WILL RUPERT SWALLOW A "POISON PILL?"
Although Rupert Murdoch insisted last week that he was "not losing any sleep" over his close friend John Malone's efforts to raise his stake in the company substantially, the media company today began putting into play so-called poison-pill tactics in case Malone decides to launch an unfriendly takeover attempt. News Corp spokesman Greg Baxter said today (Monday), "It's too early to tell what Liberty's intentions are, but we're not necessarily treating them as friendly." Under the company's strategy, shareholders would be given the right to buy one News Corp share at half price for each share they own if anyone else buys a 15-percent stake. The tactic would cause a walloping dilution in News Corp's shares -- especially for the person who has just paid full price for the 15-percent stake. Some analysts have expressed doubt that Murdoch Malone, whose friendship date back for decades, would wind up engaging in a battle for the control of News Corp. Many say that they expect that Malone may simply be laying the groundwork for a friendly merger of News Corp with his Liberty Media organization.
60 MINUTES HIRES ED GORDON FOR WEDNESDAY SHOW
Veteran newsman Ed Gordon, the center of a media controversy when his interview show on the black cable channel BET was abruptly canceled in 2002 shortly after the channel was acquired by Viacom, has been added to the Wednesday-night edition of 60 Minutes, which airs on Viacom's CBS, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). Gordon is expected to make his first appearance on the magazine program as an "occasional contributor" on Wednesday with an interview with Jamie Foxx, who is promoting his latest film, Ray. Since the program's discredited report on George W. Bush's National Guard service aired last month, speculation has mounted that the network was considering the possibility of canceling the Wednesday version, which operates independently from the Sunday show. Results of an outside investigation of the Bush/National Guard report are expected soon.
SIX FEET UNDER TO LIVE UP TO ITS NAME
HBO is planning to bury its ensemble drama Six Feet Under after the end of the upcoming fifth season, it said on Friday. In a statement, series creator and exec producer Alan Ball said, "Working on Six Feet Under has been enormously fulfilling creatively, but if the show is about anything, it's about the fact that everything comes to an end." Production on the 12-episode fifth season is scheduled to start on Nov. 15; however, a premiere date had not yet been announced.
SIMPSONS PRODUCERS SHELVE MOVIE VERSION UNTIL 2008
The long anticipated movie version of The Simpsons has been put off until at least 2008 because those connected with the TV show don't want work on the movie to affect it, exec producer Al Jean has told Entertainment Weekly. "The biggest thing is you don't want to do a movie that's not reflective of the quality of the show, and you don't want the quality of the show to slip because you're doing the movie. So we're taking a little time," Jean said.
CONTROVERSY RISES OVER FRENCH GAY CHANNEL
On the air less than two weeks, France's gay channel Pink TV has already managed to stir up controversy in and out of the country's gay community. Today's (Monday) New York Times reported that an ad for the channel, showing France's François Mitterand and Germany's Helmut Kohl walking hand-in-hand in a 1984 photo over the caption "There's more to life than sex" has particularly outraged conservative groups, although the channel's founder, Pascal Houzelot, told the newspaper, "It's a joke, and everyone knows they're not gay." But Alain Piriou, spokesman for the gay rights group Inter-LGBT maintained that the channel caricaturizes gays. "We don't all live in beautifully decorated apartments with lots of money to spend," Piriou said.
HOWARD KEEL DIES AT 85
Howard Keel, best known for his role as Clayton Farlow on Dallas, but who had previously starred in a slew of theatrical MGM musicals, died in Palm Desert, CA Sunday at age 85. Death was attributed to colon cancer. He was one of the few stars identified with Hollywood musicals to successfully make the transition to straight acting when musicals went out of fashion.
INCREDIBLE OPENING FOR THE INCREDIBLES
Analysts were somewhat incredulous over the estimated $70.7-million bow of The Incredibles over the weekend. Most had forecast a take of about $60 million. If estimates pan out, it will mark the biggest opening for a film under the Disney banner in history, besting by about $400,000 last year's Finding Nemo (also a Pixar animated feature). "The thought that we could somehow compete with and beat Nemo is a true testament to how strong this movie is," Disney's distribution chief Chuck Viane told today's (Monday) Los Angeles Daily News. The record for the best November debut is held by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which opened in 2001 with $90.3 million. The record for the best debut of an animated film is held by Shrek 2, which opened with $108 million. Universal's Ray Charles biopic Ray performed strongly in second place, dipping only 31 percent in its second week with $13.8 million. Sony's The Grudge was close behind with $13.5 million, down 38 percent in its third week. But Paramount saw yet another new release flop as Alfie premiered in fifth place with just $6.5 million. Paramount distribution chief Wayne Llewellyn blamed the poor showing on the political climate as reflected in last week's elections. "Maybe they didn't want to see a guy that slept around," he said. The super performance of The Incredibles was not strong enough to lift the overall box office out of its recent inertia. Total ticket sales were estimated at $145 million, down 6 percent from the comparable week a year ago.
The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. The Incredibles, $70.7 million; 2. Ray, $13.8 million; 3. The Grudge, $13.5 million; 4. Saw, $11.4 million; 5. Alfie, $6.5 million; 6. Shall We Dance?, $5.65 million; 7. Shark Tale, $4.6 million; 8. Friday Night Lights, $3 million; 9. Ladder 49, $2.6 million; 10. Team America: World Police, $1.9 million.
PIXAR SHARES RISE AND FALL
Responding to virtually unanimous critical praise for The Incredibles on Friday, investors sent shares of Pixar Animation soaring to their highest level ever -- $85.10. Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told today's (Monday) Los Angeles Daily News: "They have a perfect track record with every single one of their films opening at No. 1. They are preordained blockbusters." However, some investors apparently regarded the success of the film as an opportunity to cash out. Shares in the company dropped nearly 5 percent in mid-morning trading today to $80.67.
NO SEQUEL FOR THE INCREDIBLES, SAYS PRODUCER
Pixar has no plans in the works for a sequel to The Incredibles, writer-director Brad Bird has told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cindy Pearlman. "We won't rush into a sequel. No one at Pixar has mentioned it," Bird said. "It's the kind of thing where you want to take some time and work on it so you don't let the fans down." Unmentioned in the interview is the fact that under Disney's current agreement with Pixar, Disney will retain the right to make sequels of Pixar features after the contract expires next year, with Pixar receiving only an 8-percent royalty. The studio also retains primary rights to The Incredibles' characters, including the ability to introduce theme-park attractions based on them.
EX-DISNEY DIRECTOR SAYS HE BOTH NEGOTIATED AND APPROVED OVITZ DEAL
A former member of the board of the Walt Disney Co. acknowledged on Friday that he negotiated the deal that brought Michael Ovitz to the company as president at a time when he headed the company's compensation committee, which approved the deal. Moreover, the board member, Irwin Russell, said he received a $250,000 fee for his efforts. Testifying in a Delaware courtroom where a shareholders' lawsuit is being tried, Russell said that he took on the seemingly conflicting role of negotiator because it was known that the company's general counsel, Sandy Litvack, who would ordinarily have done so was himself seeking the position that went to Ovitz. Russell also conceded that other members of the compensation committee had not received a summary of Ovitz's contract before they met to approve it.
DYLAN THREATENS TO SUE MOVIEMAKERS
Bob Dylan has reportedly warned the producers of the movie Factory Girl that he plans to sue them if the film is made. It concerns heiress Edie Sedgwick, a member of Andy Warhol's New York studio called The Factory in the late '60s, and the star of several of Warhol's films. She was romantically linked with Dylan, who reportedly wrote at least two songs about her. According to news stories, the new film will be directed by George Hickenlooper (Mayor of the Sunset Strip) and star Sienna Miller (Alfie) in the title role. The story reportedly describes how Dylan attempted to rescue Sedgwick from The Factory just before she died of a drug overdose in 1971. "I have no clue where they got this story," an aide to Dylan told the London Daily Mail. Another source close to Dylan added: "Not only did they not obtain Bob Dylan's approval but we were totally unaware of the existence of the project. I do not see how this film can ever get made."
MPAA CRACKDOWN ON UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES EXPECTED
University administrators are expecting the MPAA to target students when they announce lawsuits against alleged violators of the Millennium Copyright Act on Nov. 16. The movie industry's legal strategy was disclosed last week at a press conference held at UCLA by MPAA President Dan Glickman. It is expected to parallel efforts of the recording industry to attack piracy by filing lawsuits against illegal downloaders. More than a third of those lawsuits have been directed at college students. Yale's Information Security Officer Morrow Long, while decrying Internet piracy, said on Friday that the university has no plans to turn over the names of students who may have used its system to download films. "We haven't given up identities based on IP addresses," Long told the Yale Daily News. "We're fairly careful to guard students' privacy." However, at Princeton Rita Saltz, Digital Millennium Copyright Act agent for the university, said that if the MPAA detects that Princeton's Internet system is being used for downloads by any of the MPAA's "John Does," administrators will detect the device associated with the implicated IP address and then identify the person or people who used it.