Douglas Cramer, controversial M:I figure, dies

Dougas S. Cramere title card on a third-season episode of Mission: Impossible.

Douglas S. Cramer, a successful TV executive and producer, has died at 89, according to The Wrap. His credits include the likes of the likes of The Love Boat, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series and Vega$. But he was also a controversial figure with the original Mission: Impossible television series.

Background: Mission: Impossible originated with writer-producer Bruce Geller who had landed at Desilu. During M:I’s second season, Lucille Ball sold Desilu to the parent company of Paramount. Suddenly, Desilu became Paramount Television.

In M:I’s third season, Geller was now dealing with Douglas S. Cramer, who more cost-conscious that previous management.

Among many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer is seen as a villain. It was under his tenure that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain departed the show. Landau had never signed a long-term series deal and negotiated his salary a season as a time.

It was during the Cramer regime at Paramount that Landau’s bargaining power ran out. Bain, his wife at the time, went with him out the door.

The 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White included interviews with Cramer.

“Bruce had a wonderful concept of the show, put it together beautifully, but paid no attention to budget,” Cramer told the author. “Secondly, he traditionally wrote bigger shows than we could afford to do….Bruce was a madman about scripts and there would be layer after layer of writers working on them.”

There were other Mission: Impossible conflicts. Bruce Geller, as executive producer, clashed with writer-producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter during the third season. The Woodfield-Balter team, who had authored many of the best episodes, left.

Still, the big conflict was the one with Geller and Cramer. The latter described his perspective to author White.

“Bruce and his refusal to pay any attention to budget had permeated all the people that worked for him,” Cramer said. In the book, Cramer referred to Geller as a “mad dictator.”

For many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer was in the wrong and Geller was proven correct in the end. M:I ran seven seasons, the longest run of the 1960s spy craze and spawned a successful series of Tom Cruise movies.

Regardless, Cramer’s story is a reminder that making a television series it never easy. It’s always a balance of art and commerce.

More movie release delays spur concerns about NTTD

Movie release dates continue to get reset, which raises the question whether No Time to Die will meet its current release range of Sept. 30-Oct. 8.

The latest: According to Variety, Paramount has moved back Top Gun: Maverick to Nov. 19 from July 2. Mission: Impossible 7 has been delayed to May 27, 2022, from Nov. 19 of this year.

Previously, Walt Disney Co. announced that Black Widow was pushed back to July from early May. Black Widow, made by the company’s Marvel Studios’ unit, will be available on the Disney + streaming service for an extra charge of almost $30 while also opening in theaters.

Last week, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, had an investor call but said almost nothing about No Time To Die. MGM simply listed the 25th James Bond film — the company’s most expensive movie of the past two years — as one of many films in MGM’s schedule.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with movie release dates for more than a year. Vaccines are now available. But COVID cases are accelerating yet again because of new versions of the virus.

M:I 7’s theatrical window shortened

A stunt from Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Mission: Impossible 7 will go to the revamped Paramount Plus service after just 45 days of theatrical release, Variety reported. The traditional theatrical window has been 90 days.

The move covers other Paramount movies, according to Variety.

The development is yet another example of the crumbling of the traditional 90-day theatrical window between a movie’s debut and it becoming available in some form of home video.

AT&T’s Warner Bros. for its theatrical releases this year is making new movies available simultaneously in theaters and AT&T’s HBO Max. Other studios are trying to figure out how to deal with the tsunami of streaming that’s engulfing the movie business.

Here’s an excerpt from Variety’s story about Paramount:

Those films will debut exclusively in theaters as planned. However, the studio has newly shorten the amount of time they will play exclusively on the big screen. After 45 days, new Paramount theatrical films will debut on the streaming service Paramount Plus. As part of the arrangement, Paramount has adjusted its pay TV output deal with Epix in order to bolster movie offerings on the nascent streaming service. Along with new releases, Paramount Plus will offer a deep library of more than 2,500 films.

Epix is a premium channel owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

You shouldn’t read too much into this. MGM is in hock to the tune of almost $290 million for No Time to Die. MGM has its own hard decisions in the new era — all while the studio is up for sale.

Rather, you should view this news as yet another indicator of how the movie business is in turmoil generally.

M:I 7, 8 no longer shooting back-to-back, Deadline says

Tom Cruise hasn’t had such luck combatting COVID-19.

The seventh and eighth Mission: Impossible films are no longer filming back-to-back, the Deadline entertainment website reported.

M:I 7 has run into delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, M:I star-producer Tom Cruise has other duties.

“Sources said this is simply down to the shifting release calendar,” according to Deadline. Cruise “will now be needed on promotional duties by the studio for Top Gun: Maverick ahead of that film’s planned release on July 2, and will be out of action for a period. Once that film has rolled out – hopefully to packed cinemas in a post-Covid world – production on MI: 8 can begin, meaning the gap shouldn’t be too impactful.”

Over the weekend, the U.K. Sun tabloid reported that M:I 7 had been forced to cut short production in the Middle East for COVID-related reasons. Director Christopher McQuarrie appeared to dispute that in an Instagram post. “Now back to London for a few finishing touches. All aboard for our greatest challenge yet…” the director wrote.

Paramount’s original plan was to film two M:I films at once so they could be released a year apart. Marvel Studios did something similar with two Avengers movies released in 2018 and 2019. At one time, Bonds 24 and 25 were to do the same thing. But star Daniel Craig vetoed such a move. Bond 24 became SPECTRE. Bond 25, years later, is on hold as No Time to Die.

Herbert Solow, who helped revive Desilu in ’60s, dies

Herbert F. Solow title card from a second-season Mission: Impossible episode

Herbert F. Solow, an executive who helped revive Desilu in the mid-1960s, died this week at 89, Variety said.

Desilu, one a major producer of TV shows, was primarily leasing studio space by the middle part of the 1960s. Solow was brought in to revive production.

The executive sold Star Trek to NBC and Mission: Impossible to CBS for the 1966-67 season.

“This was a particularly sweet time for me,” Solow said in the 1996 book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, co-authored with Robert H. Justman. Justman worked as associate producer on both pilots and was on the crew for most of Star Trek’s original three-year run.

“Star Trek and Mission were the first projects I’d put into development after I joined Desilu,” Solow said in the book.

Both would be complicated shows to make, especially for a studio that had been relatively inactive. “I’d fought the budget battles and the casting problems, the network egos and the studio’s old-fashioned polices,” he wrote.

A year later, Solow sold another series, Mannix, a private eye drama, to CBS for the 1967-68 season. That would be the final Desilu series. Gulf + Western, then Paramount’s parent company, purchased Desilu from Lucille Ball. Desilu became Paramount Television.

Solow stayed for a time but departed. Paramount management put on more pressure to cut costs.

“It wasn’t the same, so I asked out of my contract,” Solow told Patrick J. White, author of The Mission: Impossible Dossier. Solow ended up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as an executive.

UPDATE: Here is a YouTube video of Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman reading from their 1996 book. h/t @Stingray_travel for the heads up.

Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 get pushed back

Tom Cruise

The release dates of Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 have been pushed back because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Variety reported.

The seventh installment of the film series with Tom Cruise is now scheduled for Nov. 19, 2021, delayed from July 23. The eighth movie in the series is now slated for Nov. 4, 2022, delayed from Aug. 5 of that year.

The new dates were announced by Paramount, one in a series of release date changes disclosed by the studio, Variety said.

The coronavirus has shut down movie theaters and other businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease. Various films have been affected, including No Time to Die, which is now set for a November release. It had been set to come out this month.

M:I 7 had been slated to be filming in Venice in February. Italy was hit hard by COVID-19 and filming was postponed.

Christopher McQuarrie, director of Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible-Fallout is directing M:I 7 and 8.

M:I 7 Venice shoot delayed by coronavirus

A stunt from Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Updated to note the Paramount statement.

Mission: Impossible 7’s Venice shoot is being delayed by the coronavirus, Variety reported, citing a Paramount statement.

The delay was reported earlier by the tabloid Daily Mail said.

Paramount said it was delaying the Venice shoot because of an “abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our cast and crew,” according to Variety.

There has been an outbreak of more than150 cases of coronavirus in Italy and the Venice carnival was cut short, according to The New York Times.

Star-producer Tom Cruise arrived in Venice last week and was scheduled to begin filming, the Daily Mail said.

M:I 7 is scheduled to be released in 2021. It is to be filmed back-to-back with an eighth installment coming out in 2022. Recent Cruise M:I movies were written around locations and stunts.

The most recent M:I film, Mission: Impossible-Fallout, was a hectic affair, which included Cruise breaking his ankle doing a stunt. The production altered its schedule and some late filming occurred to make a summer 2018 release date.

An outbreak of coronavirus in China has caused a China premiere and publicity tour for No Time to Die in April to be canceled. The disease has shut down theaters in China.

The Rhythm Section flops at box office

A poster for The Rhythm Section

The Rhythm Section, the non-Bond spy film made by Eon Productions, flopped at the U.S. box office.

The film will generate an estimated $2.8 million for the Jan. 31-Feb. 2 weekend, according to data compiled by Box Office Mojo.

The Paramount-released movie was being shown at 3,049 screens for an average of $918 per screen. It was the No. 10 film at the box office for the weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

The Rhythm Section’s box office performance was the worst ever for a film opening on more than 3,000 screens, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The record had been held by 2006’s Hoot, which had a $3.4 million opening weekend, THR said.

The film features Blake Lively as a woman who discovers the plane crash that killed her family was really a terrorist act. She moves to avenge the killings with the assistance of a former MI6 agent (Jude Law).

The Rhythm Section originally was slated for an early 2019 release. However, a hand injury to Lively caused a production delay. The movie then was scheduled for a fall 2019 release before coming out this weekend instead.

Also this weekend, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s latest movie, Gretel & Hansel, was No. 4 with $6.05 million in its debut. The movie was marketed under MGM’s Orion brand. MGM is the home studio for Eon’s James Bond film series.

The top movie at the box office this weekend was Bad Boys for Life, with almost $17.7 million in its third weekend.

UPDATE (2 p.m. New York time): Deadline: Hollywood has published a story about what went wrong with The Rhythm Section. The entertainment outlet says the movie may lose $30 million to $40 million. The Rhythm Section had a budget of $50 million.

“Currently, I hear that the overseas launch for Rhythm Section is up in the air, with the studio pondering a direct to video title for Rhythm Section abroad after the dismal stateside results,” wrote Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro.

UPDATE II (Feb. 4): Final weekend figure for The Rhythm Section was $2.7 million (average of $890 per screen at 3,049 screens), according to Box Office Mojo.

REVIEW: The Rhythm Section (2020)

A poster for The Rhythm Section

With The Rhythm Section, Eon Productions wanted to show what it could do with the spy genre without James Bond.

In terms of craftsmanship, it’s a respectable effort. The photography is good. The actors give it their all. Director Reed Morano shows off multiple locations. The movie also runs less than two hours, almost a rarity these days.

But when it comes to connecting with the audience, not so much.

Blake Lively’s lead character, Stephanie Patrick, has lost her family after an aircraft crash. She has fallen apart, becoming a drug-addicted prostitute.

Patrick finds out the truth and becomes an avenging angel, diving deep into the world of international espionage and terrorism. She goes after one of her targets by pretending to be a prostitute.

The point is to show a diamond in the rough and what she had to accomplish. Stephanie Patrick is more Jason Bourne than James Bond, and a not very confident (at least at first) Bourne figure at that.

By the end of the film, Patrick has become the new Bourne. She evens things out. She’s ready for new adventures by the end of the movie.

Still, it’d be better if there were more audience investment in Patrick’s story.

Some of Eon’s Bond mainstays show up behind the camera. Chris Corbould, a long-time special effects wizard for the Bond series, is present as second unit director, for example.

Hans Zimmer did not do the score. But he gets the first music credit for producing the score. Steve Mazzaro, one of the composers affiliated with Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, gets the actual “music by” credit.

Nevertheless, parts of the movie’s score resembles Zimmer’s work on Christopher Nolan-directed movies. Zimmer has been announced as composer for No Time to Die, Eon’s newest Bond film.

An anecdote: I was the third person to buy a ticket at my theater for the first showing of The Rhythm Section on Thursday night. One of the two people who bought tickets before me stopped as the end titles were playing.

“It wasn’t so good, was it?” she said.

Not so much. GRADE: C.

One NTTD question we have no answer for

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Occasionally, the blog has “question edition” posts about Bond 25/No Time to Die. Usually, the blog provides some evidence of the answers. For this post, we can only guess.

Why is there an Eon Productions logo in the trailer for The Rhythm Section but not for No Time to Die?

Probably language in contracts. But your guess is as good as mine.

The Rhythm Section trailer has logos for Paramount (studio that’s releasing the movie), Global Road (major co-financing entity) and Eon (company that made the movie).

No Time to Die’s trailer has logos for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Bond’s home studio) and Universal (handling international distribution). Not mentioned is United Artists Releasing, the joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures.

United Artists Releasing is performing distribution duties for No Time to Die in the United States.  It is referenced in the first poster for the movie, down toward the bottom.

MGM and Annpurna formed the joint venture to perform U.S. distribution of each other’s movies. MGM movies would have the MGM logo, Annapurna films would have the Annapurna logo. The joint venture was announced in the fall of 2017. The United Artists Releasing name was announced on the 100th anniversary of the formation of United Artists in early 2019.