MILLIONAIRE IS SUPER
The return of ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, this time titled Super Millionaire, turned out to be super for ABC Sunday night as the Regis Philbin-hosted quiz show produced the highest ratings of the night, an 11.8/17 at 9:00 p.m., beating the usual winner, NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which scored a 10.6/14. It also faced the challenge of HBO's series finale of Sex and the City (for which ratings were not immediately available). Millionaire also helped boost the ratings for ABC's The Practice, which recorded a second-place 7.9/12 at 10:00 p.m., behind a second episode of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which nabbed an 8.4/14. Overall ratings were tight. CBS led the night with an average 7.8/12. ABC was a notch behind with a 7.4/12. NBC placed third with a 7.2/11, while Fox trailed with a 5.2/8.
TBS TO BECOME FUNNIER, SEXIER
Seeming to acknowledge industry complaints that it lacks a clear identity as a cable channel, TBS is planning to revamp its programming, focusing on reality shows and reruns of hit sitcoms, including the just-concluded HBO series Sex and the City, the Atlanta Journal -Constitution reported Friday. The newspaper cited Gene DeWitt, former chairman of media buyers Optimedia International, as saying, "I don't think they've had an identity in a long time. It makes sense for them to carve out an audience." Although branding itself "TBS Very Funny," the cable channel nevertheless plans to continue to air Atlanta Braves games during the baseball season.
TRUMP SAYS HIS RECEIPTS FOR APPRENTICE ARE CHUMP CHANGE
Donald Trump insists that he is not doing his reality show The Apprentice for the money. In an interview with the online edition of TV Guide, Trump depicted his earnings from the TV series as chump change. "You have to understand," he said, "no matter how much they paid me, it's relative peanuts compared to what I [make] in my real life. If I get Friends-type money, it's like the rent I get from American Express" (at his office buildings). Nevertheless, he said, he got "a very substantial raise" from NBC for the second season of the series.
FCC CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO EFFECTS OF TV VIOLENCE
FCC Chairman Michael Powell said Friday that the commission plans to launch a study of the effects of sexually oriented television programming on children. Speaking to a technology conference at Kansas University in Lawrence, Powell said that he made the decision to hold hearings on the matter following the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl halftime show. As reported by the Lawrence Journal-World, Powell told his audience: "I sat there with my kids on my left and on my right and I couldn't believe I saw what I saw. ... But five minutes after that, I had no doubts about what I had to do."
MOONVES SENDS BACK STORY OF MANSON KILLINGS FOR REEDITING
CBS chief Les Moonves has ordered the producers of the upcoming TV movie Helter Skelter, about the 1969 Manson family murders, to scale back the violence, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). The film, based on the bestseller by Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, is due to air during the May sweeps. According to the Times, Moonves, who screened the film on Thursday, became upset by the depiction of the murders of Sharon Tate and others in her home by the Manson followers. In an interview with the newspaper, John Gray, the film's writer/director, said, "I know there is concern about the violence, [but] we're trying hard not to lose that because we feel it's not gratuitous. ... It's important to show the victims, how these people suffered.... I'm hoping they'll see the value of portraying this realistically."
ABC TOUTING OSCARS ON SITCOMS, SOAPS
Hoping to reverse the steady ratings decline for its annual Oscar awards telecast, ABC has enlisted a new production team for the show headed by veteran producer Joe Roth; upped the number of promotional spots for the show on its primetime sitcoms, including references to the awards in the scripts; and hired a team to coach potential winners on what to say during their acceptance speeches, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). The Journal said that writers of the sitcoms agreed to insert the Oscar plugs because they felt that ABC would give their shows additional promo time once they heard about the Oscar link. Similar references to the Oscars have also been written into the scripts for General Hospital, One Life to Live and All My Children, the WSJ said.
OSCAR HOST CRYSTAL READS ONLINE MESSAGE
Presumably timed to coincide with Billy Crystal's return to hosting duties at the Oscars, Amazon.com said today (Monday) that it is posting an audio message from Crystal on its website <www.amazon.com/childrens> beginning today, in which he discusses his forthcoming book, I Already Know I Love You, about becoming a grandfather for the first time. It is due to be published on April 13. The company also said that it plans to make Crystal's complete audio version of the book available for downloading.
DEATH ON THE AISLES
Four new movies opened wide at the box office over the weekend, and none of them earned $10 million or more. "The audience stayed away this weekend," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told Bloomberg News. "Many of what I thought would be pretty big opening films fell flat." Ticket sales for the top 12 films amounted to only $75.1 million, a figure 21 percent lower than the comparable weekend a year ago. "We've had four down weekends in a row," Dergarabedian told Bloomberg. "We're really in a slump." The top film at the box office -- for the second week -- was the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy 50 First Dates with $21.0 million. Among the newcomers Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen took in $9.2 million, good enough for second place. Other new films died at birth. The Ray Romano/Gene Hackman comedy Welcome to Mooseport opened in fourth place with $7 million. The raunchy teen movie Eurotrip took fifth place with $6.6 million, and Paramount's Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan as a boxing manager, opened in eighth with $3 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. 50 First Dates, $21 million; 2. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, $9.2 million; 3. Miracle, $8 million; 4. Welcome to Mooseport, $7 million; 5. Eurotrip, $6.6 million; 6. Barbershop 2: Back in Business, $6.3 million; 7. Mystic River, $3.1 million; 8. Against the Ropes, $3 million; 9. The Butterfly Effect, $2.9 million; 10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, $2.8 million.
COMCAST STILL PURSUING DISNEY
Despite Comcast's assertions last week that it has no plans to sweeten its deal to acquire Disney, Steve Burke, the president of the company, has indicated that the Comcast hasn't abandoned a possible deal. "The reason I'm supportive of putting together Comcast and Disney is a matter of industrial economics," he told today's (Monday) Philadelphia Inquirer. He added: "The Walt Disney Co. is not performing as well as it did five years ago. We think that some of that could be addressed by creating a different culture." Burke indicated that if, in the wake of the acquisition, he should succeed Michael Eisner as head of Disney, he would not attempt to impose his thinking on the company's creative managers. "People say 'Are you and [Comcast Chairman] Brian Roberts qualified to make creative decisions?' And my answer is 'no.' We're not going to go in and decide who to cast in a movie or how to draw an animated character. But we are good at finding talented people and creating an environment where they succeed."
EISNER SAYS HE NEVER TALKED TO ROY DISNEY ABOUT COMPANY'S PROBLEMS
Michael Eisner said Friday that he never had a discussion with Roy Disney about Disney's concerns over his management of the Walt Disney Company. Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live on Friday, Eisner said, "We actually never had any of those conversations." When King interjected, "Never?" Eisner conceded, "Maybe that's part of the problem. But in any event, they have decided, to the extent that they want to be critical, to be critical. I have decided to not get in the fray."Eisner took issue with King when the interviewer remarked, "You've seen better days. How rough has this been for you?" Eisner replied, "Well, actually, it's a very good period for us. The company is operating fantastically." Eisner also laid to rest the "urban legend" that Disney had his body frozen at the time of death, largely predicated on the fact that there is no record of Disney's burial. Eisner remarked: "He's not frozen, I promise you. I have been to the cemetery where he is resting. His wishes were that [his grave be] unmarked ... and I respect that. It's a beautiful little spot and nobody could ever find it, and I'm very proud that I talked myself into it."
DEPP BEATS OUT PENN FOR SAG AWARD
In what was regarded as a pirate's prize of the first order, Johnny Depp has won the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor for his performance in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, beating out the favorite, Sean Penn, who was nominated for his role in Mystic River. There were no other surprises. Charlize Theron won for best actress for her performance as a serial killer in Monster. Renée Zellweger received the supporting actress award for her role in Cold Mountain and Tim Robbins, the best supporting actor award for his role in Mystic River. The cast of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King claimed the prize for best ensemble cast. Meanwhile, in separate ceremonies, Sofia Coppola received the WGA's best original screenplay award for her Lost in Translation, which she also directed. Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman took the award for best adapted screenplay for American Splendor. And in London Jerry Springer: The Opera won the Laurence Olivier award, presented by the Society of London Theater, for best new musical.
WILL HE OR WON'T HE? (SHOW UP AT OSCARS, THAT IS)
Sean Penn says he has still not made up his mind whether to attend this year's Oscar ceremonies. Penn, who notoriously has shunned the Oscar affairs in the past, told the London Sunday Times: "I can't get up that red carpet (without) being embarrassed. It's the same reason I don't like going to costume parties: because I'd feel silly." He suggested that he feels no special obligation to appear at the awards presentations to support the movie for which he is nominated, Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. "I don't feel obligated to do anything beyond what happens between 'action' and 'cut,'" he remarked.
GAY FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON TO OPEN WITH THE EVENT
The 18th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival announced Friday that it will open on March 24 with a screening of Thom Fitzgerald's AIDS drama The Event, starring Don McKellar, Olympia Dukakis and Sarah Polley. The film, which received mixed reviews, opened in the U.S. in nine theaters last October and closed after three weeks, having taken in only $35,000. The festival said that it will close on April 7 with a screening of Sara Millman's Robin's Hood, described as "a lesbian hip-hop version of the folk legend."
In Friday's edition, we reported on Sony's announcement that it has begun production of Open Season, which it said was its first computer-animated feature. Several readers have observed that Sony had previously released the computer-animated Final Fantasy: Spirits Within in 2001. The failure of that film -- it took in only $32 million domestically -- reportedly prompted Sony to shut down its animated division at the time.