Wednesday February 28, 2018

The 36th season of Survivor begins tonight.

Here's an Immunity Challenge rehearsal to get you in the mood.

Or the first 4 minutes of tonight's Ghost Island premiere if you really can't contain yourself.

The first 3 episodes of Hulu's The Looming Tower are now streaming.  More below.

And here's a review of the aforementioned.

The series finale of Waco airs tonight.  I continue to applaud Tim Riggins for his portrayal of David Koresh.

I'm all in on Unsolved, USA's Tupac / Biggie limited doc series.  

Steve Martin and Martin Short are teaming up for a new Netflix special

"Following their successful foray into reality TV with the long-running A&E series Wahlburgers, Mark Wahlberg and his longtime producing partner Stephen Levinson are looking to build up their presence in the unscripted space. The duo has partnered with former Wahlburgers executive producers/showrunner Archie Gips to form Unrealistic Ideas, a full-service production company for non-scripted content. Gips will serve as the company’s president."

"SundanceTV and its streaming service Sundance Now have greenlit Blumhouse Television’s true crime documentary series No One Saw a Thing.  No One Saw a Thing examines an unsolved and mysterious death in the American Heartland and the corrosive effects of vigilantism in small town America, per Sundance. The case garnered international attention in the early 1980s after a resident was shot dead in front of almost 60 townspeople. These witnesses deny having seen anything, to this very day."

Jimmy Kimmel cries a lot.

"Paramount Network, Network Entertainment and I Am Heath Ledger producer Derik Murray will team for a comprehensive documentary look at the life and death of The Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker. Adrian Buitenhuis, who directed the Ledger doc, will direct I Am Paul WalkerI Am Paul Walker will feature interviews with many of Walker’s cast mates as well as friends who knew him best, the producers say. The film will explore Walker’s prolific film career and also showcase, among other things, the actor’s passion for the world’s oceans and marine life and his work to help rebuild Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Additional details and cast list will be announced in the coming months."

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Per Deadline, "[i]t's official. ABC has ordered Sundays with Alec Baldwin, a talk show based on Baldwin’s radio show and podcast Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin.

"The network is airing the first episode, described as a sneak peek,  following the 90th Oscars on Sunday, March 4, at 11:35 p.m. EST/10:00 p.m. PST, with guests Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKenna. ABC has ordered eight additional episodes to air later this year. The show is produced by Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures.

"According to ABC, Sundays with Alec Baldwin will feature Baldwin in one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting people from American pop culture.

"Sources say that the talk show had been targeted for primetime. We hear that ABC filmed about 5 pilot episodes, some with and some without studio audience. The show stems from the deal he made with ABC Studios in August to host the network’s primetime game show Match Game.

“'I’m excited about this show and grateful to ABC for taking a chance on me in what is, admittedly, a crowded field,' said Baldwin. 'I’ve enjoyed doing my podcast for WNYC and look forward to the challenge of doing a show on camera.'

“'Alec’s intellect, wit and wealth of life experience afford him a voice and perspective we haven’t seen before in this format,' said Channing Dungey, president, ABC Entertainment. 'When we shot the pilot, we knew immediately we had something special that we couldn’t wait to share. We are excited to be working on a series that showcases Alec as one of today’s most compelling conversationalists and highlights the type of intimate discussions that he has captured on his podcast for years.'

"Baldwin hosts and executive produces Match Game, now in its third season on ABC. Additionally, Baldwin’s company, El Dorado Pictures, has a two-year first-look deal with ABC Studios."

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Per The Hollywood Reporter, "[a]fter his accuser went public, Ryan Seacrest is once again denying the sexual harassment allegations leveled against him.

"'Yesterday, Variety published a salacious story that revealed the specific claims against me for the first time — even though an independent third-party investigator found insufficient evidence to support the claims,' Seacrest said Tuesday in a statement. 'Much to my dismay, Variety didn’t speak with me or bother to speak with other credible witnesses or even ask for any of the evidence that was obtained during the investigation when offered, all of which clearly challenged the veracity of the claims made against me.'

"Continued Seacrest: 'This person who has accused me of horrible things offered, on multiple occasions, to withdraw her claims if I paid her millions of dollars. I refused. I have worked extremely hard to achieve my success and I don’t take my opportunities for granted. I don’t want to accuse anyone of not telling the truth but in this case, I have no choice but to again deny the claims against me, remind people that I was recused of any wrongdoing, and put the matter to rest.'

"The talk show host was first accused of harassment by his former E! wardrobe stylist in November — but before the accuser went public with the claims, Seacrest chose to get out ahead of the story, vehemently denying the 'reckless' allegations against him and agreeing to fully cooperate with an internal investigation into matter at the network.

"Nearly three months later, E! completed its investigation into the allegations by outside counsel hired by NBCUniversal and found 'insufficient evidence to support the claims.' The American Idol and Live With Kelly and Ryan host then wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about the experience, in which he once again denied the claims and expressed his desire to be a part of changing the systemic gender inequality issues in Hollywood.

"'To have my workplace conduct questioned was gut-wrenching. I’ve always aimed to treat all of my colleagues with honesty, respect, kindness and compassion. Yet, I knew, regardless of the confidence I had that there was no merit to the allegations, my name would likely soon appear on the lists of those suspected of despicable words and deeds,' Seacrest wrote. 'I absolutely want to be part of the change, the progress, that is coming. I did not want to be a postscript of evidence of its cause.'

"Seeing Seacrest's column, titled What Happened After I Was Wrongly Accused of Harassment, prompted his accuser to come forward with her name and previously unreported details of the allegations. The former stylist, identified as Suzie Hardy in a Variety report, claims that she was subjected to years of unwanted sexual advances while working for the TV personality. Among the inappropriate behavior she alleges is Seacrest groping her vagina, grinding his erect penis against her while laying on top of her in only underwear and slapping her butt hard enough to leave a welt.

"In 2013, she was reportedly asked to meet with human resources to discuss the nature of her relationship with Seacrest, and two weeks later she was told that her employment with the company would end in a few weeks. 

"'I didn’t know how to deal with it,' Hardy told Variety. 'I really didn’t. I was battling finally being in a decent financial position to breathe and be a mom, that I didn’t have to be freaking out all the time, and then dealing with this infantile celebrity person who was testing me on every level and manipulating me and knew that I was in a vulnerable position.'

"Following Seacrest's Tuesday statement, Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller responded to the claim that the publication 'didn't speak with me,' as the host said. 'We asked to speak to Seacrest directly and his reps declined to make him available,' she tweeted. 

"Seacrest's full Tuesday statement is below:

Much has been said about the #MeToo and Times Up movement(s) and the importance of providing women and men with the opportunity to share their stories of workplace misconduct, in an effort to change our culture and the systemic inequalities that exist. I absolutely support this cause unequivocally and applaud all the brave souls who have come forward to share their stories.

Sadly, last fall I became one of the accused, which I promptly revealed proactively to the network involved and to the public. And to be equally clear, those accusations were then investigated by an independent third-party over the course of a two-month process and involved dozens of interviews that included me, the accuser and countless others. Ultimately, my name was cleared. I eagerly participated in the investigation in order to demonstrate my innocence because I know my truth, and I believe in due process.

Yesterday, Variety published a salacious story that revealed the specific claims against me for the first time — even though an independent third-party investigator found insufficient evidence to support the claims. Much to my dismay,Variety didn’t speak with me or bother to speak with other credible witnesses or even ask for any of the evidence that was obtained during the investigation when offered, all of which clearly challenged the veracity of the claims made against me. 

This person who has accused me of horrible things offered, on multiple occasions, to withdraw her claims if I paid her millions of dollars. I refused. I have worked extremely hard to achieve my success and I don’t take my opportunities for granted. I don’t want to accuse anyone of not telling the truth but in this case, I have no choice but to again deny the claims against me, remind people that I was recused of any wrongdoing, and put the matter to rest."

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Variety reports that "M. Night Shyamalan is heading to Apple.

"The streaming service has given a straight-to-series order to a psychological thriller series from writer Tony Basgallop that Shyamalan will executive produce. Plot details for the series are being kept under wraps. The half-hour series has received a 10-episode order, with Shyamalan also set to direct the first episode.

"The series will be produced by Shyamalan’s Blinding Edge Pictures with Ashwin Rajan serving as executive producer. Jason Blumenthal, Todd Black and Steve Tisch of Escape Artists will also executive produce, with Taylor Latham co-executive producing.

"This project will be Shyamalan’s second foray into television. He previously executive produced the Fox series Wayward Pines, which recently ended after two seasons. He most recently wrote, produced, and directed the hit film Split and is preparing the sequel Glass, both of which tie into his 2000 film Unbreakable. He is also behind blockbusters like The Sixth Sense and Signs.

"Basgallop’s recent credits include Berlin Station, 24: Legacy, and 24: Live Another Day. He is also known for his work on shows like Inside Men, Hotel Babylon (which he created), EastEnders, and To the Ends of the Earth.

"This marks the latest high-profile project in Apple’s ever-growing originals slate. The company has given out several straight-to-series orders to date, including a morning show drama from Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon and the Damian Chazelle drama announced in January. Apple is also prepping a reboot of Amazing Stories from executive producer Steven Spielberg. An untitled space race drama from Ron Moore, the drama See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence, and the immigrant anthology series Little America from Kumail Nanjiana, Emily V. Gordon, and Lee Eisenberg are also in the works."

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"Lawrence Wright has been approached many times about adapting his 2006 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel for the screen. Now, Hulu will be home to The Looming Tower when the limited series of the same name plays out over the course of 10 episodes.

"'Writing that book was probably the most important thing I’ll ever do as a journalist; it’s very precious to me,' the author and executive producer on the 9/11 drama tells The Hollywood Reporter. 'Over the years I’ve gotten a number of overtures from different entities about making The Looming Tower into a movie or a series, but it was from people I wasn’t entirely confident in.'

"So when he found out that Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who's portrayed by Tahar Rahim in the series, was also fielding offers, the pair decided to control their own narrative. They met with filmmaker Alex Gibney, who had already adapted Wright's one-man show, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, and Going Clear for HBO. 'He’s a documentarian, and he understands the importance of truth,' says Wright of the collaboration with Gibney, an executive producer on the series and the director of the pilot. 'We’ve been in the trenches. I came to trust him, and that’s what I wanted — someone I felt could handle and negotiate these really difficult moral questions.'

"The next step was interviewing showrunners, and after landing on Oscar-nominated screenwriter Dan Futterman (CapoteFoxcatcher) after their first meeting, they went out and pitched the project.

"'Hulu gave us the kind of commitment that we were looking for,' Wright explains of the straight-to-series order. 'Not just financial, but when you are dealing with intelligence agencies, you have some rather formidable challenges.'

"The Looming Tower is a dramatic retelling of the events leading up to 9/11 and is based on Wright's meticulously written book — so much so that when the series opens in 1998, the timeline matches up to nearly 300 pages into Wright's story.

"For Wright, capturing the right tone was key. 'Because it’s such a tragedy, you don’t want to seem like you are capitalizing in the grief that so many people suffered because of it,' he says. 'It’s my hope that the viewers will come to trust and see this as an honest rendition, as best as we can do, of the events that led to 9/11, the mistakes we made and the changes that occurred in our country because of it.'

"The Looming Tower tracks the rising threat of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda while shining a light on the rivalry between the FBI and the CIA that inadvertently set the path for the tragic Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. While Wright, for both the book and the series, had much cooperation from the FBI, the CIA was another story.

"'I’ve been told the CIA uses The Looming Tower in their training, but officially they aren’t happy about it because it points out that 9/11 could have been stopped,' Wright explains of pertinent intel the CIA withheld from the FBI. 'I’ve had a lot of good cooperation from former CIA agents. The agency itself is opposed to the series and they have not been cooperative at all, although we’ve offered. They’ve missed the opportunity to have us come visit and talk to some of their officials and have them respond to some of the questions that the series poses about the conflict between the FBI and the CIA: what could have been done to stop the attack, especially when the CIA had knowledge of al-Qaeda being in America more than a year and a half before the attacks and failed to tell the FBI.'

"The series will explore the counterterrorism units through the FBI's I-49 squad, led by John O'Neill (played by Jeff Daniels) and the CIA's Alec Station, led by a composite character played by Peter Sarsgaard. Early in the story, O'Neill recruits Muslim-American Soufan (Rahim) to be his protege, utilizing his skills as one of only eight Arabic speaking agents in the entire bureau at the time.

"Wright came upon O'Neill's story when reading 9/11 obituaries days after the attack on the World Trade Center. After 25 years in the bureau, O'Neill left the FBI to become chief of security for the Towers one month before the attack; his body was found 10 days later.

"'When I read that obituary I thought, "How ironic, he didn’t get bin Laden; bin Laden got him,"' recalls Wright. 'But the more I learned about John O’Neill, I realized it wasn’t irony — he told his friends that radical Islamist terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center before, in 1993, and he said they would come back to finish the job. He instinctively placed himself at Ground Zero.'

"He added, 'I realized that instead of being the victim of this, he was this heroic figure who went to the place he knew al-Qaeda would strike.'

"Daniels embodies the role of O'Neill, who was as polarizing a figure as he was steadfast in his dogged pursuit against global terror. 'This is a character who is driven, a person who elicits only two reactions: love and hate,' Wright says. While writing the book, he also heard about an FBI agent who had been born in Lebanon and who 'was this incredibly vital force' — this was Soufan (also a hands-on producer on the series).

"While Wright says it's not necessary to read his book before watching the series, he does think that the more educated the audience is about what happened, the more they’ll appreciate what the show has accomplished. After filming in three countries — the U.S., Morocco and South Africa — Wright remains astounded by the vast and ambitious work that went into creating a new kind of document for Americans to revisit 9/11, and for the younger generations to learn about it.

"'So much time passed that young people now don’t know what that event was. People who are graduating from college now were too young to remember, and the next class wouldn’t have even been born by 9/11,' says Wright. 'So quickly these things recede into history, and I realized they didn’t have a narrative about how we became the country we are now because of what happened on 9/11, and because of what happened after. They don’t realize the kinds of freedoms we had that we took for granted or our place in the world — we were such a confident country back then, and they don’t understand how we got where we are.'

"While a main objective of the series is to show that story to all people, especially the young, the journalist also hopes the questions raised will result in some long-awaited answers.

"'I’ve asked them before, and so has the 9/11 Commission, and the response is, "We were too busy fighting terror. So many threats were coming in, there was miscommunication,"' he says. "'I’m sure all those things were true, but I think it’s time for the CIA to respond to some of these questions.'"

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Per Uproxx, "[i]n its remarkable debut season, Donald Glover’s Atlanta often felt like an anthology show that happened to feature the same characters every week. There were hints of continuing stories — Glover’s Earn trying to live up to his name and make enough money to stop being technically homeless, Earn’s cousin Alfred (aka Paper Boi) trying to make it big in the local hip-hop scene, the push-pull of Earn’s relationship with Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of his child — but arcs vanished for weeks at a time. The tone of the comedy varied so much from episode to episode, or even scene to scene — at times raw and honest (Earn, Alfred, and Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius watching cops shoot a man), at others utterly surreal (the payoff to a running gag about an invisible car) — that none of it should have fit together.

"Yet Glover and his collaborators (including brother Stephen on the writing staff and Hiro Murai leading the team of directors) had such a clear command of what the show was — and of the many things it could be — that the mismatched parts made sense as just one more surprise from a show that kept delighting with them. One week, Paper Boi might wind up in a celebrity basketball game with Justin Bieber (played, without other characters remarking on it, by a black actor); the next could be a Van spotlight that starts out as understated character drama and morphs into farce about her trying to beat a drug test; and the next could have Paper Boi as the guest on a fake talk show, replete with fake commercials and other odd sketch comedy bits. All of it, somehow, was clearly Atlanta.

"For the second season — delayed a while by Glover’s stint as young Lando Calrissian, it debuts Thursday at 10 on FX — Glover and friends seem to have hit on a new way to surprise the audience: by making Atlanta, at least for a while, into a more conventional TV show.

"The three episodes given to critics are by far the most consistent in terms of story and tone of any comparable stretch from season one. After a prologue justifying the new season’s official title of Atlanta: Robbin’ Season — a violent time of year in town where, as Darius explains, 'Christmas approaches, and everybody gotta eat' — we settle in with Earn and the others for a collection of stories about being careful what you wish for.

"Alfred has finally achieved a taste of success and fame, but it’s the exact wrong amount: he’s recognized everywhere as Paper Boi, which pushes his most misanthropic instincts to the limit (many of these episode’s biggest laughs come from the many expressions of sheer disgust Brian Tyree Henry can put on display), while also interfering with the weed business that remains his primary source of income. Still, Earn is making enough money as Paper Boi’s manager that he’s not quite as desperate as he was in the first season — remember the sheer horror of the episode where the waitress kept upselling him while he was on a date with Van and only had $62 to his name? — but still demonstrates a remarkable gift for making bad decisions with the cash he has on hand.

"There are still absurdist touches in the margins, like Darius becoming convinced that all the 'Florida Man' headlines he sees on the internet refer to the same guy. And there are still some audacious shifts in tone, like a largely dramatic cameo from an unrecognizable Katt Williams in the season premiere. But it all feels more of a piece, and a bit more down to earth, than the first season.

"Considering how much of the excitement of season one was driven by its wild unpredictability, that Glover has dialed that back a fair amount should feel profoundly disappointing. It doesn’t, though.

"The creative team has a firm grasp on what makes the three guys (and, when she appears, Van) tick, on the world through which they all move, on the uneasy intersections of white and black culture (one episode opens with a vlog by a blonde mom offended by Paper Boi’s lyrics), and on the way that each actor can generate laughs through what seems like the bare minimum of effort. Because of that, it doesn’t much matter that everything is a bit more human-scale and coherent than a year and a half ago. And in some cases, the creative team has simply gotten better at making the show, so things that would have felt disparate last season instead just make sense together now.

"Atlanta can be great because you never expect what it might do next. But that’s far from the only reason it’s great, as the start of season two so potently demonstrates."