COWELL WILL AGAIN BE RUNNING ON IDOL
The possibility that American Idol judge Simon Cowell would leave the talent show this season appeared to have been averted by a last-minute settlement with the show's British creator, music mogul Simon Fuller. According to the industry website BroadcastNow.com, Cowell will receive a larger percentage of profits from American Idol, estimated to be between 30-40 percent. In return, Fuller will receive a 20 percent cut in Cowell's new ITV show, The X Factor. Fuller had sued Cowell after Factor debuted, saying that it was a rip-off of the Idol format, a claim that Cowell had dismissed as "utterly ridiculous." Trial of the lawsuit, which was due to begin today (Thursday), was indefinitely postponed.
CNN SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR REPORTEDLY FIRED OVER "X" FACTOR
A CNN switchboard operator who told an angry caller complaining about an "X" that appeared over the face of Vice President Cheney on Tuesday that the network was merely exercising "free speech" has been fired, according to the blog Daily Pundit. A recording of the phone call was posted on numerous blogs by a Santa Monica, CA group called Team Hollywood, which appears to have taken its name from the 2004 political-satire "puppetoon," Team America: World Police. At first hearing, the recording appears to be an exercise in street theater, with the argumentative CNN operator telling the irate caller that Cheney and Bush should "stop lying." Previously Team Hollywood had posted on the Internet news releases promoting a book, The Index: A Road Map, described as "a reality reading book," which, they claimed, had caused it to become targets of al-Qaeda . (It quoted the terrorist group as saying, "They are poisoning the youth of the world with their venomous book.") But Bill Quick, who operates the Daily Pundit, posted a message saying that he had spoken to a CNN spokeswoman who said that that CNN operator heard in the recording had in fact been fired for "behavior that was totally inappropriate. His comments did not reflect the views of CNN."
FIRST, DOWLOADABLE TV SHOWS; NOW, EXTRAS
In an apparent effort to counter the announced plans by TiVo to allow programs recorded on its digital video recorders to be downloaded onto iPods and other portable MP3 players, ABC said Wednesday that it was making a podcast available with video of last night's Lost episode in which the writers give their take on the drama. Synced with the downloadable episode ($1.99 from Apple's iTunes store), the podcast serves as a scene-by-scene commentary. Offering such "extras" -- comparable to those made available in DVD sets -- could represent a key maneuver in the networks' strategy against competition from TiVo.
LOW-RATED ALIAS CANCELED
Viewers will never learn how the secret agent played by Jennifer Garner will continue her work after giving birth to the child she has been carrying throughout episodes this season. ABC announced Wednesday that the show has been canceled. Alias has plummeted in the ratings this season following its move to Thursday nights opposite CBS's hit reality series Survivor: Guatemala. Last year, it recorded its biggest audiences to date, when it followed ABC's big hit Lost. Total viewers have fallen to 7 million from 10.3 million since then -- a 29.1 percent decline -- and ranks 75th on Nielsen's list of primetime programs. Garner's real-life pregnancy -- she is married to Ben Affleck -- was written into the series' story line this season.
BRITISH JOURNALISTS UNION BLASTS BLAIR THREAT
Britain's National Union of Journalists on Wednesday condemned announced warnings from the Tony Blair government that it would prosecute journalists under the Official Secrets Act if they disclosed further information contained in a leaked memo that seemed to indicate that Blair dissuaded President Bush from proceeding with plans to bomb the headquarters of the Arab news network al-Jazeera last year. Excerpts from the memo had appeared in the London Daily Mirror. In a statement, union secretary Jeremy Dear said, "This is a heavy-handed attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is a double attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of information. ... These sort of attempts to stifle uncomfortable revelations printed in a newspaper, which is only carrying out its proper duty to inform the British public, does the government of what is supposed to be a democracy no credit whatsoever. What we need in this country is free and open debate and a proper political dialogue over important issues of this sort, not a knee-jerk panic reaction." Two former British government bureaucrats have already been charged in connection with the leak and are due to appear in court next week.
FOR HOLLYWOOD, IT'S THE YEAR OF THE DVD'S
Despite a significant drop in ticket sales at the box office this year -- amounting to more than 6 percent from last year -- sales and rentals of DVDs are down just over 2 percent, according to Home Media Retailing magazine. In fact, says the trade publication, home video sales for Warner Bros., Paramount, and Lions Gate are all higher than they were a year ago. Moreover, the studios all plan to release some attractive product in retail and rental outlets during the holiday season. Last week, DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar topped the VideoScan list with sales of 4.4 million copies, knocking off the previous week's winner, Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Twentieth Century Fox's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, which held the top spot just two weeks ago, fell to No. 4, edged out by the Sony action flick Stealth. All of those films will be facing competition this week from DreamWorks' War of the Worlds and Warner's The Polar Express.
MASSACHUSETTS LURES HOLLYWOOD
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Wednesday signed a new law providing tax incentives intended to lure Hollywood filmmakers to the state. After signing the legislation, the governor remarked, "Grab your popcorn and soda, because Massachusetts is ready for its close-up." The bill calls for income and corporate excise tax credits to producers based on the number of local workers they employ and how much the filmmakers spend in the state during production. Today's (Thursday) Boston Herald quoted Don Stirling, who heads the state's Sports & Entertainment Commission, as saying, "With this film incentive legislation, we have the economic resources to attract more and more movies to Massachusetts."
83-YEAR-OLD MOVIE GETS REVIVAL
After being "lost" for 83 years, the romantic film Beyond the Rocks, starring arguably the two most famous dramatic actors of the silent-film era, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, is returning to the screen. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that it plans to screen the film, with live musical accompaniment, as part of its Lost and Found series next Tuesday. It received its first revival screening on November 13 in San Francisco, where it was introduced by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, Swanson's stepson.
MOVIE REVIEWS: IN THE MIX
Although In the Mix
was not screened for critics, a few of them braved generally bad weather over most of the country Wednesday to stand in line, pay for their tickets, and watch an early screening like every other moviegoer. Their reviews turned out to be the sort that studio execs probably anticipated. All of the critics appear to agree that the filmmakers' entire effort was devoted to creating a vehicle that would attract fans of the film's star, Usher. On that level, it works, Boston Herald critic Chelsea Bain suggests. "Considering his current appeal, this standard, cheesy mobster tale is a flick his fans, at the very least, will enjoy," she writes. Similarly, Bob Longino comments in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Everywhere he goes in Mix, it seems, women see Usher and sigh. Which defines pretty much what Mix is all about. It's a virtual vanity project designed to sell the image of the Grammy-winning R&B star." Anita Gates in the New York Times observes that such "one-dimensional" films were common in the 1930s and '40s and were always built around star-appeal. The star, in this case, receives mostly so-so notices. Christy Lemire of the Associated Press writes that while Usher "does have a certain undeniable charisma, what he's doing in his first starring role can't exactly be called acting." Blame the script, suggests Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News. "Though Usher exhibits the easy, likable charm we've seen him radiate in smaller film roles and on TV, there's just nothing the least bit credible for him or anyone else to hang a character onto in this lightweight yet leaden romantic crime comedy," he remarks.
MOVIE REVIEWS: PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Also opening wide this holiday weekend will be Focus Features' Pride & Prejudice, which in limited release has been packing them in. (Last weekend, it was the second-highest-grossing movie behind only Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) Some critics have fairly swooned over this latest remake of the Jane Austen novel -- and especially over star Keira Knightley. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes that her "performance is so light and yet fierce that she makes the story almost realistic; this is not a well-mannered Masterpiece Theatre but a film where strong-willed young people enter life with their minds at war with their hearts." Stephen Holden in the New York Times seems downright smitten: "When this 20-year-old star is on the screen, which is much of the time, you can barely take your eyes off her," he writes. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News writes a sort of star-is-born review: "Keira Knightley, all of 20 years old, takes her place in the sun," she proclaims. Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe concludes his review by remarking, "Those of us who put ourselves through King Arthur and Domino looking for signs of a great actress can leave Pride & Prejudice ecstatic. We finally get what we paid for." Indeed, writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, moviegoers may not be attracted by the familiar story, but by the actress who carries it. "Lord God, can this little gal take control of a scene, dominate a movie, project to the last seat, radiate power and personality unto the rafters. For this movie really is far more about Knightley than it is about Austen."