FOR FOX, SEPTEMBER WILL COME IN JUNE
Fox's summer will look much like its fall as it launches five new series and a revamped The Simple Life in June. Among the new entries is the highly anticipated reality series The Casino from producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice). Also due are two dramas, The Jury, from director Barry Levinson, and North Shore, dealing with characters frequenting a Hawaiian resort. The network also plans to launch two comedies on Wednesday night, Quintuplets, with former Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter, and Method & Red, a kind of Fresh Prince sitcom about a couple of rap stars who, with their newfound earnings, move into a wealthy New Jersey neighborhood.
In what amounts to a fierce backlash by the television industry against the current get-tough-on-indecency stance of the Federal Communications Commission, a coalition of media giants, trade unions, and free-speech advocates have joined in a petition to the FCC asking it to reconsider a recent ruling that held that an expletive by Bono during the 2003 Golden Globes telecast on NBC was "indecent and profane." The coalition, which includes Viacom, News Corp, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as some 20 other organizations, charged that the FCC's ruling has already had a chilling effect "across the broadcast landscape." Viacom, which owns, among other broadcast entities, CBS, the MTV networks, and the Infinity radio station group, and appears to be in line to receive massive fines, perhaps in the millions of dollars, for remarks broadcast on Howard Stern's radio program, which is syndicated by Infinity, was the latest to join the alliance. Conspicuous by their absence from the coalition were the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, and General Electric, which owns NBC.
TV LAND TO GO DARK DURING FRIENDS FINALE
The cable network TV Land will pay tribute to NBC's Friends on the day of the final episode by preempting its regular programming and airing six sitcom episodes featuring the cast "before they were 'Friends,'" in the words of the cable net's announcement. However, during the time that the season finale actually airs on NBC, TV Land plans to go dark. "I know it sounds crazy, but we don't believe we are rolling over and letting them win," TV Land boss Larry W. Jones told today's (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirer. "The reality is, our viewers are their viewers." The six "classic shows" -- to air before and after the blackout -- include: Cheers (with Lisa Kudrow), Family Ties (Courteney Cox), Ferris Bueller (the 1990 sitcom with Jennifer Aniston), The Wonder Years (David Schwimmer), Just the 10 of Us (Matt LeBlanc) and Who's the Boss? (Matthew Perry).
SORCERER'S STONE TO CONJURE UP EXTRAS
Borrowing a page from producers of DVD packages, ABC is planning to air Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with a number of "bonuses" on May 28. They include 20 minutes of footage that was edited out of the original theatrical release. "It will be the first time the movie has been seen this way," a Warner Bros. spokesman told Video Store magazine. In addition, interviews with cast and crew members will be dropped into commercial breaks, and the telecast will conclude with a 10-minute "making of" special to promote Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, opening theatrically on June 4.
SHERWOOD TO RISE EARLY FOR ABC
As expected, veteran news producer Ben Sherwood, who resigned from NBC News two years ago to become a novelist, is returning to the news business as the new executive producer of ABC's Good Morning America. Sherwood will replace Shelley Ross, who was named executive producer of Primetime Thursday last week. "Ben's talent for rich storytelling, his wide range of interests and his familiarity with the daily rhythms of breaking news make him a great choice to join Good Morning America," ABC News President David Westin said in a statement. Sherwood's recent novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is under development as a feature for Universal.
PENTAGON-FUNDED IRAQI STATION SAYS U.S. TROOPS KILLED ITS REPORTER
The U.S.-funded Iraqi TV station al-Iraqiya claimed Monday that American troops shot and killed one of its correspondents and his driver and seriously wounded a cameraman "while they were performing their duty" in the central city of Samaraa. The station, which receives all of its funding from the Pentagon, interrupted its regular programming last night and began airing excerpts from the Koran. U.S. military spokesmen had no immediate comment on the alleged attack.
BRITISH FLAK SAYS HE MADE BECKHAM PARAMOUR RICH
British celebrity publicist Max Clifford said today (Tuesday) that he told Rebecca Loos last January that if she sold her story about an affair with soccer star David Beckham to the news media, she would "never have to work again." In an interview with the London Evening Standard, Clifford revealed that Loos has already earned $1.4 million from TV and tabloid interviews. He also said that he has had discussions about parlaying Loos's notoriety into a permanent job as a TV host. As for the possibility that her disclosures might harm Beckham's career, Clifford said: "He should have been aware that if he played around, eventually it would come back and bite him on the bum. But it hasn't done him any harm at all, not even to his sponsorship deals. ... If anything, it will enhance his image."
EISNER'S FAMILY FEUD
In the latest jolt to Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, new details of last month's shareholders vote were released Monday showing that nearly three-quarters of the shares held in Disney's own employee retirement funds were voted by those who sided with dissidents seeking to oust him. According to the data, 20.7 million of the 28.6 million shares in Disney's 401(k) plan were withheld from Eisner, a percentage that was well above the 45 percent of all shares cast that were withheld from him. The figures were released Monday by Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, the two former Disney directors who are leading the battle to oust Eisner. Moreover, their figures show that 63.7 percent of the votes from the same funds were withheld from George Mitchell, who recently was named Disney chairman.
EX-DISNEY ANIMATORS MORTGAGE HOMES TO SET UP STUDIO
Another group of animators who were laid off at Disney's Florida animation studio in January have opened a studio of their own. Five animators, who worked on such features as The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and Brother Bear announced Monday that they had mortgaged their homes in order to set up their own studio called Project Firefly at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Another group of Florida animators fired by Disney in January had earlier announced that they had opened up shop in Winter Garden, FL as Legacy Animation Studiowith the intention of keeping Walt Disney's legacy of hand-drawn animation alive.
MIRAMAX WAGS THE MOUSE
Disney was probably giving thanks for its Miramax subsidiary Monday as box office returns showed that Miramax's second "volume" of Kill Bill took in $25.1 million over the weekend -- virtually all of the money pure profit, since the studio had already recouped its production costs for the two Kill Bill movies -- and then some -- when Vol. 1 was released last October. At the same time, the box office defeat of Disney's The Alamo appeared complete as the $100-million movie dropped 55 percent in its second week to just $4.1 million, to bring its two-week total to $16.4 million. Analysts predicted that Disney was likely to write down as much as $80 million on the drama. Last week's leader, The Passion of the Christ, risen for Easter weekend, dropped 73 percent to No. 10, with $4.05 million. Lions Gate's The Punisher opened in second place with a mediocre $13.8 million, while the only other new release, Connie and Carla opened outside the top ten with $3.3 million. Nevertheless, since it was screened in only 1014 locations, it placed fourth in per-theater box office earnings. After a seven-week streak of total box-office gains that topped last year's, earnings for last weekend fell to $86.4 million, 2.1 percent below the figure for the comparable weekend a year ago. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Kill Bill: Volume 2, Miramax, $25,104,949, (New); 2. The Punisher, Lions Gate, $13,834,527, (New); 3. Johnson Family Vacation, Fox Searchlight, $5,950,280, 2 Wks. ($20,977,918); 4. Hellboy, Sony, $5,652,030, 3 Wks. ($50,308,617); 5. Home on the Range, Disney, $5,507,064, 3 Wks. ($37,782,081); 6. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Warner Bros. $5,227,232, 4 Wks. ($72,307,969); 7. Walking Tall, MGM, $4,601,007, 3 Wks. ($36,634,257); 8. Ella Enchanted, Miramax, $4,241,089, 2 Wks. ($13,579,980); 9. The Alamo, Disney, $4,138,571, 2 Wks. ($16,402,427); 10. The Passion of the Christ, Newmarket, $4,051,112, 8 Wks. ($360,761,619).
THE RETURN OF NC-17 FILMS
Despite what some have described as a new wave of puritanism that has seemingly engulfed the broadcast media since the Janet Jackson episode (see separate item in TV section), the film industry seems prepared to test the limits of long-established morality codes. Today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times observes that at least three NC-17-rated films are being released this year, including Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which came out in February; Young Adam, which debuts on Friday; and High Tension, due in the fall. Lions Gate Releasing, which is distributing the latter film, has strongly condemned the MPAA for not using its clout to persuade newspapers to reverse their policies that bar movie ads for NC-17 fare. In an interview with the Times, Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg said, "We feel it's important to establish a legitimate adult rating. ... If the MPAA won't do it, we'll do it for them." In a separate article in the Times, director David Mackenzie, who helmed Young Adam, said of the rating, which was meted out for a scene in which the characters are fully clothed, "I don't mind the idea of making grown-up films, perhaps reclaiming the idea of 'adult' from pornography. I don't mind if people under the age of 18 don't see the film as long as it doesn't become stigmatized because of it." The last NC-17 film was released in 1998.