Mar 5, 2015
9:09 am

HBO Ready to Roll Out True a la Carte Service Next Month (Bloomberg, International Business Times)

HBO is finally going a la carte. Following up on its HBO Go service — which has been offered as part of the Apple TV service, but has been available only to HBO subscribers — the pay-TV provider is reportedly close to rolling out a service tentatively called HBO Now, which is planned as a true a la carte streaming version of the premium channel.

Bloomberg cites a source who’s familiar with the situation saying that HBO Now will enable consumers to watch HBO content through Apple TV without paying for a cable subscription.

HBO is reportedly negotiating with Apple and Google to distribute the over-the-top service via the Internet.

International Business Times reports that HBO will roll out HBO Now in April. The launch is set to be timed to coincide with the premiere of the fifth season of the HBO hit “Game of Thrones.”

“TiVo Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tom Rogers said in an interview Tuesday that his company, which makes digital video recorders, is in discussions with HBO about distributing the service,” Bloomberg reports.

Bloomberg also cites a source saying that HBO “is in talks with other potential distributors, including Cox Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp., which sells high-speed Internet service in some markets.”

Pricing is not set, but the report notes that the price of the Web-distributed version of HBO is likely to be comparable to that of the pay-cable channel, or about $15 a month.

Bloomberg adds: “By offering its channel outside the cable bundle, HBO could prompt more consumers to cut the cord and threaten the TV ecosystem. The move pits HBO directly against online streaming service Netflix Inc., which has more than 57 million subscribers worldwide.”


Mar 5, 2015
9:01 am

Ringling Bros. Circus to Eliminate Elephant Acts — It’s Our Non-TV Story of the Day (AP)

Responding to long-standing public concerns about the treatment of circus elephants, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it is phasing out elephants from its performances.

The Associated Press reports that the giant circus company will phase out elephants by 2018.

“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Ringling parent company Feld Entertainment.

Company executives said the decision, announced today, was a difficult one and was debated at length, the article notes. The company’s practice of showcasing elephants goes back a century.

Animal rights groups responded to the announcement almost immediately. In a statement, Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: “For 35 years PETA has protested Ringling Bros.’ cruelty to elephants. We know extreme abuse to these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks, and rejoice. … If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW.”

The report adds: “Feld owns 43 elephants, and 29 of the giant animals live at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Thirteen animals will continue to tour with the circus before retiring to the center by 2018. One elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo.”

Feld President Kenneth Feld noted that one factor in the decision was that a number of municipalities have enacted “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances. “The company’s three shows visit 115 cities throughout the year, and Feld said it’s expensive to fight legislation in each jurisdiction,” the AP reports. “It’s also difficult to plan tours amid constantly changing regulations, he said.”

In an interview at the Center for Elephant Conservation, Feld said: “All of the resources used to fight these things can be put towards the elephants. We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant.”

ringling bros. circus-elephant

Mar 5, 2015
8:59 am

TV News Crew Attacked (Deadline)

A news crew from a local television station was reportedly attacked Wednesday while covering a story in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles. reports that the attack on a cameraman for Fox O&O KTTV led to a fight in which a number of LAPD officers received minor injuries.

“The crew was filming outside the Midnight Mission on 6th Street, near the scene of a fatal officer-involved shooting Sunday, when a man grabbed the photographer’s camera, breaking it,” Deadline reports. “The cameraman called 911, and officers arrived quickly.”

The report quotes LAPD media relations officer Jack Richter saying: “A local Fox TV affiliate was shooting B-roll at about 12:07 PM at 6th and San Pedro when a guy on the street approached the cameraman and tried to grab the camera. The camera was broken, and the cameraman and suspect started to fight. Police were called. Two officers showed up, and the officers started to fight with the suspect. The suspect went for the officer’s gun and began fighting with the officers. Three officers were injured and treated at the scene. The suspect is in custody. The news crew was shaken but unhurt.”

KTTV reporter Phil Shuman explained the crew’s visit to skid row in the aftermath of Sunday’s shooting death of a homeless man during a robbery call by LAPD officers. Shuman said on the KTTV website: “I wanted to try to give our viewers a sense of the challenges that everyone, especially the police, deal with every day in that area.”

kttv-fox 11-logo

Mar 5, 2015
8:39 am

New York Loses Ground, L.A. Posts Gains in Battle for TV Productions (Deadline)

Even before California’s new Film and TV Tax Credit Program kicks in, production in the Los Angeles area is showing signs of a rebound.

“After hitting a new low last year with a measly five drama pilots and slipping to 85% of comedy pilot production, Los Angeles regained some ground with seven drama pilots, tying Vancouver and last year’s leader New York for No. 1,” Nellie Andreeva reports on “The city also has upped its total this year to 93% of the comedy pilots, including straight-to-series ‘Telenovela’ at NBC.”

The news comes with California’s new tax credits still months away.

L.A.’s drama pilot total remains well below the 2013 total of 12, Andreeva notes, adding: “What’s more, Los Angeles’ pilot production comes from only two studios, Warner Bros. TV and ABC Studios, with everyone else shunning the City of Angels — not the first time multiple major TV producers have stayed away in filming their drama pilots.”

New York City, which has been faring well under what the article calls the state’s “very generous incentives package,” is experiencing some falloff this year. “Six dramas and one comedy pilot, NBC’s ‘Sharing,’ will be filmed in New York this season, down from last year’s all-time high 10 drama and five comedy pilots,” Andreeva writes. “That includes straight-to-series NBC drama ‘Shades of Blue.’”

Vancouver, the top Canadian destination for U.S. television studios, is benefiting from a favorable currency exchange rate, on top of the usual lower costs in Canada, Andreeva notes.

The city “hosts seven drama pilots this season to tie for the No. 1 spot on the list for the first time,” the article reports. “That was two pilots more than last year, on par with Vancouver’s 2013 tally. Toronto also went up a notch, from two to three drama pilots.”

Mar 5, 2015
8:31 am

DiCaprio and Netflix Join Forces for Series of Films (Entertainmentwise)

Streaming service Netflix and actor Leonardo DiCaprio have entered into a multi-year partnership to create a series of documentary films. Entertainmentwise reports that the series will have an environmental focus.

The move follows a similar arrangement that resulted in DiCaprio’s wildlife documentary “Virunga.” That film, which was executive produced by DiCaprio and distributed by Netflix, was nominated for an Oscar this year for best feature documentary.

In a statement, DiCaprio said: “Working with Netflix on ‘Virunga’ has sparked a shared vision about projects that we want to develop and bring to viewers. There’s never been a more critical time for our planet or more of a need for gifted storytellers to help us all make sense of the issues we face.

“Through this partnership with Netflix, I hope to give documentary filmmakers doing urgent and important work the chance to have their films seen immediately by audiences all around the world.”

DiCaprio has been gaining a reputation for environmental activism, with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation raising millions to protect the habitats of endangered species. The actor addressed the U.N. Climate Change Summit in September.


Mar 5, 2015
8:11 am

‘Downton Abbey’ Regular Is ‘Beauty’s’ New Beast (CNN)

One of the regulars on the hit PBS/BBC period drama “Downton Abbey” is Disney’s new “Beast” in the live-action update on “Beauty and the Beast.”

CNN reports that Dan Stevens, known for playing Matthew Crawley on “Downton,” has been cast in the part opposite Emma Watson, who is set to play Belle.

“The film, to be directed by Bill Condon (‘Gods and Monsters,’ the final two ‘Twilight’ films), also named its Gaston, the conniving lout who pursues Belle, though she resists his advances. He’ll be played by Luke Evans, a musical theater veteran who starred as Bard the Bowman in Peter Jackson’s ‘Hobbit’ films,” CNN reports.

dan stevensDan Stevens

Mar 5, 2015
7:44 am

Pharrell Testifies in Court, Accused of Stealing From a Motown Legend (USA Today)

Singer, rapper and producer Pharrell Williams appeared in federal court Wednesday in L.A. to defend himself against accusations that he stole material from legendary Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye.

USA Today reports that Pharrell, who is a judge on NBC’s singing competition “The Voice,” described Gaye as one of his idols.

“He’s one of the ones we look up to,” the 41-year-old Williams said in court, adding: “This is the last place I want to be.”

The Grammy winner is accused of copying parts of the 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” which was a hit in 1977. Williams recorded “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke and rapper T.I.

Williams “testified that he can see how people draw similarities between ‘Blurred Lines’ and Gaye’s music, but that wasn’t his intention during the creative process,” the story reports. “Williams said the last thing he would ever do is ‘take something of someone else’s when you love him.’”

Williams indicated that Gaye’s music was part of the soundtrack of his life growing up, and that Gaye’s musical phrases inspired parts of “Blurred Lines,” the story notes.

“Williams spent more than an hour describing to a packed courtroom his musical process and he how he crafted ‘Blurred Lines’ in between working on tracks with Miley Cyrus and rapper Earl Sweatshirt,” USA Today reports.

The report notes that “Blurred Lines” has earned more than $16 million in profits.

“Richard S. Busch, who represents the Gaye family, asked Williams whether he felt ‘Blurred Lines’ captured the feel of the era in which Gaye recorded,” USA Today reports.

Williams responded by saying: “Feel. Not infringed.”

The court case is scheduled to continue today with testimony from T.I.

Here’s the “Blurred Lines” video, which has received more than 369 million hits:

Mar 5, 2015
7:31 am

ABC Project Breaks Ground With Casting of Female Lead (Variety)

Casting news on a new drama project that’s in the works at ABC appears to break new ground. Variety reports that Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra will play the female lead in “Quantico.”

Chopra will star opposite Jake McLaughlin in the project about FBI recruits in training at Quantico, Va.

“Chopra plays an agent whose past resurfaces soon after she arrives at the training camp in the series penned and exec produced by Josh Safran,” Variety reports.

The piece notes that Chopra, who will become the first Bollywood actress to star in an ABC pilot, will continue her work in Bollywood productions.

Priyanka-ChopraPriyanka Chopra

Mar 5, 2015
7:21 am

Netflix Wins Bidding War, Sets Up Drama Series (THR)

Streaming service Netflix continues to add to its lineup of scripted originals. The Hollywood Reporter’s Live Feed reports that the service has ordered a drama series from Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.

The pair, who were behind the 2011 psychological thriller “Sound of My Voice,” are described in the report as “indie darlings.”

The move, which follows what THR calls a “multiple-network bidding war,” comes as Netflix readies to roll out “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Bloodline” later this month. The streaming service ordered eight episodes of the one-hour drama, “The OA.”

“The premise of the drama series is being closely guarded and kept under wraps, but Marling will star and co-write alongside Batmanglij, who will direct,” THR reports. “‘The OA’ will premiere in 2016.”

The project marks the first foray into series television for Marling and Batmanglij. “It builds on their relationship from 2011′s ‘Sound of My Voice,’ and 2013′s ‘The East,’ both of which they co-wrote, Batmanjlij directed and Marling starred,” THR notes. “For her part, Marling also teamed with Mike Cahill on critical hit ‘Another Earth,’ in which she also starred, and all three of which earned rave reviews the Sundance Film Festival.”

sound of my voice-poster

Mar 5, 2015
12:32 am

Questions Still Unanswered About Bizarre Ending of Ellen DeGeneres’ Furniture Design Show on HDTV. Another ‘Twist’ to Come Today? (Washington Post; TVWeek)

Updated at 8:17 a.m. (PT) on March 5, 2015 to include a clip released by “The Ellen Degeneres Show” of Ellen interviewing Tim McClellan. Video is at end of this item. In it, Tim says he does not recall ever seeing the table that he is accused of copying. That said, he does realize that it appears similar to the one he conceived of and built. Ellen says the tip came to the show anonymously. She also says that she will work again with Tim in some capacity. No other issues were addressed in the clip.


By Chuck Ross

Ellen DeGeneres got the hype started this past Monday afternoon, March 2nd,  at 1:21 in the afternoon (PT) when she tweeted “Tonight’s the finale of my Design Challenge on HGTV. You’re not gonna believe what happens at the end. I promise it’s not what you think.”

Later that day she tweeted, “My Design Challenge finale is about to start! I’m telling you, you’re not gonna believe what happens.”

As the finale wound down, DeGeneres tweeted, “Who would you pick to win the show?”

And then “Make sure to watch ’til the very end, ‘cause it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over.”

And next, breathlessly, “Make sure to watch ’til the very end, ‘cause it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over.”

And THEN: “Here comes the twist. Don’t miss the ending!”

Phew. She ended her tweet string with this: “What a great season full of incredible designers & pieces. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thanks for watching!”

Judging from the explosion in social media after the “twist” reveal, most viewers did not seem to be having the fun watching the end of the short six-episode season that DeGeneres had hoped they had.

As we previously reported, Ellen announced that contestant Tim McClellan won “Ellen’s Design Challenge,” which included $100,000 and having his work featured in a spread in HGTV magazine. Confetti fell from the ceiling, hugs were had all around. McClellan was thrilled.

Then, on the screen flashed the words “One Week Later”

That’s when viewers were told, matter of factly, that McClellan had been disqualified because of the similarity of his last piece of furniture to another piece of furniture already available in the marketplace.

An unseen narrator says “After the finale, it was discovered there was an existing piece of furniture designed by European designer Simon Schacht that resembles Tim’s. That led to the conclusion that Tim did not fulfill the requirement of the final challenge, which was to create an original piece.”

On-screen viewers saw both McClellan’s final piece and Schacht’s piece. Yes, they were similar. Viewers were then told that the runner-up, Katie Stout, had won the design challenge, including the $100,000 and the spread in HGTV magazine. Viewers then saw Stout again, this time on the set of Ellen’s talk show, where Stout had been invited so Ellen could surprise her with the news that Tim had been disqualified and that she was actually the winner of the design challenge. More confetti, hugs and end of show.

Regardless of viewers’ reactions, we can tell you that “Ellen’s Design Challenge” was “among the highest rated series in HGTV history,” according to an announcement HGTV put out Tuesday afternoon, the day after the finale aired.

The announcement continued, “The finale on Monday, March 2, which was the highest-rated show of the night on HGTV, averaged a .86 P25-54 rating — making HGTV a top 10 rated cable network in primetime among viewers P25-54. Averaging a .83 P25-54 rating this season, the six-episode furniture design competition grew 48% versus the prior 13 week average. Since its premiere on Monday, January 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, ‘Ellen’s Design Challenge’ consistently ranked as a top 10-rated cable program for the Monday 9P-10P time period among P25-54.”

One of the reporters covering “Ellen’s Design Challenge” has been Emily Yahr of the Washington Post. Yahr is described by the Post as a reporter who “covers pop culture and entertainment for” the paper.

Though HGTV was quick to get out the ratings for the show, Yahr has not been about to get any answers about why the ending of the show was so bizarre. Yahr writes, “Angry viewers filled Twitter and HGTV’s Facebook page with hundreds of comments, the majority feeling cheated that McClellan (a fan favorite) saw his prize money taken away and reputation tarnished by a mysterious ruling. So many unanswered questions remained: Who realized that McClellan’s table resembled Schacht’s? When did they find out? Who tipped them off? Why didn’t they realize this before awarding him a “life-changing” prize? And most importantly: Was this all a publicity stunt to get more viewers?”

Yahr adds, “HGTV has remained mum: A spokeswoman would only give us the same statement uttered by the narrator.  Meanwhile, McClellan hasn’t returned multiple calls we made to his Arizona furniture store — but is apparently scheduled to make an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Thursday. Which just underscores the other strange vibe of this whole thing.”

Yahr then quotes the tweets DeGeneres made above and notes that DeGeneres has also hyped McClellan’s appearance on her “Ellen” talk show on Thursday with this tweet: “It’s the most talked about moment in furniture design show history. Tim was disqualified after winning my show.Thursday he tells me his side.”

Yahr then writes, “…why would a producer appear so openly gleeful about a ‘twist!’ that leaves one person admittedly elated, but another whose reputation and bank account takes a hit? Or is this another famous DeGeneres prank? Can we expect a ‘twist’ happy ending where McClellan keeps his prize after all?”

We here at TVWeek have had the same thought. Like Yahr and a lot of “Design Challenge” viewers, we have similar questions about the finale, and could find no one connected with the show willing to answer any of our questions on Wednesday. One person with knowledge of the circumstances of what really went down who declined to answer any of our questions on Wednesday, added that a further conversation with us could take place after the airing of McClellan’s appearance on “Ellen” on Thursday, if we still had any questions.

We also tried to reach McClellan, and though we were told on Wednesday that he was indeed here in Los Angeles – where we are as well – he did not return our phone messages we left with his shop in Arizona (though McClellan was described in the show as being from Durango, Colorado, his shop is actually in neighboring Arizona).

Furthermore, our suspicion is that Yahr is right when she concludes, “With HGTV not providing an explanation, we’re going to guess that even if there is another ‘twist!’ in store, the network has a fundamental misunderstanding about the kind of reality show ‘twists!’ viewers love.”

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