INDECENCY COMPLAINTS COME FROM ONE GROUP, SAYS REPORT
The startling rise in indecency complaints -- from fewer than 350 in 2000 and 2001 to 14,000 in 2002 to 240,000 in 2003 -- was attributed Sunday to a single activist group, the Parents Television Council, part of L. Brent Bozell's conservative Media Research Center. Mediaweek reported that an FCC analysis of the complaints dated Oct. 1, 2004 found that 99.9 percent of all indecency complaints had been brought by the PTC. The trade publication's report came only two days after FCC Chairman Michael Powell wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article: "Advocacy groups do generate many complaints, as our critics note, but that's not unusual in today's Internet world...that fact does not minimize the merits of the groups' concerns." But Jonathan Rintels, head of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, an artists' advocacy group, told Mediaweek that its report demonstrates how "a tiny minority with a very focused political agenda is trying to censor American television and radio."
WILLIAMS HOLDS BROKAW'S VIEWERS
Although numerous TV writers speculated last week over whether ABC's Peter Jennings or CBS's Dan Rather would benefit the most from Tom Brokaw's departure as anchor of NBC Nightly News, Thursday's ratings indicated that the real beneficiary was Brokaw's successor, Brian Williams. Williams' newscast on Thursday pulled in 11.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Research, versus 9.3 million for Jennings and 7.4 million for Rather. In reporting the results, Daily Variety commented: "Brian Williams came out of the gate sprinting with a gust of wind at his back."
REPORT ON CBS "MEMOGATE" PROBE EXPECTED WITHIN DAYS
A report by the independent panel set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dan Rather's discredited feature about George W. Bush's National Guard Service is expected to be released "within days," USA Today said today (Monday), noting that the news organization remains in a state of anxiety over it. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft told the newspaper: "It's a company full of reporters, of nosy busybodies, but ... I don't think anybody has a handle on what's going to happen." Added commentator Andy Rooney: "There's this ominous sense of change for the worse, of impending doom." Their worries were apparently heightened last week when CBS chief Les Moonves commented that he was going to "look at the roots of our news organization and proceed in the future in a somewhat different way, making sure we don't throw out the baby with the bath water."
FOX NEWS CHANNEL MOVING INTO RADIO
Fox News Channel is vastly expanding its radio business, signing a deal to provide radio newscasts to 172 talk stations operated by Clear Channel Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). The channel will also produce radio programs featuring some of its top cable stars. Fox will replace ABC on most of the radio outlets.
MCENROE FALLS FOR ANOTHER KIND OF LOVE
After attracting audiences that were about the size of those that watched him at tennis courts, John McEnroe has been axed by CNBC. Even with top-notch guests, including Tom Hanks, Elton John and Sting, the program drew ratings that were sometimes so low that they failed to register at all.
BBC TARGET OF HOAX
The BBC admitted on Friday that it had fallen victim to an "elaborate deception" when it reported that Dow Chemical had admitted responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India. Earlier in the day, the BBC had aired an interview with Jude Finisterra, a man it identified as a spokesman for Dow, who said that the company was setting up a $12-billion fund to compensate the families of the 3,800 people who were killed by a cloud of pesticide from a Union Carbide plant. Dow acquired Union Carbide in 1999, years after Carbide had settled the Indian claims for $450 million. Finisterra later phoned BBC Radio to say that he was part of a group called The Yes Men, which says that it "impersonates big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them." The BBC said that it had launched an investigation into "how the deception happened." On Saturday the Times of India attributed the BBC's apparent gullibility to a 1999 cutback in its research and library facilities and commented that "the hoax gave the BBC's dented reputation for accuracy another hard knock." The BBC is expected to announce plans for additional cost cutting on Tuesday.
MR. BEAN STAR IN SERIOUS ROLE
Rowan Atkinson, best known in the U.S. for his starring role in the Mr. Bean sketch-comedy series, has spoken out against a proposed British law intended to punish persons who incite religious hatred. "Freedom of expression must be protected for artists and entertainers and we must not accept a bar on the lampooning of religion and religious leaders," he said. Atkinson observed that under the proposed law he could have been prosecuted for some of his past satirical sketches. Even Monty Python's The Life of Brian could have been banned under the law, he observed. The comedian called the proposed bill "ambiguous" and said that it "chills the enjoyment of the free speech."
DISNEY DISSIDENTS GIVE UP
Roy Disney and Stanley Gold have given up their effort to run an alternate slate of directors at Disney's annual meeting that would oust Michael Eisner as CEO. In a letter to the board on Friday, the two dissident former board members said that they had reached their decision following promises that a "thorough and bona fide search to select a new CEO" would be undertaken by June and that Eisner would step down once the new chief had been named. "We are taking the board at its word," their statement concluded. "We are hopeful that Disney shareholders will not be disappointed." Their statement comes at a time when Disney's fortunes at the box office and its audience share at its ABC network have experienced a turn-around. Disney currently boasts of the top film in theaters, National Treasure, and the top television series, Desperate Housewives. "Like all shareholders, we are pleased with the recent improvements in the Company's performance," Gold and Roy Disney wrote. "However, they pointed out, "Disney earnings still only approximate those achieved in 1997. ... Similarly, the recovery in the share price brings Disney stock back only to the trading levels of the late 1990s."
MORE TREASURE FOR TREASURE
During a weekend that saw no new release opening in more than 500 theaters, films that comprised last weekend's top ten did so again -- with the exception of the new Mike Nichols movie Closer, which opened in just 476 theaters and placed sixth with $7.7 million. Disney's National Treasure remained on top for the third consecutive week, as it raked in $17.1 million. Christmas With the Kranks moved into second place with $11.7 million, while The Polar Express took over third place with $11 million, rising for the first time above Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, which wound up with $9.2 million. A third animated feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, took the fifth position with $7.8 million.
The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. National Treasure, $17.1 million; 2. Christmas With the Kranks, $11.7 million; 3. The Polar Express, $11 million; 4. The Incredibles, $9.2 million; 5. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, $7.8 million; 6. Closer, $7.7 million; 7. Alexander, $4.7 million; 8. Finding Neverland, $2.9 million; 9. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, $2.8 million; 10. Ray, $1.9 million.
INDY 4 STILL A GO, SAYS FORD
Asked by the Internet website IESB.net whether Indiana Jones 4 will ever be made, Harrison Ford replied, "No doubt about it." Button-holed at a charity event for Amnesty International, Ford was asked about reports that a younger actor might replace him in the role. "No problem with a younger actor taking on Indiana Jones, but Indy 4 is mine," he responded. As to whether Sean Connery would appear in the next sequel, he remarked, "He says that he is now retired, so I don't know." Ford dodged a question about whether he was happy with the script, saying only "I hear that [producer] George Lucas is happy with the way the new draft is turning out."
PRODUCT PLACEMENT -- DIGITAL STYLE
Some U.S. brands that figure in product-placement deals with movie studios are being digitally replaced -- at a cost of $10,000 to $90,000 -- with other brands in overseas releases, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). "If you can take a can in someone's hand and change that from one brand to another, it opens up a tremendous amount of revenues," Marsha Levine, president of the product-placement group A List Entertainment Inc., of Beverly Hills told the newspaper.. "You have this amazing arena that's just beginning ... The industry is going through a revolution." But Gary Ruskin of Portland-based Commercial Alert told the Journal: "It's a sad phenomenon, part of the descent of movies into glorified infomercials."
VANCOUVER MOVIE MAKERS HOLD EMERGENCY MEETING
With film and TV production in Vancouver down some 25 percent in 2004, leaders of "Hollywood North" held what was described as "an emergency meeting" Sunday to consider ways to halt the slide. Canadian reports said that the rising value of the Canadian dollar against the American is the primary source of concern (last week it reached its highest level since 1992) and that a strategy to lower production costs, with additional help from the British Columbia government in the form of tax incentives, was the primary topic of conversation at the meeting. Vancouver accounts for about half of Canada's TV and film production. The industry employs about 30,000 works and generates $3 billion annually.
DISNEY'S BIGGEST STAR TESTIFIES IN OVITZ TRIAL, NEW YORKER REPORTS
According to the New Yorker magazine, the shareholder lawsuit against Disney over Michael Ovitz's severance package has been "jolted" by testimony from the studio's most visible star. In a Woody Allen-bylined article, the magazine quoted Mickey Mouse as saying that Disney chief Michael Eisner consulted with him before he hired Ovitz to become the studio's president. Under questioning by a lawyer for Disney, Mouse said that Roy Disney, Pluto, and Goofy attended the meeting. Asked about his reaction at the time to the planned Ovitz hiring, Mouse said, "I was surprised, but Pluto took the news harder. He seemed despondent." He later explained: "He was worried because Mr. Ovitz had a much closer relationship with Goofy, and Pluto felt his screen time might be reduced." According to Mouse, the Ovitz-Goofy relationship became especially tight after Goofy became addicted to Percodan and Ovitz, then the head of CAA, arranged for him to enter the Betty Ford Center. In testimony that stunned the courtroom, Mouse revealed that Goofy had begun taking the painkiller after a scene in a cartoon in which he "parachuted off the Empire State Building with an umbrella and hurt his back."