ICAHN TAKES AIM AT TIME WARNER
Billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn launched an effort Monday to persuade Time Warner to sell or spin off its cable business and repurchase $20 billion of its own stock. He disclosed that he and three other investors now hold more than 120 million shares of Time Warner, representing 2.6 percent of the media giant. In a statement, Icahn said, "While Time Warner management has done a commendable job managing each of their various businesses, and although the company recently has announced that it is undertaking certain measures to enhance shareholder value, it has not moved quickly enough." The company responded: "We would, of course, speak with any interested shareholder who has relevant thoughts or perspectives and in that context we have informed Mr. Icahn that we would be happy to meet with him." Icahn said that he has already arranged a meeting this week with Time Warner chief Dick Parsons.
JENNINGS' NAME REMOVED FROM WORLD NEWS TONIGHT
After continuing to call its evening newscast World News Tonight with Peter Jennings throughout the week following Jennings' death from lung cancer, ABC said Monday that it had removed Jennings' name from the title. In an emailed memo to staff, ABC News President David Westin said, "Of all people, Peter insisted on accuracy. As much as we would have it otherwise, from now on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings will be known as World News Tonight." Meanwhile, there has been no indication whether ABC is speeding up the process of finding a permanent replacement for Jennings. ABC News spokesman Jeff Schneider told USA Today that the news division "is not close" to discussing a successor and that Charles Gibson and Elizabeth Vargas will continue to alternate as anchors.
NBC RETRENCHES, MAY VACATE BURBANK STUDIOS
Given NBC's dive from first to last place in the ratings last season and continued slow ad sales, the company has informed staff that it is cutting back on "discretionary spending" ranging from travel expenses to snacks, the Hollywood Reporter reported today (Tuesday), citing an NBC internal memo. In addition, the trade publication indicated, parent Universal is considering moving the network's headquarters from Burbank to the studio campus in Universal City. "There's a lot of speculation that that's the ultimate plan," a source within NBC Universal told the Reporter. "From every division you hear people whispering that that's what they're hearing."
AILES REPLACES LACHLAN MURDOCH AS HEAD OF FOX TV
Fox News chief Roger Ailes on Monday was named the new head of Fox Television, taking over the post previously held by Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan. The position gives him control not only of the Fox News operations but also of News Corp's cable and broadcast networks in the U.S. plus its 35 owned-and-operated television stations. "He's certainly done a bang-up job at Fox News," Joe Bonner, an analyst at Argus Research Corp. in New York, told Bloomberg News. "He apparently has a feel for, at least in the news realm, what the American public wants to watch." Meanwhile, the 96-year-old mother of Rupert Murdoch, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, has told an Australian magazine that her son told her some time ago that "Lachlan did not seem 100 percent happy" in his role at the company. "I didn't think it would come to this [his departure]," she told The Bulletin, "but maybe if there was that underlying feeling, much better that he took this step and we all know where we are." She added, "He's still involved in the company and maybe one day he may come back in a leading position."
TIVO TO MAKE MOVIES AVAILABLE ON DEMAND
TiVo is hooking up with the Independent Film Channel (IFC) in a trial program that will provide "first-run programming" to TiVo subscribers via the Internet beginning Aug. 19, Home Media Retailing magazine reported Monday. Details of the test, including elements such as the number of TiVo customers participating, the cost (if any) of the downloads to users, the titles of the available films, and security features, were not disclosed. Neither TiVo nor IFC have commented on the report.
DEFENSE PSYCHOLOGIST DENIES HE GAVE NBC INTERVIEW WITH BTK
Robert Mendoza, the Harvard-trained psychologist whose taped interview with "BTK" killer Dennis Rader became the centerpiece of Friday's two-hour Dateline NBC report about Rader, denied Monday that he provided the tape to NBC. He told the Wichita Eagle, "I had no ownership or any financial gain whatsoever in that situation. When I found out it was running, I requested in writing that they not [air] it." In an interview with Hurst Laviana, an Eagle reporter who also appeared on the Dateline program, Mendoza added, "It serves no purpose having that [tape] out there. ... Unfortunately, that is as much as I can say now." NBC has declined to disclose how it obtained the tape.
THE GREAT RAID BECOMES A GREAT ROUT
It might have been wise for Disney's Miramax unit never to have taken The Great Raid off its shelves, where it had lain for nearly three years. When it finally decided to release the movie last weekend, it reportedly spent $20 million to promote it, but the film took in only $3.4 million and finished 10th for the weekend at the box office. Reporting on the drubbing, today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times commented, "Walt Disney Co.'s divorce from Miramax Film founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein just got more costly." The newspaper noted that Disney CFO Thomas O. Staggs has warned that the rush to release other Miramax films before brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein leave the company on Sept. 30 could "impact this year's operating income in the fourth quarter." The Times further observed that the apparent box office failure of The Great Raid also comes as the Weinsteins are trying to raise $900 million to $1 billion to get their new company off the ground. Meanwhile, the Weinsteins have pointed out that exit surveys for The Raid have been excellent and that he's planning to add additional screens next weekend. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Four Brothers, Paramount, $21,176,925, 1 Wks. ($21,176,925); 2. The Skeleton Key, Universal, $16,057,945, 1 Wks. ($16,057,945); 3. The Dukes of Hazzard, Warner Bros. $13,011,202, 2 Wks. ($57,459,025); 4. The Wedding Crashers, New Line, $11,834,614, 5 Wks. ($163,860,730); 5. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Sony, $9,626,287, 1 Wks. ($9,626,287); 6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Warner Bros. $7,412,391, 5 Wks. ($183,940,297); 7. March of the Penguins, Warner Bros. $6,848,205, 4 Wks. ($37,723,310); 8. Sky High, Disney, $6,309,670, 3 Wks. ($43,499,197); 9. Must Love Dogs, Warner Bros. $4,575,046, 3 Wks. ($34,604,972); 10. The Great Raid, Miramax, $3,376,009, 1 Wks. ($3,376,009).
THEATER INVESTORS NOW FEELING THE SLUMP
The box office slump hit exhibitors' quarterly earnings reports Monday when AMC Entertainment, which operates 229 theaters with 3546 screens worldwide (making it the second-largest movie theater chain behind Regal Entertainment Group), reported a $27.7 million loss during its second quarter. A year ago it reported earnings of $15.9 million during the same quarter.
THE ISLAND RISES
Although several analysts predicted that, after its poor showing in the U.S., The Island would sink DreamWorks, the studio that made it (along with Warner Bros.), the film has become a hit overseas, Daily Variety reported today (Tuesday). The trade publication noted that at the foreign box office the movie has already taken in twice what it did in the U.S.
NUN PRAYS AT SITE OF DA VINCI CODE CONFERENCE
In what might well become the harbinger of protests that could come to plague the film version of the Da Vinci Code when it is released, a Roman Catholic nun knelt in prayer for 12 hours outside Lincoln Cathedral in Eastern England, where the film is currently being shot. Although she acknowledged that she had not read the controversial thriller by Dan Brown, she said that she had heard about its contents and about how it argues the case that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a female child with her. She called the theory "heresy" and said, "I'm interested in what God thinks, rather than what the film crew think. When I'm judged by almighty God, as all human beings, I'll be entitled to say that I have done my best."