August 1, 2014
7:45 am

Is This Guy the Hottest Talent in Hollywood or What? He’s Thunder Levin, and He’s Written ‘Sharknado’ and ‘Sharknado 2.’ Here Are Some of the Other Projects He’s Working On, Including a TV Series

We found a fun, short interview with “Sharknado” writer Thunder Levin by Nell Minow, who’s also known as the Movie Mom on She spoke to Levin recently at Comic-Con. Here’s a brief excerpt:

NELL MINOW: What else are you working on?

THUNDER LEVIN: I’ve created an original TV series called “Dive,” which is Sharknado-esque in tone, and I’m working on getting financing for an independent feature called “An Ordinary Hero.” And I’m writing an novel, quite a change of pace from “Sharknado,” a very dark thriller. I’ve never tackled that medium before. I wrote a script that ended up being a trilogy, so I thought, “If I can do this, maybe I can write a novel.”

MINOW: And “Thunder” is your real name, right? Where does that come from?

LEVIN: It was the ’60s!

Thunder Levin, writer sharknado

Writer Thunder Levin

August 1, 2014
6:30 am

Michael Jackson’s Neverland Estate Being Prepped for Sale. With High-End Properties in California a Hot Market Now, How Much Will It Go For?

“Neverland Ranch, the Los Olivos, California, property where the late entertainer Michael Jackson lived, may soon get a new owner,” reports Bloomberg.

The story reports, “Thomas Barrack Jr.’s Colony Capital LLC is readying the estate for a sale as high-end home values return to peak levels in the area.” The “California-based firm took control of the property after buying a $23.5 million note on it in November 2008, when Jackson faced mounting debts and the real estate market was in free fall.”

Jackson himself “moved out [of Neverland] in 2005 after being acquitted of sexual molestation charges,” adds the Business Insider.

“Real estate values in California are surging,” says Bloomberg. “The number of homes in the state selling for more than $2 million set a record in the second quarter, while sales of residences for at least $1 million were the highest since 2007, property-information service CoreLogic DataQuick reported [yesterday, July 31, 2014].”

One local Santa Barbara-area realtor told Bloomberg that Neverland  is “worth $35 million to $50 million, depending on what they do with it. Barrack has cleaned it up and returned it to perfect condition. It had been neglected.”

Other estimates reportedly place the potential sale price as high as $85 million.

Michael Jackson’s estate emailed Bloomberg a statement that it is “saddened at the prospect of the sale of Neverland which, under the agreement negotiated during Michael’s lifetime, Colony has the right to sell. We hope and trust that any new owners of Neverland will respect the historical importance and special nature of this wonderful property.”



July 31, 2014
3:13 pm

Man Once Called ‘The Greatest Makeup Artist Who Ever Lived’ Dies at 92. He Started in TV Before Moving On to Movies

He was a makeup artist “whose career began in the early days of television and spanned six decades,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The story says, “As the grandmaster of special-effects makeup, Dick Smith broke ground in the movies in the early 1970s when he transformed Dustin Hoffman into a 120-year-old for ‘Little Big Man’ and an adolescent Linda Blair into a diabolical demon in ‘The Exorcist.’

“When he received an Academy Award in 1985 for aging F. Murray Abraham into an elderly composer in the film ‘Amadeus,’ many industry observers wondered: What took so long?”

“Smith’s protege, Rick Baker, tweeted of the legend’s passing on Thursday morning,” according to Variety. Smith was 92.

Says the Times obituary, “Baker saluted his mentor as ‘the greatest makeup artist who ever lived’ when Smith received an honorary Oscar in 2011 in recognition of his pioneering role in the industry.

Variety’s story adds, “Beginning his career as the makeup director for NBC in 1945, Smith pioneered a number of techniques that have since become industry staples, including the use of liquid foam latex to fabricate detailed elements that allow actors more range of motion than a simple mask. In addition to Baker, some of Smith’s other notable students include Richard Taylor, Greg Cannom, Alec Gillis, Ve Neill, Kazuhiro Tsuji, Mike Elizalde and Todd Masters.

“Masters, founder of film & TV special FX and makeup house MastersFX, said of Smith, ‘Dick Smith was a friend to all artists, never turning away anyone that phoned him (no matter what time), and he always replied to every letter. I have no idea how he kept in touch with all of us while making some of the most iconic characters in cinema history. Time and time again his keen eye and smooth skills would educate us. … I personally can say his lessons were the best education I ever received … and he was one of my favorite friends.’”

To learn a lot more about Smith and his extraordinary career, we urge you to click on the links above and read both the Times and Variety obituaries in full.

Dick Smith.jpg

July 31, 2014
1:17 pm

‘Sharknado 2′ Blows the Original Out of the Water

Syfy’s “Sharknado 2″ took a bite out of a ratings record Wednesday night, blowing the original “Sharknado” out of the water to become the cable channel’s most widely viewed movie ever. It also turned out to be a whopper on social media.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Live Feed reports that the second installment in what will be at least a three-movie franchise for Syfy set a network record with 3.9 million total viewers for the premiere airing. But the astounding number is 1 billion, with the cable net reporting that the shark movie generated 1 billion Twitter impressions worldwide.

The audience for the movie in the key demo of adults 18-49 was 1.6 million, a number that tops the total audience for the original, the report notes. In the key demo, the number represents an increase of 190% — almost triple the original.

“‘Sharknado 2′ topped most broadcast efforts as well, out-rating CBS’s ‘Extant’ and Fox’s ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ Looking at Twitter, a Syfy release boasts that ‘Sharknado 2′ is ‘the most social movie on TV ever’ — which, while likely true, is awfully vague,” THR notes.

The sequel is following a pattern set by the original in making its biggest impact in social media. The first “Sharknado” had a turnout of only 1.4 million total viewers for its original airing, but after generating a groundswell of interest online, the movie gained momentum, eventually rounding up 9.5 million total viewers for six telecasts during summer 2013.

“Syfy will likely have several more encores of ‘Sharknado 2.’ Thus far, the only two on the calendar are for Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 2 and 3,” THR adds.

July 31, 2014
12:36 pm

Why the Procedural Drama — a TV Staple and Historically a Heavyweight on Awards Night — May Never Win Another Emmy for Best Drama

The chance for a procedural series to win an Emmy for best drama — or for that matter, to even be nominated — appears to be slipping away. That’s the premise of an insightful piece by TV columnist Brian Lowry, writing in Variety.

This year’s nominees, Lowry notes, are all serialized, “highlighting an appetite for such storytelling that has permeated not just television, where it has found its deepest and most satisfying roots, but multiple forms of entertainment.”

“Indeed, modern-day film franchises have adopted a serialized approach, as evidenced by the book-to-screen successes that have become such lucrative annuities, from ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games,’” Lowry writes.

But it is on television where the serialized drama appears to work best, as productions from “The Sopranos” to “Downton Abbey,” from “Mad Men” to “The Wire” to “Breaking Bad,” “House of Cards” and “True Detective” have proved and continue to prove.

Writes Lowry: “All roads lead toward a rarefied appetite for novelized stories — the more dense, the better — which ties into other factors and helps explain why the argument about the most creatively satisfying medium has tilted so heavily in TV’s favor.

“Because once the audience has acquired a taste for the thoroughly unpredictable turns of ‘Breaking Bad,’ say, it’s hard to get quite as excited about something that labors to provide closure, or at least a semblance of it, each week. And given the challenges associated with conjuring those twists and writing one’s way out of corners, it’s a sizable advantage to produce a dozen or fewer episodes a year than 20 or 22.”

Lowry notes that a project such as HBO’s “True Detective” has the advantage of being able to “focus on a single story with laser-like intensity, just as ‘Downton Abbey’ can arc a season around its sprawling cast and ‘House of Cards’ can chart the next leg of Frank Underwood’s campaign for power from beginning to end.”

But the piece notes that broadcasters continue to champion the drawing power of the procedural, with CBS’s “NCIS,” for example, topping almost every cable drama in the ratings. (“The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” would be two major exceptions.)

“Nevertheless, the major networks’ own evolution and experimentation — from short orders to limited series to programs like ‘The Blacklist’ that wed nabbing different bad guys each week with an ongoing mythology — indicate their realization that this is an itch it behooves them to scratch,” Lowry writes.

We urge you to read Lowry’s entire column by clicking on the link in the top paragraph, above.

breaking bad.jpg

July 31, 2014
12:01 pm

ABC News Veteran Bolts for PBS

A 25-year veteran of ABC News is exiting the network for a new job with PBS. reports that ABC News’ Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Sara Just is making the move.

Just will become exec producer of “PBS NewsHour,” and will be a senior vice president at WETA, the Washington public TV station.

Just has held her current position at ABC since April. She will start her new job Sept. 2, succeeding “PBS NewsHour’s” Linda Winslow, who is retiring.

“During her tenure at ABC News, Just also served as Senior Washington Producer for ‘Good Morning America’ and spent 17 years as a producer at ‘Nightline,’ working with longtime anchor Ted Koppel,” the story reports. “Just’s hire comes on the heels of WETA taking over ‘NewsHour’ from MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, the company named after former anchors Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, on July 1.”

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July 31, 2014
11:30 am

Reality Shrinkage: A Couple of Major Broadcast Franchises Lose Ground

Two major broadcast reality shows lost ground Wednesday night, based on Nielsen overnights for the key 18-49 demo. reports that both CBS’s “Big Brother” and NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” slipped a bit from last week, both finishing with 2.2 averages in the demo as the two networks wound up in tie for first place for prime time overall.

“America’s Got Talent” was down two-tenths from a week ago in the 18-49 demo, while “Big Brother” slipped one-tenth. Meanwhile, Fox’s two-hour “So You Think You Can Dance” held steady, matching last week’s 1.1 average.

NBC and CBS tied in the 10 p.m. hour as well, with both CBS’s “Extant” and NBC’s “Taxi Brooklyn” delivering 1.1 averages in 18-49. “Extant” was even with last week while “Taxi Brooklyn” ticked up one-tenth.

ABC aired repeat programs leading up to a fresh installment of “Motive” at 10 p.m., which rose one-tenth in the 18-49 demo to a 0.7.

For prime time overall, NBC and CBS shared the top spot in viewers 18-49 with 1.5 averages, followed by Univision (1.3 average), Fox (1.1) and ABC (0.9). NBC was on top in total viewers with 7.5 million, followed by CBS (5.7 million), ABC (3.6 million), Fox (3.5 million) and Univision (3.3 million).

big brother 16-logo.jpg

July 31, 2014
11:22 am

TNT Renews Crime Series

TNT has extended a renewal to a crime series. reports that the cable channel will give a third season to the real-life crime series “Cold Justice.”

The third season will consist of 10 episodes and will roll out in early 2015. The renewal was given as the show is in the middle of its second season.

Airing on Fridays at 9 p.m., the show has averaged 2.3 million viewers in Live+7 this summer, or a 24% increase over its winter episodes, the piece notes.

The show is produced for TNT by Wolf Reality and Magical Elves, with Dick Wolf serving as one of the executive producers.

cold justice-logo.jpg

July 31, 2014
8:37 am

Legendary TV ‘Impresario’ — His Projects Won an Astounding 136 Emmy Awards — Dead at 90

A veteran television producer whose work racked up an almost unbelievable string of Emmys during his long, prolific career has died. The Associated Press reports that Robert Halmi Sr., described as a television impresario, died Wednesday at his home in New York City. He was 90.

Over his career, Halmi’s projects won 136 Emmy Awards, while a Peabody Award citation honored him as “perhaps the last of the great network television impresarios.”

“Teamed with his son, Robert Halmi, Jr., he claimed every project was a passion project, including the 1994 miniseries version of ‘Scarlett,’ Alexandra Ripley’s sequel to ‘Gone With the Wind,’ which he defended as not a rip-off of the world’s most beloved movie, but ‘an eight-hour study in American history,’” the story reports.

After starting out his career as a magazine photographer, Halmi switched careers in the mid-1960s and went on to produce more than 200 television programs and miniseries, which often were family-focused shows such as “Dinotopia” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” The latter project, which starred Ted Danson, won the Emmy for outstanding miniseries in 1996.

He told the AP in 1993 that producers “are just money people who have X number of dollars, and with them they buy people, mostly on the phone.” He added, “I’m somebody with pretty good taste who goes one step further. With the creative process, everything has to be nurtured. I know on every project, every day, where it stands dollars-and-cents-wise, but I also know did someone have a cold.”

The Hungarian-born producer, who was recently working on Syfy’s mythological project “Olympus,” told the AP that the two English words he couldn’t understand were “security” and “retirement.”

robert halmi sr.pngRobert Halmi Sr.

July 31, 2014
8:01 am

Meredith Vieira Opens Up About a ‘Really Nasty’ Time for NBC’s ‘Today’ Show

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Meredith Vieira opens up about a difficult time for NBC’s “Today” show, conceding that the period when co-host Ann Curry was ousted from the program was “such a bad time.”

“I really felt for Matt a lot. And I felt for Ann, too,” she said. “It turned so nasty, really nasty. Every day you’re reading this stuff that is just beyond cruel from angry, angry people who felt that Ann had been slighted and embarrassed and humiliated. And they basically pointed to one person on whom to take out all of their anger. I don’t know if I would have survived that.”

Vieira noted that much of the fallout from the situation fell on “Today” host Matt Lauer, adding that she didn’t give Lauer advice on how to deal with the situation, but that she “never sugarcoated what had happened.”

“I thought it had not been handled smartly from the very beginning, because I don’t think they ever felt that was the right fit for Ann, so they should never have put her in that position to begin with,” she said. “And then the ending was so mishandled.”

As for Vieira’s role on “Today,” it’s speculated that NBC would have paid her more than $10 million per year to remain on the show, up from her $8 million-per-year salary when she left. NBC executives may have thought she wouldn’t turn down the money, but Vieira said she realized, “If I’m sticking around for that, there’s something wrong.”

She noted, “I like being well-paid. But that’s never my incentive for jobs.”

Vieira is now being viewed as a hope for renewed profits and status for NBC’s daytime schedule, as she’s preparing for the Sept. 8 debut of “The Meredith Vieira Show.” The program is said to have a budget of close to $35 million, excluding her talent fee, which is about $5 million.

The publication notes, “It’s more expensive than the average daytime talker — which costs about $20 million — though considerably less than the $50 million ABC invested in the first season of Katie Couric’s show.”

Instead of taping at NBC’s less expensive facility in Stamford, Conn., Vieira insisted the show tape at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters, where it will be filmed in a refurbished sixth-floor studio across from Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” the story adds.

The new show will include inspirational interviews and focus on Vieira’s causes, such as multiple sclerosis, the disease from which her husband suffers, as well as giveaways.

meredith vieira.pngMeredith Vieira

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