Fox commits to pilot ‘loosely’ based on I Spy, Deadline says

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

The Fox television network has committed to the production of a pilot for a new series that would be based on the I Spy television series, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported. 

The pilot, at least for now, wouldn’t carry the I Spy name and would only be “loosely” based on the 1965-68 series, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva wrote.

“I hear that during the discussions with the network, the idea evolved as Fox brass were not interested in a straight I Spy remake but instead a new take on the buddy spy genre,” according to Andreeva.

It will be written by David Shore and directed by McG, Deadline reported. Also involved is producer John Davis, one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the original series, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott (Robert Culp and Bill Crosby) were U.S. agents operating under the cover of a tennis pro and his trainer. Of 1960s American spy shows, it was the series most grounded in the Cold War and relatively realistic, compared with U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and the comedy Get Smart.

I Spy has had a checkered post-series history.

Culp and Cosby were reunited in a 1994 television movie, I Spy Returns, featuring aging versions of their original characters. In it, both have grown children operating as spies.

That TV movie didn’t generate interest in any further adventures. It did, however, posthumously provide a creator credit for Morton Fine and David Friedkin. The two were producers of the series, but never received credit for creating the show while it was originally broadcast. Sheldon Leonard, executive producer of the original, had that title for the TV movie, along with Cosby.

The show was also made as a 2002 comedy theatrical film with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. That production still causes groans from fans of the 1965 series.

 

Happy 86th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery how we remember him, circa 1963, while posing for publicity stills for From Russia With Love.

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

GoldenEye: How a 007 film became an icon for video games

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

By November 1995, GoldenEye proved that James Bond was still alive as a film franchise.

Almost two years later, in August 1997, GoldenEye would become something different. That title formed by two different words, that came from Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica and a book from Carson McCullers, would have some impact withthe video game industry.

In these days there are gamers, or even Facebook pages, claiming “when I was your age, we had GoldenEye, not Call of Duty”. The game is still a legend, almost 20 years of its release.

The Rareware game made for the then popular console Nintendo 64 lead many people to GoldenEye the movie and, therefore, to James Bond. It is very unlikely that if you played the game you would ignore the movie, or vice versa.

GoldenEye 007 was first conceived as an on-rails shooter in the style of Virtua Cop, but Martin Hollis, the director of the project, was the one who went by the 3D environmental game we have now.

The developers took the job very seriously. They visited Leavesden studios to take photos of the sets and requested the blueprints used in the 1995 film to build the digital environments. Stills of the cast were also obtained to make a faithful adaptation of each character to the models of the Nintendo 64 engine.

The game meant a revolution among the Bond video games produced since 1983 and among the world of gaming. Unlike most titles of that time, you had to do much more than to kill people or reach goals unharmed. You were meant to accomplish a mission that included destroying computers, recovering documents, avoid killing civilians and meet your allies.

GoldenEye 007 had the same concept of a film. As we turn on the old console with the game cartridge inside, we see the a screen imitating the BBFC classification notice from the U.K. videotapes, right then, after the logos and before the main menu, a digitalized and polygonal version of the gunbarrel sequence welcomes the player. It’s the Bond film we are going to star in.

Funnily enough, during the game credits we get a cast list where, for example, James Bond was playing “007” and Natalya Simonova was playing the “Computer Programmer.”

The game structure is very similar to the film and most of the film scenarios are there: Arkangelsk Dam, Facility and Runway; the Severnaya plateau and the subterranean Space Weapons Control Center (this time, Bond visits it and meets Natalya there); and the Frigate in Montecarlo, the Streets of St. Petersburg (of course, you can drive the tank!), the Train and — of course — Trevelyan’s Antenna.

To please nostalgic 007 fans, the most successful players were awarded with other two missions inspired by Moonraker and Live and Let Die.

The first one (Aztec) featured Hugo Drax’s hidden launch platform and Jaws, while in the other (Egyptian) the ace players would have to recover Scaramanga’s Golden Gun from a temple before a final showdown with Baron Samedi. GoldenEye 007 was the first game to directly relive previous James Bond films.

Easter eggs and cheats were awarded by passing time trials to assure the amout of fun and the replayability: unlimited weapons, invincibility and slow or fast animation.

A nice homage is also paid by the developers to the original movie in the Bunker mission, where a CCTV tape the player (Bond) has to recover is, in fact, a VHS tape with the film’s poster as a cover.

Far from the Bond film series and the source film, GoldenEye 007 with its multiplayer mode brought some colloquial expressions to the youth such as “bitch slap” (defeating someone with your bare hands) and “No Oddjob” because the Goldfinger henchman was a character available in that mode and it was wrongfully represented as a midget (probably a confusion with Nick Nack?) making him tough to shoot at close range.

In the world of video games, GoldenEye seemed to have his own “franchise”: in 2004, Electronic Arts produced GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, where the player controlled a renegade MI6 agent that teams up with Goldfinger. More recently, in 2010, a remake of the 1997 game by Activision for Nintendo Wii was released and the story re-imagined with Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Image from the 2010 remake of the original GoldenEye video game

Image from the 2010 remake of the original GoldenEye video game

The 2004 title didn’t please people. Activision’s version was more successful, but it lacked the “sandbox” spirit of the original, that left you alone in the field (no radar, hints, etc.) and allowed you to have an unlimited amount of enjoyment and fun even if you failed the mission objectives.

GoldenEye 007 was a great way to introduce James Bond for the video game lovers and for those who had their childhood in the 1990s. It was the toys of their generation, a coveted price as Gilbert’s Aston Martin racing sets from the 1960s.

It may sound shallow to make such remarks of a video game considering the success of James Bond in the world of literature, moviemaking and music. Yet, it helped to keep the 007 flame buring after a few years where Ian Fleming’s character had almost disappeared of the map.

And it also helped to boost the popularity of Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond, in the same year where his second Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, was about to be released.

Steven Hill, original M:I star, dies at 94

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set, with Steven Hill, left, as Dan Briggs.

Steven Hill, the first star of Mission: Impossible, has died at 94, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

Hill enjoyed a long acting career, including a 10-year stint on Law And Order as D.A. Adam Schiff.

For fans of the spy genre, Hill’s one season as Dan Briggs, team leader of the Impossible Missions Force, is a huge “what if?”

As noted in The Times’ obituary, Hill did not work late on Fridays (standard operating procedure at the time on most series) in observance of the Jewish sabbath. It’s also discussed in detail in Patrick J. White’s 1991 book on the series.

Mission: Impossible had the longest run, seven seasons, of the 1960s spy shows in the U.S. But Hill would only be around for the first.

The audience knew little of Briggs. In the pilot episode, written by Bruce Geller, we’re told he had been away from the IMF for some period. In another episode, we see Briggs was a friend of a high school principal. Mobsters kidnap the principal’s daughter to try to get leverage on Briggs.

The IMF leader could be quietly ruthless. For example, there’s the end of the episode Operation: Rogosh. The IMF has pulled a con on an enemy agent, who is driven away by officials of his government. Barney Collier muses (Greg Morris) muses, “I’m sorry we had to let a man like Rogosh live.”

“We didn’t,” Briggs replies.

As time went on, Hill’s Briggs got less screen time. One beneficiary was Martin Landau, whose Rollin Hand character took on more importance. The other was Peter Graves, hired to replace Hill, starting with the second season.

One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Hill’s Briggs lasted the whole series. Regardless, Hill is being remembered as an excellent actor for other roles.

MeTV: Good-bye Mr. Solo, hello James West

metv logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a two-year run, is departing MeTV. But the cable channel isn’t dispensing with spies. It’s adding The Wild Wild West to its schedule.

The changes take effect Sept. 5, MeTV said on its website.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted on MeTV in September 2014, leading off a block of programming on Sunday nights dubbed “The Spies Who Love ME.” That block went away in the fall of 2015, but U.N.C.L.E. was televised early Sunday and early Monday. U.N.C.L.E. finale on MTV will be 2 a.m. Eastern Time, Sept. 5.  The 1964-68 series is being shown overnights on the Heroes & Icons channel.

The Wild Wild West will be on Saturdays at 6 p.m. ET, as part of the channel’s block of western program. The 1965-69 series, which had a lot of fantasy elements, will act as a transition for MeTV’s Saturday night lineup of superhero and science fiction shows.

H&I also shows The Wild Wild West, with two episodes from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Sundays.

Celebrating 35 years of Eon-MGM dysfunction

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the uneasy alliance between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After all this time, the relationship doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.

In 1981, MGM acquired United Artists after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. threw up its hands, opting to get rid of UA and exit the movie business. UA had just dropped a big flop, Heaven’s Gate. Transamerica, which acquired UA in 1967, had enough.

Eon (and its parent company Danjaq) had a reasonably warm relationship with UA.

United Artists simply released the first nine Bond films made by Eon. The studio (which coughed up the money to actually make the movies) occasionally influenced the films. Most famously, it was UA that insisted on bringing Sean Connery back to play 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But for the most part, Eon had a pretty long leash.

The two sides grew closer after UA bought out Harry Saltzman’s stake in the 007 franchise in 1975 when the Danjaq-Eon co-founder ran into financial trouble. Still, UA executives thought a lot about Eon chief Albert R. Broccoli, including maintaining an office for him at UA headquarters in New York.

When MGM bought UA, things changed. The 2015 book Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury goes into some detail about this. Budgets tightened, as did studio oversight. There was a Danjaq-Eon lawsuit when MGM ownership changed at one point, a catalyst in the 1989-1995 hiatus in 007 film production.

Even after the lawsuit was settled, there was tension. Things were never as warm between Eon and MGM as when Broccoli and Saltzman cut their first deal with UA in 1961.

It didn’t help that MGM was long past its prime even in 1981, when it first got into the Bond business. By that point, MGM simply didn’t have the resources as other major studios.

By the mid-2000s, MGM was barely a studio. Sony Pictures actually released the last four James Bond movies, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s Columbia Pictures logo appeared with MGM’s Leo the Lion logo at the start of 007 films.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM was mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It financed a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval. But Barbara Broccoli, current co-boss of Eon, made clear in 2012 she had no plans to make Bond films that quickly.

MGM chief Gary Barber

MGM chief Gary Barber

Gary Barber, who became MGM chief during the bankruptcy, backed off. These days he doesn’t even mention that bankruptcy court business plan. Earlier this year, he said 007 films would come out on a “three-to-four-year cycle.”

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

Barber is trying to demonstrate that MGM is a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

This weekend, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

For now, Eon/Danjaq and MGM are more or less in the same place they were 35 years ago.

MGM needs Eon to make James Bond films, still the studio’s biggest asset. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli wants to make dramas that have nothing to do with James Bond.

At the same time, Eon/Danjaq can’t make James Bond films without doing business with MGM, as much as Eon/Danjaq might like to do so.

It’s a cliche, but true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

MGM watch: Ben-Hur remake flops in setback for 007 studio

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s remake of Ben-Hur flopped at the U.S.-Canada box office with a paltry estimated $11.4 million for the Aug. 19-21 weekend, according to Variety.

The movie finished No. 5 this weekend, according to a tweet by Exhibitors Relations, which tracks box office results. The flop occurred in a weekend that wasn’t robust for theaters. Suicide Squad, in its third weekend, was No. 1 at $20.7 million.

Ben-Hur was actually released by Paramount. After exiting bankruptcy in 2010, MGM isn’t big enough to distribute its own films. So MGM cuts deals with other studios to share production costs, with the partner studio getting movies to theaters.

Ben-Hur, based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, has been made as a film three times previously. The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, won 11 Academy Awards.

Here’s why this blog noting all this: MGM is the home studio for the James Bond film series, with MGM and Danjaq LLC (the parent company of Eon Productions) controlling the franchise.

In March, MGM chief Gary Barber said 007 films will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle. MGM doesn’t yet have a partner studio for Bond 25 after Sony Pictures’ most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. The next Bond film also doesn’t have a confirmed leading actor or, as far as anyone knows, a script.

When MGM was in bankruptcy, it produced a business plan saying it would get 007 films out on an every-other-year schedule. However, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, has made clear she’s not interested in making Bond films that often.

MGM in recent months has emphasized its slate of non-Bond projects, mostly in television. The studio only releases a handful of movies each year, so any flop hurts MGM more than competitors with larger film slates.

Ben-Hur’s flop also demonstrates that MGM’s supply of bankable movie projects outside of 007 remains limited. Since 2010, MGM’s other main movie property was the now-concluded Hobbit series.

MGM’s next film is a fall release of another remake, The Magnificent Seven.

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