Leslie Jones On Her Saturday Night Live Exit: “I Don’t Miss It. At All.”

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October 17, 2020 8:34am

After five years on Saturday Night Live and an Emmy nomination for her work, Leslie Jones had enough. She stunned many by leaving her gig as a full-time cast member.

Now, she’s resurfaced as executive producer and host of a new version of the game show Supermarket Sweep on ABC.

“I don’t miss it. At all,” Jones said to ET about her SNL days. “That job was hard, man. That job was like two jobs and very restrictive, too. I wasn’t very free there.”

Apparently, her new gig fulfills her. “It’s just, you know, a comedian’s dream come true,” she says of the Supermarket Sweep job.

The revived Supermarket Sweep follows the same format as it did when it debuted in 1965: teams answer a few questions that will add time to their shopping clock, then try to accumulate as much as they can in that time period in a mad dash through the grocery store, with the highest-priced food collection winning the competition.

The new version will give away more money. “We have a lot of bonuses, we’re giving money away to essential workers every week,” Jones said. She added that safety protocols will be in effect during the pandemic.

Jones once tried out for an earlier version of the show, but failed to qualify when a roommate ran out on her. Now, she’s achieved a dream.

“When you see the carts and you see the game play and you go, ‘Oh, OK and I’m hosting it. Oh, this is fun!’” Jones said.

‘Mafia 4 ‘Merica’ Party Game Hosted By SNL’s Taran Killam To Benefit When We All Vote

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October 17, 2020 6:00am

Sam Rudy Media Relations

SNL alumni Taran Killam will host Mafia 4 ‘Merica, an evening of charity and comedy, on Saturday, October 24th, at 7 PM PT/10PM ET via the Looped app. All proceeds from the evening will benefit When We All Vote, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization founded by Michelle Obama and others.

Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Adam Brody, Will Forte, Natasha Lyonne, Bobby Moynihan, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Andrea Savage, Ben Schwartz, Cobie Smulders and others will play the popular party game Mafia. Audience members will know everyone’s role, but the players will not.

Mafia consists of two secretly predetermined teams, an informed minority (The Mafia), and an uninformed majority (The Villagers). At the start of the game, each player is confidentially assigned a role affiliated with one of these teams (Mafia or Villager).

The game has two alternating phases. First, everyone closes their eyes and The Mafia must decide secretly to eliminate a Villager in the night. Secondly, everyone is told to open their eyes and The Host announces who has been eliminated. Immediately following, the entire group must debate, accuse, argue and lie through their teeth to save themselves until a consensus is made and the group votes to eliminate who they think is one of The Mafia.

The person with the most votes is eliminated, whether they’re rightfully accused as Mafia, or just a lonely Villager. Whatever team can eliminate their opposing side first wins.

The ticketed event is on sale here.

Democrats Should Make An Issue Of Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism, Bill Maher Says, “Because Being Nuts Is Relevant”

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October 16, 2020 8:49pm

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Bill Maher lit into Amy Coney Barrett and the Catholic Church, saying the prospective Supreme Court justice has been “”groomed since birth” to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As the Real Time host began tonight’s show-ending monologue about Barrett, he joked that he had nothing against Catholics “except my entire upbringing.” (He grew up in both Catholic and Jewish traditions but now identifies as an atheist, as even casual viewers of the show would know.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats “won’t make Barett’s religion an issue – but they should,” Maher said. “’cause being nuts is relevant.”

If Barrett is confirmed, Maher noted, seven of the court’s nine justices would be Catholics. “If faith is this super-important element of life,” the famously atheist Maher remarked, “shouldn’t we have a greater balance of it on the nation’s highest court?” The fastest-growing group among those declaring a religious affiliation, Maher said, are “the ‘nones,’” meaning those who reply to survey questions about which religion they follow with “none.” They represent 26% of the U.S. population.

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Religion isn’t the only rock in Maher’s shoe when it comes to Barrett. He noted her description of climate change as a “controversial” set of scientific findings, as well as her general reluctance to answer any questions during confirmation hearings. He also sought to dispel any lingering doubts that Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision legalizing abortion, saying she has been picked explicitly for her willingness to do so.

“She’s like the Terminator, a robot programmed to fulfill one task,” Maher said, “except she wasn’t sent from the future, she was sent from the past.”

While most Catholics are not “doctrinaire,” Maher said, “there’s another strain of uber-conservative Catholics who have an agenda and an enormous and growing influence to achieve it. It’s really about pining for a return to the Middle Ages, when the church was the state.”

As examples, he cited U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the Federalist Society, the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei.

“These old-school Catholics, they play the long game,” Maher said. “Amy Coney Barrett has been on their radar since forever because she was raised in an extremist Catholic community” called People of Praise. “These are the folks who make Jehovah’s Witnesses say ‘Shhh, don’t open the door!’”

Among the practices of the group, Maher said, is speaking in tongues. He played a clip illustrating the practice and fumed, “and now it’s on the court!”

In a T-shirt-ready quip that summed up the segment, Maher insisted, “It’s not wrong to call out nuts when sh-t is nuts.”

Anthony Chisholm Dies: Tony-Nominated Actor And Film, TV Star Was 77

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October 16, 2020 7:48pm

From left, cast members Anthony Chisholm and Brian D. Coats after the opening night performance on Nov. 24, 2019. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

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Anthony Chisholm, whose long acting career spanned Broadway, film and television, died today at age 77. No cause was given by The Katz Company, his talent management.

Chisholm earned a 2007 Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role in August Wilson’s play Radio Golf.

He was born on April 9, 1943 in Cleveland, Ohio, and was drafted by the US Army in the 1960s, serving as a platoon leader for the 4th Armored Calvary, 1st Infantry Division in the Vietnam War. Upon returning to the US, Chisholm performed in The Boys from Syracuse and The Threepenny Opera at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio.

He made his film debut in the 1968 Uptight, directed by Jules Dassin. That launched a career that saw him in such films as Putney Swope in 1969 and Cotton Comes to Harlem in 1970.

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In 1987, Chisholm’s Vietnam War experiences were the inspiration for the HBO television series Vietnam War Story.

Playwright August Wilson, right, gestures as he talks with actor Anthony Chisholm during rehearsal of Wilson’s play “Radio Golf” at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., April 7, 2005. Wilson returned to Yale to complete this final work in his series of plays he began there chronicling the black experience in 20th century America. (AP Photo/ Michelle McLoughlin)
AP

Chisholm met August WIlson in 1990 while auditioning for Two Trains Running, winning the role of Wolf. The meeting led to a fruitful collaboration between Chisholm and Wilson, with Chisholm part of the production’s touring company before hitting Broadway in 1992. In 1996, he became part of the core cast for Wilson’s Jitney, which appeared off-Broadway in New York City in 2000.

In the early oughts, Chisholm was prisoner Burr Redding in the HBO crime drama series Oz before returning to the stage with Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean in 2004, In 2007, Chisholm portrayed Elder Joseph Barlow in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, earning a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal.

Chisholm received the NAACP Theatre Award, the AUDELCO Award, the Ovation Award, and the I.R.N.E. Award. He also received nominations for the Drama Desk, Drama League, NAACP Theatre Award, and AUDELCO Awards

Survivors include his son, Alexander Chisholm, his daughter, Che Chisholm, his son-in law, Peter Vietro-Hannum and grandchildren, Ravi & Avani Vietro.

Information from BroadwayWorld.com was used in the preparation of this story.

AFI, AMC Networks Launch Black Production Fund

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October 16, 2020 7:15pm

The American Film Institute (AFI) has teamed with AMC Network to establish the Black Production Fund, which will provide grants for thesis productions by Black fellows in their second year at the AFI Conservatory.

AFI made the announcement today in the midst of its 2020 virtual festive. The Black Production Fund, as well as recently announced Thomas P. Pollock Endowed Scholarship for promising diverse AFI Producing Fellows, is part of AFI’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives dedicated to increasing Black voices in storytelling.

In addition to the find, AMC Networks is streaming a selection of AFI Conservatory films on UMC, the VOD platform dedicated to showcasing Black film and television. FIlms available include The First Stone from director Kaisan Rei (AFI Class of 2016), Gummi Bear, directed by RJ Dawson (AFI Class of 2019), and Yellow Girl And Me, written and directed by Isabella Issa (AFI Class of 2019).

“At this pivotal moment in America’s history, the revolutionary power of visual storytelling to inspire change has never been more critical – and there is no better way to support underrepresented voices than to help fund the films they make to tell their own stories,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “This support for our Fellows with their thesis films is transformational. We want to thank AMC Networks for their leadership in creating opportunities for Black storytellers.”

“AMC Networks is proud to support the Black Production Fund – a vehicle to break down barriers for Black artists to tell stories that build a more inclusive culture,” said Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks. “With UMC, we are also proud to provide a home to showcase some of these outstanding projects.”

 

WGA Outlines Steps WME & CAA Must Take To End 18-Month Feud Over Packaging Fees And Ownership Interests

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October 16, 2020 2:14pm

WGA; WME; CAA

The WGA sent WME and CAA a proposal today that outlines the steps they must take in order to become franchised by the guild and end their 18-month standoff over packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related production entities.

Here’s the full text of the letter the guild’s agency negotiating committee sent to members this afternoon:

Today, the WGA sent both WME and CAA a proposal that outlines the steps each of them must take in order to be in compliance with the 20% ownership cap on production affiliates in the franchise agreement. At the same time, we sent them a renewal of our initial information request, which they have, up to this point, only partially satisfied.

As a reminder, both CAA and WME have agreed, in theory, to the 20% cap provided for in the UTA/ICM agreement. What they have not done is spell out how they will actually comply. WME says it wants until 2022; CAA has given no specific timeline, saying that it will sell when “commercially practicable.”

“As we communicated to you in our previous correspondence (Sept 1, Sept 14, Sept 30), CAA and WME enter these negotiations more deeply conflicted than any of the other agencies. But that does not give them the right to come out on the other side of this process still conflicted. We have been clear with them from the start that we will not make a deal with them that undercuts the gains this campaign has achieved. Everything we ask from them today is necessary to ensure that writers are protected: which means that the agencies divest to the 20% limit in a timely fashion – that they remain divested – and that we can verify their compliance.

All of this begins with transparency over their corporate structures and private equity ownership. Earlier this month, at the request of both CAA and WME, the WGA agreed to confidentiality regarding certain corporate information that might be disclosed to us during the course of negotiations. While both agencies have now provided some corporate structure information, much of it was already publicly ascertainable, and most of our requests have gone unanswered. Any agreement must start with openness and full disclosure. We cannot protect writers from conflicts that are deliberately hidden from us.

You can read the complete correspondences from the WGA to WME and CAA, which includes the following terms these agencies need to meet to protect your interests:
• The limitations in the franchise agreement on 20% ownership of an affiliate production entity must apply to all the agency’s parent entities, investors, shareholders, and affiliates. Those are the terms of the UTA/ICM deal and there can be no exception for CAA and WME. To allow otherwise would permit the agencies to execute an “end run” by shifting ownership to another related entity while remaining conflicted.
• Neither agency will be permitted to sign the franchise agreement until it can demonstrate that it has properly divested according to the terms of that agreement. The Guild will not be in the position of sending writers back to their agencies on faith and waiting for compliance from agencies who have been relieved of their greatest pressure to do so. Nor will we be faced with telling writers to terminate their agency a second time, should that agency fail to comply.
• Preexisting projects cannot be exempted from the limitations on financial interest beyond 20%. We allowed preexisting packages to survive because requiring all writers to pay back commission in order to undo already packaged projects would not have been a tenable solution. There is no such parallel with affiliated ownership. What’s more, this requirement of full divestment to 20% ensures that there is no residual conflict inherent in agency-owned studio projects.
• The agency’s restructuring – and its continued compliance – must be subject to third-party oversight and verification. This is necessary because the agencies are privately held companies whose structures are entirely obscured from public view. Unlike packages, which can at least be ascertained in show budgets and profit statements, the Guild would have to take compliance on faith alone. That we will not do. We need to be assured that the divestment is complete and enduring. We’ll also need appropriate sanctions spelled out in the event of noncompliance. We are not insisting on auditing the agencies; however, there must be third-party monitoring to protect writers’ interests.

We will update you with any significant developments.

In Solidarity,
WGA Agency Negotiating Committee

Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
David Shore, Co-Chair
Meredith Stiehm, Co-Chair
Lucy Alibar
John August
Angelina Burnett
Zoanne Clack
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Ashley Gable
Deric A. Hughes
Chip Johannessen
Michael Schur
Tracey Scott Wilson
Betsy Thomas
Patric M. Verrone
Nicole Yorkin
David A. Goodman, President WGAW, ex-officio
Marjorie David, Vice President WGAW, ex-officio
Michele Mulroney, Secretary-Treasurer WGAW, ex-officio
Beau Willimon, President WGAE, ex-officio
Kathy McGee, Vice President WGAE, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer WGAE, ex-officio

Pioneering “Cooley High” Director Michael Schultz To Be Honored By Black Hollywood Education & Resource Center

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October 16, 2020 2:06pm

MGM

Cooley High director Michael Schultz will be honored October 24 by the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center as part of its 26th annual African American Film Marketplace and the S.E. Manly Short Film Showcase, which runs from October 23-November 29.

Michael Schultz
BHERC.tv

“Michael represents the best of the best in Hollywood, a true genius at what he does,” said BHERC president Sandra Evers-Manly. “Cooley High is a classic that launched the careers of several phenomenal actors and inspired a generation of filmmakers. A renaissance professional, Michael has placed an indelible imprint on the stage, film and television industries.”

Cooley High was “so important during its time because of the cultural content as well as its box office performance,” she said. “It’s a comedy turned drama coming-of-age story of high school friends that reached beyond communities and lines of color and gave voice and validation to lives never explored on the big screen.”

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Evers-Manly, a former president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch of the NAACP, and the cousin of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year.

Sandra Evers-Manly On Black Representation In Hollywood: “Just Being Considered Or Present Is No Longer Enough” – Guest Column

Hosted by actor William Allen Young, the virtual salute to Schultz — who still is directing at 81 — will chronicle the pioneering director’s career in film and television, beginning in 1972 with the TV movie To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, and followed by a string of hit comedies, including Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976), Greased Lightning (1977), Which Way Is Up? (1977) and Carbon Copy (1981), which featured Denzel Washington in his first movie role. Schultz, whose career has spanned 50 years, went on to direct more than 100 episodes of TV shows, including Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, Touched by an Angel, The Practice, Chicago Hope, Black Lightning and Black-ish. His many other films include Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), Scavenger Hunt (1979), Krush Groove (1985) and The Last Dragon (1985).

Cooley High cast members who will be on hand to pay tribute to Schultz include Garrett Morris, Steven Williams, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Glynn Turman, Jackie Taylor, Gloria Schultz and Brandon Schultz. Industry colleagues taking part will include NCIS executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson, actor-director Bill Duke, director Oz Scott and producer Warrington Hudlin.

Commemorating the 45th anniversary of the release of Cooley High, the film will be screened at the BHERC’s signature event, “A Great Day in Black Hollywood,” as part of its monthlong short-film festival, which will screen 140 films from 20 countries. Cooley High will screen at 3 pm PT October 24, followed by an online tribute to Shultz, which can be viewed at http://www.BHERC.TV.

Founded by Evers-Manly in 1996, BHERC is a nonprofit, public benefit organization designed to advocate, educate, research, develop, and preserve the history and future of African Americans in film and television. BHERC programs include film festivals, mentoring, book signings, script readings, film and animation contests, scholarships, and other programs and special events. BHERC TV was launched in February 2020 and offers commercial-free, affordable streaming entertainment with paid memberships in eight countries, providing programming in a variety of genres and languages that can be watched on any internet-connected screen.

Trump Administration Reverses Decision To Reject California Wildfire Relief Funding – Update

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October 16, 2020 2:05pm

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Trump, Newsom, wildfire briefing Sept. 14, 2020
AP Photo

Update The Trump Administration has reversed its decision to reject California’s request for wildfire disaster relief funds. “Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request,” tweeted California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Grateful for his quick response.”

The reversal was made today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Newsom’s office. A financial amount for the disaster relief funds to help clean up the devastation from the recent and in some cases still-burning wildfires has not been specified.

Just got off phone with @realDonaldTrump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request.

Grateful for his quick response. https://t.co/rF7VFqSENl

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 16, 2020

Previous The state of California will appeal the Trump administration’s decision to reject a disaster relief request for damage caused by the six fires that burned 1.8 million acres of land.

“The request for a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires has been denied by the federal administration,” said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the governor’s office of emergency services, yesterday, adding that the state will appeal the decision.

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The president has repeatedly blamed forest mismanagement for the fires, shrugging his shoulders at the certainty of climate change. When meeting with California officials recently, Trump publicly stated that he doesn’t “think science knows” about the cause of the fires.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has requested the disaster relief by citing more than $229 million in infrastructure damage from the fires in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Siskiyou, Mendocino, Fresno and Madera counties.

Just yesterday, the National Weather Service issued additional Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches to alert California fire departments of “the onset, or possible onset, of critical weather and dry conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity.” The Warning was to be in effect for 24 hours, while the Watch can cover up to 72 hours.

Cal Fire noted that the Creek Fire in Fresno County has now burned more than 341,722 acres, with 58% containment.

Late-Night Laughs: ‘Conan’s Jeff Ross On TBS Show’s Future; ‘Full Frontal’ Head Writers On Navigating A Manic News Cycle

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October 16, 2020 1:54pm

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner

Jeff Ross, executive producer of TBSConan, is no stranger to the late-night business, having worked with Conan O’Brien since 1993. He has seen more than most in the late-night trenches, having been showrunner of NBC’s The Tonight Show during the Jay Leno fiasco in 2010.

Conan has been on the WarnerMedia-owned network for ten years and was retooled into a half-hour format in 2019. The host and Ross, who oversee a booming digital business and podcast factory via Team Coco, are now considering what the future holds.

Ross told Deadline that he’s questioned the future of the genre and believes late-night shows are now “kind of dinosaurs in the business”.

Last year, TBS announced that it had struck a deal with O’Brien and Ross to renew the show through 2022. “I think we are, in the not so distant future, looking at doing something different or a different version of it or different way to get it out there. Our deal with Turner, or WarnerMedia, isn’t up for another couple of years,” he admitted. “We know that we’re going to be doing something different on a different type of platform. Because, I mean, TBS and these linear cable networks, especially, are just like death. You know there’s no circulation, so you can’t do it forever. And he’s ready for a change. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on between the podcast and the show and the digital business.”

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Team Coco currently produces nine podcasts including Conan O’Brien Needs A Podcast, Literally with Rob Lowe and A Total Switch Show with Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch and is making four-stand up specials featuring comedians including Chris Redd and Moses Storm for HBO Max.

O’Brien himself has admitted that there are a number of aspects about podcasts are more fun than doing a talk show. He recently told Silicon Valley event TechCrunch Disrupt that he prefers the long-form nature of the conversations. “I think it’s a mistake to think of it as, ‘will you stop doing the show, and only do the podcast? Or will you retire and then quietly work on your letters in a shack?’ I love to create things. I have a lot of energy. I love to try and make people laugh,” he said. “If I’m making podcasts, it doesn’t prohibit me from also maybe do maybe doing something, it doesn’t have to necessarily be for Turner, it could be for anybody.”

O’Brien has been shooting his TBS show for the past three months at LA comedy club Largo. He was, in fact, the first late-night host to stop shooting his show out of his house. Ross said that the former Simpsons writer is having fun with it – as evidenced by a recent Christmas-themed episode (below).

He admitted that the safety of his staff is paramount and where the pair are in their careers, means there is less pressure to get right back into the studio. He said he wasn’t sure that he wants to put his 123-person staff through the move rather than the 12 to 14 that they have making the show at Largo. “For us to do it when it’s our show and our money, we’d have to get into a very big negotiation to try to figure out how to pay for that and how to do it. Frankly, Conan and I, I don’t know that we’re that comfortable with putting big groups of people together right now if we can avoid it.”

Team Coco owns more of their show than some of the other network late-night shows and having worked in late-night together for close to 30 years, the pair feel less pressure from above.

“The other guys haven’t been doing it quite as long as us, and they feel the pressure to have to do it the conventional way, as we did for a long time, and we don’t anymore… we’ve lived this for 20 something years,” he said.

Ross added that all staff are being paid and no one has been laid off and they’re “good” until at least the end of the year. “We’re going to start planning for 2021, whether we go back or don’t go, I don’t know. Honestly, we’re not sure,” he said.

Largo is also important for O’Brien, who has a long history with the comedy club where he started his improv career in the 1980s. Given the fact that comedies clubs in general will likely not seeing paying customers return properly until there’s a vaccine, it’s a real shot in the arm for the venue and it’s nice to see O’Brien put his money to help somewhere that helped him.

Although the show shoots earlier than it previously did – doing interviews at 11:30am and finishing around 2pm, Ross added, “It’s forcing the writers and the creative team to sort of flex new muscles. It’s adversity and with adversity comes opportunity.”

Conan, which is currently on a hiatus until October 26, has had a pretty good recent run. He recently secured an interview with former First Lady Michelle Obama on the show and his DIY episode (above), put together by the creative pursuits of members of the audience, was a viral hit.

“The way we’re doing it now is actually kind of fun,” he said.

Clips Of The Week: Jimmy Kimmel Takes On ‘The Bachelorette’ 

It’s been a slightly quiet week for the late-night shows with Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, Conan and Samantha Bee all on hiatus.

Jimmy Kimmel, fresh from his summer break, persevered. The host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! had a slightly bizarre interview with deer-in-the-headlights reality star Clare Crawley. The star of The Bachelorette, who as Kimmel said had been “swabbed, sanitized and seduced by 31 eligible bachelors”, evidently wasn’t sure what she could say about the bizarre season of the ABC show and Kimmel didn’t buy some of her claims. It was somewhat refreshing.

Elsewhere, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah took on Donald Trump’s wild Bin Laden body double conspiracy theory and suggested that Twitter could use a man like Trump in the future.

Finally, it was allegedly the 100th episode for Showtime’s Desus & Mero, with the latter joking that they can quit now and go into syndication and collect cheques for the rest of their lives like Seinfeld.

Rising Stars: ‘Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’ Head Writers Kristen Bartlett & Mike Drucker

Deadline is shining a spotlight on some of the most exciting writers to rise up on the late-night beat. Who are the scribes that will go on to run shows, host, perform and create the the hottest comedies on TV and film?

This week’s focus is on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’s co-head writers Kristen Bartlett and Mike Drucker.

Kristen Bartlett

Bartlett (left) and Drucker became head writers of the TBS late-night show in February, mere weeks before the global pandemic hit and Bee was forced to shoot the show in the woods of her back yard.

The pair have navigated over 20 episodes of Full Frontal by working from home (rather than on their brand new head writer couches). They also face the challenge of putting together a weekly show during a time when the news cycle is utterly ruthless.

Drucker admits that it’s hard and that they look for underlying causes and trends to pin their show to rather than try to keep up with the news. “We ask ‘what’s behind this story? What do we have that’s not necessarily the topical portion but the thing that’s affecting or causing the topical portion?’ So, we try to take sort of a slightly different view to make sure that we’re not completely behind the times by the time we air.”

Barlettt says that they enjoy the topicality of it but that a draft on Saturday can be very different to what ends up getting shot on Wednesday. “We have it planned, and then I take a nap… and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died,” she adds.

The pair say they share a sense of humor, a “silly darkness”. “We have a lot of overlap with sense of humor, which has made working together great. It’s just like I’ll make a reference to a video game and Kristin might reference like Love Island and we’ll learn about each other. It’s still the same sort of silly as a style,” he says.

They’re also both trying to make former Daily Show correspondent Bee laugh. “Sam is always the funniest person in the room. So, it’s very sad not being in a room with her right now,” says Bartlett. “Sometimes on Friday night when we’re punching up the show before she reads it, we will add in jokes that we think will never make air just to make her laugh as she’s reading them and we’ve had some success with jokes that we think were too edgy or too ridiculous, or too crazy for her to ever be on the show and she says she’s fine with them.”

Bee has been a vocal campaigner on women’s rights and she has backed this up by paying Bartlett and Drucker and Bartlett the same, something that hasn’t always happened on late-night shows. Bartlett says, “As a woman I definitely appreciate it. I know that I leveled up because of Mike. I’ve definitely been in a scenario where I was paid less than male writers on my level, so it definitely means a lot.” Drucker adds, “We agreed when we heard we got the job, is that we wouldn’t agree to sign unless we both got the exact same contract.”

Mike Drucker

Both Bartlett and Drucker (right) had experience in late-night before working on Full Frontal, albeit in slightly different forms. Bartlett, who got her start at UCB, was a staff writer for two seasons of Saturday Night Live and was on the NBC show around the 2016 election.

“It was crazy, but also very productive and I felt like that was an incredible place to be during that time,” she says. “You produce everything that you’re writing and I think that is an incredible thing because you end up working with really talented people who make incredible sets, and who do music. You end up working with people who can bring your stupid ideas to light.”

She admitted that SNL is an “intense” schedule. “I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to see the two different worlds in terms of the room and how that works, but, yeah, SNL is a great grad school for writing and comedy.”

Drucker also worked briefly at SNL, albeit as a researcher and submitting jokes for Weekend Update. It also helped him get his first late-night writing job. “I was lucky enough that Seth Meyers kind of took me under his wing for a while and he gave me my first writing gigs,” he said.

Drucker then worked on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show with Fallon. “I really liked the job. It’s definitely a very stressful job and, as a monologue writer, you’re waking up at 5, 6 in the morning to like write 100 jokes about the news.”

Outside of Full Frontal, Bartlett recently sold a development with ABC. She is writing Big Wishes, a half-hour single camera comedy that follows a charity that fulfils the dreams of dying adults. She is currently polishing the script and working with director James Griffiths, 2 Dope Queens co-creator Phoebe Robinson and ABC Signature on the project.

“I think that both of those jobs have made each other easier. I don’t go crazy worrying about either one because I’m too busy to think about it,” she added.

Bartlett has also appeared on screen in series such as Hulu’s Difficult People, something that she’d be keen to do again. “I’m happy to be on TV anytime anybody lets me. My perfect world is not having to write the show and getting to like be in things that my friends are writing,” she joked.

Drucker, meanwhile, has no on-screen ambitions but would like to create a kids horror show. “There’s always like this weird dream in the back of my mind to sell a children’s show. I’ve got stuff I want to do but I really, really love being in late night.”

Peter Bart: “Corporate Restructuring” Stirs Mounting Fears In Hollywood As Major Studio Layoffs Loom

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October 16, 2020 1:22pm

AP Images

With yet another major round of layoffs about to hit Hollywood, I am reminded of Ben Hecht’s explanation of how he made his peace with the town. “The key is to understand how to balance the misery with the money,” he wrote.

Arriving in Hollywood at the zenith of the studio system, Hecht wrote that everyone he met was working, but also complaining. Good-paying jobs were abundant — for grips, extras, even writers. Studio contracts kept the stars bejeweled but not wealthy. The dreaded studio chiefs were autocratic but also not rich by today’s billionaire standards. The Hollywood ecosystem worked in its own self-protective way with everyone doing well but wanting more.

If Hecht were around today, he’d wonder why it isn’t working very well anymore (he managed to become its highest-paid writer). He’d especially be fascinated by the melodrama surrounding AT&T and its Hollywood protectorate, WarnerMedia, which this week starts reducing costs by a further 20% at a moment when some 840,000 other Americans are seeking unemployment aid nationwide (some 600 studio workers were cut in August).

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Analysts see layoffs looming at other studios as well, noting Disney’s new restructuring of its streaming services — some 28,000 Disney layoffs were recently announced after 100,000 furloughs worldwide in August — and potential investor unrest at other companies, such as MGM, stemming from the delayed release of major productions, especially the James Bond movie.

The studio chiefs no longer are the principal targets of complaint, with studios taking their subservient place in the new corporate structures. Indeed, at the moment when AT&T mandated its new round of cutbacks, the CEO who triggered the WarnerMedia acquisition, Randall Stephenson, announced his retirement at age 60. AT&T’S parting gift to him totaled nearly $100 million in pension and deferred earnings.

The phone company’s $85 billion acquisition of WarnerMedia reflected Wall Street’s belief in the long-term growth of the entertainment sector worldwide. Disney earlier had affirmed this doctrine with its acquisitions of Pixar and Lucasfilm, though some traders now question whether it overpaid for its biggest deal, Fox. Comcast, owning NBCUniversal, also had forged its commitment to acquisition, though some bankers now question whether it overpaid for SkyNews (the company was petulant about losing the Fox deal).

The second-guessing about AT&T’s initiatives, however, have gained the widest attention. Elliott Management, a hedge fund, claimed publicly that AT&T already was overinvested in problematic media assets, such as DirecTV, whose present $20 billion value totals less than half of what AT&T paid for it in 2015, according to some analysts.

With AT&T shares showing a 27% decline so far this year, John Stankey, its new CEO and a self-described “Bellhead,” declared that assets were not set in stone, adding, “There’s nothing sacred anywhere in the business, and WarnerMedia is no exception.” Stankey himself made $17.8 million in 2019 and has not revealed this year’s compensation.

None of this provides equanimity at WarnerMedia, which already eliminated some 500 jobs in August spread among HBO, TBS, TNT and the Warner Bros TV and film studio, which employed some 30,000 earlier this year.

If heads continue to roll at the executive level, to be sure, some of those displaced already have found new ventures in the financial arena. Two former Disney mavens, Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer, disclosed this week they would join with Shaquille O’Neal to establish a media acquisitions venture that Wall Street calls a “blank-check company.” It’s designed to make deals, not content. According to the SEC filing, some $250 million will help write the initial “blank check.” Shaquille last week coincidentally put his mega mansion outside Orlando up for sale for $19.5 million but avers that he didn’t need the cash to write the blank checks.

Since the bankers at Goldman Sachs saw their earnings increase 95% this year, the ex-Disneyites seem to be asking, “Why mess around with Hollywood when Wall Street doesn’t even acknowledge the word ‘cutbacks’?”

Johnny Depp Ordered To Sit For Deposition In $50M Amber Heard Defamation Case

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October 16, 2020 1:03pm

Johnny Depp, Amber Heard
Mega

After months of slipping out of having to actually sit down for the $50 million defamation lawsuit that he launched against Amber Heard, Johnny Depp may have run out of moves.

“Plaintiff John C. Depp, II shall …appear for three successive days in counsel for Defendant’s offices in Virginia …or at such other place in Northern Virginia designated by counsel for Defendant, from November 10-12, 2020, beginning at 10:00 a.m. each day,” declares an order yesterday from Fairfax County VA Circuit Court Chief Judge Bruce White (READ IT HERE).

No word yet from the Depp camp if the Fantastic Beasts star plans to fight this order, yet. However, if the Oscar nominee does show up, it looks like it will involve him having to skip out of some of the UK filming of the latest sequel in the WB franchise from J.K Rowling.

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It was the coronavirus delayed start of shooting on the David Yates-directed Fantastic Beasts 3 that was why Depp sought in August to have the commencement of the trial in the contentious
matter pushed back to mid-2021 and why he has been supposedly unable to sit with Heard’s lawyers previously. Though the actor has been conducting a mini-grand tour of European film festivals the last month or so, WB SVP for Corporate Legal Wayne M. Smith wrote in a September 8 letter that “we require Mr. Depp to be in the United Kingdom from September 17 through the anticipated end of production in mid-February, 2021.”

Citing the backlogs COVID-19 has caused in the courts, Judge White on September 11 shoved the previously much delayed trial from its anticipated January 2021 start to May 3 next year. Under that timeline, Depp’s deposition desired dates would have taken place mere weeks before the trial began – a state of affairs that Heard’s attorneys claim gave them little time.

Late last month, the Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown, P.C. lawyers and Aquaman star Heard filed paperwork to have Depp face their questions “on or before October 30, 2020 on dates and times agreeable to counsel for Defendant.” Having launched a $100 million counterclaim this summer, Heard was also unsuccessfully trying yet again to get the case initiated by her ex-husband tossed out.

There was a hearing in Fairfax County on the matter on October 9.

Following that, clearly Judge White, who also ordered Depp pay his ex-wife just under $7000 in some administrative fees and hand over long sought documents, split the difference on the deposition.

For those of you who haven’t been following with bated breath, this all started when the litigious and much sued Depp went after Heard in early 2019 for an op-end Heard wrote about domestic violence for the Washington Post in December 2018 . A piece that, while Depp believes cost him a role in Disney’s Pirates reboot, never actually mentions him by name.

The Rum Diary co-stars’ short and media spotlighted marriage came to an end in 2016 with a temporary restraining order slapped against Depp amid domestic violence claims. The relationship was officially over with a $7 million divorce settlement, most of which Heard ultimately donated to charity – though Depp contests if she actually did make the donations she claims

This new delay in the Virginia case comes as Depp, Heard and all their attorneys wait for the long anticipated verdict in Public Enemies star’s UK libel battle against Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun. Touted as the biggest English libel trial of the 21st century, the 16-day trial against the tabloid over stories about “wife beater” Depp allegedly abusing Heard ended in late July.

The High Court’s Judge Justice Nicol was expected to make public his verdict by last month – yet the clock keeps ticking.

How Jacob Elordi Romance Pic ‘2 Hearts’ Is Staying The Theatrical Course During The Pandemic

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October 16, 2020 12:40pm

Freestyle

EXCLUSIVE: Yes, there have been a number of film distributors — big ones — who’ve cut and run during the pandemic, jettisoning their movies onto PVOD or selling them outright to streamers as domestic exhibition hangs in a fractured state.

And despite how prevalent it has become, from Universal/Dreamworks Animation’s Trolls World Tour to Paramount’s $125M sale of Coming 2 America to Amazon, I’ve heard often and again from studio sources that neither PVOD nor streaming sales make up for the maximum revenues and profits that the theatrical windows downstream revenue model yields. This despite the fact that there have been ample discussions between studios and the big circuits about a dynamic shortened theatrical window/PVOD revenue share model following Universal and AMC’s deal.

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Freestyle

With viewership across streaming platforms up during the pandemic due to the nation being quarantined at home, industry insiders have a theory that the home entertainment market is poised to see a huge rebound, on par to that of the early millennium, even though revenue numbers have yet to fully indicate this. More specifically, those films looking to see big home entertainment window gains are those which are exclusively playing in the exhibition space now, i.e. Tenet, Unhinged, New Mutants, War With Grandpa. Given their delay to the home window, it would not be shocking to hear down the road that their home disc and or rental/sell-through windows combined show a 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio in comparison to their domestic box office results.

And it’s for that reason why we’re seeing movies like this weekend’s YA-faith-based title 2 Hearts from Freestyle Releasing stay the course and remain in theaters, despite the fact that New York, Los Angeles, and No. 2 exhibitor Regal remain closed. Today, 2 Hearts, opens in 1,683 theaters nationwide and will adhere to the full theatrical window. And, no, there’s no simultaneous theatrical-PVOD distribution going on here.

Directed by Lance Hool, whose filmmaking credits include being an executive producer on movies such as Man on Fire, Flipper, The Cup and directing One Man’s Hero and the Chuck Norris classic Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, 2 Hearts follows two couples. Their future unfolds in different decades and different places, but a hidden connection brings them together in a way no one could have predicted. Freestyle is making a play at YA females and faith-based older female audiences this weekend in a campaign that spans not only digital, but TV as well. For Freestyle, 2 Hearts is a service deal on par with the label’s release strategy.

Of note, the $15M feature production reps the first wide theatrical release for Australian heartthrob Jacob Elordi who broke out in the Netflix romance feature franchise The Kissing Booth and was further catapulted by HBO’s Emmy-winning gritty LA teenage angst Bacchanalia series Euphoria. Elordi has quickly created fandom among teen girls, and currently counts 10.5M followers on Instagram. Hool found Elordi through an open audition for 2 Hearts before the young actor shot The Kissing Booth. 

“I had an eye for him before they did,” beams Hool who saw several young actors for the part. “They (Netflix) were the first out, but we’re the first theatrical to bring him out.”

While 2 Hearts had a couple of release date changes due to the majority of major exhibition moving their reopening dates this past summer, Freestyle felt that the movie was prime for the younger audience that has statistically shown that it is open to returning to the movies during the pandemic (the 13+ 13 crowd) as well as older, faith-based women in red states.

“They cross over, mothers and daughters,” says Freestyle Head of Marketing Loren Schwartz about 2 Hearts‘ demos. In addition, Freestyle takes pride in providing exhibitors with fresh wide release content at a time when many major studios have abandoned the marketplace and are awaiting New York and Los Angeles to reopen before they attempt the waters with their $100M+ priced tentpoles.

Of note in the 2 Hearts campaign was the pic’s social media universe for its trailer which according to RelishMix counts 44.2M YouTube views and another 11.2M on Facebook (86% of all views paid and boosted). Overall, Freestyle counts 60M views for the trailer across all platforms.

Says RelishMix, “A social conversation viral phenomenon that campaigns hope for, is where fans call-out their friends, weeks in advance of a release. We saw an early case in 2015 with Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, which opened against Star Wars: The Force Awakens as counter programming. Gal-pal fans tagged their friends, it went viral and Sisters opened. Again, 2 Hearts chatted is indexing well as fans are piling on the convo with simple tags of their friends, especially on the heavily boosted Facebook clip with 10.7M views.” (See left image)

RelishMix

“Over on YouTube, convo swirls around Tiera Skovbye, (‘she plays Polly Cooper on Riverdale‘) who counts over 1.1M followers combined on Instagram and Twitter — as well as Jacob Elordi who’s 10.1M Instagram followers await his activation,” adds RelishMix in their latest report to Deadline.

Elordi appeared on Today yesterday, and also was involved with special callouts which are being sprinkled around on social for press hits. The TV buy for 2 Hearts has been focused on the over 25 segment.

While around 50% of all moviegoers are aware their local movie theater is opening, Freestyle sought to solve that challenging problem by creating ticketing outreach marketing. It’s typical for all movies, but what Freestyle initiated was a market by market hyper-targeted program that was customized in 25 markets telling each specific geographic area the movie was playing in their city.  In sum, 300 specialized ads were created for each unique market. This was in effort to create a more personal and connective touch than otherwise deployed in other film campaigns.

Freestyle reached out to the faith-based via “took kits” to parishes, as well as influencers, mommy bloggers and pastors. Some of the influencer outreach engagement included Brooklyn & Bailey youth partnership (at 17m+ combined reach; they posted exclusive Elordi-focused material) and key faith and teen outreach (over 50m+ potential reach). Freestyle also secured key endorsements from faith leaders including Delilah, Jen Hatmaker, Sandi Patty, Patsy Clairmont, Anita Renfroe and Jo Saxton. In addition, Faith radio was an important component for reaching the pic’s target, with a potential reach of 48M, hitting 20K pastors in a hyper targeted campaign. And there was an advance screening program that spanned 20 markets including Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, Tampa, Nashville, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Antionio, Miami, Orange County, among others.

“We had a theatrical commitment from the beginning, and we were never going to waver from it,” says Executive Producer of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures and Head of Acquisitions, Chris Charalambous who was turned onto the Hool-directed feature last year. “We never considered a pivot and it wasn’t part of the conversation.”

 

‘Generation’: Lena Dunham Series Adds Seven Recurring To Cast

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October 16, 2020 12:08pm

(L-R) J August Richards, Patricia De Leon, John Ross Bowie and Diego Josef
Mega

EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Keyvan (Alexa & Katie), Diego Josef (Goliath), J. August Richards (Council of Dads), John Ross Bowie (Speechless), Mary Birdsong (Succession), Patricia De Leon (Mayans M.C.) and Sydney Mae Diaz (High Fidelity) are set for recurring roles on HBO Max’s Lena Dunham-produced half-hour dramedy, Generation.

Created by Zelda Barnz and her father Daniel Barnz, who also directs, Generation is a dark yet playful half-hour following a group of high school students whose exploration of modern sexuality (devices and all) tests deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love and the nature of family in their conservative community.

They join the ensemble cast that includes Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Sam Trammell and Chase Sui Wonders with Justice Smith and Martha Plimpton.

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(L-R) Anthony Kevyan, Mary Birdsong and Sydney Mae Diaz
Mega; Personal Courtesy

Keyvan plays Pablo, Riley’s (Wonders) ex-hookup buddy/classmate. Pablo is an attractive “bad boy” and a man of few words.

Josef plays Cooper. At first glance, Cooper gives you major jock Junior Conservative Club vibes, but underneath he’s a sweet and genuine kid who’s trying to understand and connect with his transgender brother.

Richards plays Joe, Arianna’s (Alexander) dad, married to Patrick (Bowie). Joe holds petty grudges but is a deeply caring father and husband.

Bowie’s Patrick is Arianna’s (Alexander) dad, a former “straight” evangelical who is now married to Joe (Richards).

Birdsong plays Mrs. Culpepper, a former girl scout, current leader of the GSA. She’s enthusiastic, well-intentioned, and maybe just a touch too earnest.

De Leon plays Sela, Greta’s (Sanchez) mom, old-school to the core, a God-fearing woman who honors tradition.

Diaz plays J, the stoner philosopher of the group with a lofty mindset and obsession with roof topping and the tantra.

Generation is executive produced by Dunham for Good Thing Going Productions; Daniel, Ben and Zelda Barnz for We’re Not Brothers Productions; Sharr White and John Melfi. Marissa Diaz is a producer for Good Thing Going Productions.

Keyvan is known for his recurring roles on Netflix’s Alexa & Katie, TNT’s Major Crimes, ABC’s Schooled and ABC’s Fresh off the Boat. He is repped by Coast to Coast, Protege Entertainment and Meyer & Downs.

Josef is best known for his work in the second season of Amazon’s Goliath, and the A24 feature film The Ballad of Lefty Brown. He recently wrapped production on the Netflix Original Film There’s Someone Inside Your House, as well as the indie film Tiger Within. He is repped by The Gersh Agency, Inspire Entertainment and Goodman, Genow, Schenkman, Smelkinson & Christopher.

Richards recently starred in NBC’s Council of Dads as Dr. Oliver Post. He is best known for his role as Charles Gunn on Angel and has appeared in ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Notorious, Kevin (Probably) Saves The World and Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce. Richards is repped by APA.

Bowie most recently played Jimmy DiMeo on ABC’s Speechless opposite Minnie Driver. Prior to that he starred in The Heat opposite Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. He has recurred on About A Boy, The Big Bang Theory, Chasing Life and Episodes. Bowie is repped by Artists First and Innovative Artists.

Birdsong’s television credits include HBO’s Succession, Cinemax’s The Knick, CW’s Scream Queens, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Reno 911 and Fox’s Raising Hope. She can also be seen in the films Adventureland, The Descendants and Halloween II. Birdsong is repped by Innovative Artists and Stacy Abrams.

De Leon is a Panamanian actress with two other high-profile recurring roles on TV this season as Izzi Alvarez on FX’s Mayans M.C. and Elena Herrera on ABC’s Station 19. She is repped by Encompass Entertainment, Zero Gravity Management and Myman, Greenspan, Fox, Rosenberg, Mobasser, Younger & Light.

Diaz can be seen in the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife and has appeared in Hulu’s High Fidelity, Marvel’s The Iron Fist and Facebook’s Strangers. Diaz is repped by Edge Entertainment Management.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Renewed For Season 4 By CBS All Access, Gets Production Start Date

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October 16, 2020 12:00pm

The Starfleet crew clearly has more work to do. A day after its Season 3 premiere, CBS All Access announced it has renewed Star Trek: Discovery for a fourth season, with production set to begin on November 2. In a video clip (watch above), stars Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones and executive producers/co-showrunners Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise share the news as they prepare to head back to work amid strict COVID-19 protocols.

In Season 3, after following Commander Burnham (Martin-Green) into the wormhole in the second-season finale, the 13-episode third season finds the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery landing in an unknown future far from the home they once knew. Now living in a time filled with uncertainty, the Discovery crew, along with the help of some new friends, must work together to restore hope to the Federation.

Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz and David Ajala also star in the Emmy-winning sci-fi drama series.

2019-20 TV Renewals And Cancellations

Kurtzman and Paradise serve as co-showrunners and executive produce with Heather Kadin, Jenny Lumet, Frank Siracusa, John Weber, Olatunde Osunsanmi, Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth. The series is produced by CBS Studios in association with Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment.

Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on CBS All Access, which will rebrand as Paramount+ next year. The series is distributed by ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and OTT service Crave.

Reopening Hollywood: ‘Shark Tank’ EP Clay Newbill & The Venetian President George Markantonis On Creating COVID Bubble At Las Vegas Resort For Season 12 Shoot

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October 16, 2020 11:50am

ABC

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down production in Los Angeles in March, the producers of Shark Tank started to look for other options. They ultimately picked up and left the city, filming their 12th season at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. The result was probably the show’s best season ever, according to showrunner/exec producer Clay Newbill.

Created by Mark Burnett based on the international format Dragons’ Den, the ABC reality series follows entrepreneurs as they make business presentations to a panel of elite investors, or “sharks” — including billionaire Mark Cuban and branding expert Daymond John — who decide whether they’d like to invest in their company or product. At its core, the show is about being disruptive and thinking outside the box. And this year, John commented to Newbill, ”the show that’s about innovation had to get innovative.”

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‘Shark Tank’s Clay Newbill, left, and The Venetian’s George Markantonis
Todd Wawrychuk/ABC/The Venetian Resort Las Vegas

In order to assure a safe shoot in Las Vegas, Newbill worked closely with The Venetian Resort President and COO George Markantonis, and a small portion of the venue’s staff, to create and maintain a COVID bubble.

In a conversation with Deadline, the pair break down the work that went into devising a bubble at the world’s second-largest hotel, as well as the specific safety protocols followed during production. Newbill also teases the new season, which is set to premiere tonight at 8 PT.

DEADLINE: How did Shark Tank come to shoot its 12th season at The Venetian?

CLAY NEWBILL: When we were planning, L.A. had been locked down for quite a while. We started looking into alternative options outside of the Los Angeles area, in case L.A. was going to continue to be locked down, and MGM Television worked closely with industry leaders and medical experts to put the safest plan possible for our Shark Tank season in place.

Mark Cuban had a relationship with Patrick Dumont at The Venetian Resort Group and put us in touch with George. We looked at several other locations, and after speaking with George and the team at The Venetian Resort, it was far and clear the best option. The Venetian Resort was able to provide us with — we felt at the time — the safest possible route, or plan, for taping the show.

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DEADLINE: Tell us a bit more about that plan. What made The Venetian the ideal venue to host this series during the pandemic?

GEORGE MARKANTONIS: When Clay reached out to us with his team, they were interested in finding a location that had enough space to fit the set and the production needs, but it also had to have the ability to house an entire cast and crew, within close proximity.

Courtesy of The Venetian Resort

We also had to have the highest safety standards possible for a bubble throughout the production, and quite frankly, we are probably one of the rare facilities that can do that. The Venetian Resort comprises 18 million square feet. We dedicated a million square feet of space to the Shark Tank bubble, and we were able to create, within one location, a single, secure facility. So the stars aligned, and we were off.

NEWBILL: The Venetian Resort was going to be able to provide a bubble environment for the crew, the entrepreneurs and the sharks. We’re talking about over 250 people, during the entire time of production, so that was [reason] one. Two was, they had an established, proven, accurate and fast testing system. A testing system that was in place already was critical for us to be able to schedule the show, because without that, you just can’t move forward productively with a schedule. The last one was, as George mentioned, one million square feet. Where we built the set was 86,000 square feet, which allowed us to spread out. We had so much space, we couldn’t even utilize all the space they offered.

And of course, if you’re going to be coming into having to live in a bubble for an extended period of time, the fact that The Venetian Resort is a five-star resort and won the Condé Nast Best Resort in Las Vegas in 2019 doesn’t hurt, right? If you’re going to be stuck in a hotel room or stuck in a bubble for a period of time, I can’t think of any place better than The Venetian. You know, it was an easy sell. The entire team at The Venetian Resort was amazing. The services they provided were world class, so every single person had nothing but great things to say about their experience when they left.

Our goal going in was, we want to come in, shoot this thing in a bubble, be able to produce the show that our fans know and love, and have all the elements that you’d [expect]. Our goal was to produce a top-notch television series, and get out without a single person contracting COVID — and we accomplished that. We tested people before they came, and then we tested people after they arrived, as well. So we were able to get in and get out and stick to our schedule.

Christopher Willard/ABC/Sony Pictures Television

As a matter of fact, I’d say this season is probably our best season ever. So we’re super proud of that, and we would have never been able to do it without The Venetian and their help.

DEADLINE: It must have been quite challenging to safely transport Shark Tank’s cast and crew to Las Vegas, making sure that you would be able to put on a show with all the elements viewers have come to expect.

NEWBILL: Well, one of the first things George told us, on our first call, was that they’re in the entertainment business. They had the facilities, and were able to help us to make that move. And yes, it was no easy task, in any way, shape or form. But everybody was completely committed to making this work, and one of the things I’m really most proud of is the fact that all 250 people that made this trip — from our crew, from the folks at The Venetian, from our sharks to all the entrepreneurs, everyone bought into the plan and were committed to making this work. And that’s the only reason that it did work, is because everybody stuck to that plan.

It was hairy; it was stressful at times because of the schedule. You know, we’ve been producing this show for 11 seasons on the Sony lot, and the familiarity of that, it’s almost like going home every day. This was going to be very different, [but] The Venetian was able to help us make that transition, and make it as easy as possible.

DEADLINE: What exactly went into creating a bubble environment at The Venetian and maintaining it throughout the duration of the shoot? I assume Shark Tank’s cast and crew never left the premises until you wrapped.

MARKANTONIS: Exactly right. To have a pure bubble, we had to make sure that all of the cast, the crew, the celebrities were within that bubble for the entire duration of almost two months.

Creating a bubble is not just a matter of creating privacy. We dedicated, in our Palazzo tower, one third of that tower — the guest suites — to the production members only. They had their own separate check-in area when they arrived. When they arrived, everyone had to go through COVID testing protocols with a quick turnaround, and once they entered the bubble, and they were put into the guest suites. Those suites had dedicated elevator banks that brought them down to the ground floor.

We had sealed off access to any of the public areas of the resort from that elevator bank. In fact, we built a temporary wall, directing people who exited that elevator bank into another dedicated corridor, which took them all the way to the site where the set was set up, in The Sands Expo Center. And they never left that bubble.

Even the meals were in that zone, specially prepared under all of the protocols that we have. So this was a real bubble. It went from check-in and housing, but the key was also isolation of the group.

ABC

DEADLINE: From your perspective, George, what was most challenging, in the work you did to assure a safe and efficient shoot?

MARKANTONIS: For us, this was the first time when the Venetian Clean protocols were going to be in use for full-scale production. Venetian Clean is a moniker for over 800 safety protocols that we’d established prior to opening, which are easily accessible on our website. Prior to opening, and since opening, we have done over 40,000 COVID tests on our team members and, frankly, with their household members as well. We do front-of-house COVID testing now every two or three weeks; it’s part of the process. We want to make sure that anything we can do, we do. So, I think that was the main concern: Is everything going to flow? How do we make sure that the group is isolated but has full accessibility to the other members of the group?

Obviously, food and beverage was initially going to be a challenge, because we have nearly 100 restaurants in this complex, and yet we were going to have a bubble of 200-300 people, who would be eating only within their own giant ballroom meeting room, making sure that what they were dining on was going to be cuisine that reflected the type of resort they were in.

But all of these were exciting opportunities. For us, it was not something that we can’t do, because we host some of the world’s biggest expos and tours here. I will say that it was so easy to deal with Clay and the team. Frankly, teamwork was a huge situation between ABC, Sony, ourselves.

[But] one other challenge we had was keeping this under wraps, because that was one of the clauses. “Sure, nobody really knows that Shark Tank is filming a whole season here. OK.” Well, we have about 8,500 employees. … But it really did work. We created a code word to refer to the group; we didn’t use the words “Shark Tank.”

There were only maybe a couple hundred [employees] who were in the know, and when I say that, I’m talking about people like culinarians, preparing multiple meals, banquet teams, cleaning teams. The other team members still had a hotel operation outside of this bubble that we were running, and it was just a matter of, “Yes, there’s a production over there. The people are tight-lipped. Never heard of it.” And there we are.

DEADLINE: In retrospect, what do you feel is unique about the protocols you employed to prevent exposure to COVID-19, in comparison to what the rest of the entertainment and hospitality industries have done?

ABC

MARKANTONIS: I think we’re one of the leaders, certainly in our industry, with health and safety protocols. We don’t hesitate to put into gear anything that we think will be beneficial to everybody. I’m not going to say that there aren’t others who can do the same thing, but I would say that I couldn’t even name one other who would have the space that we have — both meeting and conference space, as well as the amount of suites, and the accessibility. Because our chairman has built almost a resort designed for social distancing, if required, and certainly to create bubbles. I mean, we could probably run two or three bubbles simultaneously here, if we needed to. We wouldn’t do it, but we could.

DEADLINE: Clay, what else can you tell us about Shark Tank Season 12? Why do you think it’s the show’s best season yet?

NEWBILL: The entrepreneurs we have this season, their stories are so inspiring. [Production started] back in August, and we’re definitely not out of the woods yet. The COVID pandemic is still going on, but August was a long time ago. So, there was a lot of stress involved, and I think the entrepreneurs that came in, they have incredibly emotional stories of what they’ve overcome.

The stakes are real. They’re so excited to get in front of the sharks and have an opportunity to pitch their businesses to the sharks, and America, when it airs, and it was just an incredible experience. [That’s why] we felt it was important to get our show back on the air. In normal times, our show offers people hope and inspiration, and during this pandemic, we feel it’s needed, now more than ever.

I think when people tune into the show this season, they’re going to find all the things they love about this show. It’s got the drama, the comedy, innovative ideas, incredible new guest sharks, fantastic entrepreneurs with these incredible stories, and as entertaining as it is, you’re still learning. Every episode, every pitch you see, you’re learning something new about business, and even if you don’t start a business, you’re learning how to overcome obstacles and how to deal with adversity in your life. And I think that’s one of the [reasons] why the show works, is because entrepreneurs make great television.