It’s been a rough week for one of the Worldwide Leader’s most prominent voices. But the next seven days should be easier for Stephen A. Smith now that ESPN has suspended him for on-air comments he made women provoking domestic violence. ”Stephen A. Smith will not appear on First Take or ESPN Radio for the next week,” the sports giant said in statement today. “He will return to ESPN next Wednesday.” (Read ESPN President John Skipper’s statement to employees below.) On Friday morning’s episode of First Take, Smith was debating with archfoil Skip Bayless about the NFL’s two-game suspension of Ray Rice after the star running back was seen on video dragging his then-fiancée out of an elevator. “There’s never an excuse to put your hands on a woman,” the often polarizing analyst said at one point in his nearly 2 1/2-minute monologue (watch it below). But later he added: “We also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying. No point of blame.”
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that British actor Simon Kassianides (Quantum Of Solace) has joined the second season of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a major recurring role. He will play Bakshi, a confident right-hand man who’s not afraid to do the dirty work. Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres September 23. Kassianides, repped by Don Buchwald & Associates and Sanders.Armstrong.Caserta Management, is one of several new cast additions, along with Lucy Lawless, who will play longtime S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Isabel Hartley; British actor Nick Blood, playing a mercenary; and Reed Diamond. Kassianides will next be seen in Relativity’s Desert Dancer.
Online video site Pluto.TV will launch a James Brown-focused channel, streaming for free his classic 1960s-era live performances and timed with the Friday debut of “Get On Up,” a biopic about the “Godfather of Soul,” starring Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis and directed by Tate Taylor.
The programming is coming from videos of Brown performances on the T.A.M.I. Show, a 1968 concert at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a documentary about Brown’s riot-quelling show in Boston the night that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and other video material collected by the music- and TV-reissue specialists at Shout Factory into a three-DVD set called I’ve Got a Feeling – James Brown in the ’60s. The videos will run from 9 a.m. Friday through the weekend, then be available on demand.
The Los Angeles-based Pluto.TV offers more than 100 channels of free online video, including ones for music, sports, entertainment, and children’s programming.
UPDATE: 5:37PM: The company behind SportsNet LA isn’t getting any sympathy from the country’s top satellite TV provider regarding the impasse over Dodgers telecasts in Los Angeles. DirecTV issued an unambiguous statement today in the wake of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler blaming Time Warner Cable for the mess and threatening to take action if it isn’t resolved soon. And the satcaster believes it speaks for a number of pay TV rivals: “We agree with Congressman Sherman that any loyal Dodger fans deserve the opportunity to see games,” DirecTV said, “yet not at the expense of the millions of other AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications, Verizon FiOS and other families who have little or no interest in paying for Time Warner Cable’s excess. Rather than force everyone to bail Time Warner Cable out, the simplest solution is to enable only those who want to pay to see the remaining Dodgers games to do so at the price Time Warner Cable wants to set.”
Earlier today, TWC said it was open to having an arbitrator settle the matter, but DirecTV has shown no interest in that idea. “We are willing to enter into binding arbitration with DirecTV, and we appreciate the Congressman’s concern for Dodger fans,” TWC spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi said in a statement. “We prefer to reach agreements through private business negotiations, but given the current circumstance, we are willing to agree to binding arbitration and to allow DirecTV customers to watch the Dodgers games while the arbitration is concluded
PREVIOUSLY: 1:17PM: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has had it with the disputes that have kept most Los Angeles area pay TV customers from seeing the Dodgers — whose local TV rights are controlled by Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet LA. “Inaction is no longer acceptable,” Wheeler says in a tough letter today to TWC chief Rob Marcus. “I strongly urge you to end the impasses that are depriving Los Angeles consumers from being able to watch their home baseball team.” He adds that the FCC “intends to monitor this situation closely in order to determine whether intervention is appropriate and necessary.”
Announced early last year, SportsNet LA was born out of the 25-year, multibillion-dollar deal Time Warner Cable inked with the Dodgers for broadcast rights. Sources say TWC is seeking $4-$5 per subscriber per month for channel in the first year of the contract. Roughly 70% of LA remains without SportsNet including DirecTV, which has close to a 30% share of the market with more than 1.2 million subs.
Giancarlo Esposito has joined the cast of NYC-set musical drama Stuck, about six strangers trapped on a stalled subway train. Filming is underway with a cast that includes Amy Madigan and singer-actress Ashanti. Esposito will play Lloyd, a mysterious homeless man who might offer more wisdom than expected.
Stuck is adapted from the stage play by Riley Thomas, who co-scripted with director Michael Berry; the helmer is set to release his drama Frontera, also co-starring Madigan alongside Ed Harris, Eva Longoria, and Michael Peña, this month. Esposito starred on the recent NBC series Revolution and was just announced as joining the cast of Disney’s The Jungle Book. He’s also in pre-production on his own project Patriotic Treason which he’ll direct, produce, and co-star opposite Ed Harris in the period retelling of the saga of abolitionist John Brown.
EXCLUSIVE: To Tell The Truth is eyeing a comeback. FremantleMedia North America has teamed with Jeff Gaspin and George Moll on a new version of the classic celebrity panel game show. Eyed for primetime on the broadcast networks, the new To Tell The Truth is described as an update of the familiar format with a surprising new twist that adds action and suspense and raises the stakes. It will be taken out to buyers shortly.
Created by Bob Stewart, To Tell The Truth launched in the U.S. in 1956 and has gone through several incarnations on network TV and in syndication, airing a total of 25 seasons to date, with its most recent run ending in 2001. The original format features a panel of four celebrities who are introduced to three people who all claim to be the same person with the same incredible talent. One of them is telling the truth, and the other two are lying. After asking questions, the celebrities take turns identifying who they believe is telling the truth.
AT&T customers should start to see fewer buffering delays when they watch Netflix as a result of the new interconnection deal. The actual agreement was made in May. Since then they’ve “been working together to provision additional interconnect capacity to improve the viewing experience for our mutual subscribers,” the companies say. “We’re now beginning to turn up the connections, a process that should be complete in the coming days.”
Netflix has complained that the deals that require it to pay to improve the quality of its transmissions effectively run afoul of the FCC’s goal to promote net neutrality. It has agreements with Comcast and Verizon similar to the new one with AT&T. Comcast, for one, has countered that Netflix is one of the biggest users of Internet bandwidth. What’s more, net neutrality rules apply to the links between an Internet service provider and the consumer, not the ones connecting content providers to ISPs.
Related: The ABCs Of Net Neutrality
The FCC is investigating these so-called peering arrangements as part of its effort to craft new net neutrality rules.
EXCLUSIVE: Eleven-year-old actress Oona Laurence, who received a special Tony honor last year for her Broadway run in Matilda, has joined indie drama Lamb. Ross Partridge (The Off Hours, Baghead) writes, directs, and stars in the film as David Lamb, a man on a mission of self-discovery after the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. He road trips from Chicago to the Rockies with awkward and unpopular 11-year-old Tommie (Laurence), determined to help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness. Jess Weixler (The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby) also stars in the adaptation of Bonnie Nadzam’s debut novel.
Lamb is the sophomore feature from Partridge, whose web series Wedlock starring Rob Corddry was co-created with EP Mark Duplass and screened at SXSW. Mel Eslyn (The One I Love) is producing with Taylor Williams (Of All The Things). Wedlock‘s Jennifer Lafleur is co-producer. Shooting is scheduled for this summer in Wyoming.
James L Brooks, who created iconic TV series including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi and The Simpsons and who three Oscars as writer, director and producer of Terms Of Endearment, has inked with WME. The 20-time Emmy winner is founder of Simpsons producer Gracie Films and has 10 Academy Award nominations overall including for writing and producing Broadcast News (1987), producing Jerry Maguire (1996) and producing and co-writing As Good As It Gets (1997). He will continue to be represented by Sam Fischer at Ziffren Brittenham.
WME also recently signed writer-producers Ian Goldberg (Once Upon A Time) and Patrick Harbinson (Homeland).
Harry Potter, The Hobbit and now … Dragonriders Of Pern? On an endless search to find big-scale fantasy books that lend themselves to global franchises, Warner Bros has optioned the Pern book series from the estate of American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey. There is a lot to work with here, with 22 volumes that make it one of the biggest selling sci-fi series ever. The first book was published in 1968, and the focus is on an elite group of warriors who take to the skies on the backs of giant, fire-breathing dragons with telepathic powers. They try to save the exotic planet of Pern from a terrifying airborne menace — a rain of deadly spores that comes with the orbit of the Red Star.
The deal was spearheaded by Warner Bros exec Drew Crevello, who joined the studio only a couple of months ago after writing for two years. He previously had been in production at Fox as a VP, where he worked on the X-Men franchise pics. Warners’ Julia Spiro also is working on the project. The series option deal comes as the studio searches keenly for another big franchise; this one could launch an entire merchandising and licensing product line. Just as important, it could be the fantasy the studio craves after Warner Bros rode Harry Potter into The Hobbit, which winds down later …
Social-media service Twitter saw its shares fly skyward, jumping as high as 31 percent in after-hours trading after it reported much better earnings and continued user growth. The shares closed on the NYSE up 66 cents for the day, or about 1.7 percent, at $38.59 a share. Within less than two hours of post-market trading, however, the shares had hit as high as $49.99, a jump of more than $11, or 29.5 percent, just since the market close.
The big rise was fueled by Twitter’s better-than-expected earnings, up more than double for the quarter, and signs that its efforts to attract and keep new users were paying off. Revenues for Q2 hit $312.2M, way up from a year ago’s $139.3M, and also well above its own guidance of $270M to $280M. The company remains unprofitable, however, with losses widening to $144.6 million, up from $42.2 million the previous year, though that included costs such as stock-based compensation. Minus those expenses, the company logged a profit of 2 cents a share, way up from last year’s loss of 12 cents a share.
Jim Gaffigan single-camera comedy pilot is getting a series order at TV Land. After lengthy negotiations, the cable network has closed a deal for a 10-episode order to project, created by Gaffigan and Peter Tolan, which is now titled The Gaffigan Show. Originally developed and produced by Sony TV and twice piloted by CBS, the comedy will stay single-camera and will remain based in New York where Gaffigan lives with his family and where the two CBS pilots were shot. It will premiere on TV Land in 2015. Sony TV will have a passive role in the series, which became possible after TV Land was able to bring the budget down. Also boarding the project is TV Land sibling Comedy Central, which will air the episodes within one week after their TV Land premiere. The synergy is natural as Gaffigan is a very well liked comedian with strong following on Comedy Central, and the airings on the comedy-themed network would expose the series to a larger audience. While sibling Viacom channels have pitched in to help each other in the past, like Logo coming on board to co-produce Comedy Central’s Sarah Silveman Program to make its renewal financially possible, in this case the shared window is described as a purely promotional move, with TV Land footing the entire bill for the series.
The Originals‘ Claire Holt is set as one of the leads opposite David Duchovny in NBC‘s upcoming series Aquarius, a gritty 1960s drama about a cop (Duchovny) who goes undercover to track Charles Manson and the Manson Family before their infamous murder spree. Holt, repped by CAA and Affirmative Entertainment, will play Officer Charmain Tully, a beautiful young officer who is dying to be taken seriously, but in the male-dominated world of the LAPD in 1967, that’s not easy. Holt’s credits also include the movie Messengers II: The Scarecrow and a recurring role on Pretty Little Liars.
Nickelodeon has ordered 26 episodes of 100 Things To Do Before High School, a new live-action comedy series from Big Time Rush creator/executive producer Scott Fellows. The half-hour, single-camera series follows three best friends as they navigate the highs and lows of middle school using a bucket list of adventures that help them overcome class cliques, bullies and clueless teachers. The series begins shooting in LA in the fall. It’s the kids network’s latest live-action play: It also has Henry Danger and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, both of which premiere in September, and Bella And The Bulldogs.
Fellows, most recently a staff writer on The Fairly OddParents, also created and executive produced Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and DHX Media’s Johnny Test. The pickup of 100 Things comes after the departure of Nickelodeon‘s SVP Live-Action Development Brian Wright in May; he ended up at Netfilx. Wright originally shepherded Big Time Rush at the network among other hit series.
EXCLUSIVE: Maverick TV, producer of USA’s breakout docu-comedy Chrisley Knows Best, has teamed with Serious Business, the creators/executive producers of another breakout comedic program, Comedy Central‘s late-night entry @midnight, to develop #ThrowbackThursday, a new panel comedy series that taps into the hugely popular social-media phenomenon of sharing “throwback” photos and videos from the past every Thursday.
Funny and nostalgic #TBT pictures and videos will be presented by a host to a panel of top comedians, who will riff and poke fun at the embarrassing things people used to wear, say, and do. Adam Greener and Jim Sayer will executive produce for All3Media‘s Maverick TV, along with All3Media America’s Eli Holzman and Stephen Lambert and Serious Business principals Alex Blagg, Jason Nadler, and Jon Zimelis. The project is expected to be pitched to networks soon.
The company is careful to note in the proxy filed today at the SEC that CEO Jon Feltheimer‘s new package looks especially big because it has to count the full value of equity that actually vests over several years. Still, the sum for the fiscal year ending in March is extraordinary — and likely will make him one of the nation’s top paid CEOs this year. The Lionsgate chief’s package consists of: $1.5M salary, $11.7M stock awards, $41.5M option awards, $8.8M non-equity incentives, and $197,201 in other compensation. The “other” category includes $23,884 in club membership dues and $170,385 for personal use of the company aircraft.
Lionsgate’s board credits Feltheimer for leading “another strong year for the Company,” which included hits led by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Now You See Me as well as gains at Epix and a new partnership with CBS to run TVGN. Lionsgate shares only rose 6% in the fiscal year, though, as investors began to wonder whether the company could sustain its hot streak after 2015 when the Hunger Games series ends.
Last year, Vice Chairman Michael Burns’ compensation stood out, at $28.2M with a new contract. This year it came in at $8.5M.
To quote the Thing from the Fantastic Four – “It’s clobberin time!” Just two days after Jack Kirby was honored at Comic-Con, lawyers for the heirs of the comic legend have replied to Marvel and Disney with a pummeling brief filed at the Supreme Court. “Respondents, although called to respond, do not address the legal issues. Instead, they focus on the wrong questions and the wrong court,” say lawyer Marc Toberoff and Tom Goldstein, a new attorney on the case, today. After failing repeatedly in lower courts, Lisa Kirby, Neal Kirby, Susan Kirby and Barbara Kirby petitioned the High Court on March 21 for a hearing. The heirs want SCOTUS to rule in favor of their assertion that they had the right in 2009 to issue dozens of termination notices to Marvel and others on the artist’s characters under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act.
EXCLUSIVE: The six-part adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic War And Peace is beginning to cast up. I hear that Downton Abbey’s Lily James and Prisoners’ Paul Dano have offers for lead roles and are seriously circling. The mini hails from BBC Worldwide, The Weinstein Co and Ripper Street‘s Look Out Point. Described as one of the most ambitious event series ever made for the BBC, it will be produced by BBC Cymru Wales and scripted by Andrew Davies. James would play Natasha Rostova, one of the novel’s central characters, who ultimately falls in love with Pierre Bezukhov, the awkward illegitimate son who rises in society but leads a tumultuous life as he seeks to overcome his emotions. Dano would play Pierre. In King Vidor’s 1956 feature adaptation, the roles were played by Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.
The notoriously expansive novel begins in 1805 Russia and revolves around five aristocratic families set against the backdrop of the reign of Alexander I, the lingering effects of his grandmother Catherine The Great’s rule and the events surrounding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Executive producers on the mini are BBC Cymru Wales drama chief Faith Penhale, BBC Wales’ George Ormond, Davies, Look Out Point’s Simon Vaughn and Harvey Weinstein.
The miniseries is due for air in the UK in 2015 and was a first sign of The Weinstein Co’s ambitions to forge into the European TV arena when it was announced in October. The company subsequently teamed with the BBC and Look Out on upcoming TV movie Stan And Ollie, which is being scripted by Philomena’s Jeff Pope. TWC also acquired U.S. TV and VOD rights for the first three seasons of BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders.
Stating that “the future of California’s creative culture and economy depends on it,” 28 members of the California Democratic congressional delegation weighed in on runaway production, urging the state legislature to approve, and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign, an enhanced tax credit to keep film and TV production from fleeing the state. “We fear a day, not too far off, when the film industry in California is hollowed out and it becomes easier to produce a movie or television show in New York or Louisiana than in California,” the delegation said in a statement sent to California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. “As production moves out of our state, skilled human capital will relocate along with it, and our greatest competitive advantage, our talented workforce will move elsewhere. If that happens, it will be a tragedy for our state’s economy and our cultural history.”