ANTI-PORN CRUSADER HIRED BY FCC
Penny Nance, who describes herself as a religious conservative and has been a vocal opponent of racy images on television, has been hired by the Federal Communications Commission as a part-time adviser to its Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Mediaweek reported Monday. Last January, in a letter to President Bush, Nance complained of a "huge indecency problem" on basic cable and said that networks should restore the 8:00 p.m. family hour. In an Op-Ed piece published in the Washington Times three years ago, Nance wrote, "Sexual themes and even soft-core pornography are rampant on shows such as CBS' Survivor and MTV's Real World." She also stated: "There are plenty of cases where television content violates the FCC's standards, there have been countless cases over the past decade or more. But the FCC hasn't acted on a single complaint." Her comments were made before the to-do over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident.
LAW FIRM CLOSES SHOP ON NBC
Even NBC's winningest producer isn't safe from the programmer's scythe. David E. Kelley, who produces the Law and Order series and its numerous spin-offs, has been notified that his reality show Law Firm is being yanked from the network after only two weeks and will be moved to cable station Bravo. No date has been set for Law Firm's switch to cable. NBC said Monday that it plans to fill the show's Thursday-night time slot with reruns until Sept. 22 when the fourth season of The Apprentice is scheduled to premiere.
IT WILL STILL BE WORLD NEWS TONIGHT WITH PETER JENNINGS
ABC said Monday, one day after the death of news anchor Peter Jennings, that Jennings' name will remain attached to the World News Tonight banner for the time being. At the end of Monday's broadcast, Charles Gibson, who anchored the newscast, left the anchor's chair and delivered his final tribute to Jennings standing up. He then walked off the set as the camera focused on the empty anchor's chair. ABC has made no decision on who Jennings' permanent replacement will be, saying Monday that for the time being the newscast will continue to be anchored by Gibson and Elizabeth Vargas. Numerous reports in the aftermath of Jennings' death quoted various pundits, friends, and colleagues as remarking that it marked the end of an era But former NBC News President Larry Grossman told the Washington Post that finding a replacement for Jennings represents "a tough choice, but not as tough as it used to be, because it doesn't seem to matter as much these days. ... Picking anchors is a complete matter of judgment and luck, just like picking television shows. It's a crapshoot. Eras come and eras go. ... People who look like they're not replaceable are replaceable."
TV TIME FOR LAND BEFORE TIME
Universal's hand-drawn animated feature Land Before Time, which cost $12.3 million to produce in 1988 -- but which went on to earn $82 million at the worldwide box office before becoming a hit on DVD -- will be making the transition to TV. The Cartoon Network has picked up a Land Before Times animated series of 26 episodes and plans to air it beginning in 2007. It marks the first deal between a television network and Universal Studios Home Entertainment's family label. The original film, produced by former Disney animator Don Bluth, led to a series of 10 direct-to-video sequels. Glenn Ross, head of Universal Studios Home Entertainment Family Productions, told Home Media Retailing magazine, "Most of the [home video] movies have played at one time or another on Cartoon Network, so it's a natural for them to do it. They know the brand."
ECHOSTAR SHOOTS FOR THE STARS
On the same day that News Corp-controlled DirecTV announced that it had fired 36 people following a slow-down in subscriber growth, its principal rival reported an unexpected surge in income. EchoStar Communications, which operates the DISH home satellite network, said its second-quarter profit rose to $856 million compared with $85 million during the comparable quarter a year ago -- a jump of 907 percent. The company added 225,000 customers during the quarter, about the same as DirecTV. Bloomberg News quoted William Jacobs, an analyst at Harris Associates LP in Chicago, EchoStar's second-largest shareholder, as saying, "The demand for satellite is still strong. ... There's still a lot of analog cable subscribers that are switching to satellite."
DISNEY SHAREHOLDERS ARE ALL EARS
Shareholders in the Walt Disney Co. are expected to learn today (Tuesday) whether the company will have to repay them the $140 million (plus interest) that Disney handed Michael Ovitz when Ovitz was removed as president in 1996. Delaware Chancery Court judge William B. Chandler III has indicated that he will rule on the shareholders' claim that Ovitz should have been fired for cause and that the company's board of directors was lax in their oversight of Ovitz's hiring and firing, deferring improperly to Disney chief Michael Eisner. The ruling will come on the same day that Disney is expected to announce a surge in revenue and profits primarily due to a 26-percent boost in earnings by ESPN, the nation's top cable sports channel. The company also benefited from strong ad sales by its ABC broadcast network, resulting from the success of such hit shows as Lost and Desperate Housewives, and from better attendance at its theme parks. Disney's film unit also showed improvement from last year when a string of costly flops hurt the company's overall results. Analysts expect the media company to post a 33-percent rise in profit to about $803 million. Nevertheless, no major swing in the company's stock price is expected. Disney shares have fallen nearly 10 percent this year.
MOVIE SMOKING STUDIED AT MEDICAL CENTER
Half of the characters in R-rated independent movies smoke. One third of the characters in R-rated studio movies smoke. And 24 percent of the characters in all movies smoke. These were among the findings of a study by St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, NJ and published today (Tuesday) in Britain's New Scientist magazine of 447 movies produced between 1990 and 2000. The study also found that thirty-six percent of bad guys smoke in movies versus 21 percent of the good guys. However, Anna Adachi-Mejia of Dartmouth Medical School told the magazine that it does not matter which kinds of characters smoke. "Movie stars are powerful role models. Regardless of if actors are portraying a 'bad' or 'good' person, the alarming issue is that kids are still seeing smoking being modeled." But a spokesman for a smokers' rights group in Britain told the BBC: ""As for Hollywood glamorizing smoking, I fail to see that. And teens are exposed to many influences at school, at home and from the massive amount of anti-smoking messages they receive. To suggest that films are to blame for teens taking up smoking is daft."
Warner Bros.' The Dukes of Hazzard shot to the top of the box office over the weekend, earning $30.7 million in its debut, more than analysts had predicted. The film, which was excoriated by critics, took in nearly twice the amount of money as did the No. 2 film, The Wedding Crashers. Nevertheless, the New Line comedy continued to perform strongly, tallying up $16 million in ticket sales in its fourth weekend. Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory slipped to third place with $11 million. All three top films were produced by Time Warner units, as was No. 5, Must Love Dogs, from Warner Bros., with $7.4 million, and No. 6, March of the Penguins, from Warner Independent, with $7.1 million.The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. The Dukes of Hazzard, Warner Bros., $30,675,314, (New); 2. The Wedding Crashers, New Line, $16,035,177, 4 Wks. ($143,634,354); 3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Warner Bros., $10,968,363, 4 Wks. ($169,426,750); 4. Sky High, Disney, $9,005,945, 2 Wks. ($32,009,202); 5. Must Love Dogs, Warner Bros., $7,357,405, 2 Wks. ($26,220,397); 6. March of the Penguins, Warner Bros., $7,117,206, 3 Wks. ($26,414,009); 7. Stealth, Sony, $5,923,794, 2 Wks. ($24,581,921); 8. Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox, $4,266,519, 5 Wks. ($143,990,723); 9. War of the Worlds, Paramount, $3,548,295, 6 Wks. ($224,615,038); 10. The Island, DreamWorks, $3,117,486, 3 Wks. ($30,944,371).
LOUISIANIANS OVERJOYED BY HAZZARD SUCCESS
The box-office success of The Dukes of Hazzard over the weekend is being depicted as a shot in the arm for the film industry in Louisiana, where it was shot. "Dukes has been blitzed by the media, but where it really mattered, in the pocketbook, it became a roaring Louisiana success story and a money-maker for Warner Bros.," commented the publication Bayou Buzz. Alex Schott, director of the Governor's Office of Film and Television, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "Our incentives did their job, and [filmmakers will] continue coming here as long as they have a good experience." Last week Louisiana announced plans to build a $60-million studio with five sound stages and 200,000 square feet of office space.
WAL-MART SELLING OFF SHREK 2 CASSETTES FOR $2.88
Faced with DreamWorks' refusal to accept returns of videocassettes of Shrek 2 and Shark Tale, Wal-Mart is selling them off at near give-away prices. According to Home Media Retailing magazine, the retailer has priced the cassette versions of both movies at $2.88 each. Earlier this year, DreamWorks issued a warning to investors that sales of Shrek 2 would be lower than expected due to massive returns from retailers needing to make room on their shelves for a plethora of new titles, including numerous TV series collections.