Wednesday MAy 1, 2019

17.8M watched the Battle of Winterfell.

Hulu has now grown over 28 million U.S. customers, including 26.8 million monthly paid subscribers and 1.3 million promotional accounts, the company announced this morning as part of its annual presentation at the digital Newfronts in New York. In January, Hulu had 25 million total users, including both paid and promo accounts, and 20 million this time last year. The streaming service also today unveiled its new slate of shows and original programming, alongside other content deals and a new “binge advertising experience” that’s designed to be less intrusive. On the content front, Hulu announced an expanded partnership with Marvel to bring two new live-action series to its service in 2020.”

“With all the announcements coming out of the Hulu Television Upfront presentation in New York this week, the streaming studio announced Wednesday two more live-action Marvel series have joined its roster: Marvel’s Ghost Rider and Marvel’s Helstrom, both slated to debut next year. Ghost Rider, showrun and executive produced by Ingrid Escajeda, will tell the story of Robbie Reyes, described as a ‘quintessential antihero’ ‘consumed by hellfire and supernaturally bound to a demon. Reyes lives on the Texas/Mexico border and when he unleashes the Rider, Robbie brings vengeance for the innocents he encounters, but struggles to control the power he wields.’”

Hulu has also renewed Ramy and PEN15. If you haven’t watched the former, I highly recommend that you do so.

“David Chang has been cooking for Chrissy Teigen for years. After the model became a regular at his Noodle Bar, the two struck up a friendship. Now, they're preparing to spend some time in the kitchen together.  Chang's Majordomo Media and Teigen's Suit and Thai Productions have teamed with Vox Media Studios on a multiyear deal to produce Hulu's first slate of food-focused programming. In their first show, tentatively titled Family Style, the chef and cookbook author will explore the ways people express their love for family and friends through cooking and dining together.” So much for getting the insufferable Teigen out of our lives any time soon….sigh.

Finally, you can now stream the season finale of The Act on Hulu.

Netflix’s Knock Down The House is available to stream. “Go behind the scenes as four determined women -- including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- challenge big-money politicians in the 2018 race for Congress.”

Showtime has renewed The Chi for a 3rd season.

CBS has renewed its entire daytime lineup for the 2019-20 season, including The Talk, The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless as well as The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal.

Fox has renewed Empire for a 6th season. As for whether Jussie Smollett will be a part of it, who the FU&K cares?

Paramount Network has added a third scripted series to its slate. The cabler has ordered 10 episodes of a dramedy called 68 Whiskeyfrom Roberto Benabib (The Brink, Kidding). The MASH-esque series is set at a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan nicknamed ‘The Orphanage.’ The series will follow the men and women deployed as medics there as they "endure a dangerous and Kafkaesque world that leads to self-destructive appetites, outrageous behavior, intense camaraderie and occasionally, a profound sense of purpose." The show, based on Israeli series Charle Golf One, comes from Imagine Television and CBS TV Studios. It's the first series pickup for Paramount Network since Kent Alterman added oversight of the network to his Viacom portfolio in November 2018. It joins breakout Yellowstone, which returns for season two in June, and Darren Star's Emily in Paris, which is due in 2020, as part of Paramount's scripted slate.”

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Per Deadline, “Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, co-heads of Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company in partnership with Netflix, have set the company’s initial slate of upcoming projects. The content encompasses a wide range of fiction and nonfiction signature productions for all audiences including scripted, unscripted and documentary series, as well as full-length features and documentaries.

“The Obamas launched Higher Ground last spring to create content that embodies the core values of celebrating the human spirit through struggles and triumph; facing adversity through resilience, determination, and hope; lifting up new voices and stories to bring about change; and transcending divides to bring us together. The projects selected are a reflection of these values and a commitment to quality storytelling. Higher Ground expects to make additional project announcements in the coming months.

“They’ve been active in courting projects. That includes King Richard, the Will Smith-attached film about Richard Williams and his efforts to teach his young daughters Serena and Venus Williams on the tennis courts of Compton. That project ended up at Warner Bros, but it underscored the kind of family values and uplifting sandbox they want to play in.

“‘We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,’ former President Obama said. ‘That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects. Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.’

“Said Michelle Obama: ‘We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives. We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life and the conversations they’ll generate.’

“Added Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos: ‘President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values. The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.’

“Here are the projects, which are in different stages of development and set to be released over the next several years:

American Factory was acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary. From Participant Media, the film is directed by  Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. The film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. The producers are Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.

Bloom is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress. Series is written and executive produced by Oscar winner Callie Khouri from an idea developed by Khouri, writer-director Clement Virgo (The Book of Negroes, The WireEmpire) and novelist and producer Juliana Maio (City of the Sun). Higher Ground Productions, Khouri, Virgo and Maio will executive produce the series.

Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, for which author David W. Blight won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Overlooked is a scripted anthology series adapted from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column. The purpose is to tell stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper. Higher Ground is developing it with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content.

For family programming, Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (Drunk History) and Erika Thormahlen. The show will take young children and their families around the globe on an adventure that tells us the story of our food.

Higher Ground will develop a nonfiction series from The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, the book by Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short and Moneyball. The aim is to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.

Finally, there is Crip Camp, a feature documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives, and America, forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. Producers include Newnham, LeBrecht and Sara Bolder, with executive producer Howard Gertler.”

Is it me or does this still feel a bit odd? Maybe I’m just not accustomed to quotes from a former POTUS about creating and developing content. In light of who currently sits in the Oval, I hope this is an isolated aberration.

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From The Hollywood Reporter, “The Night King is dead, killed by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) at the end of director Miguel Sapochnik's The Long Night. It's hard to imagine the future of the series without this frozen force of nature lingering in the shadows. Then again, it's easy to forget the Night King wasn't always an active threat in the Game of Thrones universe. 

“First introduced in the closing moments of season four's Oathkeeper, the Night King's debut offered fans a highly punchable face to represent White Walker nation — a meaningful deviation from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, which has yet to reveal an individual force of evil leading the Army of the Dead. The Night King's subsequent appearances in David Benioff and Dan Weiss' HBO drama only increased growing hype levels for the blue-eyed bad guy, what with his arms-up splash in season five's Hardhome, followed by his barn-burning destruction of Max von Sydow's Three-Eyed Raven in season six's The Dooran episode that revealed the Children of the Forest's role in creating the White Walkers. It's also the episode that first revealed the human face behind the Night King: a man named Vladimir Furdik.

“A professional stunt performer whose credits include Bond movie Skyfall and Marvel movie Thor: The Dark World, Furdik has been part of the Game of Thrones family since season five. He's the second man to inhabit the role of the Night King, originally played by The Dark Knight actor Richard Brake. Furdik and Brake overlapped in the latter actor's final Thrones appearance: Hardhome, in which Furdik starred as a White Walker — the same one Jon Snow (Kit Harington) shattered to pieces with one hard swing of Valyrian steel. Furdik lost his first White Walker life that day, but would go on to inhabit the Night King's snow-soaked shoes for the remainder of the villain's run on the series. That run wrapped in shocking fashion in The Long Night, when Arya emerged from the darkness to end the White Walker war forever.

“Throughout his time on Thrones, the Night King never uttered a word. Furdik, on the other hand, is a much more pleasant conversationalist, if not exactly sentimental when it comes to parting ways with the Night King; after all, as a member of the stunt team, Furdik had his hands full with a whole lot more than fulfilling the White Walkers' mission. Ahead, he joins The Hollywood Reporter for a short and sweet goodbye to Westeros' worst nightmare, and the friends he made along the way:

How did you become the Night King?

They gave me the call. They asked me, "Would you like to be the Night King?" I said, "Yes, I can be the Night King." That's it!

That's it? Simple enough!

I worked on the show [before], and they were happy with my performance with what I did. They asked if I'd like to be the Night King. I tell it to you in the simple, easy way because you gave me the simple, easy question. (Laughs.) They knew me, they decided to give me the role, and I said yes. 

Did they tell you much about the character — his motivations, his goals?

No, they didn't give me [much]. There were a couple of discussions with the directors, but nothing particular about what he was supposed to do. They built the Night King step by step. It's something like how you put a plant in the ground, and you're waiting to see how the plant [turns out]. 

How did you approach playing the Night King? He doesn't say much, but he says a lot with just a look. 

The mask informed a lot. If you have a good director, it's easy. A good director will direct you exactly and will you what you need to do. It's not so difficult. It can be difficult on a set, but not if you have a good support [system]. When I get to the set, I feel comfortable. Maybe the day before? I'm a little bit scared of how it will be. But when they give me the costume and the makeup, and when I go to the set and meet with the director, I feel like I can do anything.

Were you surprised when you learned this episode would end with the Night King's death?

For me? It was not really important. Well, it was important, and it wasn't important. I just followed the role. There's a director, and there are the writers who are writing the script. I just follow what they want. Because I'm part of the stunt team, I don't have much time to think about being the Night King. I have to perform a lot of [other] fights. I was there from the beginning to the end of [the shoot]. Every fight that happens in this battle, it goes through my hands and the other [stunt team members'] hands. Weeks before, they said to me, "Vlad, you will be the Night King for three or four days." I said, "Okay. What exactly am I going to do?" They said, "This, this, and this." And I said, "Okay." And I did it. Every episode, it's the same. I don't try to think so much [about the character]. I had many good lessons with the director. I trained in my department to play the Night King. Then I went to the set, and I did exactly what they wanted.

Beyond playing the Night King, then, what were some of the biggest challenges about shooting The Long Night?

When I heard that it was going to be a three-month shoot, I said, "Oh my god. This will be crazy." Then I went to the set, where we did one month's preparation before shooting. It was a three-month shoot, and one month before. Then we did another month on a stage inside, reshooting some small pieces. This was one of the hardest jobs of my life. We had meetings with [the individual actors for their own battles], depending on who's fighting with who: Jorah (Iain Glen), Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), and what they are doing. For every battle with these actors, we prepared exactly the movements for them. Every kill, and every move they made, was prepared over weeks and weeks, and hours and hours. We were so busy. Every move that happens doesn't happen just because; it happens because we prepared it. Every jump — everything.

What went into preparing to work with Maisie on the final scene in which Arya kills the Night King?

It was a very emotional day and night. It was so strong. I spent all my energy playing it, and she as well. It was not an easy day. It was cold. There was rain. She was on a wire, in a harness, jumping many times. It wasn't just the one time; it was maybe 15 times. When I have to hold her under the jaw and it looks like she dies, we had to spend a lot of energy on that particular scene. It was very, very difficult. We are very good friends. We know each other. It wasn't easy for me to [pretend to] hurt her. When I grabbed her under the jaw, it wasn't easy [on a practical level]. If you make a bad move — if you don't grab her well — she could have an injury. So I was under pressure and she was under pressure. It was not an easy day.

The Night King is dead now. What will you miss the most about the character and about Game of Thrones?

What will I miss? (Long pause.) I don't know. I don't have an answer for this. Nothing.

Because it was challenging to put on the makeup? I can't imagine that was fun…

You know what I will miss? The people. I will miss the people who helped me to be the Night King. This was the costume and make-up departments who helped me to be the man who was out in front of the camera. You might not know it, but it's maybe 25 or 30 people who helped me be that man, with the prosthetics, the make-up, the camera department, the lightning. I miss these people. It would be a very hard day and I would think, "I would like to go home." But after one week home? You start missing these people.”

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Per Deadline, “Hulu has given a straight-to-series order to Nine Perfect Strangers, based on Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty’s latest book, from Nicole Kidman, who also stars, Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories, Endeavor Content and writer-producer David E. Kelley. It’s slated to premiere on Hulu in late 2020.

“The streaming service also has confirmed the limted-series order for The Dropout, starring and executive produced by Kate McKinnon. As Deadline reported exclusivelylast month, the drama is based ABC News/ABC Radio’s podcast about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos. It is the first series order for Fox Searchlight’s year-old television division.

“Co-written by Kelley and John Henry Butterworth, who also will co-showrun, Nine Perfect Strangers the series takes place at a boutique health-and-wellness resort that promises healing and transformation as nine stressed city dwellers try to get on a path to a better way of living. Watching over them during this ten-day retreat is the resort’s director Masha (played by Kidman), a woman on a mission to reinvigorate their tired minds and bodies. However, these nine ‘perfect’ strangers have no idea what is about to hit them.

“Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky and Casey Haver executive produce for Made Up Stories, along with Kidman and Per Saari for Blossom Films, Moriarty, Kelley and Butterworth.

Deadline reported last year that Blossom Films and Made Up Stories closed a pre-emptive deal for TV/film rights to the book, which spent 13 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list after it was published November 6 by Flatiron.

The Dropout explore what caused the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, once heralded as ‘the next Steve Jobs,’ to lose everything in the blink of an eye. Along with McKinnon, executive producers on the limited series include Rebecca Jarvis, Taylor Dunn and Victoria Thompson, the producing team behind the ABC News podcast. Hulu did not announce the number of episodes for the limited series.”

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Per Variety, “[a] new study found that an increase in suicide rates among U.S. boys age 10-17 in April 2017 correlates with the release of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why in 2017. The show depicts a teenage girl’s suicide following the recovery of a box of cassette tapes she left behind detailing the 13 reasons why she decided to kill herself.

The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute of Health. It found that 195 more suicides than expected occurred in the nine months after the March 31, 2017, release. And in the month of April, 2017, more suicides occurred than in any April of the previous nine years. Although the show focuses on the suicide of a teenage girl, teenage boys represent the only demographic with a significant spike in suicide rates. Suicides among teenage boys jumped 28.9% in the month following the release.

“The show’s depiction of teen suicide has caused controversy since its release.

“The Nation Association of School Psychologists issued a warning statement: ‘We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character.’

“The study does not claim a causal relationship between watching the show and committing suicide. It does, however, control for seasonal and other factors that could influence suicide rates. The study concludes that the show is associated with a surge in teen suicide and cautions children and adolescents from viewing the series.

“Netflix said in a statement Tuesday, ‘This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.’

“‘The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,’ study co-author Lisa Horowitz, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement. ‘All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.’

“Two seasons of 13 Reasons Why are currently available for streaming. Season 3 is slated to come to Netflix later this year.”

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From TechCrunch: “Cable television provider Altice USA has confirmed plans to pay $200 million for the millennial-focused, digitally native news network Cheddar in an all-cash, or all-cheddar,  rather, deal. The price tag comes at a 25 percent premium to the media startup’s $160 million Series D valuation.

“Jon Steinberg, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Cheddar and former president and chief operating officer of BuzzFeed, will become president of Altice News. Altice, an existing Cheddar investor, plans to leverage Cheddar’s broadcasts and CheddarU, a growing network of 1,600 screens on 600 college campuses, to expand its portfolio of news businesses.

“‘Our goal is to make Altice News a leader in local, business, national and international news everywhere,’ Steinberg said in a statement. ‘The Altice team and Altice Way are as entrepreneurial as it gets with amazing markets, world-class local and international news, an amazing broadband network, and a soon to launch mobile offering.’

“Cheddar declined to provide further comment.

“Altice News will include Cheddar, along with News 12 Networks and international and current affairs news network i24NEWS.

“Founded in 2016, the New York-headquartered Cheddar operates its flagship business newscast on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, as well as three other programs at its studio in New York’s Flatiron Building, WeWork Vine in Hollywood and the White House.

“The company, dubbed the ‘CNBC of the internet,’ focuses on business news and the top headlines with 19 hours of programming per day. In a short time, the “fast-paced, young, non-partisan general and headline news network” has inked key partnerships to become widely available across platforms. Currently, its programs are viewable in 40 million homes on Sling TV, DirecTV NOW, Hulu, YouTube TV, Sony PlayStation Vue, Snapchat, fuboTV, Philo, Amazon, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook and 60 percent of smart TVs in the U.S. Cheddar attracts 400 million video views per month.

“Cheddar had raised a total of $54.5 million in equity funding across four financings. Its investors include Lightspeed Venture Partners, Raine Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Liberty Global, Comcast Ventures, AT&T, Amazon, Antenna Group, Ribbit Capital, The New York Stock Exchange, Altice USA, 7 Global Capital and Dentsu Ventures. Here’s a closer look at Cheddar’s funding history, per PitchBook:

February 2016 Series A: $3 million at a $15 million valuation
September 2016 Series B: $10 million | $40 million
May 2017 Series C: $19 million | $84 million
March 2018 Series D: $22.5 million | $160 million

“The transaction is expected to close in the next two months.

“‘Cheddar has demonstrated an innovative approach to live news while building an engaged audience, solid followership and a strong brand,’ Altice CEO Dexter Goei said in a statement. ‘As one of Cheddar’s early investors, we have enjoyed our partnership with Jon and admire the entrepreneurial spirit, energy and smart disruptive mentality that he brings to the news business.’

“The deal represents a rare outcome for a digital media startup, a sector plagued by sudden shutdowns and slipping revenue figures. Mic, a similarly millennial-focused news outlet, laid off most of its staff last year before being acquired by Bustle for peanuts. The business was well-funded by venture capitalists, raising a total of $60 million before falling victim to Facebook’s 2017 algorithm change.

“There’s more where that came from. Vice earlier this year confirmed plans to cut 250 jobs, BuzzFeed is laying off 15 percent of its staff and Verizon Media Group (TechCrunch’s parent company) laid off 10 percent of its workforce in January. Just this week Brit&Co, a digital media brand catering to young women, began laying off a majority of its staff after an M&A deal failed to come together at the last moment, according to Recode.”