E! is making a regal entry into scripted programming. The network has picked up one of its first two scripted pilots, The Royals starring Elizabeth Hurley, to series. The one-hour drama, about a fictional British Royal family set in modern London that is informed by the regal opulence of the British monarchy and framed by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, hails from Lionsgate and a trio of One Tree Hill alums. OTH creator Mark Schwahn wrote and directed Royals, which he is executive producing with Brian Robbins and Joe Davola. Getting reality focused E! into the scripted space had been a priority for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment topper Bonnie Hammer. Sibling cable channel Bravo had been put on a similar path and just greenlighted its first scripted series, Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce. E!’s second pilot, musical drama Songbyrd, remains in contention. “The Royals will offer a fictional look behind the very public gilded façade of the palace gates to imagine the private, lush, fun, sexy world of the most-watched celebrity family on the planet,” said E! EVP Original Programming and development Jeff Olde said. Added the network’s scripted executive Kevin Plunkett who spearheads E!’s scripted efforts, “This is a big idea and Mark, Brian, Joe and the Lionsgate team delivered.”
Mary-Louise Parker‘s reunion with NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt is now official as the former Weeds star has closed a deal to topline NBC’s single-camera comedy pilot Feed Me. The project, from veteran producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, received a pilot green light last month based on Parker’s intention to star in it. Following the end of Weeds, which Greenblatt put on the air while running Showtime, NBC had been pursing the actress for multiple projects, and Feed Me was the script she responded to. Talks with Parker had already commenced when Feed Me was picked up to pilot three weeks ago, now they have been successfully completed. Written by Sally Robinson, who penned Lifetime’s successful Steel Magnolias remake, Feed Me is described as a comedic exploration of adult intimacy and desire that centers on a dysfunctional family bound by love and the restaurant they run together. And when daughter Emma’s husband has an affair, they circle the wagons to fiercely protect one of their own. Robinson, Thomas and Witt executive produce for Universal TV. Parker serves as a producer.
Indie Spirit Awards: ‘12 Years A Slave’ Takes Best Feature And Dominates With Five Wins; McConaughey & Blanchett Top Actors
UPDATED WITH ALL WINNERS AND REACTIONS: The 29th annual Independent Spirit Awards ended up more like a cast party for Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years A Slave, which won five of the seven categories for which it was nominated today — including Best Feature and Best Director for Steve McQueen. The strong showing for the slave drama gives the pic plenty of momentum headed into tomorrow night’s Oscars, the marquee event in a long awards season in which 12 Years has been one of many films ebbing and flowing buzz-wise along with Warner Bros’ Gravity ahead of what’s being called one of the more wide-open Academy Awards in a long while.
Dede Gardner, a producer on the pic with her Plan B partner Brad Pitt, thanked the many people involved in making the movie (including Pitt for “getting the movie made when he said he would”). She also thanked the descendants of the film’s subject Solomon Northup. “It’s a reminder to care-take our freedom,” she said.
With most of the big studio pics in the Oscar Best Picture race sitting it out today with the focus on indie fare under a tent on the beach in mostly rain-free Santa Monica, it allowed others to shine. Dallas Buyers’ Club‘s acting duo of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Best Male Lead and Supporting Male, respectively. Cate Blanchett continued her hot streak winning Best Lead Female for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, making her a solid favorite to win tomorrow night. Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Female for 12 Years. That pic rounded out its wins with a Best Screenplay nod for John Ridley and Best Cinematography for Sean Bobbitt.
The Weinstein Company also had a good day during the ceremony, hosted by Patton Oswalt. Best Documentary went to the distrib’s 20 Feet From Stardom, whose subjects performed today, and Best First Feature went to writer-director Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station, which started its fruitful awards-season at Sundance 2012 when TWC acquired it for $2 million.
Oswalt presided over one of the most memorable parts of the show, when a black drone flew in and delivered the scroll announcing Nyong’o's win. Later, after Blue Is The Warmest Color won Best International Film, Oswalt came back out onstage covered in blood. ”Don’t touch the drone,” he quipped.
The weather, such an issue during the blustery and wet 2011 Spirit Awards, held for most of the day, with rain beginning to fall just as Blanchett reached backstage after her acceptance speech. ”There’s a storm coming,” she said to the press. “It was nice knowing you all in case we’re swept away.”
The Spirit Awards will be shown tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on IFC. But here’s how the day went down, with on-scene coverage by Deadline’s Pete Hammond, Dominic Patten and Anthony D’Alessandro and contributor Diane Haithman.
Dark Family Comedy From Sally Robinson & Witt/Thomas Prods. Gets NBC Pilot Order With Mary-Louise Parker In Talks To Star
UPDATED: NBC has given a late pilot order to Feed Me, a single-camera comedy from veteran producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas’ Witt/Thomas Prods (Blossom, Beauty And The Beast and its CW reboot). NBC had been pursuing former Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker for multiple pilots. This is the script she responded to, helping it get a green light while the actress’ deal is being worked out. Feed Me would reunite Parker with NBC topper Bob Greenblatt who cast her in another dark comedy, Weeds, while at Showtime. Written by Sally Robinson, who penned Lifetime’s hugely successful Steel Magnolias remake, Feed Me is described as a comedic exploration of adult intimacy and desire that centers on a dysfunctional family bound by love and the restaurant they run together. And when daughter Emma’s husband has an affair, they circle the wagons to fiercely protect one of their own. Robinson, Thomas and Witt executive produce for Universal TV.
HBO Gives Series Order To Comedy Pilot ‘The Brink’ Starring Jack Black & Tim Robbins, From Jay Roach & Jerry Weintraub
EXCLUSIVE: In a very quick turnaround, HBO has given a series order to The Brink, its comedy pilot starring Jack Black and Tim Robbins, directed by Jay Roach and executive produced by Jerry Weintraub. Written by former Weeds executive producer Roberto Benabib and his brother Kim Benabib, The Brink is an epic dark comedy focusing on a geopolitical crisis and its effect on three disparate and desperate men: U.S. Secretary of State Walter Hollander (Robbins); Alex Coppins (Black), a lowly Foreign Service officer; and Zeke Callahan (Pablo Schreiber), an ace Navy fighter pilot. These three compromised souls must pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III. Aasif Mandvi, Maribeth Monroe, Geoff Pierson, Esai Morales and Eric Ladin co-star on the series, executive produced by Roberto Benabib, Weintraub and Roach. Kim Benabib and Susie Ekins co-executive produce.
This marks the first HBO series for Weintraub and Roach, who both have deals with the pay cable network and established relationships there. Weintraub executive produced HBO Films’ Emmy-winning movie Behind The Candelabra, while Roach directed and exec produced the Emmy-winning HBO movies Game Change and Recount.
The Brink’s road to HBO’s primetime started with an email Weintraub received while in Europe, which contained the Benabibs’ script. “I read it and I fell in love with it,” he said. When he came back to Los Angeles, Weintraub had lunch with Roach about a movie project where Roach mentioned that he had been looking to do a half-hour comedy. Weintraub ran to his office and brought Roach The Brink script. Joking that Roach “is famous for taking three years to make up his mind” on anything, Wentraub heard from the director the very next day. “He calls me and he says, ‘I’m in, the script is too good’.”
Ally Lattman has joined WE tv as a scripted programming consultant. She will work for Cheryl Bloch, who came on board in October as SVP Scripted Programming, WE tv’s first scripted executive, as the network is entering the genre. Lattman will be heavily involved in the day-to-day oversight of WE tv’s first scripted series, drama The Divide and will bring in new development projects and work on existing ones. Lattman is coming off a brief stint as VP Development for Cartel Entertainment. She previously worked at Universal TV, where she was involved in American Dreams and The District; as VP Television at Lionsgate, where she helped develop Weeds, Mad Men and the Crash series; and as VP TV Development at Piller-Segan-Shepherd.
Before the deal making gets underway at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, here is a review of how the films from last year’s festival fared at the box office. VOD receipts aren’t part of this, and I will add those I get. But you can see that buyers might not want to let the thin air here get the best of them.
Sundance 2013 Acquisitions and Box Office
Acquisition (or M.G.) *
Domestic B.O. *
The Way, Way Back
Domestic, some territories
Domestic and U.K.
mid seven figures
The Spectacular Now
20 Feet From Stardom
low seven figures
In a World…
Roadside Attractions/Sony Wwide
The Kings of Summer (aka Toy’s House)
Inequality for All
Kill Your Darlings
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
U.S., some Intl.
low seven figure
Spirit Awards org Film Independent today named the recipients of its annual filmmaker grants at the Spirit Awards Nominee Brunch hosted by Angela Bassett, Emily Mortimer, and Alessandro Nivola. The Piaget Producers Award rewarding emerging producers who demonstrate creativity, tenacity, and vision despite limited resources went to went to Toby Halbrooks and James M. Johnston (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints). The Stella Artois Truer Than Fiction Award for emerging directors of non-fiction features went to Jason Osder (Let The Fire Burn) and Newlyweeds helmer Shaka King nabbed the Someone To Watch Award. All three awards came with a $25,000 unrestricted grant prize. They’ll be honored at the full 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards ceremony on March 1.
Related: 2014 Spirit Awards Nominations: ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘All Is Lost’, ‘Frances Ha’, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ & ‘Nebraska’ & More
EXCLUSIVE: Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, and Oscar Nunez have joined Antonio Banderas in the Chilean miners movie The 33, which is based on the true events of the collapsed Copiapo copper mine and the 33 miners who remained trapped more than 2,000 feet underground. The 2010 news story captured worldwide media attention. Rounding out the cast are Kate Del Castillo (Weeds) Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Tenoch Huerta, Jacob Vargas, Marco Trevino and Alejandro Goic. Binoche replaces Jennifer Lopez in the strong female role, after Lopez dropped out in September due to scheduling conflicts after rejoining Fox’s American Idol.
Mike Medavoy secured the miners’ exclusive life rights last year and developed the project in collaboration with the men, their rescuers and their families. He will produce along with Robert Katz and Edward McGurn. Patricia Riggen (La Misma Luna, Girl In Progress) will direct. Carlos Eugenio Lavin and Leopoldo Enriquez are exec producing. The film is being shot on location in Bogata and surrounding areas with 50% of the production to be shot in Chile. It’s interesting to note that visual effects will be overseen by Ben Grossman, who won an Oscar for Hugo.
Today, the Sundance Film Festival announced more participants for its 30th annual gathering next month with the out-of-competition sections of Spotlight, Park City at Midnight and New Frontier, along with the latter’s featured installations.Yesterday, the festival revealed its 2014 U.S. and World Cinema dramatic and documentary competition slates and the films in its NEXT section.
The films unveiled today see appearances by Hollywood stars like Tom Hardy in Locke; Jesse Eisenberg, Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson in Cooties; and a double shot of Mia Wasikowska. Plus there’s a Dead Snow sequel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new variety show, and a video installation featuring multimedia rock star Beck. The upcoming Sundance, which runs January 16-26, also sees the debut of the new Sundance Kids section with films featuring Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall and Paul Giamatti among others. The last slates to be revealed are the Premieres and Documentary Premieres, which are set for Monday. Until then, check out today’s release:
EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Rankin (Breaking Bad) and Virginia Kull (The Following) are set to co-star in Fox‘s event series Gracepoint, a U.S. remake of the UK’s Broadchurch. The project, from Shine America and Kudos, centers on Detective Emmett Carver (David Tennant), the lead male investigator on the case of a shocking murder of 11-year-old Danny that puts a small town under scrutiny. Rankin, repped by Abrams and Evolution, will play Paul Coates, Gracepoint’s well-intentioned but inexperienced local minister who becomes the town’s defacto spokesperson in the wake of the tragedy. Kull, repped by Innovative Artists and Sanders Armstrong Caserta, will play Danny’s mother Beth. Anguished by her loss, Beth is hungry to discover the truth behind her son’s untimely death.
McKaley Miller (Hart Of Dixie) and Daniele Watts (Weeds) have been cast as regulars in Braddock & Jackson, FX/Lionsgate’s 10-episode comedy series starring Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence as Chicago lawyers from vastly different backgrounds who develop a partnership after they unexpectedly meet in court on the worst day of their lives. Miller, repped by Management 360 and the Osbrink Agency, will play Grammer’s daughter Lizzie. Watts, repped by Luber Roklin and Abrams Artists, will play Lawrence’s daughter Laura.
2014 Spirit Awards: ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘All Is Lost’, ‘Frances Ha’, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ & ‘Nebraska’ Nab Best Feature Noms
Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years A Slave, Lionsgate’s All Is Lost, IFC’s Frances Ha, CBS Films’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Paramount Vantage’s Nebraska will vie for Best Feature at the 2014 Spirit Awards. 12 Years A Slave leads the field with 7 nominations. The Robert Altman Award honoring a film’s director, casting director, and ensemble cast will be awarded to Jeff Nichols’ Mud. Film Independent’s 29th Spirit Awards will be held March 1 in Santa Monica with Patton Oswalt hosting. Here is the full list of 2014 nominees announced today:
12 Years A Slave
All Is Lost
Inside Llewyn Davis
Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Jeff Nichols, Mud
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Jack Black and Tim Robbins are set as two of the three leads in The Brink, HBO‘s comedy pilot directed by Jay Roach from a script by former Weeds executive producer Roberto Benabib and his brother, Kim Benabib. The Brink is described as an epic dark comedy focusing on a geopolitical crisis and its effect on three disparate and desperate men: U.S. Secretary of State Walter Hollander (Robbins), a man of big appetites and little patience for the war mongers in the Situation Room; Coppins (Black), a lowly Foreign Service officer reluctantly caught on the ground in the middle of it all; and ace Navy fighter pilot Zeke Callahan. These three compromised souls must pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III. Roberto Benabib, Jerry Weintraub and Roach are executive producing, with Kim Benabib serving as a co-executive producer and Black and Robbins as producers. Black is with WME and attorney Warren Dern, Robbins is with ICM Partners and Elaine Goldsmith Thomas.
Viacom‘s shares have been hovering around their all-time high and, unless I’m missing something in the weeds, the latest earnings report shouldn’t change that. In the September quarter the entertainment company generated net earnings from continuing operations of $806M, +25.4% vs the period last year, on revenues of $3.65B, +8.6%. The revenue number beat analyst expectations for $3.6B. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations at $1.55 a share also topped forecasts for $1.44. At the main Media Networks unit revenues came in at $2.46B (+7.4%) with operating income of $1.04B (+10.9%). Domestic and overseas ad sales each were up 10% while rate increases elevated fees from pay TV and digital streaming providers by 6%. The Filmed Entertainment operation, which includes Paramount, exceeded the Street’s expectations with revenues +11.1% to $1.21B and operating income +49.2% to $291M. The company says that World War Z helped to drive a 31% increase in theatrical revenues. Home entertainment — which had one additional release vs last year — was +24%. “Viacom’s commitment to creative and operational excellence, and our continued investment in content, delivered an outstanding quarter and a strong fiscal year,” CEO Philippe Dauman says. He adds that he’s “very optimistic about Paramount’s ambitious pipeline of branded and franchise films” and notes that the company repurchased $2.7B worth of stock in fiscal Q4 — bringing the total cash returned during the year to $5.4B.
Former Weeds executive producer Roberto Benabib is taking on another dark comedy premium cable project. He has teamed with HBO-based producers Jay Roach and Jerry Weintraub for The Brink, a half-hour comedy, which has received a pilot order from the network. Directed by Roach and written by Benabib and his brother, Kim Benabib, The Brink is described as an epic dark comedy focusing on a geopolitical crisis and its effect on three disparate and desperate men: U.S. Secretary of State Walter Hollander, lowly Foreign Service officer Alex Coppins and ace Navy fighter pilot Zeke Callahan. These three compromised souls must pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III. Roberto Benabib, Weintraub and Roach are executive producing, with Kim Benabib serving as a co-executive producer. Roach won Emmys for directing and executive producing the HBO movies Recount and Game Change, both of which dealt with political events.
Kevin Beggs is staying put at Lionsgate with a new long-term agreement and a title bump from president to chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group, the company announced today at Lionsgate’s annual shareholders meeting in Toronto. The move is a recognition of the growth Lionsgate’s TV business has experienced over the past decade. Since Beggs joined the company in 1998, he guided the television division from $8 million in revenue in 2000 to nearly $400 million last year. The company started in cable, becoming one of the first studios to produce original series for AMC, the Emmy-winning Mad Men, and Showtime, Weeds and then Nurse Jackie. Lionsgate has since expanded into broadcast where it co-produces ABC’s returning drama Nashville and continues to support emerging platforms, most recently Netflix with breakout Orange Is The New Black and WGN America with upcoming drama series Manhattan. The 2006 acquisition of Debmar-Mercury gave Lionsgate a foothold in first-run syndication and distribution and an entry into the 10-90 model that has yielded a slew of comedy series, most recently Anger Management and the upcoming George Lopez and Martin Lawrence-Kelsey Grammer sitcoms on FX. Lionsgate’s television roster now encompass 30 series on 20 different networks. As chairman, Beggs will continue to oversee development and production of all scripted and non-scripted programming for broadcast, cable and digital platforms worldwide, and he will continue to report to Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer. “Kevin epitomizes the entrepreneurial leadership, innovative thinking and creative vision that have shaped the consistent and successful evolution of our television business,” said Feltheimer.
WGN America Orders Drama Series About The Manhattan Project From Skydance TV, Tribune Studios & Lionsgate TV
EXCLUSIVE: WGN America is quickly ramping up its original portfolio. The cable network has greenlighted its second scripted series, 13-episode drama Manhattan, for a summer 2014 premiere. The show, from writer Sam Shaw and director Thomas Schlamme, is being produced by Skydance Television, Tribune Studios and Lionsgate Television. Its pickup comes two months after WGN ordered its first original drama series, Salem, and four months after the network signaled its plans to become a player in the space with the hire of Matt Cherniss as president. Created by Shaw (Masters of Sex) and to be directed by The West Wing alum Schlamme, Manhattan is set against the backdrop of the clandestine mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico and follows the brilliant but flawed scientists and their families as they attempt to co-exist in a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every aspect of their lives. “Sam and Tommy’s passion for the world of Los Alamos, the Manhattan Project, and the characters who populate it came through from the moment we all sat down to discuss the project,” said Cherniss.
The 20th annual Austin Film Festival has unveiled its 2013 lineup of screenwriter-focused panels and special filmmaker guests. This year’s fest runs from October 24-31 and will honor Oscar winner Callie Khouri (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) with its Distinguished Screenwriter Award. Confirmed panelists include Robert Rodriguez, Roberto Orci, Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Rian Johnson (Looper), the Veronica Mars filmmakers, and Dan Rather. Here’s the AFF 2013 Conference lineup:
Kevin Spacey officially opened the Guardian Edinburgh Television Festival in the Scottish capital this evening, becoming the first Hollywood star, rather than exec or broadcaster, ever to deliver the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. The lecture is designed to focus on the topics that are currently top of mind for the British TV biz. The House Of Cards star and exec producer riffed that the Netflix show was “one of the primary — if not the only reason — I was asked to speak today.” In an hourlong speech, he touched on the show’s innovations, the problems with pilots, the importance of storytelling and the industry’s responsibility to support new talent.
One of his more rousing comments was about making programming. “We know what works and the only thing we don’t know is why it’s so difficult to find executives with the fortitude, the wisdom and the balls to do it,” he offered. Speaking of the House Of Cards experience, he said, “Of course we went to all the major networks… and every single one was very interested in the idea… but every one of them wanted us to do a pilot first… Netflix was the only network that said, ‘We believe in you. We’ve run our data and it tells us that our audience would watch this series. We don’t need you to do a pilot. How many episodes do you want to do?’”