RECORD IDOL VOTE ELIMINATES STEVENS
Sixteen-year-old John Stevens, who had managed to remain a contestant on American Idol despite being reviled by judge Simon Cowell as well as radio disc jockeys and newspaper TV critics throughout the country, was finally sent packing Wednesday night as the program recorded a record 28 million votes (according to the program's host, Ryan Seacrest). "America found its good sense," the Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert wrote, referring to the anti-Stevens vote. Mike Bell in the Calgary Sun commented that the vote may have been a response to the charges of racism unleashed by Elton John about last week's voting which eliminated the judges' favorite, black vocalist Jennifer Hudson. "They voted off perhaps the whitest human being on the planet," Bell remarked about Stevens. On Tuesday, Idol exec producer Nigel Lythgoe appeared on the syndicated Entertainment Tonight to say that Stevens "nor his family ever bought into the fact that America would turn like this on somebody. And it's totally unfair."
COMING SOON: COWELL ON YOUR CELL PHONE
Musicland, the 900-store chain that includes the Sam Goody, Media Play and Suncoast stores, has signed a deal with Freemantle Media, producers of American Idol, to become the exclusive retailer for American Idol cell phones. As reported by Video Store magazine, the cell phones, which will come in two models from Nokia, will feature "rude" voice and text messages from Idol's Simon Cowell, messages and photos from the contestants, concert promotions, Idol ringtones, and more. A Freemantle exec observed that the phones were one way of keeping the show's fan base plugged in even when there isn't a current season on the air.
ABC NEWS CASTIGATED OVER ADOPTION FEATURE
The outcry over ABC's 20/20 feature on open adoptions scheduled to air Friday grew louder as TV critics' early reviews questioned its validity as journalism. The program, hosted by Barbara Walters, brings five couples together with a 16-year-old pregnant girl who must decide which will adopt her child. Calling it "trash," the Newark, NJ Star-Ledger's Matt Zoller Seitz commented: "Every five minutes, there's a nausea-inducing element, from Walters' trademark firm-yet-sensitive-mommy narration to a dramatic, low-angled wide shot that finds a couple of prospective adopters sitting in the background before a fireplace; on the floor in the foreground is a teddy bear, leaning against the base of a chair like -- sob! -- a lonely baby that just wants a mommy and daddy!" ABC News spokesman Jeff Schneider indicated Wednesday that the program that actually airs on Friday may be significantly different from the one that the critics have seen. He told the Boston Herald: "As we say in the [advance] copies, we reserve the right and usually do edit right up until the show goes on the air."
SOCCER STAR BECKHAM MAKES SHARP DEAL WITH GILLETTE
International soccer star David Beckham, who is often photographed sporting a days-old stubble, is expected to sign a $30-50-million deal to become a spokesman for Gillette products, Advertising Age reported Wednesday. The company is currently ramping up plans to launch a major ad campaign to promote the June introduction of its battery-operated Mach 3 M3 Power Razor, but Ad Age observed that the Beckham TV spots, which have already been shot, will not appear until later in the summer. Gillette declined to comment on the report. The deal, if it materializes, would end speculation that a recent tabloid scandal (Beckham was said to have had an affair with his personal assistant) would jeopardize his ability to land lucrative endorsement deals.
ANGELA SHAPIRO TO RUN FOX TV STUDIOS
Angela Shapiro, who joined the exodus of top Disney execs when the ABC Family channel, which she headed, was placed under the control of Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney's Media Networks unit, has been named president of Fox Television Studios. She replaces the unit's founder, David Grant, who said he plans to launch an independent production company to distribute shows internationally. Today's Los Angeles Times observed that Shapiro's hiring appears to end speculation that Fox might shut down the seven-year-old TV Studios unit, which has failed to generate a profit. It oversees such shows as The Shield on FX, Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show on Fox, and Biography on A&E.
CBS AIRS PICTURES OF SOLDIERS TORTURING PRISONERS
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, who, as the official spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, has attempted to put the best face on American action in that country, expressed dismay Wednesday over CBS pictures showing U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. Appearing on the network's 60 Minutes II Wednesday night, Kimmitt said that he was "appalled" by the pictures, adding: "These are our fellow soldiers, these are the people we work with every day, they represent us, they wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down."
HEAD OF UNIVERSAL TV BECOMES POTENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR BBC JOB
Michael Jackson, head of Universal Television Group, confirmed Wednesday that he has submitted his resignation. The unit is expected to unite with NBC Entertainment following completion of the NBC-Universal merger. Jackson, who previously headed Britain's Channel 4, is now regarded as a top candidate to become director-general of the BBC, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Thursday).
HOLLYWOOD'S "DIRTY SECRET"
Calling the soaring costs of making movies "the dirty secret of Hollywood," News Corp president and COO Peter Chernin said Wednesday that they could have devastating consequences for the industry. Raising the possibility of a movie with a $200-million budget bringing in only $25 million at the box office, Chernin said that the resulting fallout from "the era of $150-million write-downs" would "rock the industry to its foundation -- and appropriately so." Chernin made his remarks while participating in a panel discussion at a Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles at which fellow panelist, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, indicated that his company was removing the spending lid from Paramount, allowing it to make films costing more than $100 million. Later in the discussion, the two men agreed that, despite the MPAA's claim that movie studios were losing billions of dollars each year to bootleggers, the film industry was not being hurt as badly as the record industry. Part of the reason, Chernin suggested, was that consumers appeared to be rebelling against the high cost of CDs. "It's ironic that you can buy a movie cheaper than you can buy the [CD] soundtrack to that movie," Chernin said.
TIME WARNER RINGS IN A STRONG QUARTER
Thanks in large measure to strong performances by its New Line and Warner Bros. units, Time Warner Inc. reported Wednesday that first-quarter profits soared to $961 million, up from $396 million for the comparable period a year ago. (The results included $215 million in tax benefits mainly related to the sale of of the Warner Music Group.) The company said that its movie studios posted a 25-percent revenue increase and accounted for 20 percent of the total U.S. box office in the first quarter. Its television units posted a 5 percent rise -- mostly the result of higher subscription rates for HBO.
DISNEY DISSIDENTS LAMBASTE DISNEY BOARD
Disney Co. dissidents Roy Disney and Stanley Gold lashed out Wednesday at the Disney board for its refusal to find a successor to Michael Eisner. At a two-day retreat earlier this week, the board reportedly decided to evaluate existing Disney executives but ruled out considering potential candidates from outside the company. "It appears the only 'succession plan' is to keep Mr. Eisner as CEO for as long as he wants," Disney and Gold said in a statement. "Merely reviewing and supporting the in-house executive team is too little, and too late. The real solution to the company's leadership problems must be sought elsewhere."
MASTER AND COMMANDER SETS SAIL ON DVD
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which cost $150 million to make but which grossed $93.8 million domestically at the box office, sold nearly 3.5 million DVDs in its first week on the shelves, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment said Wednesday. It also produced $15.9 million in rental revenue, according to Video Store magazine.
VALENTI AMAZED AT SIMPLE CODE TO BREAK DVD ENCRYPTION
MPAA chief Jack Valenti expressed amazement last week when the senior editor of the MIT student publication The Tech showed him a six-line code that he had written that allows him to watch DVDs on a computer using the Linux operating system. Valenti, who often invokes ornate Victorian language in his public remarks, responded, "Un-f***ing-believable" when shown how the descrambling code worked. Editor Keith J. Winstein then observed that there is no machine running Linux that can play a commercial DVD -- to which Valenti remarked: "You're one of just a few. How many Linux users are there?" Winstein replied, "About two million." Valenti said that Winstein had brought up "an interesting question," adding: "I want to try to find out ... why are there no Linux licensed players. There must be a reason."
AUSTRALIAN COURT HALTS PRODUCTION OF $130-MILLION FILM
An Australian court today (Thursday) halted location shooting of the $130-million Sony/Columbia film Stealth in a forest area west of Sydney, bowing to protests by environmentalists. The New South Wales Land and Environment Court overruled local agencies that had granted permits to the filmmakers, holding that the areas are "sacrosanct." The film's producers, who include Mike Medavoy, Neal Moritz, Arnold Messer, and Laura Ziskin, had told the court that any interruption would cost them $360,000 per day. Environmentalists had argued that the filming threatened the habitats of an endangered dragonfly and a rare natural sponge. But director Rob Cohen, who identified himself as a member of Greenpeace and other environmental groups, maintained that the film makers would hurt the forest's environment no more than "the average Japanese tourist." After the ruling, the New South Wales premier, Bob Carr, said that he would immediately introduce special legislation to overturn the court decision.
IRAN ALLOWS GIBSON'S PASSION TO PLAY
Iran's censors, overriding objections by Sunni Muslims who believe that it is sacrilegious to depict a religious prophet, have approved the screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, according to the country's official news agency. Iran is a predominantly Shiite state.
SPIELBERG FILM TO OPEN VENICE FILM FESTIVAL
The Venice Film Festival has selected Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, to open its 61st annual edition on Sept. 1.