Names drive the news, especially in stories where media and entertainment cross wires, throwing off sparks and sometimes even blowing fuses. These are my candidates for the top names driving the news on Deadline and our competitors, not to mention the front pages of newspapers and the lead stories on news broadcasts during the past year. And then my predictions on how they will evolve in the new year.
• CHARLIE HEBDO
On January 7, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi invaded the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The publication reveled in unmasking intolerance, taking special aim at politicians and religious fundamentalists. In the slaughter that followed, 11 top staff members and a policeman were murdered. As Paris mourned, haunting images of support from around the world were printed and telecast from large demonstrations and makeshift memorials alike. People donned Je Suis Charlie T-shirts.
The surviving staff went back to work and the next issue sold out nearly 8 million copies in six languages.
In 2016: One consequence of the attack was the debate it stirred in media circles about whether to reprint cartoons featuring the caricatures of Mohammed that had inflamed the attackers. In the coming year more publishers, editors, writers and artists will be forced to consider their own personal safety — and that of their staffs — in deciding what to publish, an unnerving and chilling proposition.
Announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination from an escalator on June 17, the reality TV star/real estate deal maker/former board game huckster instantly became the GOP Hair Apparent, lending new meaning to the term “lunatic fringe.” Jokes abounded, especially from liberal political commentators including Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Lawrence O’Donnell, all of them praying that Trump’s impossible mission would continue feeding their writers with material. By the fall, however, the joke was on them, as support for Trump’s increasingly bellicose anti-establishment rhetoric gained steam and the Republican field wilted in his orange-glowing shadow. NBC achieved the ultimate hypocrisy by cutting business ties with him while inviting him to host Saturday Night Live.
In 2016: The latest version of media thumb sucking regarding Trump concerns limiting his media access. Are news organizations making his candidacy possible by giving him so much publicity? Maybe pull back? This makes about as much sense as Trump’s call for limiting Internet access: Not going to happen. All the pundits who said Trump didn’t stand a chance to actually get the nomination will profess their surprise; none will admit to having been part of the problem.
• BRIAN WILLIAMS / LESTER HOLT
The NBC Nightly News anchor was suspended in February after the military paper Stars & Stripes exposed his exaggerations-cum-lies regarding his experiences covering Iraq. Investigations followed, exposing other reporting embellishments. A popular anchor whose visage and demeanor conveyed a truthy combination of seriousness, compassion and accessibility, Williams exploited those qualities with numerous appearances on The Daily Show and elsewhere. His convoluted apology during a Matt Lauer interview in June only made things worse. In September he returned, but to a lesser assignment on MSNBC.
Two non-Williams outcomes resulted from his fall from grace. Andy Lack returned to the network as chairman of NBC News. And Williams’ replacement, veteran journalist Lester Holt, took over the flagship news program first as interim anchor on Feb 9 and as anchor on June 22. He leads the evening news pack with 8.83M viewers.
In 2016: Holt will continue to dominate the evening newscasts even as they become little more than feeding systems for the broadcast webs’ more profitable news magazines (Holt does double duty as the anchor for Dateline NBC). MSNBC will founder despite such real stars as Lawrence O’Donnell. Lack and Williams will plot the exile’s continued rehabilitation, but nobody will care. Lorne Michaels will be named MSNBC executive producer for content.
On February 5, Deadline broke the news that Amy Pascal was out as co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairman of the motion pictures group. The move followed months of turmoil in the wake of the massive hack of Sony’s communications systems, the publication of which became fodder for anyone willing to take advantage of the stolen communications (Deadline demurred). Unlike co-chairman Michael Lynton, Pascal took the most heat, for “racially insensitive” emails with producer Scott Rudin speculating on President Obama’s taste in movies. “I don’t want to be defined by these emails, after a 30-year career,” Pascal told Deadline’s Mike Fleming. “Clearly, there are things that you say in a rash moment without thinking them through, and it takes 10 seconds to say something stupid. When it’s blasted and it might become the way you are defined as a human being, I have to say it. It’s just wrong. It’s wrong about me. And it’s wrong to do to anyone.”
In 2016: Deadline exclusively reported that the movie rights to L.S. Hilton’s Maestra were snapped up by TriStar president Hannah Minghella for Pascal. Look for more deals as Pascal proves the naysayers wrong about her post-Sony career. Meanwhile, the discussion of Hollywood’s issues around race continue to generate heated debate. Will there be a positive result?
• JON STEWART / TREVOR NOAH
The media runup to Jon Stewart’s final hosting of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show was matched only by the decades-long farewell tributes to David Letterman. And the announcement of his replacement — South African social comedian Trevor Noah — provided another digital scandal as some of Noah’s Twitter comments and bits from his act that bore a striking resemblance to misogyny and anti-Semitism were widely dispersed and condemned. Stewart and Comedy Central stood by their choice. After weeks of pretending to blush as celebrity visitors stopped by to kiss his ring, Stewart used his final bow to inveigh against bullshit in all its pernicious forms. I thought this was pandering, but others disagreed and continue to mourn Stewart’s departure (roger on that, anyway).
In 2016: Stewart has announced that, like his protege John Oliver, he’s heading to commercial-free cuss-word safe HBO. In his first project under the new deal, Stewart will work with the cloud graphics company OTOY Inc. (I know — I have no idea what a cloud graphics company is either) to develop technology that will allow him to produce timely, current-events-focused short-form digital content that will be refreshed on HBO NOW multiple times throughout the day. That sounds frighteningly like NYC Taxi TV to me, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, Stewart has continued his high-profile work on behalf of veterans in need.
The other big change at Comedy Central was Daily Show alumnus Larry Wilmore getting his own show, filling the spot vacated by Stephen Colbert, who departed for CBS to take over for Letterman. The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore had its premiere on January 19, finally bringing the POV of a wickedly funny, smart African American host to a significant media platform. The Nightly Show is still finding its legs but not Wilmore — he’s fearless and unafraid of controversy and danger, while conveying his general outrage with a fine sense of the ridiculous.
In 2016: The Nightly Show will only to get better — and more necessary. Just as The Daily Show did after Jon Stewart took over.
After years of indifference to their testimony of rape and abuse, victims saw Cosby’s downfall triggered by African-American stand-up Hannibal Burress’s comment in October 2014. “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom,’ ” Buress mocked. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.” As more and more women came forward, New York magazine ran a stunning cover story with their testimony. Cosby’s own depositions attest to his sleaziness and disregard of basic human decency.
In 2016: Perhaps, finally, Cosby’s enablers — the agents and producers and networks that are, you know, shocked shocked by the allegations, will explain where they were when all this was going on.
• PATRICIA ARQUETTE
Accepting her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in February, the Boyhood star said,“It’s high time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” The comment launched the biggest awareness campaign since — well, since Ava DuVernay’s nomination, but not her picture Selma, the year before. Jennifer Lawrence became part of the story because of the pay differential on American Hustle, and the New York Times got in on the action with a Sunday magazine cover story on women in Hollywood.
In 2016: Jennifer Lawrence will become the highest-paid anybody in Hollywood.
• HARPER LEE
What (Un)Becomes A Legend Most? This may have been the unlikeliest media story of the year: The 88-year-old author of To Kill A Mockingbird apparently gave her blessing to the publication of Go Set A Watchman, written before — and almost certainly as a first draft of — the beloved Mockingbird but set two decades later. HarperCollins gives it an advance run of 2 million copies. Reviewers and readers are stunned to discover that saintly lawyer Atticus Finch, who will always look just like Gregory Peck, morphed into a sour racist. Whatever the qualities of the “discovered” manuscript, the book provokes heated arguments about everything from race relations in the American South to the social impact of a fictional character to the vagaries of the editing process.
In 2016: Seeking to replicate HarperCollins’ successful gambit, more publishers will “discover” lost manuscripts, including The Catcher In The Scotch about Holden Caulfield at 60; Peyton Home, Grace Metalious’ unfinished followup to Peyton Place, set in a retirement home rife with extracurricular sex and drugs; and The Daze Of The Locust, Nathanael West’s revisit to modern-day Hollywood, in which nothing has changed.
The presumed Democratic nominee for President takes it on the chin from Congress and Fox News for using a private email account and storing messages on her home server while Secretary of State. She spars with sudden bête noir Bernie Sanders over gun control, fealty to Big Bank and war mongering, appears on Saturday Night Live to poke mild fun at herself with Kate McKinnon and tastefully alerts her female Hispanic supporters that she’s an abuela just like them.
In 2016: Ignoring Sanders as Trump feeds her a steady stream of set-up lines, Hill secures the Democratioc nomination but takes a mysterious, unexplained leave, returning to the campaign just three weeks before the election.
• UNCLE DEATH
This one was easy. No story dominated the media in 2015 more than death visited by the spreading cancer of gun violence, whether by Muslim extremists around the world or arsenal-toting nut cases on rampages with legally purchased weapons of mass murder in the US. No sooner does President Obama insist, in heartbreaking prime time speech, that the latest slaughterfest can not be accepted as “the new norm” than yet another one unfolds. Meanwhile the rest of the world looks on aghast at a country somehow in thrall to both Donald Trump and the NRA. Gun violence dressed every front page and newscast in blood red, day after day, in 2015 while most politicians still managed to seem mealy mouthed on the issue of gun control.
In 2016: Somehow, the Trump carnival will continue to divert attention from the issue. Hollywood will continue denouncing gun violence while financing movies and television shows that make mass death seem like a joke — until a Steven Spielberg or a Scott Rudin or Meryl Streep or even Clint Eastwood finally stands up and says, “No more.”