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Monday, March 5, 2012

Gossip Girl with Chinese Actors. Zynga launchs new social platform. Ouija back on but at far lower budget.

China is getting its own version of Gossip Girl
Photo: The CW's "Gossip Girl." Credit: Giovanni Rufino/CW. 

From the LA Times Company Town blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

China is about to get gossipy. Warner Bros.' international television unit is teaming up with two Chinese production companies to create a Chinese teen drama series inspired by "Gossip Girl," which airs in the United States on the CW Network. "Gossip Girl," about a group of wealthy back-stabbing Manhattanites, has been a cult hit for the cable channel for the last five years and launched the careers of actresses Blake Lively and Leighton Meester.

Tentatively called "China Girl," the show will be in Mandarin and launch in November on satellite television, with "Gossip Girl" creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage consulting.

Selling reruns of American movies and television shows to Chinese media outlets is commonplace, however creating new versions of American TV series -- particularly comedies and dramas -- is more unusual. There is a Chinese version of "Ugly Betty," which originated in Colombia and later became a hit on ABC here. Typically though, game shows and reality shows from the U.S. are more likely to be remade for China.

"This is a big event," said Martin Pompadur, a partner of Metan Development Group, a consulting firm that is working with Warner Bros. on the new series. Mei Tian Mei Yu, a Chinese sister company of Metan, is one of the producers of "China Girl," as is Chinese-based H&R Century TV.

"Gossip Girl" is a fairly racy show that doesn't shy away from sexual content. One episode famously saw three characters share the same bed. The Chinese government often has a heavy hand when it comes to content and scripts.

The scripts for "China Girl" had to be approved in advance by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television before production could start.

Among the changes, according to Pompadur, is that unlike the American series that originally focused on high school kids, the characters in the Chinese version will already be in college. The initial production order is for 30 episodes.

For Warner Bros., producing a version of "Gossip Girl" for China is part of its push to boost its production output around the globe. The studio produces versions of its U.S. shows -- including the popular reality series "The Bachelor" -- around the globe as well as licenses the formats to its programs to other producers.

OuijaPhoto: Hasbro's Ouija game. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Ouija back a Universal, but this time with low budget and no whistles and bells. Seven months after dropping a movie project based on the board game "Ouija" over concerns about its proposed budget of about $150 million, Universal Pictures is again planning to make the picture -- but at a much reduced cost.

The studio on Monday announced it was going to target the film for release in 2013, but did not say when it planned to begin production. People familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly said the new "Ouija," which will be produced by Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity") and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, is expected to be made for less than $10 million.

Last August, Universal executives passed on the previous version of "Ouija," which was to be directed by McG and also produced by Bay. The studio was concerned that a supernatural horror movie with such a big budget would struggle to turn a profit.

At the time, Ouija maker Hasbro, which produces films based on its toys and games, planned to pitch the project as developed by McG to other studios. That effort was apparently unsuccessful, resulting in "Ouija" being reconceived by Universal with a much lower budget. The studio plans to hire a new director as well.

In 2008, Universal signed a much-ballyhooed deal to make at least four films based on seven Hasbro game properties. That agreement was later scrapped and, prior to the news about "Ouija," only one other Hasbro movie remained at the studio: the big-budget navel warfare and alien invasion picture "Battleship," which hits theaters in May.

Blum signed a deal last year to produce low-budget movies for Universal. His first, "Vigiliandia," was produced with Bay's Platinum Dunes and recently wrapped shooting. A second film, directed by Joe Johnston ("The Wolfman," "Jurassic Park III"), begins production this week, and a third, to be produced with former Universal executive Marc Platt, goes in front of the cameras in April.

Zynga.com_Profile Page
Screenshot of a sample profile page courtesy of Zynga Inc.

Zynga launches its own social gaming platform. Seeking to expand its footprint beyond Facebook, social gaming juggernaut Zynga Inc. on Thursday unveiled a new website that it hopes will draw players deeper into its virtual playground.

Zynga executives took pains to point out that is not an effort to distance itself from Facebook. In fact, the new site, for example, requires players to log in via their Facebook account. And any purchases players make on goes through Facebook's payment system, where Facebook takes a 30% cut of the transactions.

"We wanted it to be as easy and seamless as possible for players," said John Schappert, Zynga's chief operating officer. "We think it's complementary to Facebook."

The site is launching with five titles -- CastleVille, Words With Friends, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles and Zynga Poker. Players on can "friend" other people without having to share their Facebook profile information. Those connections, called "Z Friends," see only one another's game activity and are able to help one another complete their game quests. Most of Zynga's games require players to get assistance in order to progress. Zynga published a short video demo to illustrate how the site would work.

Zynga had telegraphed its move to create its own platform back in October. At the time, the effort was called "Project Z," and the company revealed few details on its plans.

The relationship between Zynga and Facebook is symbiotic -- for now. Though the social network commands an audience of more than 850 million active members, it relied on Zynga for 12% of its revenue last year, according to documents Facebook filed in conjunction with its initial public offering.
And though Zynga gets the bulk of its traffic, and revenue, from players on Facebook, the San Francisco company clearly has ambitions beyond the social network.

"Our goal is to connect the world through play and to eventually have 1 billion people play," Schappert said.

The company currently counts 240 million active monthly players. is but a piece of a larger strategy to reach players wherever they happen to be, on mobile devices and online -- not just on Facebook. The company recently disclosed in its first publicly reported quarterly earnings that it spent half a billion dollars last year building out its computer infrastructure, which it dubbed the Z Cloud, to support its expansion. also lets the company publish games created by other developers. Among the list of third-party developers hopping on to the Zynga platform are Mobscience, an independent social game developer in San Diego whose titles include Infamous Anarchy, MagicMall and Seapets, and Row Sham Bow, the Orlando, Fla., developer of Woodland Heroes.

Having a presence outside of Facebook could give Zynga more freedom to pursue initatives such as online gambling without having to navigate through Facebook's approval process. Zynga officials have publicly expressed an interest in online gambling, but acknowledged that it could be quite some time before state and federal regulators and courts sort out the legalities of the business.

From the LA Times Company Town blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

1 comment:

Britny Nieznanski 4049 said...

Go China! I am excited for them. I lost about a month of my life to Gossip Girl. It's an amazing show! Not even "girly", my dad and boyfriend are ALMOST as addicted to it as I am. :)