Inaugural Edition of SeriesFest Showcases Best New TV Pilots Across the Spectrum

It’s always challenging putting on a first-time event and the organizers of the first SeriesFest, which took place June 18 through 21st in Denver, pulled it off in fine fashion.

The festival spotlighted independent episodic television along with entries from cable and broadcast networks that were screened at Denver’s Sie FilmCenter– home of partner organization the Denver Film Society – from morning until late in the evening.

Many featured Q&A’s with the creators and talent after the screening and there was ample time for networking between showings and at afterparties that took place at Union Station and Denver’s Cable Center.

SeriesFest kicked off with a dramatic evening at one of the nation’s most spectacular amphitheaters, Red Rocks outside Denver. After a private reception at the trading post down the hill with its spectacular views of the natural rock formations, organizers Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith Westbrook welcomed the crowd and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on stage to inaugurate the festival.

But in the middle of comedian Whitney Cumming’s set, a surprise downpour sent audience members scrambling for cover. Yet the storm didn’t dampen the reception for headliner John Legend, who played a grand piano and performed some of his greatest hits in an hour-long set that also included a well-received cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Twenty-six official selections screened in competition and showcased programs by emerging and established creators and directors. The pilots featured talent including Malcolm McDowell, John Glover, Alan Thicke, Missy Pyle, Keith Powell, Michael Raymond James, Rachel Dratch and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

ABC screened two new dramas, “Quantico” and “Blood and Oil,” starring Don Johnson, Delroy Lindo and Chace Crawford. USA Network showcased a new original series about computer hacking, “Mr. Robot,” starring Christian Slater and Rami Malek, who plays a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and as a vigilante hacker by night.

Starz previewed the first two episodes of Season 2 of “Survivor’s Remorse,” about a star basketball player in Atlanta and the challenges he and his family face in adopting from their modest roots to fame and fortune.

Also screened were HBO’s “Sex On//”; the series premiere of AMC’s “Humans”; the North American premiere of BBC Four’s “Detectorists”; a sneak preview of FX’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”; the world premiere of Condé Nast Entertainment’s “Our Story,” a Glamour original series and the series premiere of Fusion’s “Outpost.”

Here is a full list of awards given by the SeriesFest jury:


Best Pilot:             “Witnesses”


Jury Statement:     “This was such a tough decision. There were so many sensational pilots to choose from. ‘Witnesses’ had such an intriguing premise and it made us eager to see the next episode. We found ourselves thoroughly engaged by the actors, writing and director. Congratulations to everyone involved with ‘Witnesses’.”


Best Actor:            Robert Olsen, “Dispatch”


Jury Statement:     “Robert Olsen captured our attention from the first frame of ‘Dispatch’. His genuine likeability and subtle comedic timing made us want to watch more.”


Best Actress:        Lisa King Hawkes, “Zero Point”


Jury Statement:     “Lisa King Hawkes brings a simmering sadness and strength to the role of Dr. Alex Embry in ‘Zero Point’. Much of the pilot is spent focused on her face and she carries the story like a season pro.”


Best Director:       Alex Calleros, Michael Tucker, “Anamnesis”


Jury Statement:     “The screen is a canvas for directors. Alex and Michael took us on a journey in the pilot ‘Anamnesis’. From sweeping vistas to small details, their visual

storytelling masterfully created a compelling world.”


Best Writer:         Guy Shalem, “Family Style”


Jury Statement:     “A smart and original comedy that explores what happens when a family decides to open up a pop-up restaurant in their home to make ends meet –

the clever and witty pilot promises many seasons of fresh characters and funny situations.”


“We are thrilled to name ‘Witnesses’ the Best Pilot of SeriesFest: Season One,” said Randi Kleiner, CEO of SeriesFest.  “Congratulations to all of our winners. We are extremely proud of all the pilots that screened in the inaugural competition and cannot wait to see what the future holds for each.”


SeriesFest’s group of Season One jurors hailed from television and the big screen including Oscar-winner Dan Jinks as well as distinguished producers Carter Covington and Ophira Dagan in addition to a veteran of premium cable and network television, Sharon Allen.

–Hillary Atkin


Documentary Sheds New Light on the Story of Anne Frank

It is the most well-known personal story to come out of the Holocaust, the journey of young Anne Frank, her family and friends who hid from the Nazis for more than two years before they were betrayed and discovered in their hiding place in Amsterdam and sent to concentration camps.

Much of the story was of course documented by a teenaged Anne in her iconic diary, which was rescued and later published worldwide by her father, Otto, the only survivor of the group.

The Franks, another family, the Van Pels and a friend, Fritz Pfeffer, had been living in a secret annex at the top of Otto Frank’s office building when they were arrested on August 4, 1944.

Yet no matter how familiar the narrative may be, a new two-hour documentary titled “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” sheds new light on the tragic saga, adding dimensions and additional details that are not widely known about the events leading up to the capture, how it went down and what exactly happened afterward.

“For the first time, the story is told from her captors’ side, taking Anne and her seven companions through the Holocaust, where they were no longer considered individuals, but tragically, a disposal problem. By telling this story in this way, we reveal the full horror of the Holocaust, and also document the heroism of those who managed to endure, and survive,” said Erik Nelson, the director and executive producer.


“Anne Frank’s diaries have sold in excess of 30 million copies since they were first published in 1947,” says historian and author Martin Morgan in the film. “They tell the story of her life, and her dreams. But the story of her death is important as well, because it reveals the full terrible dimensions of the Holocaust.”


Adding to the overarching impact of a story that demonstrates the absolute evils of human nature as well as the purest of positive emotions are rare photographs and cinematography techniques blending past and present that are used throughout the documentary. There is even the only known film footage of Anne, standing on a balcony.

Especially resonant are the interviews with people who actually knew the young girl, who was described as highly intelligent, lively and vivacious. Against incredible odds, Hannah Goslar-Pick, a childhood friend of Anne’s interviewed for the film, was reunited with her friend at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.


“First thing when we met we were crying, because it was really a miracle that we met each other again amidst millions of people,” she says. “It was not the same Anne I knew from Holland, the nice little spicy girl. She was frightened and she was without hope. It was awful.”


Anne Frank was killed shortly before the camp was liberated.


Yet the filmmakers were honored to bring these anecdotes to light. “Two women we discovered, [including Goslar-Pick] now in their late 80’s, were friends with Anne before her exile and arrest in Amsterdam, and miraculously reunited with her in her last desperate months, giving Anne some kind of companionship and hope. We were able to locate and interview them on their incredible encounter,” Nelson said.


The filmmaking process was conducted by a production team well-versed in the study of the Holocaust, with research on the documentary beginning in 2008.


“Our current film incorporates our many connections with archives and scholars, with the location filming being done with our Berlin-based producer and cinematographer, Gavin Hodge,” said Nelson.  


The film also explores what remains of Germany’s worst death camp, Sobibor, which the Nazis tried to blast out of existence before the end of the war in an attempt to cover up the atrocities that were committed there.


Even as “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” reveals incredible tales of bravery and tragedy, it also provides a searing new take on the brutality of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. While the accounts are tragic, burdened with the massive loss of human life, the retelling of this story denies the Nazis their victory over history.


“Her story puts a human face on an incomprehensible tragedy, and allows to humanize and continually re-interpret and research a human disaster that took the lives of six million other men, women and children, victims who were denied an opportunity to create something as enduring as the Anne Frank diary, or even to live out their lives,” Nelson said.

–Hillary Atkin

(“Anne Frank’s Holocaust” premieres on National Geographic Channel Sunday, June 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)




Henson and Howard Make Their Own Empire Hosting Spike TV Guys Choice Awards

Those anxiously awaiting the return of Fox’s breakout hit “Empire” can get a bit of a fix when Taraji P. Henson and Terence Howard cohost the ninth annual Spike TV Guys Choice Awards, airing June 18.

It’s an always irreverent proceeding – with awards like ”Decade of Hotness” and “Biggest Ass Kicker” that nonetheless draws a stable of A-listers. In addition to the hosts, this year that list includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Clint Eastwood, Selma Hayek, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dwayne Johnson, Liam Neeson, Floyd Mayweather and Robert DeNiro.

“We’re here for one reason, because black people are taking over TV,” exclaimed Henson as the taping began on a soundstage at Sony Pictures Studios on June 6. It was dressed in a ski lodge theme, to “make white folks comfortable about the takeover,” Howard said.

It was fitting that Robert DeNiro, who famously played a boxer in “Raging Bull,” presented “The Best Ever” award to Mayweather, who thanked fans and U.S. troops. “I will think about you fighting for our country,” he said.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave the “Brass Balls” award to Kingsley. “It’s great to be honored for that I love,” said the esteemed actor, who stars in the upcoming “Self/less” and the miniseries “Tut.” “I will now kiss my balls.”

Kingsley in turn presented another film star, Neeson, with the “Biggest Ass Kicker” trophy.

Mary J. Blige appeared to present an honor and dubbed Henson’s “Empire” character, Cookie Lyon, as HBIC, head bitch in charge. “Superstars don’t happen overnight. It takes years. I earned this effing honor,” Henson said in accepting the “Jean Claude Gahd Damn” award.

Eastwood looked out at the audience and thanked all the service people that were in attendance before anointing Johnson with the “Troops Choice” award. (He also made a crack about Caitlyn Jenner that will reportedly be cut from the broadcast.)

Johnson then lauded Eastwood as one of his heroes. “One of the reasons I do what I do is because we all live in a country where we are free,” he said, and then called up dozens of troops on stage before announcing a new show for them on Veterans Day of next year called “Rock the Troops.” “We will take some of the biggest stars in movies and music overseas to honor you,” he promised.

Hayek also acknowledged the armed forces in accepting her mantlers for “Decade of Hotness.” “From going to Kosovo in 1999, I learned that they depend on each other, that there is no discrimination that they are brothers and sisters.”

Gyllenhaal was presented the “Guyconic” trophy by Rachel McAdams. “It’s a pleasure to be on the set of ‘The Shining,’” he said. “If this gives me anything, it is the opportunity to thank the Armed Forces.”

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog—a regular at Guys Choice for the past few years– took to the podium with a list of “douchebags of the year,” and it was a long one. Included were Josh Duggar, Johnny Depp, Brian Williams, Ben Affleck, Bill Cosby, Dr. Oz, Robert Durst, Tom Brady, Warren Sapp, Adrian Peterson, Roger Goodell, Alex Rodriguez, Zayn Malik, Dennis Hastert, and the “Entourage” movie—for being “a date rape—I mean night movie.”

Chelsea Handler became the first female ever to be awarded the coveted mantlers for the “Funniest M.F.” award.


And Chris Pratt, star of the blockbuster “Jurassic World,” went home with the Guy of the Year award.

 –Hillary Atkin

(“Guys Choice 2015” premieres on Spike TV Thursday, June 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

Randall Park to Host Inaugural Edition of New Global TV Awards

There’s a new television awards show coming down the pike. Set for September 12, the first Global TV Awards will celebrate achievements in television as chosen by viewers from more than 200 countries.

The kudofest, to be held at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, will be hosted by Randall Park, star of the ABC comedy “Fresh off the Boat” and Sony Pictures’ “The Interview.”

The show will be live streamed on Viki, a television content site that subtitles popular programs from around the world, which is partnering with Variety for the presentation. The event, beginning with a red carpet, is expected to draw about 2,000 people, including television talent and influencers from Hollywood and Asia who have contributed to the evolution of global television.

“We’re incredibly excited about the Global TV Awards, an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate with our passionate fans,” said Tammy H. Nam, CEO of Viki, who created the concept for the show. “Variety is the number one authority in what’s newsworthy and relevant in the entertainment industry, and we’re honored to be partnering with them for this event.”

The launch of the Global TV Awards was announced last week during TUNE IN: Variety’s TV Summit 2015, an annual confab examining trends in the television industry.

“Viki represents an exciting part of the future of digital entertainment: global content, highly engaged viewers, any device. Basically, no barriers,” said Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos.. “We started TUNE IN so that leaders in our industry can get together to discuss, learn and explore the future of entertainment; the Global TV Awards is an extension of this mission, and we’re excited to be a part of its inception.”

–Hillary Atkin

The Inside Stories of ‘Mad Men’s’ Grand Finale

It was a panacea for all those suffering withdrawal symptoms from the end of the adventures of Don Draper & Co., a packed house at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills for the Writers Guild Foundation’s “Inside the Writers Room with Mad Men,” a Q&A with series creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff who worked on the final season of the AMC drama.

Moderated by another of television’s legendary creators, Matt Groening of “The Simpsons,” the May 28 event featured more than two hours of inside anecdotes about challenges and rewards for the creative team, production of the show and character development and casting on the award-winning series, which premiered in 2007 and concluded on May 17.

Groening got things off to a rousing start by screening a Simpsons-style spoof of the “Mad Men” opening, with Homer Simpson slo-mo falling through office buildings to the tune of the famous theme music, before landing on a bench smoking a cigarette.

When Weiner first pitched his plans to AMC, he knew the ending — Draper sitting lotus-style at a California ashram modeled on Esalen in 1970, meant to signify the shift under way in American culture at the time.

Four years ago, when he was in difficult and lengthy negotiations with the network, he wanted to be able to tell people how the series would wrap up if he himself had to leave. It was at that point that an iconic Coca-Cola commercial came into his head.

“I was like, ‘Oh, of course — that’s the ‘70s,’” Weiner told the audience. “I liked the poetry of it.”

In discussing the finale, which was filmed last July, Weiner said he was amazed that 150 people could keep it a secret for so long, and that he had doubts about whether it was the right ending. “Over six months, I could feel my confidence slowly eroding,” he said, to which Groening interjected, “That should be the Writers Guild slogan — confidence eroding.”

Weiner said his fears were allayed when he watched the finale with the cast, crew and an audience of about 1,600 at a screening at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

“I had an amazing experience in that I knew I would not need to go online no matter what was written because I felt everybody kind of emotionally react to the end of the show,” he said. “And you don’t get that much in TV because people are watching it alone in their house. It was a big life moment.”

Then Weiner introduced a clip of what he called ”the most important scene in the series,” in which Jon Hamm’s Draper comforts and hugs a man crying during a group encounter session.

“I never wanted to say it was Esalen, but we shot it at a house in Anderson Canyon, which is exactly ten miles north of Esalen, I was trying to find a place [in Los Angeles] but it costs more money and I didn’t want to have another fight with Lionsgate about the very last episode of the show. I just thought it added to it, this idea that Don would be skeptical – he’s a fish out of water; it’s a comic situation, really – and then just the idea that he would reach out to another person.”

“There’s clarity and there’s ambiguity. I like that you can continue to contemplate and come away with different interpretations,” Groening said of the ending.

“They gave us an extra ten minutes. The pace feels like tension in real life,” Weiner added.

He talked about Hamm’s role as the lead, both on-screen and off. “Jon Hamm worked 14 hours a day, always on time, even when fame hit him. We never had anybody say all the crap you sometimes hear on a show. Jon was such a leader. He’s different than Don Draper. He carried the show on his shoulders.”

Each of the other writers on stage — Janet Leahy, Erin Levy, Tom Smuts, Lisa Albert, Robert Towne, Josh Weitman, Jonathan Igla and Carly Wray — also played clips and discussed why they felt they were the most resonant. (Semi Chellas and Bob Levinson were unable to attend the event).

The group represented a cross-section of men and women of diverse ages and stages in their careers, from three USC alums who started as writers’ assistants and later became staff writers to the legendary Towne, who wrote the 1974 classic “Chinatown,” considered one of history’s greatest films.

Many social and cultural issues of the time that still resonate today were dramatized during “Mad Men.”

“Feminism was the last thing of the 60s,” Weiner said. “Don mentions Betty Friedan. We got to tell stories of their reaction to the unfairness of how women were treated in the workplace. Betty Draper became politicized. My mother was a women’s libber and my dad was supportive.”

The discussion turned to the current hot topic of gender equality in the entertainment industry.

“I don’t care if they’re purple. Gender is not an issue,” Weiner said of his staff, adding that he’s fired a lot of women.

Yet it was Draper’s character that drew the most scrutiny, and it was noted that in his story, there is no genre, no guns and Don doesn’t fight crime. “He’s self-aware but can’t necessarily heal himself. Being open to experience leads to change. The show questions breakthroughs constantly,” said Weiner.

“I love the wordlessness of Don. It’s about how we’re perceived,” said Albert.

Towne quoted Mark Twain, saying “When in doubt, tell the truth.” “Don has lived lies his whole life,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen characters move so far with little words. There’s an effortless turn of character.”

Towne had called Weiner about the show, a written message Weiner said he tacked up and saved on his door, until after sending him all the episodes, Towne came in — joining the production. “It’s great to be in a room with smart, funny people,” he said about the other writers of “Mad Men.”

“Peggy was afraid of flying. It’s color, but it ends up being story,” Weiner said. “The premise was that in this most BS of professions [the advertising world], it was about them working together that long but at the end they really knew each other. For us, we wanted people to laugh and cry and to come back next week.”

Over seven seasons, Don’s secret life and the journeys of the other main characters including Peggy, Joan, Pete, Roger, Betty and Megan generated an abundance of honors, including 105 Emmy nominations, 15 Primetime Emmys — including four for Outstanding Drama Series — one Peabody Award and six WGA Awards.

And of course, in the midst of the current television awards campaigning season, more accolades could deservedly be in store.

–Hillary Atkin

‘Justified,’ ‘Olive Kitteridge’ Top Noms for Critics’ Choice TV Awards

The nominations for the 5th annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards released today are causing big buzz in the biz, with some surprising choices topping the leaderboard for honors given out by the Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

Full disclosure: I’m a voting member of the organization.

As is historically the case with the Emmy nominations, HBO leads the nominations count–garnering 27 nods, followed by FX with 16.

The awards take place May 31, and will be aired live on A&E.

“The HBO miniseries ‘Olive Kitteridge’ and the recently concluded FX drama ‘Justified’ each scored five nominations, with FX’s ‘The Americans,’ HBO’s ‘Bessie’ (May 16, 8 p.m. ET/PT), CBS’s ‘The Good Wife,’ Amazon’s ‘Transparent’ and PBS’s ‘Wolf Hall’ each tallying four nominations.

Vying against “The Americans,” “The Good Wife” and “Justified” for best drama series are Fox’s “Empire,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Showtime’s “Homeland” and Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.”

“Transparent” will compete for best comedy series with Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” CBS’s “Mom,” FX’s “You’re the Worst” and HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and “Veep.”

Here is the complete list of nominations for the 5th annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards:


Broad City (Comedy Central)

Jane the Virgin (The CW)

Mom (CBS)

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Transparent (Amazon)

Veep (HBO)

You’re the Worst (FX)


Anthony Anderson, Blackish (ABC)

Chris Messina, The Mindy Project (FOX)

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Amazon)

Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley (HBO)

Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth (FOX)


Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)

Constance Wu, Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)

Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin (The CW)

Ilana Glazer, Broad City (Comedy Central)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)

Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback (HBO)


Adam Driver, Girls (HBO)

Cameron Monaghan, Shameless (Showtime)

Jaime Camil, Jane the Virgin (The CW)

T.J. Miller, Silicon Valley (HBO)

Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)


Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)

Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia (IFC)

Eden Sher, The Middle (ABC)

Judith Light, Transparent (Amazon)

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Melanie Lynskey, Togetherness (HBO)


Becky Ann Baker, Girls (HBO)

Bradley Whitford, Transparent (Amazon)

Josh Charles, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)

Laurie Metcalf, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Peter Gallagher, Togetherness (HBO)

Susie Essman, Broad City (Comedy Central)


Bessie (HBO)

Killing Jesus (National Geographic Channel)

Nightingale (HBO)

A Poet in New York (BBC America)

Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Lifetime)


24: Live Another Day (FOX)

American Crime (ABC)

The Book of Negroes (BET)

The Honorable Woman (Sundance)

Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Wolf Hall (PBS)


David Oyelowo – Nightingale (HBO)

James Nesbitt – The Missing (Starz)

Kiefer Sutherland – 24: Live Another Day (FOX)

Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall (PBS)

Michael Gambon – The Casual Vacancy (HBO)

Richard Jenkins – Olive Kitteridge (HBO)


Aunjanue Ellis – The Book of Negroes (BET)

Felicity Huffman – American Crime (ABC)

Frances McDormand – Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)

Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Honorable Woman (Sundance)

Queen Latifah – Bessie (HBO)


Bill Murray – Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Cory Michael Smith – Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Elvis Nolasco – American Crime (ABC)

Finn Wittrock – American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)

Jason Isaacs – Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Lifetime)

Jonathan Pryce – Wolf Hall (PBS)


Claire Foy – Wolf Hall (PBS)

Cynthia Nixon – Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Lifetime)

Janet McTeer – The Honorable Woman (Sundance)

Khandi Alexander – Bessie (HBO)

Mo’Nique – Bessie (HBO)

Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)


The Americans (FX)

Empire (Fox)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

The Good Wife (CBS)

Homeland (Showtime)

Justified (FX)

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)


Eva Green – Penny Dreadful (Showtime)

Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (CBS)

Keri Russell – The Americans (FX)

Taraji P. Henson – Empire (FOX)

Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel (A&E)

Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)


Aden Young – Rectify (Sundance)

Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul (AMC)

Charlie Hunnam – Sons Of Anarchy (FX)

Freddie Highmore – Bates Motel (A&E)

Matthew Rhys – The Americans (FX)

Timothy Olyphant – Justified (FX)


Carrie Coon – The Leftovers (HBO)

Christine Baranski – The Good Wife (CBS)

Joelle Carter – Justified (FX)

Katheryn Winnick – Vikings (History)

Lorraine Toussaint – Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

Mae Whitman – Parenthood (NBC)


Ben Mendelsohn – Bloodline (Netflix)

Christopher Eccleston – The Leftovers (HBO)

Craig T. Nelson – Parenthood (NBC)

Jonathan Banks – Better Call Saul (AMC)

Mandy Patinkin – Homeland (Showtime)

Walton Goggins – Justified (FX)


Cicely Tyson – How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)

Julianne Nicholson – Masters of Sex (Showtime)

Linda Lavin – The Good Wife (CBS)

Lois Smith – The Americans (FX)

Sam Elliott – Justified (FX)

Walton Goggins – Sons Of Anarchy (FX)


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN)

Deadliest Catch (Discovery Channel)

Married at First Sight (A&E)

Mythbusters (Discovery Channel)

Shark Tank (ABC)

Undercover Boss (CBS)


The Amazing Race (CBS)

America’s Got Talent (NBC)

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)

Face Off (Syfy)

Master Chef Junior (FOX)

The Voice (NBC)


Anthony Bourdain – Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN)

Betty White – Betty White’s Off Their Rockers (Lifetime)

Cat Deeley – So You Think You Can Dance (FOX)

James Lipton – Inside the Actors Studio (Bravo)

Phil Keoghan – The Amazing Race (CBS)

Tom Bergeron – Dancing with the Stars (ABC)


Archer (FX)

Bob’s Burgers (FOX)

Gravity Falls (Disney Channel)

The Simpsons (FOX)

South Park (Comedy Central)

Star Wars Rebels (Disney XD)


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

The Graham Norton Show (BBC America)

Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS)

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)


A Revealing and Riveting Portrait of Kurt Cobain in ‘Montage of Heck’

It’s been 21 years since Kurt Cobain’s suicide, but the fascination with the legendary lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Nirvana is stronger than ever. The man and his music continue to enthrall not just people who experienced the groundbreaking music in the early 1990s, but a new generation of fans all over the world.

Although Cobain’s story has been told in books and films, filmmaker Brett Morgen spent the past eight years making the first authorized feature documentary, “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” which bows on HBO May 4 after a recent theatrical run in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. It initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was released in more than 70 countries last month.

Morgen, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who helmed “Crossfire Hurricane” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” uncovered a treasure trove of home movies from Cobain’s childhood in Aberdeen, Wash., as well as videos shot during his marriage to musician Courtney Love that include riveting footage of the couple with their baby, Frances Bean Cobain, now 22, who acted as executive producer on the film.

It’s not your typical biopic or “Behind the Music” style rock-doc. A large chunk of Cobain’s young life is dramatized in animation. His own words from tapes he recorded, passages from the copious journals that he kept and his own artwork is used to paint a searing and memorable portrait of the iconic musician.

With the family fully on board with the project, Cobain’s mother Wendy, his father Don and sister Kim provide moving commentary, and there is revealing first-person testimony from Love, Cobain’s previous girlfriend Tracy Marander and Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic.

“I was head over heels in love with that child,” his mom says over images of a bright, happy, energetic young boy shown playing a toy guitar and a keyboard in the family home, demonstrating his early musical proclivities. She goes on to relate the damage done by her divorce from Cobain’s father when Kurt was nine years old.

His troubled teenage years, during which he lived with various relatives and was shuttled back and forth between both parents’ homes are remembered by his sister. “He was searching for whatever made him feel like he wasn’t alone and that he wasn’t so different,” she says about Cobain’s quest to find an outlet for his artistic talents.

Morgen also discovered a wealth of new material that documents the emotional roller coaster of Cobain’s personal life and reveals the range of his creativity, which includes disturbing drawings, some inspired by nightmares he had.

The inspiration for the film’s title is a 1988 sound collage that Cobain recorded on a four track cassette recorder – a free-form mashup of bits from songs, manipulated radio recordings, elements of demos and sounds that he created or recorded. The tape was labeled “Montage of Heck.”

Naturally, there is performance footage that will thrill Nirvana fans, from their early gigs in Seattle as a garage band–before Cobain, Novoselic and Dave Grohl took the world by storm in 1991 with the sound that came to define the grunge era—to playing before massive, fervent stadium crowds and then, the iconic “MTV Unplugged” performance that was one of Nirvana’s last.

Just three years after he forever changed the face of rock music, Cobain was dead at the age of 27.

The film explores the seeds of his discontent, which grew with his fame, his debilitating stomach ailment and his self-destructive tendencies, which resulted in an addiction to heroin of which he was tormented and ashamed.

Morgen spoke about the making of the film after a recent screening in Los Angeles. He was interviewed by Larry Karaszewski, co-writer of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” which starred Courtney Love.

Morgen said Love called him in 2007 about the project. “Four years after I met Courtney, I was given the keys to a storage facility that had Kurt’s paintings on the walls and 18 boxes, including one that contained 108 cassettes with 200 hours of recordings. The script unfolded from there. There were 4,000 pages of journals. We even shot the blank pages. There were five hours of movie footage which to me showed the 1960s world Wendy and Don bought into and brought Kurt into,” he said. “The early family footage was beyond a revelation. I’m watching and saw how worshipped and how beautiful Kurt was. Then the sister comes in and the focus shifted. All this footage ends when he was eight years old. There’s not much else until he’s 22.”

That gap is what inspired him to hire animators Stefan Nadelman and Hisko Hulsing to cover those years. Included in the segment is Cobain’s own description of losing his virginity. “The tone was very distant but an amazing revelation because he was performing,” he said.

Morgan said he went into the project totally cold, as a casual fan of Nirvana. “You’ve got to understand Kurt’s art. There’s a real artist who created a visual and aural biography with a lot of spoken word, painting and sculpting. That let us tell the story from the inside out, capturing the interior, whereas most documentaries are from the outside in.”


Regarding Cobain and Love, Morgen said the documentary showed their lightning-rod relationship on many levels including Cobain’s romanticism and his wit but also the couple’s obsession with the media and how they were portrayed. In an age just before the Internet firmly took hold, their union was frequent tabloid fodder and coverage of them included an infamous Vanity Fair magazine article in which Love admitted she used heroin during her pregnancy.

“He loved her. It’s his view of her. It’s pretty raw. But Frances said to keep it real and that’s a tribute to that family,” said Morgen, who as writer, director and producer was given final cut.

A frequent question that Morgen has faced was indeed asked straight away by an audience member– why Dave Grohl, who went on to huge success with the Foo Fighters, is not interviewed on camera during the two-hour, fifteen minute documentary. “Everything was said by the five people, his mother, his father, sister, girlfriend and bandmate. The public desire about Dave, something I’m asked during every Q&A and is a distraction, speaks to Kurt’s feelings about the culture. This film is about the man, not the band.”

Throughout the entire experience, Morgen said his goal was to strip away the myth to reveal the man. “I find him endearing and well-rounded. Kurt was a raw artist, but there was a gentle, warm Kurt I was happy to find.”

(“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” premieres on HBO May 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT with additional air dates on May 7, 10, 11, 15, and 30.)

Hillary Atkin


Fighting Unconscious Bias: We Need More Shows Like ‘Empire’

Conquering discrimination in the entertainment industry, whether that bias in hiring practices is conscious or not, is a difficult and complex topic.

The subject engendered a frank and sometimes painful discussion as the Writers Guild of America, West hosted a panel called “Exploring Unconscious Bias,” moderated by showrunner Glen Mazzara. The panelists were executive producer Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,”” How to Get Away with Murder”), actor Geena Davis (“Thelma & Louise,” “Commander in Chief”), who runs the Institute on Gender in Media, writer/director/executive producer and Oscar winner Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise,” “Nashville”), director/producer Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”), executive producer Peter Paige (“The Fosters”) and Google’s Judith Williams, the search giant’s manager of global diversity and talent programs.

Unconscious bias is defined as the stereotyping of women and people of color that affects their opportunities in the business.

Mazarra, who ran “The Shield” and was executive producer of the popular series “The Walking Dead,” gave a lengthy opening statement in which he described instances of being thwarted when it came to hiring anyone but middle-aged white men.

“It was important to me to push forward, but there was tremendous pushback – and the agencies were no help. It was difficult to talk about this in an honest way,” he said. “Hollywood is conservative and afraid to take a risk. I heard comments like, ‘I had a black writer once and it didn’t work out.’ Someone questioned whether having women writers in the room would mean they talked about their periods. One person commented that I must have an Asian fetish because I hired two Asian writers. It was shocking that these comments were made recently and not decades ago. It’s a systemic problem and it’s very complex. People need to be educated.”

While noting that Fox and ABC are taking diversity seriously, Mazarra—who is currently executive-producing the horror miniseries “Damien”– said the WGA is strengthening  access programs for women, minorities, LGBT and members over 55 years old, as the entrenched Hollywood system is set up to mentor young white males.

The twin topics of diversity and discrimination have been front and center recently with the bounty of television programs and upcoming pilots that feature nonwhite actors. They include NBC’s “The Curse of the Fuentes Women” and “Love Is a Four Letter Word,” CBS’ “Rush Hour” and ABC’s “Uncle Buck.”

Yet Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said its research revealed that little of Hollywood’s overall entertainment product is gender-balanced.

For example, she said only 17% of crowd scenes in animated and live action films are female. “The only theory I can come up with is that writers think that women don’t gather,” she said, garnering laughter from a crowd of about 300 people that filled the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills for the event, held on April 20.

The danger in such portrayals is that children consuming entertainment at an early age are unconsciously trained that women are less valuable than men and boys, a type of thinking that can carry over into adulthood and perpetuate gender discrimination.

Google’s Williams, the only panelist to have a PowerPoint presentation, said that diverse teams in any business foster what she called “creative abrasion,” which leads to innovation. “We need to think about things we’re not seeing,” she said.

Davis, who portrayed the first female U.S. president on “Commander in Chief,” the short-lived yet acclaimed ABC series that ran in the 2005-06 season (Cherry Jones on “24” as President Allison Taylor came in 2010), said that the simplest solution is to write it in the script. As in, “A crowd gathers that is half female.”

Rhimes said that she encountered resistance when she tried to make the background players in her programs at least 50% female and 30% minority. “It took them a long time to wrap their heads around that concept. It’s really interesting when you try to change the flow of traffic in a hospital or in the White House. You’re changing the ecosystem,” she said. “So it was a big deal, changing layer by layer by layer.”

But behind the scenes, the numbers tell a similar, and unequal story. A 2015 television staffing brief researched for the WGA revealed that less than 6% of executive producers this season were minorities and that staff writing jobs were just 3.5% minority.

Mazzara aimed to focus the discussion on solutions that could be implemented by the people on stage, asking them what they are doing to implement change.

Paige noted that ABC Family has had great success in diversity, including with “The Fosters.” “It takes two seconds to make a decision to make things a more accurate reflection of the world,” he said.

Khouri agreed, saying she fights to have women seen as being as competent as men, a struggle that started with “Thelma & Louise.” “If you have be a ____ bitch,” she said,” go ahead.”

The event was sponsored by Google, The Writers Guild of America, West, the Directors Guild of America and the Davis Institute.

–Hillary Atkin


Crafting TV’s Top Hits: Showrunners Tell all at HRTS Hitmakers Affair

It’s a rare opportunity to get insights into some of the top shows on broadcast and cable in one place–all in one hour—but that was the agenda at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s annual Hitmakers Newsmaker Luncheon, held April 8 at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom.

A rapt audience heard from Lee Daniels, co-creator and executive producer of Fox’s breakout hit “Empire,” Noah Hawley, EP of FX’s acclaimed miniseries “Fargo,” Michelle King, co-creator and EP of CBS’s “The Good Wife,” Jill Soloway, creator and EP of Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” and Sarah Treem, co-creator and executive producer of Showtime’s “The Affair.”

With the exception of “The Good Wife,” which premiered in 2009, the other shows represented are new to the television landscape—and all immediately garnered critical and popular acclaim.

In a conversation moderated by Stacey Wilson, their showrunners touched on everything from how they got their start in the business to what they need in order to write and how they cope with the challenges of producing quality television.

One thing they have in common is an early affinity for writing and literature and as they moved into their careers, confirmation of their talent from others. Daniels, who before “Empire” was best-known as a feature director (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Precious,” “Monster’s Ball”), said that as a nine-year-old, he read Virginia Woolf in the public library and then wrote his own versions of the works. Later taking a screenwriting class in New York City in the 1980s – when he admitted he was on crack – the teacher said his work was a masterpiece.

Soloway, who based “Transparent” on her family and her father’s transition from male to female, said she knew she was on the right track as a writer working on “Six Feet Under” when Alan Ball emailed her about a script, saying it was “fucking great.”

But the real nuts and bolts of the panel was about managing their current shows.

King, who works side-by-side with her husband Robert, was asked about the hot topics like email hacking and gay marriage that “The Good Wife” incorporates into its plots.

“We tend to read a lot, as does our entire writers room of seven other writers, about subjects that interest us. But sometimes things are burning so hot, we feel they won’t still be relevant a few months down the road,” she said. “We love the serialized stories and procedural elements.”

For Hawley, going into Season 2 of “Fargo” with an entirely new story and cast, the challenge is to make something new while staying true to the tone of the original.

“Joel and Ethan [Coen] never made the same movie twice,” he said. “’Fargo’ is a ten- hour movie and you have to know the end of it. My goal is to make something timeless.”

“Empire” has been a huge learning experience for Daniels. “Nothing could have prepared me for this journey. At first, I bucked the system because I’m so used to going it alone. Then you have a partner, Danny Strong. This wasn’t us fighting with Harvey Weinstein over a cut. This was a group of people with many ideas, and I learned to collaborate,” he said.

That extends to working with the actors, he said, who are given some creative license when it comes to how closely they hew to the script, noting how Taraji P. Henson has contributed to her character, Cookie Lyon.

“She’ll add a line or a word and make it sparkle,” Daniels said of the actress. ”It has to be honest and it has to come from a place of truth. Sometimes they’re more aware of the truth than I am.”

For other showrunners, actors changing lines is cause for concern. “We’ll get a call at 5 o’clock in the morning about that,” King said, noting that the show shoots in New York while she and Robert remain based in Los Angeles.

Soloway noted that the best way to get actors to stick to the script is to tell them they can say whatever they want.

The panelists also discussed the differences between British and American actors when it comes to the written word, with those from the U.K. being very reluctant to change it.

“British actors really like the text. They practice the text, and they’re perfect on the text,” Treem said. She also mentioned that American actress Maura Tierney is a “genius” at improvising. “She’ll come up with something that is honestly more instinctive and more natural than what’s on the page.”

Treem said “The Affair’s” dual narrative was the first thing decided upon before the story was developed or any actors were cast. “Everything is perspective. The idea of the affair was the second idea,” she said and remarked that people have very strong opinions about infidelity.

“I got hate mail after a New York Times article about the show in which I questioned whether monogamy can hold through a long-term relationship,” she said. “I was on the phone talking with somebody from France about the show and they had this totally different perspective. It’s great talking to the French.”

Wilson asked the show runners what they need in order to be able to write.

“Comfort,” said Daniels. “A room with a door, to keep out the kid,” Treem said.

“I used to say ‘marijuana’, but that’s not true anymore,” Soloway said, as the audience erupted in laughter. “Pot doesn’t make the writing any better, it just makes you think it’s better. And either way you have to go back and fix it.”

She also revealed something surprising. Because of her propensity to critique her own work, even after the show is locked and shipped, she’s never sat down to watch the finished “Transparent”– because she’s afraid she’s going to want to change something.

It’s really good,” Treem told her, eliciting another round of laughter from the crowd.

–Hillary Atkin


Billy Crystal, Josh Gad Join Forces in FX’s ‘The Comedians’

Billy Crystal hasn’t done a television comedy series since ABC’s “Soap,” which ran from 1977-1981, followed by his memorable turns on “Saturday Night Live” in that same era– unless you count some recent guest star spots on Lisa Kudrow’s “Web Therapy.”

And we’ve nearly lost count of how many occasions he hosted the Oscars, with the last being in 2012. Okay, it was nine times, beginning in 1990.

But now he’s back in the saddle, an apropos term considering “City Slickers,” teamed with Josh Gad in FX’s new mismatched buddy comedy, “The Comedians.” It’s a show within a show, “The Billy and Josh Show” in production for FX– and paired with “Louis,” one of the network’s top comedies and a perennial awards-magnet.

Gad is fresh off the success of his role as Olaf in “Frozen” and on Broadway in “The Book of Mormon.”

Teamed with Crystal, the two comedians act as hyper-stylized versions of themselves coming at their craft from two different approaches—and two generations. Conflict and comedy ensue in this reluctant marriage, in the sketches for their fictional show and in their real life interactions as documented in a style reminiscent of “The Office” and “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Everything is on the table for digs, from Gad’s weight and eating habits to his failed role in the short-lived NBC comedy “1600 Penn.” For Crystal, it’s his hit movies, his Broadway show– which Gad has never heard about – and Oscar hosting gigs as well as his old school style of joke-telling and delivery.

“The Comedians” is based on a Swedish comedy, “Ulveson & Hergren,” but is firmly grounded in Hollywood and the travails of making a hit show under the watchful eye of network bosses. The top guy, a fictionalized, bearded version of FX Networks president John Landgraf, is played by Denis O’Hare.

“If you think he’s a real douchebag, I don’t want to hear about it,” Landgraf told a packed house at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage for the premiere of the new series, after he was introduced by the network’s PR chief, John Solberg. Landgraf went on to quote some of the positive reviews that have already been published about the show, whose brain trust includes Larry Charles, Matt Nix and Ben Wexler.

When it was Crystal’s turn to take the podium, he said Landgraf left out a quote from the Jewish Daily Forward and launched into a spiel that only people who speak Yiddish could understand.

The laughter continued as the pilot episode and another, featuring Elvis Mitchell, about the lack of diversity in the cast and crew were unspooled. It was sometimes so loud that we missed some of the dialogue.

It’s a funny ensemble with cast members that include Dana Delaney as Crystal’s wife Julie, and Steven Webber, Megan Ferguson, and Stephnie Weir as members of the production team, navigating the backstabbing, envy and awkward situations that are stock in trade.

Also part of the mix are cameos from famous faces including Mel Brooks, Sugar Ray Leonard and Joe Torre, who play some of Crystal’s buddies.

Whatever the chosen school of comedy, this class is now in session.

(“The Comedians” premieres on FX April 9 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

–Hillary Atkin