WILL ACTORS STRIKE THE SET?

Negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were set to begin today (Tuesday), with members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists sitting in as observers. On Monday, AFTRA rejected SAG's invitation to rejoin the talks as direct participants, insisting that the "underlying problems" that had caused the split between the two actors' unions had not been resolved. Nevertheless, in a letter to SAG President Doug Allen, AFTRA Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth sent her union's "best wishes" to the SAG bargaining team "in their efforts to negotiate an excellent contract for performers." Meanwhile, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Allen rejected calls for the union to accept the agreements reached by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America as templates for its own. "There are whole realms of issues not in the writers' deal or the directors' deal that affect actors only," Rosenberg said.

EMPLOYEES REACH END OF THE LINE AT NEW LINE

The axe finally fell on New Line Monday as Time Warner announced that it had sent pink slips to about 450 of the studio's 490 employees. The remaining employees will be given jobs at Warner Bros. New Line will reportedly continue to develop so-called niche films, but only about six per year, which will be distributed by Warner Bros. It also is expected to proceed with development and production of the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit.

PROM NIGHT SLASHES BOX OFFICE

After a series of horrible performances at the box office by horror flicks, Sony's Prom Night graduated with honors over the weekend as it took in $20.8 million, far more than the studio said that it expected -- and about what it cost to produce. It beat the Keanu Reeves cop drama Street Kings, which opened with $12.5 million,by a wide margin. Overall, the box office grossed $95 million down from $118 million for the comparable weekend a year ago -- a drop of 19.6 percent. Through the first 15 weeks of the year, ticket sales are off 3.5 percent and attendance, 6.6 percent from last year.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Prom Night, Sony, $20,804,941, (New); 2. Street Kings, Fox Searchlight, $12,469,631, (New); 3. 21, Sony/Col, $10,470,173, 3 Wks. ($61,738,420); 4. Nim's Island, 20th Century Fox, $9,111,667, 2 Wks. ($25,391,566); 5. Leatherheads, Universal, $6,276,665, 2 Wks. ($21,976,580); 6. Horton Hears a Who!, 20th Century Fox, $5,920,566, 4 Wks. ($139,548,920); 7. Smart People, Miramax, $4,092,465, (New); 8. The Ruins, Paramount, $3,385,395, 2 Wks. ($13,548,871); 9. Superhero Movie, MGM, $3,216,247, 3 Wks. ($21,304,164); 10. Drillbit Taylor, Paramount, $2,044,988, 4 Wks. ($28,436,029).

BLOCKBUSTER OFFER BUSTS COMPANY'S SHARES

Analysts are scratching their heads over the attempt by Blockbuster, which already is struggling with numerous financial challenges, to buy Circuit City, which may be battling even more. On Monday, Blockbuster went directly to Circuit City shareholders with an offer to buy their shares at a 50-percent premium. Shares in the movie-rental company fell to a 52-week low after it did so. Blockbuster CEO James W. Keyes maintained that combining the two companies would provide "a sustainable competitive advantage." But analysts couldn't figure out how that result could occur. "I think it's kind of screwy," Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities told the MarketWatch website. "Because if, in fact, you wanted to go to a big-box retailer to rent movies, why wouldn't Costco have them? Why wouldn't Target? Or Wal-Mart? If it's such a great business, and you can leverage the store base, why isn't everyone doing it?" But Shahid Khan of IBB Consulting Group told the Wall Street Journal: "This [bid] is a clear indication that the DVD rental business is pretty much dead or in the process of dying. Blockbuster has to do something radically different to stay in business."

OSCAR STEPS ASIDE FOR NEW PRESIDENT

Apparently someone at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences realized that its planned announcement of Oscar nominees next year falls on the same day as the presidential inauguration. Ordinarily, the announcement is made during the early morning, when it can be covered by the morning network talk shows, and since 2004, when the Oscar presentations were moved from March to February, it has taken place on the third Tuesday of January. Next year, that falls on January 20, inauguration day. Therefore, the AMPAS decided to move the announcement to January 22. "I know that whoever produces the show would like to have more time," academy Executive Administrator Ric Robertson told the Associated Press, "and this will be two days less than they've had in past years."

Brian B.