ABC: A PLAYER AGAIN
A combination of the special TV Guide's Greatest Moments 2004 and Monday Night Football lifted ABC to a narrow primetime victory Monday while its rivals aired mostly reruns. The TV Guide special pulled a 7.1/11 in the 8:00 p.m. hour, ahead of CBS's Listen Up and Still Standing, which averaged a 6.2/10. A Fear Factor repeat on NBC and The Swan finale on Fox were well behind. At 9:00 p.m., Monday Night Football took the lead with a 10.2/15. But it did no more than tie the numbers for Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men on CBS. The second hour of The Swan finale on Fox improved to a 5.2/8 as the winner was announced, while NBC's Las Vegas crapped out with a 4.9/7. At 10:00 p.m. a rerun of CBS's CSI: Miami led the field with a 10.0/15, while Monday Night Football dropped to a 9.9/16. A second hour of NBC's Las Vegas folded with a 4.3/7.
FAT ACTRESS SIGNS WITH DIET COMPANY
Kirstie Alley, who stars in a new show for Showtime in March called Fat Actress, has signed on as a Jenny Craig spokesperson and will appear in commercials for the company beginning Jan. 10. The ads will reportedly track her attempt to lose 50 pounds following the diet company's new YourStyle personalized weight-loss program. "I had a great time getting fat and now I'm going to have an even greater time losing weight," Alley said in a statement released by the company. "Since I started working with the Jenny Craig team, they've supported my unconventional, hopefully humorous, approach to coming to grips with the fact that I'm certifiably fat -- I goof around with that on my show, 'Fat Actress.' The truth is, no one wants to think they need Jenny Craig, but once you regain consciousness and realize, as I did, that it's the best and most fun plan out there, you concede."
TV STATION PUTS NEWS, WEATHER, TRAFFIC ON CELL PHONES
Raleigh, NC TV station WRAL claimed today (Tuesday) that it has become the first television station in the U.S. to provide video news, weather and traffic information to cell-phone users. Its "news over wireless" (NOW) content was being offered to Sprint customers in Raleigh for $3.99 per month. In a statement, John Burris, director of wireless data services for Sprint, said: "WRAL's innovative history and our own legacy of exploring new communications ground prompted us to enter into this agreement. This is another opportunity for us to enhance and expand our customers' wireless experience."
MARTHA STEWART EARNS $8 MILLION IN PRISON
With the price of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia rising steadily on word that the imprisoned homemaking guru would be appearing in a new syndicated reality series for NBC once she gets out of prison, Stewart sold off some $300,000 shares of her company last Tuesday, according to filings with the SEC. With the price of the stock pegged at $27 at the time of the sale, Stewart gained more than $8 million. By Thursday, the stock had risen to $33.50, before retreating again. At midday today (Tuesday) it was selling for $26.50. Stewart is currently serving a five-month sentence for lying to investigators about the circumstances under which she sold shares of stock in ImClone Systems.
REPORTERS GROUP DENOUNCES U.S. ACTION ON HEZBOLLAH STATION
The international organization Reporters San Frontières has denounced the decision by the U.S. to place al-Manar, a TV satellite outlet run by the militant Hezbollah group, on its list of terrorist organizations. While saying that some of the anti-Semitic statements broadcast on al-Manar are "inexcusable," the reporters group said that "putting this TV station in the same category as terrorist groups worries us." Last week a guest on one of al-Manar's talk shows claimed that Israel was spreading AIDS in Arab countries. The channel was promptly shut down in France. Al-Manar operates a news bureau in Washington D.C., which could also be shuttered following the U.S. action. Hassan Fadiallah, al-Manar's news director, told the Associated Press: "This is a blatant attack on press freedoms and an exercise in intellectual terrorism against the voices that are opposed to US and Israeli policies."
WHAT'S MALONE UP TO?
Analysts on Monday were trying to discern why Liberty Media chief John C. Malone had decided to accelerate his planned swap of voting shares in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Malone announced the swap in November and at the time indicated that it would be completed by April. Liberty declined to comment on its reasons for moving up the deal with Merrill Lynch International, which, Liberty said in its recent SEC filing, would be completed by mid-January.
BOX OFFICE SOUR AS A LEMON
'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the movie houses, not too much was stirring. Attendance was down by more than 25 percent from the same weekend last year, and receipts were off by almost that amount. The top film, Paramount's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, brought in $30.1 million -- a far cry from the $72.6 million that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King raked in during the comparable weekend a year ago. The No. 2 film, Warner's Ocean's Twelve, saw its take ebb to $18.1 million, 54 percent below its high-water mark last week. Sony's Adam Sandler starrer Spanglish debuted in third place with just $8.8 million -- half the amount that analysts had predicted. And 20th Century Fox's The Flight of the Phoenix was a case of ashes-to-ashes, as it barely got off the ground with $5 million and settled for eighth place. The only bright spot in the top ten was the performance of Warner's The Polar Express, which, while losing 13 percent of the theaters in which it was playing, was down just 12 percent in actual receipts. It has now earned $123.5 million domestically and an additional $64.2 million overseas. Two films opened strongly in limited release, Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, took off with $893,066 in 41 theaters. And Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, starring Hilary Swank, took in $179,953 in its first round at eight theaters. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Paramount, $30,061,756, (New); 2. Ocean's Twelve, Warner Bros., $18,124,149, 2 Wks. ($68,524,528); 3. Spanglish, Sony, $8,817,853, (New); 4. The Polar Express, Warner Bros., $8,411,135, 6 Wks. ($123,430,336); 5. Blade: Trinity, New Line, $6,817,584, 2 Wks. ($35,628,693); 6. National Treasure, Disney, $6,022,564, 5 Wks. ($132,748,249); 7. Christmas With the Kranks, Sony, $5,366,072, 4 Wks. ($61,972,118); 8. Flight of the Phoenix, 20th Century Fox, $5,019,430, (New); 9. Closer, Sony, $3,351,014, 3 Wks. ($18,803,296); 10. The Incredibles, Disney, $3,120,541, 7 Wks. ($236,978,426).
MARVEL COMICS TO TURN STARS INTO SUPERHEROES
Legendary Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee, who with the late Jack Kirby created a host of superheroes for the comics, is planning to turn at least 25 celebrities into superheroes for a series of feature films, direct-to-DVD titles, and merchandise, Video Store Magazine reported Monday. Lee's POW! Entertainment is working with the production company Celebrities in Action to develop the project. Details were sketchy -- Video Store did not indicate whether the films will be animated or live action, and it said that "exactly which celebrities will participate is still up in the air." It quoted Lee himself as saying, "What a kick it is to be tackling a project as original and unique as creating new personas and storylines for actual, world-famous celebrities ... And what a challenge! Imagine making superheroes of people who are already superheroes."
BITTORRENT WEBSITES CALL IT A DAY
Rather than face a costly legal battle with the major film studios, several websites that enable users to download movies, records and other software with the BitTorrent program have shut down since being notified that they were being sued. The Associated Press reported on Monday that among those to shut down was one of the most popular file-sharing sites, Suprnova.org. A statement posted on the site said, "We are very sorry for this, but there was no other way, we have tried everything." Other sites that shut down included N4p.com, torrentbits.org and torrents.com.
CHICAGO FILM CRITICS NAME SIDEWAYS BEST FILM OF 2004
Yet another film critics association has named Fox Searchlight's Sideways the best picture of 2004. The Chicago Film Critics Assn. joined colleagues in New York, Los Angeles and New York, among others, in honoring the makers of the film. Paul Giamatti, the star of the film, received the best actor award, while Imelda Staunton won the best actress award for Vera Drake.. Clint Eastwood was named best director for Million Dollar Baby.
AFI PAYS TRIBUTE TO MOORE, GIBSON
The American Film Institute has paid special tribute to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 as it named nine "Moments of Significance" of 2004 that it will spotlight at an awards luncheon on Jan. 9. Referring to the two films, the AFI observed: "Both filmmakers tossed Hollywood convention out the window, attracting masses to the movies that would normally not purchase a ticket to an ultraviolent subtitled film or a documentary. Ultimately, both films shone a bright light on the political and religious polarization in the United States in 2004."