Apple Music Goes Hollywood: Inside Jimmy Iovine’s Video Plans

Photo illustration: 731
The company wants to turn its music app into a one-stop shop for pop culture. 

by Lucas Shaw and Alex Webb was shopping a reality show to TV networks when he met Apple Music guru Jimmy Iovine on the office terrace where Iovine likes to do his biggest deals alfresco. The two go way back; Iovine signed the musician when he was running Interscope Records. The music legend loved’s idea, a Shark Tank-style competition for new apps, and before long he’d persuaded him and TV producer Ben Silverman to pitch it to Eddy Cue, who runs Apple Inc.’s services business and is the company’s conduit to Hollywood. bailed on a meeting with a TV network and headed for Cupertino, Calif., where he met Cue and soon after agreed to make the program for Apple Music, the tech giant’s two-year-old streaming service and an increasingly important part of the Apple universe. With iTunes sales in decline and streaming services such as Spotify on the rise, Apple wants to see if it can turn its music app into a one-stop shop for pop culture—and keep customers tethered to their iPhones.

“A music service needs to be more than a bunch of songs and a few playlists,” says Iovine, 64. “I’m trying to help Apple Music be an overall movement in popular culture, everything from unsigned bands to video. We have a lot of plans.” Apple Music’s foray into video programming could be a temporary dalliance, but if Iovine succeeds, the world’s wealthiest company could increase its investment, routinely competing for top projects. “We have the freedom, because it’s Apple, to make one show, three shows, see what works, see what doesn’t work until it feels good,” Iovine says.

In the coming months, Apple Music plans to start streaming Carpool Karaoke, a spinoff of James Corden’s popular celebrity singalong segment; one episode will see John Legend and Alicia Keys driving around and belting out their hits. Apple Music could release as many as 10 original series by the end of the year, including’s Planet of the Apps and several documentaries. Iovine won’t say what they are, but people familiar with the matter say two are about the legendary hip-hop labels Bad Boy Records and Cash Money Records while another is about music impresario Clive Davis. 

“For a music streaming service,” Iovine says, “we’re building a very decent slate.”

For the moment, he’s mostly focused on music-related video, including a possible sequel to R. Kelly’s rap opera Trapped in the Closet. Iovine has had talks with Warner Bros. Television and is developing another show loosely based on the life of his longtime business partner Dr. Dre. 

Eventually he plans to go beyond music and has discussed possible ideas with his friend Brian Grazer, producer of Empire and Genius, and director J.J. Abrams. “Apple Music is nowhere near complete in my head,” he says. The service, with more than 20 million subscribers, is the second most popular after Spotify, with more than 50 million premium members.

Sitting on a couch beneath a photo of John Lennon and a letter from rapper Tupac Shakur, Iovine says he’s determined to move deliberately. “We’re gonna grow slowly no matter what,” he says. “I don’t know how to do it fast.” He likens the approach to his founding of Interscope in 1989, which got some attention for Ecuadorean rapper and one-hit wonder Gerardo and went on to become one of the world’s most successful labels.

Iovine is right that turning Apple Music into a viewing destination will take time. Video production is slow and labor-intensive. “Making original content isn’t easy,” says Brian Blau, a Gartner Inc. analyst. “It’s as difficult as making any great piece of hardware.” Plus, getting people to watch video on a music streaming service will require a sustained marketing campaign.

When Apple introduces the next version of its smartphone software iOS later this year, the company plans to unveil a new edition of the Music app that better showcases video.

Like many tech companies, Apple long resisted getting into the content game, opting instead to sell other people’s music, TV shows, and movies and making money flogging hardware. Then Netflix Inc. and Inc. started producing award-winning television, and Silicon Valley smelled opportunity. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube is funding dozens of TV shows for a subscription service and has built production facilities around the world. Facebook Inc. is starting to fund original video series. 
Even Twitter Inc. is buying the rights to sporting events. The tech companies mostly see entertainment as a good way to sell other products, whether toilet paper on Amazon or ads on Google.

Apple was among the first to use content to sell hardware. Steve Jobs, a passionate music fan, sold 99¢ songs to popularize first the iPod, then the iPhone. Yet his initial bet that consumers wanted to own the music and video they paid for was wrong; turns out people are fine just streaming it. So in 2014, Apple paid $3 billion for Beats Electronics, the headphones-and-streaming service company co-founded by Iovine and Dr. Dre. The goal wasn’t just to become less reliant on the iPhone, which generates almost $2 of every $3 of the company’s profits, but to make customers even more dependent on Apple gadgetry. The combination of iTunes, Apple Music, and a new TV app makes it harder for people to trade an iPhone for a Google Pixel or an Apple TV for Amazon’s Fire TV.

Before selling Beats Music to Apple, Iovine spoke with Netflix. He’d seen firsthand how much it would cost for his music service to keep the lights on (let alone actually make money), and he would have had to raise money and dilute his share in the business. Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told Iovine the company wasn’t ready for music, but Iovine didn’t surrender his belief that music and video are now inextricably linked.

In recent years, several musicians, including BeyoncĂ© and Kendrick Lamar, have made movies, or “visual albums.” Apple recently made a short movie with the British singer Sampha and in 2015 released a tour documentary by Taylor Swift. Iovine employs 300 people from the entertainment business to satisfy every artist’s desire. That, he says, will be the service’s edge over its peers.

Spotify has commissioned at least a dozen series and hired a former TV executive to oversee its video business. Yet those shows have come and gone with little fanfare. The Spotify app doesn’t display video prominently. While company executives have said for more than a year that will change, nothing has happened yet. Apple won’t make that same mistake. “We’re going to market it like it’s a TV show,” Iovine says. “You’re going to know this is out.” Apple bought a TV spot for Carpool Karaoke during the Grammys. But plans to release the first program on April 24 have been postponed indefinitely because the show is still unfinished.

Iovine fidgets when he talks. As his mind wanders, he takes his jacket off, then puts it back on. He frequently clutches his legs, contorting himself into a ball. He’s a font of ideas with industry contacts to help execute every one of them. He turned to Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani for help picking the model for Beats headphones. He’s just returned from Apple designer Jony Ive’s birthday celebration in the U.K., which included a side trip to Venice for a Damien Hirst installation.

Some ideas get Iovine into trouble. He’s taken meetings with artists and made arrangements to release music without telling anyone in advance, frustrating colleagues. He’s persuaded artists to release music exclusively with Apple, frustrating record labels. But no one doubts his knack for bringing people together. He met Corden at a party at music manager Guy Oseary’s house. Iovine expressed his admiration and asked the late-night comedian to stay in touch.

Soon enough, Corden and producer Ben Winston were over at Iovine’s house for breakfast. Iovine expressed interest in working together even though Apple wasn’t making TV shows at the time. 

When Carpool Karaoke took off on YouTube—it’s been watched more than a billion times—Winston and Corden contemplated a spinoff. So CBS Corp. called Apple, and Winston called Jimmy.

“If I call LeBron James and I name five networks or cable channels or even different online platforms, I’m not convinced he agrees to sit in a car,” Winston says. “If you say you’re doing a new show for Apple, people get excited.”

ESPN will cut 100 on-air personalities today

 ESPN’s “First Take.” (

by Daniel Roberts  ESPN
ESPN will cut more than 100 employees today, Yahoo Finance has learned.

That number is much bigger than the 40-50 that was initially reported. ESPN aims to notify all of the people today, if it can do so.

It has been widely reported for weeks that big cuts are coming to ESPN—so widely reported, and dissected, and gossiped about, in fact, that ESPN moved up its schedule and is notifying people earlier than it originally planned.

The 100 people getting cut are all “on-air talent,” a label ESPN uses for TV personalities, radio hosts, and writers who regularly appear on TV and radio. (ESPN says it has 1,000 such people, prior to these cuts.)

In addition to those 100, a “limited number of other positions will also be affected,” according to a note sent to all employees on Wednesday morning from ESPN president John Skipper.

A source tells Yahoo Finance the number of non-talent getting cut is indeed a “very limited” number, but nonetheless, the number is on top of the 100 on-air talents.

In his companywide memo, posted publicly, Skipper frames the cuts around a shifting content strategy. ESPN’s content strategy, he writes, “still needs to go further, faster… and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week.”

The company also posted a public statement on its content strategy to its press page. The statement says that ESPN’s “content is evolving,” and that, “given how fans’ habits are changing, our focus continues to be providing high-quality, distinctive content at any minute of the day on any screen.”

As examples of success in its current strategy, the statement touts: the midnight SportsCenter hosted by Scott Van Pelt; the new 6pm SportsCenter (“The Six”) hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith; the ESPN app, with “increased personalization”; and “numerous examples this year of ESPN’s multi-screen approach around big events” such as the College Football Playoff Championship and fantasy football.

ESPN also says in the statement that in May it will relaunch “two of our biggest journalism brands,” the shows Outside the Lines and E:60, with a “larger presence digitally, socially and across all our screens.”

ESPN’s subscriber numbers have dropped steadily, weighing on parent company Disney, forcing a new round of cost-cutting. When Disney demands cuts, ESPN can make those cuts however it chooses.

ESPN had major layoffs in 2015, as it did two years before that, in 2013. Both times, it cut around 300 people. This time around, the network reportedly sought to cut tens of millions of dollars, and decided that ridding itself of big expensive contracts was the way to do it.

As ESPN’s content strategy evolves and it looks to reach consumers on platforms other than traditional cable, it expects more from its on-air people than ever before. A source at ESPN frames the cuts this way: “We are focusing on people that can be versatile and appear cross-platform. If you’re making X, are you justifying that salary? It’s all about versatility.” Translation: old-school veterans that appear only on TV, and don’t do much else, may be the ones in trouble.

Of course, the problems ESPN faces are not exclusive to ESPN. It’s not news to anyone that media is a struggling business these days—print, broadcast, and digital. But sports television is especially brutal right now: programming costs keep rising, while viewership is falling. Something has to give.

Spielberg waxes lyrical on the joy of movie theaters

Steven Spielberg cheered traditionalists with a spirited defense of the movie theater, after upsetting some last year with his backing of a new home streaming proposal (AFP Photo/Mike Coppola)
Steven Spielberg cheered traditionalists with a spirited defense of the movie theater, after upsetting some last year with his backing of a new home streaming proposal (AFP Photo/Mike Coppola)
Los Angeles (AFP) - He has ruffled feathers with his backing of home streaming as a model for watching features, but Steven Spielberg cheered traditionalists with a spirited defense of the movie theater.

The iconic "Jaws" and "E.T." director, who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from high school, fondly recounted his formative years in the industry as he launched a newly-refurbished multi-million dollar cinema at Universal Studios in southern California.

"This is an exciting place, just watching it develop into what it has become over these incredible years, this entire lot, this industry here at Universal, has made me very proud," said Spielberg, 70, at the opening of Universal Cinema, one of the world's most technologically advanced theaters.

"As a filmmaker, we create movies that invite movie-goers to enter other worlds, even if it's just for a couple of hours. In the best case scenario the movie-going experience and its venue are on a par with the movie that you came to enjoy."

The sentiment will encourage purists upset by Spielberg's backing last year of Screening Room, a new at-home streaming movie service proposal that set some of the industry's most influential filmmakers at loggerheads over the future of cinema.

The proposed service, which has yet to sign any exhibitors or distributors, would include a $150 set-top box that streams new movies in homes the same day they are released in theaters.

Each movie would cost $50 and be available to watch for 48 hours with Screening Room, which counts Sean Parker -- the Napster cofounder and first president of Facebook -- as a major investor.

While Peter Jackson, Ron Howard and J.J. Abrams were in favor, those believing the proposal would hit theater revenues included filmmakers James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, as well as producer Jon Landau.

Nolan told CinemaCon, the theater-owners' annual gathering in Las Vegas, in March that showing his movies on the big screen was his focus.

"The only platform I'm interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition," he said, moments after Warner Bros. worldwide marketing and distribution president Sue Kroll had argued the case for shortening the gap between theatrical releases and DVD and Blu-ray debuts.

While Spielberg believes there is room for both home and theatrical movie releases, he offered a nostalgic window into his own upbringing in the cinema industry of old Hollywood.

"Universal studios has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember my life," he said.

"I spent a good part of my youth on the back lot at Universal dreaming about someday maybe 
becoming a filmmaker. And then it happened, first in picture and eventually in motion picture."

Spielberg was joined by "Get Out" director Jordan Peele for the opening of Universal's multi-million dollar renovated AMC Theatre, the first multiplex in the United States to incorporate cutting-edge Christie laser projection, Christie Vive audio sound system and Dolby ATMOS surround sound with reclining seats.

Why China-Hollywood deals have come to a screeching halt

Going to the movies
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images

by Rebecca A. Fannin, special to
China investment into overseas transactions doubled last year to peak at $225 billion, according to data firm Dealogic, which tracks deals across real estate, tech, industry and Hollywood. Now Chinese acquisitions overseas have slowed to a small fraction of that former record, especially when it comes to Hollywood. At least one dozen cross-border, China-U.S. deals in the tech, media and entertainment space have dried up over the last six months, according to a studio executive with close ties to investment bankers and private equity dealmakers involved in these transactions.

Just take note of some of the high-profile deals that have been scrapped over the last year.

In March the $1 billion deal by Chinese real estate and entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group to acquire Dick Clark Productions, producer of the Golden Globes and American Music Awards, collapsed. Regulatory pressures, as well as payment issues from Wanda's side, were reportedly the cause, according to one principal involved in the deal.

Other China-to-Hollywood deals are in trouble or have been abandoned. A $1 billion, three-year deal by Chinese firms Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group with Paramount Pictures was intended to help the studio finance films and get released and marketed in China, but has stalled since former Paramount head Brad Grey was forced out, though Paramount has insisted in recent press reports it will still happen.

In a related entertainment and distribution deal that was meant to capitalize on the growing trend toward live streaming and internet distribution of content, a $2 billion agreement by Chinese tech and entertainment conglomerate LeEco to acquire LA-based TV maker Vizio is officially off due to "regulatory headwinds." The deal's collapse in early April was the result of tighter currency controls and a crackdown on China-U.S. deals, in addition to a cash crunch at LeEco, which has been facing financial difficulties and retrenching after rapid expansion into smartphones and electric vehicles, according to deal makers involved in the industry. The two companies will seek to collaborate on content and distribution now that the acquisition is off.

Meanwhile, the Middle Kingdom's moves into Hollywood have been facing scrutiny on Capitol Hill as concerns grow about too much influence and control on American content by China, a market that blocks social media services Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the Chinese internet. In the run-up to the presidential election, 17 lawmakers pushed for Wanda to be investigated for violations to the Foreign Agents Registration Act and require it to publicly disclose its relationship to the Chinese government. More recently, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has voiced concerns over Wanda's Hollywood dealmaking.

"Almost no Chinese buyers are coming to the table," says Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute in Washington, D.C., and president of DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group in Los Angeles and Beijing. "No Chinese entity wants to test this," he said, referring to the potential limits of regulatory scrutiny. Most of Chinese investment in U.S. assets has dried up in the final hours of negotiation," he said. Fenton helps organize congressional visits to China. This summer he has added a trip focused on the high-profile media and entertainment industry.

Behind the Sino-American skepticism

Issues have been brewing on both sides of the ocean over China-Hollywood deals. As China has turned to Hollywood as part of its outward reach and bid for soft power, such transactions have been ensnared by Chinese regulators. China policymakers have been closely examining transactions that cut across industry lines and command big price tags, while the Chinese government has tightened controls over capital outflows to shore up foreign currency reserves and gains in the yuan currency.

"The Chinese government crackdowns have made it extremely difficult to get money out," said Rob Cain, president of advisory firm Pacific Bridge Pictures, focused on United States and China entertainment markets.

Hollywood is also becoming more cautious about Chinese capital, Cain said, and also more cautious after earlier — arguably naive — infatuation. "There's a lot of skepticism now by Hollywood about these deals," he added, continuing, "On the U.S. side, there's very little sophistication about how to vet potential investors. You have to have dedicated teams and be on the ground in China. It takes a lot to learn the market."

Wanda had led the Hollywood empire building in 2015 by acquiring American film production house Legendary Entertainment, co-producers of "Jurassic World" and "Godzilla" in a deal for $3.5 billion in cash, adding to a U.S. portfolio that included theater-chain giant AMC Entertainment and a deal to finance films with Sony Pictures. China's tech titans Alibaba and Tencent have also been on the hunt in Hollywood for inroads into this glamorous and high-profile sector, just as these Chinese leaders have in Silicon Valley for the past few years for technical know-how.

In 2016, Tencent invested in movie studio start-up STX Entertainment, while Alibaba announced a minority stake in Hollywood director Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners to produce, distribute and finance films globally and in China. Alibaba chairman Jack Ma has said the e-commerce company will invest $7.2 billion over the next three years in Hollywood pictures.

"China absolutely wants to have its own home-grown film business," said Elizabeth Dell, a content producer at Two Camels Films and head of the China task force of the Producers Guild of America.

Collaboration may be the hottest ticket

The infatuation between China and Hollywood probably won't fade soon. As China's middle-class population has increased and second- and third-tier cities have seen dozens of new cinemas open, China's box-office revenues have soared. Annual revenues in China movie tickets have been growing by 35 percent each year since 2011, according to Chinese media and entertainment researcher EntGroup in Beijing. It's a frontier market that can't be ignored while U.S. movie ticket sales are relatively flat. China is on track to become the world's largest box-office market.

"There's definitely a slowdown in or pause on large deals, but the money is there for movie and TV show collaborations with Chinese companies." -Elizabeth Dell, head of the China task force of the Producers Guild of America
Moreover, Chinese companies are luring filmmakers to China to make movies. Wanda's billionaire chairman Wang Jianlin created a stir in Los Angeles last October by announcing a 40 percent subsidy for Hollywood to come to China to create films at its state-of-art movie production facility in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao. A number of companies agreed to shoot there, including Arclight Films and Lionsgate and China Media Capital-backed Infinity Pictures.

Hollywood has turned to co-productions with a China partner to avoid a quota system that limits big-budget imported feature films to 34 per year and limits foreign studios from keeping more than one-quarter of Chinese box-office revenues.

A recently released U.S.-China co-production — The Great Wall, by Universal Pictures, Wanda's Legendary and a LeEco film division — was looked at as a trendsetting deal. It was the most expensive feature ever shot in China, and it starred Matt Damon. But the film, which melded Chinese action sequences with Hollywood-style romances, did not go over well at the box office in China or the United States, and losses are expected to hit $75 million.

But film producers are still optimistic about Sino-American-made movies even as the outlook for large deals remains murky. "You have to make a distinction between capital for large-scale transactions and capital for productions. There's definitely a slowdown in or pause on large deals," says producer Dell, "but the money is there for movie and TV show collaborations with Chinese companies."
 — By Rebecca A. Fannin, special to

Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News career comes to a swift end amid growing sexual harassment claims

Bill O'Reilly, longtime host of Fox News's top-rated show, “The O'Reilly Factor,” will not return to the network. His departure comes after six women alleged he sexually harassed them. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Fox News on Wednesday ended its association with Bill O’Reilly, the combative TV host and commentator who has ruled cable-news ratings for nearly two decades and was the signature figure in the network’s rise as a powerful political player.

The conservative-leaning host’s downfall was swift and steep, set in motion less than three weeks ago by revelations of a string of sexual harassment complaints against him. The questions about his conduct represented yet another black eye to Fox, which had dealt with a sexual harassment scandal involving its co-founder and then-chairman Roger Ailes, just last summer.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox, the channel’s parent company, said in a statement Wednesday. The ousted host stood by his earlier denials of the allegations in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon.

“Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television,” he said. “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.

“But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

The host of “The O’Reilly Factor” got the news while awaiting a flight back to the U.S. from a vacation in Italy. His representatives said he was “resigned” to his demise, having monitored rapidly deteriorating negotiations over his exit over the past several days. O’Reilly wasn’t directly involved in the discussions with the family of Rupert Murdoch, which controls Fox and 21st Century Fox; his attorney, Fred Newman, conducted the talks.

In the end, Newman couldn’t save his client’s job. People close to O’Reilly said Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan, who head 21st Century, effectively decided O’Reilly’s fate with little outside discussion. O’Reilly’s contract--signed just last month--contains a clause that enables him to be dismissed under a fixed financial formula, averting protracted negotiations.

He still seemed to be at the peak of his popularity and prestige only three weeks ago. His 8 p.m. program, which mixes discussion segments with O’Reilly’s pugnacious commentary, drew an average of 4 million viewers each night during the first three months of the year, the most ever for a cable-news program. His popularity, in turn, helped drive Fox News to record ratings and profits. 
O’Reilly was also the co-author of two books that were at the top of the bestseller lists in April.

O’Reilly had previously survived several controversies during his 21 years at Fox, including a lurid sexual harassment case in 2004 that was fodder for New York’s tabloid newspapers. He also beat back a wave of headlines in 2015, when reporters examined his claims about his days as a young reporter and found them to be dubious. All the while, O’Reilly’s audience not only stuck with him, but continued to grow.

But this time, the intense media coverage surrounding O’Reilly led to a stampede of advertisers away from O’Reilly’s program, leaving it almost without sponsorship over the past two weeks. Various organizations, including the National Organization for Women, called for O’Reilly’s firing, and intermittent protests began outside Fox News’s headquarters in New York. Morale among employees at the network reportedly was suffering, too.

The Murdochs also had more than just O’Reilly’s TV career to consider: The O’Reilly controversy has been casting a shadow over 21st Century’s $14 billion bid to win the British government’s approval to buy Sky TV, the British satellite service. Leaving O’Reilly in place would likely have been a public-relations nightmare for James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons who head 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent.

The Murdoch family abandoned a 2011 offer for Sky amid another scandal, the phone-hacking conspiracy perpetrated by employees of the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid in London. A parliamentary panel later declared Rupert and James Murdoch to be “unfit” to run a public company — a description they hoped would not be revived by regulators with the O’Reilly matter hanging over them.

In the wake of the Ailes scandal last summer, the Murdoch brothers vowed to clean up a workplace environment that women at Fox had described as hostile under Ailes. In one of their few public statements on the matter, they said at the time, “We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.”

But those efforts have seemed unavailing, and at times have even seemed hypocritical. Since the Ailes scandal erupted, the company has continued to employ almost all of the senior managers who were in charge when Ailes was allegedly harassing employees, including Bill Shine, currently Fox’s co-president. Shine was accused of enabling Ailes’s retaliatory efforts against an accuser, Fox contributor Julie Roginsky, in a sexual-harrassment lawsuit Roginsky filed earlier this month.

In the end, even an endorsement from President Trump could not save O’Reilly: In an interview with Times reporters on April 5, Trump called O’Reilly “a good person” and said he should not have settled the complaints made against him. “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump said.

Fox said that Tucker Carlson, host of a discussion program now airing at 9 p.m., will take over O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. time slot. “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” in turn, will be replaced at 9 p.m. by Fox’s 5 p.m. show, “The Five,” starting on Monday. “The O’Reilly Factor” will continue for the remainder of the week, with guest hosts Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld. Martha MacCallum and Sean Hannity will remain in their current spots at 7 p.m and 10 p.m., respectively, and the 5 p.m. hour will be occupied by a new show, hosted by Eric Bolling, starting May 1.

O’Reilly hasn’t said what he intends to do next.

Wall Street analyst dreams up Apple-Disney mega-merger

Don Rickles, Comedy’s Equal Opportunity Offender, Dies at 90

Don Rickles, in 2007. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press

Don Rickles, the acidic stand-up comic who became world-famous not by telling jokes but by insulting his audience, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 90.

The cause was kidney failure, said a spokesman, Paul Shefrin.

For more than half a century, on nightclub stages, in concert halls and on television, Mr. Rickles made outrageously derisive comments about people’s looks, their ethnicity, their spouses, their sexual orientation, their jobs or anything else he could think of. He didn’t discriminate: His incendiary unpleasantries were aimed at the biggest stars in show business (Frank Sinatra was a favorite target) and at ordinary paying customers.

His rise to national prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s roughly coincided with the success of “All in the Family,” the groundbreaking situation comedy whose protagonist, Archie Bunker, was an outspoken bigot. Mr. Rickles’s humor was similarly transgressive. But he went further than Archie Bunker, and while Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie, was speaking words someone else had written — and was invariably the butt of the joke — Mr. Rickles, whose targets included his fellow Jews, never needed a script and was always in charge.

One night, on learning that some members of his audience were German, he said, “Forty million Jews in this country, and I got four Nazis sitting here in front waiting for the rally to start.” He said that America needed Italians “to keep the cops busy” and blacks “so we can have cotton in the drugstore,” and that “Asians are nice people, but they burn a lot of shirts.” He might ask a man in the audience, 

“Is that your wife?” and, when the man answered yes, respond: “Oh, well. Keep your chin up.”
As brutal as his remarks could be, they rarely left a mark. (“I’m not really a mean, vicious guy,” he told an interviewer in 2000.) Sidney Poitier was said to have once been offended by Mr. Rickles’s racial jokes. But in “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” a 2007 documentary directed by John Landis, Mr. Poitier sang Mr. Rickles’s praises.

Recalling the first time he saw Mr. Rickles perform, Mr. Poitier said: “He was explosive. He was impactful. He was funny. I mean, outrageously funny.”

Mr. Rickles got his first break, the story goes, when Sinatra and some of his friends came to see him perform in 1957 — in Hollywood, according to most sources, although Mr. Rickles said it was in Miami. “Make yourself at home, Frank,” Mr. Rickles said to Sinatra, whom he had never met. “Hit somebody.” Sinatra laughed so hard, he fell out of his seat.

Mr. Rickles was soon being championed by Sinatra, Dean Martin and the other members of the show business circle known as the Rat Pack. Steady work in Las Vegas followed. But he was hardly an overnight success: He spent a decade in the comedy trenches before he broke through to a national audience.

In 1965, he made the first of numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show,” treating Johnny Carson with his trademark disdain to the audience’s (and Carson’s) delight. He also became a regular on Dean Martin’s televised roasts, where no celebrity was safe from his onslaughts. (“What’s Bob Hope doing here? Is the war over?”)

Mr. Rickles’s wife, who he said “likes to lie in bed, signaling ships with her jewelry,” was not immune to his attacks. Neither was his mother, Etta, whom he referred to as “the Jewish Patton.” But off the stage, he didn’t hesitate to express his gratitude to his mother for unflaggingly believing in his talent, even when he himself wasn’t so sure.
Mr. Rickles performing in Niles, Ill., in 1975. Credit Don Levitt, via Everett Collection
“She had a tremendous drive,” he recalled in “Mr. Warmth.” “Drove me crazy. But she was like the driving force for me.”

He shared an apartment with his mother and did not marry until he was almost 40. After marrying Barbara Sklar in 1965, he saw to it that his mother had the apartment next door. His wife survives him, as do a daughter, Mindy Mann, and two grandchildren. Mr. Rickles’s son, Lawrence, died in 2011.

Donald Jay Rickles was born in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens on May 8, 1926, to Max Rickles, an insurance salesman, and the former Etta Feldman. During World War II, he honed his comedic skills while serving in the Navy. (“On the ship that I went over to the Philippines,” he told The New York Times in 2015, “out of 300 men I was the class comedian.”) After being discharged, he followed his father into the insurance business, but when he had trouble getting his customers to sign on the dotted line, decided to try acting.

He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, an experience that he later said gave him a greater sense of himself. But he found it difficult to get acting jobs and turned to stand-up comedy.

For a while, he pursued acting and comedy simultaneously. He did his stand-up act at Catskills resorts and in strip clubs, and his movie career got off to an auspicious start with a small part in the 1958 submarine drama “Run Silent, Run Deep,” starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. But the bulk of his film work in the 1960s was in low-budget beach movies: “Bikini Beach,” “Muscle Beach Party” and “Pajama Party,” all in 1964, and “Beach Blanket Bingo” in 1965.
Mr. Rickles and his mother, Etta, celebrating her 74th birthday in Las Vegas in 1975. Credit Associated Press
By that time, his comedy career had begun gathering momentum. Focusing less on prepared material and more on interaction with his audience, he had found his voice. He was not the first insult comedian — and in fact an earlier master of the comic insult, Jack E. Leonard, was known to complain that Mr. Rickles’s act was too similar to his — but he soon became far and away the most successful.

Bookings in the late 1950s at the Slate Brothers nightclub in Hollywood and the lounge of the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas spread the word. During his Slate Brothers engagement, Carl Reiner recalled in 

“Mr. Warmth,” the biggest names in show business felt that “if they hadn’t been insulted by Rickles, they weren’t with it.”

His appearances insulting celebrities on the Dean Martin roasts and his sparring matches with Carson cemented Mr. Rickles’s reputation, but his unscripted brand of humor proved an uneasy fit for weekly television. A variety show in 1968 and a situation comedy in 1972, both called “The Don Rickles Show,” were short-lived, as was “Daddy Dearest,” a 1993 sitcom in which he and the comedian Richard Lewis played father and son. The closest thing to a hit show he had was “CPO Sharkey,” a 

Navy comedy, which aired from 1976 to 1978.
Critics were often not sure what to make of Mr. Rickles. John J. O’Connor of The Times wrote in 1972 that for some his humor “will always remain tasteless,” while for others “it has its delicious moments of madness.” Tom Shales of The Washington Post, 26 years later, was more enthusiastic, praising him as “mythic, timeless, fearless — endowed by the gods with some absurd miraculous gift.”

No critic, however thoughtful, could quite explain Mr. Rickles’s durability in show business, given that until the end of his career he was peppering his act with slurs and stereotypes long out of favor. 

And yet he not only got away with it, but he also flourished.
From left, Mr. Rickles, Frank Sinatra and the host, Johnny Carson, on “The Tonight Show” in 1976. Credit Gene Arias/NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Images
His own theory was that he was being rewarded for saying things others wanted to say but couldn’t. “I’m the guy at the Christmas party,” he said more than once, “who makes fun of the boss on Friday night and still has his job on Monday morning.”

Although Mr. Rickles sometimes expressed regret that he did not have more of a career as an actor, he did enjoy unexpected cinematic success late in life. In 1995, Martin Scorsese cast him in “Casino,” with Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, and that same year he found a new audience as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the hugely successful animated feature “Toy Story,” a role he reprised in its sequels. “Toy Story 4” is scheduled for release in 2019, but it is not known whether Mr. Rickles had done any recording for it before his death. In 2011, he was the voice of a frog in the movie “Zookeeper” and played the long-lost husband of Betty White’s character on the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”

In 2007, Mr. Rickles published a loosely structured memoir, “Rickles’ Book,” and was the subject of Mr. Landis’s documentary, shown on HBO, which was built around a performance at the Stardust Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas shortly before it was torn down.

In 2014, he was the subject of an all-star tribute (inevitably, it turned out to be more like a roast) broadcast on the Spike cable channel. That show included appearances by David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Bob Newhart, whose soft-spoken style of comedy could not be further removed from Mr. Rickles’s, but who he often said was his closest friend in show business.

Health problems inevitably slowed Mr. Rickles down, but even after a leg infection in 2014 affected his ability to walk, he continued performing, making occasional concert and television appearances. In May 2015, he was one of the last guests on “Late Show With David Letterman.”

As recently as 2007, the year he turned 81, Mr. Rickles had been working, by his count, about 75 nights a year.

“The only way I would stop is if my health goes, God forbid, or the audience isn’t with me anymore,” he told The Times that year. “Besides, I got to keep going. My manager told me he has to put his kid through college. His kid is 10 years old.”