For years now, network TV has developed new shows in the same way: Every season, each broadcaster commissions a couple dozen pilots for a few million dollars apiece, then picks between one-third to one-half of them to go to series. But since it got into original programming in 2011, Netflix has streamlined the process, commissioning full first seasons of shows such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black without ever seeing a pilot. It's not the first to skip this once-sacrosanct step: Networks have occasionally agreed to go directly to series in order to land high-profile projects, from the massive 44-episode commitment NBC made to Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories back in 1985 to CBS's more recent pilot-free order of Spielberg's Under the Dome. But this year, what was once a rarity has become far more commonplace. Fox is leading the way, handing out series commitments to more than a half-dozen 2014 projects, including a high-profile comedy from Tina Fey, the fantasy adventure Hieroglyph, and the Batman-inspired Gotham. ABC, CBS and NBC have all also ordered at least one early series sans pilot. "It's become the big thing this season," says Bela Bajaria, head of NBC-owned production studio Universal Television. While both competitive and financial pressures are at the root of the move, some small-screen execs see skipping pilots as a means to a larger end: shaking up the sclerotic system of series development that's been in place at the networks for decades.
Back in June, we told you that Donald Glover was looking to spend less time at Greendale and more time with Childish Gambino. Well, now it appears to really be happening: Vulture has learned that the actor's reps and Community producer Sony Pictures Television have worked out a new agreement that will see Glover appearing as Troy Barnes in just five of the show's upcoming thirteen episodes, according to sources familiar with the matter. The studio probably could have insisted on Glover committing to all thirteen half-hour episodes (or more, if NBC ordered them), but as often happens in Hollywood, both camps found a way to compromise. Glover will now be able to focus more on his music, while Sony will save some money since it won't have to pay Glover for every episode. (Of course, once and future showrunner Dan Harmon might find a way to spend that extra coin. Maybe a 3-D episode?) Reps for Sony and Glover couldn't immediately be reached for comment, while reps for Abed Nadir were doing all they could to keep the news from him.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently took part in a symposium in which they predicted an imminent “implosion” in the system as a result of the industry’s current obsession with blockbuster movies. Curious about whether or not this was simply exaggeration, Vulture’s David Edelstein got in contact with producer Lynda Obst, author of a new book titled Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales From the New Abnormal in the Movie Business. During their conversation, she grimly agreed with the two moguls, predicting, “If, say, four huge tentpole [movies] were to go down at the same time in the same season, it would be catastrophic.”
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Anyone who has ever worked on a movie knows Murphy’s Law to be true. Anyone who has ever worked on a Hollywood blockbuster knows this doubly so. Even Brad Pitt. World War Z arrives this weekend after a reportedly disastrous production. A June 2013 Vanity Fair feature put it all on the table: What began as a promising zombie tentpole (Ain't It Cool News called an early version of the script by J. Michael Straczynski a "genre-defining piece of work") barely made it to theaters in one piece. Rewrites, reshoots, on-set quarrels, and the seizure of gun props by a Hungarian anti-terrorist squad were just a few of the hurdles World War Z faced while in production. Intensifying the problematic shoot was the scrutiny of prospective audiences. Each misstep became a news item, adding more to the already deafening cries of disaster. Even as the film opens, director Marc Forster is busier playing cleanup than discussing the merits of the movie. On Friday, he took to Deadline to refute rumors of his on-set tension with Pitt and explain the ever-changing script.
As upfront week wraps up, it's hard not to wonder whether the broadcast networks aren't modern-day Neros: They just spent millions of dollars on lavish presentations and shrimp-filled soirees, touting dozens of shows likely to be dead within the year, all while their prime-time ratings continue to collapse. American Idol may have lost a quarter of its audience, but that's not going to stop Fox from giving advertisers a chance to hang out with Lea Michele at Wollman Rink, dammit! And yet, as anachronistic as the whole ritual might seem in an era when broadcasters no longer dominate every time slot, it really is more than just Kabuki theater. There are good reasons networks invest so much in upfront week. Actually, we can think of three reasons the tradition hasn't died off — and one reason why it might not last forever.
John McCain seems to be working hard as of late to make up for that whole Sarah Palin business: He backed the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation, he's part of the Gang of Eight supporting immigration reform, and now he's fashioning himself the savior of cable customers fed up with ever-increasing bills. Today, the Senator Formerly Known As Maverick introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act, a new twist on something McCain has long supported: forcing cable companies to stop "bundling" TV networks in a group, requiring fans of Lifetime and AMC to also subscribe to ESPN and Disney, even if they're childless and hate sports. The cable industry calls this "bundling," and executives have long said it's a necessary evil to ensure a broad range of cable channels and to keep overall bills lower. What McCain's legislation would encourage is a so-called "à la carte" option, where cable (and satellite) subscribers could pick and choose only the channels they want to watch. In a speech on the floor of the Senate today, McCain called the lack of access to à la carte “unfair and wrong — especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer. This is clear when one looks at how cable prices have gone up over the last 15 years."
This Weekend’s Winners: If you won an Oscar, you took a victory lap this past weekend. Ang Lee’s Best Director winner Life of Pi shot up 43 percent to gross $2.3 million, putting it near $117 million domestically. Best Picture winner Argo rose by over a fifth, to $2.2 million, cresting $133 million just in the States. Even Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence’s Silver Linings Playbook was up 3 percent to an estimated $5.94 million, earning $116 million to date.
This Weekend’s Losers: Technically, we do have to mention that 21 and Over opened to a tepid $9 million, while The Last Exorcism Part II coughed up just $8 million, or barely a third of what the original racked up three years ago. But this weekend was really defined by the total failure of one film and one film only: Jack the Giant Slayer (No. 1 with $28 million), which could easily have been titled, Jack the Giant Writedown, but more on that in a moment …
You’re forgiven if you haven’t yet seen Kon-Tiki, the Norwegian epic that was one of this year’s five Best Foreign Film nominees; while it’s the highest-grossing film in the history of Scandinavia (it has earned $14 million to date in Norway and Iceland), trekking to Oslo or Reykjavik for date night can get pricey. But fear not: The film following Thor Heyerdal's famously harrowing 4,300-mile journey across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft is coming to America in April, courtesy of the Weinstein Company. And yet, bizarrely, Harvey Weinstein won’t be allowed to market Kon-Tiki as “Oscar-nominated” because the film isn’t the same Kon-Tiki that was nominated for the Oscar — at least, not exactly.
And today in Adele Saves the Music Industry: International music sales actually went up 0.3 percent last year, marking the first increase since everyone started pirating albums back in 1999. Naturally, Adele's 21 was the No. 1 seller, with 8.3 million albums sold worldwide; Taylor Swift's Red was No. 2 with 5.2 million; and One Direction's two albums combined for 9 million in sales. A grateful music industry thanks you, moms and teens.
The summer of 2012 left a smoking crater in Universal Pictures’ balance sheet thanks to Battleship, so it was no shock that the studio would look to reboot The Mummy, a proven franchise whose four films have grossed a combined $1.4 billion in worldwide box office. But what is surprising is how the studio is going about rebooting the project, which is being produced by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Sean Daniel* and dircted by the Underworld franchise's Len Wiseman.
Vulture has learned that Universal’s brass are so keen to make sure The Mummy doesn’t unravel before its hoped-for summer 2014 release that they’ve taken the unusual step of hiring two different screenwriters to work on dueling Mummy scripts. It was already known that Jon Spaihts, who co-wrote Prometheus for director Ridley Scott, is hammering away on an update of The Mummy set in the present day. But what wasn’t known is that The Hunger Games screenwriter Billy Ray has also been hired to craft a competitive Mummy draft, also set in contemporary society.
There was a slight risk of the project turning into a pumpkin before midnight, but Disney may have found the charming prince to save its planned adaptation of Cinderella — and, as you might expect, he comes replete with an English accent: Just three weeks after original director Mark Romanek decamped, a fairy godmother tells us that Disney is negotiating with Kenneth Branagh to keep the film on track to start shooting in London this fall.
We’re also told that The Hobbit star Cate Blanchett will remain in the movie as the wicked stepmother, though the production is still looking to find the right fit for its main role.
Ron Howard is circling Warner Bros.' In The Heart of the Sea, a nineteenth-century drama based on the eponymous National Book Award winner by Nathaniel Philbrick. The film already has Chris Hemsworth attached to star as a first mate aboard the Essex, the doomed ship whose encounter with a whale inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Insiders tell us that Howard is not yet committed, but things could go that way soon.
If you’re confused, don’t feel badly, because Howard has been in the headlines an awful lot lately: Earlier this week, news came that Howard had attached himself to Neil Gaiman’s kiddie bestseller, The Graveyard Book. And just last week, Vulture broke the news that Howard had come aboard All I’ve Got, a drama based on a decade-old Israeli TV film Kol Ma She'Yesh Li that J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot is developing as a theatrical feature at Paramount.
When Barack Obama said that “Israel’s security is paramount” a couple of years ago, we had no idea he meant Paramount Pictures.
But the tunnel that connects Tinseltown to Tel Aviv is getting a little more crowded: Vulture has learned that Ron Howard has just attached himself as a director to Kol Ma She'Yesh Li (in English, All I’ve Got) — an until-now obscure 2003 Israeli TV movie of the week that J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot is developing as a theatrical feature at Paramount.
Bright light! Bright light! Our sources tell us that, in keeping with Hollywood’s mandated pop culture recycling program, Warner Bros. Pictures is negotiating with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment to reboot their 1984 horror comedy, Gremlins.
We’re also told negotiations of this sort have happened several times over the years, but making Spielberg’s deal always proved too daunting a financial prospect and his involvement might simply be a requirement for making the film at all, so don’t hold your breath. Having said all of that, our sources tell us that it might just actually come off this time. This wouldn’t be something Spielberg would direct, of course – he only executive produced the original, with Joe Dante behind the camera – but it never hurts to have the Great Man’s name on your project. A Spielberg spokesman said that the appropriate executives were not available for comment. We’ll keep you updated…
After Paramount Pictures ran out the clock on the NFL-endorsed football dramedy Draft Day last October, many in Hollywood gave up hope on the Kevin Costner project.
But then, in December, the town had its own version of the NFL draft: the Hollywood Black List, the film industry’s tally of the best unproduced screenplays circulating in Hollywood. And at the top of the 2012 Black List was none other than screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman’s coveted spec script, Draft Day.
Earlier this fall, online research firm Trendrr trumpeted a list of new TV shows with the most social-media buzz on the night of their premieres, and among the top five were 666 Park Avenue and Last Resort. Both shows soon found themselves trendrr-ing to cancellation. Despite this oft-documented disconnect between online buzz and actual ratings, networks of all varieties still never miss a chance to shout about how much online activity surrounds their shows. And now, there's going to be an official way for them to brag: On Monday, Nielsen and Twitter announced plans to roll out something called the "Nielsen Twitter TV Rating," with the goal of quantifying what Nielsen calls "the reach of the TV conversation on Twitter." Does this mean that Twitter intensity is now as important as eyeballs, and fans of Community and other low-rated series will soon be able to tweet their favorite shows off the bubble? Probably not. But according to one veteran TV exec we rang up last night, this new metric might really have some value — to networks, advertisers, and maybe even viewers.
It’s been two weeks since Kevin Clash resigned from Sesame Street amid allegations of having sexual relationships with two underaged partners and just over a week since a third accuser surfaced with similar claims. The effects of those accusations have now reached all the way to Hollywood, as Vulture has learned exclusively that Warner Bros. Pictures has cut loose a planned feature film it was developing with the now-infamous Elmo puppeteer.
Exclusive: Fox Looks to Reel In Director J. Blakeson for Adaptation of Self-Published Sci-Fi Hit WoolBy Claude Brodesser-Akner
The Walking Dead isn't the only zombie show on the air this fall: CBS and Fox have Partners and The Mob Doctor, respectively, a pair of freshman Monday-night programs that soldier on even with disastrous out-of-the-gate ratings and continued Nielsen erosion that would normally have resulted in their execution after just two or three weeks. After all, the Eye killed Made in Jersey after just two airings, even though both episodes of the Friday-night drama drew more viewers than any of the six installments of Partners. And in the case of MobDoc™, its most recent airing (episode six) attracted only 3 million viewers and averaged a 0.8 among viewers under 50; that's 20 percent below the 1.0 rating that just two years ago prompted Fox to euthanize the critically-loved Lone Star after its second broadcast. So why do MobDoc™ and Partners continue to wander haplessly about the primetime landscape, even though most industry observers believe there's virtually no chance either will survive until the end of this TV season, let alone earn a sophomore pickup? CBS and Fox aren't commenting, but according to the best guesses of industry insiders surveyed by Vulture, three major factors may be at play.
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