NICE WORK, NEAL; NOW LEAVE
Neal Shapiro, who delivered the "Nice work, everybody" sign-off when he produced NBC's Dateline, may hear similar words from his bosses as he departs the presidency of NBC News in coming days. Today's (Thursday) New York Times, citing two senior NBC execs,reported that Shapiro has told Jess Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, and Robert Wright, chairman of NBC Universal, that he would like to step down, a request that one of the newspaper's sources characterized as a move "to jump before being pushed." On Wednesday, rumors swirled around the Internet that Shapiro was about to be fired. Indeed, Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted an item early in the day saying that Shapiro had already been canned and that he would be replaced by NBC Nightly News executive producer Steve Capus. An NBC spokesperson later said that Drudge was "wrong on all counts." New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove reported that Zucker "has been actively seeking a replacement" for Shapiro. The Web blog TVNewser quoted a tipster as saying, "He's toast."
THE NEW PAYOLA?
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has urged the commission to take a harder look at possible payola violations, particularly on radio and TV talk shows. Adelstein expressed concern that deception may be replacing disclosure when products are mentioned in interviews. "But you're really not sure because they don't make it clear that it's sponsored information. You don't know if they really like that product or if it's something they were paid to say," he said at a Media Institute luncheon. "If there was payment of any kind, they'd better disclose it or face the scrutiny of the FCC." Adelstein noted that while some programs disclose product placement deals in closing credits, "a disclosure that appears on screen for a split second during the credits in small type that no one could possibly read without pausing their DVR -- and pulling out a magnifying glass -- could not possibly qualify." Reporting on Adelstein's remarks, today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times remarked that they "mark the strongest words yet from an FCC commissioner about the lack of disclosure in product placement." Adelstein's comments came even as the British regulator OFCOM was announcing that it would review its rules on product placement ads in order to allow broadcasters to ease their dependence on traditional advertising.
UNDERWOOD WINS IDOL CONTEST; BUT LOST DRAWS AWAY AUDIENCE
In what was inarguably the most public contract offer in history, American Idol winner Carrie Underwood was invited to meet with officials of RCA records following her victory Wednesday night. Richard Sanders, general manager of RCA Music Group, a division of Germany's Bertelsmann media empire, told Underwood on the air, "We can't wait to meet with you in New York." Wednesday night's season finale also featured a satirical report from Los Angeles TV morning host Steve Edwards lampooning ABC News's recent Primetime Live episode in which former contestant Corey Clark claimed that he had had an affair with judge Paula Abdul. "We won't let the truth get in the way of our ratings," Edwards said at one point. The first hour of Idol Wednesday night posted a 15.0 rating and a 25 share, its ratings numbers tempered by a strong 11.23/18 for the first hour of the season finale of ABC's Lost.Idol's numbers increased to a 19.2/28 at 9:00 p.m., while Lost's numbers also swelled to a 12.3/18.
JENNINGS LOSES THREE IN A ROW
Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings was thoroughly trounced Wednesday, losing the three-day champions contest to 2002 Jeopardy! winner Brad Rutter. Rutter took all three contests to wind up with a total of $62,000. Jennings' total was $34,599. Rutter, who now hosts his own quiz show in Lancaster, PA, won $2 million. Jennings earned $500,000, and Jerome Vered, who finished third, took home $250,000.
SINCLAIR AGREES TO AIR NIGHTLINE'S MILITARY TRIBUTE
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which last year refused to air a Nightline broadcast on its ABC affiliates in which the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were read off, said Wednesday that it will air a similar Nightline show on Monday, May 30. Although it charged last year that such a broadcast was intended to undermine the U.S. war effort in Iraq, Sinclair said Wednesday that memorial Day "is the appropriate setting to remember those who have sacrificed their lives to keep all Americans safe and free." Nightline exec producer Tom Bettag told today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer that he was "delighted" with Sinclair's decision. "We always felt that what happened last year was largely the result of a misunderstanding."
COURT TV IN NEW DEAL WITH NBC
Court TV will begin providing additional programming to NBC this summer when the broadcast network airs four one-hour episodes of the cable channel's Psychic Detectives on Wednesdays from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in June. The time period is currently occupied -- irregularly -- by the network's newsmag Dateline. Court TV regularly provides footage for Dateline crime stories. NBC sold its 1/3 stake in Court TV to partners Liberty Media and Time Warner in 1998 for $70 million.
REVENGE OF THE MPAA
The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Motion Picture Association of America joined forces Wednesday to shut down Elite Torrents, accusing the website of helping people download illegal copies oF copyrighted movies. Agents also executed search warrants in eight states against administrators of the website, perhaps grabbing the names of thousands of users of the site as they did. They also seized the primary Elite Torrents server, replacing its home page online with a notice from the FBI and Homeland Security reading "permanently shut down" and warning that users of the site could spend five years in prison if convicted of copyright piracy. Officials said that Elite Torrents boasted more than 133,000 members and offered 17,800 movies and software programs, include Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, which, according to the officials, was posted on the site six hours before its first showing theaters. The movie was reportedly downloaded 10,000 times in the first 24 hours that it was available.
MORE SITH RAIDS
Meanwhile, police in the San Francisco suburb of Grass Valley arrested a man for taking still photos from his seat during a screening of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith. He could be liable for a fine of up to $25,000 and a jail sentence. Police in Shropshire, in central England, have made a series of raids against bootleggers selling pirated DVDs of the new Star Wars episode and other recent movies from the trunks of their cars. The Shropshire Star reported today (Thursday) that other titles included The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, Kingdom of Heaven and "a significant quantity of hardcore pornography." And in Karachi, Pakistan, the South Asia News Agency (SANA) reported that counterfeit copies of the new Star Wars hit the streets only on Wednesday. Retailers, the news agency said, were upset that the availability of the movie "was well behind schedule." (An ad posted at the bottom of the article included a link to a site where the Star Wars movie could be downloaded for $0.99)
OH, BOTHER; SLESINGERS FILE POOH APPEAL
Heirs of Stephen Slesinger, who purchased the rights to the Winnie the Pooh books in 1931, have filed an appeal to a California judge's decision to toss out their lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. because an investigator for one of their previous attorneys raided the trash bins outside Disney offices and found documents related to the case. Attorney Jerome B. Falk, who is representing the Slesinger heirs, said in the appeal that his clients "had agreed to procedures that would have assured Disney a fair trial with no use of documents from its trash. Dismissal of the entire case was overkill." The original suit contends that Disney owes the Slesinger family more than $700 million in royalty payments.
FIRST VIDEO STORE TO SHUT DOWN
America's first video rental store, Movies Unlimited, located in Northeast Philadelphia will shut down on June 12 after 27 years, Home Media Retailing reported on its website Wednesday. The company said that it will become a mail-order business. When it opened in 1978, General Manager Ed Weiss recalled, customers would travel from New York and Virginia to rent films. The remaining operation will focus on providing hard-to-find videos to customers via the Internet at www.moviesunlimited.com, a site geared, said Weiss, "to movie buffs around the world."
WEINSTEIN'S SAY THEY'LL "HIT THE GROUND RUNNING"
Outgoing Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein announced Wednesday that they plan to release a kind of duet horror film next spring in which one hour will be written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and the other, by Robert Rodriguez. The two films, they said, will be packaged under the title Grind House. The brothers also announced that they will begin releasing a slate of 13 films in theaters beginning next October, one month after finally severing their relationship with Disney. They include sequels to Scary Movie and Sin City. "We have said all along that we would hit the ground running and we are confident that this slate will represent and deliver the kind of movies that audiences will love," the Weinsteins said in a statement."
NEW STAR WARS MOVIE TO HIT $200 MILLION TODAY
Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith is likely to cross the $200-million mark sometime today (Thursday), according to analysts. The film had officially taken in $182.7 million by Tuesday and analysts estimated that it would earn an additional $10 million on Wednesday and a like amount today.