David Letterman’s retirement announcement is a milestone moment for the culture. The man defined late night for a generation, influenced most of the hosts who’ve come after him, and turned CBS into an after-hours player after decades of post-primetime irrelevancy in the timeslot opposite Johny Carson. His exit is a very big deal. But in terms of the late-night ratings race — it long ago ceased being a “war”— Dave’s departure very likely won’t make that much of a difference at all, at least not to the competition. For one thing, it’s not as if Letterman is leaving behind a Nielsen juggernaut: In the race for younger viewers, Late Show now regularly finishes behind NBC, ABC, Adult Swim, and often Comedy Central. What’s more, even if CBS lands a blockbuster name as Dave’s replacement, it doesn’t necessarily mean the other hosts will suffer. As one TV industry insider told Vulture this afternoon, “Late night is no longer a zero-sum game. More than one show can be successful at a time.” That doesn’t mean one show won’t end up more successful than the others, however.
Earlier this year, Vulture offered up its annual scorecard of how nearly three dozen new and returning fall TV shows were performing this season, assessing them all via our patented Bubble Meter. But since then, both broadcast and cable networks have welcomed back a handful of familiar faves (e.g., Community, Suburgatory) and introduced us to some new programs (Sirens, Crisis, etc.) whose fates still hang in the balance. While there hasn’t been quite enough fresh meat to warrant putting another Bubble Meter on the barbie, it seems only fair that these 2014 debuts and returns have their own fortunes divined, just as we did with their fall peers. So divine we shall.
The director and author — who worked together on a film adaptation of Flynn’s best-selling Gone Girl — will team up again for Utopia, which HBO has ordered to series. The plot: A bunch of graphic novel nerds find a secret manuscript and then … things go very wrong. (The manuscript is not what it seems, etc. It’s based on a British show of the same name.) Fincher will direct and executive produce; Flynn has signed an overall deal to write. Okay, great, but can we see Gone Girl already?
This week brought good news for the producers of Bones (it got renewed for a tenth season) and heartache for the team behind Sean Saves the World (NBC shut down production on the Sean Hayes sitcom, almost certainly spelling doom). But the fates are not so certain for the folks behind the many so-called "bubble" shows, those new and veteran series that have neither tanked hard enough to merit being yanked (R.I.P., Ironside) nor broken out enough to earn early renewal (such as NBC's The Blacklist and Fox's Sleepy Hollow). Every year around this time, Vulture takes a trip to the land of bubbles, where we compile a list of shows whose futures have at least a shadow of a doubt. We process the ratings numbers, look at the scheduling grids, and, increasingly these days, consider the various financial factors surrounding them (e.g., whether the network owns the show, how well it does in the international marketplace, etc.). We throw that data into our time-tested Bubble Meter, which then spits out a numerical score representing each show’s odds of survival. A top score of ten means another season is as certain as The Blacklist; the low score of one signals that the series is likely to meet the same fate as the short-lived CBS sitcom We Are Men.
There were many reasons for AMC executives to be very happy about how 2013 played out. The Walking Dead was once again the No. 1 show on all of TV among viewers under 50. Breaking Bad experienced a massive audience surge in its last season, and the show's final batch of episodes was greeted mostly with critical raves. Mad Men had its detractors, but ratings remained solid. What's more, AMC locked in deals with the brain trusts behind Dead and Bad to produce spinoffs of both shows in the years ahead. And yet, despite all of these positive developments, AMC did hit some speed bumps. Low Winter Sun was rejected by critics and viewers, and won't be back. Former Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont sued the network. And while Breaking Bad went out on top … it still went out. To find out what's next for AMC after a momentous year, we rang up network chief Charlie Collier and programming head Joel Stillerman to chat for an hour about how they plan to build on their early successes, the threat from upstarts like Netflix, and why it's unlikely Talking Dead will be joined by Talking Don anytime soon.
He sold 2.43 million copies of The 20/20 Experience (Part 1), which makes it the top album in yet another dismal year for record sales. (For comparison: Adele's 21 — which was No. 1 for two years running, and admittedly something of a fluke — sold 5.82 million copies in 2011, and 4.41 in 2012.) Industry sales were down 8 percent overall last year, dropping to 289.4 million albums sold. On the bright side, if you are invested in the future of the record industry and/or Blue Ivy Carter's college fund: Beyoncé just sold 1.3 million albums in seventeen days.
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…