The importance of Sony Pictures Television within Sony Pictures Entertainment has been on the rise. Last fall, Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Corp. of America, announced a significant company shift “in emphasis from motion pictures to higher-margin television.” The company’s TV division was untouched by the recent company-wide cuts. And now its leadership has been secured for the next few years. After Steve Mosko signed a new long-term contract as president of Sony Pictures Television a year and a half ago, his top lieutenants, presidents of U.S. programming and production Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, too have re-upped with the company. I hear their new contracts are for three years, taking the duo to a decade at the helm of Sony TV’s primetime operations. Van Amburg and Erlicht were young, home-grown executives at an SVP level when Mosko picked them to succeed Russ Krasnoff in the top TV programming position in 2005. “What Zack and Jamie have accomplished is nothing short of amazing,” said Mosko. “I’ve always believed in them and they’ve become the best in the business.”
NBC Orders Charles Manson Drama Series Starring David Duchovny From Marty Adelstein & ITV Studios Who Eye Alliance
Following the end of his Showtime dark comedy series Californication, David Duchovny is reuniting with former Showtime topper Bob Greenblatt for Aquarius, a gritty 1960s cop drama at NBC about a cop who goes undercover to track Charles Manson and the Manson Family before their infamous murder spree. The project, envisioned as an event series, has received a 13-episode straight-to-series order. Aquarius was written by John McNamara, creator of the cult Fox series Profit. It will be produced by ITV Studios America and Marty Adelstein Prods in the first collaboration between the companies, which have been in lengthy talks about a joint venture-type of partnership, in which Marty Adelstein Prods would function as a mini studio under the ITV Studios America umbrella following Adelstein’s upcoming exit from his long-time studio home, 20th Century Fox TV. Aquarius marks the return to broadcast TV of Duchovny, who toplined Fox’s hit The X-Files, in which Greenblatt also was involved while at Fox.
Set in the late 1960s, Aquarius stars Duchovny as a Los Angeles police sergeant with a complicated personal life who starts tracking a small-time criminal and budding cult leader seeking out vulnerable women to join his “cause.” The man’s name is Charles Manson. The twists and turns of a complicated undercover operation will lead Duchovny’s character and his young partner to the brink of Manson’s crimes that eventually will lead to the Tate-LaBianca murders in subsequent seasons. “Event series are a big priority for us, and the combination of a show that charts the lead-up to the Manson murders, along with a television star of the magnitude of David Duchovny, is the very definition of an event,” said NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. Added Greenblatt, “After being involved in the production of both The X-Files and Californication, it gives me great pleasure to work with David Duchovny for the third time on this compelling drama.” Aquarius joins another Charles Manson project, a limited series is in development at Fox with writer Bret Easton Ellis and director Rob Zombie.
Showtime’s ‘Nurse Jackie’ Renewed For Seventh Season, Showrunner Clyde Phillips Inks New Overall Deal With Lionsgate TV
Ahead of Nurse Jackie‘s sixth-season premiere, Showtime has given the dark comedy starring Edie Falco an early seventh-season renewal. Clyde Phillips will continue as executive producer/showrunner after closing a new two-year overall deal with Lionsgate TV, which co-produces Nurse Jackie with Showtime. Phillips joined Nurse Jackie after Season 4. The series’ fifth season, the first with him at the helm, averaged 3.13 million weekly viewers across platforms, up 14% from Season 4. Under the overall deal, former Dexter showrunner Phillips also will develop new projects. “We are delighted to continue our longstanding relationship with Clyde Phillips, a creative powerhouse who has reinvigorated the Nurse Jackie series and who is also a prolific developer of television series in the auteur television arena,” said Lionsgate TV Group chairman Kevin Beggs. “His expertise in comedy and drama makes him a rare showrunner/creator and we are lucky to have him in the Lionsgate family.”
When powerful music manager Irving Azoff in October joined the team of comedian/talk show host Chelsea Handler, the announcement stated the duo’s intentions. “The host of E!’s top-rated late night show, Chelsea Lately, Handler is busy positioning herself for life after her current contract expires at the end of 2014,” it read. That “positioning” has featured exploratory meetings with production companies and other cable networks. It also has included pointed comments dropped by Handler about her dissatisfaction with E!, recently referring to the network a “a sad, sad place to live” and “a failure” on The Howard Stern Show. Now, after weeks of speculation that the Handler was plotting an exit, Azoff has told The Hollywood Reporter that Handler indeed “intends to leave” when her contract expires at the end of the year. Theoretically, that could be posturing, which is part of any renegotiation where the stakes are this high, but given the fact that Handler specifically hired Asoff to plan her life post-E! and that the rift between the her and E! appears to run pretty deep, the intention appears to be real. That has been confirmed by sources.
Wrapping a very strong development season, Jennie Snyder Urman has re-upped her overall deal at CBS Television Studios for three more years. Urman, who previously created the CW drama Emily Owens, MD for the studio, sold three projects this season — two of which, drama Jane The Virgin at the CW, based on the popular telenovela, and comedy Sober Companion at Fox, were picked up to pilot. Both are considered high-profile contenders, with Sober Companion boasting a cast led by Nick Frost and Justin Long. “Jennie’s had a remarkable pilot season, selling a comedy as well as a very unique twist on the most popular genre in the world, the telenovela,” said CBS TV Studios president David Stapf. “There is truly nothing she can’t do. Jennie is one of the most versatile, inventive writers and showrunners working today and we feel very fortunate that CBS will continue to be her home for years and years to come.”
Sheldon Turner, Michael Dinner, Michael De Luca & Jennifer Klein Team To Adapt Book ‘The Buy Side’ As Wall Street Drama At Sony
EXCLUSIVE: Wall Street continues to be a hot TV drama arena following the success of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, with another high profile project coming together. Sony TV has put in development The Buy Side, an hourlong project based on the best-selling autobiographical book by former Galleon Group trader Turney Duff. Oscar-nominated writer Sheldon Turner will write the adaptation, with Michael Dinner set to direct. The two are executive producing with Michael De Luca, whose involvement in the project predates his December appointment as Columbia Pictures president of production, and Turner’s producing partner at Vendetta Jennifer Klein. The book was brought to them by Kate Di Mento, who works for Dinner. Both Vendetta and Dinner are under deals at Sony TV. The project is in final stages of development and is expected to be taken out to the networks soon, after Dinner finishes work on the ABC pilot Clementine, which he is directing.
AMC Greenlights First Comedy Pilot, Sets Projects From Chris Carter, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg And Kevin Smith, Adds Dave Erickson To ‘The Walking Dead’ Spinoff
As part of its upfront, AMC as usual is making a slew of programming announcements. They include an increased focus on comedy development, including a first pilot green light to a half-hour project, We Hate Paul Revere, written, executive produced and starring Ethan Sandler and Adrian Wenner, and several comedy projects in development including one from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) and half-hours toplined/written by John Leguizamo and Wyatt Cenac. On the drama side, AMC’s development slate includes projects from Chris Carter, Amy Lippman and Josh Applebaum, André Nemec, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner and producer Aaron Kaplan.
AMC also announced the renewal of Kevin Smith’s unscripted series Comic Book Men for a fourth season.The network is expanding its relationship with Smith to include the development of a late-night project, Hollywood Babble-On, starring Smith and his co-host of their popular podcast, Ralph Garman, to be produced by Wilshire Studios and executive produced by Smith, Ralph Garman and Gary Auerbach. Additionally, AMC is also working with Smith on the development of a docu-series featuring super-collector and Comic Book Men regular Robert Bruce. Produced by Original Media and Smith’s Smodcast Pictures, and exec produced by Dan Laikind, Charlie Corwin, Elyse Seiden and Smith, Bruce and his fellow experts scour the country searching real estate sales, auction houses and flea markets on a quest to find rare items that will feed the needs of his demanding clients and add to Bruce’s own colossal collection.
AMC also has made an overall deal with Dave Erickson (Sons Of Anarchy), who will co-write, along with Robert Kirkman, and serve as an executive producer on the unnamed The Walking Dead companion series. “AMC is introducing more hours of original programming and the most robust, diverse development slate in our network’s history,” said AMC president Charlie Collier. Unwavering is our commitment to the eclectic, quality dramatic series that have come to define our brand and to the unconventional unscripted worlds we love to explore. And today we also happily dive head-first into our first-ever scripted comedy pilot.” Here is AMC’s full slate, which includes drama, comedy and unscripted projects as well as two books optioned for series:
The consolidation of independent unscripted production companies continues, with FremantleMedia buying a 75% stake in SallyAnn Salsano‘s 495 Prods. with the option to acquire the remaining 25%g in the future. Founded in 2006 by Salsano, 495 Prods. is behind such unscripted series as MTV’s Jersey Shore and spinoffs Snooki And JWOWW, The Show With Vinny and The Pauly D Project; Spike TV’s Tattoo Nightmares, which FremantleMedia distributes internationally, and Repo Games; MTV’s dating show Friendzone and the daytime syndicated talk show The Real. The company also produces Jerks With Cameras for MTV, Tattoos After Dark for Oxygen and CMT breakout hit Party Down South. “Our ambition is to continue to grow 495 Productions in the U.S. and to broaden its global footprint even further through our extensive distribution and production network,” FremantleMedia CEO Cécile Frot-Coutaz said.
EXCLUSIVE: NCIS: Los Angeles executive producer/showrunner Shane Brennan has signed a new two-year overall deal with the studio behind the hit CBS crime drama. Under the pact, Brennan will continue to run NCIS: LA as he has done since the series’ 2009 launch. Now in its fifth season, NCIS: LA already has been renewed for a sixth. Additionally, Brennan will develop new series for the studio through his Shane Brennan Prods. Australian-born Brennan joined mothership series NCIS at the beginning of Season 4 in 2006, taking the reins as showrunner the following season. He created spinoff NCIS:LA and ran both series for two years before focusing his attention solely on NCIS: LA. The spinoff series is broadcast television’s second most watched drama only behind NCIS, averaging nearly 16 million viewers per episode. It landed a $2 million-plus episode off-network syndication deal with USA only seven episodes into its freshman run, a record for a fast syndication sale. “Shane has propelled NCIS:Los Angeles into one of television’s most beloved dramas,” said CBS TV Studios president David Stapf. “His ability to combine great storytelling, action and humor make him an exceptional showrunner.”
NBC has acquired the U.S. broadcast rights to EuropaCorp Television‘s Taxi Brooklyn for a summer debut. The 12-episode action/comedy series is produced by showrunner Gary Scott Thompson (Las Vegas, The Fast And The Furious) and based on Luc Besson‘s Taxi feature franchise. It stars Grey’s Anatomy alumna Chyler Leigh and Jacky Ido (Inglourious Basterds). Former Blue Bloods co-star Jennifer Esposito, Ally Walker (Profiler), James Colby (Person Of Interest), Bill Heck (Pan Am), Jose Zuniga (Body Of Proof) and Raul Casso (Blue Bloods) round out the cast. Formerly known as Taxi: Brooklyn South, Taxi Brooklyn was shot in English in the titular borough along with Manhattan and Queens. Leigh plays Detective Caitlyn “Cat” Sullivan, who is determined to find the truth about the death of her father, an NYPD detective who was killed in the line of duty. When her stubborn character and recklessness behind the wheel see her demoted to foot patrol, she teams with the highly skilled and charming Marseille-born cabbie Leo Romba. Realizing Leo lied on his immigration form, Cat offers him a deal: in exchange for his driving prowess and taxi, she will help Leo with his papers situation. He becomes her personal driver and police consultant as they race through the streets of New York City solving cases.
Ben Sherwood To Succeed Anne Sweeney As Disney/ABC Television Group President, ABC’s Paul Lee Closing In On New Contract
ABC News president Ben Sherwood cemented his status as Disney’s golden TV boy as he has been appointed a successor to Anne Sweeney. Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group on February 1, 2015, a day after Sweeney ends her 10-year run in the same post. ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is expected to finalize a new multi-year contract, ensuring the network’s stability at the top heading into next month’s upfronts. Sherwood’s appointment comes after a short search, with the news wiz considered an early frontrunner as Disney again looked within ranks for the next top executive hire.
Sherwood will begin the transition as Co-President, Disney/ABC Television Group alongside Sweeney immediately, while also continuing to oversee ABC News until a successor is named. “Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
While Sherwood’s career trajectory resembles that of Jeff Zucker, who also transitioned from the No. 1 morning program, Today, to running NBC (they both also went to Harvard), observers point out that Sherwood also has entertainment experience. He took a break from the news business and became a best-selling author, with his novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud turned into a studio feature. Still, it was Sherwood’s accomplishments as head of the ABC News division that propelled him to the reins of Disney’s entire non-sports TV portfolio. Among them is leading Good Morning America to No. 1, brokering a successful online partnership with Yahoo to and launching Fusion, a joint venture news and lifestyle network with Univision. “Over the years, he has moved from success-to-success, and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk-taking,” Sweeney said. “Ben’s now set to bring those same attributes to bear for the larger group, and I could not be more thrilled. This announcement simply highlights the fact that our talent and succession planning process works.”
Four days after giving a pilot greenlight to drama Alice In Arabia, ABC Family is pulling the plug on the project about an American teenage girl kidnapped by her extended royal Saudi Arabian family and forced to live with them. “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project,” the network said in a statement. The project was met with disapproval by Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called on ABC Family to meet with Muslim and Arab-American community leaders so they can voice their concerns about potential stereotyping. “We are concerned that, given media references to the main character ‘surviving life behind the veil,’ the pilot and any resulting series may engage in stereotyping that can lead to things like bullying of Muslim students,” CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said Wednesday. In a letter to ABC Family President Tom Ascheim, CAIR-LA wrote, “As the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, we are concerned about the negative impact this program could have on the lives of ordinary Arab-American and American Muslims.”
Related: 2014 ABC Family Pilots
Dutch media entrepreneur John De Mol‘s Talpa Media Holdings has established new joint ventures in the UK, Italy and the Nordic region. The moves give Talpa the ability to produce local versions of formats from its own …
Related: 2014 FX Pilots
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE: Billy Crystal is returning to primetime. There is no official word, but I have learned that FX has picked up half-hour pilot The Comedians, toplined by the actor-comedian, to series. The Comedians, based on the 2004 Swedish series Ulveson And Herngren, stars Crystal as a superstar veteran comedian who is reluctantly paired with a younger, edgier comic (Josh Gad) for a late-night comedy sketch show. The project hails from an all-star creative team. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Borat‘s Larry Charles directed the pilot from a script he co-wrote with Crystal, Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, and Ben Wexler. The four executive produce with Mikkel Bondesen and Henrik Bastin of Fabrik Entertainment for Fox TV Studios. Carl Molinder and John Nordling of Stockholm-based Efti AB, which is behind the original series, also executive produce, while Fabrik’s Kristen Campo co-exec produces. Rounding out the cast are series regulars Stephanie Weir, Matt Oberg and Megan Ferguson.
Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin To Topline Netflix Comedy Series From ‘Friends’ Alumna Marta Kauffman, Paula Weinstein & Skydance
Former Nine To Five co-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are reuniting on screen in Grace And Frankie, Netflix‘s next original series. The streaming service has given a 13-episode order to the half-hour comedy, created by Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris (Sullivan & Son) and executive produced by Paula Weinstein through Skydance Prods. Grace And Frankie stars good friends Fonda and Tomlin as long-time nemeses Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) who are facing the last chapter of their lives. When their husbands announce they are in love with each other and plan to get married, the women find their lives both turned upside down and to their dismay, permanently intertwined. Eventually, to their surprise, they find they have each other. Kauffman, Morris, Weinstein, Fonda and Tomlin executive produce with Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross. “Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are among the funniest and most formidable actresses ever and it’s an incredible privilege to give them the opportunity to run riot on Netflix,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix Chief Content Officer. “The show created for them by Marta and Howard is warm, very funny and anything but wholesome. We can’t wait.”