The CW has ordered 24 all-new half-hour episodes of improv comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? to debut in 2015. No premiere date and time were announced for the new cycle, but featured performers Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie will return along with host Aisha Tyler. Dan Patterson, Mark Leveson, Jimmy Mulville, Stiles and Brady exec produce the series from Angst Productions and Hat Trick Productions.
On October 14, Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “Big media trials in London in 2 weeks. Remember, everyone innocent until proven guilty, entitled to fair trial in most countries.” Murdoch was referring to the criminal trial related to phone hacking at his now defunct News Of The World tabloid. This morning, eight defendants including former Murdoch employees Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson made it to court amid a media frenzy for what some are calling the “Trial of the Century.” It may feel like a century once the proceedings wrap sometime around Easter 2014 and after an expected 100 witnesses have been called. Jury selection began today with the prosecution starting later in the week.
While Murdoch, Brooks and Coulson are no longer linked professionally, the outcome of the trial has the potential to impact the mogul’s business going forward. Even the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal wrote that the courtroom drama “could further embarrass both the media giant and the British government.” One of the lines of questioning during the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics, the probe hatched by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the News Of The World scandal, focused on the relationships between politicians and newspaper proprietors and editors. With Brooks and Coulson now standing trial, this could put News Corp’s relationship with the UK government back into the spotlight. Brooks was head of News Corp‘s UK press arm, News International (now News UK), until the phone-hacking scandal first exploded at the News Of The World in July 2011. She has denied the five charges against her including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by paying officials for stories, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Coulson was formerly editor of News Of The World. He went on to become Cameron’s spin doctor, a post he vacated in 2011. He is facing three charges related to phone hacking and conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. They are joined by six other defendants who have all pleaded not guilty, including Brooks’ husband Charlie, a longtime Cameron friend.
Global Showbiz Briefs: PBS Giving U.S. Peek At ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 4; Last Of ‘The Office’ Coming To Comedy Central UK; More
PBS To Air ‘Downton Abbey’ Recap/Preview Special Ahead Of Season 4
In an effort to appease anxious U.S. viewers, PBS is planning a behind-the-scenes special sneak peek at Downton Abbey‘s upcoming Season 4. The period drama is pulling record ratings on the UK’s ITV but doesn’t bow Stateside until January 5. So, on December 1, PBS will air Return To Downton Abbey, a recap of previous seasons and a look at the upcoming trials and tribulations of the Crawley clan. Susan Sarandon will host the special that’s set around three themes: The Changing World of Downton Abbey, The Women of Downton Abbey and Love and Other Relationships at Downton Abbey. Cast members interviewed include Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Shirley MacLaine, Sophie McShera and Laura Carmichael. Creator Julian Fellowes and exec producers Gareth Neame and Rebecca Eaton also take part.
Final Seasons Of U.S. ‘The Office’ Coming To Comedy Central UK
Comedy Central UK is bringing the final two seasons of the U.S. version of The Office to Britain. Under a deal with NBCU International TV Distribution, Seasons 8 and 9 will air on Comedy Central starting this month. The series, based on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original UK version, has been a staple of Comedy Central UK’s schedule and a strong performer.
Rupert Murdoch Credits Inspiration Of Margaret Thatcher
The death of Margaret Thatcher has stirred intense reaction in the UK this week. The former British Prime Minister was a polarizing figure, but Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of his respect for her. Last year around this time, he told the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics that he remained “a great admirer.” Today, he penned a tribute in his London Times newspaper crediting her with being “an inspiration in my business life.” Murdoch had meetings with Thatcher around the time that he was bidding to acquire Times Newspapers, but has said he never asked her for any favors. Thatcher was famous for her stance against the unions during the 1979 strikes in Britain. Murdoch in his tribute called her “a risk-taker” who inspired his own position in the newspaper strikes of 1986, “the first major strike in private industry that had been won by the owners since the war.” Without that win, Murdoch writes, “We would not have the vigorous competitive press that is a feature of modern Britain. It was the same in the television industry. We took huge risks in creating satellite television which many critics derided as the end of civilization, but as a result, we created thousands of jobs and viewers now enjoy far greater choice.” In conclusion, Murdoch wrote, “Thanks to her I have experienced in Britain many of my defining moments as a businessman.”
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage.
UPDATE, 4:09 PM: The UK government today announced a fresh sweep of press regulation reforms, brought about as a result of the News Of The World phone-hacking brouhaha. But key newspaper groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News International, have refused to endorse the government’s proposals. A late-night round of cross-party negotiations prevented a potentially embarrassing rebellion from within David Cameron’s own party as the two proposals were brought to consensus. The final reforms will see British papers regulated by a watchdog run completely independently of the media. Fines of up to £1M — thought to be the toughest in the world — would be handed down to the worst offenders. And the only legal statute relates to the right of ministers to change the rules in future, designed to prevent any possible corruptions to freedom of speech.
In a group statement signed by News International, along with Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph media group and Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, newspaper proprietors say the proposals feature “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry”. As one senior exec told the Guardian, “This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off,” referring to the campaign group fronted by Hugh Grant. “It is not a deal with the newspapers.”
After attempts to stake a big claim in the digital arena via also-ran MySpace and the now-defunct The Daily newspaper, News Corp. is headed into the classroom. Its new Amplify Tablet computer designed specifically for schools is being unveiled at SWSWedu in Austin today. Geared towards the K-12 market, the tablet is aimed at transforming “the way teachers teach and students learn,” Joel Klein, CEO of News Corp.’s education division, Amplify, said. Klein has experience in the field: he headed the New York public school system before joining Rupert Murdoch’s company two years ago. Interest in digital learning is at a high and News Corp. is looking to tap into the dollars being spent on technology by U.S. schools. Tablets will come loaded with features that allow teachers to plan lessons, prepare quizzes, send assignments, share multimedia resources and manage their students’ devices. They’ll cost $299 per year per student for a WiFi-enabled device, when purchased with a two-year subscription at $99 per year. There’s also a 4G model for $349 with a $179/year annual subscription. (By comparison, the iPad2 costs $399.) Amplify execs expect a $180M operating loss for the first year, The New York Times reported.
News Corp. is forging ahead with the Amplify tablet as it continues to try and distance itself from its troubles in the UK. In 2010, News Corp. acquired a 90% stake in Wireless Generation, but later lost a contract to build a student data system for New York when the comptroller
Improvisational comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which had a successful eight-season run on ABC, is coming back to American television, this time on the CW. The network has picked up a new take on the British format to air this summer. Comedian Aisha Tyler, co-host of The Talk, which airs on the CW sibling CBS, will host. She succeeds Drew Carey, who emceed the ABC version that ran during CW president Mark Pedowitz’s tenure at the network. Returning are Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie, who starred on the ABC series. The trio, along with a special guest each episode , will go through a series of spontaneous improv games. (Maybe they’ll bring back Richard Simmons, who killed it on a 2003 episode during the show’s ABC run — see the video below.) After each round of improvisation, Tyler will dole out “points” to our four performers and declare a winner at the end of every episode. (The CW has ordered 10). Whose Line, from Angst Prods and Hat Trick Prods, was co-created by Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson and is executive produced by Patterson, Mark Leveson, Jimmy Mulville, Stiles and Brady.
Here’s the Simmons video with Stiles, Brady and Mochrie:
UK House of Lords OKs Assistance For Victims Of Media Misbehavior
As David Cameron’s government in the UK continues to dither over what to do about the proposals made in the Leveson Report on the phone-hacking scandal, peers in the House of Lords — the UK parliament’s upper house — have passed an amendment to the Defamation bill establishing a cheap arbitration service between newspapers and those claiming to be wronged by the press. The proposal was a key feature of Leveson’s report. The cross-party amendment was spearheaded by peers including film producer Lord David Puttnam, who said lawmakers had an “obligation to act, and to be seen to act, on behalf of victims past, present and future”. The Defamation Bill, which has a key focus on complaints against alleged defamation published on the Internet, reflected none of the concerns brought to light by the Leveson Report, he said. “It is almost as if Leveson never happened.” The move marks a major rebellion against the government, with peers voting 272 to 141 in favour of legislation which would also introduce a statutory system for press regulation, a line Cameron had promised not to cross. The bill will go back before the House of Commons next month, forcing the Leveson debate back into the open.
Rupert Murdoch was in London last week, crowing about scoring rights to online clips of Premier League soccer matches and reportedly visiting his UK newspapers. He also held a private dinner that’s becoming a hot potato in the local media. London Mayor Boris Johnson, a rival to Prime Minister David Cameron for leadership of the Conservative Party, is widely believed to have attended along with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, whose office confirmed his presence to The Guardian. (Also reportedly there was Homeland star Damian Lewis, whose show is produced by News Corp.-owned Fox21, and who’s a graduate of Eton, as is Johnson.) While private meetings between politicians and media owners don’t run afoul of parliamentary or party rules, this particular dinner has raised eyebrows in light of last year’s Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics where an overriding theme was the cozy relationship enjoyed by newspaper proprietors and the highest levels of government.
The actor was one of the most high-profile victims of the scandal that ended in the shuttering of the News Corp-owned UK tabloid News Of The World. Hugh Grant‘s settlement for damages with Rupert Murdoch’s British publishing arm News International was for a “substantial sum”, his lawyer said today, and will be donated to Grant’s Hacked Off campaign, which is advocating for responsible press. Grant had filed his complaint in September. Earlier this month, News International settled 22 other cases related to the scandal, which led into a UK government inquiry into press ethics and several ongoing probes into corruption and bribery. Grant also testified before the Leveson Inquiry, which after a 16-month investigation called for an independent regulator to oversee the British press, an order UK publishers are now trying to figure out how to implement.
Shout! Acquires EuropaCorp. Titles
Shout! Factory has picked up U.S. rights to the EuropaCorp. films, The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec, directed by Luc Besson, and A Monster In Paris by Bibo Bergeron. Shout will roll the films out on a cross-platform release including home entertainment, VOD, SVOD and television. The César-winning Adèle Blanc-Sec is an adaptation of the Jacques Tardi comic book series and was released in France in 2010. Louise Bourgoin and Mathieu Amalric star. Shark Tale director Bergeron’s Monster is a CG-animated adventure based on his own original story about an inventor, his best friend and a monkey who inadvertently create a monster with a talent for music. Vanessa Paradis, Sean Lennon, Adam Goldberg, Danny Huston, Bob Balaban, Catherine O’Hara and Jay Harrington form the voice cast.
Scott Free London Lines Up ‘The Fishing Fleet’
Ridley Scott’s Scott Free London has acquired film rights to the Anne de Courcy novel The Fishing Fleet. The company will develop the project as a feature with Scott Free’s Liza Marshall producing. The book is a social history of husband hunting by young British women in India. The deal was negotiated by Blake Friedmann’s Conrad Williams and Carlo Dusi for Scott Free London.
The phone-hacking scandal at a News Corp-owned tabloid was the catalyst for a 16-month probe into UK media ethics, but the conglomerate is unlikely to be affected by today’s disclosure of the inquiry’s findings. “There’s nothing here I can see that changes the business prospects of News Corp”, media analyst Ken Doctor tells Deadline. Wall Street seems to agree: News Corp shares closed up 1.4% today. What’s more, CEO Rupert Murdoch escaped virtually unscathed from the Leveson Inquiry‘s report, which called for an independent, self-regulated press watchdog that can levy hefty fines. But that means nothing “if you’re deep-pocketed enough”, Doctor tells me.
Although Murdoch has lost some of his political clout in the UK, he’s becoming more politically active in the U.S. His “ability to move his power base from Britain, where he exercised great political power, to the U.S. should not be minimized,” Doctor says. For example, this month New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie felt compelled to call Murdoch when the mogul tweeted that Christie’s appearances with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy undermined GOP candidate Mitt Romney. “Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years,” Murdoch wrote. Shortly afterward, The New York Times reported, Christie publicly affirmed his support for Romney. That’s why the response to the UK effort to trim the media’s sails “blows on both sides of the Atlantic, and that’s why undue press power to bully is a core question,” Doctor says.
UPDATE: David Cameron Responds To UK Phone-Hacking Inquiry Findings; Report Criticizes News Corp, Calls For Press Self-Regulation With Statutory Element
UPDATE, 7:30 AM: Speaking at the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said he accepts the “principles” of recommendations made by the Leveson Inquiry into UK press reform. But, he said he has “some serious concerns and misgivings” on supporting legislation to underpin an independent self-regulatory body to oversee the industry. “We should be very wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe” on a free press, he said. “The danger is that it would create a vehicle for politicians to impose regulations and obligations on the press.” Cameron was asked whether a new watchdog could “prevent a newspaper group simply walking away or ignoring the new body’s findings” without statutory underpinning. Cameron returned that “Lord Justice Leveson does not himself have an answer to that question.” Cameron is starting cross-party talks on the report, but urged that the implementation of many of the recommendations can begin immediately. He also noted that there were many allegations made in both the House of Commons and at the inquiry in the past year that his Conservative party “struck a deal” with News International, but that the report finds there was no such deal. Cameron said those who made the allegation should now withdraw it.
BREAKING: As part of the findings of his 16-month inquiry into UK media ethics (read the full report here), Lord Justice Brian Leveson writes, “Most responsible corporate entities would be appalled that employees were or could be involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business. Not so at the News Of The World.” The comment refers to the now-shuttered tabloid that was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and whose troubles were the reason Prime Minister David Cameron convened the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011. Since then, the hearings have probed the relationships between the press and the government, the police and the public over nine months of oral testimony from 337 individuals.
In a statement today, Leveson said, “Free press in a democracy holds power to account, but with a few honorable exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.” As expected — and as a means to ensure that something like the phone-hacking scandal is not repeated — Leveson then recommended the creation of a new, independent self-regulatory body to oversee the press. The board would have the power to establish its own remedial action for breach of standards and should be allowed to impose financial sanctions, up to £1M. Leveson warned that should newspapers fail to establish this new scheme, it should fall to the government to pursue and could require Ofcom to act as a “backstop regulator.”
Although Leveson said the proposals were for independent and not “statutory regulation of the press,” the “backstop regulator” section is likely to rankle members of the British press who have feared any kind of legislative interference in their business. News Corp.’s News International had been silent on the matter up to yesterday, when CEO Tom Mockridge told the BBC, “The people who argue for state regulation are saying they are going to trust the politicians in this country for another 300 years not to exploit that. That is a trust too far.”
Last-Minute Angling Ahead Of UK Media Ethics Report
Lord Justice Brian Leveson‘s report into UK media ethics will be published Thursday. Today, key cross-party figures from the House of Commons and the House of Lords voiced their opposition to statutory control of the newspaper business. In a joint letter to The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, more than 80 signatories including Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, London Olympics chairman Sebastian Coe and former home secretary David Blunkett, wrote the solution to abuses of the press “is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system.” But The Guardian also reports that prime minister David Cameron, who had a 24-hour advance look at the report, is likely to reject proposals of a re-jiggered form of self-regulation. The question of whether any form of regulation will be legislated by law remains hotly contentious. Leveson’s recommendations are likely to be strong, though not to the point of insisting on state control over the press. The judge has made clear he does not intend for his report to become another footnote in the history of “failed regulatory systems.” – Joe Utichi
This week UK attention will turn back to the phone-hacking scandal as it morphs into a wider discussion about freedom of the press. On Thursday, Lord Justice Brian Leveson will unveil the long-awaited findings of his inquiry into UK media ethics and make his recommendations on how to regulate the industry. It’s expected the report will call for some form of statutory underpinning to press regulation. That has the British media girding for battle and crying foul against its rights. Independent editor Chris Blackhurst in August said Leveson was “loading a gun” against newspapers. Prime Minister David Cameron also has a challenge on his hands as he risks alienating his media allies and/or his own government based on his reaction to the findings. And, he’ll only have 24 hours to fashion a response after getting an early look at the report on Wednesday. Cameron’s press office on Sunday said the PM remained “open-minded.”
It was Cameron who convened the inquiry in July 2011 as the phone-hacking scandal blew wide open at Rupert Murdoch’s News Of The World tabloid. During its run, the probe heard evidence from more than 150 witnesses including Murdoch, Tony Blair, Hugh Grant, J.K. Rowling, the Dowler family and Cameron himself who in June faced uncomfortable questioning about his relationship to former Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks. He recently told the BBC’s Andrew Marr he would “absolutely” abide by Leveson’s suggestions on regulation as long as they were reasonable. “The status quo is not an option,” he said. Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are expected to back Leveson’s proposals, but some members of Cameron’s own Conservative party are leaning towards non-statutory regulation, including London mayor Boris Johnson. At the same time, there is a group of Conservative MPs who want radical reform, The Guardian has noted.
Should he support statutory regulation, Cameron will risk alienating members of the media who are already unhappy that a light has been shone so brightly on their underbelly by an inquiry that he ordered. In April, Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry, “When it comes to regulation, I just beg for some care. A varied press guarantees democracy.” But some papers who have not been accused of wrongdoing are likely to be caught in the crossfire.
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
The ongoing crisis in the British media has drawn in a new player. As the BBC continues to sift through the scandals in its news division, rival broadcaster ITV is facing scrutiny from regulator Ofcom over one of its own news programs. ITV’s Today-style This Morning show will have to answer whether a recent interview with Prime Minister David Cameron breached the broadcasting code by failing to provide a “right of reply” to former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine when he was incorrectly linked to child sex abuse allegations, The Guardian reports. Host Phillip Schofield was forced to apologize after he confronted Cameron with a list of alleged perpetrators he had gleaned in “about three minutes” on the Internet, and the list was briefly made visible to the cameras.
Phone-Hacking Allegations Hit Mirror Newspapers
Until yesterday, phone-hacking claims had been limited to papers owned by News Corp.’s UK press arm. Now, Britain’s Mirror Group Newspapers may be brought into the scandal as four individuals line up cases against its titles. Among those seeking damages are former manager of the English soccer team, Sven Goran Eriksson; a former nanny to David Beckham’s children and a TV soap actress. Eriksson’s claims against the Daily Mirror are believed to stem from a period when CNN host Piers Morgan was editor. Morgan gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics late last year at which time he said he had no knowledge or reason to believe there was any phone hacking at the paper during his tenure. The claims against Mirror papers allege “breach of confidence and misuse of private information,” in relation to the “interception and/or misuse of mobile phone voicemail messages and/or the interception of telephone accounts.” The attorney for the claimants, Mark Lewis, said no particulars had been filed, but that relevant dates relating to alleged activity were submitted to the court, The Guardian reports. A spokesman for MGN parent, Trinity Mirror, said: “We have no comment. We are unaware action has been taken at the High Court.”
Downton Abbey Hits New Season High In UK Overnights, Debuts In NZ
Downton Abbey was up again Sunday night on the UK’s ITV. The sixth episode of Season 3 hit an overnight ratings high of 9.69M viewers during the 9pm hour. That score, a 36.6% share, beat the season’s previous top performer which drew 9.66M viewers in the overnights on Oct. 1. Factoring in Sunday’s delayed viewings, Downton drew just over 10M viewers. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, season 3 of the show kicked off this weekend on free-to-air web Prime drawing top ratings with just over 350K viewers.
Hugh Grant has taken his first legal action against the News Corp.-owned News International over alleged phone hacking at the now-defunct News Of The World tabloid. Grant filed a complaint at the high court today, according to The Guardian, and has said any financial damages he receives will go toward helping fellow victims. Tomorrow is the deadline for civil damage claims at the court. Grant has been highly vocal in the phone-hacking scandal and appeared before Lord Justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry into UK media ethics in November last year. He also recently became a director of a new anti-press intrusion nonprofit set up by Hacked Off, The Guardian notes. Other high-profile names to have lodged claims include Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and soccer player Wayne Rooney. News International is expected to face about 100 new claims by the Friday deadline, The Guardian says.
Maria Miller takes over for Jeremy Hunt, who became a central UK governmental figure in the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal for his purported close ties to the tabloid’s owner News Corp and its then-European head James Murdoch. Prime Minister David Cameron is keeping Hunt in the cabinet fold, however, appointing him Health Secretary earlier today. Miller, meanwhile, is considered a bit of a surprise pick, according to the British press. She most recently was Parliamentary-Under Secretary State at the Department for Work and Pensions, and now she will have oversight of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which among its duties is spearheading the Leveson inquiry that was formed in the wake of the hacking scandal. She previously served on the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2005-2006, was Shadow Minister for Education in 2005, Shadow Minister for Family Welfare in 2006, and Shadow Minister for the Family 2007-10. Before joining Parliament, she was a director of Grey Advertising and also Rowland Saatchi and worked at Texaco in business development and marketing.
(Photo: Getty Images)