Tanya Roberts dies amid media circus

Tanya Roberts in a publicity still for A View to a Kill

Tanya Roberts, who appeared in A View to a Kill, the Charlie’s Angels TV series and That ’70s Show, has died at 65, The New York Times reported, citing the actress’ companion/boyfriend, Lance O’Brien.

Her death was the center of a media circus.

TMZ reported the death on Sunday night. Roberts’ publicist put out a press release. Numerous outlets picked up on it.

Then, O’Brien was taped by Inside Edition, a “TV tabloid” show for an interview on Monday. He sat in front of a green screen, the type used to create fake backgrounds on TV. During the taping, he got a call that Roberts hadn’t died yet.

Naturally, an intimate, emotional scene followed. Inside Edition also posted the segment on YouTube for its 8.44 million subscribers.

TMZ followed up with its own “she’s alive” story. The website was glib about the whole affair. “As for how this could happen … beats us.”

The Roberts publicist, Mike Pingel, said in an earlier NYT story: “It’s a human miscommunication, unfortunately…It’s a shame this happened.”

Do tell.

Anyway, many “Tanya Roberts is still alive” stories ran while the “Tanya Roberts dies” stories were taken down. (The blog ran one of each.) Some of the “she’s alive” stories noted that Roberts was not in good shape. She had been at Cedars-Sinai Hospital since Dec. 24.

On social media, Bond fans made the inevitable 007-related puns because of the bizarre turn of events, including variations on “You Only Live Twice,” such as “this is her second life.” There were also comments evoking Mark Twain saying reports of his death were extremely exaggerated.

Now, O’Brien tells the Times that Roberts did pass away Monday night. TMZ came out with its third story Tuesday morning. Fox News said it got the same information from O’Brien.

In 1985’s A View to a Kill, Roberts played Stacey Sutton, who becomes the ally of James Bond (Roger Moore in his last 007 film) to foil a plot to destroy California’s Silicon Valley.

Stacey Sutton wasn’t the favorite of some Bond fans for the way she screamed “James!” There was also a 28-year difference between Moore and Roberts, who shared a romantic scene at the end of the movie.

Roberts was in the cast of Charlie’s Angels in its final season, 1980-81. She was in That ’70s Show from 1998 to 2004.

As for the media circus that surrounded Roberts’ passing, the MI6 James Bond website had a tweet that summed it up.

Tanya Roberts still alive, reports say

Actress Tanya Roberts still is alive, less than 24 hours after she was reported dead, according to a new set of reports.

TMZ, which had the original story, pushed out a report around 5 p.m. New York time that Roberts hadn’t died. It quoted the same representative who said she was dead.

Other outlets, including the Associated Press and Variety put out stories about the development. The AP story said Roberts’ representative, Mike Pengel, on Sunday night sent out a press release reporting the death.

Meanwhile, Inside Edition, a “tabloid TV” show posted a video where it was interviewing Roberts’ boyfriend when he got a call that she was alive.

The blog will take down the obituary it posted on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, TMZ’s latest piece has a glib final line: “As for how this could happen … beats us.”

Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

Happy New Year 2021 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2021 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

Of course, regarding that latter point, we said that a year ago and it didn’t work out. Hopefully, it will go better this time around.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve (even in a hunkered down, pandemic way).

Happy New Year, everyone.

Bond 25 questions: New year’s edition

No Time to Die poster (from spring 2020)

It’s almost a new year. But the never-ending saga of Bond 25, aka No Time to Die, continues. Naturally the blog has questions.

Will we finally get to see No Time to Die in 2021?

You’d think so. Vaccines for COVID-19 are being rolled out. By around mid-year or so, they should be available to a big chunk of the population.

Will we get to see No Time to Die in April?

That’s the more germane question. Right now, COVID-19 is causing havoc. Los Angeles-area hospitals are looking at rationing care because they are swamped with COVID cases. The U.K, in December imposed new lockdowns because of a new variant of the virus.

Can things actually improve enough three months from now to permit a traditional theater release (which is what Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli wants)?

Meanwhile, Universal (which is handling international distribution for No Time to Die) said Dec. 28 that it’s delaying the release of the animated film Boss Baby from March 26 to Sept. 17. That suggests Universal is nervous about a late March/early April release date.

Which will happen first: Theatrical release of No Time to Die, or an announced sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer?

MGM, Bond’s home studio, reportedly has put itself for sale. If No Time to Die really comes out in April, it might be tough to have a sale organized. If the 25th James Bond film (and its almost $290 million price tag) gets delayed again, a sale may happen first.

Happy New Year.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Happy holidays 2020 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

The accompanying graphic has been the blog’s annual Christmas/holiday season greeting since 2011. It’s a tradition and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a crummy year. The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the globe. It has caused many, many deaths and untold misery for even more. Other events have made people miserable. We could use a nice holiday season.

The graphic used in this post was designed by Paul Baack (1957-2017). It’s just one sample of his artistic handiwork. He designed it when the blog was part of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (1997-2014).

To the blog’s readers: Thanks for being here. If you’ve got some time off, enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

Bond 25 questions: MGM sale (?) edition

No Time to Die logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, home studio of James Bond, may be up for sale. This comes as No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, still (figuratively) sits on the shelf, unwatched.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How solid is this news?

It originated with The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. The business newspaper initially published a relatively short story early the evening of Dec. 21. Within a couple of hours, the Journal expanded the article. The audio version of the story went from 2 minutes to 6 minutes.

The Journal has published a number of MGM-related stories in recent years, including how MGM spent much of 2016 unsuccessfully negotiating a sale to Chinese investors and an October article about how MGM was under increasing pressure by investors to sell.

How far along are things? If a sale happens, how long will it take?

The Journal reported MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and that a sales process is underway. That suggests things are at an early stage but there’s no way to know for sure. Meanwhile, the sale of an entire company or substantial subsidiary can easily take months.

Why would MGM want to sell?

The studio is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. Hedge funds typically own an asset for a few years and then sell at a profit. The hedge fund owners of MGM have held on to the studio for a decade, longer than the norm.

Then, there’s the No Time to Die money pit.

Money pit?

The cost of the 25th James Bond film was approaching $300 million as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed No Time to Die’s release twice (April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021). MGM’s interest costs on its investment are running at a reported $1 million a month.

MGM normally would start to get its money back when the movie went into release. But, besides the delays, theater attendance is way down because of the pandemic.

Who are possible buyers?

The Journal said the studio is looking to non-traditional buyers. Certainly some familiar Hollywood names have their hands tied.

Walt Disney Co. still is digesting its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. The company’s theme park business also was hurt by the pandemic. Warner Bros. is part of AT&T, which is revamping its entertainment assets to build up its new HBO Max streaming service.

Tech company Apple Inc. is a possibility and it needs programming for its own streaming service. But Apple has lots of other ambitions, including getting into car production by 2024, according to Reuters. A deal with Apple isn’t a sure thing.

What does all this mean for the Bond franchise?

MGM and Danjaq LLC control the franchise. An MGM sales means, at the very least, that Danjaq will have to deal with yet another executive regime. Danjaq has had plenty of practice at that since 1981, when United Artists was bought by MGM.

There could be a bigger effect if an MGM buyer had a streaming operation, the way Apple does. Danjaq and its Eon Productions like to make a big movie every so often. Would Danjaq/Eon even be interested in doing streaming series, the way Disney Plus is doing with Marvel and Star Wars?

Hard to say. Barbara Broccoli of Danjaq/Eon said last year she was resisting the idea of spinoffs. Then again, things can change. We might get The Adventures of Bill Tanner or Loelia! as streaming shows.

MGM explores a sale, WSJ reports

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is looking into selling itself, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter the paper didn’t identify.

MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and Lion Tree LLC to assist with a sale, according to the financial newspaper.

The studio is looking to its film library, which includes the Bond movies, Rocky films and Pink Panther productions, to generate interest. MGM also has television shows such as Fargo and The Handmaid’s Tale.

MGM and Danjaq LLC, parent firm of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise.

The studio reportedly spent much of 2016 exploring a sale to Chinese investors before talks broke off late that year. In recent years, MGM has described itself as the leading independent studio in Hollywood.

MGM is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. The hedge funds took control after MGM exited from bankruptcy in 2010.

The studio explored selling a one-year lease on No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, to streaming service Apple Plus, according to multiple news accounts this fall. The Hollywood Reporter said in October that MGM didn’t consult with Danjaq/Eon, which generated displeasure from boss Barbara Broccoli.

Release of No Time to Die has been held up by the COVID-19 pandemic and the movie currently has an April 2021 release date. The film cost almost $288 million to make as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing.

Assuming the Journal report is accurate, a new chapter in the troubled MGM-Danjaq relationship may be about to unfold. MGM would provide a lot of programming for streaming services.

About a possible ‘in memoriam’ title card for NTTD

No Time to Die poster

For a long time, James Bond fans have debated whether No Time to Die should have some kind of “in memoriam” title card for Roger Moore (1927-2017), the first film Bond in the Eon series to pass away.

In the past year, Father Time has caught up with the 007 film series. Sean Connery, the first film Bond, died in October. Before that, actresses who played the lead female characters in the Eon series (Claudine Auger, Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg) all passed away.

And this week, news came of the death of a major contributor, art department stalwart Peter Lamont, who worked on 18 Eon-made Bond films, at age 91.

That’s just for openers. Ken Adam, whose set designs on 007 Bond films established the look of 007 movies, died in 2016 at the age of 95.

So should No Time to Die have some kind of major “in memoriam” title card?

The Bond film series doesn’t do this very often. The end titles of GoldenEye noted the passing of special effects wizard Derek Meddings, who had worked on that film. But it didn’t note the deaths of Richard Maibaum (a 13-time Bond screenwriter) or Maurice Binder, who designed many Bond main titles.

1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies noted the death of Albert R. Broccoli, who co-founded Eon.

What would a big “in memoriam” title card look like?

Here in the U.S., there was a long-running Western series titled Gunsmoke (1955-75). In 1987, there was a reunion TV movie called Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. In the end titles, there was a mammoth “in memoriam” title card noting key crew and cast members who had died in the intervening years.

Would such a thing even be a possibility for No Time to Die? Hard to say. It hasn’t been that much of an issue until now.