gone by.
So this will be the first project to come from Rothman, who at Fox was smack in the middle of Avatar and Life Of Pi, and who really wanted to find something exceptional to brand the label he revived at Sony. This certainly fits the bill. It has also been a passion project for Zemeckis and his ImageMovers cohorts for several years. …
EXCLUSIVE: Micah Hauptman (Parker, Bread & Butter, Silver Skies) has been cast in Working Title/Universal’s action adventure drama Everest, about the 1996 multi-expedition ascent on Mount Everest that left eight climbers dead. Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Jason Clarke, and Jake Gyllenhaal are already aboard the pic directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Hauptman will play filmmaker and mountaineer David Breashears, director of the IMAX docu Everest. He’s repped by Chaotik Media and Fuller Downs.
Charles S. Dutton has joined the cast of the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider. He will play Chank Middleton, a longtime friend of Allman (William Hurt). Based on Allman’s Autobiography My Cross To Bear, the pic will be directed by Randall Miller. Dutton’s recent credits include Longmire, Zero Hour and American Horror Story. He is repped by Greene & Associates and Lighthouse Entertainment.
Global Showbiz Briefs: BBC Two Picks Up Tom Rob Smith Thriller Series ‘London Spy’; EU Admissions Down 4.1% In 2013; More
BBC Two Acquires Tom Rob Smith Thriller ‘London Spy’
Child 44 author Tom Rob Smith has created a new drama series that’s been picked up by BBC Two. London Spy is a five-part contemporary thriller that sees an innocent young man drawn into a dangerous world of espionage. In the center of London is a street with the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service on one side and the headquarters of gay clubbing on the other. A chance romance between two people from opposite sides of that street takes a turn when one of them disappears. The series will shoot this year and air in 2015. Smith is producing; Juliette Howell, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are exec producing for Working Title Television. Polly Hill exec produces for BBC Two. Smith’s Child 44 is being adapted as a feature directed by Daniel Espinosa and produced by Ridley Scott. The film stars Tom Hardy, who signed on Friday for the second season of BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders.
Writer-director Hossein Amini‘s The Two Faces Of January, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, has its world premiere here tonight as a Berlinale Special screening. Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst star in the 1962-set noir that follows glamourous, mysterious American couple Chester and Collette MacFarland (Mortensen & Dunst) as they vacation in Athens. There, they meet Rydal (Isaac), an American working as a tour guide. Impressed by Chester, and attracted to Collette, he is ultimately drawn into a web of deception that leads to a dangerous battle of wits. Drive scripter Amini makes his feature helming debut with the lush-looking January which was shot during the political unrest in Greece (“quite often we’d have a scene and we could hear the riots,” Amini mentioned). He said today that he had first become interested in turning Highsmith’s book into a movie after reading it 25 years ago. Mortensen praised the director, saying he meant no disrespect to Highsmith in calling Amini’s movie “better than the book.” Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner produced the movie with Robyn Slovo and Tom Sternberg. Studiocanal is releasing in the UK in May, and is also selling internationally. Check out the trailer:
TBS has ordered eight episodes of Funniest Wins (working title), a new competition series featuring Marlon Wayans that focuses on a search for the funniest comedian out there. The goal — make people laugh or go home. Each week, Wayans and a rotating crew of guests will guide competitors in learning the ins and outs of a particular comedy style. They will then put what they’ve learned to the test with one comic sent packing at the end of each round. Funniest Wins is being produced for TBS by Workaholic/Marlon and Eyeworks USA. Wayans is exec producing. A summer launch is planned.
Universal Pictures announced release dates for a slew of movies today. Among them: The Baltasar Kormakur-directed 3D adventure Everest is set for February 27, 2015, and Legendary Pictures’ haunted house pic Crimson Peak, from helmer Guillermo del Toro, is due October 16, 2015. Everest, Working Title’s mountain-climbing disaster pic backed by Cross Creek and Walden Media, is set to go up against Focus Features’ Ryan Reynolds sci-fi thriller Selfless. Crimson Peak, which saw Benedict Cumberbatch exit the lead role and be replaced by Thor baddie Tom Hiddleston, has the 2015 pre-Halloween weekend to itself for now. As for this year’s trick-or-treat fare, the horror pic Ouija — inspired by the Hasbro board game — will come knocking October 24, battling for screams against Paramount’s Paranormal Activity 5. Also due in 2014 are Legendary’s As Above, So Below (August 15), from director John Erick Dowdle, and the Liam Neeson thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones (September 19). The sequel Pitch Perfect 2, which added Elizabeth Banks as director this week, opens May 15, 2015. The studio also set a new working title for the formerly-a-mouthful Untitled Illumination Entertainment 2016 Project 1. Now a more descriptive and manageable Untitled Pets Project, its date remains February 12, 2016. Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart are making their animated-feature debuts in the 3D pic about what your pets do when you leave the house.
NATPE Briefs: Bunim/Murray’s BMP Latin Sets Development Deals With Lauren Sanchez, Adam Rodriguez; Telemundo, Spain’s Reset TV Partner On Musical Competition Series
Bunim/Murray Productions’ BMP Latin is partnering with Emmy-winning journalist Lauren Sanchez (Extra) and CSI: Miami‘s Adam Rodriguez on a slate of development deals for unscripted projects. Sanchez will exec produce and host syndicated talk show Generations (working title), featuring a multi-generational panel of Latin women discussing everything from personal issues to social and pop culture topics. Rodriguez has been slated to develop and exec produce numerous unscripted series, some of which will highlight his personal interest in social and philanthropic issues. BMP Latin is currently producing Combate Americas, the first Spanish language Mixed Martial Arts competition reality series for mun2. The company also has development deals with multi-platinum Latin Urban recording artist Daddy Yankee and the Leonardo Lopez family, a successful Mexican-American family living the dream in Encino, CA. Bunim/Murray produces The Real World, Project Runway and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Selina Meyer, meet Natalie Maccabee. After a long courtship, Sharon Stone has signed on to star in TNT‘s action-drama pilot Agent X (working title). Penned by The Bourne Identity scribe William Blake Herron, Agent X centers on America’s first female Vice President, Maccabee (Stone), a woman with brains, beauty, and a cool composure that belies a restless mind. After the death of her husband, a Senate candidate, Natalie opted to run in his place, and after a rapid political rise, she now finds herself the newly elected Vice President of the United States. Initially apprehensive that her job will be ceremonial in nature, she soon learns that it comes with a top secret duty: protecting the Constitution in times of great crisis with the aid of her Chief Steward and a secret operative designated “Agent X.” The pilot is produced by Beacon Pictures, with Armyan Bernstein executive producing. Agent X joins HBO comedy Veep, which also centers on the U.S.’ first female Vice President, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Tom Rothman’s TriStar Plots Philippe Petit’s World Trade Center Tightrope Walk As First Project, With Robert Zemeckis At Helm
EXCLUSIVE: In what is shaping up to be the first project from Tom Rothman’s TriStar Productions, the Sony-based film company is in the process of acquiring To Reach The Clouds, the working title of the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Robert Zemeckis will direct the film, and he has co-written the script with Christopher Browne from Petit’s memoirs.
This is a most ambitious first project for Rothman, because it carries on the spirit of experiential 3D films made under his reign at Fox including James Cameron’s Avatar and Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi. I’m told that Rothman got the idea to do this right when he was exiting the theater after seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and he began to think about projects with similar possibilities. He knew that Zemeckis and his ImageMovers partners Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey have long been interested in doing a movie on Petit. Rothman worked with Zemeckis on Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, so there is a long relationship there. Rothman’s lieutenant, David Beaubaire, ran point as an exec on the Zemeckis-directed Flight when he was at Paramount.
Now, the pieces have just begun falling into place — maybe falling isn’t the right word here — and Zemeckis likes Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the role, word of which just leaked out. There is no deal for Gordon-Levitt at this time, but it sounds like a career role here and the hope is to pull together the pieces to shoot late this spring or early summer, with Gordon-Levitt or another actor. Zemeckis, Starkey and Rapke produce, and Cherylanne Martin will be line producer and exec producer. ImageMovers’ Jackie Levine will also be involved in a producing capacity.
The Times They Are a-Changin’ in the broadcasting TV business. We’re in the first leg of pilot season but it feels a little bit like May — there are pilot orders, but there are also a ton of series orders, and everything in-between. The signs were already there in the fall — an unusually high volume of series pickups and early pilot orders heading into the official pilot season. And then Fox kicked off the annual winter TCA press tour last Monday with the announcement that it was abandoning pilot season. All other networks weighed in on the subject, and while none joined Fox’s Kevin Reilly in his R.I.P. Pilot Season proclamation, most have already been implementing some aspects of the strategy of gearing development towards series and trying to shift pilot production outside of the traditional January-April window when around 100 pilots vie for the same director, acting and showrunner talent.
But the changes, especially with ambitious drama projects that have been put on series track for production off-season, are creating challenges, exacerbated by the fact that those changes were not introduced at the beginning of the development cycle but in the middle of it, sending studios scrambling to adjust. There are several drama projects that are earmarked for series orders but are not slated to film until after the end of pilot season. Fox last week gave drama Runner (working title), from sibling 20th TV, what it calls “an off-cycle commitment for further investment towards series production” this summer. At least one other drama, Warner Bros. TV/Jerry Bruckheimer’s family thriller Home, is expected to get the same order, which involves the hiring of a small writing staff and penning additional scripts and a bible in anticipation of a series order. NBC on Sunday gave a 10-episode order to Uni TV’s dark Wizard Of Oz drama Emerald City, which too is setting up a writers room but will likely cast after May.
The model gives big in scope serialized projects the extra time they need to get their ambitious premises on track but it leaves networks without footage to show to advertisers at the upfronts. And worse, it leaves studios with no pilot to show to international buyers at the LA Screenings that immediately follow the May upfronts. Foreign pre-sales are crucial for studios, especially for expensive, high-end dramas that they take a big financial risk on deficit financing. Scripts and a bible are great, but buyers want to see tape or at the least, know which actors are in the series. I hear some studios are considering shopping the finished pilots to individual international broadcasters, which is a laborious task and it may also put studios at a disadvantage as buyers could be already stocked up for the season whereas they come to LA in May with open slates and wallets. Another option is what ABC did for its Once Upon A Time spinoff last year where the network shot a 19-minute presentation that was screened for advertisers in New York in May and for international buyers at the LA Screenings. But that would involve casting the project, or at least a number of roles during pilot season, something Fox and other networks are trying to get away from to avoid the fierce competition for talent.
Fox Makes First Orders Under New Model: “Series Prototype” For ‘Red Band Society’, “Further Investment” For ‘Runner’
EXCLUSIVE: Fox chairman Kevin Reilly quickly is putting his money where his mouth is, making his first move since announcing Monday that the network is abandoning the traditional pilot season for a new development approach that focuses on series. That involves making fewer pilots at different times during the year, all geared towards series, or going straight to series on some concepts that had been fully developed with multiple scripts and a bible.
Drama Red Band Society, From Amblin Television and ABC Studios, is getting a firm go on a “series prototype”, a pilot-type production order, plus additional backup scripts. Another drama, Runner (working title), from Sander/Moses Prods., Peter Horton and 20th TV, has received what Fox calls “an off-cycle commitment for further investment towards series production” this summer. That means backup scripts, hiring writers and writing a bible with an eye towards a straight to series pickup. Both projects are adaptation of European formats.
Bravo Media has greenlit a new culinary competition series Top Chef Extreme (working title) pitting former Top Chef franchise competitors from past seasons against one another. Top Chef Extreme will premiere in summer 2014. In each episode of the newest extension of the Emmy and James Beard Award-winning franchise, two of the most talked-about personalities from Top Chef and Top Chef Masters’ past seasons will face off head-to-head in three rounds of extreme culinary challenges. Top Chef Extreme is produced by Magical Elves for Bravo, with Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz serving as executive producers. Bravo is a program service of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, a division of NBCUniversal.
EXCLUSIVE: WME has signed rising helmer Gary Shore and his ArtCastle label. Shore directed the upcoming Universal Pictures film Dracula Untold. With producer Jonathan Loughran (The F Word), Shore operates ArtCastle from Los Angeles and Dublin. The filmmaker first got notice here after Loughran circulated his trailer Cup Of Tears, going viral with it. That led to a bidding battle and a deal with Working Title to develop a feature version, which in turn led to a three-picture deal with Universal for ArtCastle that started Dracula Untold. The bloodsucker stars Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Sarah Gadon and will be released in October. The company’s goal is to develop film and TV for Shore to direct and produce, as they continue to be a catalyst in financing and producing films that will shoot in Ireland.
Among the projects ArtCastle is percolating: 38, an action thriller scripted by In America‘s Naomi Sheridan; The Ranger, a revenge thriller set during the Irish famine that will star Brendan Gleeson and be directed by PJ Dillon; the Pierce Brosnan-starrer Last Man Out, scripted by TV host/writer/director Craig Ferguson & Ted Mulkerin; and the period epic Hound Of Erin, based on the Irish mythological heroic figure Cú Chulainn.
Shore continues to be represented by Anonymous Content for management in L.A. and 42 in the UK.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s a bit of fun gossip surfacing in Golden Globes weekend. Whenever Quentin Tarantino completes a new script, it’s an event accompanied by great fanfare, partly because his scripts are so damned fun to read. The drums have begun beating on his next film. Here’s what I am hearing. None of it is entirely confirmed but I believe it. It is definitely a Western, and the working title I’m hearing is The Hateful Eight. Tarantino has finished a draft, and is in the process of showing it to a handful of actors he wants for the picture. He usually does this, gets feedback and goes back in and hones his work. I’m so far hearing he’s got two actors in mind.
One isn’t a surprise: Christoph Waltz, whom Tarantino helped transform from an Austrian character actor into a two-time Oscar winning star of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. The other name I’m hearing is Bruce Dern. I sure do hope the latter is true. Here is a guy who, at the age of 77 and after a career worth of distinguished mostly supporting performances, has emerged as a Best Actor frontrunner in Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska. I sat with Dern recently, and he is as razor sharp as ever and has an encyclopedic memory for …
EXCLUSIVE: National Geographic Channel is building a franchise around one of its highest-rated series, Wicked Tuna. The cable network has greenlighted a spinoff series, Wicked Tuna: North vs. South (working title). Produced by Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Studios, which is behind the original series, the spinoff will begin filming off the coast of the Outer Banks in North Carolina this winter and will premiere in the U.S. and globally this summer. Additionally Nat Geo has set a premiere date for Season 3 of Wicked Tuna, which will unspool on February 16 on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Mundo, and premiering on the National Geographic Channel internationally in March. Season 2 of Wicked Tuna averaged a 0.6 in adults 25-54, up +23% from Season 1, and 976,000 Total Viewers.
The premium channel has a pair of dramas bowing this month in True Detective and Looking, and now it has confirmed premiere dates for a dozen documentaries. Along with Herblock: The Black And White — about the political cartoonist Herbert L. Block, which it picked up and scheduled in October — HBO has cemented dates for programs on topics ranging from terminally ill prison inmates and a study of the working poor to bios of former Texas Governor Ann Richards and painter Robert De Niro Sr. It also slated YoungArts Masterclass programs featuring Josh Groban and Anna Deavere Smith for HBO Family. Here’s the release, which includes descriptions of each docu: