UPDATE, 12:48 PM: Looks like three isn’t a crowd for the Supreme Court when it comes to the upcoming Aereo hearing. The high court has decided to let the Solicitor General’s office participate in the one-hour oral arguments session between Aereo and the broadcasters Tuesday in Washington D.C. “Motion of the Deputy Solicitor General for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae and for divided argument GRANTED,” said the SCOTUS yesterday. The granting of the motion comes more than a month and a half after the federal government’s top legal office filed a brief supporting the broadcasters in their showdown with the Barry Diller-backed streaming service. That was followed by the Solicitor General’s office requesting the time to directly make its points. The broadcasters have given the federal lawyers 10 minutes of their time. Though the broadcasters have a couple of former Solicitors General on their team, the current Solicitor General will not be involved; before he took his present post, Donald Verrilli Jr. argued Hollywood copyright cases before the SCOTUS and hence has recused himself. The likely candidate will be Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, who submitted the March 13 motion.
We’re heading into the homestretch of pilot season as the broadcast networks are beginning to view and test the completed pilots, a process that will continue for about two weeks before the nets move on to making pickup and scheduling decisions. Based on buzz around town, here are the most talked-about pilots three weeks before the upfronts.
Related: PILOTS 2014: Early Buzz Edition
Every year, there is at least one pilot that comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone. We may have that this season in ABC‘s multi-camera Cristela. It was not even supposed to be a pilot. Developed at 20th TV-based 21 Laps/Adelstein for more than a year, the semi-autobiographical project co-created by and starring rising Latina stand-up comedian Cristela Alonzo was sold to ABC last summer with significant penalty. But when pilot-pickup time came along, ABC quickly loaded on high-profile sitcoms, including the 20th TV-produced The Winklers, starring Henry Winkler, and the untitled Kevin Hart project starring Romany Malco. Cristela didn’t get a pilot order, but the producers, who also are behind ABC’s Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing, decided to take the penalty, which I hear was about $500,000, and use it to shoot a presentation. (ABC called it “proof of concept.”) Cristela ended up filming a full-length pilot on the stage of Last Man Standing using that sitcom’s crew, led by director/co-exec producer John Pasquin, with very little time to rehearse and prep. Because it was supposed to be a presentation, Cristela was not budgeted to get a testing, but I hear 20th TV brass liked the finished product and had it tested. I hear the results blew expectations, with Alonzo, who has no previous acting experience, scoring higher than most stars in recent 20th TV comedy pilots, including Allen, New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel and The Crazy Ones‘ Robin Williams.
NBC will have two “new” judges for The Voice in the fall as Gwen Stefani is in talks to replace the pregnant Christina Aguilera as a coach for Cycle 7, which starts taping in June. According to informed sources, Stefani also had been in talks for a judge position on ABC’s Rising Star, the interactive singing competition that’s set to premiere June 22. And she has experience on these kinds of shows, having mentored on Fox’s American Idol. The No Doubt singer and fashion icon might have given fans at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival something of a Voice fall preview last week when she joined Pharrell Williams onstage for a take on her 2005 solo hit “Hollaback Girl.” NBC announced last month that Williams will join The Voice next season, replacing CeeLo Green, who had announced his departure in February.
It has been a three-way race for renewal among three bubble ABC comedies: sophomore The Neighbors and freshmen Trophy Wife and Mixology, There seems to be some movement within the pack, with the youngest, midseason entry Mixology, gaining momentum. I hear the network and the studio already have put in place a leadership plan for next season, with creators Jon Lucas and Scott Moore set to take over the reins as showrunners from Ira Ungerleider, who will be leaving after running the series for its original 13-episode order. What’s more, in a sign of confidence to Lucas & Moore and their show, I hear ABC Studios is in negotiations with the duo for an overall deal. At the same time last year, ABC Studios inked an overall deal with Dan Fogelman, with his freshman comedy The Neighbors going on to clinch the only comedy renewal for ABC Studios a few weeks later. Mixology – set in a bar over the course of one night — quickly built a core fan base and has supporters at ABC, including network topper Paul Lee. Its ratings have been lackluster at best, but so have been the numbers for Trophy Wife and The Neighbors. Relaunching a heavily serialized comedy in the fall four months after a brief midseason run would be a challenge, though I hear the story might be reset for Season 2.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview what could be a very big day in the history of broadcasting and technology, as the Supreme Court hears legal arguments Monday about Aereo and its business model. The Davids talk about what’s at stake and how it might play out, where broadcasters might go if they lose and whether a win will turn the broadcasting business upside down. They also look over that very messy, and pricey Disney acquisition of online video powerhouse Maker Studios, and examine why ESPN, pay-TV’s most valuable brand, felt compelled to pitch investors that it’s just fine despite competition, cord-cutting and other existential challenges.
First Lady Michelle Obama will play herself in a cameo appearance on ABC‘s country music drama Nashville on May 7, an episode titled “All Or Nothing With Me” that is set at the Fort Campbell Army base. This comes a couple months after she was set for a cameo on the season finale of Parks And Recreation on April 24, that appearance to promote her “Let’s Move” program targeting child obesity.
Aside from numerous late-night appearances and docu-series, Obama has appeared in only a couple scripted series including Sesame Street in 2009 and in a cameo on Nickelodeon’s iCarly in 2012. Obama taped the iCarly appearance in June 2011 while in LA to promote a series of PSAs targeting her “Joining Forces” initiative, designed to raise awareness of military families; iCarly‘s lead character was the daughter of a U.S. service member stationed overseas. That plan was unveiled at the WGA Theatre during a panel sponsored by the Hollywood guilds (and moderated by JJ Abrams) designed to create a dialogue among film and TV folks about ways to share those families’ stories. The Nashville appearance would seem to jibe with that initiative: ABC says the episode’s storyline involves Reyna (Connie Britton) organizing of a charity concert on the Army base after finding out Luke (Will Chase) has been injured in Afghanistan, cutting short his tour.
John Benjamin Hickey, Daniel Stern, Olivia Williams, Ashley Zukerman and Rachel Brosnahan star in WGN America‘s 13-episode scripted series Manhattan, slated to premiere in July. Set during the clandestine mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM, Manhattan follows the brilliant but flawed scientists and …
NBC set a date for its three-hour bash — February 15, 2015 — but did not say which past and present cast members, musical guests, etc. would appear. NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt said the “special is just one of many ways we plan to celebrate ‘SNL’s historic 40th season next year.” Today’s announcement:
Rhys Coiro (Hostages) and Joe Egender (Hunger) have landed lead roles in History’s miniseries Texas Rising (working title) from A+E Studios and ITV Studios America. Leslie Greif (Hatfields & McCoys) is exec producing the project, which will detail the Texas Revolution against Mexico and the rise of the legendary Texas Rangers. Coiro will play Vern Elwood opposite Bill Paxton, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Egender will play Beans Wilkins, a Ranger who is always hungry and looking for his next meal.
Burying his lead, new ABC News President James Goldston sent around a memo to staff today — in Paragraph 6 of which was the announcement he’d promoted Good Morning America‘s Lara Spencer to co-host of the program along with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos. Roberts recently signed a new contract to stay with the show; ditto Spencer. Stephanopoulos’ contract was due to come up later this year — his reps are in talks with ABC News now.
Spencer was the only one of three GMA-ers whose contracts came up around the same time as Roberts’ who re-signed. The two guys — Sam Champion and Josh Elliott – both got poached by NBC, whose Today show saw its longtime ratings record snapped two years ago by GMA.Which brings us to Goldston’s memo: celebrating tomorrow’s anniversary of GMA ending Today’s 852-week winning streak. Here’s the memo:
NBC News, whose Peacock Productions is producing Discovery’s Mount Everest live jump, said this morning “the future of the production will be assessed at the appropriate time” after the deadliest disaster ever recorded at the peak killed 13 Sherpa guides last night. The guides were carrying equipment and supplies to camps for climbers getting ready for peak trekking season — including those preparing to participate in Discovery Channel‘s Everest Jump Live, produced by the NBC News division.
Discovery, which had just announced Monday the live two-hour event would air May 11, said this morning its star Joby Ogwyn was at base came at the time of the avalanche, which struck a group of about 50 — mostly Nepalese sherpas — at more than 20,000 feet. Four people remain missing, according to Nepal’s Tourism Ministry. Discovery said it has has not had conversations as to how the disaster might impact its plans. ”The avalanche last night on Mt. Everest is a terrible tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who are lost and with their families. The immediate priority for Joby and the team is to assist the search and rescue efforts in anyway possible.”
NBC News said its crews were on Mt. Everest preparing for Discovery’s special — in which Ogwyn is scheduled to climb Everest and leap from the summit wearing only a winged suit equipped with cameras – when the avalanche struck.
“The biggest tragedy of this is that it’s the very beginning of the [climbing] season and to lose this number of people at the very beginning of the season may be the end of the season here,” cameraman Ed Wardle told NBC’s Today show co-host Savannah Guthrie.
“I think a lot of people are wondering whether it’s appropriate to go on, given the scale of this tragedy,” Guthrie quickly jumped in when Wardle’s “biggest tragedy” talk took that cold turn. (Video after the jump)
NBC News issued a statement this morning saying, “We are grateful and relieved that the seven NBC News staffers on site are all accounted for and unharmed. Tragically, 13 Nepalese sherpas from a number of expedition companies who prepare the mountain each year for climbing season lost their lives, and the rescue mission continues. We are working closely with the team on the ground to assist however we can, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected families.”
The ABCs Of Aereo: Future of TV & Internet At Stake In Battle With Broadcasters, Says Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia
Editors Note: This is the last of three Deadline posts that lay out the issues in the Aereo case, which Deadline Legal Editor Dominic Patten will cover from the Supreme Court next week. Today: An interview with Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia.
Previous ABCs Of Aereo Reports:
What Is Aereo And Why Are Broadcasters Taking It To Supreme Court?
Aereo Wants “Something For Nothing”, Former U.S. Lawyer Says
Broadcasters challenged Aereo‘s legality almost from the moment in early 2012 when it launched in NYC. It is a David and Goliath contest: the tiny, Barry Diller-backed streaming service defending itself against attacks from CBS, Disney, Fox, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal among other companies as well as the federal government’s Office of the Solicitor General. The plaintiffs say Aereo steals their property by selling their over-the-air programming without paying them. They liken it to a cable or satellite distributor and say that it packages channels and then redistributes them — in legal terms creating a public performance that, since it isn’t authorized by the broadcasters, violates the “transmit clause” of the Copyright Act of 1976. But Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia says there’s no violation. He simply leases to consumers the antennas and technologies they need to privately exercise their right to watch broadcast signals for free. He sees next week’s Supreme Court hearing as a fight for his company, as well as a struggle to protect public control of the airwaves, and consumers’ ability to harness the power of the Internet.
DEADLINE: Barry Diller has said that if you guys lose at the Supreme Court, it’s basically game over. Are you turning off the lights if the Supreme Court rules against you?
KANOJIA: It’s going to depend on what the nature of the scope of the conclusions from the Supreme Court happens to be. If it’s a straight up, wipeout loss — and the Supreme Court shows the 2nd Circuit’s analysis of the transmit laws and, as a result, the idea was private performance is incorrect — then it will be very difficult for Aereo to be in business. For us, along with a lot of other companies that buy DVRs or cloud solutions, it will be a very difficult climate for sure. One result may very well be that we cease to operate.
DEADLINE: What if it goes in your favor?
KANOJIA: It’ll mean business as usual for everybody. I think the broadcasters will continue to grow and succeed. I think Aereo will continue to sell to consumers who don’t consume broadcast TV from cable or satellite but use antennas or are not part of the system. Then I think overall the pie will continue to grow.
DEADLINE: What do you think the broadcasters will do if they lose?
KANOJIA: Oh, they’re going to come back for a Round 2. They may go to Congress. The strategy of this industry is, “Let’s litigate, legislate. And if you can’t figure that out, then see how to make money from basic knowledge.”