BOOM TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Despite Hollywood's box-office slump, Southern California studios are experiencing a production boom thanks to a rise in TV commercial productions, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday), citing figures from Goodwin Simon Research showing that the area's share of ad production reached 53 percent last year, up from 46 percent in 2003. For this year, the newspaper observed, commercial production days for which city permits were required appear certain to top last year's record of 6,703, according to Film L.A. Inc. (the former Entertainment Industry Development Corp.). The Times attributed the upswing in commercial productions to the decline of the U.S. dollar, which has made filming abroad more expensive, and the demand by advertisers for more elaborate productions requiring major-studio infrastructure.

DEAL PUTS NBC BACK IN THE TOP TEN

Overall viewership was down during Christmas week, except at NBC, which saw a spike in its ratings thanks to the five-day run of the new game show Deal or No Deal. The show, which ran during the 8:00 p.m. time period each night, beat its competition on every night, peaking on Wednesday night. NBC improved its ratings in the slot by 54 percent, it said in a statement. Nevertheless, CBS averaged the highest numbers for the week, both in overall households and in adults 18-4 (despite the fact that it aired mostly reruns on every night except Monday) finishing with a 6.5 rating and a 12 share. A much-improved NBC placed second with a 5.0/9, ahead of ABC's 4.8/9. Fox trailed with a 4.0/7.. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.3/22; 2. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 11.7/19; 3. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.2/17; 4. Out of Practice, CBS, 9.8/15; 5. Without a Trace, CBS, 9.5/17; 6. Barbara Walters Presents Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?, ABC, 9.3/15; 7. Deal or No Deal (Wednesday), NBC, 8.4/14; 8. Deal or No Deal (Thursday), NBC, 8.3/14; 9. CSI: NY, CBS, 8.2/14; 9. NFL Monday Night Football: Green Bay at Baltimore, ABC, 8.2/14.

NBC NEWS BLASTED FOR AIRING INTERVIEW WITH TALIBAN INSURGENTS

An NBC News interview with a Taliban fighter calling himself Commander Ismail has generated complaints from viewers that the network is providing a propaganda platform for America's enemies. In the interview, taped by an NBC News producer who was taken on a seven-hour circuitous journey to an unknown location to meet the man (who was shown with his face entirely covered, except for his eyes), Commander Ismail claimed that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive and leading guerrilla fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He described how, after Mujahideen rebels had downed a Chinook helicopter, he and his men waited for a rescue team to arrive, then downed their helicopter as well, taking their weapons and high-tech equipment. One complaining blogger wrote that the interview gave the man "the chance to legitimize himself by appearing to be someone worthy of a big-time network interview. It may be an 'exclusive,' but it's a pathetic performance on NBC's part." But former Air Force intelligence officer Rick Francona, now an analyst for the network, was quoted by the TVNewser blog as saying, "It's important that all Americans see who we're dealing with here_ the face of the enemy."

GUN OWNERS TAKE AIM AT MTV DOCUMENTARY

Even before its airing tonight (Thursday), MTV's planned True Life documentary, "I'm a Gun Owner," is being blasted by gun-owner organizations. CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, indicated that the groups were particularly angered over a news release from the network stating that the film will focus on a felon, a gang member, a hunter and a crime victim who is now an advocate of armed self-defense. Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America told CNSNews, "It's a bit offensive that 50 percent of the people they've chosen to feature as being 'gun owners' are people who are obviously breaking the law and probably acquired their firearms illegally." The news service cited Justice Department data indicating that only two-tenths of 1 percent of firearms available in the U.S. are used annually in the commission of a crime.

CHINESE TV OFFICIAL SENTENCED IN PAYOLA SCANDAL

China appears to have experienced its first major payola scandal, with the former head of a TV station on the island province of Hainan sentenced to ten years in prison for taking bribes. China Radio International (CRI) reported today (Thursday) that Lu Songlin was found guilty of accepting some $20,000 and a Rolex watch while serving as director of the Hainan Provincial TV station between 1989 and 2005.

ACADEMY TALLIES 311 OSCAR CONTENDERS
Forget about all the talk of Hollywood retrenchment. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Wednesday that 311 feature films will compete for the best-picture Oscar this year, a 16.5 percent rise from a year ago. Academy Credits Coordinator Howard Loberfeld said in a statement that the increase was probably attributable to a growing number of feature-length documentaries that were released theatrically as well as "some distributor reorganizations which led to the release of an unusual number of long-delayed projects." He was presumably referring primarily to the large number of shelved Miramax pictures that were given releases as Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein left the company that they founded. Nominations for the 78th Academy Awards are due to be announced on Jan. 31, with the Oscars themselves being presented on March 5.

BROKEBACK CROSSING SEXUAL (PREFERENCE) DIVIDE

Brokeback Mountain continued to surprise analysts over the weekend as the so-called gay cowboy love story emerged once again as the highest earner on a per-theater basis among films showing on more than 50 screens. Brokeback earned $13,599 per theater, far surpassing the $9,305 for King Kong and $8,225 for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Brokeback is currently showing in only 217 theaters, roughly 7 percent the number that are showing the two box-office leaders. Although some analysts have maintained that the film is unlikely to attract an audience among straight males, Jack Foley, Focus Features' distribution chief, told the Associated Press that the movie "delivered very strong growth in what is truly a highly unforgiving, competitive, cruel market at this Christmas period. ... It showed it has breadth beyond the gay community." Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian said that the studio was wisely limiting its release to major cities and slowly expanding it. "This is a film that builds through word of mouth and critical acclaim," he said. Brokeback is leading the pack among critics groups handing out best-picture awards. Thus far, conservative religious groups have been loath to mount an attack on it, concerned that doing so would further publicize the film. But in a review the Christian Film & Television Commission, which calls itself "a ministry dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media according to biblical principles," calls the film "twisted, laughable, frustrating and boring neo-Marxist homosexual propaganda."

WEINSTEINS WALK AWAY FROM CHINESE BLOCKBUSTER

A dispute over how the big-budget Chinese film The Promise (Mo Gik)should be distributed in the U.S. has ended with the Weinstein Co. pulling out of the project. The film, directed by Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), which opened in China on Dec. 12, has already become the second-highest-grossing film in the country in history (behind Titanic). Reports indicated that Harvey Weinstein, however, saw little hope for the film achieving wide success in the U.S. and had argued for a more limited, art-house release, while the film's backers, Moonstone Entertainment and China Film Group, pressed for wide release and a large-scale Oscar campaign.

WASHINGTON STATE MAY OFFER MONEY TO FILMMAKERS

After seeing several films set in Seattle actually being shot in Vancouver, B.C., about 120 miles to the north, the Washington state legislature is considering a measure that would set up a $5-million fund to be used to attract more filmmakers to the state. Filmmakers would be able to receive up to $1 million for virtually any production shot in the state providing that amount does not exceed 20 percent of the actual money spent in the state. "This has the possibility of bringing tens of millions of dollars into the state economy,'' Don Jensen, president of Alpha Cine Labs, a post-production company in Seattle, told Bloomberg News.

BROADWAY HAS ITS BEST YEAR -- THANKS TO HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood has helped Broadway produce its biggest box office for any calendar year, Reuters indicated today (Thursday), citing data from the League of American Theatres and Producers showing a projected $825 million for the year, up 10 percent over last year. Part of the increase was attributed to a 5-percent hike in ticket prices, but the organization also noted that attendance was also 5 percent higher than last year, representing the highest number of admissions in two decades. Theatergoers were particularly drawn to musicals based on movies, including Spamalot, The Producers, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Hollywood actors making appearances on the stage, including Billy Crystal, Alan Alda, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.

FINAL GONG SOUNDED FOR RANK FILM BIZ

Rank, once one of Britain's most prolific and prestigious filmmaking groups -- whose films opened with a muscular man striking a gigantic gong -- is making its final exit from the film business. Reports said today (Thursday) that the company, founded by J.Arthur Rank more than 70 years ago, will sell its Deluxe Film holdings for $750 million to billionaire Ron Perelman, head of Revlon. (Reports failed to note the irony of a company, which once operated Britain's top film studio, selling out to a makeup man.) Rank said it planned to focus its business efforts on expanding its gambling casinos and its chain of Hard Rock restaurants and hotels. Deluxe is one of the world's largest film labs, producing prints for major studios and independents in Hollywood, Rome and London. It is not the first time that Perelman, through his investment company, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, has purchased a major Hollywood film processor. In 1983, her purchased Technicolor, Deluxe's main rival, then sold it five years later to Carlton Communications, which went on to buy the Rank library and film distribution business in 1997.

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