Transformers Return, The Mist Creeps In, Logo Honors Trailblazers, Bellator Hits MSG, 17th BET Awards Air – All in a Spectacular Weekend for Viacom

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

This is an extraordinary week for Viacom, a showcase of our diverse properties and the incredible power of our brands, sprawled across theaters, televisions and event spaces all over the world.

On Wednesday, the fifth Transformers movie opened in theaters. Thursday brought Spike’s mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. Friday we celebrate Pride month with Logo’s Trailblazer Honors. Saturday is perhaps the marquee night in Bellator history, as the Spike-owned property drops into New York City’s Madison Square Garden. And Sunday takes us to the West Coast, where BET will broadcast their marquee BET Awards.

As Viacom refocuses under the leadership of CEO Bob Bakish, this rapid-fire concentration of noteworthy properties distills the impressive breadth and depth of Viacom’s multi-brand portfolio.

Here’s a day-by-day look at what’s already dropped and what’s to come over the weekend:

Wednesday, June 21 – Transformers: The Last Knight – Paramount Pictures

It is the fifth installment in the live-action Transformers spectaculars directed by Michael Bay, an intriguing collision of ancient epochs with the robot alien present, and a special effects masterpiece.

“…[I]f you’re not staggered by the technique on display here – the stuff that sets Bay’s work miles above the Fast & Furiouses, X-Men: Apocalypses and Tom Cruise-chasing Mummies of this world – you’re not paying attention,” writes The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin.

Here’s a preview of what he’s talking about:

Since the first Transformers movie hit theaters in 2007, the franchise has raked in nearly $4 billion for Paramount and redefined important elements of the movie industry. “Ever since the first movie in the robo-franchise was released into theaters a decade ago, the film industry has changed its approach to producing, releasing and reporting on movies,” writes The Street’s Buster Coen, noting that the films legitimized toy-to-cinema adaptations, stamped June as a month for movie blockbusters, and set the template for international distribution of American films.

Transformers: The Last Knight is in theaters around the world now. A Bumblebee spin-off is scheduled for release next summer.

Thursday, June 22 – The Mist Spike

With a cast of complex characters unified by their small-town setting, the deft use of suspense and drama, and some imaginative writing, Spike has transformed Stephen King’s 1980 novella about a sinister, monster-filled cloud descending upon a small Maine town into a 10-part serial that debuted last night.

And it’s really good, according to a platoon of critics who got an advanced look at the pilot. “Spike’s new series based on The Mist … wasn’t written by King, but it does the author proud ,” writes CNET’s Gael Fashingbauer Cooper.

The series was written, rather, by a team led by Denmark native Christian Torpe, who is a lifelong King fan and consulted with the author at the project’s outset. King simply told him, “Don’t do anything ordinary.”

Torpe appears to have succeeded, leaving even those familiar with King’s original work in suspense. “It’s hard to judge where this newer, looser adaptation might progress from just the first hour, but Torpe has said that, like King, he intends to explore the nature of fanaticism, and how fear so often compels people to seek out unlikely prophets,” writes The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert. “If so, The Mist could be a satisfyingly complex chiller, scaring viewers not just with unexpected jumps and amped-up creepy crawlies, but with the more human monsters who are all trapped together inside, waiting out the weather.”

The Mist premieres at a time of incredible momentum for Spike, which will evolve into the premium TV Paramount Network in January of next year. While the network is still determining an exact programming lineup, they have already announced Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner, a six-part documentary on Trayvon Martin produced in conjunction with The Weinstein Company, American Woman starring Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, a six-part Waco series documenting the 1993 stand-off at the Branch Dividian compound, and a television adaptation of the 1988 classic film Heathers.

Friday, June 23 – Logo Trailblazer Honors – Logo

The fourth installment of Logo’s marquee event follows last year’s emotional outpouring of defiant pride in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub massacre.

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5 Questions: Spike’s Jon Slusser Weighs in On Bellator MMA Coming to NYC

Get ready for the main event. For the first time, Bellator MMA is coming to New York City, where Spike will host its biggest fan spectacular yet, live from Madison Square Garden.

Jon Slusser, Viacom senior vice president for Sports and Specials at Spike, talks about what makes this event historic: from the title fights to the overall fan experience, and why, thanks to the dedication of the Spike team, Bellator continues to be a knockout success.

Hear what Slusser has to say about this fans-first extravaganza.

Created by Viacom Catalyst.

A Secret Language Written on Viacom’s Walls – Art at Viacom Continues with Marela Zacarias

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The colors ripple like some secret language across the objects’ surface, arrayed in geometric patterns as elegant as a circuit board and as mysterious as ancient hieroglyphics. They sit on a series of banners and bulging sculptures in the south lobby of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, dancing along the walls, each with a unique pattern of colors and lines.

Sculptures by Marela Zacarias hanging in Viacom’s lobby at 1515 Broadway as part of the latest Art at Viacom installation. Photos by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

The expansive and varied texture of the work reflects the deep cultural influences of their creator, Marela Zacarias, a Mexico, Montana and Brooklyn based artist who was the latest exhibitor for Art at Viacom, an ongoing program that showcases rising artists at our offices around the world.

Huffington Post contributor Isa Freeling wrote this about Zacarias’ exhibit in April: “Her show, Echoing Forms is impressive in its ability to sensually exact beautiful pieces by casting sheets of mesh into sensuous folded blankets, by using plaster and polymers and are so exquisitely executed and rich in texture and strength, it is a pleasure to look at the work.”

Zacarias’ installation follows a parade of Art at Viacom projects: the striking metallic oil paintings of Kip Omolade, the geometric wizardy of Tahiti Pehrson, the cartoonishy wondrous works of Australian duo Dabs Myla, the mammoth swirling tablecloth sculptures of Crystal Wagner, the multicolored yarn meadows of HOTTEA, and massive ceiling-dangling floral display from Rebecca Louise Law.

The tricycle was an existing work that Marela Zacarias incorporated into her Art at Viacom exhibit in Viacom’s Times Square headquarters lobby. Photo by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

Zacarias partnered with Viacom after high-profile installations at the Brooklyn Museum, Praxis Gallery, Brooklyn’s William Vale, and other places. She is constantly on the move. When I spoke to her over the phone the week after the exhibit opened, she was already down in Mexico City, preparing for a gallery show. Below is a condensed and lightly edited version of our conversation:

Stuart Winchester: How did you decide to use the banners, which are a departure from your typical work?

Marela Zacarias: There were challenges in terms of how much weight I could hang, and the sculptures are 135 pounds, so I couldn’t do my usual work, because there was nowhere to hang it from. And then I thought of the banners. I’ve been doing sculpture for about six years, and I really haven’t gone back to canvas for a while, so it felt really liberating to return, and I don’t know if I would have made that strategic choice if it wasn’t for the lobby’s structural situation. The technical problems led me to real artistic growth.

Hanging the banners at 1515 Broadway for Marela Zacarias’ Art at Viacom installation. Photo by Brooke Alexander/Studio Brooke

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Baywatch Hits the Big Screen with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Baywatch is sprinting back up the beach this spring to a Paramount feature film, led by Dwayne Johnson (Mitch Buchannon) and Zac Efron (Matt Brody), the all-business vet and the brash newcomer, whose brewing rivalry is subdued by a joint mission to save the bay from criminal scheming.

There are leaping jetskis, gun fights, and gun fights on leaping jetskis. There are daring rescues and dives from moving motorcycles into the water. There are drugs and dumped bodies and a ruthless ringleader at the head of it all. And there are the humor-laced moments of quirk and vanity that make Baywatch everything fans would expect it to be: Buchannon critiquing a sand-carved effigy of his physique, a drowning woman pummeling would-be rescuer Brody, a lifeguard tryout involving two refrigerators mounted to a carrying pole.

Johnson and Efron bring good company along on the ride: Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach and Ilfenesh Hadera. Baywatch, directed by Seth Gordon, hits theaters on May 26.

Snowed in? Don’t worry, summer is coming.🔥 #BeBaywatch #Blizzard2017 #SnowDay

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Scarlett Johansson Rocks a Futuristic Dinner Party in the First Five Minutes of Ghost in the Shell

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Ahead of the film’s wide release next week, Paramount aired the first five minutes of its highly anticipated Ghost in the Shell film adaptation in a Facebook Live stream earlier today. [Slide to 1:30 to begin watching the preview.]

This is our first extended look at Scarlett Johansson as cyber-enhanced asskicker Major, an impossibly fluid super soldier who leaps off skyscrapers and bursts through glass in a terrorist-levelling, guns blazing, ninjitsu-flipping onslaught heavy on violent efficiency and devoid of mercy.

It isn’t clear from this opening scene exactly who dispatched the machine gun-equipped gang that Major pulverizes, although the shadowy Hanka Robotics is mentioned by an expiring kabuki robot. What is clear is the stunning future setting, a towering urban techtopia of building-sized holograms and ubiquitous robots, where wired humans download the entire French language into their brains in a few beats of song and an entire building’s security network can be scanned in moments from a virtual headset.

But that world is a backdrop to the story of Major, a one-time human whose body was so damaged in an accident that it was replaced with her exoskeleton – or so she was told. “Who is the Major is a good question,” says Johansson in the clip below, “and this film is really about the journey of self-discovery for the character.”

The Rupert Sanders-directed film, which costars Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche and Michael Pitt, will open in theaters nationwide on March 31.

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Four Reasons Critics Love Comedy Central’s Detroiters

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom
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Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson have inherited a once-great Detroit ad agency on Comedy Central’s hilarious new series, Detroiters. Photo from Comedy Central Press.

They crash the steakhouse luncheons of high-flying auto executives. They know the local garbage truck drivers by name. They’ve devised elaborate rituals around bathroom breaks.

They are Detroiters, and they have landed at Comedy Central with a new half-hour show, bringing delighted reviews along with them.

Starring Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson – Richard Splett on Veep) and Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson – Saturday Night Live), both alumni of the famed Second City comedy club (watch them here), and native Detroiters themselves, the comedy delivers plenty to satisfy critics, fans, and native Michiganders:

1) It’s hilarious

The duo inherited a Detroit advertising business when Tim’s father “went insane.” Their office, bedecked in the drab and lightless décor of some long-ago era, has been emptied of most employees and all major clients, which once included such blue chips as Budweiser and Delta Air Lines.

Despite occasional zealous pursuits of big-name clients, they remain hapless and amusingly frustrated. It often feels as though Sam and Tim are a couple of amped-up teenagers left unsupervised while dad is off for a brief business meeting – in the first episode, the duo is sidetracked from an urgent deadline by an extended experiment to shatter the “unbreakable” glass panel beside Tim’s office door.

Such mishaps are unending. They run over a Chrysler executive on a way to pitch him. Sam is mistaken for a male prostitute – and rolls with it. A shoot promoting a mirror store is botched – because Sam and Tim are reflected in all of the shots. Their film school editor transforms a kitschy hot tub commercial into an art-house meditation on life and middle age and makes their client – Eddie Champagne, the hot tub king of Detroit – look like a creep.

That Sam and Tim remain so rambunctiously unselfconscious throughout these shenanigans, and that they keep trying to win business and remain friends, balances the absurdity with an endearing dimension. “The new Comedy Central series … is also an opportunity for Richardson and Robinson to dive into absurd situations and physical comedy with an admirable lack of inhibition,” writes Vulture’s Jen Chaney. “There is no ridiculous moment whose boundaries can’t be pushed that much further, into even more ridiculous territory.”

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NASDAQ Bell Ringing Launches VH1’s The Breaks, Nostalgic 1990s Hip-Hop Follow-Up to Hit Movie

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

VH1 rolled out its new series, The Breaks, recently with an adrenaline shot opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange and a ceremonial street renaming in front of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters. The events teed up the premiere of the hip-hop throwback series that followed and directly continued a VH1 movie of the same name that aired early last year, and ended up ranking as the number two cable movie of 2016.

The Breaks movie debuted last year to huge fanfare and really strong ratings, and so it became a no-brainer to take this fabulous movie to series,” said Amy Doyle, general manager of MTV, VH1 and Logo, flanked by the show’s cast and crew at NASDAQ’s opening bell podium. “The buzz on this show is palpable. Essence has deemed it, ‘VH1’s highly anticipated new series,’ and NPR is calling it – my favorite – ‘a hip-hop answer to Mad Men.’”

 

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VH1 executives and cast and crew of The Breaks gather at the NASDAQ stock exchange to ring the opening bell on Feb. 17, 2017. Photo by Christopher Galluzzo, Getty Images

Later that morning, this crew gathered again on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 44th Street in Manhattan to temporarily rename the street “The Breaks Way.”

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 17: Atmsphere at the VH1 street renaming "The Breaks Way" for the premiere- Monday, February 20th at 9PM ET/PT. on February 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for VH1)

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 17: Atmsphere at the VH1 street renaming “The Breaks Way” for the premiere- Monday, February 20th at 9PM ET/PT. on February 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for VH1)

The Breaks rumbles out of the unfiltered New York City of 1990, an ode to hip-hop’s gritty rise that is equal parts historical drama, nostalgia trip, and reminder that there was nothing predestined about the genre’s eventual rise.

A period piece set at a crucial juncture where rap had crept into the zeitgeist but still skirted the mainstream, the series immerses us within a crew of fictional stand-ins who shoulder the mighty task of recreating that frantic era: a wily and determined Nikki Jones (Afton Williamson), her boyfriend and radio station rookie David Aaron (David Call), aspiring producer DeeVee (Tristan “Mack” Wilds), hip-hop manager Barry Fouray (Wood Harris), and drug dealer-cum-rapper Ahm (Antoine Harris).

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Nick Jr.’s Nella the Princess Knight Captures the Zeitgeist of Diverse America

Not all super heroes wear capes—some wear sparkly ball gowns.

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Nella rides into town with a message of self-empowerment. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Nella, the titular character in Nick Jr.’s Nella the Princess Knight is shattering princess norms.

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This biracial princess knight slays gender norms. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Equal parts glam, girly-girl and brave warrior, Nella lives in a castle and gossips with her pet unicorn about fashion—yet she’s not afraid to get her pink gloves dirty when trouble arises.

Nella grabs her glittering sword and dons pastel armor, embarking on treacherous quests to save her kingdom.

Oh, and she’s biracial.

Since the show premiered earlier this month, Nella’s attracted legions of fans (besides Nick Jr.’s target audience of preschoolers).

Nella is a hero. Not just for the citizens of her fictional village, but for parents, journalists, television critics, African-American bloggers, college students, women’s studies professors, and child media advocacy groups.

According to People, “[Nella] stands for everything our world needs.”

Here’s why.

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The Best-Dressed Pineapple Under the Sea: SpongeBob Goes Gold With Six International Designers

Top fashion bloggers, designers, celebs and SpongeBob himself were in attendance at the SpongeBob Gold fashion collection launch party at London Fashion Week on Saturday Feb. 18.

To kick off a year-long SpongeBob Gold international campaign, Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products have collaborated with six international designers on an innovative fashion collection. Featuring designs from Peter Jensen, Bobby Abley, Salar, Maria Francesca Pepe, Suecomma Bonnie and Bad Denim, the SpongeBob Gold fashion collection includes clothing for men and women as well as footwear, accessories and jewelry. SpongeBob Gold will be available at retail exclusively outside of the U.S. beginning in May.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: A general view at Nickelodeon's SpongeBob Gold 18th Anniversary at LFW in collaboration with the LFW Design collective: Bobby Abley, Pete Jenson, Salar Milano, Maria Francesca Pepe, Suecomma Bonnie & Bad Denim on February 18, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEB. 18: A general view at Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Gold 18th Anniversary at LFW in collaboration with the LFW Design collective on Feb. 18, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

Designer Maria Francesca Pepe, who designed a range of charm-adorned SpongeBob jewelry, said of her involvement in the collection, “I’ve always felt the concept of pop defined the core of my creations. Developing an exclusive capsule collection of jewelry featuring the pop sensation SpongeBob felt such a match.”

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Former Paramount Intern Harnesses Lessons of the Lot on Way to Short Film Oscar Nomination

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Waiting for the Oscars

As a boy, Jean de Meuron would rise in the dead of the European night to cheer the Academy Award recipients ascending gilded stages on the far side of the Atlantic. He relished this annual celebration of a world he deeply admired: he was a student of Hollywood history, a fan of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, a dreamer gripped by the allure of the American entertainment industry.

So here he came, from Switzerland, in 2008, embedding himself in studies at the New York Film Academy, USC, UCLA and the New School; bunking down in internships at the Weinstein Company, MTV, Viacom International Media Networks and Paramount. He would go anywhere – New York City, Los Angeles, Mexico, Buenos Aires – as he produced student films and peppered executives with questions at every stop. He learned about marketing campaigns, about the importance of everything from color schemes to timing to creating effective trailers.

It was an immersive course in filmmaking and marketing, fueled by an unwavering vision of what his life ought to be. It was this resolute focus that led him to the 2012 Basel Gässli Film Festival in his native Switzerland, where he met a young director named Timo von Gunten, a preternatural talent whose work – the editing, framing, storytelling – echoed legendary Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And it was his partnership with von Gunten, as executive producer (along with Bela Böke) on the short film La Femme et le TGV, that last month opened up the Oscars in a way de Meuron’s boyhood self would not have believed: live, at the event, as a nominee.

Jean de Meuron (right) with La Femme et le TGV producer Giacun Caduff and director Timo von Gunten at a luncheon for Oscar nominees. Photo courtesy of Jean de Meuron.

Jean de Meuron (right) with La Femme et le TGV producer Giacun Caduff and director Timo von Gunten at a luncheon for Oscar nominees. Photo courtesy of Jean de Meuron.

It would be the culmination of a lifelong ambition, the highest professional acknowledgement in one of the most prominent creative industries in the world. But like an artisan crafting a beautiful piece of furniture, a filmmaker does not spring wholly into the existence with the knowledge of his art, but learns it through a long apprenticeship. For de Meuron, his time at Paramount would prove crucial to plan, produce, edit and promote La Femme et le TGV.

A rich, nostalgic world

It helps to understand, first, what they have made, for an Oscar nomination is reserved for those things that are exceptional.

La Femme et le TGV is set in an idyllic mountain landscape pancaked with cliff bands in the green and field-dotted wilderness outside the impossibly quaint town of Monbijou, Switzerland. At the center of this world is Elise Lafontaine (Jane Birkin), and hammering through it in a shimmering streak of steel and noise is the twice-daily TGV high-speed train. Every day for 32 years, at 6:18 a.m. and again at 7:13 p.m. Lafontaine has leaned, Swiss flag waving, from the window for these joyous passings.

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