Category Archives: Television

Robin Williams Dies At 63: He Committed Suicide “Due To Asphyxia” After Rehab Stint

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UPDATED: Academy Award winner Robin Williams whose inventive, improvisational and original comedic talent made him a star of movies and television and stand-up has died inside his Tiburon home in Northern California this morning. He was 63. Studio sources told me at 3 PM he may have taken his own life after his recent stint in rehab, and his death was confirmed this afternoon by his publicist and his wife. robin williams feltonWilliams “has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss,” his rep said. “The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.” The Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division said it suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made. Williams third wife, Susan Schneider, stated: “The world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

According to the Marin County Sheriff, at approximately 11:55 AM Marin County Communications received a 911 telephone call reporting a male adult had been located unconscious and not breathing inside his residence in Tiburon. The Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tiburon Fire Department and Southern Marin Fire Protection District, were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12:00 PM. marincounty"The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 PM has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63-year-old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, CA." An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently underway by the Investigations and Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr. Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10:00 PM on August 10. A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.

The actor suffered a lifelong struggle with depression, alcohol and drugs. After starting his battle with addiction in the 1970s he once explained it this way: "Cocaine for me was a place to hide. Most people get hyper on coke. It slowed me down." He went on and off treatment for the next two decades, then he quit cold turkey after the drug death of John Belushi, his friend. But then he fell off the wagon and very publicly went to rehab in 2006. In late June of this year, he checked himself into the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center near Lindstrom, Minnesota, to avoid falling off the wagon again. "After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud,” the actor’s rep said at the time. Williams died with four movies coming out: Boulevard, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, Night At The Museum 3, and Merry Friggin’ Christmas , for which his co-star Joel McHale told the press in July that Williams was fighting to get his life back on track: “He wore his struggles and sobriety and was very up front and candid about what he has gone through. I know he is a man who likes to win and be healthy. So him going back to rehab, I pray it all works out.”

Naturally Hollywood and the rest of the world is in shock over the sudden loss of this three-time Academy Award nominee mork_and_mindy_018who received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in 1997′s Good Will Hunting. “Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him," Steven Spielberg, who directed him as a grown-up Peter Pan in Hook, said of Williams on Twitter. Even President Obama called him "one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry." Henry Winkler recalled Williams’ TV debut as Mork in Season 5 of the hit ABC show Happy Days in 1978 as "watching brilliance explode like fireworks every 10 or 15 seconds."

For the 2013-2014 TV season, Williams surprised Hollywood by returning to series TV where he’d received his start first as the character on Happy Days and then as the lead in Mork & Mindy (1978-1982). Most recently he co-starred with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones, which debuted last fall. Set in an advertising firm, the show featured Williams and Gellar as father and daughter, and CBS scored a coup to snag Williams. Though the series initially did well in the ratings, it was canceled after only one season.

The Chicago native and prestigious Julliard graduate was a well-known stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the late 1960s and 1970s because of his quick and agile mind that often left audiences dizzy from laughter with his never-ending stream of pop culture and political references. After becoming a household name as Mork, he made his film debut in Robert Altman’s 1980 Popeye, a role he was born to play, followed by 1982 The World According To Garp. From that he acted in a long string of 1980s movies, able to play leads in both comedies and dramas. He earned Oscar nods for both Good Morning Vietnam (1987) and Dead Poets Society (1989) and critical acclaim for Awakenings (1990). But while his career was at its height, he developed a well-known drug and alcohol problem dating back to his TV days.

In the early 1990s he indulged his flair for family fare, Mrs-Doubtfire-mf02providing the voice of the genie in Disney’s Aladdin (1991), and Hook (1991) as well as his famous cross-dressing role Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) which also became his biggest hit at the box office. He interspersed Jumanji (1995) and Flubber (1997) and The Birdcage (1996) with Good Will Hunting , Patch Adams (1998) and then Jakob the Liar (1999). In the 2000s, his dramatic films included One Hour Photo (2002), Insomnia (2002), and The Night Listener (2006) but he returned to comedy in 2006 with both Man Of The Year and Night At The Museum. That’s when he suffered a relapse and admitted himself into rehab. He rebounded with License to Wed (2007).

Starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Williams perfected his stand-up comedy, including three HBO comedy specials: Off The Wall (1978), An Evening With Robin Williams (1982), and Robin Williams: Live At The Met (1986). He had a hugely successful one-man show (and subsequent DVD) Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (2002) and in 2004 was voted 13th on Comedy Central’s "100 Greatest Stand-ups Of All Time". In 2008, Williams took a hiatus from moviemaking to tour with his one-man show, "Weapons Of Self-Destruction" focusing what he called "social and political absurdities". Health problems derailed the tour in March 2009 and he underwent heart surgery. When he recovered, he appeared in Night At The Museum 2 and Disney’s Old Dogs and lent his voice to the toons Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. He also appeared in 2013′s The Big Wedding.

An avowed liberal and Democrat, Williams was a frequent supporter of and contributor to progressive causes and campaigns as well as to the USO and charities including founding Comic Relief.

Disney-Marvel Insider Trading

I’ve learned that a San Francisco man who worked for a corporate consultancy was sentenced today for insider trading in the Walt Disney Company’s 2009 purchase of Marvel Entertainment. According to court documents and an FBI/SEC investigation, Toby Scammell, 29, discovered that Disney planned to acquire another company “that marvel disney universalpeople would recognize right away” from his then-girlfriend who was an extern at Disney in the Summer of 2009 and who worked on the deal to acquire Marvel. Scammell later learned from a supervisor at his then-employer — which had periodically provided corporate consulting services to Disney and had confidentiality obligations to Disney — that Disney previously had been interested in acquiring Marvel. Scammell admitted that he learned the planned acquisition by Disney was estimated to close by Labor Day 2009 based on his observations of his girlfriend’s work schedule at Disney and their own travel plans at the time.

Scammell used the information that he learned from his girlfriend to acquire 659 call options to purchase Marvel stock for $5,465. He bought more than half of the options in his brother’s account. Scammell did not tell his girlfriend or his brother about the purchases of the Marvel call options. Marvel’s stock rose about +25% after the deal with Disney was announced on August 31, 2009, at which point Scammell immediately sold his options, realizing $192,000+ in profits.

Scammell pleaded guilty in April 2014 to one count of securities fraud through insider trading. Today he was sentenced to three months in federal prison, followed by six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, by U.S. District Judge S James Otero. In addition to the prison term starting on September 22, Judge Otero ordered him to pay restitution. He also must make payments upon his release from prison toward a judgment to disgorge his trading profits and pay civil penalties and interest totaling $800,985 in a related SEC civil action.

SHOCKER! Murdoch Withdraws $80B Bid To Buy Time Warner

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WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Both 21st Century Fox and Time Warner were supposed to discuss the bid during their quarterly earning calls today. But Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes told analysts that he was “not going to comment on the proposal from 21st Century Fox and its withdrawal" noting however that Time Warner is “committed to delivering substantial and sustainable returns”. Time Warner said its board in June added $5B to its share repurchase effort, bringing the total now to $6.5B. Meanwhile, the company’s earnings beat Wall Street’s expectations thanks to HBO, but its stock price was still hammered. Murdoch’s stock also beat the street.

The score is now Jeff Bewkes 1, Rupert Murdoch 0 (if you don’t count the short-term up-down effect on their stocks). And Hollywood content providers can breathe a sigh of relief, for now.

That’s after 21st Century Fox today shockingly announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Time Warner Inc. Chairman and CEO Murdoch explained in a statement the reasons why: “We viewed a combination with Time Warner as a unique opportunity to bring together two great companies, each with celebrated content and brands. Our proposal had significant strategic merit and compelling financial rationale and our approach had always been friendly. However, Time Warner management and its Board refused to engage with us to explore an offer which was highly compelling. Additionally, the reaction in our share price since our proposal was made undervalues our stock and makes the transaction unattractive to Fox shareholders. These factors, coupled with our commitment to be both disciplined in our approach to the combination and focused on delivering value for the Fox shareholders, has led us to withdraw our offer."

Instead, The 21st Century Fox board of directors today authorized a $6 billion share repurchase program of Class A Common Stock to be completed in the next 12 months. Murdoch continued, “This significant return of capital underscores the Company’s ongoing commitment to disciplined capital allocation and returning value to shareholders in a meaningful way.”

Today’s move is a surprise because it follows analyst and media reports that Murdoch was willing to pay $100 per share price for Time Warner. Immediately after Murdoch’s announcement, Time Warner shares were down more than 11% to $75.10 after recently setting an all-time high of $88.13. Fox’s stock in after-hours trading was up more than 7% to $33.30 - near its 52-week high of $35.65 set in mid-June. Some analysts speculated this is just a lull in his fight and maybe even a ploy to bring his stock price up while lowering Time-Warner’s.

So what happened for this first-in-a-while Big Media mega-merger not to take place?

Obviously the decline in 21st Century Fox’s share price alarmed the Murdoch family, media sharkinvestors large and small, and Wall Street. And the Murdoch family seemed in no mood for a hostile takeover when it became clear that Time Warner would fight. Murdoch’s surrender today is a real departure for the media tycoon who often is described as "never giving up" on a fight. Then again, in 1995, he ordered his bankers and lawyers to examine a takeover attempt of Time Warner, then valued at $40 billion pre-AOL fiasco, but didn’t pursue it. Murdoch has always had an unquenchable appetite for acquiring companies and growing bigger. But it also led his News Corp to the precipice of bankruptcy in 1990. He’s now more cautious.

This time around, Murdoch seemed to enjoy all the publicity surrounding his scrappy $80 billion offer. The price, $85/share in a combination of non-voting stock and cash, was too low for Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and his board to accept on the spot so they politely declined. That prompted speculation that Murdoch might pay over $100/share and wouldn’t stop until Time Warner was his. But Bewkes et al sais this wasn’t just about price: they also opposed that they would have little say in the new company, save for an offer of a seat on the board, because the Murdoch family would retain control.

At the time of Murdoch’s offer, Wall Street openly discussed when Time Warner would be bought, not if, and now sentiment is growing that to fight future takeovers Bewkes may spinoff extremely lucrative HBO – finally.  ["The inherent value of HBO’s business probably exceeds the 8x-10x EV/ EBITDA multiples ascribed to HBO by the Street in TWX’s sum-of-the-parts models (especially if you index HBO to Netflix valuations)," wrote Nomura media analysts Anthony DiClemente and Benjamin Black about the proposed merger. "And even on a standalone basis, HBO is a desirable asset that is well positioned for a digital media future."]

But could this offer, or any offer, have been avoided by Time Warner? Of course. By media-consolidation2stripping away asset after asset – first AOL, then Time Warner Cable, finally Time Inc – the once biggest global media conglomerate is now just Warner Bros, HBO and the Turner Networks. That, in turn, made Time Warner more vulnerable as a takeover target. And Bewkes wasn’t using the cash from the cable sale to acquire rare buying opportunities in its core entertainment arena during the recession. So while Disney’s Bob Iger was buying Pixar and Marvel and LucasFilm to build Mouse House value, Bewkes was sitting on his hands. Instead, there were repeated stock buybacks, a move which I consider to be the corporate equivalent of burning dollar bills.

Murdoch knew his offer gave him scale in sports and cable networks to bolster the negotiating power of a content provider like his vis a vis Fox News, F/X, and the Fox regional sports networks alongside TNT, TBS, and others. (One analyst saw 10+% affiliate rate increases assured for the next 5 years.) Sports rights ownership of Time Warner would help with launches of Fox Sports cable networks along with Turner’s rights to NBA, NCAA basketball, and the PGA on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), which itself has strengths in other sports including MLB, NASCAR, and USGA. A combined portfolio of sports could better challenge ESPN and keep NBC’s growing sports coverage at bay. Back in 1983, some 90% of the U.S. media was controlled by 50 companies.

Of little concern to Murdoch was any possible federal regulatory prohibition. For the past 25 years I’ve written story after story warning about the downsides of Big Media mergers. But it’s been like pissing in the wind. Neither the FCC nor the FTC nor the DOJ no matter who’s been in the White House have stopped them because of anti-trust or anti-access concerns. Had 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merged, they would have made up 25%-to-30% of the market share for movies being made. The Fox and Warner Brothers TV studios are the #1 and #2 film and TV studios in the entire industry. Joining their significant distribution infrastructures — for international box office, home video distribution, and/or digital distribution — would have created both revenue and cost synergies for their outsized businesses.

But merge their movie and TV production studios who are now bitter rivals looking to sign the best talent, and suddenly directors and writers and actors and showrunners can’t play off the two companies against each other for bigger deals. That’s bad for Hollywood. What this also meant is that, just as a time when a wealth of new buyers like Google, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Yahoo and Netflix for scripted professional TV programming have appeared, it’s entirely possibly that 2 of the biggest traditional buyers would become one combined entity to better control over how content is sold to these new online players. A merged Fox/Time Warner company would negotiate digital rights more effectively and create an even more formidable rival to these still fledgling programmers and distributors. Murdoch thought he needed more clout that Time Warner could provide to press for more favorable terms from the cable and telecommunications industries given the pending mergers of Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV. But the merger also would have resulted in redundancy studies and job layoffs.

Such media consolidations shocked us in the nineties and the naughts but now they elicit little more than a shrug. I thought Hollywood had it bad enough when studios started gobbling up networks, and cable companies started taking over studios and networks. Now 90% of media is controlled by 5 companies – Comcast, Viacom, CBS, Walt Disney, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox. The only surprise is that this deal didn’t involve Google or Apple or Amazon but instead two large cap content conglomerates. Almost every media company’s stock price except Murdoch’s jumped on the news until the recent downturn in the S&P and Dow. What wasn’t discussed is how media consolidations like this hurt Hollywood and its content providers. In sum, the Street sees scale as only helping the ‘Content Is King’ theory. But the people who actually provide that content are peons who become prisoners of these deals.

E! Czar Suzanne Kolb To Be Axed

EEntertainmentEXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that E! Entertainment Television President Suzanne Kolb is getting the boot in early fall after 3 years in the job. And judging from the 469 incredibly nasty comments you wrote about her management and E! programming after I posted The Kardashians Ratings Are Krashing: Will E! President Suzanne Kolb Take The Fall? on June 13, this news can’t come too soon. "Her bosses are completely aware of the situation and know they have to make a change in early fall," sources tell me. NBCUniversal was hoping no one would write the story about her ineptness, and then I did. And then your comments detailing a lot of bad behavior by the despised Kolb – from her berating underlings to manipulating personnel to micromanaging the brand – clearly came from a lot of present and past NBCU co-workers who just confirmed what the bosses already knew. (Example: "You’re finally getting the attention you so rightly deserve. Congratulations. From an old friend at a sister network who’s enjoying the conversation.") I’m told NBCUniversal Cable Chairman Bonnie Hammer all this time has been moving slowly but steadily to find a replacement for the unmitigated disaster atop the pop culture/entertainment channel. She put Kolb in there. She doesn’t want to do that again. "It’s a delicate situation. She’s got to find the right person," sources tell me. E!’s ratings overall were down -20% in 2013. And in 2014 they’re down another -20% from last year. It’s bad at E! – and Madison Avenue knows it.

Unfortunately, NBCU has no plans to ditch the Kardashians on E! anytime soon despite the continuation of their ratings freefall on that Viscount Of Vapidity Ryan Seacrest-produced Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Since Season 9B began on June 8th, the numbers have sunk as low as 2.061. Even their most recent Thailand trip didn’t spike (only 2.292) despite being promoted by an unending online stream of near-nude Kim selfies that culminated with last night’s show featuring 3 production assistants sickeningly rubbing sand on her oversized ass. The problem is, under Kolb’s lack of creative or strategic skills, KUWTK remains E!’s highest rated and highest profile series. Nothing else has worked. And there are no other hits on the horizon, not even Rich Kids Of Beverly Hills and Total Divas which were the only two series renewed in the Kolb era. Failed series under her tenure include almost everything, from recent Escape Club to Mrs. Eastwood And Co, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, Chasing The Saturdays, The Wanted Life, Opening Act, Playing With Fire, Party On, and The Soup Investigates. Kolb previously served as president of marketing, news and online for E! and The Style Network.

WGAW Final Board Candidates

The Writers Guild of America, West has announced the final slate of candidates for the 2014 WGAW Board of Directors election.

There are 18 candidates nominated to run for eight open seats on the WGAW’s WGAW-LogoBoard of Directors as follows: Chris Derrick, Shawn Ryan, Cynthia Riddle, Peter Lefcourt, Chip Johannessen (inc.), Shernold Edwards, Peter Murrieta, Scott Alexander (inc.), Doug Atchison, Michael Oates Palmer (inc.), Stan Chervin, Jonathan Fernandez, Katherine Fugate (inc.), Courtney Ellinger, Mark Amato, Aaron Mendelsohn, Aaron Fullerton, Marjorie David (inc.). (Petition candidate Mark Amato was added to the initial candidate roster previously announced on 6/20.)*

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The Power & Money & Glitter

Get ready, Hollywood, for more than just snarled traffic. Because once again  Washington DC pols are coming here with their hands permanently outstretched for your coin. On Wednesday, President Obama is obama hollywood star_thumb[1]making his 16th SoCal money plea and attends a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Hancock Park home of TV producer Shonda Rhimes. Tickets begin at $1,000,  with the price rising to $10,000 to attend the reception and to have a photo taken with Obama. It climbs to $32,400 — the maximum allowable contribution to a national party committee in a calendar year — to co-host the event and to attend a dinner with Obama as well. On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to attend a roundtable discussion with about 30 people at the Los Angeles home of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino with tickets reportedly costing $32,400 each. The money raised at both events will help U.S. House and Senate Democratic candidates in the midterm elections this November. The big bucks also pay off.  Jeffrey Katzenberg, who bundled at least $10M for Obama’s election and reelection during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, is receiving the National Medal Of Arts in the East Room of the White House on July 28th. He’s the first Hollywood non-filmmaker executive to receive the honor.

WGA’s “Call To Arms” Against Murdoch-Time Warner Merger

The leadership of the Writers Guild West just sent this email to members about the Rupert Murdoch bid for Time Warner. For background, read my Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood:

From The New York Times: $80B Offer From Rupert Murdoch Puts Time-Warner In Play

WGAW-LogoIf this headline scares you – and it should – then consider this a call to arms.

As writers, we face a landscape today that the founders of our Guild would hardly recognize. For decades, there were dozens of significant buyers in television and movies.

Then Federal limits on mergers disappeared. FCC regulations requiring independent production in television were repealed. And the result was industry-wide consolidation, networks and studios combining, and independent production disappearing.

Fewer movies being made. Fewer development deals. Smaller TV staffs. And lower quotes… because the industry was suddenly in the hands of only six – six! – conglomerates.

And the Writers Guild, without a voice in Washington to protest, was unable to save the business from strangling itself.

Now, those six conglomerates are threatening to swallow one another. Think of that. Between them, Fox and Time-Warner would control 40% of the industry’s writing jobs. What happens if more consolidation follows? What happens if one mega-company ends up devouring them all? The idea is almost too frightening to contemplate. But it’s also too possible to ignore.

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Time-Warner Plays Defense

According to SEC filings, Time Warner today amended its corporate bylaws effective immediately to remove a provision that allowed shareholders to call a special board meeting. The defensive and murdoch3 bewkes time warnertemporary and also unusual move is against its own shareholders who might be supportive of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox $80B bid for Time Warner. It’s not a poison pill defense. Specifically, the measure prevents a fraction of TW shareholders, 15%, from forcing a vote on 21st Century Fox’s offer. Time Warner’s management believes the move will prevent a hostile takeover, while allowing it more time to make its case that it has a plan to unlock shareholder value and grow as an independent company, according to an insider quoted by The New York Times. Time Warner sees Murdoch’s first bid as too low amid reports he may go as high as $100/share to win it. (PREVIOUS: Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood.)

Comic-Con’s Most Buzzed TV?

300.comic.con.logo.052708MA18849441-0001Studio System News just listed its 9 most buzzed about TV panels at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con: Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, AMC’s The Walking Dead, HBO’s Game Of Thrones,  Adult Swim’s Mike Tyson’s Mysteries, Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, CW’s Arrow, Fox’s Family Guy (talking about the impending Simpsons crossover episode), Warner Bros Television & DC Entertainment (discussing CW’s The Flash, NBC’s Constantine, CW’s Arrow, Fox’s Gotham), FX’s The Strain (featuring producer Guillermo del Toro). Yes or no?

Showtime’s ‘Homeland’ Teaser

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) returns for Season 4 on October 5th. According to details released by the producers today, the series intros a half dozen new characters including Life Of Pi’s Suraj Sharma whom Carrie is recruiting. Back are Peter Quinn (played by Rupert Friend) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) but not Carrie’s father, played by James Rebhorn who passed away in March:

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Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood

"Rupert Murdoch moves more swiftly than most rivals, takes bigger risks, and never gives up." The same year that was written about him, in 1995, he ordered his bankers and lawyers to examine a takeover attempt of Time Warner, then valued at $40 billion pre-AOL fiasco. Murdoch didn’t like that Time Warner was joining with Turner Broadcasting because it blocked some of his expansionist plans. Now it’s deja vu all over again. media sharkHollywood woke up today to big news about the first-in-a-while possible Big Media mega-merger. The New York Times first reported, subsequently confirmed by both sides, that Murdoch offered $80 billion to purchase Time Warner for his 21st Century Fox. The price, $85/share in a combination of non-voting stock and cash, was too low for Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and his board to accept on the spot so they politely declined. That’s now prompted speculation that Murdoch can and might pay over $100/share and won’t stop until Time Warner is his.

Such media consolidations shocked us in the nineties and the naughts but now they elicit little more than a shrug. The only surprise is that this deal didn’t involve Google or Apple or Amazon but instead two large cap content conglomerates. Already talking heads on Wall Street are nodding approvingly of Murdoch’s offer for Time Warner while they discussed when Time Warner would be bought, not if, and what other content companies might be in play. That list now includes Discovery, AMC, Scripps Network, even the studios Viacom/Paramount/CBS and Sony and Lionsgate and Starz. Almost every media company’s stock price except Murdoch’s jumped on the news.

What wasn’t discussed is how media consolidations like this hurt Hollywood and its content providers. Because it stinks. In sum, the Street sees scale as only helping the ‘Content Is King’ theory. But the people who actually provide that content are peons who become prisoners of these deals.

For the past 25 years I’ve written story after story warning about the downsides of Big Media mergers. But it’s been like pissing in the wind. Neither the FCC nor the FTC nor the DOJ no matter who’s been in the White House have stopped them because of anti-trust or anti-access concerns. Big media mergersPut 21st Century Fox and Time Warner together, and they make up 25%-to-30% of the market share for movies being made. The Fox and Warner Brothers TV studios are the #1 and #2 film and TV studios in the entire industry. Merging their significant distribution infrastructures — for international box office, home video distribution, and/or digital distribution — would create both revenue and cost synergies for their outsized businesses. That’s good for the companies. Merge their movie and TV production studios who are now bitter rivals looking to sign the best talent, and suddenly directors and writers and actors and showrunners can’t play off the two companies against each other for bigger deals. That’s bad for you.

Combine their international cable footprints and its uber-huge with Fox revenue 44% of total and strong in Europe while TW 36% and well penetrated in Latin America. Murdoch’s resultant international cable scale would create synergies on ad sales, affiliate fees, and pay-TV penetration, according to the analysts. That’s good for the companies.

What this also means is that, just as a time when a wealth of new buyers like Goggle, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Yahoo and Netflix for scripted professional TV programming have appeared, it’s entirely possibly that 2 of the biggest traditional buyers will become one combined entity to better control over how content is sold to these new online players. That’s bad for you. A merged Fox/Time Warner company would negotiate digital rights more effectively and create an even more formidable rival to these still fledgling programmers and distributors. That’s good for the companies.

Today media analysts couldn’t wait to explain that Murdoch needs the more clout that Time Warner could provide to press for more favorable terms from the cable and telecommunications industries. media-consolidation2True, those octopus arms are only getting longer with their own pending mergers of Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV. So having more cable networks would give traditional Big Media more negotiating leverage with these mega-distributors so they can receive dual revenue streams from advertising as well as retransmission fees, not to mention take "billions of dollars of synergies". Investment bankers are putting pressure on media companies to consider mergers and partnerships to gain scale to push back. Of course, Wall Street wants more Big Media consolidation in order to pocket big bucks fees from the deals.

Take Goldman Sachs, which is handling Murdoch’s takeover offer. It just beat profit expectations last quarter because revenues from investment banking were up 15% (outweighing a 10% drop in its traditional powerhouse of trading bonds, currencies and commodities). And Goldman already has set aside nearly $4B out of the quarter’ revenues to pay annual bonuses for its top executives at the end of 2014.

The rich get richer. Goldman Sachs doesn’t care what happens to 21st Century Fox or Time Warner employees when the redundancy studies are made and the job layoffs are started. Goldman Sachs also won’t be around when the next billions of dollars of a goodwill writedown takes place after another recession hits and neither corporation will be worth what it is now at the top of the stock market. (Only Time, spun off by Time Warner, noted that Murdoch has a track record of making bids that all coincide with market peaks. Shortly after he makes these deals, stocks go splat.)

For Time Warner, the price may simply still be too low, even with a 20% control premium, and the non-voting stock offer unacceptable. (The separate voting stock is how Murdoch and his family keep control.) That prompted analysts today to speculate that Time Warner may require a much higher percentage of cash, if not all cash, from Murdoch. Meanwhile, sounding quite arrogant, Time Warner is saying in response that its existing business plan is superior to any proposal no matter how “determined” Murdoch is to buy TWX. Chairman Jeff Bewkes even sent a short recorded video of himself to his employees today explaining why Murdoch’s offer was rebuffed.

But could this offer, or any offer, have been avoided by Time Warner? Of course. By stripping away asset after asset – first AOL, then Time Warner Cable, finally Time Inc, the once biggest global media conglomerate is now just Warner Bros, HBO and the Turner Networks. That, in turn, made Time Warner more attractive but also more vulnerable as a takeover target.

And why wasn’t chairman Jeff Bewkes using the resulting cash from the cable sale to acquire what even Gordy Crawford had said were rare buying opportunities in its core entertainment arena? So while Disney’s Bob Iger was buying Pixar and Marvel and LucasFilm to build Mouse House value, Bewkes was sitting on his hands during the recent recession. There were repeated stock buybacks, a move which I consider to be the corporate equivalent of burning dollar bills.

Bewkes also has resisted repeated calls to spin off extremely lucrative HBO. "The inherent value of HBO’s business probably exceeds the 8x-10x EV/ EBITDA multiples ascribed to HBO by the Street in TWX’s sum-of-the-parts models (especially if you index HBO to Netflix valuations)," wrote Nomura media analysts Anthony DiClemente and Benjamin Black about the proposed merger today. "And even on a standalone basis, HBO is a desirable asset that is well positioned for a digital media future."

Oh, and let’s not forget the platinum parachute which Bewkes’ compensation contract will call for if Time Warner gets bought and/or he gets canned.

Murdoch has always had an unquenchable appetite for acquiring companies and growing bigger. It led his News Corp to the precipice of bankruptcy in 1990. But that was then and this is now. So he’ll be seen as an acquirer in one way or another even if Time Warner becomes out of reach. But Murdoch knows this offer gives him scale in sports and cable networks to bolster the negotiating power of a content provider like his vis a vis Fox News, F/X, and the Fox regional sports networks alongside TNT, TBS, and others. (One analyst sees 10+% affiliate rate increases assured for the next 5 years.) Sports rights ownership of Time Warner would help with launches of Fox Sports cable networks along with Turner’s rights to NBA, NCAA basketball, and the PGA on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), which itself has strengths in other sports including MLB, NASCAR, and USGA. A combined portfolio of sports could better challenge ESPN and keep NBC’s growing sports coverage at bay.

Back in 1983, some 90% of the U.S. media was controlled by 50 companies. I thought Hollywood had it bad enough when studios started gobbling up networks, and cable companies started taking over studios and networks. Now 90% of media is controlled by 5 companies – Comcast, Viacom, CBS, Walt Disney, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox. The Nation used to complain about "The National Entertainment State" and the journalistic, political and cultural questions raised by the ongoing concentration of media power in so few hands. Nowadays, journalism doesn’t matter because it’s barely in existence. Note how quickly Murdoch said he would toss aside CNN. (No journalism on that so-called cable news channel anymore: just watered-down partisan political polemics, reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknowns, and endless searches for that missing Malaysian plane.) I now see where Big Media will soon consist of Disney and Comcast and 21st Century Fox. Analysts today called Murdoch’s Time Warner offer "basically the first salvo in a wave of media consolidation." You’re fucked.

Sarah Palin Helps Cast The View – Tammy Bruce As ‘Anti-Rosie’?

The best way on TV to shut up a loudmouth is with another loudmouth.  I’ve learned that Tea Party advocate Tammy Bruce – the outspoken nationally syndicated radio show host, author, and Fox News talking head – is being considered for a hosting slot on The View as the so-called "anti-Rosie". What makes this especially interesting is that Bruce reportedly BrucePalinwas suggested to the show by Sarah Palin. "I don’t think Sarah Palin is being considered to be a panelist on the show. I think she’s working behind the scenes to help them cast the conservative," an insider tells me. "Tammy and Palin are close friends, and I think they are hot on Tammy because of Palin. They want the show to be politically combative, and Tammy would certainly be the anti-Rosie in every possible way."

Bruce’s website describes her as a "gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death penalty Tea Party Independent conservative". I’m told Bruce just had a meeting with ABC about potentially joining the show. She has been a talking head at Fox News for over a decade now "but she was surprised that ABC had interest in her for The View, considering she’s only been booked on the show as a guest once. And she doesn’t have an agent that was pushing her. They literally just called out of the blue. She says the meeting went well."

Right before last week’s announcement that liberal Rosie O’Donnell was re-joining The View, media outlets reported that Palin was "dropping hints" that she might want to be a panelist. Asked by The Hollywood Reporter if she had any interest in doing a political talk show, Palin replied, "I hear everyone recently got canned from The View [so] maybe a show like that needs a punch of reality and a voice of reason from America’s heartland to knock some humble sense into their scripts. You know, someone willing to go rogue." But Palin did not go so far as to suggest herself.

From 1990 for 7 years, Bruce served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women and two years on NOW’s board of directors, but later criticized the group in her book. She resigned in 1996 after the NOW Executive Board voted nearly unanimously to censure Bruce for what it claimed were racially insensitive comments during the OJ Simpson murder trial. In 2003, Bruce was appointed to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California gubernatorial transition team.

SAG-AFTRA Pact Goes To Vote

As expected, the SAG-AFTRA National Board approved 90%-to-10% Saturday the tentative agreement reached with the studios/networks and recommended  it for new-SAG-AFTRAratification. Now the 3-year contract covering motion pictures, scripted prime-time dramatic television and new media production goes to the union’s eligible 165,000 members for a pro forma online vote by August 22nd. The tentative deal finally unifies SAG and AFTRA television contracts. Like the DGA and WGA, SAG-AFTRA is getting the same annual minimum increases: 2.5% the first year, and 3% in years two and three, plus an 0.5% increase in the AMPTP’s’ contribution to the Pension Fund right away. But primetime minimums in the new agreement will be based on the legacy lower SAG wage rates, not the higher legacy AFTRA rates, which was not supposed to happen. See my most recent guild analysis: SAG-AFTRA, WGA, DGA & AMPTP Deals: Even In Better Economy, The Hollywood Poor Get Poorer

Sons Of Anarchy

Emmy Snubs ‘Sons Of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter Again: "How I Feel"

I asked Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter to write about how he’s feeling after the Emmy nominations came out today:

There’s a certain cachet that comes with being snubbed in all major categories*. Repeatedly.

It’s the “Lucci Factor”. You gain more fame, kurtsutter200respect and admiration the more your efforts are ignored. If you win gracefully, you’re famous. If you lose loudly, you’re infamous. I, unfortunately, fall into the later category. Not to say that I haven’t mellowed, I have. I’m halfway through my second paragraph and I haven’t called anyone at AMC a money-whoring, talentless cunt yet. So, that’s progress, right?  Honestly – and I actually believe this – I think we’d drop viewers if ‘Sons of Anarchy‘ were ever nominated for an Emmy. KurtSutterMy bombastic outlaw-asshole reputation would be tarnished. Or rather, untarnished. I’d be just another smiling douchebag in a new suit, pretending to give a shit on the red carpet. Actually… taking a shit on the red carpet, that’s something that might drop as a “real and honest moment”. Although that’s pretty much what Joan and Melissa have been doing for 10 years and I don’t think either one of them have anything real left on their bodies…

Now, let me be clear… That’s not to say that I don’t want to win an Emmy. I absolutely do. More than anything. Any artist who tells you they don’t want to be acknowledged and awarded by their peers is a fat fucking liar. I’m not sure why they have to be fat, but you get the point.

But here’s the rub — I know on an intellectual level that the Emmys are not and have never been a valid qualifier of talent. I know the people who vote are busy industry people with limited time and departmental biases (Costumers, Production Designers, Makeup, etc.). Throw in the fact that studios and networks spend millions on Emmy campaigns to influence votes, and you end up with a very flawed system where most folks rush to fill in circles for friends and shows they’ve seen once or twice or “heard” were really good.

And yet knowing all of that, I still suffer the emotional and spiritual depletion every July when ‘Sons of Anarchy’ gets zero nominations in all major categories. While other fucking shows that ran out of story three seasons ago, still get tagged to step up to the show. To explain the feeling, I use an analogy from a part of our lives that probably best describes our industry – high school. Remember when that kid you hated from second period French had that big end of year party? You knew he was a lazy, self-important, pompous douchebag, and yet when you didn’t get the invitation, you sobbed into your Members Only jacket and a piece of youthful hope cracked off your soul and fell in dogshit.

Fuck you, Kevin Doyle…

But I digress. So… another season, another bevy of glorious nods for the very talented and the very familiar. “God bless them all. I wish them abundance and success. They deserve all the love and praise the universe gives them.” I’ll be saying that affirmation a lot today. It’ll keep me from killing puppies with a tack hammer.

Hooray for Hollywood.

* I know we received a nom today (and in the past) for Original Song. I honor, love and appreciated the efforts of Bob Thiele Jr. and Noah Gundersen, but music is a creative layer that lives above, beyond and in spite of this show. So the rant above still applies.

2014 Emmy Snubs

Why They Were Emmy Snubs: ‘Homeland’, ‘Girls’, ‘Survivor’

UPDATING THROUGHOUT THE MORNING: Showtime’s Homeland And HBO’s Girls were among the shows snubbed for series’ Emmy nominations this morning. Homeland‘s Lead Drama nod from last year was taken by HBO’s True Detective this year, and Girls‘ Lead Comedy slot last year was occupied by Netflix’ Orange Is The New Black and HBO’s Silicon ValleyNFAwardsBadgeOtherwise the Lead Drama and Lead Comedy shows nominated remained so pathetically the same old-same old (with the exception of NBC’s 30 Rock which went off the air). Also snubbed were network series that garnered a lot of attention for excellent reasons this past TV season, like CBS’ The Good Wife, which killed off one of its main characters, and NBC’s The Blacklist, which killed off at least one criminal per episode, and ABC’s Scandal, which should have killed off the philandering president and didn’t. (Epic fail.)

(For the complete list of nominees, click here.)

From my POV, this past 3rd season of Homeland may have disappointed Emmy voters by ending its Nicholas Brody storyline in a controversial way by simply putting Nicholas Brody to death by hanging in Tehran instead of concocting a more thrilling escape. That prompted backhanded praise like this in The New York Times: "It is almost admirable that the writers of this moody conflicted spy series on Showtime are so determined to upend expectations — even at the cost of action, suspense and drama."

The result was that the series, which won Outstanding Lead Drama in 2012 and was nominated again last year, didn’t even get recognition this year. Still, I’d have to say that Homeland‘s snub, while surprising, was not unexpected: such was the level of competition in this year’s uber-crowded category – to the point that FX’s Jon Landgraf was reduced to whining about the unfairness of HBO’s entry of True Detective.

And while Claire Danes was nominated again for Lead Actress In A Drama, her co-star Damien Lewis wasn’t. To repeat, I think it was because of disappointment over the way he exited the series because his performance was stellar yet again.

And after 2 successive Lead Comedy series’ nominations in 2012 and 2013, Girls was blanked in that category this year. I analyze the omission this way: that after succeeding in  shocking Emmy voters with its sharp and smart women characters in its first season, the series just became more of the same. Yawn.

And I think that the dramedy that is Girls may have worn thin in this category which usually tries to produce at least more than just the occasional laugh. Add to that creator Lena Dunham’s need to slobber over Hollywood A-listers in the most undignified way possible, and you’d think Emmy voters would have snubbed her for a Lead Actress In A Comedy nod. But you’d be wrong. So I’ve got to ask: didn’t these Emmy voters see her horrible SNL hosting gig this past March? Apparently not.

And for crissakes how many times are Emmy voters going to nominate the same shows over and over again ad nauseam? At the expense of those series trying to do something more interestingly out of the box like FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, BBC’s Orphan Black (as well as star Tatiana Maslany), AMC’s The Walking Dead, and even BET’s Being Mary Jane?

C’mon, rewarding PBS’ Downtown Abbey this lame season just didn’t make sense when it was not only the weakest but also the treacliest, rape subplot or not.

Plus, to overlook The Good Wife is a gobsmack. Not only were Emmy voters arrogant enough not to applaud a single broadcast series in the Drama category, but they punished this better-than-it-has-to-be show for the very fact it doesn’t air on a cooler place like a cabler or Netflix. Not to mention this is a rare CBS non-procedural that has become more innovative year after year when so many other hour-longs head into a downward spiral by the 5th season.

As for the snub of FX’s The Americans, its second season felt phoned-in. And, as a one-time Moscow foreign correspondent during the Reagan Era, trust me: the Russians were never this sly or savvy. Though I do think Matthew Rhys was robbed.

Little wonder The Blacklist‘s James Spader also was left off the Lead Actor In A Drama list. Surely even the most clueless  Emmy voter knew he just took the role for a fat paycheck.

Among Reality series, I was shocked that CBS’ Survivor was snubbed this year. The sheer fact of its longevity – on the air since 2000 for 28 seasons- should have made it a contender, as well as its ability to pull ratings just when it looked finally to be DOA. The fanbase’s never-flagging loyalty, and the show’s consistently fresh twists and turns, and the producers’ blatant manipulation of contestants never gets old.

Whereas both Lifetime’s Project Runway and Bravo’s Top Chefs were train wrecks this season, with Alyssa Milano installed in the Hall Of Shame as one of the most annoying reality hosts, and the wrong chef winning just to sucker-punch viewers.

Among networks, cabler USA again was snubbed despite its series like Covert Affairs and Suits and Graceland going edgier.  (Though I thought the riveting final season of Burn Notice deserved at least a little recognition…) But the channel will never get Emmy respect as long as the putrid Royal Pains persists in tying up loose ends by the close of every episode.

Also omitted from any recognition was The Food Channel, and rightly so. I’ve lost count of how many of its shows steal proprietary ideas from more notable cable and broadcast series. Plus, every program on it these days stars the unwatchable egotist Bobby Flay or the insufferable clown Guy Fieri.

And the CW continues as the only broadcaster ignored because, well, it consistently programming crap. Or, to put it another way: when you crave the TV series’ equivalent of high-fructose corn syrup, then this is the place to find it.

Camp Allen: Lone Showbiz Chat

sunvalleyHollywood moguls are arriving by private jets to tiny Hailey Airport for the annual Allen & Co investment conference in Sun Valley starting today — but, again, I don’t know why. It’ll be another non-showbiz snorefest. Because there’s only a single entertainment panel on the official schedule: a Charlie Rose-moderated discussion about "Creativity" including Brian Grazer, Harvey Weinstein and Candice Bergen. The only other session that comes close is "Communications" with Comcast chief Brian Roberts. I recall when Camp Allen used to be fun for film and TV bigwigs. Gone are the Friday night dildos. Or the sandwich boards for out-of-work moguls. As one of this year’s entertainment attendees remarked after looking at the schedule, "God, this is painful."

SAG-AFTRA, WGA, DGA & AMPTP Deals: Even In Better Economy, The Hollywood Poor Get Poorer

Do you remember how, during the merger campaign, SAG and AFTRA leadership promised they’d work with the DGA and WGA to bargain the bejesus out of the AMPTP this negotiating year? Never happened. And probably never will. new Hwood Guilds Because if ever there were a time for showbiz unions to stand together in solidarity, it was 2014. Just how many ways is the Big Media cartel screwing the Hollywood guilds right now anyway. The sense of panic among actors, writers, directors and below-the-liners is palpable in Hollywood as more and more are not working and in danger of losing eligibility for all-important health benefits. Nor is this a byproduct of a disastrous economy, because the studios, networks and corporations who own them are doing very very well right now.

Maybe you didn’t notice because of the holiday-shortened trading session, but the Dow Jones industrial average crossed 17,000 for the first time and the S&P 500 scored a record high right before this Independence Day weekend. Disney hit an all-time apex. Time Warner touched a 52-week loft. Fox led the Big Media pack followed by Discovery, Viacom, Comcast and CBS. (Only Sony dropped.) The indexes were buoyed because the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.1%, the lowest since September 2008, and analysts are saying it’s a real sign that the economy is starting to take off. If only the entire media industry could start pressuring the Hollywood CEOs to put people back to work and pay them decently.

And what about the CEOs who run these U.S. media companies? Well, last year they made more than the chiefs of autos, energy, finance and other sectors that have far more impact on the economy. According to AP, six of the country’s 10 highest-paid CEOs come from media. Look at their compensation packages for 2013: Viacom and CBS executive chairman Sumner Redstone made $93M in 2013 (an 80% year-over-year increase), CBS’ Les Moonves $65.6M, Viacom’s Philippe Dauman $37.2M, Disney’s Bob Iger $34.3M, Discovery’s David Zaslav $33.3M, Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes $32.5M, Comcast’s Brian Roberts $31.4M, NBCUniversal’s Steve Burke $31.1M, Starz’ Chris Albrecht $30.4M, Viacom’s Thomas Dooley $28.9M, 21st Century Fox’s and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch $28.9M, Lionsgate’s Michael Burns $28.2M, and 21st Century Fox’s and News Corp’s Chase Carey $27M.

This is worth mentioning because on Friday the largest of the Hollywood guilds, SAG-AFTRA followed the WGA and the always employer-compliant DGA in announcing that its negotiators reached a new 3-year pact Hollywood contract negswith the studios and networks. All three guilds are getting the same annual minimum increases: 2.5% the first year, and 3% in years two and three, plus an 0.5% increase in the Alliance Of Motion Picture And Television Producers’ contribution to the Pension Fund effective right away.

Frankly, that sucks. Did I mention that the current inflation rate jumped to 2.13% in May?

Here’s what also sucks for SAG-AFTRA: the basic rates. Remember, this was the first film and TV contract which the merged union bargained. Before the negotiations, the leadership’s stated goal was to combine the 2 separate TV contracts with the networks/studios and bring SAG’s basic rates up 3.5% to match AFTRA’s. “We certainly don’t want to lower AFTRA’s to SAG’s," a SAG-AFTRA official claimed.

Well that’s exactly what happened, folks. The SAG-AFTRA negotiators failed big-time. Because primetime minimums in the new agreement will be based on the legacy lower SAG wage rates, not the higher legacy AFTRA rates. I had to laugh when The Hollywood Reporter’s Jonathan Handel tried to blame this not on the current SAG-AFTRA negotiaters but on the old SAG bargainers from back in 2007-2008. What a crock!

The only good thing about this new configurement is that the basic cable terms will reflect the residuals formula used in the SAG, DGA and WGA agreements, rather than AFTRA’s which frequently paid lower residuals or none at all. But considering how much the AMPTP has undercut residuals in recent years, there’s almost no difference. And, come to think of it, when was the last time the terms ‘New Media’ and ‘increases’ were uttered in the same sentence during guild talks?

Carol LambardiniOnce again, SAG-AFTRA, WGA, and DGA made quick work of these rounds of negotiations with AMPTP President Carol Lombardini. I gotta hand it to the old gal: she’s very good at her job which consists of scaring and stiffing the guild bargainers into pretty much taking whatever boiler plate agreement she demands. Remember when Lombardini’s AMPTP set the stage for these WGA talks with $60 million in proposed rollbacks for writers at a time of unprecedented prosperity for the studios? “The collective profits of our 6 major bargaining partners (Disney, CBS, Comcast, Fox, Time Warner and Viacom) just hit a record $40 billion," the WGA whined to membership. "This prosperity is based on our work, we are the creative force driving it. Are $60 million in rollbacks a just reward?”

I hear what stalled these SAG-AFTRA talks a slight bit was the AMPTP’s refusal to recognize the new union. Can you believe that after Lombardini practically handpicked who’s running it? The networks and studios took the position that they were under no legal obligation to recognize the new union and could have negotiated the contracts separately. That was the dirty little secret that the SAG/AFTRA pro-merger powers didn’t want the membership to know in advance of all that let’s-get-together lobbying. "I always figured Carol would use that as her ace in the hole if things got heated. And I believe she did," one of my sources said. "So SAG-AFTRA had to give up something big to get AMPTP to agree there is a merged union." Now we know what that was – the higher AFTRA rates. So she’s stuck actors with the lower SAG minimum.

The Hollywood CEOs and their AMPTP ass-wipes should be ashamed of themselves. But that would require them to have consciences. Network and studio moguls are the puppeteers pulling everybody else’s strings. What, they worry? From behind the scenes, they order Hollywood to jump, and the town asks how high. And never more so than during all these guild negotiations. As for the unions, pissing off the studio and network big shots isn’t what any guild wants to do anymore. They view the lesson learned from the Writers Strike is that Big Media merely used it as an excuse to rethink their business models. Given current trends in leadership, I can’t imagine any scenario where unions will fling their feces against walls or make menacing noises to indicate they’re going to bite the hands that feed them. The so-called ‘hardliners’ and ‘militants’ have no role anymore.

So I have a suggestion. If the studios and network CEOs are now making bigger compensation packages than, say, the chiefs of the auto companies, then why don’t the DGA, WGA and SAG-AFTRA take a page from the United Auto Workers? Detroit’s Big Three pushed the United Auto Workers union to accept profit-sharing payments in their most recent round of labor negotiations rather than taking an increase in base pay. (The car companies had successfully argued that the rising base pay of past contracts was a factor in the ballooning cost structure of U.S. automakers, contributing to the 2009 bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.) The result was that workers at General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler Group pocketed a record amount of profit sharing after the automakers reported final 2013 earnings. Let the Big Media CEOs set aside an annual pile of cash from profits for the workers who made it all possible instead of lining their own already stuffed pockets.

Sounds like just another Hollywood script, huh?

Criminal Indictments in Sarah Jones Death Could Be Showbiz Industry’s Safety Wake-Up Call

Much has been written about the tragedy of Sarah Jones’ train tracks death and the serious injury to other production crew on the first day of filming indie Midnight Rider. But I’m certain that only criminal charges and big bucks in damages will get Hollywood’s attention to change the flagrant way that safety codes are violated on location. Today was the first step when prosecutors in Georgia announced SarahJones_PhotowCamerathat a Wayne County grand jury on Wednesday found enough evidence to take 3 people to trial and charged Midnight Rider filmmakers Randall Miller, Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in the February 20th death of the 27-year old camera assistant. The Greg Allman biopic’s producer-writer-director Miller and producer-writer Savin are the co-owners of Unclaimed Freight Productions Inc which was producing and filming Midnight Rider. Sedrish was the Executive Producer and unit production manager. The manslaughter charge carries a potential 10-year prison sentence under Georgia law. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor and carries a potential sentence of 12 months.

Yes, it was very fitting that a campaign to get Sarah Jones mentioned on the Oscars’ In Memoriam succeeded. But efforts must continue focusing on location safety, especially after I reported that an A&E Longmire crew member died in New Mexico  last weekend and now Teamsters are probing if too-long hours were to blame. Wednesday’s indictments are the first to hold the film industry responsible for Jones’ death. The next step is the money that Sarah Jones’ parents and their lawyer Jeffrey Harris are seeking in their wrongful death lawsuit.

They filed it as advocates to spur changes in the film industry’s lax approach to on-set safety. "We don’t want our daughter’s death to be in vain," Sarah’s father Richard told The Hollywood Reporter. "I believe that there are a small minority of people in the industry who don’t quite get it, but they do get the dollar sign. Frankly, this [lawsuit] is one way of getting their attention."

Many have said Jones’ death was one direct result of the indie movie’s chasing state tax incentives sarah_jones_train_tracks_insetthat can have disastrous safety consequences, according to producers, risk managers and insurance brokers who spoke at the recent Producers Guild Of America ‘Produced By’ panel on industry safety. Yes, there’s no doubt that Jones’ death shook the industry like no other accident since the 1982 Twilight Zone disaster. And Midnight Rider was shot in Georgia, one of the most tax incentive-friendly states in the nation. But the panelists agreed that inadequate prep time to put in place adequate safety precautions, fears by crew that they’ll get fired for raising safety concerns, and the difficulty of finding experienced crews in tax incentive states, all contributed to the Georgia tragedy.

Ten months before Jones was killed, the AMPTP Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee updated its warning  “Safety Bulletin #28: Guidelines for Railroad Safety” about the hazard of working on and around railroad trains and tracks. Not a single news outlet knew it had been issued. And still unclear is whether the Midnight Rider production company informed crew members of the Safety Committee’s update — or whether they were even aware of its existence. As Deadline noted in first reporting the AMPTP bulletin, one of the hard lessons that Hollywood should learn from Jones’ death is that there needs to be a wider dissemination and discussion of industry safety guidelines.

Not just the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, but also OSHA, National Transportation Safety Board, CSX Railroad and others are all involved in the ongoing investigation. IATSE Motion Picture Studio Technicians Local 479 Atlanta President Ray Brown, a friend of Sarah Jones, has insisted the fatal train wreck was "completely avoidable … I believe they have made an award winning documentary on their utter lack of concern for public safety."

The parents’ lawsuit now can access the investigatory file compiled by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, which turned its criminal investigation over to the district attorney for the grand jury indictments. Richard Jones also plans subpoenas, document requests, and testimony under oath for anyone who had a legal responsibility for what happened on the set. "We want the producers and people who create films to plan on safety, to implant it into the planning process," Richard Jones said. "We believe that safety should never be an afterthought, but rather, it should become part of the culture, woven into the very fabric of the industry."

As an assistant camera operator, Sarah Jones’ duties included setting up cameras, keeping the cameras loaded with film and helping track and transport equipment," the lawsuit says. The day of the accident, the film crew met first at Meddin’s facility in Savannah, then traveled to the filming site in Jessup. The scene itself was to be filmed on railroad tracks on a trestle bridge. The suit says that the filming took place without proper permission.

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Longmire

‘Longmire’ Crew Member Dead And Now Teamsters Probing If Too-Long Hours Were To Blame

UPDATED: I’ve just learned that Teamsters Local 492 in New Mexico is investigating this death and whether it was the result of the crew member working too-long hours on location which doubles for Wyoming as the setting for the TV western crime drama. "If we find anyone was in violation we will report it to the federal Department Of Transportation," Local 492 business agent Moises Ortega told me. "It’s tragic." You might find it interesting that, in the first minutes I posted this Longmire story, it has been forwarded at least 30+ times from A&E offices.

One of the most worrisome complaints from film and television crews are the long hours they are forced to work and how it affects them. Teamster KilledAnd nothing gets done about it until someone gets hurt. A crew member Teamster on the A&E series Longmire now producing its 3rd season was just killed in New Mexico when he fell asleep behind the wheel after a long shooting day. The rollover crash took place at  4:30AM on Saturday morning while he was driving home from the set. According to the Alburqueque TV station, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said 48-year-old Gary Joe Tuck of Moriarty, N.M. was driving along State Road 41 when his truck left the road and rolled.

Questions posed by the crash include how many hours did the production company work the crew? Sources told the TV station that crews worked anywhere from 12- to 13-hour days and even 18+ hours and that Tuck had clocked in at 9 AM and out the following 3 AM that day. "Long hours have been an issue on set for a while. Fridays are the worst, with a late start and a reduced turnaround over the weekend, they’ll run you until the sun comes up on Saturday morning and have you back on set for 6 AM on Monday."

The U.S. Department Of Transportation does mandate an 8-hour turnaround for Teamsters. And drivers who take the wheel after a 17- to 19-hour day function worse than those with blood alcohol levels of .05%, according to a study by the British Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine. Several Hollywood groups keep advocating for a "twelve and twelve rule": an inviolable 12-hour maximum day with a mandated 12-hour turnaround period for all industry workers. The lobbying followed the 1997 death of cameraman Brent Hershman, who fell asleep while driving home after a 19-hour day on the film Pleasantville and died.

After a brief hiatus, New Mexico is once again a frequent shooting location because the state’s so-called Breaking Bad bill sweetened tax incentives for television shows filming in New Mexico and was signed into law last spring. The bill bumped the tax credit to 30% percent after Hollywood stopped coming when incentives were capped in 2011.

If Viewers Weren’t Watching ‘Community’ On NBC, Why Will More Watch On Yahoo?

UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Yes, a small but vocal minority are addicted to Dan Harmon’s Community for reasons that escape me. (Every year I try watching 2 or 3 episodes and can’t muster even one second of enjoyment… So don’t bother insulting my taste in TV.)
Community

So this group is huzzah-ing that the TV sitcom will return for a 6th season exclusively on Yahoo Screen this fall, according to Sony’s announcement today. The studio also is celebrating the extra year of syndication loot about to come in. The 13 new episodes will be exec produced  by creator Harmon (with Russ Krasnoff, Gary Foster and Chris McKenna) who said, “I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online. I vow to dominate our new competition. Rest easy, Big Bang Theory. Look out, Bang Bus!”

So I have to ask this question: if such a small group of viewers were watching Community on NBC, why will more watch on Yahoo?

In 2011, Yahoo (following plans by AOL, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) launched its rebranded video site called Yahoo Screen with 8 new original web shows. And by 2014, original online video is on fire as web companies realize the advertising possibilities of exclusive branded content and the opportunity to reach a new generation of web consumers who have cut the cord on broadcast and cable TV.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in 5 years you won’t be aware of where the hell you’re watching if it’s broadcast, if it’s cable, if it’s Netflix. If it’s TV programming platforms on your smartphone and your tablet and your computer. You’re just watching. The more places people are able to watch, the more people will consume entertainment. There are no bounds except maybe price point. In terms of Community, both NBC and Yahoo Screen were/are free. But while Amazon and Netflix are making new programming, Yahoo is continuing mostly old programming.

It’s the web equivalent of coughing up a fur ball.

True, Hulu said at its upfront that Community was one of their Top 10 streaming shows of all time. So it’s a better fit for digital than broadcast. But isn’t that aiming low even when the economics are way different?

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You Can Go Home Again: Gail Berman Returns To Fox TV And To Movies (Where She Failed)

Just now Fox Networks Group announced a joint venture with former Fox Broadcasting President Gail Berman to create a new independent production entity, The Jackal Group.  GailBermanThe new partnership by FNG czar Peter Rice and her will develop scripted, unscripted and factual entertainment programming for FNG’s channels, including Fox Broadcasting Company, FX/FXX, the National Geographic Channels and Fox International Channels. But here’s what really interests me about the partnership: it will produce in the digital and feature film arenas. Because it was 7 years ago that Berman was brutally fired as Paramount Pictures President when she tried to make the transition from television to movies. (Fox even recycled the same very old photo that accompanied her 2005-2007 film tenure.)

Yes, Berman is one of the few media executives to have held the top posts at both a major film studio and a broadcast television network.  (Bob Daly, Barry Diller, Brandon Tartikoff, Jeff Sagansky, and Michael Eisner are among the others.) From 2000 to 2005, she was President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company and helped take the network to the top of the ratings for the first time in its history. Then she left to join Paramount Pictures in March 2005.  And suddenly a woman celebrated as exceedingly smart in the TV arena was scorned as a failure in the movie realm.

Ironically, back in 2005 when Paramount Chairman/CEO Brad Grey named Berman to lead his pics’ creative team, The New York Times trumpeted “Hollywood’s New Old Girls’ Network” on the cover of the Sunday Arts and Leisure Section pegged to the hiring. ”He did something that has become almost routine in Hollywood: he put a woman in charge of the show…women_main480.jpgFour of the six major film studios have women in the top creative decision-making roles … These women have finally buried the notion that Hollywood is a man’s world. So striking is the change that some now see Hollywood as a gender-based model for the rest of corporate America.” But that was then, and by the time Berman was fired in 2007, only Amy Pascal at Sony Pictures Entertainment was left standing as the one female mogul in a position of real power without layers of male bureaucracy above her.

Berman’s main crime was being a bitch. (Whereas, a guy in her job being called a bastard is considered high praise in Hollywood.) She had two years left on her contract, and I reported  exclusively that she exited with no studio production deal, nada, which is unusual. People were openly taking potshots at her. Indeed she was fired after not just one but two negative stories about her were going to appear in that day’s Los Angeles Times. (Wow, it’s been that long since the newspaper’s showbiz articles actually mattered in Hollywood.)

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The Kardashians Ratings Are Krashing: Will E! President Suzanne Kolb Take The Fall?

I can only surmise that the rest of the entertainment media are in those grifter Kardashians’ portly pocketbooks. keepingupwiththekardashiansBecause why else is no one reporting the steep rating declines for this new season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.  The show’s Season 9B premiere was down -29% in P18-49 vs Season 8, and down -17% vs S9A premiere, and down -10% vs S9A finale. Let’s not forget that Seasons S8 and S9A were down from S7, etc. The Kardashians are krashing. Of course, the failure couldn’t happen too a more deserving family. I for one loved the big backlash aimed at Anna Wintour for putting Kim and Kanye on Vogue cover. That issue should have come with a barf bag. Let’s not forget that its newstand sales proved only a less-than-average 250K copies – not the 500K hyped. Every time a US magazine writes about the K’s, almost every comment brutalizes the family. The fact is media who keep publicizing them are out of touch with public hatred of them. And that’s without people knowing that, whenever the Kardashians go out, they call the paparazzi in advance and tell them where they’re going and then get a big kickback every time a photo agency sells their picture.

So what does this mean for E!? The Kardashians are still its highest rated and highest profile series, even though down from their heyday in 2011. But with the next contract, their show won’t even be profitable given the price per episode. There are no other hits on the horizon. Escape Club lost -58% of lead-in and was -22% lower than Rich Kids Of Beverly Hills‘ debut/premiere and -31% lower than Total Divas’ debut/premiere. And those two series were already hugging the ground in terms of ratings yet were the only shows renewed in the Suzanne Kolb era. The only thing E! can tout is digital growth and growing mobile but that’s true for everyone.

So let’s talk about Suzanne Kolb. I hear she’s being replaced as E! President (there’s a head hunter firm working on this now) because she’s been an unmitigated disaster at the top and the results show. First, there was the unnecessary WGA battle with Fashion Police: this was mishandled with the writers, the WGA, and Joan Rivers. E! wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of press about Chelsea Handler’s departure even though they knew it was a contract year. So they got buried by her manager Irving Azoff and have no replacement with Chelsea leaving in September. All they have is a list of comedians and their Q scores. (I hear even Jim Carrey is on the list.)

A smart and strategic channel president Kolb isn’t, and not creative either. Failed series under her tenure include almost everything, from Mrs. Eastwood And Co, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, Chasing The Saturdays, The Wanted Life, Opening Act, Playing With Fire, Party On, and The Soup Investigates. The previously mentioned Escape Club also is shaping up as another poorly rated series. And that Viscount Of Vapidity, Ryan Seacrest, is leaving E!’s Red Carpet so they’ll have to use the unwatchable Ross Mathews or Maria Menounos hired after being kicked off both Extra and Entertainment Tonight.

E!’s ratings overall were down -20% in 2013. And in 2014 they’re down another -20% from last year’s numbers for the same period. In other words, it’s bad at E! and Madison Avenue knows it.

Goodbye Kolb.