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Netflix Sets ‘Shadow and Bone’ Cast as the Hunt for New Franchises Continues

TV Business Roundup: Paramount Network sets new docuseries, Vice makes an acquisition, and HBO loses a legend.

Westworld Ben Barnes

Ben Barnes in “Westworld”

John P. Johnson/HBO

Netflix has revealed the cast of “Shadow and Bone,” an upcoming young adult series that will bulk up the streaming service’s fantasy library.

The eight-part series is adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” and “Six of Crows” fantasy novels. The plot will follow Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), a young orphaned woman who discovers a power that could help unite the world, which has been shrouded in darkness and ravaged by war and monsters. Ben Barnes (“Westworld,” “The Punisher”) will portray General Kirigan/the Darkling — the commander of a magical military elite who wishes to free his nation the darkness that covers the land.

Other cast members include Freddy Carter (“Pennyworth”), Sujaya Dasgupta (“Press”), Danielle Galligan (“Game of Thrones”), Daisy Head (“Harlots”), Archie Renaux (“Voyager”), Amita Suman (“Doctor Who”), and Kit Young (“Endeavour”). Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”), who wrote the screenplay for Netflix’s “Bird Box,” was previously announced as the series’ showrunner and executive producer.

If “Shadow and Bone” is well received, there should be plenty of material for future seasons or spinoffs. The “Shadow and Bone” novel is the first in a trilogy, and though “Six of Crows” is based in the same world, it is set in a different time and place and has its own sequel. The Netflix series’ release date is still under wraps.

Regardless, the streaming service’s “Shadow and Bone” adaptation should fit nicely with the rest of Netflix’s upcoming fantasy content, including “The Witcher,” which is expected to release near the end of the year. “The Witcher” is adapted from the acclaimed book series of the same name and all signs suggest that the series will feature the violence and dark themes that made the novels such a huge success.

Looking further ahead, Netflix also has a big money pact with “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. There’s no word on what kinds of projects the duo will create for Netflix, but given their history, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them work on another fantasy or mature, adult-oriented series. Regardless, it’s likely that “Shadow and Bone” will offer a lighter complement to the streaming service’s roster of gritty fantasy projects and help keep younger viewers engaged. Each franchise represents another chance for Netflix to develop the highly profitable intellectual property the streaming giant needs, especially as Disney+ comes calling with a wealth of in-demand properties.

Paramount Network’s “On Location”

Paramount Network also announced its first original digital series, “On Location.” Each episode, hosted by MTV News correspondent Josh Horowitz (“Junketeers”), will focus on interviews with filmmakers or actors on the filming locations of some of their most notable projects including Lance Reddick, M. Night Shyamalan, Kevin Smith, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Mann, and Robert Patrick.

The first 12-minute episode, which PN uploaded to YouTube early Wednesday, featured Reddick giving a tour of the Manhattan streets where he filmed the “John Wick” films. Future episodes will follow similar themes, such as Smith revisiting the New Jersey convenience store from “Clerks” and Shyamalan returning to the church from “The Sixth Sense.”

“On Location” looks to offer behind-the-scenes insights into some of the most notable franchises, past and present. Paramount played up the fact that the series is part of the company’s ongoing digital growth, and that claim isn’t just marketing spin.

The free series has strong star power, and fresh takes on popular franchises such as “John Wick” should give “On Location” plenty of marketing advantages. If the series enjoys high viewership numbers, expect similar projects in the months ahead.

Vice Acquires Refinery29

Vice, a media company largely focused on male-skewing news and culture, acquired women-focused digital media company Refinery29 for undisclosed terms. Vice has had a hand in television for years, and the Refinery29 acquisition could allow Vice to bulk up its television offerings. The Emmy-winning “Vice News Tonight” and “Vice” were dropped from HBO in June; those shows found new homes on the Viceland cable channel and Showtime, respectively.

The press release regarding the acquisition noted that Vice Media’s staff previously had an equal gender split, but would now be majority women. With Refinery29’s staff and overall focus, Vice could be better situated to create women-focused television content going forward.

Regardless, the consolidation of news publications is rarely cause for celebration in the journalism industry, as it often results in significant layoffs. Vice Media axed around 10 percent of its staff earlier in the year and later folded some of its verticals, such as gaming-oriented Waypoint, into the main Vice brand. The publication’s women-centric Broadly site was also folded into Vice, which caused some eyebrows to raise when the publication’s Refinery29 purchase was announced.

The End of an Era at HBO

Finally, HBO is witnessing the end of an era as Nancy Lesser, HBO’s longtime head of entertainment PR and talent relations, told staff on Wednesday that she is leaving the company.

It’s been a turbulent year for management at HBO and WarnerMedia’s other properties, due to AT&T’s acquisition of the company last year. Longtime HBO CEO Richard Plepler exited earlier in the year, as did Turner Broadcasting president David Levy. (Turner has essentially been dissolved due to the AT&T acquisition.) Quentin Schaffer, Lesser’s longtime boss and a 39-year HBO veteran, also resigned from the company earlier in the year, while David Levine, the former co-head of drama and executive vice president, left to join Anonymous Content.

Lesser did not say why she chose to leave HBO, but the announcement sent tremors throughout the entertainment and journalism industries. Lesser was a well-liked executive who was known for her deep institutional knowledge and approachability. The HBO staff (or staffers) who take up her responsibilities will have the biggest of shoes to fill.

Lesser closed her resignation letter with a quote from her friend, the late producer Jerry Weintraub: “This much I knew. As soon as you feel comfortable, that’s when it’s time to start over.”

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