Originally posted Wednesday, January 1, 2020 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The biggest show shot in Atlanta is now “Stranger Things,” which could also be an apt description of some of the stories that I wrote about 2019. (Sorry. I should have gotten this out earlier but life got in the way!)
Here are a few of the highlights - or lowlights - depending on your point of view.
Thanks Alyssa Milano! The “Charmed” actress, shooting the Netflix show “Insatiable” in Atlanta, was deeply offended by a “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill passed by the legislature in March, signed by the governor in May and ultimately stopped by the courts in the fall. In March, she decided to go public calling for a boycott and dozens of famous Hollywood types (e.g. Sarah Silverman, Don Cheadle, Gabrielle Union, Ben Stiller ) signed a petition to skip Georgia. Crew members and politicians in Georgia pushed for folks to “stay and fight” instead. Did the boycott hurt Georgia? New TV series dropped off but worldwide demand for film stages kept most of Georgia’s stages full through the end of the year.
A-List Heaven: Tyler Perry officially opened his Tyler Perry Studios in October, the largest in acreage of any studio in the United States. And he did his opening in a big way, inviting some of the biggest stars on earth, including Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Spike Lee and Will Smith. Atlanta luminaries such as John Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Andrew Young came as well to christen Atlanta’s self-made mogul, who is a mere 50 years old. His studio has since hosted a Democratic debate and the Miss Universe pageant.
Reverse racism? Paul Ossmann, a veteran meteorologist, was fired in April from CBS46 under murky circumstances. Ossmann in July blew open the doors of what happened when he sued the station for wrongful termination, citing reverse discrimination and a “hostile working environment.” One piece of evidence was Sharon Reed allegedly insulting him while exchanging notes with co-host Thomas Roberts that were found by someone at the station and leaked to FTVlive.com. CBS46 did something unusual: it publicly responded and cited unspecified Ossmann’s inappropriate behavior against several women. The two sides are now negotiating behind the scenes to resolve the situation.
Anchor shifts: Three of the four local news affiliates saw major anchor departures in 2019. Cynne Simpson left Fox 5 after six years to do humanitarian work. Craig Lucie said goodbye to Channel 2 Action News after eight years to start his own public relations firm. CBS46 said goodybe to controversial Sharon Reed after four years and former MSNBC host Thomas Roberts after just 14 months .
End of an era: AT&T’s WarnerMedia announced a major restructuring which effectively splintered what was Turner Broadcasting into three parts. And the name itself disappeared, taken off the Techwood building where it was seen from 75/85 in Midtown for decades. To make up for that, WarnerMedia in December re-named the campus after Ted Turner, had a mural commissioned in his image and brought him there to speak a few words. They also donated $550,000 to UGA in part for scholarships and an internship. Turner, now suffering from Lewy body dementia, kept it brief: “Never have I lived through something exactly like this. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Those of you who are with CNN now, carry it on. I’ll be watching! I miss it. I didn’t really leave because I wanted to. But anyway... here I am!”
CNN racism? Dewayne Walker had filed EEOC complaints and lawsuits for several years against his employer citing racial discrimination. He had applied for dozens of jobs but could not get above a certain managerial level, he said. He was unable to win any of his previous suits but then he filed another one in the spring. Walker alleged that one of his bosses in a CNN restroom threatened to kill him over his lawsuit. CNN placed Walker on leave with pay, then subsequently fired him, saying he lied. The discrimination lawsuit lives on.
“Stranger Things” revives Gwinnett Place Mall by going back in time: Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth is a ghost mall. Most of the space is empty. The owner is trying to unload it. It was a perfect place for “Stranger Things” to transform a portion of it into the fictional 1985-era Starcourt Mall for season three. The transformation was amazing for anyone who grew up during that time period, with stores such as Claire’s, Sam Goody, Wicks-n-Sticks and Chess King meticulously re-created. Unfortunately, efforts to keep the mall “alive” for tourism purposes fell through and Netflix quickly dismantled the set after season 3 debuted.
A stuntman’s fall equals $8.6 million: Stuntman John Bernecker had moved to Atlanta from New Orleans a few years ago because there was so much work here. He latched onto a raft of film and TV shows, including “The Walking Dead.” Unfortunately, he fell 20 feet from a balcony during a stunt leap on that popular AMC show and missed the padding, hitting the hard ground with his head and dying soon after. His parents filed a wrongful death suit. During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney said this was the first death of its type in the entertainment industry in 17 years and said “The Walking Dead” producers did not set up proper safeguards to prevent the accident. The defense countered that Bernecker made some unusual moves during the stunt that led to a death that was unforeseen. The jury right before Christmas gave the stuntman’s parents $8.6 million in civil damages but did not provide punitive damages or find AMC liable for negligence.
A touchdown for Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Although the Falcons were not in playoff form this year or last for that matter, at least Atlanta got to host a Super Bowl, courtesy of Arthur Blank’s new $1.5 billion stadium. It went off without a hitch though ratings were the lowest in a decade. About 100 million people watched a low-scoring match-up between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. The Maroon 5 half-time show? Blah reviews.
A billboard investment: Racquel Bailey, a New Jersey actress, invested $2,000 in two billboards near Tyler Perry Studios over the summer. She ultimately got cast in a recurring role on Perry’s BET show “Sistas” though Perry later said he was not a fan of the billboard and didn’t even know it was the billboard woman when she was cast. He warned others not to repeat her stunt.
Tulsa, Regina King and a classic comic: “Watchmen,” based on the classic comic, was the most intriguing TV show shot in metro Atlanta in 2019. “Lost” co-creator Damen Lindelof took elements of the original comic and added new race elements including the real Tulsa massacre in 1921. The current-day Tulsa is an alternative history where America won the Vietnam War, Robert Redford was president and a 1985 attack on New York City by a giant squid ended the Cold War. Regina King was the star of the show and the series received plenty of buzz. But it was a self contained season and Lindelof has not expressed much of a desire for a second season.
Streaming services keep on coming: The big three streaming services - Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu - chugged along but Disney+ made a huge splash. Apple Plus and BET Plus also arrived in a very crowded marketplace. In 2020, several more services are expected including HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock and Quibi. This free-for-all has been a boon for creative types with hundreds of new TV series, films, documentaries and reality series vying for eyeballs courtesy of voracious budgets of the big streamers. Georgia has been a beneficiary, home to several current and upcoming Netflix, HBO and Disney series.
“Avengers Endgame” breaks records: Marvel, which shot several of its films at Pinewood Studios during the 2010s, hit the pinnacle in 2019 with “Avengers Endgame.” The film - which killed off several of favorite Marvel characters - grossed $2.8 billion internationally and is by far the most popular film shot in Georgia since the current tax credit structure debuted in 2018.
Studio update: Speaking of Pinewood, the U.K.-based Pinewood Group sold its equity stake in Fayetteville’s sprawling Pinewood Atlanta Studios, one of the largest in the United States. This may mean a change in what shoots at Pinewood down the road once its name changes. The studio will now be owned 100 percent by River’s Rock, an independently managed trust of the Cathy family. Cathy also owns the popular Chick-fil-A fast-food operations.
“Richard Jewell” kerfuffle: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution came out swinging against what the paper saw was a false portrayal of former AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs in a Clint Eastwood film “Richard Jewell.” The film was meant to bolster the heroic security guard who saved lives during the 1996 Centennial Olympic bombing but was pilloried when the FBI targeted him as the potential bomber and the media reported it. The movie, shot in metro Atlanta, ended up fumbling at the box office, marking one of the worst-performing films directed in recent times by Eastwood. It was released December 13 and grossed less than $18 million by the end of the year against a $45 million budget.
WSB ownership change: On December 17, 2019, WSB-TV and other Cox TV stations nationwide were officially taken over by Apollo, a private equity firm. But Apollo won’t change the name of the parent company, keeping it Cox Media Group. Cox now owns a minority stake in the company. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution remains a fully-owned media property of Cox Enterprises.)
Reality competition round up, Atlanta edition:
- Famed Atlanta educator Ron Clark finished ninth on “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” season 38 this past spring while Macon broadcaster Rick Devens landed fourth. In season 39 which aired this fall, Atlanta native Missy Byrd finished 10th and was part of a controversial season which saw a contestant booted over inappropriate touching of crew and cast.
- Marietta singer-songwriter Alex Guthrie and Atlanta teen duo Hello Sunday both made it to the live shows on season 17 of “The Voice.”
- Georgia native Lauren Alaina landed fourth in this year’s edition of “Dancing With the Stars.”
- Three Georgians - Alan Dunn of John Creek ($120,802), Steven Grade of Atlanta ($115,501) and college champion Dhruv Gaur of Gainesville ($100,000) - made it to the “Jeopardy” Tournament of Champions. None landed in the finals, ultimately won by powerhouse James Holzhauer. Dunn lost to Holzhauer in the opening round while Grade was taken down in the semifinals. Gaur also lost during the semifinals but he caused ailing Alex Trebek to tear up by wishing him well instead of answering the Final Jeopardy question.
- Suwanee’s Angelica Hale finished in the top 12 on “America’s Got Talent: The Champions”
- Kandi Burruss came in fifth on “Celebrity Big Brother” on CBS.
- “Project Runway” season 18 on Bravo featured one local designer Asma Bibi who was eliminated in the first episode that aired December 5.
Reality show rap sheet round up, Atlanta edition:
Former Atlantans Todd and Julie Chrisley (”Chrisley Knows Best”) settled a $2.1 million tax evasion case with the Georgia department of revenue but a federal case with comparable charges remains pending.
“Mama June” Shannon and her boyfriend Geno Doak were arrested in May for crack cocaine possession. She is now estranged from many of her family members because of her involvement with Doak. She also sold her home in Hampton in the fall at a major loss.
The U.S. government in the fall filed a lawsuit seeking $1.8 million in unpaid taxes from syndicated judge show host Glenda Hatchett.
Tommy Lee, formerly of “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” landed in jail in March after she showed up drunk to a child abuse case.
“Real Housewives of Atlanta” big moments: Kenya Moore was edging toward a divorce with her arrogant husband and restaurateur Marc Daly... NeNe Leakes had estranged herself from all the other main cast members of the show but was gingerly trying to get her way back in... Porsha Williams separated from her fiance Dennis McKinley after she found out he had cheated on her while she was pregnant but they reconciled... Cynthia Bailey and Mike Hill got engaged... Kandi Burruss had a baby via surrogate... Eva Marcille had her third child...
“Say Yes to the Dress” injury: Lori Allen, owner of Bridals by Lori and host of “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” on TLC, slipped on a train during a shoot in April and fell flat on her face, a broken nose, two cracked ribs, two broken wrists, a concussion and two black eyes. She had surgery on both her nose and her right wrist. Let’s just say it was more than a pratfall. She is still recovering and the show must go on.
Other CBS46 controversies: Ella Dorsey of CBS46 angered some viewers who thought she was comparing a black man in a photo to two gorillas when in fact, she was referencing anchor Roberts, who is white. The controversy blew over... She also said she received death threats when she interrupted that Master’s with tornado watch coverage and defended herself on social media... Adam Murphy has been doing his restaurant report cards for years and for the first time, one of his photographers was assaulted by multiple employees at a Denny’s in Lithonia that has since closed. The video from May is pretty wild..
Other changes: Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton retired earlier this year after 33 years and lifestyle reporter Julie Smith left CBS46...
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