‘Everybody Hates Chris’ Animated Reboot, ‘Shtisel’ & ‘Panther Baby’ Adaptations In Works As CBS Studios Enters New Stage Post-Merger03/16/2021
EXCLUSIVE: Chris Rock’s beloved autobiographical family sitcom Everybody Hates Chris is coming back as an animated series, with Rock expected to return as the narrator. Global hit Israeli drama Shtisel is getting an American remake, written by Insatiable creator Lauren Gussis and directed by Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan. And Jamal Joseph’s gripping memoir Panther Baby is being adapted as a TV series with Gina Prince-Bythewood directing and The Queen’s Gambit‘s Scott Frank and Timberman/Beverly producing.
Everybody Hates Chris and Shtisel, which are being taken to the marketplace, and Panther Baby, which has been set up at Starz, are part of the development slate at CBS Studios, illustrating some of the areas of expansion for the studio: mining its deep library of IP, ramping up animation to complement its comedy slate of traditional sitcoms like The Neighborhood and premium “dramcoms” like Dead To Me, finding new buyers and becoming more global.
With more than 70 series in production, CBS Studios has the most watched series on all major networks/platforms within the former CBS Corp.: NCIS on CBS, Walker on the CW, Your Honor on Showtime and Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access. CBS Studios helped launch CBS All Access as its sole supplier. After the CBS-Viacom merger, CBS All Access became a part of a larger streaming platform Paramount+, which launched earlier this month with CBS Studios as one of its major suppliers alongside Paramount TV Studios, MTV Studios and Nickelodeon Studios.
“They are still an incredibly important outlet for us, and we intend to be the biggest supplier for them,” said CBS Studios president David Stapf, who spoke with Deadline alongside EVP Drama Development Bryan Seabury and EVP Comedy Development Kate Adler.
Paramount+ will be in contention for the two high-profile projects CBS Studios is about to take out.
Shtisel, written by Gussis based on the Netflix-distributed Israeli series and to be directed by Lonergan, is a modern Romeo and Juliet tale of impossible love. The young female lead — the privileged daughter of a Hollywood power couple — seems to be the girl who has everything. But when she meets a twentysomething Hassidic young man to whom she is powerfully drawn… the pull is so strong that she is willing to uproot her entire life to be with him. Fremantle is the co-studio.
Lonergan was at the top of CBS Studios’ wish list of directors but Seabury admits nobody really believed he would do it as Lonergan so far has only directed features that he has written. But the Manchester By the Sea filmmaker sparked to the material and, after multiple conversations with Gussis and calls with several Rabbis, he came on board. Shtisel would mark his TV directing debut.
Push Into Animation
The animated take on the 2005 coming-of-age comedy Everybody Hates Chris, created by Chris Rock and Ali LeRoi based on Rock’s teen years, would add to CBS’ growing portfolio of animated content, which started as an extension to existing live-action franchises Star Trek (with Star Trek: Lower Decks and the upcoming Star Trek: Prodigy for Paramount+/Nickelodeon) and The Late Show (with Our Cartoon President for Showtime and Stephen Colbert’s Tooning Out the News for Paramount+).
“We dipped our toe into it as a way to expand the Star Trek franchise but then quickly saw with Alec Botnick, who works with Kate as our head of animation, hey, wait a minute, this is a game we can play in, it doesn’t have to just be to fill a piece of the pie that Star Trek had never been in before. We can do it elsewhere, and there’s a demand for it, not only at Paramount+ and in the streaming world but everywhere, so we’re learning as we go,” Stapf said. The studio’s first non-franchise original animated series is the upcoming The Harper House for Paramount+.
In one case, going animated was driven by necessity. “With No Activity, we wanted a fourth season of that show and for logistical reasons and actor availability issues, we were in a bit of a pickle, and the solution ended up being that that live-action series became an animated series which I’m not sure has happened before, but we were pretty delighted with that fix,” Adler said. The studio is now doing the same with Everybody Hates Chris, executive produced by Rock, LeRoi and Michael Rotenberg. Having a company like Nickelodeon in the fold after the merger with Viacom is expected to help support the growth of CBS Studios’ animation operation by providing production capabilities.
Scaling corporate walls to sell to outside streamers
With shows like Panther Baby at Starz, CBS Studios is looking to expand its reach on non-VaicomCBS streaming/cable networks.
Created by Joseph based on his memoir and to be directed by Prince-Bythewood, Panther Baby tells the coming-of-age story of a young, sheltered, Black boy who gets thrust into the Black Panther Movement where he finds his identity, cause and manhood in late 1960s Harlem. Frank, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly and Reggie Bythewood executive produce.
CBS Studios has Dead to Me on Netflix, Diary of a Female President as the only Disney+ scripted series from an outside studio, Langdon at Peacock, Carpool Karaoke on Apple (sold pre-Apple TV+) and The Second Wave (tentative title) on Spectrum. The studio also has development at HBO Max including high-profile anthology series Outliers.
There has been a lot of talk about corporate walls going up, especially at Disney, where the company’s streamers have been reluctant to buy from non-affiliated studios.
No matter what, “we are going to continue to hustle,” Stapf said. “I think if you have something that’s undeniable for a streamer, even if the walls are up, you can break through or you can get over the wall, or whatever metaphor you want to use.”
Stapf said that the studio took the Gina Rodriguez-produced Diary of a Female President to Disney+ with zero expectations just because it felt like the perfect home for it.
“We’re going to work really hard to supply CBS and CW and Paramount+ and Showtime, and even our linear cable channels — they’re super, super important — but what usually is going to trump all is where is it going to thrive, where is it going to be the best,” he said. He also pointed to Dead to Me, which has done well on Netflix, as an example. “Dead to Me would have been a hit wherever it played in my opinion, but that place at the time was the right home for it,” he said.
Projects also find new life. Most Dangerous Game was originally sold to NBC as a drama series. It didn’t go forward there, and Seabury’s team re-envisioned it as a series for Quibi, which cast Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz and landed multiple Emmy nominations for its first season. Following the demise of Quibi, Most Dangerous Game moved to Roku, and Stapf hinted that “the show will continue.”
More Reboots? And Frasier Revival Cast Update
CBS Studios has been at the forefront of the current wave of reboots with Hawaii Five-0, followed by MacGyver and Magnum P.I., all on CBS, and Star Trek on CBS All Access/Paramount+. (It is a co-producing partner on CBS’ The Equalizer reboot as well as the Criminal Minds revival for Paramount+.)
One of the biggest programming announcements at the Paramount+ unveiling last month was the confirmation that a marquee comedy from the CBS Studios library, Frasier, is coming back for a revival headlined by Kelsey Grammer. A 4400 reboot was recently ordered to series at the CW. The Game revival is nearing a series order at Paramount+. And there is a CSI revival, CSI: Vegas, nearing a series greenlight at CBS, and an NCIS spinoff in the works at CBS. (The studio is a co-producer on the FBI franchise, which also are prepping a spinoff.)
With a packed revival/reboot slate and a frenzy at legacy streamers with shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl at HBO Max, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. at Disney+, Stapf said that CBS Studios does not plan to be doing that many offshoots going forward.
“You’ve got to get it right before you can start thinking about an additional one and re-invigorating your fan base,” he said. “But, you look at a show like NCIS, which is the No. 1 show in its 18th season, there’s definitely an appetite there for it. So, hopefully this new one that we’re still birthing, hoping to be ordered, can reinvigorate the entire franchise.”
He and his team are high on the proposed new NCIS and CSI installments. “We don’t want to jinx this but they’re the real deal,” he said.
On Frasier, Stapf confirmed that “everybody (from the original cast) has been reached out to and we hope to be a part of it. It’s still early days and everybody’s got crazy schedules so we’re trying to put that jigsaw puzzle together.” As Deadline has reported, Frasier is not expected to start production before early 2022, after Grammer finishes his new ABC series with Alec Baldwin and David Hyde Pierce wraps his new HBO Max series Julia.
There has been no information about the premise of the sequel series.
“I hate to spoil what the show is about because I think it’s a fun twist on [the original],” Stapf said. “When Kelsey first came to us years ago wanting to reboot this our first question was why? Why now, what do you have, what’s it about? And I think they have come upon something that is, not to sound trite, but that is about something and that does have something to say. We’re really, really excited about it but hesitant to reveal the spoiler.”
Star Trek universe expansion continues
The Star Trek universe, overseen by Alex Kurtzman, will continue to grow “but in a smart, strategic way,” Stapf said. Years ago, when the franchise consisted of only one series on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery, Stapf laid out to Deadline his idea to have an original Star Trek series on the platform at any time year-round.
“We’re at that point right now,” Stapf said. “So you have to measure how much Trek is too much Trek and you certainly don’t want churn. It’s a very loyal audience, and you don’t want them going away, but I think that the thing that we’re doing well — as Marvel is doing it well and Disney is doing it well with Star Wars– is, you’re serving different audiences with the various Treks that we’ve come out with. It was very intentional that Discovery and then Picard took two very different versions of Star Trek, and then you have Lower Decks which is adult animation, and then you have kids animation with Star Trek: Prodigy, and then you have Strange New Worlds which is somewhere between Picard and Discovery in this sort of vintage Kirk/Spock Trek. So, we are expanding it but we’re hoping to expand it in a way where we’re bringing in new subscribers and finding new audiences that those shows are going to resonate.”
The expansion process has picked up speed. “From a development perspective with the Trek franchise maturing, it does enable the studio and Paramount+ to develop multiple Treks at all times,” Seabury said. He confirmed that there are multiple Star Trek ideas currently in development, quickly adding that “development can mean so much you know, that it an be an idea that Alex has, it can be a more fully-formed pitch, all of it is on the table and continues to be, which is great.”
With CBS Studios and Paramount Pictures now under the same roof post-merger, will Star Trek build an Integrated feature-TV universe the way Disney has been doing with Marvel and Star Wars?
“It’s too soon to answer that question, to be honest,” Stapf said. “Right now we’re running on parallel but separate tracks. We have our hands full with the amount of Trek that we have and we’re happy staying in our lane right now.”
Changing the culture and increasing diversity and inclusion
As part of the Hollywood reckoning, which started several years ago, multiple divisions of CBS had to confront cultural issues. That included CBS Studios, which investigated and let go of a couple of high-profile showrunners over misconduct allegations. How have things changed?
“I think that’s a fair question. I think we’ve been doing the work to make sure that all of our shows are safe and a nurturing environment that sponsors creativity and inclusion and civil discourse, and we are vigilant in making sure that they all are that way,” Stapf said. “A lot of that is making sure that everybody is exposed to training and understands the environment that is best conducive to everybody doing their best work. I do think we’ve made strides in that, and I think by and large it’s a happy place.”
Increasing diversity and inclusion has been a big priority for George Cheeks since he joined as President and CEO of the CBS Entertainment Group thirteen months ago. Last summer, CBS Studios entered a partnership with NAACP to develop and produce scripted, unscripted and documentary content for linear television networks and streaming platforms aimed at amplifying the visibility and impact of Black artists.
“Not that we were out of step before but we probably didn’t have as many people that were creating shows for us, running shows for us, staffing on shows for us that were as inclusive and as broad as they should have been so Kate, Bryan, I and others have made a really, really strong effort to build our roster with new and different voices to broaden that,” Stapf said. “And it wasn’t to check a box, it was really, this is the smart way to do it. The NAACP deal is just one of many that we have made and will be making in the future, and it just makes sense. And what’s nice, speaking specifically about the NAACP deal, it isn’t just to make shows about people of color. They’re making everything but it’s opening our arms to different points of view, different voices, different writers, different creators, different pods that we hadn’t dealt with in the past.”
NAACP “have been a huge talent magnet,” Adler added. “They’ve attracted writers who we normally may not get our hands on.”
No projects stemming from that partnership have been taken out yet but a lot are in the works, Stapf said.
The Cheeks-spearheaded diversity initiatives also include making the writers rooms of all CBS series at least 40% Black, Indigenous and people of color by next season, 2021-22, and at least 50% by the 2022-23 season. As the main CBS supplier, CBS Studios will hit these goals, and is doing it on all shows, not just those for CBS, Stapf said.
“We are doing it across the board and we are on track,” he said. “There’s always going to be a show here or there where you’re not but we’re making really good headway. And we’re working harder to find those voices, those writers. They exist, it’s on us to create the space for them to flourish.”
Evolving broadcast development model & converging streaming and broadcast content
The decades-old broadcast development cycle was shaken up by the pandemic, with the 2020 pilot season obliterated as the networks adopting a straight-to-series strategy in a bigger way than every before. Will the changes be permanent?
“If a certain segment of their shows need to be straight to series, I want to react to that and I want to be the studio getting the straight-to-series orders,” Seabury said. “And if I need to think about, in terms of budget and pattern — and not that those aren’t things that we thought about in the past — but I do I want to make sure, since we develop a lot of shows for these broadcast networks, especially our in-house ones, so your development isn’t ever just one thing, I want to make sure that I have my bases covered on any number of fronts that they’re going to have to embrace because the market’s changing, so we just have to be nimble and change with it.”
Added Adler, “And show budgets are changing as well.”
With suppressed license fees amid overall ratings erosion and increasing budgets amid rising talent costs, broadcast remains a good business that can make money for a studio, Stapf said.
“Is it getting harder? Sure, with the international market where it is and the domestic market where it is. Yet it still can be a good business, we just have to be smart about how we’re building the show and not pricing yourself out of well, this show’s never going to make money so why are we doing it? You have to create an environment or a system on the show by which the possibility to make money is within your sights.”
Networks these days require in-season stacking rights to their shows, which makes it harder for outside studios to monetize a series’ library on streaming. Yet, CBS Studios continues to sell to broadcast other than corporate siblings CBS and the CW. The studio has comedy The Moodys at Fox, drama Langdon, which was developed at piloted at NBC before recently moving to Peacock with a series order, and did comedy pilot Bossy at ABC.
CBS Studios will continue to sell to all broadcast networks “as long as it makes financial sense and it’s the right property,” Stapf said. “We’re not just looking to do shows everywhere so we can say they’re everywhere, we want them to thrive and stay on the air and make money, so if there isn’t an avenue for that, then there is no reason to get up there, but in the case of Moodys at Fox and now Langdon, it works. We were going to do Langdon for NBC, we’re delighted to be on Peacock.”
Starting off as a broadcast studio for decades before branching out into cable and streaming, CBS Studios has seen what makes a CBS and CW series — and a broadcast series in general — evolve.
“At least in comedy, we’re seeing a little bit of a merge between streamers wanting more network fare and the networks wanting edgier, more sophisticated streaming-like stuff, so for us it’s really interesting. I think everyone wants what the other has a little bit,” Adler said.
Added Seabury, “Yes, we’ve seen it at CBS, we’ve seen it at CW — more sophisticated fare, things that may have been reserved for 10 p.m. in the past or in different time slots. They want it across the board, they get the storytelling, they feel like the audience will embrace it. I think Clarice is a great example. Evil is a fantastic example, those shows are just embraced by the network and put on. The development experiences were great, they were never given the kind of bad note to dumb anything down. Those are true, true character explorations that I would put up against a lot of cable stuff out there, having nothing to disparaging against the cable thing, just everything about what’s positive about those two shows.”
Added Adler, “I think when you say sophistication, by the way, it’s much more interesting characters. It’s not black and white, and I mean that in terms of good/evil, to me the most interesting shows are exploring the gray in-between which I think is very positive and much more realistic.”
Said Seabury, “And writers are aware of that, it works for us incredibly well. We are trying to recruit writers and producers who want to do everything, and that’s a big part of what we try to do, what kinds of writers and producers out there can create shows that serve our large appetite. If it’s CBS not wanting to explore character and they have to find a way to do that show, that’s just not going to work but when CBS is putting on dramas like Clarice and Evil it makes my job way easier with convincing people to come over and work with us and develop for Paramount+, Showtime, CBS and all the outside place. It’s been a great calling card.”
Those shows also have become a source of new talent for the studio’s overall deal roster, including recent overall pacts with Davita Scarlett and Aurin Squire, who work on Robert and Michelle King’s Evil and The Good Fight, and Diary of a Female President creator Ilana Peña.
Will CBS Studios make a play for mega showrunners from rival studios when they become available?
Stapf stressed that the studio’s priority is “to hang onto the superstars that we have and to create environments where they can thrive,” listing such prolific CBS Studios-based creators/producers as Robert and Michelle King, Alex Kurtzman and Jennie Snyder Urman, as well as growing the next generation of showrunners who can shepherd multiple successful series with rising stars like Jenny Lumet and Anna Fricke.
CBS Studios has been making an investment in international local production, developing and producing new series in Germany, Israel and the Netherlands.
“We’re growing that business. It takes a long time,” Stapf said. “Meghan Lyvers has been over there for a few years now, surveying the landscape, getting to know all of the buyers, all of the ways in which you can put shows together, and most importantly getting to know the talent pool. So we’re on the precipice of some really, really exciting stuff, she’s got a lot of really good stuff in development.”
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