AL JAZEERA: CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
The Arabic news channel al-Jazeera said Thursday that it will not film a planned report concerning America's security worries over the U.S. border with Mexico after it encountered opposition from the armed group Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which patrols the border in Arizona to turn back illegal immigrants. The group had called al-Jazeera "the world's most prolific (sic) terrorist TV network" and accused it of attempting to conduct reconnaissance operations at the border. A spokesman for the Qatar-based network, Jihad Ballout, told the BBC that it had decided not to film the report because the safety of its staff was its most important consideration. He added, "Misconceptions about al-Jazeera are being perpetuated in some quarters to the detriment of not just al-Jazeera but the concept of a free press." Last week the al-Qaeda-linked group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi accused al-Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for U.S. forces and of attempting to "please the Crusaders and ... Shiite Muslim Iraqi leaders. ... Why this premeditated attempt to harm the image and reputation of the mujahedeens?"
NBC ANCHOR WILLIAMS REBUKED BY CONSERVATIVE WEBSITES
Conservative websites were buzzing today (Friday) over remarks made by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams during Thursday night's newscast in which he appeared to compare Iranian President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with America's first presidents. Following a report by NBC News's Andrea Mitchell about allegations that Ahmadinejad was among the hostage takers at the American embassy in Tehran in the 1970s, Williams remarked: "What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called 'terrorists' by the British crown, after all." Typical of the headlines was the conservative WorldNetDaily's: "NBC anchor compares Founders to terrorists." Mitchell appeared to ignore Williams's comment except to remark that several of the students who participated in the seizure of the embassy now hold positions in the Iranian government. Several of them remarked Thursday that Ahmadinejad had been a part of their group but played no role in either the takeover or in guarding the hostages. One said that Ahmadinejad advocated targeting the Soviet Embassy.
GAY CABLE NETWORK LOGO DEBUTS
Logo, Viacom's channel targeting the gay and lesbian audience, was quietly launched Thursday, with several analysts questioning its survival potential. Most expressed the opinion that protests by conservative religious and family activists would have little effect on the channel's durability. (The expected backlash has yet to develop.) They noted, however, that the limited exposure now afforded the network on cable systems represents a considerable handicap. The San Francisco Chronicle observed Thursday that Logo is not available in the Bay Area, generally regarded as the home of the largest homosexual community in the U.S. But in an interview with MSNBC.com, Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, noted that even if Logo succeeds in negotiating carriage deals with additional cable systems, it faces an added challenge of appealing to a diverse audience. "What a 17-year-old gay male wants to watch will be considerably different from what a 65-year-old lesbian female will want to watch," he said. "You can't program for the entire gay audience."
WANNA BET ELTON JOHN WILL SING "PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM"?
Philadelphia was bracing for crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands for its participation in the worldwide Live8 concerts, expected also to draw the biggest audience in television history. "People are going to decide that Philadelphia is the place to be on the Second of July in the year 2005," Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street told today's (Friday) Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's just going to be one of those days, one of those times. The people who show up will talk about it for years. Those who don't will lie about it and say they did." The concert will close with a performance by Elton John. Nine other cities all over the world are set to participate in the concerts, aimed at drawing attention to hunger and poverty in Africa. The concerts will be broadcast live via television, radio and the Internet in 140 countries with a potential audience of 5.5 billion. America Online has announced it will carry all 10 concerts live simultaneously and offer video of them for six weeks following the event.
IDOL WINNER STUDDARD CLAIMS HE WAS FLEECED BY HIS MANAGER
American Idol winner Ruben Studdard claimed in a lawsuit Thursday that his former manager, Ronald Edwards, forged his name on documents giving himself power of attorney to use Studdard's checking account and credit cards. Studdard charged in the suit, filed in Birmingham, AL, that Edwards piled up $105,000 worth of charges on his credit cards and wrote checks for $150,000. Edwards has denied the allegations.
WILL ALIENS KNOCK OFF SPIDER-MAN?
War of the Worlds's invasion of the box office on Wednesday was viewed by entertainment analysts and critics with shock and awe. Wednesday's worldwide gross receipts were estimated at $34.6 million, $21.2 million of that amount registered in the U.S. "We're ecstatic; this is just the beginning of a long and successful run at box offices around the globe," said Paramount's vice chairman, Rob Friedman. Studios and exhibitors are hoping that the film will at last lift the box office out of a slump that has persisted for 18 consecutive weeks. To do so, however, it will have to perform better than last year's Independence Day weekend headliner, Spider-Man 2, which took in a record $40.5 million and wound up earning $180.1 million in its first six days.
MOVIE REVIEWS: REBOUND
The Martin Lawrence comedy Rebound is also set to compete this weekend, but analysts don't expect it to gross more than $10 million. The film invokes most of the conventions of sports movies, featuring a basketball team composed of losers being molded by a bombastic coach. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times calls it "fun enough in a sweet but predictable way," adding: "We wait complacently until the last second of the last minute of the final game of the season, confident that no matter how grim the situation looks, the underdog tradition of sports movies will be upheld." Some critics are not so charitable. Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post: "Rebound starts off bad, then tapers off." Stephen Holden in the New York Times agrees. He comments, "At times the movie ... seems so bored with itself that it dozes off while still on its feet." Similarly, Gene Seymour begins his review in Newsday by remarking: "I should be 6 years old right now. That way, I could enjoy Rebound without thinking about all the better movies made from its concept. The time spent watching the movie would pass quickly." Stephen Whitty of Newhouse News Service took his seven-year-old along to see the movie, and he gave it an enthusiastic review. "[He] liked the slapstick fights and the occasional bathroom jokes and didn't think too much about the rest of it," he wrote.
NEWS CORP APPROVES HEFTY INCENTIVE PACKAGE
News Corp on Thursday held its first shareholder meeting in the U.S. since moving from Australia, approving a new incentive plan that would give company directors, executives and employees up to $25 million each year for outstanding performance. Although the meeting lasted less than a half hour, News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch was peppered with questions by 75-year-old shareholder Evelyn Y. Davis, who wanted to know how Liberty Media's John Malone, who now holds an 18 percent stake in News Corp, voted on the incentive plan. When Murdoch responded that he didn't know, Davis asked whether there were plans afoot to buy back Malone's shares in News Corp at a premium. Murdoch replied, "He has not asked for any such thing, and if he did, it certainly would not happen." He then cut off further questions, noting, "We're not meeting here to discuss the question of Liberty."
PIXAR ADMITS NOT-SO-INCREDIBLE SALES FOR THE INCREDIBLES
Citing slower-than-expected sales of the DVD version of its hit movie The Incredibles, Pixar on Thursday slashed its earnings estimates for its second quarter to $12 million from $18 million. The company echoed DreamWorks Animation's announcement two months ago that it would miss its earnings forecast because of slow DVD sales for Shrek 2. The warning announcement triggered a 10-percent drop in Pixar shares in after-hours trading.
TYLER PERRY AGAIN DEFIES CRITICS
Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman
, which surprised critics when it opened at No. 1 at the box office last February, surprised them again this week as Lions Gate Home Entertainment announced that it had sold some 2 million copies in its first day of release on DVD and VHS. "Tyler Perry is a true phenomenon, the strength of which continues to surprise even us," Steve Beeks, president of Lions Gate Entertainment, told Home Media Entertainment. "It's amazing. I was at Wal-Mart, and there were six pallets. By noon, two were empty, and the other four were half-full. We've got retailers screaming for more product. We placed a healthy number at street date, and now we've got production lines running at full capacity to fill reorders."
FBI ANNOUNCES INTERNATIONAL RAID ON BOOTLEGGERS
The FBI announced Thursday that it had arrested four people and shut down at least four websites used to bootleg movies, music, games, and computer software. In a statement, it said that it had acted with law enforcement from 10 other countries in what it called "Operation Site Down." Without providing details of the sites that were targeted, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "By dismantling these networks, the Department is striking at the top of the copyright piracy supply chain - a distribution chain that provides the vast majority of the illegal digital content now available online." Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom took part in the raids, the FBI said.
DISNEY BUILDING MUSEUM IN SAN FRANCISCO
The family of Walt Disney is directing the refurbishing of an old barracks building in The Presidio of San Francisco that will house The Walt Disney Family Museum, which should be completed in about four years, Diane Disney Miller, Walt's only living child, said Thursday. "I just thought it would be a little family museum, maybe I'd pour tea or something," she told the Vacaville Reporter. "Then our second son, Walt, said: 'Mom, we have to do more for grandpa.' People would expect more from this guy and his family." She said that the museum will "offer an audio-visual walk-through about his life" -- from his childhood to his films and TV shows to Disneyland "and how his legacy has influenced today's society. ... We're going to do it right." Miller also told the newspaper that as a child, she lived a relatively normal life, not the kind associated with the children of studio chiefs these days. "Dad drove us to school every morning until I got my driver's license, and then he continued to drive my sister Sharon," she said.
CANADA HIT HARDER THAN U.S. AT BOX OFFICE
At the request of the Toronto Star, box office trackers Nielsen EDI has broken down domestic attendance figures for the 18 weeks of the current box-office slump into Canadian and U.S. results. They show that while the average weekend drop for all of North America has been 12.9 percent, it has been 17.4 percent in Canada. Although various analysts in the U.S. have blamed everything from Internet piracy to home entertainment centers for the box-office decline, Jim Sherry, head of marketing for Canadian distributor Alliance Atlantis had a different explanation. He told the Star "There just has not been a constant flow of solid films that people want to see."