Ramping up its strategy to build a broad international content business, Britain’s Sky has acquired a 70% stake in Love Productions. The UK-based maker of Great British Bake Off was founded in 2004 by Richard McKerrow and Anna Beattie. Love has production bases in London, Bristol, NY and LA. Its other credits include Great British Sewing Bee and factual programming Baby Borrowers, Famous Rich And Homeless and the controversial welfare documentary Benefits Street which caused a stir on Channel 4 earlier this year. The indie will continue to operate as a distinct company under its new ownership structure and will produce for all major UK broadcasters. McKerrow and Beattie will continue to run the company with the current senior management team. Sky’s international distribution business, Sky Vision, will become Love’s distribution partner, representing all new finished programs and formats. Sky already has development deals with U.S. and UK production companies including Ugly Brother Studios, back2back productions and Roughcut TV. The acquisition is a further step in the consolidation of the indie TV sector with such companies as ITV, Warner Bros, Red Arrow and Sony acquiring stakes in successful producers on both sides of the Atlantic. The move also highlights Sky’s push to increase its footprint across broadcasting, production and distribution. In May, Sky acknowledged speculation over its potential acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s interests in European pay-TV groups Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia. At the time, it said it had “initiated preliminary discussions with 21st Century …
John Malone’s Liberty Global has been on an acquisitions spree in Europe over the past year, and while the company says it does not intend to make a takeover bid for the whole, it has purchased a 6.4% stake in the UK’s leading commercial broadcaster ITV. Liberty has acquired 259.8 million shares in ITV from BSkyB for approximately £481M ($824M), the company said in a statement early Thursday morning.
Flagship CBS comedy series The Big Bang Theory is slated to go into production on its upcoming eighth season on July 30. But with only two weeks to go, the entire original cast of the hit comedy is still without contracts. I hear the two sides are still far apart and there has been little dialogue.
The situation resembles the 2010 salary renegotiations when Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar too faced the start of production in the midst of talks with producing studio Warner Bros. TV. The difference is that back then, they had existing contracts and were obligated to show up for work, which they did while their teams were negotiating big pay bumps behind the scenes. This time around, none of the five have deals in place as their contracts on the show expired at the end of last season. Big Bang‘s newest cast members, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik, who renegotiated their contracts last fall with substantial salary increases, are the only actors currently under contracts.
That means that, if new deals with the Original Five are not reached in the next two weeks, production on Season 8 may be pushed. I hear that even if Big Bang doesn’t start start production until after Labor Day, it still is expected to be able to deliver an hourlong season premiere for September 22 but insiders do not think things would go that far. (Big Bang‘s 2010 salary renegotiations didn’t wrap until September.) Warner Bros. TV is known for going down to the wire but being able to close big cast deals on time, including multiple negotiations on Two And A Half Men.
HBO Films Nabs Adaptation Of LBJ Play ‘All The Way’ With Bryan Cranston Starring & Steven Spielberg Producing
HBO Films has landed the rights to Robert Schenkkan’s play All The Way, which last month won the Tony for best play and best leading actor in Bryan Cranston. Emmy winner Cranston will reprise his role as President Lyndon Johnson, with Pulitzer Prize-winner Schenkkan writing the adaptation. The film will be produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television as well as Tale Told Prods. and Moon Shot Entertainment, with Spielberg, Darryl Frank & Justin Falvey, Schenkkan and Cranston executive producing and James Degus co-executive producing.
As Deadline reported last month, Spielberg recently optioned the play with the intention of adapting it for TV with Cranston as the star. Him teaming with HBO is not a surprise given their long history with the Emmy-winning epic miniseries Band Of Brothers and The Pacific, the latter of which Schenkkan worked on as a writer and co-producer.
Susan Heyward Lands Female Lead In Sony Playstation Series ‘Powers’, Max Fowler & Adam Godley Also Cast
EXCLUSIVE: Coming off a recurring role on the Fox drama The Following, Susan Heyward has been tapped as the female lead in Powers, the Sony Playstation Network series based on the graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. Also cast in the direct-to-series project, whose first two episodes will be directed by David Slade from scripts by Charlie Huston, are Max Fowler (The Killing) and Adam Godley (Breaking Bad, Suits).
Combining the genres of superhero fantasy, crime noir and police procedural, Powers, produced by Sony Pictures TV, is set in a world full of people with superhuman abilities and where all of those powers are just another catalyst for mayhem and murder. It follows the lives of two homicide detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim (Heyward), who are assigned to protect humans like us and investigate cases involving people with superhuman abilities, referred to as Powers who glide through the sky on lightning bolts and fire and who clash above cities in epic battle, oblivious to the mortals below. Pilgrim is described as equal parts beauty and sarcasm, a wunderkind detective with edgy style.
NCIS alum Cote de Pablo has been tapped to star in CBS’ The Dovekeepers, a four-hour miniseries from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to air in 2015. The project is based on Alice Hoffman’s acclaimed historical novel about four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada. De Pablo, repped by Paradigm, Management 360, and attorneys Melanie Cook and Jamie Asifi, will play Shirah, one of the four women, who is a sensual, mysterious and fiercely independent single mother with uncanny insights and a quiet and mysterious power. She is derided by many as the “Witch of Moab,” as she covertly practices forbidden ancient rites of magic and is keenly knowledgeable about herbal remedies. However, those in need don’t hesitate to approach her for her help and generosity of spirit.
Related: Cote De Pablo To Depart CBS’ ‘NCIS’
They’re not quite ready to declare the production state of emergency in the City of Angels over, but today even the notorious pessimistic FilmLA saw things looking up – especially in the TV categories. A Q2 2014 report released by the nonprofit permitting group this morning said total on-location television production in LA County roared up 33.7% over the same quarter last year to 5,761 PPD. The report attributes the “ unseasonably strong” results to shifting production schedules as broadcasters get episode of shows like the upcoming TNT series, Legends in shape for summer airing. The news was nowhere near as good today when it came to feature film production in L.A. County this quarter compared to Q2 2013 but minimal ground was lost, which is a victory unto itself as the region as been hit so hard by runaway production in recent years. Quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year, Q2 2014 dipped 5.3% from Q2 2013 to 1,665 PPD. That reasonably steady result gets a bit sour when you look at Q1 2014. That quarter saw a 24.2% rise compared to the year before for features. However, this quarter, both features and TV production exceed their respective 5-year quarterly average with the former up a mere 0.1% while the latter rocketed up 34.0%.
EXCLUSIVE: Saturday Night Live is going through the first phase of annual cast changeover, which involves not bringing back some existing players. As usual, most affected are first-year actors. I’ve learned that the contracts of Noël Wells and John Milhiser, who joined SNL as featured players last September, are not being renewed, joining fellow rookie Brooks Wheelan, who announced his dismissal yesterday on Twitter.
Things are murkier about Michael Patrick O’Brien, who made his debut as a featured player last season after a four-year stint as a writer on the show. I hear discussions are underway for O’Brien’s future on the show that could involve him returning to the writing staff or continuing to have an-screen presence if he stays on. With anchoring experience on the popular Web series 7 Minutes In Heaven, some have been calling for him to get a shot at co-hosting Weekend Update.
At the top of ABC’s TCA presentation, topper Paul Lee announced an overall deal with Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave writer John Ridley. The pact with ABC Studios comes on the heel of ABC’s pickup of his dark drama pilot American Crime to series for this coming season. “He is an extraordinary showrunner,” Lee said of Ridley, who started his career in television before segueing to features.
Spike TV is partnering with Pierce Brosnan’s Irish Dreamtime, Mark Sennet Entertainment, Michael Finch and Oscar-winning writer David Franzoni to develop a script for an event series based on the Crusades. The Crusaders takes place during the Third Crusade, after the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin’s armies, and centers on two very different knights who journey from Scotland to the Holy Land for very different reasons. This is the second Crusade-themed project to surface in recent months. In May, History announced it was teaming with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron on a four-hour miniseries which tracks the origins of the mystic medieval Christian order known as Knights Templar. The mini tells the true story of three brothers, all knights, during the first Crusade, as they make the long journey through the Holy Lands to recapture Jerusalem, ultimately bringing rise to the Knights Templar.
Oxygen Media is getting a makeover. The network debuted its new logo and tagline – “very real” – today at Summer TV Press Tour. It’s part of Oxygen’s rebrand targeting young modern women initally announced in April and scheduled to launch on Tuesday, October 7 across all platforms. The network also announced two additional series It Takes A Sister and After Happily Ever After, for a total 9 new shows, along with three development projects, The Assistants, Party Inc., and Stranded At Work. They join Oxygen’s upcoming lineup including Sisterhood Of Hip Hop, Nail’d It, My Crazy Love, Street Art Throwdown, Funny Girls, Living Different, Fix My Choir and a second season of the hit series Preachers of L.A. Here are details on Oxygen’s newly picked up series and projects in development:
EXCLUSIVE: Having just revived NBC’s Community, Yahoo might be looking to do the same with another recently cancelled cult broadcast comedy series, Fox‘s Enlisted. I hear talks are under way between the online giant and Enlisted producer 20th Century Fox TV for a second season of the military series, created by Kevin Biegel, on Yahoo’s streaming service Yahoo Screen. Sources cautioned that the conversations are preliminary and it’s unclear whether they would result in a deal.
Much like Community, Enlisted has a passionate and loyal following, something that is attractive to digital platforms which crave core groups of passionate fans. Interestingly, following the news of Yahoo’s deal for another season of Community, Enlisted fans targeted Yahoo Screen with a major save-our-show campaign, pitching the service a Community/Enlisted double feature.
The sixth and final season of Fox’s musical dramedy Glee will consist of 13 episodes, which will run consecutively in midseason. The decision is not unexpected, especially after the series was not featured on the Fox fall schedule for the first time at the upfronts. At the time, then-Fox chairman Kevin Reilly hinted the possibility that the final season order, originally at 24 episodes, could be trimmed. “We’re going to sit down and talk [with co-creator/exec producer Ryan Murphy] about how to end the show and how many that is,” he said. That discussion has been held, and a decision has been made for a 13-episode final chapter. Fox committed to a two-season pickup of Glee in 2013. But, following a ratings bump at the beginning of the season when the show dealt with the sudden death of star Cory Monteith, Glee‘s numbers slipped to very low levels. Because of Monteith’s passing, Glee‘s fifth season also was trimmed, to 20 episodes. The show is facing a major creative reboot in Season 6, moving to a new location. “It really is a lovely, fitting season that dwells on the original people on the show and what happens to them and how they give back,” Murphy said in April. “We’ll revisit some of the new kids that came and went, there’s a return of [Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester] and [Matthew Morrison's Will Schuester] in a big way.”
Lifetime Orders Drama Pilot Based On ‘Clan Of The Cave Bear’ Novel With Ron Howard, Brian Grazer & Allison Shearmur Exec Producing
Lifetime has ordered drama pilot The Clan Of The Cave Bear based on Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children novels. The project, targeted for a potential 2015 launch, is being produced by Fox 21 and Lionsgate in association with Imagine Television and Allison Shearmur Productions. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are exec producing along with Allison Shearmur (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Cinderella), Linda Woolverton (Maleficent, The Lion King), Francie Calfo (Gang Related, Empire) and Jean M. Auel. Woolverton is writing the pilot.
The first book in the series, The Clan Of The Cave Bear, takes place at a time in prehistory more than 25,000 years ago when Neanderthals shared the Earth with the first early modern humans and a band of cave dwellers adopt blond and blue-eyed Ayla, a child of the “Others.” As Ayla matures into a young woman of spirit and courage, she must fight for survival against the jealous bigotry of Broud, who will one day be clan leader.
BBC America said today that it has greenlighted Tatau, a drama from the producers of Being Human. The series is set in the Cook Islands, a paradise in the middle of the Pacific. The eight-episode season is written by Richard Zajdlic and co-produced by Touchpaper TV (Being Human) and South Pacific Pictures for BBC Three in association with BBC America. Filming starts in September, and casting will be announced.
The drama follows Kyle Connor and Pete “Budgie” Griffiths, twentysomething friends from London who set off to travel the world. They’ve worked hard, saved even harder and they’re now eager to soak up as many different cultures and experiences as possible. Ahead of the journey, Kyle gets a Maori-style tattoo to celebrate their eventual destination: the Cook Islands. But upon his arrival in the South Pacific, he is unsettled by the local people’s reaction to his tattoo – it clearly has a significance that he is entirely unaware of. Later, while snorkeling in a lagoon, Kyle discovers the dead body of a local girl, Aumea, tied up underwater. When he returns with the police, the corpse has disappeared. Budgie questions if his friend is going mad, but Kyle begins to believe that he instead has seen into the future. Kyle and Budgie find themselves sucked into a desperate race to prevent Aumea’s murder, as Kyle learns that his gifts don’t stop at prophecy — and the full meaning of the tattoo soon is revealed. Tatau is an ambitious drama that explores the questions of identity, love and destiny.
Kate Juergens, the executive behind ABC Family‘s defining original programming including Pretty Little Liars, The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, Switched At Birth and The Fosters, is exiting her post as Chief Creative Officer and EVP Original Content. The move was announced today via a staff memo from ABC Family President Tom Ascheim (read it below). He said her departure will result in a restructuring at the Disney cable network that includes the exit of SVP Acquisitions and Scheduling Lynn Stepanian, the odd person out in a new plan to combine Business Strategy, Planning & Development and Scheduling & Acquisitions under one roof and one leader. Both Juergens and Stepanian are departing later this week, and a search is underway for the new position.
Juergens was Michael Riley’s No. 2 until his departure in September as ABC Family president. She was tipped to be a front-runner for the top job, much as she was in the mix as the top development executive when Paul Lee left as network president in 2010 — she did not make a play for the post then. Ascheim, a former Nickelodeon GM and CEO of Newsweek, eventually was hired in December after a search led by Anne Sweeney, then co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group (Sweeney reportedly searched for an executive with a strong business background).
Juergens said in her own memo to staff today that she began discussions about leaving the network “several months ago.” Ascheim asked her to stay through pilot season, which originally included pickups for three drama pilots; one, Alice In Arabia, about an American teenage girl kidnapped by her extended royal Saudi Arabian family and forced to live with them, was pulled four days after it was announced amid pressure from a Muslim advocacy group.
Stepanian was hired by Riley for her current post in June 2012 from TV Guide Network. In her role she was responsible for off-network series and feature acquisitions as well as overseeing the strategic scheduling of all on-air linear content and longform video.
Here’s Ascheim’s memo, followed by one from Juergens:
The Americans’ Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have inked overall production deals with FX Productions, the company announced today. The 2-year agreements between the Cold War-based drama’s creator/EP and showrunner will cover all projects developed for TV as well as their work on The Americans itself. “Working with Joe and Joel on The Americans has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Eric Schrier as he and fellow Presidents of Original Programming, FX Networks and FX Productions Nick Grad made the new deals public. “Joel and Joe are two of the most talented, genuine, gracious, and hardest-working guys in the business. We look forward to creating more great programs with each of them.”
The feeling is obviously mutual as former CIA employee and novelist Weisberg made clear. “I actually wanted to sign a 30-year deal, but the actuaries wouldn’t sign off on it,” said Weisberg. “I look forward to continuing our work together on The Americans and to developing some terrific new material with them as well,” added Fields of his work with Weisberg and FX. The critically acclaimed The Americans recently completed its second season and is coming back for a third cycle next year.
EXCLUSIVE: He waited just over a month to make his next move and now Brian Wright is making his home at Netflix. The former Nickelodeon SVP of live-action development will lead the charge on original kids and family programming for the streaming service, I’ve learned. In his senior exec role, Wright will report to Cindy Holland, who is Netflix’s VP, Content Acquisition/Original Series. Wright’s new duties will see him overseeing exclusive live-action, animated and pre-school series for Netflix and Netflix Kids like DreamWorks Animation‘s Turbo FAST series.
As my colleague Nellie Andreeva reported on May 27, Wright exited Nickelodeon that day after 7 years at the kid’s basic cable network. His exit came just four months after Nickelodeon upped head of casting Sarah Noonan to SVP Live Action Content, overseeing live-action development and production. Previous to joining the Viacom-owned Nickelodeon, Wright was at Lifetime as well as Greg Berlanti’s production company at WBTV.
UPDATED, 12:50PM: Leaders of SAG-AFTRA, calling their new film and TV contract “historic,” have something to celebrate this Fourth of July. The tentative new contract, reached early this morning after two months of hard bargaining, achieved the major goal of the union going into the talks: the merger of its two separate TV contracts.
When SAG-AFTRA merged in 2012, it was stuck with two separate pension and health plans and two separate TV contracts, which allowed TV producers to shop for the best terms. This anomaly created a landslide of producers rushing to shoot their projects under AFTRA’s TV contract, which was threatening to dry up employer contributions to SAG’s pension and health plan.
The new contract also achieved the first industry-wide agreement for performers in basic cable production, which now will be incorporated into the new Television Agreement.
In short, it’s a huge victory for the union, and a major milestone on the road to completing the merger of the two unions that was started two years ago.
“Unifying the legacy SAG and AFTRA contracts was essential, and I am very pleased that we were able to achieve that,” SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard said in a statement. “As important, we have established an industry-wide, basic cable agreement – something we have wanted for two decades. We’ve also secured a very competitive wage package for members and a large bump in our pension, health and retirement contributions. This is a great package with real, measurable gains in numerous areas of our …