EXCLUSIVE: MTV and the network’s SVP scripted programming Justin Levy have parted ways. The decision was mutual and not unexpected given all the changes at MTV over the past few years. Levy joined the network in 2008. Two years later, David Janollari came over as head of scripted. When Janollari was elevated two years later, Levy and Clay Spencer, who had been brought in by Janollari, were made co-heads of scripted and upped to SVP in August 2012. Three months later, Susanne Daniels replaced Janollari and Spencer exited. Levy flew solo on the scripted side for a couple of months until Daniels brought in Mina Lefevre as SVP and head of scripted programming. During his tenure at MTV, Levy has been closely involved in the network’s most successful scripted franchises. He championed MTV’s breakout comedy Awkward and also played an integral part in the development and production of the other successful MTV series, Teen Wolf. Levy comes from a producing background, having joined MTV from Peter Berg’s company Film 44, where he oversaw development and produced Friday Night Lights, among other series.
Exactly a year after FX landed the spec for Tyrant in a competitive situation, the cable network has given the drama project from Homeland co-creators Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff and Six Feet Under alum Craig Wright a series order for a minimum of 10 episodes to debut next summer. Search is underway for a showrunner. The series pickup for Tyrant comes on the heels of FX’s series order to Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse’s The Strain. Along with American Horror Story a couple of years ago, Tyrant and The Strain were the only projects to land FX pilot orders off a pitch/spec. All three had such big commitments that a series order was all but certain and all three had received orders for backup scripts in anticipation of a series pickup. Tyrant, produced by Fox 21 and FX Prods., was the riskiest of the three with its Middle Eastern setting. It did hit several bumps along the way — original director Ang Lee exited, with David Yates stepping in. There were questions about where the series would be filmed (It will be shot in Tel Aviv after the pilot was done in Morocco.) I hear FX brass had reservations about the first cut of the pilot but loved the final one. “With Tyrant, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff and Craig Wright have produced a beautiful television pilot that will be a groundbreaking television series,” said FX Networks CEO John Landgraf. “Tyrant introduces characters and a world that have never been explored in a dramatic television series format. There is a reason a bidding war broke out over this project: it grabs you as all great epics do and simply refuses to let go!” Added 20th TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, “This is one of the most ambitious series we’ve ever set out to make and we couldn’t be more grateful to John and everyone at FX who believed in its potential since the very first pitch.”
ABC Family‘s new president is Tom Ascheim. Ascheim, who has served as EVP and General Manager of Nickelodeon Television and CEO of Newsweek, will start immediately. He succeeds Michael Riley, who announced his departure in September to relocate to the UK. The hire of Ascheim comes after an exhaustive search led by Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, that included vetting a number of internal Disney candidates (Riley also came from within the company) as well as outside ones. Those considered included Riley’s No. 2, EVP Original Programming and Development and Chief Creative Officer Kate Juergens, though, like she did when Riley’s predecessor Paul Lee left, she is expected to remain focused on the network’s programming as Sweeney reportedly searched for an executive with a strong business background. Ascheim certainly is a surprising choice. He wasn’t on people’s radar and is better known for his rocky tenure as Newsweek CEO than his TV experience. But he was on Sweeney’s radar from working together at Nickelodeon, leading to his dark-horse hire in the top ABC Family position over established TV executives who met for the job. “I knew Tom during my time at Nickelodeon, and always thought he was an incredibly smart, strategic executive,” said Sweeney, to whom Aschem will report. “Since then, he has only reinforced my opinion of his abilities. Whether in print, television, or the financial sector, Tom has gone from success to success.”
A+E Networks‘ long-gestating plan to convert Bio Channel into a lifestyle cable network has been made official today with the announcement that Bio will be rebranded as FYI next summer. (this is the network’s new logo on right)
One of Nancy Dubuc’s top priorities after becoming president and CEO of A+E Networks earlier this year has been revamping the group’s emerging networks: Bio, LMN and H2. As part of her turnaround plans, Dubuc tapped BBC executive Jana Bennett, who helped usher TLC into mainstream programming in the early 2000s, to run LMN and Bio. Bennett will now oversee FYI as president of FYI and LMN. The hire indicated Dubuc’s desire to add a lifestyle brand to her cable portfolio, led by History, A&E and Lifetime. Since she put the plan into motion in the spring, the lifestyle cable space opened up surprisingly when NBCU rebranded Style as male-focused Esquire. In preparation for Bio’s transformation, the network quietly started re-airing A&E’s house-flipping shows. It also had been actively developing new projects to fit Bio’s new identity, with 30 potential series in the works.
The SAG Awards are traditionally late to recognize new series — the guild failed to give Showtime’s Homeland a single nomination for the first season, which won Emmys for both of its stars (Claire Danes and Damian Lewis) as well as best drama series. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Julia Louis-Dreyfus, coming off two consecutive Emmy wins for her role on HBO’s Veep, landed her first SAG Award nominations for the show this morning — for best actress in a comedy series and best comedy ensemble. (Louis-Dreyfus has been nominated before for Seinfeld and The New Adventures Of Old Christine and has won individuals and ensemble honors for Seinfeld.) Also landing their first SAG TV nominations are Emmy nominees Kerry Washington for ABC’s Scandal and Don Cheadle for Showtime’s House Of Lies. And Emmy winner Peter Dinklage and Emmy nominee Mayim Bialik nabbed their first individual SAG noms for their hit series, Game Of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory, respectively, with both also earning ensemble noms.
Related: SAG Awards Nominations Announced
Of the new series creating buzz in 2013, only Netflix’s House Of Cards was recognized with a nom for star Kevin Spacey. Nothing for Showtime’s Ray Donovan or Masters Of Sex, both big actor showcases; FX’s The Americans; or Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black. And Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany continues to be shunned by the major awards races. Another “newcomer,” Netflix’s Arrested Development, returned to the SAG Awards field after a long hiatus. The series earned its third ensemble SAG nom and star Jason Bateman his second individual one, with the previous noms coming in 2005 and 2006 when the comedy aired on Fox. Arrested Development’s reunion season made for a SAG Awards first — an actor, Tony Hale, getting two best ensemble nominations for two concurrent series — Arrested and HBO’s Veep.
Even more than the Emmys, the SAG Awards continue to nominate the same performers year after year. Alec Baldwin is on his eighth consecutive nomination for 30 Rock, his co-star, series creator Tina Fey, on her seventh, as is the series’ ensemble. (Baldwin has won all seven times so far; Fey, four; the show’s entire cast, one). Like Baldwin, actresses Edie Falco, Jessica Lange and Maggie Smith have been nominated every year their shows have been eligible, with Falco getting a fifth consecutive nomination for Nurse Jackie and Lange and Smith landing third consecutive noms for American Horror Story and Downton Abbey, respectively. (Lange and Smith have won once, though Smith’s win was in the drama ensemble category last year.) Ditto for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and star Steve Buscemi, on their fourth consecutive noms for best drama ensemble and actor (with two wins in each category). But, surprisingly, another perennial SAG Awards favorite, The Good Wife‘s Julianna Margulies, who had been nominated for each of the series’ first four seasons, winning twice, was snubbed despite the series and Margulies getting praise for what is considered the series’ strongest season. Also failing to make the cut for the first time since the launch of her latest series was Hot In Cleveland star and SAG Awards darling Betty White, who had been nominated for three straight years, winning twice.
Showtime‘s Episodes has been renewed for a fourth season ahead of its Season 3 premiere. The comedy, a co-production with the BBC, has been picked up for a nine-episode fourth season to film next year. The third season of the series, starring Matt LeBlanc as a fictionalized version of himself, premieres January 12. It picks up with Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) — the English couple whose hit UK sitcom is remade for U.S. audiences and corrupted beyond recognition — back together but they soon discover it’s not so easy to heal old wounds. Things get no easier for Matt this year as his career and ego continue to be pummeled.
EXCLUSIVE: Spike TV has put in development Basket Case, a drama with a comedic bent based on the best-selling novel by author and journalist Carl Hiaasen, with Rob Reiner on board to direct and executive produce. The project, from FremantleMedia North America in association with Random House Television Prods. and Castle Rock Entertainment, will be written by Alex Taub (Drop Dead Diva). It centers on a great investigative reporter who has trouble dealing with authority, change, women, success, and most of all, corruption. After he savages his paper’s powerful new owner, he is demoted to the obituary desk, which gives him a unique window into suspicious deaths and weird goings on in crime-ridden Miami. Using an unusual team of friends, relatives, an ex-wife, newspaper misfits, and his beautiful new boss, he strives to regain his investigative credibility and a saner life. “Corruption, murder, and laughs. I can’t think of a more satisfying combination,” Reiner said. “Carl Hiaasen strikes the perfect balance. I’m so looking forward to entering his twisted world.” Added Hiaasen, “Among writers of satire, Spinal Tap stands as a work of genius. I’m excited to see what Rob will do with my twisted little novel.”
When it signaled a return to scripted series in April, Spike bet heavily on event series, which made up its entire spring scripted development slate. The deal for Basket Case does not mean a change of course. “Though our primary focus has been on finding marquee Limited Event Series, we have vowed that when an unbelievable opportunity for a series presents itself, we will be ready to pounce,” said Spike TV’s EVP Sharon Levy: “It doesn’t get much better than Hiaasen and Reiner for Spike.”
Because of the discrepancy between the broadcast TV season (September-May) and the eligibility period for the SAG Awards (calendar year), broadcast series get an extra shot at SAG Awards for the January-May portion of their final seasons. NBC’s 30 Rock did one better today, landing three SAG nominations despite airing only five episodes during the 2013 calendar year — the series’ final five installments.
According to the SAG Awards rule book, eligible on the comedy side are “30 minute comedy series (with a minimum 21-23 minutes of actual programming content) with an ongoing theme and storyline in a minimum of six continuous episodes (reducible to a storyline of four continuous episodes in the cases in which the series is subject to a “short order.”) 30 Rock was not a subject of a short order; its final season included 13 episodes. But it qualified as SAG Awards’ eligibility rules are different for final seasons, said SAG Awards executive producer Kathy Connell. “In a final season, we allow a show to wrap as long it is in the calendar year,” and the six-episode minimum does not apply, she said.
UPDATE TUESDAY: While no side is discussing financials, I’ve learned more about the size of the deal, in which Legendary Entertainment acquired Asylum. I hear that Legendary ended up paying about eight times what Asylum is projected to make in terms of profits in 2014, which comes to a price tag just north of $100 million. Asylum is set to clear $12-$13 million next year, about three times what the company made in profits this year, as its balance sheet will be bolstered by the one-year output deal Asylum recently inked with ReelzChannel to deliver 50 hours of unscripted programming for the network in 2014, distributed over 10 series. While 8x multiple is within the range for a high-end deal, I hear Asylum’s decision to go with Legendary vs. the other suitors bidding for it came down to the plans Legendary had for the company’s future. In anticipation of the sale, Asylum has been aggressively staffing up in the last couple of months, hiring Stephanie Lydecker as SVP of Development to oversee unscripted development and Joan Harrison as SVP Scripted Programming & Development to oversee miniseries and limited series, as well as signing a pod deal with reality producer Sean Travis.
PREVIOUS MONDAY: In its first company acquisition on the TV side, in a competitive situation Legendary Entertainment has bought 100% of TV production company Asylum Entertainment, producer of The Kennedys miniseries. Asylum will be part of Legendary Television & Digital Media. While Legendary Television will remains focused on producing Legendary-branded scripted content, Asylum will serve as a production label for non-scripted, long-form, sports and other genres. Asylum will continue to operate as an independent company run by its founders, president and CEO Steve Michaels and president and chief creative officer Jonathan Koch, who will report to Bruce Rosenblum, President of Legendary Television and Digital Media.
EXCLUSIVE: The Divine Miss M. is taking on the great Mae West. HBO Films has put in development Mae West, a movie about the true Hollywood original, with Bette Midler attached to star and executive produce. The project is the brainchild of William Friedkin (The Exorcist), who will direct and executive produce. Broadway heavyweight Harvey Fierstein, who recently penned the book for Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots, is writing the script. Also executive producing is Jerry Weintraub, who executive produced HBO Films’ Emmy-winning Behind The Candelabra. Mae West, based on West’s autobiography Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, chronicles West’s rise to stardom when she takes New York by storm after writing and starring in her scandalous Broadway show Sex and battles authorities over obscenity charges. Instead of taking the road of a wide-eyed Hollywood ingenue, West forged her own path, writing and starring in her own risqué plays, including her breakthrough Sex, which had her prosecuted and sentenced to 10 days in prison for “corrupting the morals of youth.” The notoriety fueled her career and didn’t stop her from tackling taboo subjects in her next plays, including 1928 hit Diamond Lil, about a racy 1890s woman, which opened the doors to Hollywood for her.