Spirit Award-winning directing brothers Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs) have wrapped filming on Heaven Knows What, a docu-fiction hybrid starring Caleb Landry Jones and Arielle Holmes. Pic is based on the life experiences of Holmes, a street kid who met the Safdies on the subway and is playing a fictionalized version of herself in the film. She and Jones star as a vagabond couple in NYC battling addiction amidst a manic love affair. The Safdies penned the script with their Daddy Longlegs collaborator Ronald Bronstein. Heaven Knows What is the first feature under the Safdies’ Elara Pictures production banner, which the duo launched with partners Sebastian Bear-McClard and Oscar Boyson. Elara is set to produce multiple indie features per year, committed to giving complete creative control to each project’s director. Paris-based Iconoclast Films (Spring Breakers) is also producing Heaven Knows What.
The NFL regular-season schedule comes out tomorrow, but we already know something big about the postseason. The league said today that ESPN will air a wild card game during the first weekend of the playoffs in early January. The milestone game will mark the first postseason NFL game on pay TV — and should draw astronomical ratings for the cable universe. Last season’s wild card weekend was a goldmine for NBC, CBS and especially Fox, whose 49ers-Packers contest was the most-watched wild card game on any network since the Reagan administration with 47.1 million viewers. Even that weekend’s lowest-rated game — in which the Colts erased a four-touchdown deficit to stun the Chiefs — drew 27.6 million. But that’s more than the largest cable TV audience ever: the 2011 Auburn-Oregon college football title game, which pulled in 27.3 million viewers for ESPN. The sports network, which carries Monday Night Football games, signed an eight-year contract extension with the NFL in 2011 to keep the lucrative franchise through the 2021 season. That pact — which also covers international TV rights to NFL games including the Super Bowl — included an option for the league to give a postseason game to ESPN. The network’s MNF team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will call the Wild Card game, which also will be available via WatchESPN.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview what could be a very big day in the history of broadcasting and technology, as the Supreme Court hears legal arguments Monday about Aereo and its business model. The Davids talk about what’s at stake and how it might play out, where broadcasters might go if they lose and whether a win will turn the broadcasting business upside down. They also look over that very messy, and pricey Disney acquisition of online video powerhouse Maker Studios, and examine why ESPN, pay-TV’s most valuable brand, felt compelled to pitch investors that it’s just fine despite competition, cord-cutting and other existential challenges.
UPDATED: Following CEO Bob Iger’s lead, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo won’t break out financial numbers for ESPN. But he strongly hints that its financial prospects are rosy by offering a few projections for Disney’s cable networks, which are dominated by ESPN. He tells investors to expect high single digit annual growth in revenues from pay TV distributors through 2016, and a similar growth rate for operating income. He’s confident about these projections because Disney has programming deals with eight of the 10 largest pay TV distributors, with the remaining two due by year end. In addition, most of its contracts with sports leagues last for years. The company won’t project ad sales but says ESPN has strong pricing power.
PREVIOUS, 11:06 AM: Disney’s dumping a lot of data about ESPN this afternoon to ease Wall Street fears that the company’s cash cow could face leaner times due its rising costs and new competition from channels led by Fox Sports 1. CEO Bob Iger kicked off today’s investor meeting in Bristol, Conn vowing that he’s “going to continue to invest” in ESPN which he sees as core to his strategy to build brands and franchises. Disney doesn’t break out financial numbers for the channel, but he noted that the company’s pay TV networks account for 32% of its revenues — and 56% of its operating income. President John Skipper and other ESPN execs …
Kobe Bryant’s Muse takes an in-depth look into the life, inspirations and challenges facing one of the most successful and complex figures in professional sports, according to Showtime. Gotham Chopra (Decoding Deepak, ESPN’s upcoming 30 For 30 film, The Little Master) directs the feature-length docu set to debut in the fall. “Kobe Bryant’s Muse will offer viewers a deep character portrait of a professional athlete who has transcended his sport to become a culture-moving personality,” said Stephen Espinoza, EVP and General Manager, Showtime Sports. “We are thrilled that Kobe has given us this unprecedented access, which will allow our viewers to witness such a challenging period of time in the life of one of the NBA’s greatest players.”
The docu will follow the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s career, detailing his mentorships, allies and rivalries that have helped shape his 18-year tenure in the NBA. A 16-time All-Star and winner of five NBA championships, Bryant dominated professional basketball until a series of recent injuries threatened to derail his career. He is scheduled to return to the NBA next season. Kobe Bryant’s Muse is executive produced by Kobe Bryant and Gotham Chopra in association with Mamba Media.
Live With Kelly And Michael co-host Michael Strahan stopped by Good Morning America this morning to talk about his gig with the show, making sure to say “couple days a week” several times to calm Live! fans’ fears. Expect to see Strahan mostly in GMA’s first hour, so he can continue to co-host Live!, at 9 AM in many markets. In addition to the NFL Hall of Famer, GMA recently added ESPN’s Tony Reali to its Social Square; both hires were made in the wake of the departure of GMA’s Josh Elliott, who moved to NBC Sports. Watch here:
ESPN’s Tony Reali is joining ABC’s Good Morning America as a social media contributor. It’s part of a new multi-year extension of his deal with ESPN that calls for him to continue hosting the sports net’s Around the Horn, but from a Times Square studio. Reali will move from Washington, DC to New York later this year. GMA was looking to shore itself up on the sports front after news anchor Josh Elliott — a former ESPN-er — decamped to join NBC Sports. In addition to Reali, GMA is finalizing a deal for Michael Strahan, who spent 15 years playing for the New York Giants, to appear on the program about twice a week while continuing to co-host his popular daytime talker Live! With Kelly & Michael.
Rupert Murdoch is all over Twitter. (“My family are horrified that I’m on it,” he says.) But in agreeing to sit down for a broad interview with Fortune, one of the media industry’s most powerful moguls signals that he’s finally ready to return in a serious way to the public stage that he has largely abandoned as he grappled with his UK hacking scandals and a bitter divorce, as well as uncertainty about the prospects for his media empire — which he split into two companies last year — and his succession plans. You should check out the piece by senior editor-at-large Pattie Sellers. Here are a few of the highlights:
Succession: His sons James and Lachlan are first in line to take over although “I’m going to be here for a long time. And so will [Fox COO] Chase Carey and [News Corp CEO] Robert Thomson.” The effort to bring Lachlan back intensified after a private meeting with James at last year’s Allen & Co confab in Sun Valley. “We had two or three hours together. Lachlan was not not going to come back. It was a question of how we would work together.”
Daughter Liz Murdoch’s decision not to join the News Corp board: Rupert says he’d “rather not go into that.” A lot of close families “have good arguments. That doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.” And it’s “more than possible” that she’ll return to the family business.
Who’ll be the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate: Murdoch says former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “my number one” calling him “a man of very fine character.” He also has “particular admiration” for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “could recover” from inquiries into his possible role in manufactured traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. Murdoch agrees with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on “a great number of things” but disagrees on foreign policy “too strongly perhaps to vote for him.”
His view of Hillary Clinton: He left open the possibility of supporting her but “it would depend on the Republican candidate totally.” He adds that he “could live with Hillary as President. We have to live with who we get. We don’t have any choice.”
Chernin Entertainment and Gary Sanchez Productions’ Match Maker is based on Don Van Matta Jr’s ESPN The Magazine article “The Match Maker: Bobby Riggs, The Mafia And The Battle Of The Sexes,” centering on the 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that drew 50 million TV viewers. King, then 29 and at the height of her powers, beat Riggs, the a 55-year-old retired pro — though there’s always been speculation there’s more to the story. Will Ferrell is now attached to play Riggs, and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty scribe Steven Conrad has been hired to write the script. Variety had this break first.
Josh Elliott Says NBC Sports Offer Is Dream Job, Denies He’s Being Groomed To Replace Matt Lauer On ‘Today’
Departing Good Morning America news anchor Josh Elliott says he has not personally had any discussions about working on NBC’s Today, that he hopes co-anchor Matt Lauer will still be at Today “when I step away from this gig 30 years down the road,” and that he loves ABC News chief Ben Sherwood deeply and passionately for making him news anchor at GMA. Elliott was on the phone with reporters to discuss this week’s worst kept TV industry secret — Elliott has jumped ship, abandoning GMA to join NBC Sports Group.
NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus said Elliott would perform “a mix” of reporting and anchoring, including a presence in the division’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby, NFL football, the Super Bowl and the Winter and Summer Olympics, to which NBC has broadcast rights through 2020. “One of the beauties of this budding and new relationship,” Lazarus said, is that Elliott fits in well with the existing team, adding, “we’ve still got plenty of time to sort out” details of his role.
Elliott was asked loads of questions about his departure from GMA; he “denied categorically” press reports about the ensemble cast’s jealousy over Robin Roberts’ lucrative contract, insisting he loved them all and wished them the best. “I owe everything to the folks at Disney” he said. “They’re the ones who put me on the air nine years ago.’ I have nothing but gratitude for them” he said speaking “to my very deep and abiding important relationship I have with [ABC News chief] Ben Sherwood.”
Here’s Amazon‘s long-awaited answer to Apple TV — and other streaming devices including Google’s Chromecast and Roku TV. It’s a lot more expensive than the $35 Chromecast, but Amazon says that its Amazon Fire TV packs better technology and offers access to more services — including access to Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Showtime Anytime, Hulu Plus, and WatchESPN (but not HBO GO) — as well as potentially thousands of games. The Fire comes with 2GB of memory, a quad core processor, and dual band Wi-Fi. CEO Jeff Bezos boasts that the voice search feature “actually works” which means “no more typing on an alphabet grid.” The remote control works even if it isn’t pointed directly at the device. And for those who have state-of-the-art home theaters, it outputs 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. As you might expect from a data-driven company, Amazon Fire has a feature that tries to predict the movies and TV shows you’ll want, and buffers them so they’re ready when you are. It also offers the company’s X-Ray service that enables users to see info about movies, TV shows and music (including lyrics for karaoke fans) — but not its full array of retail products. It syncs with the Amazon Cloud Drive so users can access their personal photos and videos.
‘House Of Cards’, ‘Scandal’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Bridge’, ‘Key & Peele’, ‘Orphan Black’, ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Win Peabodys
Netflix and BBC America each has two scripted series on the list of a record 46 programs to receive Peabody Awards this year. Joining Netflix’s Washington drama House Of Cards and prison comedy Orange Is The New Black is another DC drama, ABC’s soapy Scandal; BBC America’s clone thriller Orphan Black and Broadchurch, which is being remade by Fox as an event series; FX’s The Bridge, which itself is a remake of the Danish-Swedish series; Danish political drama Borgen; acclaimed French zombie drama The Returned; AMC’s Breaking Bad, awarded a second Peabody for its final season; Comedy Central’s hit sketch comedy Key & Peele; CNN’s travel docu-series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown; as well as Burka Avenger, the Pakistani animated series about a girl superhero; and two documentaries from newcomer Al Jazeera America. Additionally, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who recently announced he is battling cancer, will receive an individual Peabody Award. Here is the full list of recipients of the 73rd Peabody Awards, bestowed by the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism. They will be presented May 19 at a luncheon ceremony hosted by Ira Glass at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. A special on the Peabodys will air later on Pivot, which recently inked a rights deal through 2016:
UPDATED: Michael Strahan, one half of Live! With Kelly & Michael, also soon will be seen on ABC‘s morning infotainment program Good Morning America. Strahan will continue to co-host his daytime talker with Kelly Ripa. Ripa also had been approached about joining GMA, but she declined, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Talks with Strahan began about a month ago, which predates news anchor Josh Elliott’s decision to depart GMA, announced over the weekend. Expect to see Strahan on GMA a couple days a week, initially. Elliott, formerly of ESPN, left the show to join NBC Sports. The addition of Strahan gives GMA an anchor with a sports background to take over that responsibility from Elliott — Strahan having spent 15 years playing for the New York Giants.
Live! With Kelly & Michael is having its best season in seven years, ratings-wise, averaging nearly 4 million viewers — up 13% versus same time last season.
UPDATE, 6:40 AM: GMA gang this morning told viewers that Josh Elliott is leaving the show to go to work for NBC Sports, marking the second successful poaching of a GMA cast member by NBCU, and that he would be replaced as news anchor by Amy Robach, who was on the scene – Elliott himself was on “vacation.” Meanwhile, over at NBC, Al Roker publicly congratulated Elliot, via Twitter, for his “conscious uncoupling” from GMA/ABC. Watch here:
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UPDATE, 6:30 AM: Josh Elliott‘s former Good Morning America colleague Sam Champion weighed in this morning on Elliott’s announced exit from the ABC morning infotainment show to go to work for NBC Sports. Champion, who was also poached by NBCU and now works at The Weather Channel, called it “a great opportunity for Josh’s heart,” adding, “I know that fans of GMA are not loving it.” Watch here:
PREVIOUS, SUNDAY PM: After an intense negotiation with ABC News, Good Morning America news anchor Josh Elliott is leaving the network for NBC Sports. ABC News wasted no time in announcing his replacement: Amy Robach, who has been part of the GMA team for some time, including filling in for Robin Roberts at various moments when she was out for medical reasons. Elliott, who had been making about $1.2 million salary at GMA, turned down an offer to stay with the show for $4-$5 million. After his fellow anchor Lara Spencer nailed down a lucrative multiyear contract Thursday, Elliott raised his ask to $10 million a year. With Elliott, NBC is getting a strong sports guy — a next generation Bob Costas — who previously worked at ESPN. Per the terms of Elliott’s exit, he cannot appear on NBC’s Today for six months according to people familiar with the situation. Elliott is the second member of the ensemble team that put GMA in first place in the morning show ratings race, and to depart for an NBCUniversal property. In December, NBCU successfully poached longtime GMA weatherman Sam Champion who is now a bigwig at their Weather Channel. In much the same way they did today, ABC announced Champion’s replacement, Ginger Zee, minutes after it was reported that he was leaving. In the wake of Champion’s departure, GMA has scored some of its highest ratings ever.
Recently departed Good Wife alum Josh Charles made an appearance last night on Keith Olbermann‘s ESPN show in character as one of his most beloved television alter egos. Surprise – it was Dan Rydell, the sports anchor Charles played 14 years ago on Aaron Sorkin‘s short-lived Emmy winning drama Sports Night (although The Good Wife‘s Will Gardner earned a shout out):
ABC News’ Good Morning America has signed Lara Spencer to a new contract, leaving Josh Elliott the lone holdout among GMA cast members whose contracts are coming up now, as the morning infotainment show gets buffeted by competitor NBC. That NBC campaign reportedly includes talk with Elliott — who came to GMA from ABC parent Disney’s ESPN — about working for NBC in both news and sports, a sort of next-generation Bob Costas. Similarly, NBC poached GMA weatherman Sam Champion late last year; Champion, who had been with GMA since 2006, left to join NBCUniversal’s The Weather Channel as host of its new morning flagship show, and to become the channel’s managing editor.
Elliott, whose paycheck currently is in the $1.2 million range, is said to be seeking north of $8 million a year — a more than 500% pay hike. According to one industry insider, with Robin Roberts re-signed and now Spencer (George Stephanopoulos’s contract runs through the end of 2014, so he’s not part of this flurry), ABC News may have put a time ultimatum on the table with Elliott, though others say no. Regardless, there’s not much time left what with Elliott having less than four weeks left on his current deal.
So far, the blow-by-blow media coverage of the near-simultaneous contract talks with four of GMA’s five pieces of on-air talent, and reports of jealousy over Robert’s $14 million-ish deal has not dinged GMA’s one-big-happy-family image to a degree that impacts viewing, in the way similar media reports of internecine disharmony did to Today, reaching a fevered pitch around the time of the cringe-inducing denouement of Operation Bambi – aka the ouster of a weepy Ann Curry – in June 2012:
Even after Champion’s departure, for instance, GMA last week delivered its biggest overall audience since Nielsen electronic records began and its best news-demo delivery in eight years. Still it’s considered no coincidence that GMA added Elliott and Spencer to the lineup about a year before GMA eclipsed Today in the ratings. This puts Elliott in a good position, though he and ABC News are said to still be far apart on price, with the network offering about half his asking price — quite a spread. (For comparison sake, GMA’s George Stephanopoulos reportedly is paid about $6 million a year; his contract runs through this calendar year.)
It’s an awards ceremony that’s will see Ted Turner take home a Lifetime Achievement Award and ESPN hard pressed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With a lead almost double its nearest competitor, the cable channel scored 30 noms from NATAS today as the 35th Annual Sports Emmy Awards nominations were announced. Fox is in second place with 18 noms, while HBO has 15, NBC and NBC Sports Network pulled in 14 nominations each and MLB Network got a lucky 13. Overall, ESPN’s various channels and platforms got 46 noms while NBC Sports Group snagged 33 and CBS-owned channels got 18 nominations. The Sports Emmys has 39 categories including Outstanding Live Sports Special, Outstanding Live Sports Series, Outstanding Playoff Coverage, Outstanding Sports Documentary and Outstanding Sports Journalism. Coming off a Winter Olympics in which he was laid low by an eye infection, NBC’s Bob Costas is nominated in the Sports Personality – Studio Host Category along with CBS/Showtime’s James Brown, CBS’ Greg Gumbel, Golf Channel’s David Feherty and network multitasker Dan Patrick, who appears on NBC, NBCSN and DirecTV. With America’s Cup winner, former Atlanta Braves owner and CNN founder Turner getting the Lifetime Achievement honor, the Sports Emmys winners will be announced May 6 at the Time Warner Center in NYC. In the meantime, check out the full list of nominations here.