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Chief talks NBC Entertainment Leno, NFL and Peter Pan

NBC doesn’t want to say goodbye to “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno just yet.

“I’m very much hoping we will enter into a new relationship with him after ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” said NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena on Sunday.

Leno, who ends his run as “Tonight Show” host on Feb. 6 (with Billy Crystal as his final guest), has kept mum on his future plans, including whether he will seek another TV hosting gig. Greenblatt said he’d like to have Leno host specials for NBC down the road.

Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will debut as host of “The Tonight Show” on Feb. 17, in the midst of its coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The network hopes that the bigger audiences for the Games will mean increased sampling for Fallon.

Greenblatt also said the network has an appetite for more football. The National Football League is soliciting offers for a potential Thursday night package of games. Greenblatt declined to comment on whether NBC, which is home to Sunday night football, had made an offer but said “we’d love to have more NFL games,” and “Thursday night games might be really interesting to us.”

One reason Thursday football would appeal to NBC is that its comedies on that night have been struggling. The network has programmed sitcoms on Thursday for decades but given its recent challenges, Greenblatt didn’t rule out going in a different direction next season. Expensive and heavily promoted new comedies starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes have failed to click with viewers, much to the frustration of the network.

“We’re really unhappy that we can’t find an audience for them,” said Greenblatt, adding that this spring the network will “have to get in the scheduling room and make some hard decisions.”

An easy decision for NBC to make was to greenlight another live musical after the surprising success of “The Sound of Music Live” last month. Greenblatt said NBC would take another crack with “Peter Pan” in December. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who made “The Sound of Music Live” are also on board for “Peter Pan.”

NBC also said it had signed “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler to a production deal and is developing a sitcom she will produce starring Natasha Lyonne (“Orange is the New Black”) as a woman who works in a senior care facility.

Networks are typically obsessed with shows about younger people, but NBC executives said this comedy will give it a chance to broaden its casting and appeal to older viewers as well.

“I’d like to see them represented,” Greenblatt said.

Other new shows in development include “State of Affairs” starring former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl as a CIA liaison for the White House. The network also has a limited series in the works inspired by Frank L. Baum’s books called “Emerald City.”

Coming off a strong fall in which its average prime time audience was up 10%, Greenblatt said NBC is unlikely to change the way it develops new shows. Responding to a question regarding Fox’s plans to abandon so-called pilot season — the three month ritual in which networks frantically order scripts, hire actors and shoot trial episodes — Greenblatt said he is happy with the current model.

Entertaining tips

With the holiday season gearing up, more than a few of us will be hosting a festive dinner party, buffet or potluck. As pleasant as any holiday event may be, it seems like the moment someone rings the dinner bell, an otherwise civil gathering can turn into a stampede as guests mob the food table.

Much as I like to keep my buffets casual and free-form, there are a few rules I always follow to keep the meal organized. Call it a little “buffet psychology.” Here are some tips:

1. Organize the food layout, with a definite beginning and ending. Set the plates, napkins and silverware/plasticware at one end of the table near the food, so guests know where to line up. This will keep the guests from rushing the food like an NFL defensive line.

2. Consider plate size. Guests tend to fill up whatever size plate they have, be it small or large. Go with a smaller plate (8 to 9 inches in diameter) so guests don’t overfill and waste food. They can always go back for seconds.

3. Organize all of the less-expensive/greater-quantity foods at the “beginning” of the buffet, like salads and starches (rolls, rice, potatoes, etc). Save the big ticket and expensive items for the very end of the buffet (turkey, roast, fish) so guests have less room on their plates and are less likely to overfill.

Oprah Winfrey Have praised the Power 100 Women at the Entertainment Breakfast

The Hollywood Reporter’s “Power 100” Women in Entertainment Breakfast, honoring Oprah Winfrey with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, presented to her by former California First Lady Maria Shriver.

The program: TV host Jimmy Kimmel opened the ceremonies, taking note of “this sea of perfect blowouts” and suggesting “Wouldn’t it be better to rename the event the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood and just not give any of the spots to men?” He then delivered a warning to Kanye West, seated with the Kardashian clan. “Don’t even think about taking this award away from Oprah,” Kimmel said.

Next up were the Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director Janice Min, publisher Lynne Segall and Sherry Lansing. Demi Lovato followed by naming participants in the magazine’s mentoring program, a joint venture with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles, which pairs high school girls with mentors and awards them $10,000 college scholarships. Lovato surprised the audience by announcing not one, but two winners of full four-year scholarships, valued at $200,000 each, to Loyola Marymount University.

The crowd: The affair, presented by Lifetime, took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Wednesday (Dec. 11), the day the magazine released its list of the industry’s top female power players (and coincidentally the same day Screen Actors Guild nominees were announced, including Winfrey,nominated for supporting actress for her role in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”).

The packed Beverly Hills ballroom included  Anne Sweeney, the  co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, who was named No. 1 on the list for the fourth year. Also attending were Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO A+E Networks; Amy Pascal, co-chair, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Donna Langley, chair, Universal Pictures; Sue Kroll, president, worldwide marketing and international distribution, Warner Bros.; Jennifer Salke, president, NBC Entertaiment; Stacey Snider, co-chair and CEO, DreamWorks Studios; Sandra Stern, COO, Lionsgate TV; Jill Leiderman, executive producer, “Jimmy Kimmel Live”; Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO DreamWorks Animation; “The Butler” director Lee Daniels and the film’s screenwriter, Danny Strong.

More familiar to the general public were Jane Fonda, Gayle King, Whitney Cummings, Nikki Reed, Maria Bello, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Naya Rivera, Big Sean, Allison Williams, Amber Valletta, Geena Davis, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Molly Sims, Ahna O’Reilly, Candice Accola, Angie Harmon, Gillian Jacobs, Mandy Moore, Cat Deeley, Alyson Hannigan and Judy Greer.

The presentation: “The woman that we are all honoring here this morning puts the capital ‘I’ in inspiring. She also puts the capital ‘I’ in influence,” Shriver said of Winfrey, continuing with more “I” descriptors:  imagination, instruction and impact.

After reciting a list of Winfrey’s many accomplishments, Shriver asked Winfrey to think back on her life from her birthplace in Mississippi to President Obama presenting her with the Medal of Freedom last month. “Think back to how hard you’ve worked, how many mountains you have climbed, how many scary, scary things you’ve pushed through, how many people you have proved wrong, how many people you have inspired,” she said.

The acceptance: “That beats a eulogy, I gotta tell you. It really does,” said Winfrey. “I mean, good Lord. And you’re alive to hear it.”

Winfrey defined power as “strength over time. That means strength times strength, times strength, times strength equals power.”

She talked of seeing herself on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter’s “rule breakers” issue. “When I saw the title of the cover, it brought tears to my eyes because my cover line was ‘innovator.’ And I thought, ‘Is that what this was? I’m a rule breaker and an innovator?’ I just thought I was getting my [rear] kicked.”

She concluded with the importance of using power to better the lives of others. “That is the true purpose of leadership,” she said. “How do you use your life to elevate the life of somebody else? That’s what everybody in this room has been called to do.”

John Corrigan is Assistant Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment

John Corrigan is the assistant managing editor for Arts and Entertainment, leading one of the Los Angeles Times’ largest editorial departments in its coverage of film, television, culture, music, media and the fine arts.

Corrigan has worked at The Times since 1999, serving as Business editor from 2009 to June 2012. He greatly expanded the Business section’s online presence, adding daily video reports and building up its Tech Now and Money & Co. blogs. Corrigan directed several of The Times’ most ambitious projects, including stories that won Loeb Awards in 2010 and 2012. He has also overseen coverage of major news stories including the Enron scandal, the West Coast ports shutdown and the Toyota recall for sudden acceleration problems. He was project editor for the 2003 series “The Wal-Mart Effect,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

Corrigan started his career as a City Hall reporter for the Vista Press, and a year later became a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News. He worked his way up to city editor, helping shape the paper’s coverage of events including the videotaped police beating of Rodney King, the 1992 riots, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the O.J. Simpson trial.

In 1996, Corrigan decided to specialize in business news. He became managing editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal, and later moved to the Orange County Register, where he oversaw the daily business report.

For the past three years, he has been a preliminary judge for the Loeb Awards, and he is a former board member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Corrigan has a bachelor’s degree in communication and fine arts from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He earned a second bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal State Northridge. While in college, he obtained his private pilot’s license. Outside of work, Corrigan serves on the advisory board for LMU’s alumni magazine. He enjoys backpacking, playing guitar and spending time with his wife, Alison, and their three children, Kelly, Kevin and Katie.

LA. County Many saw a 3.1% increase in entertainment work in October

Employment in L.A.’s entertainment sector rebounded last month, with the number of film and TV jobs rising 3.1% over the year before.

Employment in L.A. County’s motion picture and sound recording category — which covers the bulk of employment in the local film, TV and music industries — rose to 118,400 jobs in October, an increase of 3,600 jobs from October 2012 and nearly 2% from September, according to state employment data.

The entertainment sector fared better than L.A. County’s economy as whole. Non-farm employment in L.A. rose 1.4% in October compared with October 2012, while the number of non-farm jobs in Sept. was up 1.2% from a year ago.

The figures, compiled by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., are subject to revision and do not count those who work as freelancers or independent contractors.

Nonetheless, they represent an improvement over September’s job picture, when L.A. County lost 1,000 jobs in the entertainment category compared with the same month in 2012, a decline of 0.9 %.

Studios including Walt Disney and DreamWorks Animation, as well post-production houses such as Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain, have laid off hundreds of workers this year in an effort to cut costs. Southern California also has been squeezed by the exodus of film and TV jobs to other states and countries.

Marlon Wayans is playing Richard Pryor

When it was announced that Marlon Wayans and not Eddie Murphy would be portraying Richard Pryor in the long-discussed biopic of the comedy giant, the news was greeted with Internet jeering. Wayans wasn’t surprised when he read the disparaging comments — you can’t hang your star on films like “White Chicks” and “Little Man” without consequences.

“Look, I want to be able to make the stupidest movies ever, because they make people laugh and they make money,” Wayans recently said with a smirk. “But that’s not all I want to do. And I think I’ve proven to some people — the ones paying attention — that I can do more. Everybody else, well, they can wait and see and make up their mind.”

Wayans believes he is on the verge of winning over skeptics and just maybe establishing a name for himself that goes beyond his status as “the other Wayans” — or maybe even “the other-other-Wayans.” The 37-year-old is the youngest of 10 children in the show-business brood that came to fame on “In Living Color,” the 1990s television show created and written by Keenen Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans. His position in the family photo has given Marlon Wayans plenty of opportunity — he and sibling Shawn got their own show, “The Wayans Brothers,” for four seasons on Fox beginning in 1995 — but also an ongoing challenge in establishing anything resembling an individual identity.

“I have no complaints,” Wayans said, “but I do have a plan. I love doing comedy, but I also love to do drama.”

When it comes to laughter and tragedy, it would be hard to think of a figure that bundles them together in more compelling fashion than the late Richard Pryor, a Peoria, Ill., native who grew up in his grandmother’s brothel, was expelled from school at age 14 and went on to become a firebrand force in pop culture as a stand-up comic, movie star, writer. When, in 1998, he became the first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he was described by Lawrence Wilker, the president of the Kennedy Center, as a signature voice in the national conversation: “He struck a chord, and a nerve, with America, forcing it to look at large social questions of race and the more tragicomic aspects of the human condition.”

The Murphy factor

The effort to bring Pryor’s story to the screen has been underway for a number of years and Jennifer Lee Pryor, the comedian’s widow, is part of the process. For many months, the conventional assumption was that Murphy would play the lead role. That’s not the case. Instead, Wayans arrived at lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant recently with the smile of a man who had a winning lottery ticket in his pocket.

“You need to be lucky in life, but it’s also what you do with your luck,” said the New York native, who still has sinewy arms from his role in last summer’s action movie “G.I. Joe.” “I’m ready.”

As of now, the defining image of Wayans in the public mind is likely a tiny con man impersonating an infant in the 2006 film “Little Man,” which was made with some unsettling CG-effects. There’s also 2004’s “White Chicks,” another gimmicky farce, where he played a black FBI agent in rubbery pale-face drag. The films were relentlessly crass and made a combined $215 million in worldwide box office. Many film critics, of course, were aghast, among them British writer Mark Kermode, who wrote, “There is no pit deep enough in the world to dispose of every single copy of this film. . . . ‘Little Man’ is bad for the world.”

That may well be true, but Wayans is trying to join a surging number of stars who specialize in coarse comedy and then pull their pants back up, step into a drama and ask the moviegoing world to quit laughing (But, seriously, folks. . .). Wayans doesn’t have to look far from his family history to see role models.

“In Living Color” alumnus Jim Carrey pretended to talk out of his butt (literally) in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” but then won critical acclaim playing Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon.” Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx have had similar successes, and Adam Sandler, producer of the Pryor film project, with films such as “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish” has aspired to be art-house as well as outhouse in his screen times.

For Wayans, “Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?” (which begins shooting in the fall) is the sound of opportunity. “This is like an invitation to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for me, and I’ve never been more excited in my life than when I got the role,” he said last week. “I want to be in dramas, I want to produce, I want to write and I want to prove I can handle a role such as this one.”

Don Engel died at the age of 84, an entertainment attorney representing a big pop star

Don Engel had only a small law firm in Los Angeles — just two or three attorneys in addition to him and his wife. But a phone call from Engel could strike fear among the loftiest executives in the music business.

Engel, who represented some of the biggest pop stars of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, was a fierce, tireless and some say overbearing fighter on behalf of clients who wanted to revise or cancel their recording contracts. Among his clients were hit makers Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer, Don Henley and the band Boston.

“He was a force,” said entertainment industry lawyer Russell Frackman, who went up against Engel several times in legal fights. “There are not many lawyers in this area, or any area, where just the fact that one man was involved would cause anxiety on the other side. He was fearless.”

Engel, who later in his career represented artists such as Luther Vandross, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and the Dixie Chicks in various battles, is credited with helping change the balance of power in the industry, giving more of it to artists.

“In many important ways, what we have come to call the artist rights movement in the U.S. started with Don Engel’s representation of artists against record companies who overreached,” said entertainment attorney Chris Castle. “Just knowing that Don Engel was a phone call away had a certain civilizing effect on our business. Whether they know it or not, both superstars and new artists alike benefit from his groundbreaking representation.”

Engel, 84, died Jan. 15 in a hospital in Redwood City, Calif. He had been battling leukemia for 17 years, said his wife, Judy.

The Engels had moved to Northern California so their physician son, Gregory, could oversee his father’s care. Until about two years ago, Don Engel was still representing clients.

Despite his pugnaciousness, many of the lawyers who did battle with Engel ended up not only admiring him, but also becoming good friends. “It was clear Don loved what he was doing,” Frackman said. “It’s one of the reasons he was so good at it.”

Friendship with Engel was probably not as popular among industry executives or judges who had to deal with him in court. “He would never back down in the face of any judge,” said attorney Mark Passin, who joined the Engel firm just out of law school. “There was one case where the judge told him to bring his toothbrush the next morning, implying that if he didn’t stop arguing a point, he would be found in contempt of court and go to jail.”

Engel didn’t make excuses for his work demeanor. “This is not a gentleman’s business,” he told the Los Angeles Daily Journal in 1985. “This is a cutthroat business where nobody gives you anything.”

Donald Engel was born Dec. 11, 1929, in the Bronx. He graduated from City College of New York and served as an intelligence officer in the Army during the Korean War. He enrolled in New York University’s law school upon his return.

He established a practice in New York focusing on the publishing industry before moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s and switching to show business law. He viewed the situation in his new home city with typical candor.

“We found the caliber of attorney in the entertainment business to be far below what we were used to,” he told the Daily Journal. “We don’t even want to be called entertainment attorneys, because most of their emphasis is on the entertainment rather than the attorney part.”

In L.A., Engel earned a reputation for using novel tactics to spring pop artists from their contracts. One of his arguments was derived from the so-called seven-year-statute in California law that states some contracts can’t be extended past seven years. It was used successfully in the 1944 court case that allowed actress Olivia de Havilland to break her contract with Warner Bros. Engel argued, successfully at times, that it should also apply to record contracts.

He was able to pave the way for Donna Summer to go from Casablanca Records to Geffen Records, Sammy Hagar from Capitol Records to Geffen, Teena Marie from Motown Records to CBS and Boston from CBS to MCA.

Engel’s business got a boost in the early 1990s when superstar contracts skyrocketed, including a $40-million deal for Janet Jackson and $65 million-plus for her brother Michael. Performers who wanted to keep up with the Jacksons called Engel.

“I’m swamped,” he said in a 1991 Los Angeles Times interview. “In the last couple of months, I’ve been retained by eight artists and entered discussions with about 10 others. What we’re talking about here is major artists trying to break contracts.”

The extra work probably didn’t much faze him — Engel was known widely as a workaholic. “If you sent Don a letter that was one page long,” Frackman said, “the next day you might get a five-page reply. Nothing got past him.”

The onset of leukemia eventually forced him to slow down. The music industry changed greatly from when he was most active, in large part because of the Internet. But Judy Engel said he would have embraced the digital challenges. “I told him,” she said, ‘”you would have really enjoyed this.'”

In addition to his wife and son Gregory, Engel is survived by another son, Stephen; daughters Jacqueline Leibsohn and Laura Engel; and seven grandchildren.

Sony’s head of entertainment David Bishop left in March 2014

David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures’ home entertainment division, is leaving the company in March when his contract expires, a Sony spokesman said on Wednesday.

A replacement has not been named for Bishop, who has led Sony Pictures Home Entertainment since 2006 during a turbulent time for the home video business as consumer habits changed.

“David played a tremendous role in building the home entertainment organization we have in place today: an innovative business that can compete aggressively in the evolving digital marketplace,” said Michael Lynton, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

This comes after a shakeup earlier this year in which Sony picked Dwight Caines as president of theatrical marketing for the company’s Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group. Caines assumed some responsibilities of Marc Weinstock, who was fired from his post as the studio’s head of domestic and international marketing. Longtime media relations executive Steve Elzer also left Sony this year.

The departures followed a poor box office showing from the film studio this summer. The Will Smith action movie “After Earth” made a disappointing $244 million in worldwide ticket sales, while the Channing Tatum film generated $205 million.

However, Sony has fared better with fall offerings such as  the animated sequel “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” and the Tom Hanks-starring “Captain Phillips.” “American Hustle” is performing well in limited release and expands this weekend.