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Ava DuVernay and Winston Duke Sign Up for New Projects as Peak TV’s Deal-A-Day Pace Continues

HBO Max and Apple TV+ unveil additions to their original programming slates, while "Chernobyl's" Sister Pictures expands its reach.

Ava DuVernay poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening ceremony of the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France2018 Opening Ceremony Red Carpet, Cannes, France - 08 May 2018

Ava DuVernay

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

HBO Max is continuing to build out its television slate and has tapped Ava DuVernay to direct a pilot based on the “DMZ” comic series.

The original “DMZ” comic, which ran from 2005 to 2012, is set in a near-future Manhattan that has become a dangerous demilitarized zone during a second American civil war. The series touches on a handful of timely themes, including government corruption, foreign interventionism, and political divisiveness.

The Warner Bros. Television pilot will begin filming in early 2020. Robert Patino (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Westworld,”) who has an overall deal with Warner Bros. TV, will serve as showrunner and executive producer. DuVernay signed a multi-year deal with the production company last year.

DuVernay is one of several renowned Hollywood creatives who is working on projects for HBO Max. Other television powerhouses, including Kaley Cuoco (“The Big Bang Theory”), Greg Berlanti (“Riverdale”), and Melissa Rosenberg (“Jessica Jones”) recently signed overall deals with Warner, and their future projects are expected to help HBO Max stand out in the increasingly crowded streaming market. As for DuVernay, her limited series, Netflix’s “When They See Us,” was one of the year’s breakout shows and earned two Emmys.

Though the “DMZ” comic was published by DC Comics, it is unrelated to the superhero genre that the publisher is known for and tells a comparably grounded story. (That said, DuVernay’s superhero fans will get their cosmic fill elsewhere, as the Oscar-nominated filmmaker is also leading the DC superhero film “New Gods.”)

HBO Max has been revving its project announcements in the last few months in anticipation of its Spring 2020 launch, and is expected to share a variety of details about HBO Max and the service’s content slate at an event on the Warner Bros. Burbank lot October 29. Will we finally get a price tag and a release date? Stay tuned.

HBO Max wasn’t the only streaming service with news to share Tuesday: Apple announced that Winston Duke (“Black Panther,” “Us”) will star in “Swagger,” a basketball-themed drama that will air on Apple TV+. The series comes from NBA star Kevin Durant and Imagine’s Brian Grazer (“Empire”) and will explore the world of youth basketball from the perspective of players, their families, and coaches.

Winston Duke in “Black Panther”

Marvel

Duke will portray Ike, a youth basketball coach and former star player. The series’ executive producers include Grazer, Francie Calfo, Durant, Rich Kleiman, and Reggie Rock Bythewood. Bythewood will also write, direct, and serve as showrunner.

It’s surprising that Apple shared so much about the series, given that production is only beginning this month. Apple has been tight-lipped about sharing details about most of its upcoming projects, even the most anticipated. If “Swagger” starts a trend of Apple being slightly more open with its long-term television plans, that will likely sit well with investors and analysts, who have struggled to work with the limited information about Apple TV+.

Outside series announcements, Tuesday’s television news included the announcement that Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider, and Jane Featherstone would team to launch Sister, a global production and development company that will create television shows, films, and other entertainment.

Murdoch and Snider had long been rumored to team up on a new company, though Featherstone’s involvement was unexpected; her Sister Pictures created HBO’s “Chernobyl,” the winner of 10 Emmys in September, including Outstanding Limited Series. Snider previously served as chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by the Walt Disney Company.

All three women have equity stakes in the company and do not plan on taking outside financing. The lead investor is Murdoch, who made her career and fortune through working in her father’s various media companies. She told Variety that she used some of the of the money she earned from her family’s decision to sell most of its media empire to support Sister.

Sister did not announce any projects, but its leaders told Variety they expect to create 25 hours of television by the year’s end and another 32 hours of content in 2020. (Release dates and distribution are another story). Regardless, Featherstone said that a benefit of independent ownership means that the company will not rush to fill a specific content quota.

Sister is expected to be platform agnostic, and will not ink any first-look deals, which is unusual in a time when exclusive deals are  increasingly standard for the television industry. Though those deals are often quite lucrative, free agency could translate to distributors paying top dollar for rights — if Sister’s upcoming projects generate enough hype.

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