WINNING BECOMES EASY AS ABC
After reporting losses in each of the past four years, ABC will finally be able to report a substantial profit this year, Disney President Robert Iger told a media conference in New York Wednesday. "We have momentum. We've got ratings. ABC has turned its fortunes around," Iger told the Credit Suisse First Boston conference. He particularly credited the success of the Sunday-night drama Desperate Housewives, ABC's first No. 1 hit since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire dominated the ratings five years ago. This time, he said, the network's "success is real, not a flash in the pan." On Wednesday, ABC collected another solid win, thanks to the addition of a Barbara Walters interview special being added to its hit shows Lost and Wife Swap. The network averaged an 11.0 rating and a 16 share, with Lost scoring a 12.4/19 and the Walters special close behind with a 12.1/17. Wife Swap drew an 8.5/13, placing it in second place behind NBC's Law & Order (12.7/20) at 10:00 p.m. On Fox, the audience for the 2004 Billboard Music Awards plummeted by almost a third from its level a year ago.
MARTHA SET TO BECOME A SURVIVOR
Martha Stewart could prove to be producer Mark Burnett's biggest survivor story yet, if all goes according to the plans announced by the Survivor and The Apprentice producer Wednesday. Burnett said that he is revamping Stewart's Martha Stewart Living TV show, adding a studio audience and celebrity guests. The show will be syndicated by NBC Universal and is already guaranteed a time slot on NBC-owned stations in 14 major cities. Stewart, who is serving a five-month sentence for lying about how and why she decided to sell her shares of ImClone Systems in 2001, is due to be released from prison in March, then confined to her home for an additional five months; the new show is scheduled to debut in September. At a news conference held at her company's New York headquarters, Burnett predicted that the show will attract a huge audience. "America loves comeback stories," he said.
BONDS STRICKEN OUT OF AD CAMPAIGN
Although USA Today reported Wednesday that sports fans in general and baseball fans in particular appear unfazed by recent revelations that top athletes have been using performance-enhancing steroids, Major League Baseball and MasterCard have jointly decided to shelve an ad campaign that would have highlighted Barry Bonds's pursuit of the all-time home-run record next season, Advertising Age reported on its website Wednesday, citing no sources. Bonds recently told a grand jury that he had unknowingly used steroid substances from the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO).
FAMILY ACTIVIST GROUP DEMANDS CONGRESSIONAL PROBE OF FCC
Already identified by the FCC as the primary -- if not virtually the exclusive -- source of complaints about broadcast indecency, the Parents Television Council on Wednesday demanded that Congress investigate how the agency counts the complaints it receives. L. Brent Bozell, head of the conservative Media Research Center, which includes the PTC, said in a statement, "FCC officials have [said] there were only 159 complaints filed over Fox's Married by America raunchfest when PTC members alone filed 4,073 complaints. One simply can't believe numbers provided by the FCC."
WILLIAMS IS QUICKLY IN HOT WATER
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has quickly found himself in the center of a dispute concerning his remarks about the scarcity of women and non-whites at network news organizations. Asked to comment on the matter by United Airlines' Hemisphere magazine, Williams replied: "We have bigger problems. There are no black members of the U.S. Senate. We should keep some perspective on this." Today's (Thursday) New York Post reported that at least two organizations representing journalists of color have protested Williams' comments. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Vargas, co-host of ABC's 20/20, has remarked in a New York Observer interview that she is "amazed" by the fact that women are not being considered as replacements for retiring network anchors. "I'm amazed that Diane [Sawyer] is the only one mentioned. ... And it's like: Wow, what happened to all of these award-winning women who've been anchoring network shows on other time periods successfully for years and years and years? I don't get it."
DICK CLARK SUFFERS STROKE, NEW YEAR'S HOSTING IN DOUBT
Dick Clark, a New Year's eve fixture for his generation as Guy Lombardo was for the preceding one, may not be able to ring in the New Year on network TV in three weeks. His publicist disclosed Wednesday that Clark, 75, had suffered a mild stroke earlier in the week and had been hospitalized. He declined to discuss Clark's condition in further detail, but handed out a statement by the TV personality in which he said, "The doctors tell me I should be back in the swing of things before too long so I'm hopeful to be able to make it to Times Square to help lead the country in ringing in the new year once again."
PIXAR INVESTORS JOLTED BY DELAY
Investors on Monday took a dim view of Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs' decision to delay the release of the studio's next feature from next November to June of 2006. The decision means that, except for DVD sales, Pixar will have no significant source of additional revenue for a year and a half. Shares of the company, which had been on a roll since the success of The Incredibles, dropped 5 percent on Wednesday and an additional 3 percent at mid-morning today (Thursday). Investors may also have been reacting to a comment by Disney President Robert Iger that Disney is pushing ahead on its own with sequels to Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story, films originally produced by Pixar. Meanwhile, on the heels of Pixar's move, DreamWorks Animation announced that it had decided to move the release of Shrek 3 from November 2006 to May 2007, essentially making the move for the identical reason offered by Pixar. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said in a statement that the company had concluded "that a May release date, with a DVD release around the holiday season, will enable us to best maximize performance and increase profitability."
THE INCREDIBLES PICKS UP INCREDIBLE 16 ANNIE NODS
The Incredibles dominated the list of nominees for the Annies, the awards presented by the International Animated Film Society. The Pixar/Disney film received 16 nominations from the group, more than those for DreamWorks' Shrek 2 and Shark Tale combined. (They received seven nominations apiece.) Nominees for best animated feature also included The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
EXPERT: MARKET OFFSET OVITZ'S COST TO DISNEY
An expert witness for the Walt Disney Co. testified Wednesday that while Michael Ovitz may have received a lucrative contract when he was hired by Disney as its new president in 1994, investors took that into account when they boosted the value of Disney's stock 4.4 percent on the day that Ovitz was hired, thereby adding $1.1 billion to its worth. Fred Dunbar, a senior vice president at National Economics Research Associates, told a Delaware court where a shareholders lawsuit against the company is being heard, that the "market showed enthusiasm through the price effect."
MOVIE VERSION OF CONTROVERSIAL NOVEL BEING TONED DOWN
Fans of the Philip Pullman novel His Dark Materials have expressed outrage over news that director-screenwriter Chris Weitz (American Pie) has removed references to God and the Catholic church in the movie. Weitz told a website set up by fans of the novel, bridgetothestars.net, that New Line Cinema, the company producing the film, has "expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity." He said that the studio had told him that if the references remained, the project would become "unviable financially." He remarked that he had discussed the matter with Pullman, who had told him that the role of the Authority (God) in his book, could be transformed into "any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual." The religious villains in the film, he said, "may appear in more subtle guises." He added: "you will probably not hear of the 'Church.'" One fan posted a message on the website calling the changes a "blatant cop-out to the Bible Belt of America."
DISNEY TAKES SIDES WITH SONY IN HIGH-DEFINITION DVD WAR
The looming high-definition DVD format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD saw Disney taking sides with Blu-ray Wednesday, allying itself with Sony Pictures. Sony's electronics division developed Blu-ray, while Toshiba developed the rival HD-DVD, which is backed by Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. Fox has not yet made a decision but is said to be leaning toward the Blu-ray format. Bob Chapek, president of Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment, said that he was won over to the Blu-ray side by its superior quality and greater capacity. HD-DVD supporters cite its lower production costs.
FILM INDUSTRY SUES MAKERS OF HOME THEATER SYSTEM
The makers of an expensive home theater system that allows users to store their DVDs on a hard drive and access them from anywhere in their home were sued Wednesday by the DVD Copy Control Association, a group formed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Business Software Alliance and the Electronic Industries Alliance to license the coding system designed to prevent DVD piracy. Although the Kaleidescape System, which is priced at $27,000 and up, has licensed the coding system, the movie industry said that it was being used "to do precisely what the license [was] designed to prevent -- the wholesale coping of protected DVDs." However, Michael Malcolm, the founder, chairman and CEO of Kaleidescape, told the San Jose Mercury News, "They seem to think their license prevents the loading of movies onto hard drives, but they're simply wrong."
INDIAN CELL PHONE USERS CAN DIAL UP A FREE MOVIE
For the first time, a full-length movie will be shown on cell phones before it is released in theaters. The Bollywood film, Stop If You Can, is being provided without charge today (Thursday) to Indian users of cell phones that sport third generation EDGE systems, which allow customers to connect to the Internet and receive data at high speed. The film is due to open theatrically on Friday.