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‘Grace and Frankie’ Co-Creator on Season 5 Plans, When the Show Might End, and Why She’ll Never Kill Any of Her Lead Characters


[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for the season finale of “Grace and Frankie” Season 4.]

“Grace and Frankie” co-creator Marta Kauffman has been telling stories about life over 70 for four seasons now, but there’s no sign of the show running out of tales to tell, as evidenced by the announcement Wednesday of Netflix renewing the show for a fifth season.

“Every season, it becomes more and more special, because you know you have fewer and fewer left,” she said to IndieWire at SCAD aTVfest in Atlanta. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything resembling a game plan for ending the show. Instead, Kauffman said that if Netflix gave her the option to keep the show going for as long as she wanted, “I’d probably tell them, ‘Let’s do it as long as it’s still comfortable for Jane and Lily.’”

It’s a fair consideration, given the current ages of stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (80 and 78, respectively). But “they’re doing well,” Kauffman said. “It could be years and years. Who knows?”

Kauffman (who created “Grace and Frankie” alongside Howard J. Morris) said that the writers have been at work already on stories for Season 5, which will pick up on the show-changing events of the Season 4 finale.

Grace And Frankie

“The way it is with every season, the hope is that you’ve left enough good bird seed that you can find your way. That’s the hope is you’ve dropped all these clues that we can as writers take advantage of in the next season,” she said. “You want stories to continue and not just to stop.”

That said, in writing Season 4, Kauffman said, “We were focused on Season 4 until we got to the last episode — and then said, what do we want to set up for Season 5?”

The big twists of that final episode, which included Grace and Frankie getting convinced by their children to move into an “assisted living” facility and the surprise sale of Grace and Frankie’s beloved beach house, created no shortage of storylines for a new season. Also, according to Kauffman, “People were mad. People were mad at the kids because they sold the house.”

That anger is understandable, but for people of a certain age it’s also quite relatable — even within the “Grace and Frankie” writers’ room. “So many of my writers are going through this with their own parents,” Kauffman said. “We’ve got quite a mixture in the room; there are several writers going through the exact thing right now where their parents are… They’re worried. They’re worried and they want to keep them safe.”

Grace And Frankie

Four older people who are definitely safe, as far as Kauffman is concerned, are the characters of Grace, Frankie, Sol (Sam Waterston), and Robert (Martin Sheen). While the four leads are all of an age where, in the real world, anything could happen health-wise, Kauffman didn’t think that the writers would ever actively choose to lose a character.

“It doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. We gave Robert a heart attack already — health issues are definitely real issues. But, no, it would be so mean to kill one of them off just for the sake of killing one of them off,” she said. “When you love characters as we love characters… how would I pick who’d I’d give some horrible death to? I can’t even imagine.”

There is, of course, the reality that something could happen to one of the actors, but as Kauffman fairly noted, “This could happen on any show, not just mine. Then we would deal with it. But it’s not a plan.”

And it’s not really a narrative the show needs at this point. “There’s plenty of other stuff about aging,” she said.

Kauffman acknowledged that in “Grace and Frankie’s” early days, figuring out the tone of the show wasn’t an instantaneous process, especially when it came to balancing the dramatic and comedic elements of its premise. In the first season, she said, Netflix “kept tugging us to lean into the drama and we sort of had to find the line between the two.”

In addition, it took some time to learn key things about what works best for the series. “We learned that our show doesn’t do broad well,” was just one example. “We can’t do broad.”

Grace And Frankie

But after four seasons, the show’s definitely found its voice — not to mention an audience that defies expectations. “It is fascinating, we have a much younger audience than we thought we’d ever get. Jessica Biel just posted herself nursing her baby and watching ‘Grace and Frankie.’ Miley Cyrus likes the show,” she said. “My understanding is… at least what I’m hearing is that there are two things to it. One is that I believe in the universal story as a universal story, no matter what the age is. But I think a number of young women feel that the show makes aging less frightening.”

Looking forward at Season 5, Kauffman foresaw opportunities for both new love interests and returning ones, including Nick (Peter Gallagher), Grace’s former boyfriend as of the end of Season 4. “Nick comes back in a substantial way,” she said.

Kauffman didn’t mention any other casting plans, though in a subsequent announcement Netflix revealed that RuPaul will appear as “‘Benjamin Le Day,’ a formidable and quick-witted adversary who faces off with Grace and Frankie.”

However, when asked about anyone else she might dream of casting, she noted that “to a certain extent, I have my dream cast. I have Jane, Lily, Martin and Sam and the four kids.”

And in general, they don’t write with a specific actor in mind. “For each new character that is created for the show, you have a dream cast. Whether or not you can get them is a whole other story. But for the most part we don’t go into it saying, ‘God, I wish we could get Shirley MacLaine’ more than, ‘Oh, here’s a part, oh my God, Shirley MacLaine would be so perfect for it.’”

Added Kauffman, “Not that I wouldn’t give my right arm to work with Shirley MacLaine.”

Grace and Frankie Season 4 Episode 9 Lily Tomlin Jane Fonda

The one hurdle Kauffman mentioned encountering in the casting process was that “we’re reaching for people who don’t really want to do television” — which is still apparently a thing in the era of Peak TV.

“A lot of people do [want to do it] but there are a lot of people who don’t, who still have a certain judgment about it,” she said.

It’s an attitude that Kauffman, as a writer of television, doesn’t share. “I feel as far as TV goes, TV is a very intimate experience between the show and the audience. TV comes into your home, it comes with your computer when you’re in bed. You’re watching it when you’re naked and when you’re folding laundry and when you’re making dinner or when you’re in your robe and it’s really intimate because you’ve invited all these people into your home. In your most intimate state. So I feel like it’s an incredibly close relationship you have with the audience,” she said.

“There is a magic to the whole thing that you can’t teach, you can’t explain,” she continued. “Sometimes, the stars are just aligned.”

“Grace and Frankie” Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix. Season 5 will return in 2019. 

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‘Black Panther’ Scorches Box Office Records, Sets the Bar for 2018 and Beyond


Marvel’s “Black Panther” (Disney) arrived with a record-breaking bang at the 2018 box office, outperforming pre-opening estimates for its three day U.S./Canada opening.

Check out its all-time records: “Black Panther” bests “Deadpool” by more than $50 million as the best February and pre-March opening weekends ever. It tops last year’s “Beauty and the Beast” as the best pre-May debut of all time. It nearly doubles “Furious 7” as the best opening for a black-directed film. It is triple the best previous record (held by “Straight Outta Compton”) for initial weekend of a film with a primarily black cast.

Those numbers will be re-counted when Sunday’s actual numbers are reported, plus the boost the movie will get from a four-day semi-holiday on Monday. And adjusting to an even playing field still leaves “Black Panther” remarkably (considering the month of release) among the ten best openers ever.

“Black Panther”

Ryan Coogler’s breakout film “Fruitvale Station” did well in limited release and commercial sequel “Creed” marked a decent wide release. But “Black Panther”‘s grosses are seismic and game-changing for the director. The movie is the biggest non-“Star Wars” opener since “Jurassic World” (with a prime June release date) nearly three years ago. Yes, “Black Panther” comes from within the lucrative comic book universe of adaptations, but by those high standards it ranks #4 (adjusted) after both “Avengers” films and “Spider-Man 3.”

There have been 13 Marvel or D.C. Comic book releases since “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opened to (an adjusted) $204 million in May, 2015. A majority have opened over $100 million (including similar game-changer “Wonder Woman.” But no comic book movie since (the best off-season opener “Batman v. Superman” opened to an adjusted $178 million, “Deadpool” $141 million), despite showcasing a who’s who of comic world characters (“Thor,” “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and the ensemble in “Suicide Squad”) boasted the appeal of this long-overdue all-black cast of heroes and villains starring in an African myth.

The huge initial interest that propelled many fans to Thursday night and Friday shows likely account for a Saturday decline somewhat above some other recent Marvel and D.C. titles. The falloff was 13 per cent (from a higher starting point from most others) for its second full day from the initial totals. “Thor: Ragnarok” dropped  five per cent, “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” eight per cent.

But “The Avengers” also boasted an A+ CInemascore and dropped slightly more (14 per cent) on its initial Saturday on its way to a domestic total that was triple its opening (adjusted, its domestic total was just over $700 million).

Can “Black Panther” repeat that kind of long-term performance? There’s no way to judge after two days. The four-day totals will give a hint, but next weekend will be more key to assessing the future.

But even a standard ultimate showing (which would leave this somewhere around $500 million domestic – about 25 per cent above “Wonder Woman”) would change the rules about what American moviegoers want to see. “Black Panther” will elevate a wider range of stories, including Hollywood’s core big-budget action adventures. Yes, there has been a steady supply of black-centered releases going back to blaxploitation in the 1970s, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy lead the way in the 1980s and so on. But these often have come with non-minority creative control, and usually with lower budgets and compensation for many principles based on perceived economics.

"Black Panther"

“Black Panther”

The main excuse for not green-lighting similar films with the $300 million plus production and marketing costs expended on “Black Panther” is the resistance seen historically to black-centered films overseas. The foreign market for top-end productions (though not the “Star Wars” series) is expected to provide roughly two-thirds of the total gross for high end films. “Panther” debuted in a majority of the world, though not the key territories of China, Japan, or Russia yet.

The gross for these initial territories came in a little less than the domestic return ($169 million). What happens in the remainder of them will be important. But it would be reasonable at this point to anticipate at least $400 million overseas, along with at least that much (low end total) domestic. That would put the film at over $800 million worldwide. That total wouldn’t have placed it quite in the global Top Ten for 2017 (it would be about the same as the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which soared overseas and was similarly expensive). “Wonder Woman” did $812 million combined, with a similar domestic/foreign split. And it’s good enough, to put it mildly, even if the domestic share is higher than usual. It just might take longer for foreign to catch up.

The performance boosted year-to-date numbers, which had fallen below 2017 so far, to a boost of over five per cent (by the time different week day calendars balance out by midweek). “Panther” made up about two thirds of ticket sales (a lower total that the better than 75 per cent share “The Last Jedi” took in its pre-Christmas weekend.)

Early Man

Drowned out by the film was Nick Park’s Aardman animation “Early Man” (Lionsgate), which could only take in an anemic $3,150,000. It was hurt among kids by the draw of the second weekend of the less sophisticated “Peter Rabbit” (Sony), which managed as decent $17,500,000 and a 31 per cent drop.

“Fifty Shades Freed” (Universal), last week’s #1, dropped 56 per cent to fall behind “Early Man” slightly. Buried among the figures during the week though was the film’s dominance on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day). It grossed nearly $11 million, more than half of the day’s business as the clear film of choice to drag men to that night.

Long-running hits “Jumanji: Welcome to the Club” (Sony) and “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox) both dropped around 20 per cent, a bit above their recent average but both amazing holds for films around since Christmas. But they needed company going forward, assuming that “Panther” has decent legs, since they can’t be expected to sustain theaters that much longer.

“Early Man”

The Top Ten

1. Black Panther (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 88; Est. budget: $200 million

$192,023,000 in 4,020 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $47,767,000; Cumulative: $192,023,000

2. Peter Rabbit (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend: #2

$17,250,000 (-31%) in 3,725 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,631; Cumulative: $48,223,000

3. Fifty Shades Freed (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend: #1

$16,940,000 (-56%) in 3,768 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,496; Cumulative: $76,134,000

4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony) Week 9; Last weekend: #

$7,945,000 (-21%) in 2,800 theaters (-336); PTA: $2,838; Cumulative: $377,624,000

5. 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend: #

$7,685,000 (-39%) in 3,042 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,526; Cumulative: $25,433,000

6. The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox) Week 9; Last weekend: #5

$5,100,000 (-21%) in 1,936 theaters (-437); PTA: $2,634; Cumulative: $154,478,000

7. Early Man (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 68; Est. budget: $50 million

$3,150,000 in 2,494 theaters; PTA: $1,263; Cumulative: $3,150,000

8. Maze Runner: The Death Cure (20th Century Fox) Week 4; Last weekend: #6

$2,525,000 (-59%) in 1,891 theaters (-1,032); PTA: $1,335; Cumulative: $54,005,000

9. Winchester (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend: #7

$2,230,000 (-57%) in 1,471 theaters (-1,001); PTA: $1,508; Cumulative: $21,860,000

10. Samson (Pureflix) NEW – Metacritic: 17; no budget estimate reported

$1,972,000 in 1,249 theaters; PTA: $1,579; Cumulative: $1,972,000

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