Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.

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So who is going to buy 007’s home studio?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

It seems as if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s days are numbered as an independent studio. So who ends up with 007’s home studio?

A new era of media consolidation is underway. And MGM is a small fry.

AT&T Inc. has completed its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., CNN, TBS and other media properties. The move comes after a U.S. court approved the deal earlier this week.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, is trying to buy most of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Comcast is offering $65 billion in cash after 21st Century Fox agreed in December to accept $52.4 billion in stock from Walt Disney Co. An all-out bidding war is expected from the two media giants.

MGM supposedly is trying to go it alone. But, in this new media reality, that seems a long shot at best.

MGM is mostly owned by hedge funds following the company’s 2010 bankruptcy. Hedge funds rarely invest for the long run. They mostly look for a quick turnaround. The fact that the hedge fund owners have held on to their ownership for eight years is remarkable enough.

Given how volatile the situation is, making a prediction about who will buy MGM seems foolhardy. But it seems likely somebody will at some point.

Comcast’s Universal recently won the rights to distribute Bond 25 outside the U.S. So Universal may have a foot in the door. Maybe.

Here’s another question worth asking.

Would a bidder for MGM get out its checkbook and buy out Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions?

After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying MGM, shouldn’t you buy all the James Bond film rights? Especially if media companies are throwing around tens of billions of dollars for acquisitions?

Some Bond fans feel the Broccoli-Wilson family would never sell out. Star Wars fans used to say to the same thing about George Lucas before he sold the franchise to Walt Disney Co.

Interesting days may lay ahead.

Wayne Fitzgerald, title designer for movies and TV

Wayne Fitzgerald’s title card (along with others, including Bruce Lee) for The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm movie with Dean Martin.

When it comes to titles, names such as Saul Bass, Maurice Binder and Robert Brownjohn get a lot of attention. However, there’s another prolific designer who had an extensive impact on movies and U.S. television: Wayne Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, 88, went to work at Pacific Title in 1951, according to his bio at the Art of the Title website.

Pacific Title did title work for Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox. But no one at Pacific received on-screen credit. As a result, Fitzgerald’s name doesn’t appear on such films as The Music Man and My Fair Lady, according to the website.

Fitzgerald went independent in 1967. His work appeared in such films as The Green Berets; The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm film with Dean Martin; Chinatown; and McQ,

The designer also got a lot of television work. He was hired often by Universal’s “television factory.” As a result, the Universal shows he worked on had titles with a bit of visual flair.

Start of the main title of The NBC Mystery Movie

For example, he designed the main title to The NBC Mystery Movie (later The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie), where a man with a flashlight walks with stills of the different components (Columbo, McClous, McMillan & Wife and others) being shown while accompanied by a Henry Mancini theme.

As the title ended, announcer Hank Simms (also the go-to announcer for shows made by QM Productions) would then tell viewers which Mystery Movie segment was being shown tonight.

That title is rarely seen today. The Mystery Movie’s different entries are syndicated separately as TV movies. As a result, they usually don’t include Fitzgerald’s main title.

The designer’s other Universal credits included  It Takes a Thief, The Bold Ones, Switch and Night Gallery.

In all, Fitzgerald’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 400 credits, extending into the early 21st century.

Why Bond 25 may not do much economizing

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

One question about Bond 25 is whether its budget may get trimmed. 2015’s SPECTRE was the most expensive 007 film adventure, with an estimated $245 million budget including Mexican tax credits and product placement deals.

While it’s too early to say definitively, there are signs that Bond 25 won’t exactly fly economy class.

Craig’s reported paycheck: Earlier this month, Variety reported that star Daniel Craig is set for a $25 million payday from his fifth Bond film. It was the highest amount in a survey of actor compensation by the trade publication.

If correct, that makes it harder to drastically cut the budget. For example, if you wanted to cut Bond 25’s outlay to $100 million to $150 million, Craig’s pay would mean you could only spend $75 million to $125 million for the rest of the film.

Boyle’s change of attitude: Director Danny Boyle has a reputation for making very lean, small-scale films. Some fans on internet message boards have speculated Boyle in Bond 25’s director chair could mean a less epic, leaner 007 outing.

Not so fast.

This week, Boyle spoke at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Here’s an excerpt from a story about the talk on LIPA’s website.

Danny says, at first, he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the job (for Bond 25). “I like watching big films but I don’t think I’m necessarily good at making them. Then I thought ‘no, you shouldn’t think like that’.”

Working with long-time collaborator, writer John Hodge, Danny explained why he accepted. “We have this idea about what we want to do with Bond and I felt we should have a go because of this idea. So we are trying to stay true to our principles.” (emphasis added)

It sounds, at the very least, Boyle may be more than willing to have a go at an epic-like film.

Broccoli’s ambitions: The Screen Daily website this week ran a story about how Universal became the international distributor for Bond 25. There was this passage:

“(Eon Productions boss) Barbara Broccoli wants a one billion dollar international gross,” says one industry expert, noting that international box office accounts for the bulk of Bond films’ global theatrical revenues. No 007 release has ever achieved this, and Universal knows a thing or two about getting to the hallowed milestone. Of only seven films to cross $1bn at the international box office, Universal has released three, and it has done so in the last three years: Furious 7 and Jurassic World in 2015, and Fate Of The Furious in 2017.

Only one Bond film surpassed $1 billion globally. 2012’s Skyfall had $304.4 million in the U.S. and $804.2 million internationally. SPECTRE slipped to $200 million in the U.S. and $680.6 million internationally.

To achieve that $1 billion international mark, Bond 25 would have to generate more than 45 percent more box office compared with SPECTRE. Higher ticket prices will help some. But if Broccoli really wants $1 billion, excluding the U.S. market, Bond is going to have to ramp things up.

What’s more, if Broccoli really is seeking $1 billion internationally, that generally means mounting a big-scale production. Marvel Studios filmed two Avengers movies back to back, Avengers: Infinity War, released in late April and the yet-to-titled Avengers 4, due out next year.

It’s been estimated the combined cost of the two movies may reach as much as $1 billion. Avengers: Infinity War has been a big hit (global box office of $1.9 billion so far).

Big risks, big rewards. If the expert quoted by Screen Daily is correct (and the website didn’t identify him or her), that may mean that Bond 25 may be a more high stakes game than anything 007 encountered in a novel or movie scene.

Bond 25 announcements confirm director, distribution

Daniel Craig

Official announcements about Bond 25 being directed by Danny Boyle and its distribution were issued early Friday.

Versions were on the official James Bond website and official James Bond feed on Twitter.

They followed a story late Thursday by Deadline: Hollywood that Universal would distribute the movie internationally while a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures would distribute it in the United States. The story also said Boyle was confirmed as director.

The announcements also confirmed a Feb. 21 story in Deadline about how  Boyle would direct is a script by John Hodge were accepted. Boyle said as such in subsequent public appearances but that hadn’t been part of official announcements until now.

A March 8 story by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, who has had a number of 007 scoops confirmed in the past, said star Daniel Craig was “pulling out all the stops” to have Boyle direct the new Bond film.

The announcements reference Hodge working on Bond 25’s script. A July 24, 2017 announcement said veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were writing Bond 25.

Excerpt from the announcement issued early today:

Daniel Craig returns as 007 and Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) will direct from an original screenplay by Academy Award nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting) with production set to begin on 3 December 2018. Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release the film theatrically in the US on 8 November 2019 through its new joint venture for domestic theatrical distribution with Annapurna Pictures, and Universal Pictures will release internationally commencing with the traditional earlier release in the UK on 25 October 2019.

Here is what the Twitter version looked like:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Deadline says Bond 25 distribution settled

Bond 25’s distribution has been settled, Deadline: Hollywood reported. with Universal taking over the international distribution.

Universal will also handle home video distribution, the entertainment website, citing sources it didn’t identify.

U.S. distribution will be through a joint venture that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures formed last year, Deadline said.

That joint venture was announced on Oct. 31. Deadline reported in November that the joint venture was “thisclose” to securing U.S. distribution rights but no formal announcement has been made.

Deadline also said the movie will debut in the U.K. on Oct. 25, 2019, with a U.S. release on Nov. 8, 2019. The U.S. release date was announced by Eon Productions and MGM on July 24, 2017.

Bond 25 will begin production on Dec. 3 of this year, Deadline said.

UPDATE (11:55 p.m.): Deadline says the studios involved confirmed the news. Danny Boyle also  is now confirmed as director, the website said.

“We are delighted to announce that the exceptionally talented Danny Boyle will be directing Daniel Craig in his fifth outing as James Bond in the 25th installment of the franchise,” Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said in a statement quoted by Deadline.

“We will begin shooting Bond 25 at Pinewood Studios in December with our partners at MGM and thrilled that Universal will be our international distributor.” the duo said in the statement.

The distribution deal was put together more than 300 days after the release date was announced.

 

Joseph Campanella dies at 93

Joseph Campanella in a first-season episode of Mannix

Joseph Campanella, whose acting career lasted more than a half-century, died today at 93, according to Variety.

Campanella was a familiar face on U.S. television television, splitting his time between playing villains and sympathetic characters.

His credits included co-starring in the first season of Mannix as Lew Wickersham, the head of Intertect, the large agency where hero Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) worked.

Wickersham prided himself on devising a set of rules he said were designed to get the most of his employees. “Not me,” Mannix replied in a scene in the show’s pilot.

Throughout the first season, there was a tension between Mannix and his boss. That angle was dropped starting with the second season when Mannix went off on his own.

Campanella was nominated for an Emmy for playing Wickersham. He also returned in a sixth-season episode playing a different role.

Wickersham was based on entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA, the parent company at the time of Universal.

According to commentary tracks on the first-season Mannix DVD set, Wasserman approved of Campanella’s performance. After Campanella departed Mannix, he was hired by Universal to play an attorney in The Lawyers segment of The Bold Ones.

Later in his career, Campanella was a voice in a 1990s Spider-Man cartoon. The actor was also the younger brother of character actor Frank Campanella (1919-2006).