‘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:

BEST COMEDY SERIES

Broad City (Comedy Central)

Jane the Virgin (The CW)

Mom (CBS)

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Transparent (Amazon)

Veep (HBO)

You’re the Worst (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

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)

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

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)

BEST GUEST PERFORMER IN A COMEDY SERIES

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)

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Bessie (HBO)

Killing Jesus (National Geographic Channel)

Nightingale (HBO)

A Poet in New York (BBC America)

Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Lifetime)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

24: Live Another Day (FOX)

American Crime (ABC)

The Book of Negroes (BET)

The Honorable Woman (Sundance)

Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Wolf Hall (PBS)

BEST ACTOR IN A MOVIE OR LIMITED SERIES

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)

BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE OR LIMITED SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE OR LIMITED SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE OR LIMITED SERIES

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)

BEST DRAMA SERIES

The Americans (FX)

Empire (Fox)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

The Good Wife (CBS)

Homeland (Showtime)

Justified (FX)

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

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)

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

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)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

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)

GUEST PERFORMER IN A DRAMA SERIES

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)

BEST REALITY SERIES

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN)

Deadliest Catch (Discovery Channel)

Married at First Sight (A&E)

Mythbusters (Discovery Channel)

Shark Tank (ABC)

Undercover Boss (CBS)

BEST REALITY COMPETITION SERIES

The Amazing Race (CBS)

America’s Got Talent (NBC)

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)

Face Off (Syfy)

Master Chef Junior (FOX)

The Voice (NBC)

BEST REALITY SERIES HOST

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)

BEST ANIMATED SERIES

Archer (FX)

Bob’s Burgers (FOX)

Gravity Falls (Disney Channel)

The Simpsons (FOX)

South Park (Comedy Central)

Star Wars Rebels (Disney XD)

BEST TALK SHOW

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

Be A Part of It in HBO’s Four-Hour ‘Sinatra: All or Nothing at All’

Start spreading the news. It’s been 100 years since the birth of one of the most famous people in American pop culture–and the family of Frank Sinatra wanted to mark the centennial of the legendary crooner’s birthday in a big way befitting his iconic status.

So they called upon producer Frank Marshall, best known for blockbuster films like “Indiana Jones” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and someone who had a unique connection. His father, Jack Marshall had played guitar on some of Sinatra’s Capitol Records recordings in the mid-1950s.

 

Marshall in turn hired director Alex Gibney, with whom he had worked on a 2013 documentary about Lance Armstrong. Gibney, who has a string of high profile exposés on his credit list including the recent “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” is also a jazz and music lover who had helmed “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown.”

 

The result: HBO’s upcoming two-night, four-hour presentation of “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All.”

 

The documentary chronicles Sinatra’s entire life, high points and low moments, beginning with his upbringing in Hoboken, N.J. as the son of Italian immigrants– before tracing his rise to superstardom. Sinatra started out as a singer for the jazz band orchestras of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey in the 1930s before an ultra-successful solo career that led to movie roles and an Academy Award.

 

“He was a deep and complicated man who had a rough side but was generous and loving,” says Marshall.

 

The film also hits on the controversies that surrounded Sinatra, including his relationship with the Kennedys, his failed marriages to his first wife Nancy and to movie stars Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, his exemption from military service during World War II, his politics and his connections to the Mob. It aims to clear up misconceptions that may have developed over the years.

 

“All or Nothing at All” unfolds based on rarely seen footage of Sinatra’s 11-song set at his intended farewell concert on June 13, 1971. The occasion was a star-studded benefit at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for the 50th anniversary of the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund–a gala produced by Gregory Peck and attended by Barbra Streisand, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jack Benny and Jimmy Stewart.

 

Each song is used as a framework for unspooling the chapters in Sinatra’s life, including  words from the singer himself in multiple interview situations. But not only do they represent one person’s life, they signify pivotal moments in American culture, how it evolved and how Sinatra tried to keep up with the changes.

For Gibney, it was a unique way in which to frame a biopic. “It was footage that was fantastic and shot in an unusual way, like cinéma vérité rather than like a network television special,” he said. “But it was also a mystery story. Why would Frank Sinatra decide in 1971 retire– which he didn’t end up doing– and put together this particular song list? He never wrote an autobiography, so it was kind of like an autobiography in song. It was roughly chronological but we also jump back and forth, and it seemed an interesting and poetic way to deal with a biography.”

 

About 30 people are interviewed, mostly in voiceover, including Sinatra’s children and his wives, as well as Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Mia Farrow, Tony Bennett and Steve Wynn.

 

“Inevitably, the material is shaped by the voices you include and that’s really true for Frank. We used moments that were particularly powerful to shape the narrative,” Gibney said. “We stay in the moment by using photos and images as the people are recollecting.”

 

Gibney said he was engaged by two things about Sinatra. “One was his ambition. He was one of the great American characters, coming from Hoboken and making the long trip across the river to New York City and becoming a figure who dominates American culture for 30 years. The other thing that comes out in his ballads is that he’s a storyteller. His songs are like three minute movies. Part of it was technical, using breath control, and the ability to carry a phrase in the way the story demanded it, and part was in the way he performed.”

Lovers of his music will get more than their fill of performance footage throughout the four hours, which includes never-before-seen home movie footage and rare recordings of performances along with Sinatra’s appearances on various television shows over the decades.

(“Sinatra: All or Nothing at All” debuts on HBO April 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

‘Going Clear:’ Delving into the Secret World of Scientology


Several months before it was scheduled to be seen on premium cable by a large national audience, the Church of Scientology took preemptive action against “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” a documentary exposé directed by Alex Gibney which premiered on HBO March 29 after opening theatrically in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco March 13.

 

The feature-length film was an official selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and is based on the best-selling book by Lawrence Wright.

 

Try Googling the title, and the first thing that pops up is an official-looking website run by Scientology that questions the entire veracity of Gibney’s documentary.  The same thing happens when you search for Wright’s 2013 book, whose title is slightly different, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.”

 

The Church also took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times that slammed “Going Clear” after it screened at Sundance.

 

The film traces the history of Scientology’s origins, which sprung from the mind of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard and went on to attract a slew of bold-faced Hollywood names – which contributed to its popularity all over the world.

 

A rare interview with Hubbard, a long-lost piece of archival footage including outtakes from an interview with Granada Television, gives viewers insights into the charismatic and controversial leader. Hubbard, who died in 1986, developed the doctrine and rituals of Scientology in the years after his wildly popular “Dianetics” self-help book was published in 1950.

 

There is also revealing footage of recent Scientology pep rallies, led by David Miscavige, the church’s enigmatic leader and chairman of the board of the company that controls the trademarks and copyrights of Dianetics and Scientology.

 

But the main focus of the documentary is interviews with eight former Scientology members, including Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis, who describe their experiences in harrowing detail.

 

The revelations are shocking as they describe a systematic history of abuse and betrayal that they contend goes on to this day, sanctioned by the current leadership of the church.

 

“The way that they could not see what was happening to them was what moved me the most,” says Gibney. “And their recollections of the slow pain of recognition as they realized that, to leave the prison of belief in which they were trapped for so many years, they had only to open their minds.  But that was so hard to do.”

 

Contrasted with those experiences, the film also describes the ultra-VIP treatment given to Tom Cruise, the church’s best-known adherent, and delves into the dissolution of his marriage to Nicole Kidman. It also looks at the grooming of actress Nazanin Boniadi, a former Scientology member best-known for her recent role as a CIA analyst in “Homeland,” as his girlfriend.

 

Gibney has an extensive directorial history of chronicling controversial subjects, including Lance Armstrong, Julian Assange and Eliot Spitzer. His last documentary for HBO was 2012’s investigation into sex abuse and pedophilia in the Catholic Church, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” which won two Emmy Awards and was nominated for a third.

 

As to how the two subjects compare, he said, “Scientology was less grim, to be honest.  Raping deaf children — and covering it up — is about as dark as a story can be.  But what was interesting about this film was doing a deep dive into the psychology of belief.”

 

Gibney, who won an Oscar for another documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007) and was nominated for 2005’s “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” is not surprised by Scientology’s reaction to “Going Clear.”

“But, in stepping back and looking at it, I am amazed at how a so-called ‘church’ can invoke so much vitriol and hate.  Hate is a powerful narcotic that numbs the pain of doubt. But it is also addictive.  And it is on that the church depends.  So much of the church’s reaction — which is mostly angry attacks on me, Larry [Wright] and especially those in the film — is actually meant to feed the addiction of the members.  The hate is for them.  I hope they can kick the habit.”

 

Still, he remains hopeful about mitigating the level of hostility. “Someday, I would hope that the current members and clergy who seem so fond of vitriol can look, with ‘clear’ eyes, at the love and empathy that the ex-members have found after leaving the church.  As MLK once said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.’”

 

(“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” airs on HBO March 30 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and on April 1, 5, 9, 11 and 17. Check local listings for additional HBO2 playdates April 2, 4, 8 and 16.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

Justin Bieber: Comedy Central’s Most Outrageous Roast Yet

Out of all the people that Comedy Central has ever roasted – and we’re talking about everyone from Joan Rivers to Pamela Anderson to William Shatner to Charlie Sheen, James Franco and Donald Trump – Justin Bieber could be the juiciest subject of all. With his egg-throwing, sizzurp-slurping, Lamborghini-racing and urinating in a mop bucket, the young pop superstar’s antics make for a veritable minefield of comedic fodder.

That’s a lot of material to throw at someone who just turned 21 years old, not to mention his Canadian citizenship, his tabloid-y love life and the insane devotion of his millions of fans worldwide.

Bieber’s Roast, taped before a live audience at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City on March 14, may be the most politically incorrect one yet – and the most outrightly hysterical.

Wearing a suit and tie and descending from the studio rafters on angel wings, an allusion to his fans’ image of him going back to when he broke out as a singing sensation on YouTube at the age of 12, Bieber looked like a nervous young man going to court as he faced the panel of his tormentors. They were people he personally chose to be there, expanding the parameters of the normal Comedy Central roasting crew.

We’re talking Martha Stewart, Shaquille O’Neal, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg, none of whom are especially known for their comedy chops, but you would be surprised at the laughs they generated.

And then there was roaster regular/extraordinaire Jeffrey Ross, because there can’t be a Comedy Central roast without him, along with Pete Davidson, one of “Saturday Night Live’s” new cast members– who made quite a splash–plus comedians Natasha Leggero, Chris D’Elia and Hannibal Buress, the guy who brought down Bill Cosby by making jokes about his alleged drugging and sexually assaulting a number of women.

Add to this mix roast master Kevin Hart, and the results were incendiary. With his new film “Get Hard” about to premiere, there was also a surprise guest—co-star Will Ferrell, in the guise of Ron Burgundy. Cue the standing ovation from the raucous crowd, where there was not an empty seat in the house.

Sure, there were the requisite penis and vagina jokes, with O’Neal and Stewart as their main targets. But there were also extremely questionable fast and furious gags about Paul Walker and 9/11, not to mention a massive dose of racial humor and countless n-words being thrown around the stage.

“We’re here to give this boy an ass-whipping his parents should’ve done. Justin Bieber lives for the sound of screaming girls – and pedestrians on his windshield,” Hart said about the teen idol. “Justin wants to be black so bad that he bought himself a case of sickle cell anemia. He thinks he’s gangster, but gangsters don’t get in fights with Orlando Bloom and gangsters don’t throw eggs.”

Davidson weighed in about Hart with this: “It’s an honor to be at a roast hosted by Shaq’s dick. Kevin, I love you as black Annie.” As is traditional, he then went on to trash some of his fellow roasters. “If I was 38, I’d be excited to see that Ludacris is here. You’re the biggest rapper of 2001. Martha, congratulations on being a house mother at the University of Oklahoma. There are two black billionaires, Dr. Dre and the guy who sells Snoop his weed.” And he directed this barb at Bieber– “Justin insisted that Robitussin sponsor the afterparty.”

Leggero also ragged on O’Neal. “Shaq’s dick is so big that he has to use Dropbox to send a dick pic,” to which O’Neal, predictably, retorted, “I haven’t seen this disappointing of a lineup since the Lakers.” Of Bieber, he said, “He’s worth $200 million—or four packs of Kools in jail.”

Speaking of jail, Stewart, who infamously did some time for insider stock trading, gave Bieber some advice for when he may inevitably end up there. “The first thing you’ll need is a shank. Then, if you want a player in the board room and a freak in the bedroom, someone you can smoke a joint with and have a three-way, call me,” she said.

Regarding Bieber’s notorious trip to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, in which he wrote in the guestbook that [had she not died at the hands of the Nazis] she would’ve hopefully been a Belieber, Buress had this to say: “If Anne Frank had heard your music, she would have Ubered to Auschwitz.”

After making a highly tasteless joke about Paul Walker’s fatal car crash, Buress name-dropped other dead entertainers and concluded with this admonition to Bieber, “You’ll never end up like Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse (long pause)– respected.”

(The “Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber” premieres on Monday, March 30 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.)

 

 

 

 

A Cinderella Story for Screenwriter Chris Weitz

Chris Weitz lived with Cinderella for three years. No, not in the attic of her family home where her evil stepmother banished her, but with multiple drafts of scripts that eventually became the screenplay of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic fairytale that is currently blowing up at the box office.

Weitz, best known for co-writing American Pie, About a Boy, directing Twilight: New Moon and currently working on the upcoming Star Wars standalone origin story, spoke about his experiences on the Disney blockbuster after a screening at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills a week after the film opened, and crossed $250 million in global ticket sales.

“I was in as long as it wasn’t going to be ironic or snarky. I wanted to do a classicist version of the story,” he said, explaining that he had first been brought on for a six week gig by the Mouse House to do rewrites on a previous version of the script when it was in the hands of director Mark Romanek.

But the latest version of Cinderella is definitely revisionist, a modern retelling of Disney’s 1950 animated theatrical version. The 2015 edition stars Lily James as Cinderella, Richard Madden as the Prince and Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine.

Cinderella’s backstory with her parents is fleshed out, as is Lady Tremaine’s motivation for being so cruel to her.

But most importantly, the budding relationship between Ella, as she is known before her stepsisters dub her Cinderella for the ashes on her face from cleaning the fireplaces, and Prince Kit is shown to be one of equals.  They are shown to be attracted to each other more on an emotional and physical level over a series of interactions before the iconic ball and the search for the woman who fits into the glass slipper left behind when her carriage turns into a pumpkin at the last stroke of midnight.

“Yet she doesn’t feel like a contemporary heroine,” said Weitz. “The production has elements of the 18th and 19th centuries but with bits of the 1930s and 1940s and generally feels old-timey, but not retrograde. We had to find Cinderella’s story as realistic as possible but not going to options of running away or calling the cops. Dante Ferreti’s design makes you understand why she wouldn’t want to leave where she grew up.”

Weitz grappled with the balance between false restraints keeping her in an abusive situation and having more character development about her upbringing and how she was lavished with affection and care by her parents – and her promise to her mother to “have courage and be kind,” which becomes her mantra.

“Everyone knows how the story ends,” he said. “So it was about how you make the experience not feel old hat, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We took her potential weakness – taking punishment – and made it her strength, with the rusty virtue of kindness at the heart of the movie. To have courage and be kind becomes her motto and emblem.”

Asked about that line, which is repeated many times in the film, he said he initially thought he’d come up with something better, but it stuck. “We say it too many times,” he admitted. “But if you bang something over the head, it’s good.”

With two young children and a third on the way, Weitz felt an immense pressure for the movie to be a positive influence on kids and to show that grit and resilience are good qualities for them to learn about.

“We may have reached peak irony,” he said about other pop culture influences in our society. “For kids, we’re trying to make it all about virtues instead of negative things and I don’t want to mess that up.”

Asked about comedic elements of the movie and his background in comedy, specifically the American Pie films – which he said will be on his tombstone –Weitz noted that he has been cautious about broad comedy ever since and especially in Cinderella.

“A lot of the humor is due to the British actors who are used to shifting between television, film and the theater,” he said. “Sometimes you wonder why Cate doesn’t make a move on the Prince herself.”

That could be a whole other movie. But of course in this one Blanchett’s character gets her own happy ending with the Duke, as Cinderella and Kit live happily ever after.

As for Weitz’ new chapter, it’s in a galaxy far, far away. He has traded in Cinderella for Chewbacca, in a film directed by Gareth Edwards, scheduled to open December 2016.

–Hillary Atkin

Breaking the Code Behind The Imitation Game

Graham Moore’s screenplay for “The Imitation Game” just won the coveted Writers Guild Award for best adapted screenplay, topping a field of contenders including Jason Hall’s “American Sniper” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman and “Wild,” whose screenplay was written by Nick Hornby.

Based upon the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges, the Weinstein Company film vividly brings to life a little-known story about the attempts to bring down the Third Reich during World War II – the efforts by a group of English mathematicians working in secret at a compound called Bletchley Park to crack the code of a German encryption machine which would enable them to learn where the Nazis were next planning to attack.

With England’s fate hanging in the balance, and countless lives at stake, the group’s leader is the brilliant yet eccentric Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who must hide his homosexuality or risk arrest and persecution by the country he is fighting to save.

With eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and noms for  Cumberbatch and costar Keira Knightley, the film is directed by Oscar contender Morten Tyldum with a screenplay by Moore, who is nominated for adapted screenplay.

Moore and producer Teddy Schwarzman sat down recently to discuss the extraordinary and compelling story behind “The Imitation Game.” Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Hillary Atkin: Congratulations on all the acclaim the film is receiving. How did this project originate?

Teddy Schwarzman: The idea for the project originated in 2009 when Prime Minister Gordon brown issued a public apology to Turing. Historians, gay rights activists and scientists had been lobbying for years to get him his due.  When that apology reached our team it became very clear this story needed to be told, not just to tell the tragedy of his life but his legacy and how he changed our world.

Graham Moore: Everyone on the film knew from the beginning five years ago that it was going to be one of the most important things in our lives. Alan Turing’s story had been told before on the page and stage but never in narrative cinema. If anyone’s story deserved a film, his did, and we wanted to do a film make his legacy proud. There was a tremendous responsibility to tell it well.

HA: What were the biggest challenges in re-creating the character of Alan Turing, who died in 1954 and is considered the father of modern theoretical computer science?

GM:  There was no audio or video of Alan, which means we had to put together the character from his own writing. One of his nieces who was 18 when he passed away was very helpful, along with other people’s accounts. I was able to put together elements of his character from what he wrote.  Alan was also a good prose stylist, his papers translate ideas into layman’s terms. One of my favorite scenes is where Alan explains the big idea of the Imitation Game —a thrilling monologue to write and see Benedict perform. It was almost helpful that there was no audio or video, especially for Benedict. He couldn’t do an impression, he had to find Alan from the inside.  We had some photographs, and Benedict wore prosthetic teeth to make them more like Alan’s. There were enormous mouthfuls of dialogue with that, yet it’s very subtle. Sammy, our costume designer, used mismatched patterns in his shirts and ties. In his wallpaper, there was some binary code.

TS: Our greatest challenge was to capture his spirit and accomplishments and ultimately capture his character without making it feel like a laundry list–without a sense of who he was. Intertwining three different time periods was the best way to do it justice, in our opinion. We went to London for 14 weeks and reached out to Alan Turing’s family and Bletchley Park. His nieces meet with Morten, and Benedict was able to hear firsthand accounts of his cadence, how he was with children, and listened to recordings with colleagues talking about Turing, which we were lucky to have as a resource. Turing’s great nephew is even in the film, dancing in the background.

HA: Along the way, there must have been some surprises you discovered about him in addition to the secret life he led as a gay man.

GM: It was really the sheer breadth of his accomplishments: we knew he cracked the Enigma code, and theorized the computer, but what we didn’t know is that in his off hours he did algorithms on how tigers got their stripes. When do you find time for that? You got the sense his mind was constantly analyzing, breaking codes and patterns in everything. He was a great botanist, and had an amazing garden he tended. He was an Olympic-level marathon runner, who qualified in his 20s. Where do you have time to also run marathons? I just loved idea of his mind working–that he couldn’t stop if he wanted to stop having ideas. That was something, that there was so much constant activity in his head that it was hard for others to get a fraction of his attention, like what he wanted for lunch. There were so many big concepts and brilliant ideas floating around in his head.

HA: Tell us about the casting process for the film.

TS: What we tried to do instead of casting the biggest names was to find people who were incredibly passionate. We had a director who displayed all the tonal balances and he also understood and fell in love with the character, the man and the role. We put pieces in place that felt organic to the story that needed to be told and respected. We just went through a process of getting the best ensemble that creates chemistry. Benedict and Keira give the performances of their careers.

HA: How did you design or obtain the World War II-era and other period elements you needed for the production?

TS: We had a tremendous props department that spent months working. We had the original Enigma, and the listening stations originally used to intercept Morse code. Everything was sourced. We didn’t use replicas. There were memorabilia collectors who donated items for the shoot.  We did have World War II experts, uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, and we met a number of veterans, and people who worked at Bletchley, who are just now figuring out what they did there. It was very compartmentalized.

HA: How do you feel the story of Alan Turing resonates today, especially his persecution by the British after the war?

TS: His treatment by his government was terrible. He was one of 49,000 men who were convicted of gross indecency under British law between 1885 and 1967, people forced into jail time. Turing was given the option of chemical castration injections instead of going to jail. It’s a tragedy we wanted to highlight. We’ve come so far yet there are still religions and countries where being gay is a crime. If his genius contributions can help show that discrimination by sex, gender or race is something of no merit, we would love that message to get out there.

GM: I’m extremely proud as an American what great progress in gay rights we’ve made in the last few years, tremendous advances. I think the film hopefully shows audiences there was a gay man at the very heart of the computer revolution, at the heart of the Second World War. Historically, gay figures have been written out of narratives, so the goal was always to correct that, to say that gay men and women have been at heart of our history for a long time, and hopefully there are more gay figures we can recognize. In technology, it was only a few months ago that Apple’s Tim Cook came out.  Now there are 37 states in the union that have legal same sex marriage. We have made a lot of progress since Alan Turing’s time.