NBC'S OLYMPICS ADS: GOING ONCE, GOING ...
Although 2 percent of NBC's Olympics ads remained unsold as of Wednesday, NBC Universal Television Networks Group President Randy Falco told today's (Thursday) New York Daily News: "We will hit our $1 billion goal by Friday. ... We will meet all of our financial goals." The network is expected to realize a profit of $50 million. Some advertising analysts, however, have questioned whether the network will be able to achieve the ratings it promised ad buyers. If it can not, it will be forced to hand over "make goods" to them -- free spots elsewhere on its schedule.
CBS MISTAKES "TERRORIST" IDENTITY
Asif Iqbal, a Pakistani-American software consultant, is considering a lawsuit against CBS after the network aired his picture earlier this month, identifying him as a terrorist suspect. Iqbal has the same name as the wanted man, who is British. Iqbal's attorney, Katherine Piccola, told the website RatherBiased.com: "I think it rises to a higher level than negligence. It's the fundamentals of basic reporting to check your facts and check your photographs." Piccola said that Iqbal has demanded a correction, "but he certainly hasn't ruled out any of the other options, including a legal suit should he feel that a correction does not fix things. He was very upset the night he found out and has since had to cancel all of his travel plans." She said that the chances of a lawsuit were "likely and growing more likely."
TV REVIEWS: DEATH IN GAZA
Critics are praising British filmmaker James Miller's documentary Death in Gaza, which airs on HBO tonight (Thursday), although Miller himself will never read their reviews. He was killed by Israeli forces while making the film, the shooting captured by another TV crew. The film focuses on the indoctrination of Arab children in the belief of martyrdom. Kansas City Star critic Aaron Barnhardt writes: "I have watched my share, and your share, of these documentaries. But I've never been so moved as I have by Death in Gaza." Barnhardt concludes: "Miller's last act was to record a testament to the nihilism of war, and in so doing became a martyr to his own cause." Virginia Heffernan observes in the New York Times: "It must have been agonizing to convert the film about children that Miller thought he was making into a movie about his death. But that death is the tragedy that gives context to this powerful, painful film. Miller's voice, which would otherwise have been left out of the audio mix, is included sporadically, and he can be heard asking for his bulletproof vest or his helmet." Chicago Tribune arts critic Sid Smith calls the documentary, "a devastating and powerful testament to the horrors of war, one that focuses on the ghastliness inevitable when even children are ensnared in the conflict." Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post writes that he was particularly struck by scenes of a dying 14-year-old boy who was shot while throwing rocks at an Israeli tank. "It's a waste, an infuriating waste of a child, and an almost unbearable several minutes in this unbearably wrenching film." Miller had originally intended to show the effects of the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of children on both sides, but his death halted those plans on the day before he was due to leave for Israel. And Paul Brownfield in the Los Angeles Times concludes his review by remarking, "There is another side in this narrative of endless suffering, of course, and the sad fact is that had James Miller not been shot by an Israeli armored personnel carrier, he would have crossed the divide to show it."
JERRY SPRINGER: THE DISPUTE
British stage producer Allan McKeown has denied a New York Post report Wednesday that he has pulled out of financing a Broadway version of Jerry Springer: The Opera. In an interview with Daily Variety, McKeown said that he simply opposes the projected $11-13 million budget for the show and believes it should be mounted on a smaller scale than it was in London, where it no longer plays to packed houses as it did when it opened last year and is struggling to remain open. "I think it should come in for $7 million," McKeown told Variety. "The show would play brilliantly with a smaller cast and in a smaller Broadway house. The show is incredibly successful, but not with a large mainstream audience."
FAMED ADMAN DANE DEAD AT 98
Maxwell "Mac" Dane, the middle name in the legendary ad agency Doyle Dane Bernback (which eventually became Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide), has died at the age of 98. He was the last surviving member of the agency troika. In the early '60s, DDB was regarded as TV advertising's leading creative innovator, and its entertaining ads for Volkswagen were credited with the speedy adoption of The Beetle by American families. Dane was also No. 4 on Richard Nixon's "enemies list," largely because of DDB's effective TV commercials for the Democratic Party.
DUDS MAKE ROOM FOR DYNAMITE
The abortive openings of several big-budget studio films like King Arthur and Catwoman have made more room available in multiplexes for smaller films that ordinarily would have been relegated to art houses, the Los Angeles Daily News observed today (Thursday). The newspaper quoted Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian as saying: "When you have these high-profile casualties, it frees up some of the shelf space and there's no question that creates an opportunity for some of these smaller films." Particularly benefiting from the weaker showings currently are the indie films Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State, each of which are expanding from a handful of theaters at their original release to more than a thousand, the newspaper indicated.
SPIELBERG AND CRUISE RUSH TO WAR
Paramount and DreamWorks are rushing into production a new, effects-heavy version of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man) and Josh Friedman. Longtime Spielberg collaborator Kathleen Kennedy and Cruise collaborator Paula Wagner will produce. Although the project was announced in April, it was widely believed that it would be put on hold until after Spielberg completed work on his film about the 1972 Munich Olympics attack and until Cruise completed Mission: Impossible 3. Now, according to reports, those productions will be placed on back burners, while War is moved to the front. Published reports said that plans call for the film to go into production in November and to be released next year.
A ROYAL OPENING FOR PRINCESS
Disney may finally have discovered a big moneymaker this year in the form of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Citing an unnamed studio representative Daily Variety reported today (Thursday) that Wednesday's opening was expected to bring in $8-9 million, making it the third-highest-grossing Wednesday opener this year (behind Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2). The film, aimed at young females, is opening against little competition for that audience.
NEWS CORP PROFITS CLIMB
Crediting a strong performance by its filmed entertainment unit and a rebound in TV advertising, News Corp, the parent company of 20th Century Fox and Fox TV, among other media properties, reported a 7.8 percent rise in profit to $399 million in its last quarter, up from $370 million during the same quarter a year ago. Gross revenue remained flat at $5.5 million. News Corp COO Peter Chernin observed Wednesday that the movie studio had released five pictures opening to more than $20 million and that he expects a sixth to do so when Alien vs. Predator opens on Friday.
BLOCKBUSTER CHALLENGES NETFLIX
Blockbuster launched its online DVD rental service Wednesday, allowing subscribers to rent up to three movies at a time for $19.99 per month. Its principal online rival Netflix recently raised its subscription fee to $21.99 per month. (Blockbusser subscribers will also have the option of being able to rent five DVDs a month for $29.99 or eight for $39.99.) In addition, those who sign up for the service will receive coupons entitling them to rent two more DVDs in Blockbuster stores free. The company said that it intends to use its local stores as distribution points, allowing for next-day delivery in most cases (although its website promises delivery within two to three days).
MUSLIM SCHOLARS DENOUNCE UPCOMING KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Several prominent Muslim-American scholars are expressing anger over the script of 20th Century Fox's Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons. It is scheduled for release in May. Dealing with the 12th Century Crusades, the film describes the roots of the modern Middle East conflict. Laila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told today's (Thursday) New York Times, that there are "a lot of words flying around, with prominent figures talking about Islam being incompatible with Christianity and American values. This kind of movie might reinforce that theme in the discourse." UCLA professor Khaled Abu el-Fadl told the newspaper: "It's really annoying at an intellectual level, and it really misrepresents history on many levels. ... In this climate how are people going to react to these images of Muslims attacking churches and tearing down the cross and mocking it?" But Christy Lohr of the Multifaith Ministry Education Consortium in New York, remarked that part of the appeal of the movie for Hollywood was its controversial nature. "I think it's going to cause a firestorm of criticism and free publicity in the Op-Ed pages," she said. "It is cynical, but I think they enjoy stirring up a hornets' nest."
CIA NOMINEE TOLD MOORE HE WASN'T QUALIFIED
In an outtake from Fahrenheit 9/11 that may turn out to haunt him, Porter Goss, the Florida Republican congressman who was selected by President Bush to head the CIA, told Michael Moore, "I couldn't get a job with the CIA today. I am not qualified." He went on to explain that he has neither the "language skills" nor the computer savvy necessary for a CIA position. "The things that you need to have, I don't have," he told Moore. The excerpt from the deleted interview was published in today's (Thursday) "Rush & Molloy" column in the New York Daily News.
PIERSON TO RETURN AS ACADEMY PRESIDENT
Screenwriter Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon, Cool Hand Luke) has been elected to a fourth consecutive one-year term as president of the academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Academy bylaws bar him from seeking the position for a fifth term.