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Business/Streaming Notes (Analysis)
‘It Was Sell At All Costs’: How AT&T’s Sales Staff Created Fake Accounts For DirecTV Now
By Rachel Sandler, Forbes.com - Jun. 25, 2020

In July 2018, Julia Morris walked out of the AT&T store in Burlingame, California, with a Motorola prepaid phone. The 54-year-old graphic designer had lost her iPhone 7 two weeks prior, and when the AT&T sales representative suggested she buy a temporary phone while she waited for her insurance company to send her a check for a new one, she handed over her credit card—and didn’t think of the transaction again.

That is, until June the following year, when she noticed AT&T had charged her credit card $330 for 11 months of DirecTV Now, an AT&T streaming service she knew nothing about and had never used. “I definitely never signed up for it,” she says. “I barely even watch TV at all anymore.” After months of bouncing between customer service personnel, Morris says she still hasn’t gotten a refund. “It’s just infuriating at this point.”

Across the country, customers were stuck with similar surprise signups as DirecTV Now, launched in 2016 after AT&T acquired satellite giant DirecTV, added 1.3 million subscribers in two years. According to interviews with 25 current and former retail employees in nine states, some customers who visited one of AT&T’s 16,000 company-owned and authorized franchise locations unknowingly walked away with a DirecTV Now subscription.

While sales representatives often canceled these new signups before a recurring charge hit a customer’s credit card, in certain cases—such as Morris’—they didn’t. The issue was so widespread that AT&T secretly launched a nationwide internal investigation in 2017, according to documents from the probe reviewed by Forbes, and the company fired employees found to have engaged in unethical practices.

AT&T spokesman Jim Greer acknowledged that Morris did not set up the account, but declined to comment further, citing customer privacy concerns. After this story was published, AT&T’s president of Customer Care reached out to Morris and took down her credit card information for a potential refund.

The schemes went unnoticed by the public until September 2019, when a group of AT&T shareholders sued the company for allegedly reporting inflated subscriber numbers that resulted from these temporary signups. AT&T, which made $181.2 billion in revenue in 2019, moved to dismiss the lawsuit, calling the allegations meritless, and a judge will soon rule whether the case will move forward. A similar lawsuit filed in New York’s State Supreme Court was dismissed in May, but the narrow ruling did not decide whether employees used dishonest sales practices. Instead, the judge ruled that even if AT&T was aware of dubious DirecTV Now signups, the company wasn’t required to disclose it on a specific financial form because the service didn’t have a big enough impact on its overall business when it first launched.

The lawsuits are just one of several challenges arising from AT&T’s controversial $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2014, which, along with the later acquisition of Time Warner, has left the company one of the most indebted nonfinancial firms in the world. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who oversaw the DirecTV acquisition, stepped down in late April after the company was scrutinized by Wall Street for its acquisition strategy, which activist hedge fund Elliott Management called “questionable” last year.

AT&T employees told Forbes they created fake emails, offered unauthorized discounts in exchange for signups and lied to customers about phone plan pricing in order to sign up customers—often violating AT&T’s own guidelines—as they were pushed to meet steep sales goals from retail store managers.

“It was sell at all costs—that’s how it was presented to us,” says Justin Keller, a former store manager in San Francisco who said his immediate sales director encouraged tactics such as using unofficial discounts to entice customers to sign up. “It was a threat,” he says. Keller says he was investigated for improper activity and was eventually cleared.

The complaints about DirecTV Now are familiar for telecommunications companies. AT&T and others have faced buyer outrage and Federal Trade Commission investigations over deceptive or otherwise slimy customer service and billing practices similar to the ones used to create DirecTV Now accounts for decades. The net result has damaged the reputation of cable, phone and internet providers, which generally rank below the banking and airline industry as among the most hated companies in America.

Greer says the Dallas-based company investigated “unusual sales activity around a product promotion” in 2017, publicly acknowledging the internal probe for the first time. The company “took several important steps to address it, including employee dismissals and reversing any unauthorized charges for affected customers,” he said. Greer pushed back on the charge that these actions pumped up subscriber numbers. “Our investigation confirmed that the activity did not have a material impact on our publicly reported results.”

The drive to sign up customers for DirecTV Now stemmed from AT&T’s March 2014 acquisition of satellite TV provider DirectTV. Costing $48.5 billion in cash and stock plus the assumption of $18.6 billion in debt, the deal was, at the time, AT&T’s largest in its history.

Looming in the background was the existential threat of cord cutters, young people who never purchase cable but instead stream services such as Netflix and YouTube. In the first two years after the acquisition, the number of households not paying for traditional TV increased 23%, according to eMarketer, while cable and satellite subscribers declined 3%. DirecTV growth was already beginning to peter out by the time AT&T bought it.

“Investors were kind of scratching their heads. Why would you buy the largest traditional video distributor if your goal was to blow up traditional video distribution?” Craig Moffett, the founder of research firm MoffettNathanson, says.

AT&T's answer to cord cutting was DirecTV Now. Launched in December 2016, the streaming service promised customers the ability to watch live TV over the internet for $35 a month, without a cable box or satellite dish. Because of its low price, investors knew it would never be profitable for AT&T, Moffett says, but it was important in creating the perception that AT&T wasn’t betting its future on a declining satellite business. “I think AT&T really wanted to own the narrative in terms of video,” Moffett says. Though how “material” DirecTV Now was to AT&T is subject to dispute, with the shareholder lawsuit claiming DirecTV Now was a core part of its business before the Time Warner merger.

At the same time, AT&T also began a push in retail stores across the country, ratcheting up pressure on both store managers and sales reps to get people to sign up for as many DirecTV Now accounts as possible, employees say. Greer dismissed perceived pressure employees may have felt as a “a terrible excuse from individuals who violated our code of conduct policies.”

Nathaniel Evanetz, a former sales representative at an AT&T store in the Philadelphia area, said employees were given a written warning if they didn’t show every single customer how DirecTV Now worked on their iPads. Even when sales reps pitched the service to customers, Evanetz said it was nearly impossible to meet quotas without “leveraging” AT&T’s promotions, or telling customers they could sign up for a month to get a free Apple TV or Amazon Firestick and then cancel before they got hit with a recurring charge.

While using discounts and freebies is standard practice for raising interest in a new product, sales representatives and managers across the country soon turned to more unscrupulous practices, including making up fake emails, say employees in California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Nevada.

Murtaza Amirzada, a sales rep in Fremont, California, between 2016 and 2018, says he would use a customer’s first and last name along with a random email domain to create fake emails to sign customers up for accounts. Another sales rep in the same store says he would use customer descriptors, such as “[email protected]” Nearly every employee in the Fremont store made inauthentic emails, Amirzada and two other employees who worked there say.

Making up fake emails was possible, say all the employees Forbes spoke to, because DirecTV Now until mid-2019 did not use email verification, meaning that employees could use any random string of letters and numbers in the email field of the signup form. In practice, that meant employees would offer customers a discounted product like a temporary phone or screen protector, but in reality, the salesperson was giving away the product for free and using the credit card to create a DirecTV Now account.

Amirzada says his managers authorized employees to create emails for customers who wanted multiple accounts for their family, offer marked-down items if customers signed up for DirecTV Now and instructed workers to cancel the accounts before the first month. But the situation spiraled out of control when employees figured out how to exploit the lack of email verification.

Amirzada would cancel his fake accounts within a month, so customers would never get a recurring charge. “Me, personally, I never did anything if it wasn’t favorable for the customer,” Amirzada says. “So I never felt guilty for doing something like that.” Yet the schemes breached AT&T’s code of conduct, which says the creation of fake emails amounts to “falsification of company records,” according to two former workers.

In other instances, customers knew what they were signing up for, but employees would manipulate existing discounts or make under-the-table deals in order to cajole customers into signing up, which became common practice. A store manager in San Francisco says her boss instructed her to tell customers they could get 20% off a pair of Beats headphones if they signed up for DirecTV Now and canceled the next month, even though the headphones were on sale regardless. Three employees in Louisiana, Las Vegas and Hawaii said managers ordered employees to tell customers that all new phone plans came with DirecTV Now, while never mentioning that customers could get a cheaper plan without the service.

Some employees said they felt they had no choice. Anthony Luna, an employee in Las Vegas between 2005 and 2018, says in September 2017 he offered a customer a deal: Instead of putting down $1,335 as a deposit for three new phones, the customer could sign up for three DirectTV Now accounts and get the deposit waived.

Luna had wanted to waive the deposit without any strings attached, a typical practice to retain high-selling customers. But Luna’s manager told him he would only approve the deal if he got the customer to sign up for three DirecTV Now accounts. “Just make it happen,” Luna recalls his manager telling him.

The customer agreed because three DirecTV Now accounts still cost less than the $1,335 deposit. Luna used made-up emails to set up two of the accounts because the customer only had one email address. He helped cancel the accounts less than a month later—and was eventually fired for the transaction.

It’s unclear how much top executives inside of AT&T’s Dallas headquarters knew about the prolific use of unethical sales tactics, but employees say regional managers failed to inquire about red flags early on. Greer did not comment on if or when senior executives were alerted to issues surrounding DirecTV Now.

One such red flag popped up in Las Vegas, where a sales director in January 2018 acknowledged in a sales meeting that one store had 100 DirecTV Now sign-ups one month and 103 cancelations the next, according to Luna and another employee present, and instead of auditing the location or asking more questions, the director praised the store.

As early as mid-2017—just six months after DirecTV Now launched—AT&T’s internal investigations team, which is tasked with responding to issues of theft and fraud, picked up on unusual behavior with DirecTV Now sign-ups. AT&T quietly began dispatching internal investigators to stores around the country. Armed with spreadsheets of every suspicious transaction, specialists in its asset protection group grilled employees on why no one was using the accounts and why they were canceled so quickly, sometimes on the same day they were created.

Over the course of the yearlong investigation, sales representatives and store managers linked to unethical sales were fired or disciplined, though AT&T declined to say how many. In Amirzada’s store in California, AT&T fired 17 employees, according to three people who worked here (Amirzada says he quit before he was fired).

To customers and the outside world it was business as usual. Executives continued to tout the popularity of DirecTV Now—until the end of October 2018, when AT&T reported DirecTV Now additions had plummeted 86%, flummoxing Wall Street analysts who had seen brisk growth for more than a year. AT&T’s stock fell 8%, contributing to the company’s worst year since the 2008 financial crisis. John Donovan, then-CEO of AT&T’s communications unit, said DirecTV Now net adds declined because it scaled back promotions and raised prices from $35 per month to $40.

“I think that we and other people were a little surprised by the numbers,” JPMorgan analyst Philip Cusick told executives on AT&T’s October 2018 earnings call.

The drop in stock price caught the attention of two New York law firms, Labaton Sucharow and Pomerantz, which represent unions whose pensions are invested in blue-chip stocks like AT&T. With some chapters of the Iron Workers Union, Pittsburgh’s Steamfitters Union and a Teamster’s chapter in New York on board as lead plaintiffs, the firms filed a lawsuit against AT&T and CEO Stephens, accusing executives of lying to shareholders by concealing the investigation, making positive comments about DirecTV’s Now’s performance when in reality it “was sold at irrationally low prices and with heavy and improper promotional activity” and reporting what they allege are inflated subscriber numbers. The company asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit in November, denying the allegations. In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, AT&T argues the complaint never explained why it would benefit from temporarily inflating DirecTV Now subscriber numbers through practices it knew were “unsustainable.”

The company, now twice the size as it was in 2014 thanks to its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, eventually fixed loopholes employees exploited, including adding email verification. DirecTV Now continued to bleed subscribers as AT&T continued to raise its monthly price, losing 38% of its subscriber base from the end of 2018 to July 2019, when the service was officially rebranded as AT&T Now.

Even after the name has gone, the days of DirecTV Now’s high-pressure sales period are still fresh for some customers and ex-employees.

“I was baffled that I got fired, that I was put into such a bad situation by them by being such a good employee and doing what they wanted me to do,” Luna said.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/06/25/it-was-sell-at-all-costs-how-atts-sales-staff-created-fake-accounts-for-directtv-now/#250165f4771a
 

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Media/Health Notes
Disney Delays 'Mulan' Release to Late August Due to Ongoing Pandemic
By Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter's 'Heat Vision' Column - Jun. 26, 2020

Disney is once again delaying the release of Mulan due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. The tentpole will now open on Aug. 21.

Director Niki Caro's live-action adaptation of the classic animated pic had been set to hit theaters on July 24, but with cases of COVID-19 surging again in California and a handful of other states, Disney's plans have changed. The company is also delaying next month's planned reopening of Disneyland in Anaheim.

“While the pandemic has changed our release plans for Mulan and we will continue to be flexible as conditions require, it has not changed our belief in the power of this film and its message of hope and perseverance. Director Niki Caro and our cast and crew have created a beautiful, epic, and moving film that is everything the cinematic experience should be, and that’s where we believe it belongs – on the world stage and the big screen for audiences around the globe to enjoy together,” said Alan Horn and Alan Bergman, co-chairman of Walt Disney studios (Horn is also chief creative officer).

The Mulan shift followed Thursday's announcement that Warner Bros. is likewise delaying tentpole Tenet again, this time from July 31 to Aug. 12.

Mulan was first supposed to open on March 27 in North America and much of the rest of the world, including China, but saw its release date shifted to late July after theaters across the world went dark in mid-March.

Caro directed the feature that stars Crystal Liu as Mulan, a woman who disguises herself as a man to spare her elderly father from military service.

As it stood, Mulan would have been the first new Hollywood studio tentpole to hit the big screen once theaters reopened. Those reopening plans are now in doubt.

The Mulan and Tenet shifts were among a handful of release date changes announced late this week as Hollywood continues to grapple with the pandemic. On Friday, Paramount and Skydance said they were pushing back the release of the Tom Clancy adaptation Without Remorse from Oct. 2 to Feb. 26, 2021, while United Artists Releasing is delaying the opening of Bill & Ted Face the Music from Aug. 14 to Aug. 28.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/disney-delays-mulans-release-late-august-due-ongoing-pandemic-1300374
 

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Business/Streaming Notes (Analysis)
‘It Was Sell At All Costs’: How AT&T’s Sales Staff Created Fake Accounts For DirecTV Now
By Rachel Sandler, Forbes.com - Jun. 25, 2020

In July 2018, Julia Morris walked out of the AT&T store in Burlingame, California, with a Motorola prepaid phone. The 54-year-old graphic designer had lost her iPhone 7 two weeks prior, and when the AT&T sales representative suggested she buy a temporary phone while she waited for her insurance company to send her a check for a new one, she handed over her credit card—and didn’t think of the transaction again.

That is, until June the following year, when she noticed AT&T had charged her credit card $330 for 11 months of DirecTV Now, an AT&T streaming service she knew nothing about and had never used. “I definitely never signed up for it,” she says. “I barely even watch TV at all anymore.” After months of bouncing between customer service personnel, Morris says she still hasn’t gotten a refund. “It’s just infuriating at this point.”

Across the country, customers were stuck with similar surprise signups as DirecTV Now, launched in 2016 after AT&T acquired satellite giant DirecTV, added 1.3 million subscribers in two years. According to interviews with 25 current and former retail employees in nine states, some customers who visited one of AT&T’s 16,000 company-owned and authorized franchise locations unknowingly walked away with a DirecTV Now subscription.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/06/25/it-was-sell-at-all-costs-how-atts-sales-staff-created-fake-accounts-for-directtv-now/#250165f4771a
I live where the options for MSOs are either Comcast or AT&T (D*). I'm still not sure who's more evil.

After a horrible experience with AT&T mobile service years ago, I vowed never to give them money again. Then they bought DirecTV. I remain only because they've managed to avoid ruining it for me so far. Any day, now, I suppose....
 
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TV/Awards Notes (Broadcast)
Daytime Emmys 2020: Y&R Dominates the Soap Opera Pack, Jeopardy! and Kelly Clarkson Show Both Win Big
By Ryan Schwartz, TVLine.com - Jun. 26, 2020

The 47th Daytime Emmy Awards started being handed out on Friday night, and CBS’ The Young and the Restless led the soap opera pack with eight total wins, including for Outstanding Drama and Lead Actor.

Among the other sudsers, CBS’ The Bold and the Beautiful and ABC’s General Hospital amassed four total wins apiece. NBC’s Days of Our Lives claimed a pair of prizes, while The Bay The Series was named Outstanding Digital Drama Series.

Of note, B&B‘s Heather Tom, with her Lead Actress win, tied One Life to Live vet Erika Slezak’s record for the most career Daytime Emmy wins (six).

Jeopardy! led all game shows with three total wins, while The Kelly Clarkson Show topped all talkers by grabbing gold in three categories — and marking Clarkson’s first Emmy win.

Going by network, CBS topped Friday night’s ceremony with 15 total wins, followed by the 11 aggregated by syndicated programming. ABC walked away with five wins, NBC had four, HBO took three and Amazon Prime claimed two.

Friday’s presentation — hosted by the ladies of The Talk and broadcast on CBS — marked the first time the annual kudoscast had aired on a major television network since 2015, with recipients and special guests appearing from their homes. (Additional categories, including many from the digital drama arena, are being held for additional virtual ceremonies taking place on July 19 and 26.)

[CLICK LINK BELOW TO SEE COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS]

https://tvline.com/lists/daytime-emmys-2020-winners/
 

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I'm more disturbed with taking established characters and changing their sex or ethnic background in a live action movie.

We talk about more roles for women, for example, but if I were a woman, I'd be insulted that the solution they've come up with is to simply remake a role that used to be male as female.

I don't have a problem with changing the sex of a character as long as the sex isn't a key component of the character. I'm cool with women Ghostbusters. A Woman playing James Bond doesn't work for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #36,686
TV Sports (Basketball)
NBA releases schedule of seeding games to finish regular season in Orlando
By Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today - Jun. 26, 2020

The NBA will finish its regular season — called seeding games — with 88 games at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, including at least 52 televised on TNT, ESPN, ABC and NBATV.

The seeding games begin July 30 and continue through Aug. 14. There will be no more than seven games in a day, with some starting as early as 12:30 p.m. ET. It will be nonstop NBA from early afternoon through the evening, and games will be played on three courts in the complex.

Each team has one back-to-back.

Though the final two days of seeding games do not have times or TV information, it is likely all eight Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers games will be televised nationally.

Right now, Boston, Houston, Milwaukee and New Orleans (hello Zion Williamson) have six games on national TV, with the possibility of each getting one more.

Denver, Portland, Toronto and Utah each have five national TV games and also could get one more with their final seeding game on either Aug. 13 or 14. Potential play-in games are scheduled for Aug. 15 and 16. The playoffs will begin Aug. 17.

Here is the daily schedule with times and TV information (all times Eastern): [CLICK LINK BELOW]

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/06/26/nba-season-restart-schedule-tv-wide-world-of-sports-orlando/3266616001/
 

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TV/Production Notes (Broadcast)
The Simpsons Will No Longer Hire White Actors to Play Non-White Characters
By Megan Vick, TVGuide.com - Jun. 26, 2020

The Simpsons is the latest animated show to publicly declare that it will no longer employ white actors to voice non-white characters. The decision comes in the same week that Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell stepped away from playing their biracial characters on Big Mouth and Apple TV+'s Central Park, respectively. Mike Henry, who voices the Black character Cleveland Brown on the show Family Guy, also stepped away from his role in solidarity.

"Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters," the series said in a short, straight-forward statement obtained by TV Guide.

Discover your new favorite show: Watch This Now!

Of course, this is not the first time representation has been an issue for The Simpsons. The iconic comedy was the subject of Hari Kondabolu's 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, where he called out the show for its insensitive and stereotypical portrayal of South Asian immigrants. The Simpsons initially responded to the documentary with an episode lambasting politically correct culture titled, "No Good Read Goes Unpunished." However, the backlash to the response led to white actor Hank Azaria confirming he would no longer voice Apu earlier this year.

Kondabolu responded to this affirmative move by the show with a tweet, "Whoa," along with retweeting a few other users calling out The Simpsons for waiting this long to make the decision.

The decisions to pay more attention to inclusive casting comes as people across the country are speaking up about representation in the midst of civil unrest after the death of George Floyd in police custody last month. Calls are being made for widespread change across many areas of industry, including Hollywood, to show.

https://www.tvguide.com/news/the-simpsons-no-longer-hire-white-actors-to-play-non-white-characters/
 

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Nielsen Overnights (Broadcast)
Primetime Ratings: ABC Wins With Offbeat Games
By Michael Malone, NextTV.com - Jun. 26, 2020

ABC won the Thursday ratings race, with Holey Moley and Don’t leading the way. ABC got a 0.7 in viewers 18-49, per the Nielsen overnights, and a 5 share. That topped the 0.5/3 that Univision posted.

Holey Moley and Don’t both got a 0.7 and To Tell the Truth a 0.6. Holey Moley was flat and Don’t and To Tell the Truth both went up a tenth of a point.

Univision had Te Doy La Vida, Amor Eterno and Como Tu No Hay 2 all at 0.5. Te Doy grew a tenth and the other two were flat.

CBS was next at 0.4/3. Comedy reruns led into the Broke finale, down 20% to 0.4. A SWAT rerun followed.

Fox, NBC and Telemundo all scored a 0.3/2. Fox had Celebrity Watch Party at 0.3 and Labor of Love at 0.2, both off a tenth of a point.

NBC had Council of Dads up 33% to 0.4 and Blindspot at a flat 0.3. A Law & Order: SVU rerun followed. Council of Dads will not continue on NBC.

On Telemundo it was Cennet, 100 Dias Para Enamorarnos and Enemigo Intimo 2 all at a level 0.3.

The CW did a 0.1/1, with Burden of Truth and In the Dark both at a flat 0.1.

https://www.nexttv.com/news/primetime-ratings-abc-wins-with-offbeat-games
 

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I live where the options for MSOs are either Comcast or AT&T (D*). I'm still not sure who's more evil.

After a horrible experience with AT&T mobile service years ago, I vowed never to give them money again. Then they bought DirecTV. I remain only because they've managed to avoid ruining it for me so far. Any day, now, I suppose....
I have the same two choices here for HSI, pretty sad when all you have are the two of the most hated companies in America. Comcast has been the lesser evil for me.
 

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Media/Production Notes (Mobile)
Quibi to remake ‘The Princess Bride’ with Joe Jonas, Sophie Turner
By Ellise Shafer New York Post - Jun. 26, 2020

Beloved 1987 film “The Princess Bride” is getting a DIY makeover from some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

Though the project is helmed by “Juno” director Jason Reitman, who has previously staged live readings of the film’s script, the remake was shot entirely at-home by each cast member using their phones. Beginning June 29, Quibi will release chapters of the fan-made movie every day for two weeks.

The star-studded cast includes couples Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, Common and Tiffany Haddish, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka and Chris Pine and Annabelle Wallis, as well as Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Garner, Elijah Wood, Jon Hamm, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Jenna Ortega, Jack Black, David Oyelowo, Keegan-Michael Key, Patton Oswalt, Josh Gad, Andy Serkis, Diego Luna, Taika Waititi and Zazie Beetz, and even more.

The actors will trade off roles throughout scenes, each paying homage to “The Princess Bride” in their own unique way. In addition, original director Rob Reiner will play “The Grandfather” and Fred Savage will reprise his role of “The Grandson,” 33 years later.

The roles aren’t the only aspects of the film getting switched up: a corgi plays the “Rodent of Unusual Size,” Lego figurines or stuffed animals are used for crowd scenes and Jonas and Turner gender-swap a couple of the roles, with Jonas playing Princess Buttercup and Turner as Westley.

The remake is also for a good cause, as Quibi donated $1 million in the name of the project to chef José Andrés’ charity World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to those who have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

https://nypost.com/2020/06/26/quibi-to-remake-the-princess-bride-with-joe-jonas-sophie-turner/
 

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TV/Production Notes (Broadcast)
'General Hospital' Targets Mid-July Production Restart
By Tim Baysinger, TheWrap.com - Jun. 26, 2020

"General Hospital" is eyeing a return to production in mid-July, an individual with knowledge of the series told TheWrap.

The ABC soap would become the second U.S. television production after "The Bold and the Beautiful" to attempt to restart physical production since the shutdown in March. The target date is considered a rolling one as new information about the coronavirus pandemic is coming every day.

Like all soaps not titled "Days of Our Lives," "General Hospital" has been airing reruns for the last few weeks as the stockpile of pre-taped episodes ran dry in April.

"The Bold and the Beautiful" had only been back in production for a matter of hours last week before having to close the TV City set down again. Bell-Phillip Television, the production company behind "The Bold and the Beautiful," says the sudden production shutdown was the fault of the testing lab, which "produced several false positives" in onsite COVID-19 testing.

They've since switched labs and have no legitimate positive cases of the coronavirus, a spokeswoman for Bell-Phillip Television told TheWrap. "The Bold and the Beautiful" was scheduled to start back up Thursday.

As part of that show's new safety protocols, the cast and crew are all tested for coronavirus on a daily basis. The show has also hired a COVID-19 director who is on set at all times to make sure proper protocols are followed as set forth by L.A. County, the City of Los Angeles, and each of the Hollywood guilds. It is not clear what kind of health and safety measures "General Hospital" will implement.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/tv/news/general-hospital-targets-mid-july-production-restart/ar-BB160MHj?ocid=msedgntp
 

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TV/Production Notes (Broadcast)
NBC orders remotely filmed comedy series Connecting from Blindspot creator
By Sydney Bucksbaum, EW.com - Jun. 26, 2020

Art is about to imitate life in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. NBC has ordered Connecting to series, making it the first remotely filmed scripted comedy series on a broadcast network during the COVID-19 shutdown, EW has confirmed.

Connecting is an ensemble comedy about a group of friends trying to stay close (and sane) through video chats as they share the highs and lows of these extraordinary times. Since it's going to be entirely recorded remotely, the series is able to go into production while most other projects are on hold due to the pandemic. Other remote series that have been developed during the global pandemic are Netflix's anthology series Social Distance from Orange Is the New Black's Jenji Kohan and Freeform's Love in the Time of Corona from The Fosters and Good Trouble co-creator Joanna Johnson.

The new single camera series is written and executive produced by Blindspot creator Martin Gero and his frequent collaborator Brendan Gall and has been given a straight-to-series order for eight episodes from Universal Television.

Gero's Blindspot is currently airing its fifth and final season on NBC. Most recently, Gero and Gall teamed up for Netflix's The Lovebirds starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani.

https://ew.com/tv/connecting-remotely-filmed-comedy-nbc-series/
 

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TV Notes (Research)
Netflix Takes Top Spot in ‘Must Keep TV’ Rankings
By Mike Farrell, Multichannel News - Jun. 26, 2020

After three years of steadily climbing up the charts, SVOD pioneer Netflix took the top spot in Solutions Research Group’s 13th annual “Must Keep TV” ranking, ousting broadcaster ABC from the pole position.

SRG said it conducted 1,400 online interviews across the country between May 22 and May 26 with consumers aged 12 and older, a little more than two months into the coronavirus lockdown where most had a good chance to consume their regular brands and sample some new options.

According to SRG, respondents are shown a list of 79 broadcast, cable and high-penetration streaming brands and are asked to identify which ones would be on their “must keep TV” list if they had to choose a limited number.

While Netflix took the overall lead, broadcasters made up the rest of the top five in the rankings, with ABC No.2, followed by CBS, NBC and Fox. Amazon Prime Video was No. 6 and Disney Plus, which launched on Nov. 12, debuted at No. 13 on the list.

ESPN was the top cable brand (No. 8 overall) for the 13th year in a row, despite the lack of live sports programming during the lockdown. PBS was ranked No. 9 and CNN came in at No. 10 as viewers increasingly tuned in news during the pandemic.

Disney Plus was the most significant momentum brand of the year, placing 13th among the total 12+ population – a higher entry position than Amazon Prime Video and Hulu which entered in No. 14 and No. 22 respectively in 2017 when they were added to the lists.

Other brands on the rise in 2020 include Discovery, Food Network, Cartoon Network and FX, SRG said. Big gainers included TLC, which leaped from No. 41 last year to No. 21 this year and MSNBC, which rose from No. 46 to No. 39 this year. Brands that lost ground include AMC, The CW and HBO. According to SRG, HBO fell from the top 10 for the first time since 2013.

Overall, Netflix was No. 1 with adults aged 18-34 for the fourth year in a row, followed by Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, ABC, and Fox.

Netflix continued its three-year streak as the top brand for men aged 18-49, followed by ESPN, ABC, Fox and CBS. Amazon Prime Video and Hulu placed No. 6 and No. 8, respectively in this demo. and Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, which each rose two spots in the rankings for that demographic.

https://www.multichannel.com/news/netflix-takes-top-spot-in-must-keep-tv-rankings
 

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TV Notes (Cable)
'Vagrant Queen' Canceled at Syfy
By Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter - Jun. 26, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Vagrant Queen's reign is over.

Syfy has opted to cancel the space drama based on the Vault comic of the same name after one season.

The series, from creator and showrunner Jem Garrard, struggled to find an audience after launching in March. The drama starring Adriyan Rae as a child queen and orphaned outcast scavenging the galaxy, averaged 417,000 total viewers and a mere 131,000 in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demo when factoring in seven days of delayed viewing.

In an attempt to boost the drama's fortune, Syfy moved the series from Fridays at 10 p.m. to Thursdays at 11 p.m. after three episodes in a bid to boost it to a time slot where it has achieved success with late-night programming like The Great Debate and animation block TZGZ and repeats of Futurama. While posting an 11 percent gain week to week with the move, the series still wrapped its run as Syfy's lowest-rated series among total viewers and in the demo since 2019.

Vagrant Queen was not a sizable financial investment for Syfy. The series was an acquired co-production from Blue Ice Pictures. Syfy has turned increasingly to acquired series to bolster its dwindling inventory of scripted originals. The network has found success with fellow acquisitions like Wynonna Earp — which returns July 26 for its fourth season — and Van Helsing, which will end its run with its upcoming fifth season.

Syfy, like other basic cable networks, has steadily reduced its volume of scripted originals. The network recently wrapped The Magicians after five seasons. Outside of Wynonna Earp, Syfy's scripted roster is comprised entirely of rookie series: Resident Alien, Chucky, and low-cost indie productions of Day of the Dead and The Surrealtor.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/vagrant-queen-canceled-at-syfy-1300695
 

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TV/Production Notes (Broadcast)
NBC: Series Prospect ‘La Brea’ Extends 2 Cast Members; 2020 Pilots Pick Up Actors; Rolled Pilots Release Casts
By Nellie Andreeva, Deadline.com - Jun. 26, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: As NBC made decisions on its 2021 pilot slate earlier this week, the network has followed up with casting decisions for most of the pilots on the slate, impacted by the coronavirus pandemic-related production shutdown. They come as the original pilot cast options expire June 30.

Of the two drama pilots put on a path to a series order, La Brea has released its entire cast with the exception of two of the leads, Natalie Zea and Zyra Gorecki.

La Brea, from Keshet Studios and Universal TV, had its script order upped to six this week. With six completed scripts, La Brea will be in consideration for a straight-to-series order. If it gets a green light, production on the series is eyed for 2021, so the network and the studio have opted not to hold the entire cast for at least seven more months, which would be costly. In case of a pickup, I hear NBC would likely reach out to other original cast members to invite them to rejoin the series if they are available.

There has been no decision yet on the cast of Debris, which is in consideration for a series pickup that could come before the actors’ options are up next Wednesday, I hear.

As Deadline reported, the project, from Legendary TV, was believed to be the 2020 broadcast drama pilot with the most footage in the can before all Hollywood production shut down in mid-March. The producers were able to edit together the material, complementing the actual footage with additional visuals in the vein of how The Blacklist completed its unfinished episode, and the finished product has received a positive reaction at NBC.

Of the other 10 NBC 2020 pilots, the network has extended through the end of September the options on the actors from the five pilots set to shoot later this year once production can safely begin: dramas Langdon and Ordinary Joe and comedies Night School, Grand Crew and American Auto.

Not picked up are the casts of the five pilots rolled over into next year’s development season: dramas At That Age and Echo and comedies Crazy for You, Jefferies and Someone Out There. Like with La Brea, actors from these pilots could be invited back if available in case the pilots go into production next spring.

In La Brea, written by David Appelbaum, when a massive sinkhole mysteriously opens in Los Angeles, it tears a family in half, separating mother (Zea) and son from father and daughter (Gorecki). When part of the family find themselves in an unexplainable primeval world alongside a disparate group of strangers, they must work to survive and uncover the mystery of where they are and if there is a way back home.

https://deadline.com/2020/06/nbcla-brea-extends-2-cast-members-natalie-zea-zyra-gorecki-2020-pilots-pick-up-actors-rolled-pilots-release-casts-1202970408/
 

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TV/Critic's Notes
Bianculli's Best Bets
By David Bianculli, TVWorthWatching.com - Jun. 27, 2020

THE WILD WILD WEST MARATHON
Decades, 12:00 p.m. ET

Another weekend, another welcome marathon from Decades. This time it’s of CBS’s The Wild Wild West, the bizarre mash-up of Westerns, comic-book villains and secret-agent capers that showed up on TV in 1965. That was when the traditional television Western, which ruled the airwaves as recently as 1959, was on the wane – and when the spy craze, thanks to the introduction of James Bond films, was all the rage. So in comes James T. West, a government spy under orders from President Ulysses G. Grant, fitted out with his own gadget-filled train car and partnered with a master of disguise fellow agent, Artemus Gordon. Ross Martin played Artemus, Robert Conrad played Jim West, and this series was bursting with beautiful women, violent brawls, and colorful bad guys. The biggest villain in The Wild Wild West also was the smallest: Miguelito Loveless, who was bent on world domination like Dr. Evil, and was played with so much playfulness by the diminutive Michael Dunn (pictured) that the show kept bringing him back, like a classic Batman bad guy. You can see Dr. Loveless today in episodes televised at 2 and 9 p.m. ET, and in additional episodes tomorrow. (Also tomorrow, at 6 a.m. ET: Speaking of the classic Batman 1960s TV series, watch for Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl in that series, as a sexy assassin named Ecstasy La Joie.)

JUDY
Epix, 8:00 p.m. ET

Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland in this 2019 biographical study, and plays her at a particular time in the singer’s life: the late 1960s, when Garland was filming a series of London stage shows as a late-career comeback. Probably to avoid either rights fees or lawsuits, or both, there’s little in this film about Liza Minnelli (though her siblings are included) – but Zellweger’s central performance, in the title role, is indeed something to see. And hear, because the former Chicago star is indeed providing the singing voice here for Judy Garland, including at scenes filmed and recorded, as they say, before a live audience.

DOCTOR SLEEP
HBO, 8:00 p.m. ET

Remember Danny, the little boy in Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Stephen King’s The Shining, who said “Redrum” in a scratchy voice and had a sensory gift known as “the shining”? Well, in this 2019 film adaptation written and directed by Mike Flanagan, based on the King sequel, Danny’s back – as an adult, only slightly less troubled than his possessed dad in the original film. Danny, this time, is played by Ewan McGregor, whose extensive resume already includes having starred in Moulin Rouge, a couple of Star Wars films, and as two very different characters in a season of FX’s Fargo series.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
TCM, 8:00 p.m. ET

I have a lot to say about the groundbreaking 1964 Beatles movie musical – but I’ll save it for the book I’m about to dive into. (Writing, not reading.) Let’s just say that tonight, TCM has served up a perfect double feature of movies about the most influential and interesting musical artists of the 1960s: The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night, directed by Richard Lester, and Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back, a 1967 documentary by D.A. Pennebaker.

DON'T LOOK BACK
TCM, 10:00 p.m. ET

Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England is chronicled in this 1967 D.A. Pennebaker documentary, which captures all the insanity, and heightened reactions, as Dylan injected electric guitars and a propulsive into his former acoustic folk act. Backed by the musicians who would later call themselves The Band, Dylan is fearless and gleefully confrontational, upping the intensity and volume as some members of his audience boo – with one famously screaming “Judas!” at the former folk balladeer. It’s an amazing backstage look as well, and shows us a fawning Donovan, an out-of-it John Lennon, a smitten Joan Baez, and Dylan excoriating reporters at press conferences and in individual interviews with a rapier wit they seldom comprehended. “You know something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” And the documentary starts with Pennebaker’s pioneering “video” for Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in which Dylan flashes through cue cards of his lyrics as poet Allen Ginsberg loiters in the background. You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows… but you do need to watch this documentary.


http://www.tvworthwatching.com/
 

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I don't have a problem with changing the sex of a character as long as the sex isn't a key component of the character. I'm cool with women Ghostbusters. A Woman playing James Bond doesn't work for me.
The problem is, too often the result is something along the lines of Ghostbusters where the movie simply isn't good. When that happens, people equate it to the change in sex, race, etc. rather than the writing. The latest version of Annie is another example.

On the other hand, "The Wiz" is how you do it right for race, as is "West Side Story". I actually like the new female Higgins. I just hate everything else about the show, including the choice of Magnum.

Usually, it's difference between owning the new version and simply swapping out actors and expecting the same shtick to work. You can't just place different people in the same slots as if the old version never existed, then pretend it's some sort of heart felt homage.

As far as James Bond, I'll agree. I'd rather see a good, modern female secret agent created from scratch. On the other hand, Doctor Who seems to have pulled off the re-spawn, but the Doctor isn't human, either.
 

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TV Notes
On The Air
SATURDAY JUN. 27, 2020 Network Primetime/Late Night Options
(All shows are in HD unless noted; start times are ET. Network late night shows are preceded by late local news)
From Zap2it.com's TV Grid

ABC:
8PM - AFV: America, This Is You! (Special)
(R)
9PM - Shark Tank
(R)
10PM - The Good Doctor
(R)

CBS:
8PM - MacGyver
(R)
9PM - Magnum P.I.
(R)
10PM - 48 Hours: The Twisted Case of Angie Dodge
(R)

NBC:
8PM - Global Goal: Unite for Our Future -- The Concert (Special, 120 min.)*
10PM - Saturday Night Live: Natalie Portman hosts; Fall Out Boy performs
(R - Mar. 4, 2006)
*
(simulcast on Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, online)
* * * *
11:29PM - Saturday Night Live: Kristen Stewart hosts; Coldplay performs (94 min.)
(R)

FOX:
8PM - Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back
(R)
9PM - LEGO Masters
(R)
* * * *
11PM - Ultimate Tag
(R)

PBS:
8PM - Austin City Limits: Arctic Monkeys; Wild Child
(R)

UNIVISION:
7PM - Pequeños Gigantes (120 min.)
9PM - Pequeños Gigantes (120 min.)

TELEMUNDO:
7PM - Movie: The Magnificent Seven (2016)
9:30PM - Movie - Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)

ESPN:
6PM - UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Hooker - Prelims (120 min., LIVE)
8PM - UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Hooker (3 hrs., LIVE)

LIFETIME:
8PM - Movie: The Wrong Housesitter (2020)

NICKELODEON:
8PM - Tyler Perry's Young Dylan
8:30PM - Group Chat With Annie and Jayden

SCIENCE:
8PM - What on Earth? Lost City of the Sahara (3 hrs.)

OWN:
8PM - Love & Marriage: Huntsville
9PM - Iyanla, Fix My Life

CBSSN:
9PM - World of Outlaws: Lernerville Speedway (LIVE)
10PM - PBR Bull Riding, Monster Energy Team Challenge: Las Vegas, NV (2.5 hrs., LIVE)

DISCOVERY:
9PM - Homestead Rescue: Surviving the Wild (3 hrs.)

CNN:
10PM - 1968: A Nation on Edge (Special)

ADULT SWIM:
Midnight - My Hero Academia
(R)
12:30AM - Paranoia Angel
(R)
1AM - Mob Psycho 101
(R)
1:30AM - Black Clover
(R)


https://tvlistings.zap2it.com/?aid=gapzap
 

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I have the same two choices here for HSI, pretty sad when all you have are the two of the most hated companies in America. Comcast has been the lesser evil for me.
Comcast is definitely the better of the two.

However, when it gets so bad you have to create a new name for the business (Comcast-XFinity, Valujet-AirTran, etc.), you really have nowhere to go but up. I wonder whatever happened to Lucent..... ;)

It does make me wonder when the name change for Wells-Fargo will happen....perhaps they aren't yet finished doing shady things....
 
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TV Notes (Broadcast)
‘Family Guy’ Star Mike Henry Will No Longer Play Cleveland Brown
By Joe Otterson, Variety.com - Jun. 26, 2020

Mike Henry is exiting his role as Cleveland Brown on “Family Guy.”

Henry made the announcement Friday on Twitter. “It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” he wrote. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”

Henry has been with “Family Guy” since its first season in 1999. In addition to Cleveland, he also voices Consuela, a Latina maid, on the long-running animated series in addition to numerous other minor characters. Henry also voiced Cleveland and his Black stepson, Rallo Tubbs, on the spin-off series “The Cleveland Show,” which aired on Fox for four seasons from 2009 to 2013.

He is now the latest white actor to announce they will no longer voice a character of color on an animated show. Jenny Slate announced on Wednesday that she would no longer play the biracial character Missy on the popular Netflix show “Big Mouth.” Not long after that, Kristen Bell announced she would be stepping down from her role as a biracial character in the upcoming Apple animated series “Central Park.”

Back in January, Hank Azaria said he would no longer voice the Indian character Apu on “The Simpsons.” Calls for Azaria, who like Brown has voiced the character for decades, to stop playing Apu intensified in 2017 after comedian Hari Kondabolu released the documentary “The Problem With Apu.” The doc explored how people of South Asian descent felt about growing up with Apu as one of their only representatives on American television.

https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/family-guy-cleveland-mike-henry-1234691851/
 
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