Mediaite’s 5 Most Influential in Political News Media 2015


#5 – Dean Baquet


When you run The New York Times, you immediately have enormous influence. When the Times becomes as political as it has in recent years, you also become one of the biggest political players in the country. Dean Baquet, the Pulitzer-prize winning Executive Editor for the paper, has been weathering stormy political seas regarding everything from coverage of Hillary Clinton to Israel. His decision not to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad created a national controversy and despite the lofty perch of the Executive Editor title, Baquet can still take the gloves off. This year he called a USC Professor on Facebook an “asshole” in a vigorous, and very public, debate on that very decision. [image via screengrab]

#4 – Matt Drudge


Matt Drudge is probably the person on this list that our readers personally know the least about, and that’s likely more than fine for the long time conservative-leaning news aggregator whose wildly successful Drudge Report continues to have a large-scale impact on American politics and media. Aside from the rare appearance at something like a Republican debate, Drudge goes largely unseen, but his impact on national politics remains undeniable. A story just becoming a Drudge headline often becomes news in and of itself. It is still safe to say that almost everyone in media checks Drudge at some point. By all accounts, Drudge seemed to also have originated that whole bizarre Leo-DiCaprio-got-raped-by-a-bear-in-The-Revenant rumor that basically broke the internet for a while so if THAT doesn’t scream influence than we really don’t know what does. [image via Twitter]

#3 – Jeff Zucker


It’s got to be sweet justice for Jeff Zucker to see his success and influence skyrocket after a not-so-sweet separation from his long time employer NBC Universal. CNN suddenly finds itself in a comfortable second place in all of cable news after surpassing a beleaguered MSNBC, and primed to be a major a player as any for the 2016 presidential election. With their debates and political coverage bringing in record numbers, it is hard not to singularly credit Jeff Zucker for that incredible turnaround. CNN has shown the most growth of any cable news network under his tenure and even its morning show now has surpassed MSNBC’s Morning Joe. To his credit, Zucker also managed to fire off a pretty good retort to the Bernie Sanders claim that the Senator could do a better job as CNN President. [image via CNN]

#2 – Chuck Todd


By sheer virtue of the fact that arguably no one is on television more to discuss politics than Chuck Todd, he is close to the top of our list of the most influential in political media. In addition to weekly hosting duties for the venerable Meet The Press, Todd makes appearances all over MSNBC and NBC News almost every day to discuss the latest from the campaign trails and the 2016 election. In September the network announced that Todd would also host MTP Daily, providing a sort of Beltway nerdism that makes the day’s important stories both enjoyable but also insanely informative. Todd is no exception to many on this list who show equal-opportunity-grilling chops and is respected on both sides of the political aisle. He has had several well-recorded run-ins with Donald Trump this year, and also grew visibly frustrated with Obama-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently. [image via screengrab]

#1 – Roger Ailes

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 6.54.45 PM

Undisputed top dog for our list? Roger Ailes. Again. The Chairman and CEO oversees the Fox News machine that continues to dominate cable news viewership and has remained arguably the most important channel for conservative viewers. The boss has found himself in the somewhat public position of discussing (debating?) the network’s coverage with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump this year, and Ailes even had to angle himself in the feud between Trump and Fox favorite Megyn Kelly. While some may argue that cable ratings aren’t as dominating as they once were, Fox News is still a powerhouse––they end 2015 as the second-most-watched basic cable network in primetime and third-most in total-day viewership––and Roger Ailes is still firmly the massively successful force behind it. He remains the most influential person in political news media today. [image via Fox News]

Selling Stardom: A Christian path to Hollywood

“We are trying to be the light in the darkness of Hollywood,” says Chloe Sebest, 14, at a seminar hosted by Actors, Models & Talent for Christ.  (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Daniel Miller
They are aspiring actors, models and singers of all ages and backgrounds, and they've gathered at the DoubleTree hotel in Orange for an intensive weekend of show business training.

But first, they will pray.

"Heavenly father, we thank you God for bringing us all here today," said group leader John Montes, as some of the 43 participants closed their eyes and raised their hands. "Let us become one, and let us understand, God, that we are here for a bigger purpose than ourselves."

As people scramble to find ways into Hollywood, they are increasingly looking for an edge. This has helped spur a cottage industry of academies, workshops and conventions that promise actors insider knowledge.

And it's not just acting. There are seminars on directing, screenwriting, editing, makeup — name the craft, and there is a program for it. The groups that put on the events can usually point to a few success stories, but industry experts caution that talent, luck and persistence are the key ingredients for making it in Hollywood.

"I think a lot of the instruction some of these entities offer can be rather dubious," said Zino Macaluso, an executive with SAG-AFTRA, the actors union. "If anyone is asking you, in a high-pressure environment, to take out a checkbook and write a four-figure check for some future benefit that may or may not come to fruition, we would urge you to proceed with extreme caution."

The weekend talent seminar at the DoubleTree seeks to set itself apart in two ways. One, it's aimed at Christians. Two, it's run by a nonprofit group — Actors, Models & Talent for Christ, based in Atlanta. The group contends that film, TV and pop music have an outsize influence on the culture, and that Christians need to be full participants.

"There is no better way to go out to all the world than through media and the entertainment industry. ... It's where all the role models are at," said AMTC Executive Director Adam She. "[Hollywood] is a mere reflection of the world it portrays. The darkness is not just [in] Hollywood. It's the whole world."

Over the course of the weekend, AMTC trainees will learn some show business basics, including how to read lines in an audition and how to walk down the runway.

While some training seminars have gotten a bad rap for trading in outdated information, She pointed to several AMTC graduates who have found success in Hollywood, including T.C. Stallings and Ben Davies. Both appeared in this year's Christian drama 

"War Room" from TriStar Pictures, which grossed about $67 million against a budget of about $3 million.

AMTC has its roots in a secular talent search company, which was known by several names, including American Model and Talent Convention. In 2010, a few years after owner Carey Lewis became a religious Christian, the company changed its name to Actors, Models & Talent for Christ.

It became a nonprofit in 2012, and since summer of that year more than 4,000 people have gone through the program. It employs about 30 people full time and uses about 100 part-time instructors who work with the performers.

She, who had his own religious awakening in 2008 and is married to Lewis' daughter, pointed to the group's nonprofit status and his own annual salary — he said he makes $60,000 — as evidence of its good intentions.

"It's clear moneymaking is not a top priority," he said.

At the time of the Orange County seminar, AMTC employed a policy it dubbed "pay what you pray," which asked performers to pray for guidance on how much they should pay for a host of services. Most contributed in the $3,000 range, She said.

"I did pray about it, actually, and I wound up paying $1,300," said Alex Stovall, 20, a student at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix. "From my experience with life, if God puts you in a position and you don't have a doubt you should go for it."

But the voluntary pay plan didn't make financial sense, she said. Starting next year, participants will pay $5,245 for a package that includes, among other features, up to four weekends of classes and admission to a talent showcase held in Orlando, Fla., twice a year.

For some, the program is less about prepping for a career in showbiz than it is about learning some skills and having fun — in a morally sound environment.

"It's good to be around people that have good morals and are doing things for a good reason," said Lori Sebest, who paid $2,500 for her daughter Chloe's training. "When Chloe is with this group, she is with her people. They all have the same interests and it's not weird. It's such a blessing that she can be around people who are like her."

Participants don't have to be Christian, but many say the faith component is crucial.

"It's a little more secure," said Vanessa Flores, 14, of Sacramento. "Especially in this business — a lot of people go off edge. And I think if I keep my head stable with God in it, everything will be good."

Chloe Sebest, 14, said that she hopes Christians who are trained by AMTC can spread God's word in Hollywood.

"We are trying to be the light in the darkness of Hollywood," she said. "We are trying to shine the light on what Christianity should be — what it really is, how it is this accepting religion. … Right now, I think Christianity has a bad rep. I want to show again that we 'love thy neighbor.'"

The morning prayer over, the mostly teenaged and twentysomething participants at the DoubleTree seminar were divided into three groups.

For the rest of the day, the performers — including a mohawked woman in a jumpsuit, a 6-year-old boy who clung to his mother, and a girl toting a scuffed guitar case — cycled through three classes.

In one, they learned how to audition, reading lines in front of their peers.

During the training, instructor Mark Daugherty — an actor whose credits include the ABC Family show "The Fosters" — taught the performers how to use emotional recall while auditioning to bring the appropriate feelings to the surface. In one case, he told the participants to think about "the coolest or hottest person at church."

In another class, the performers learned how to deliver lines on camera. In the third, they received modeling training. (The handful of singers on hand received separate coaching from music industry professionals.)

The workshops were designed to teach real-world skills that could be applied immediately in the participants' show business quests, but also prep them for AMTC's semi-annual six-day conference in Orlando that began this week.

In the class focused on delivering lines, Derrick Edwards, 21, sat in the back of the room as Stovall worked on a monologue. Edwards met Stovall in the Army and came to the event in support of his friend.

"Me, I'm religious, but I am not like him," said Edwards, who wore camouflage shoes and sported a tattoo on one arm of a cross and the word "faithful," and on the other a vixen toting a machine gun. "All he talks about is God. He's going to go far."

Instructor JoAnn Smolen, a talent manager, praised Stovall's performance, eliciting an approving "Hooah" from Edwards.

In one of the modeling classes, instructor April Baker asked the group of 20 to stare at a teenage girl in the center of the room. The 15-year-old squirmed uncomfortably at the attention. Baker said the point was to show how a performer's emotions could be conveyed without words.

After a lunch break, the performers gathered in a meeting room for an exercise called a "redirect," which teaches actors how to deal with curveballs during the audition process. Participants were given lines to read in front of the group, and after delivering their performances, Daugherty and Smolen would call out other ways they wanted the dialogue read:
"Do it deadpan."
"Do it shy."
"Do it like Donald Trump."

After the session ended, Erika Jester, who began working for AMTC earlier this year, sat on the edge of a sofa in the DoubleTree lobby. Jester, 39, said her Hollywood pursuits began in 2013 after she had a religious vision while attending church. It led her to seek a career as an actress and ultimately a role with AMTC.

"What I saw, it was complete blackness, and pings of light started going off," Jester said. "And then that's when I heard God say, 'You are to go be a light in the darkness of Hollywood.'"
Selling Stardom

Glut of Scripted TV Content Troubles Hollywood

John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks Photo: Frank Micelotta/Associated Press

Streaming outlets, cable networks fuel record number of original TV shows

By Joe Flint

There were a record 409 scripted television shows on broadcast, cable and streaming services this year, according to research by FX Networks.

The rise in scripted shows has been both a blessing and a curse for the TV industry and viewers. On the one hand, more shows mean more opportunities for actors, writers and producers as well as more choice for TV fans.

Conversely, the glut of scripted shows is making it harder for any one show to break through the clutter. Ratings at the broadcast networks and many big cable channels including FX and TNT are down this year, in large part because of the fragmentation of the viewing audience.

FX Networks Chief Executive John Landgraf has bemoaned the growth in scripted content, saying that there is not enough creative talent to maintain current levels.

“The bubble has created a huge challenge in finding compelling original shows and the level of talent needed to sustain those stories,” he said earlier this year.

FX Networks is a unit of 21st Century Fox, which until 2013 was part of the same company as Wall Street Journal-owner News Corp.

The 409 series, which don’t included unscripted shows, movies, mini-series, news or sports, are an increase of 9% from 2014 when there were 376 series. Since 2009, the number of scripted series has grown by 94%, according to FX.

Driving the increases are cable networks and streaming services, which have been spending heavily on original content. Netflix has indicated recently it has no plans to slow down on creating content and Hulu has also stepped up its commitment to original fare. 

Best Picture Race Puts Fox in a Tight Spot

Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant.” Credit Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox Corp

LOS ANGELES — In 87 years of Oscar history, it has only happened once. Only one studio, United Artists, with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Rocky” and “Annie Hall,” in the 1970s, has released a best picture winner three years in a row.

But 20th Century Fox, for better or worse, is taking a run at the record books.

In a year of tangled Oscar prospects at multiple studios, Fox has at least four films with a credible shot at a best picture nomination. They are “The Revenant,” a frontier-era tour de force directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu; “The Martian,” Ridley Scott’s 3-D blockbuster; “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence as the inventor of the Miracle Mop; and “Brooklyn,” a period romance showcasing Saoirse Ronan.

It is an embarrassment of riches — especially considering that Fox, through its art house label and partnership with New Regency Productions, had the Oscar-winning best picture earlier this year, with Mr. Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” and the year before, with Steve McQueen’s blistering “12 Years a Slave.”

Matt Damon in “The Martian.” Credit Aidan Monaghan/Twentieth Century Fox

But the strong slate of contenders also has the makings of a monumental headache. Fox now faces the delicate task of making each child feel equally loved.

Sibling rivalry is already festering under the surface, with some people connected to “The Revenant,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, worrying that Fox will find subtle ways to favor “The Martian,” in part because of the studio’s long relationship with Mr. Scott. (Fox declined to comment for this article, along with New Regency, which produced and financed “The Revenant.”)

Other studios face a similar challenge. At Universal, for instance, “Straight Outta Compton” has unexpectedly moved ahead of “Steve Jobs” as the great awards hope. But nowhere is the jockeying as pronounced as it is at Fox.

Is Fox taking out equal “for-your-consideration” ads in Variety for each film? Did “Joy,” directed by David O. Russell, get better hors d’oeuvres for its event than “Brooklyn,” directed by the relatively unknown John Crowley? It may sound petty, but teams of producers, agents and publicists are paying meticulous attention, and they will scream bloody murder if they feel slighted. In some ways, it is a fight about money; Oscar campaigns cost millions of dollars.

“Fox is one of the savviest studios when it comes to winning Oscars, but simultaneously managing multiple best picture campaigns — not to mention four — can be enormously complicated,” said Sue Fleishman, the founder of September Media, an entertainment-focused communications consultancy. 

Ms. Fleishman, a former Universal and Warner Bros. executive, added, “You have to figure out how best to support each contender without damaging the others.”

It is too early, of course, to say whether one of the Fox films will end up a winner on Feb. 28, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out its little gold statues in a ceremony broadcast on ABC. Voting does not begin until Dec. 30, and some major films have still not been widely seen, including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which some awards strategists think could shake up the race when it arrives on Dec. 18.

Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy.” Credit Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

Spotlight,” about the Boston journalists who exposed the local Catholic Archdiocese’s cover-up of child sexual abuse, is currently the film to beat, according to the Oscar prognosticators followed by Gold Derby, an entertainment honors site. But most handicappers have “The Revenant” and “The Martian” hot on its heels, with “Joy,” which has still not been widely shown, and “Brooklyn,” which has taken in roughly $8 million in relatively limited release, not far behind.

Adding to this year’s awards complexity for Fox, which also has a best animated film candidate in “The Peanuts Movie,” none of its potential best picture nominees have the same strengths and weaknesses.

“The Martian,” which has taken in more than $545 million worldwide since its release in October, is certainly an audience favorite. Starring a convivial Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut, “The Martian” was also a critical success, scoring a powerful 80 on, a site that compiles film reviews.

Popularity and perhaps an underlying sense that the film will reap honors for its technical achievement have helped push “The Martian” toward the front of the pack. But few Oscar experts list Mr. Damon as their top prospect for an acting statuette, an obvious soft spot for the film.

A greater advantage for “The Martian” may lie in a vast pool of film industry respect, if not quite love, for Mr. Scott. At the age of 78, he has directed about two dozen feature films, including 

“Gladiator,” which was named best picture in 2001. But he has never personally won an Oscar, despite three directing nominations — and Hollywood’s urge to make good for that sort of oversight helped push both “The Departed” and its director, Martin Scorsese (who had never won), to Oscar victories in 2007.

Mr. DiCaprio has never won an Oscar, either. His largely silent performance in “The Revenant” as a severely wounded frontiersman, will almost assuredly bring him a sixth nomination — and very likely an ultimate win, Oscar diviners agree. (Contrary to Internet rumor, Mr. DiCaprio does not get “raped by a bear” in the film, which arrives in limited release on Christmas Day.)

Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn.” Credit Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox

“The Revenant,” which has a SWAT team of publicists and awards consultants working on its behalf, is a visually arresting film that some Oscar forecasters have compared to “The Tree of Life,” Terrence Malick’s critically adored 2011 drama. Despite the gore in Mr. Iñárritu’s movie — a horse is disemboweled, among other bloody sequences — New Regency sees “The Revenant” as an audience pleaser, attracting multiplex crowds of men and women alike.

But even blockbuster ticket sales, visual wizardry and Mr. DiCaprio’s performance may not be enough to beat the odds. According to Libby Wertin, a researcher at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, no director has ever had a film win back-to-back best picture Oscars. “Of course, these days, few directors besides Woody Allen manage to have films released in consecutive years with any regularity,” Ms. Wertin noted in an email.

For the moment, Oscar prospects for Mr. Russell’s “Joy” are murkier. Mr. Russell is known for some of the best-received films in recent years, including “The Fighter,’’ “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” So he is in some ways competing against his own very strong track record. How does “Joy” stack up? Only finished recently after heavy re-editing (test audiences did not like the initial third act), the feel-good “Joy” has been receiving good-but-not-quite-great tastemaker buzz.

The film’s chances may ultimately rest on good will for Ms. Lawrence, who won a best actress Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Because of its story, “Joy” may also resonate strongly with female voters. At a recent screening for awards voters, Ms. Lawrence said the film acknowledges “women who are the unsung heroes of their households.”

Fox is invested in doing right by “Joy” on the awards circuit, in part because of its long relationship with John Davis, one of five credited producers. (Mr. Davis’s “Garfield” and “Predator” series have been major moneymakers for Fox over the years.)

As with Sony’s “Concussion,” about a Nigerian-born doctor who takes on the National Football League, “Brooklyn” and its cagey backers from Fox Searchlight have been looking to connect with something grand — the nation’s soul-searching over immigration — while delivering more than just white male leads at a time when critics have become wary of them. “Brooklyn” is about a young Irish woman’s quest for love and a better life in America of 60 years ago.

That might be enough to land “Brooklyn” among the final slate of eight or nine best picture nominees. Winning is a long shot, but Fox’s specialty division is ceding nothing. (In fact, the unit also believes that Paolo Sorrentino’s meditation on aging, “Youth,” which opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles, also has a shot at a best picture nomination.)

In recent days, entertainment journalists received for-your-consideration booklets for “Brooklyn” that carried glowing comments from 22 critics. “This Year’s Most Stirring Film,” it started.

Those involved with “The Martian,” “Joy” and “The Revenant” may disagree, of course.

'Rambo' TV Series in the Works at Fox

by Lesley Goldberg
It's unclear whether Sylvester Stallone will have an on-screen role though he will executive produce the drama.

Hot on the heels of Rocky box office follow-up Creed, Fox is targeting a reboot of Rambo with Sylvester Stallone.

The network is teaming with the franchise's star for Rambo: New Blood, a potential TV series based on the Rambo feature films with Stallone on board to exec produce, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. It's unclear whether Stallone will have an on-screen role in the drama, which revolves around Rambo and his son.

Written by Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive), the Rambo TV series hails from Entertainment One and Avi Lerner's Millennium Films. The project explores the relationship between Rambo and his son, J.R., a former Navy SEAL who has never been featured in any of the Rambo movies. Rambo would be a central character in the potential series, a change from CBS' one-time Beverly Hills Cop reboot that centered on Axel Foley's son, with star Eddie Murphy only attached for infrequent appearances.

The deal comes two years after eOne and NuImage/Millennium Films signed a deal to develop and co-produce a TV series based on the Rambo property. At the time, the companies said they were in negotiations with Stallone to be involved both on-screen and as part of the creative team, though a Stallone representative told THRat the time that he wouldn't reprise his famed role as John Rambo.

The potential TV series comes as the fifth installment in the Rambo film series, Rambo: Last Blood, had been put on hold. For Fox, meanwhile, the Rambo revival arrives as the network also is developing a limited series based on the Stallone-starring Expendables franchise.

Fox's Rambo will be produced by eOne, Millennium Films with Stuart, Stallone and Lerner on board to exec produce. eOne exec vp Carrie Stein will oversee.

Rambo becomes the latest movie-to-TV revival as broadcast, cable networks and streaming services look for known properties in a bid to break through the cluttered original scripted programming marketplace. NBC is readying a series based on Taken, and revivals of features including Lethal Weapon (Fox), Behind Enemy Lines (Fox), Training Day (CBS) and My Best Friend's Wedding (ABC) are also in the works. Key to their success is having the original producers involved, which Rambo has in spades with Stallone.