Gary E. Knell, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, and Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, today completed the sweeping changes at the top of the National Geographic Channels that started yesterday with the announcement that the channels’ president Howard Owens will be leaving in June. “Today, the worst kept secret is over — I am taking my leave as CEO of National Geographic Channels,” David Lyle, who had served as National Geographic Channels CEO since 2011, wrote in an internal memo (read it in full below the post.). “I am exhilarated but somewhat saddened also.” Lyle will be replaced by a marketing executive, Courteney Monroe, who has served as Chief Marketing Officer for National Geographic Channels’ domestic networks since 2012 and is now being upped to CEO. She will report to the Board of Directors of the National Geographic Channels. Additionally, David Hill, Senior EVP of 21st Century Fox and a member of the National Geographic Channels Board of Directors, will now add the title of Chairman of National Geographic Channels U.S. His role is described as “providing counsel to the executive and programming leadership team.” Coming from marketing, Monroe has no production experience. Hill, who had an oversight of NGC prior to Lyle’s 2011 hire, will remain a member of the NGC Board and also continue to oversee production of American Idol.
The moves continue to expand the domain of Hill, who is one of Rupert Murdoch’s trusted lieutenants. In 2012, the long-time chairman and CEO of Fox Sports was elevated to senior EVP for News Corp. Then last summer, following the departure of Fox alternative chief Mike Darnell, he was put in charge of the network’s The X Factor and American Idol. Since then, X Factor has been cancelled while American Idol is finishing up its lowest-rated season. Meanwhile, the National Geographic Channels have done very well under Lyle and Owens. “I’m exhilarated that NGC and NG WILD are in rude health with EBITDAs (profits) at all-time highs, and with programming featuring the most watched specials, series and year in the channels’ history,” Lyle wrote in his memo. That makes the executive housecleaning puzzling. It follows speculation about a discord between Hill and NGC’s leadership team of Lyle and Owens who turned the network around in the past three years. When Hill gave up direct oversight of NGC in 2011, the move was explained with a clash of cultures between him and the team at National Geographic.
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Howard Owens will step down as President of National Geographic Channels U.S. in June after two and a half years on the job. “Our President and my friend Howard Owens is moving on – flying out the window of National Geographic and into the free world of independent production,” National Geographic Channels U.S. CEO David Lyle said this morning in a memo to staff informing them of the move (Full memo after the jump). Owens joined the channel in late 2011, replacing Steve Schiffman. He launched such series as Wicked Tuna, Brain Games, Ultimate Survival Alaska, Life Below Zero, The Legend Of Mick Dodge and Inside Combat Rescue. He also introduced scripted programming to the channel with the highly rated Killing franchise: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and the upcoming Killing Jesus, as well as event programming with SEAL Team Six and The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us to NGC. Owens also served as president at Nat Geo WILD, shepherding such series as The Incredible Dr. Pol and Cesar 911. “We have truly benefited from Howard’s zeal for bringing audiences innovative programming that underscores the uniqueness and depth of the National Geographic Channels brand,” said Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group. “From a creative and programming perspective, Howard’s work consistently broke new ground, and National Geographic Channels are uniquely positioned for the future as a result of his efforts.”
Prior to joining National Geographic Channels, Owens was a longtime executive at Reveille. “As I get ready for my next adventure I can’t help but reflect on what has been an incredible experience for me, both personally and professionally,” he said. “National Geographic Channels have some of the brightest minds in the television business, and I’m proud of the work we have accomplished together — specifically in defining the National Geographic Channels as a destination for innovative, original and brand-defining creativity.” Here is Lyle’s memo to staff:
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Only Lovers Left Alive held sway among Specialty newcomers this weekend, scoring the weekend’s highest average in a fairly crowded box office. The film starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston grossed nearly $97K in four theaters, averaging $24,244. Crowds packed the 268-seat Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center Friday night where director Jim Jarmusch took part in a Q&A for the 7pm screening of the film (he gave a rather interesting theory on William Shakespeare not being the author of his work). The weekend results for Lovers outperformed Jarmusch’s previous 2009 feature The Limits Of Control, which averaged $18,607 in three theaters when it opened in May of that year. It went on to cume over $426K domestically. Broken Flowers which starred Bill Murray, Sharon Stone and Julie Delpy had a slightly higher PTA launch, averaging $28,904 in 27 theaters when it opened in August 2005. The Focus Features release went on to total over $13.744M in the U.S.
“It’s a great start, people really seemed to love the film,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker Sunday. SPC will open Only Lovers Left Alive in New York and L.A. this weekend, expanding to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. the following week before heading to the top 50 markets through spring.
TWC opened The Railway Man in several locations, grossing $64,506 for an so-so $16,127 average. “We’re off to a respectable start on Railway Man,” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution Erik Lomis Sunday. “Our exit information confirmed [what we thought]. It was a mostly an older audience. There’s some images that are disturbing, but it’s very relevant today with current events in Fort Hood. What we learned from the U.K. and Australia was that the midweek grosses were about as good as the weekends. So we’re just going to let it roll. Read More »
Television’s longest-running court show just keeps on going. The syndicated daytime show Divorce Court has been renewed through the 2016-17 season, Twentieth TV and Fox Television stations announced today. The show, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary season, is also set to return on Sinclair television stations. During the recent February sweeps, Divorce Court hit a four-season ratings high; rising +38% versus the comparable sweeps month a year ago (1.8 HH vs 1.3 HH), according to Twentieth TV. Additionally during this sweeps month, Divorce Court hit a seven-year viewer high – averaging nearly 3 million viewers per episode – a +49% increase over a year ago. Judge Lynn Toler presides over the real-life courtroom drama which is produced by Lincolnwood Drive and distributed by Twentieth TV.
The judges are set for 13th annual edition of the event founded by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff. The seven competition juries for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival include 33 filmmakers, writers, producers, actors, journalists and entrepreneurs. The World Narrative Competition judges are Lake Bell, Steve Conrad, Bart Freundlich, Catherine Hardwicke and Ben Younger. Jurors for other categories include Toni Collette, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Alfonso Arau, Heather Graham, Anton Yelchin, HBO’s Sheila Nevins and Google’s Regina Dugan. The Nas rap docu Time Is Illmatic will open the fest, which runs April 16-27 in NYC. The recently re-retitled Begin Again closes it. Here is the full list of jurors and categories:
Tribeca Film Festival Unveils Competition Slate
MSG Entering Into Strategic Deal With Tribeca Enterprises
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This is a jam-packed weekend of new releases, many hoping to be the perfect counter-programming pick against Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Magnolia is opening Nymphomaniac: Vol II just weeks after releasing Vol. I in theaters. The film is the continuation of the much talked about Lars von Trier two-parter that has fascinated fans of the Danish filmmaker for well over a year. Documentaries are also on tap this weekend, including Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known and Zeitgeist’s The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden. CBS Films is bowing Afflicted, a title it became involved with early on, while Magnolia will open comedy Alan Partridge. Cannes Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo from Singapore is opening in limited release, while Codeblack/Lionsgate will launch Frankie & Alice in over 150 theaters. Other titles not profiled in depth but also among this weekend’s packed list of theatrical openers include Searchlight’s Dom Hemingway, Anchor Bay’s In The Blood and TWC’s On The Other Side Of The Tracks. And A24 will open Jonathan Glazer’s experimental sci-fi Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson in limited release.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. II
Director-writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf, Stacy Martin, Jamie Bell, Mia Goth
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia opened the first part of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac duo theatrically March 21 (it was available via digital/VOD beginning March 6) and is now following up with the second part of the film, which follows the saga of sex addict Joe (she prefers the term ‘nymphomaniac,’ however). Charlotte Gainsbourg is featured more prominently in Vol. II, depicting the older Joe in the final installment of the film, following up Vol. I in which Stacy Martin is seen primarily as the younger Joe (porn stars are used for Joe’s sex scenes). Though both parts are currently available via digital/VOD (Vol. II launched on demand March 20), there will be some theaters that will screen both films for audiences preferring to see both parts back to back. Read More »
SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of last night’s Season 4 finale of The Walking Dead.
Don’t let anyone tell you that AMC’s The Walking Dead doesn’t pack a hell of a lot more than zombies into the series — as last night’s bloody and emotionally charged Season 4 finale proved. Besides the ever-present undead, the fourth season saw a big change in leadership among Sheriff Rick Grimes and the survivors, the outbreak of a raging influenza virus in their converted prison home, the exile of one major character, the graphic decapitation of another, the death of a major foe, some revealing backstories, and the scattering of the remaining members of the series in search of a new home and new hope. It also saw Walking Dead shattering cable ratings records again, and a couple of times it beat the usually unbeatable Sunday Night Football on NBC and topped that network’s Winter Olympics coverage three weeks in a row in the key adults 18-49 demo. There’s a good chance that when last night’s ratings come in later today, we’ll see another record. Walking Dead executive producer Scott Gimple, who just completed his first full season as showrunner, talked with me about last night’s finale as well as what fans can expect in Season 5 this fall and some changes behind the scenes.
Related: ‘Walking Dead’ Season Debut Smashes Records; 16.1M Watch
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Several newcomers make their way to the Specialty box office this coming weekend, though it is more than certain holdovers will entrench their reign with audiences. Searchlight’s tour de force The Grand Budapest Hotel has been shattering sales numbers and will move into upwards of 675 additional theaters heading into Friday. Last weekend Budapest had a stunning $22,204 PTA in 304 theaters. Also grabbing screens in the last weekend of March will be Focus Features’ Bad Words, three weeks after its launch. The Jason Bateman directorial debut will add over 650 locations. Last weekend it averaged $5,747 from 178 runs. On Friday, Sony Classics will follow up its 2012 The Raid: Redemption release with The Raid 2 in limited runs. Cohen Media Group will bow director Drake Doremus’ fourth feature Breathe In with Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones in well over a dozen locations, while Sundance Selects will head out with Finding Vivian Maier, an enigmatic figure in the photography world that has turned into a titan in death. And Abramorama will open Mistaken For Strangers, a music documentary centered on the relationship of two brothers.
The Raid 2
Director-writer: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Julie Estelle, Donny Alamsyah, Oka Antara
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
The Raid 2 by Gareth Evans follows his 2012 first installment, The Raid: Redemption. The latest feature follows a short time after the first raid, in which Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his own police force. “From the beginning we wanted to be a part of Raid 2,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “We became involved with [this feature] even before they shot this one, which was still in the script stage at the time.” The project, which SPC worked on with Sony Worldwide Acquisition Group, is building on the momentum of the first Raid, according to Barker. Read More »
Nymphomaniac has finally come. After months of trailers, teasers and speculation, Lars von Trier‘s first installment centering on a sex addict opens theatrically in the U.S., courtesy of Magnolia. Not to be daunted, there are other newcomers in the Specialty market as well. Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard and Mila Kunis star in Roadside’s Blood Ties, while Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Andy Garcia and Ray Romano star in Millennium’s Rob The Mob. Sony Classics opens Jodorowsky’s Dune this weekend, which even one competitor told me was a “must see” for cinephiles. IFC Films will open French political comedy The French Minister. And Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow Anita, a personal look at Anita Hill and the firestorm she found herself in during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings back in 1991.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I
Director-writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Much has been said, rumored and obsessed over since Lars von Trier first quipped at an ill-fated press conference in Cannes 2011 for his previous film Melancholia that he was “going to next do a porn movie” and appeared to reference Charlotte Gainsbourg and fellow Melancholia star Kirsten Dunst as its stars. The news was the first time Gainsbourg had heard of the project — she even thought he was kidding at the time. As it developed, she joined and model turned aspiring actress Stacy Martin did as well. They both play “Joe,” a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating. Read More »
President Obama, responding to a question about Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly’s criticism of his appearance on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns, said today that President Lincoln had a sense of humor. ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd asked Obama today about criticism that Abraham Lincoln would not have appeared on the web series hosted by Zach Galifianakis. (Obama did, last week, as part of a media tour to urge viewers and listeners to sign up for Obamacare before the March 31 deadline. The ESPN Radio interview was part of that campaign.)
Related: Obama’s ‘Between Two Ferns’ Interview Boosts Healthcare.gov’s Traffic 40%: Video
“One of the hardest things about being president is being in this bubble that is artificial, and, unless you make a conscious effort, you start sounding like some Washington stiff,” Obama told Cowherd. “If you read back on Lincoln, he loved telling the occasional bawdy joke and, you know, being out among regular folks.”
Related: Dave Letterman, Bill O’Reilly Debate Obama’s ‘Between Two Ferns’ Appearance
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‘Rising Star’ World Tour Continues In Greece, Ukraine
Keshet International’s interactive talent search format Rising Star has made further sales, heading to Greece’s Mega and Ukraine’s 1+1. Keshet says the deals make Rising Star the world’s fastest-selling talent show ever, according to researchers at the WIT. Since its launch at Mipcom in October, it has sold to more than 25 territories. Greece and Ukraine will launch their local versions later this year. 1+1 has made a multi-season deal beginning with a 15-episode first series to be produced by Studio Kvartal 95. Mega has commissioned an initial 14 episodes, with a local producer to be confirmed. The first international version of Rising Star will premiere April 6 on Globo Brazil. ABC’s U.S. version of the show will air in the summer and is available to buyers at Mip-TV as a finished 10 episode tape.
Related: Big Ratings For ‘Rising Star’ Finale In Israel
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Coming off its most-watched year in network history, the National Geographic Channel today unveiled its 2014-2015 slate of six new and ten returning series along with five events/specials, including the four-hour Killing Jesus mini, at its upfront presentation. The new series include Crowd Control, a hidden camera show featuring innovative and fun experiments that test and curate social behavior; You Can’t Lick Your Elbow, which teaches surprising body hacks like how to hold your breath for four minutes, hosted by NFL Today analyst Tony Gonzalez; Cabin Fever with Nate Heim and his timber-loving team who make childhood dreams come true in the form of rustic hideaways and massive mountaintop mansions; Meat Heads hosted by LA chef Eric Greenspon who travels the U.S. in search of the most mouthwatering, meatiest recipes around; The Primitives, featuring individuals and families who are turning back the clock a few hundred years and living the old-fashioned way; and Remote Survival, a new twist on the survival format that tests the tenacity and techniques of individuals dropped in the middle of nowhere. Returning series include Wicked Tuna, The Legend of Mick Dodge, Ultimate Survival Alaska, Drugs, Inc., Alaska State Troopers, Life Below Zero and Building Wild.
Sibling Nat Geo Wild’s 2014-2015 upfront slate includes new series Pond Stars and Dr. K: Exotic Pet Vet (wt); the return of its No. 1 show, The Incredible Dr. Pol, and newest veterinary face, Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet; and events Big Cat Week, Sharkfest and Dogs Rule! (wt). Here are descriptions of Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild’s new series: Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: After two very successful movies, National Geographic‘s Killing movie franchise is adding a miniseries. The third installment in the series, Killing Jesus, will be a four-hour mini. Law & Order veteran Walon Green has been tapped to write and executive produce the project, based on the book Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Nat Geo is expected to make the announcement at the network’s upfront presentation tomorrow in New York. Returning for Killing Jesus is the team behind the Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy movies: executive producers O’Reilly and Scott Free Productions’ Ridley Scott, David Zucker and Mary Lisio.
Related: TCA: ‘Killing Kennedy’ Star Rob Lowe Happy To Topline Bill O’Reilly’s “Massive Best Seller” Adaptation
O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus, which chronicles the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, was published in September. Like the previous entries in Nat Geo’s Killing franchise, Killing Jesus will combine historical insights with dramatic storytelling. The mini is expected to begin production this summer for a 2015 premiere globally on National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 45 languages. For National Geographic Channels, exec producers are Howard T. Owens, Charlie Parsons and Teri Weinberg. Last year’s Killing Kennedy became the most-watched program in Nat Geo’s history and … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Justified star Walton Goggins has been set to join Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in American Ultra, the film that Lionsgate acquired recently in a whopping deal. Project X‘s Nima Nourizaden is directing and Max Landis wrote the script. Eisenberg plays a hapless stoner who has a Jason Bourne-like awakening when he learns he’s an asset in a complicated covert government scheme gone awry. Anthony Bregman is producing. Goggins will play the role of Laugher. He’s killing it this season on the FX series Justified as Boyd Crowder, and he most recently appeared in Lincoln and Django Unchained. He’s repped by ICM Partners and Darris Hatch Management.
Related: In Massive Deal, Lionsgate Pays $7 Million For ‘American Ultra’
The shadow of the Oscar season and last weekend’s record shattering theatrical debut of Fox Searchlight’s The Grand Budapest Hotel hang over the coming weekend’s releases. Some competitors hailed its success and said they hoped to ride in its wake as they head to theaters this Friday and beyond. A24 will roll out Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Enemy by Denis Velleneuve who has had success in both the studio and indie space. Jason Bateman takes the director’s chair for the first time with TIFF and SXSW feature Bad Words for Focus. Music Box Films will open U.K.’s Le Week-end after delaying its roll out post awards-season. France’s On My Way starring Catherine Deneuve opens in theaters following its premiere at an annual French film series in NYC via Cohen Media Group. Abramorama is opening doc Big Men with the support of Brad Pitt who executive produced. Jason Schwartzman also exec produced a doc opening this weekend, the hybrid Teenage from Oscilloscope. And Paladin and Cinedigm are teaming on indie thriller Dark House, while Shirin In Love takes a bilingual approach as it heads to theaters in the Specialty space this weekend.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Javier Gullón, José Saramago (novel)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Joshua Peace
Québécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve won acclaim and an Oscar nomination for his 2011 feature Incendies, which Sony Classics released with a cast unknown in the States, taking in $2 million-plus domestically. His next feature was crime-thriller Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, a studio film that grossed over $61 million domestically. Gyllenhaal returns with Enemy, a mystery-thriller about a man who seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. A24, which had multiple box office hits in the Specialty arena in its first year, including Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring and The Spectacular Now, first caught Enemy at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Disney is making a new version of the classic Ray Bradbury thriller novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. The studio, which turned Bradbury’s novel into a 1983 movie, has set Seth Grahame-Smith to make his feature directorial debut on the project. He will begin work immediately writing a treatment, and the studio then will hire a writer to script the project. Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg’s KatzSmith Productions will be the producing banner and Katzenberg will produce the film.
The novel tells the story of how Mr. Dark, the evil proprietor of a traveling carnival who preys on the residents of a small town by bartering possession of their souls for the dreams each one has. Grahame-Smith said it was his favorite book as a child, but he doesn’t feel the movie is sacrosanct. Although the late Bradbury wrote the script, he later lamented that the movie lost a lot of the book. Grahame-Smith intends to put it back and plug a new generation into the tale. Read More »
Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been spoken for. One of the most hotly pursued actresses this pilot season has been tapped as the lead of ABC‘s drama pilot Exposed, from writer Charles Randolph, Peter Traugott’s TBD Entertainment, Sweden-based Yellow Bird Entertainment and Universal TV. Based on the best-selling Swedish novels by Liza Marklund, Exposed centers on Anna (Winstead), an investigative journalist who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth, including making questionable alliances. Winstead turned down some half-dozen pilot offers this season before settling on Exposed. The actress, repped by WME and Anonymous Content, has been straddling the indie and mainstream feature worlds with roles in indies like the 2012 Smashed, which landed her an Indie Spirit nomination, and in such big-budget movies as A Good Day To Die Hard and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots