THE BOOB HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
Repercussions from Janet Jackson's breast-baring moment on the Super Bowl halftime show continued to shake the radio industry Thursday as John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio, the largest radio-station owner in America, appeared before Congress to apologize for airing a Howard Stern show that he admitted had crossed the lines of decency. Stern himself took to the air to say that his detractors "are so afraid of me and what this show represents." (Today's New York Post reported that Stern will lose nearly $1 million as a result of the Clear Channel cancellation.) He said that he is "trying to figure out where we're headed with this." Other shock jocks worried that they might be next to lose their jobs. For now, Indianapolis-based personality Tom Griswold of WFBQ said he was "going to do a show that a soccer mom can listen to with her kids in the car." In Florida, veteran broadcaster Neil Rogers said on the sports-oriented talk station WQAM, "The FCC is using those people as an excuse for prohibiting people from hearing what they want to hear." Even conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, whose program is syndicated by Clear Channel, expressed concern over the growing tumult, saying on his talk show Thursday, "When the federal government gets involved in this, that's when I get frightened." Limbaugh added: "And if you think that a bare boob hasn't been seen on series television in primetime before, you aren't watching it. This was nothing new. But now all of a sudden the government has to react because there was such a national outcry." Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters is reportedly planning to hold a kind of summit meeting in Washington on March 31 to consider the controversy. The meeting would include NAB members, television network executives, broadcasting instructors, and heads of advocacy groups.
SO WHERE ARE THE MULTI-MILLIONAIRES?
Producers of ABC's Super Millionaire , who worried in advance of the show's newest incarnation about the possibility of multiple $10-million winners emerging, may be thinking now that the new format will discourage contestants from going after the big bucks. Since they're now able to pocket $50,000 after tackling only a few relatively easy questions, few have shown a willingness to gamble for the bigger prizes and have used their help-lines in the early rounds merely to confirm answers that they already seem to know. With no big payoffs on Thursday night, Super Millionaire's ratings dropped to an 8.0 rating and a 12 share, putting it well behind NBC's E.R. (15.9/23) and CBS's Without a Trace (12.9/18). Still, the figures for Millionaire were 48 percent higher than ABC's Primetime, which ordinarily occupies the time slot.
CONAN CHALKS UP BIG RATINGS -- BLAME IT ON CANADA
Proving that there's nothing like a big controversy to boost ratings, NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien drew its best ratings in more than six years last week, even as it drew heat from the Canadian government over a sketch in which Triumph the Insult Comic Dog -- a hand puppet that is a regular on the show -- insulted French Canadians. O'Brien, who presented a satirical "apology" on the air following the to-do, also helped lift ratings for Last Call with Carson Daly, which attracted the biggest audience in its history.
U.K. COMMERCIAL NETWORKS MAY MERGE
Britain's privately owned commercial network Channel 5 and the country's publicly owned commercial outlet Channel 4 are in talks about a possible merger, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Friday). Both channels -- especially Channel 4 -- have been struggling to stay in the game against their behemoth rivals, the BBC, ITV and Sky. According to the Guardian, if a merger does occur, the two stations would combine many of their business operations but continue to provide separate programming.
ABC WON'T CONFIRM DEAL WITH BASHIR
ABC on Thursday declined to comment on a British newspaper report that it had hired Martin Bashir, famed for his interviews with celebrities, including Princess Diana and Michael Jackson, to replace Barbara Walters in the fall. Asked about the report, which appeared in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Thursday, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said, "Martin Bashir is a talented journalist who would be a great addition to any newsroom, but we have no further comment."
JESUS CHALLENGES MOSES AT BOX OFFICE
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ exceeded estimates on Wednesday as it took in $23.6 million, well above the $15-20 million that had been forecast by distributor Newmarket, and the fifth-largest Wednesday opening in history. The film also earned about $3 million in private screenings for church groups earlier in the week, the distributor said. "This number would be impressive for a mainstream blockbuster, let alone a subtitled historical-religious epic," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, told today's (Friday) New York Times. The film is likely to become the highest-grossing bible-themed movie in history, analysts agreed. The current record is held by Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, which took in $65.5 million in 1956 ($446 million in 2004 dollars). Meanwhile, several analysts observed that the film may have benefited from the recent controversy that was ignited when several Jewish leaders warned that it could incite anti-Semitism by blaming the Jews for Christ's death. Instead, they noted, the movie appeared to exploit a more insidious form of anti-Semitism as "the film the Jews didn't want you to see."
MOVIE REVIEWS: DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ would appear to facing little significant competition this weekend from new wide releases, all of which have been generally pummeled by the critics. Roger Ebert gives Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights two stars (he gave the original only one), implying that he was being generous because of "the pretty pictures on the screen." Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times is not nearly so charitable. "This reimagining of the recklessly melodramatic 1987 original is packed with flashy, taffeta silliness and a desperation for a sweaty PG-13 sexiness so laughable that the cast deserves Oscar nominations for getting through the picture without cracking up," he writes. To Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution even the term "reimagining" is off-base. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights has so little to do with the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing," she writes, "that they could've just as well called it The Matrix: Havana Nights." To Peter Howell in the Toronto Star, the movie is "charmless, clumsy and culturally offensive all at the same time." But Kevin Thomas writes his usual antipodal review in the Los Angeles Times, referring to the film as "original and engaging." "The attractive leads ... the steamy sensuality of their dancing, the splendid period costumes and settings will appeal specially to women of several generations," he concludes.
MOVIE REVIEWS: BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD
By and large, critics agree that the horror spoof Club Dread from the Broken Lizard comedy groupis neither scary nor funny. Dave Kehr in the New York Times concludes that it is merely a "disappointingly routine horror movie spoof that follows the well-worn path of the Scream and Scary Movie franchises." While some critics acknowledge that the movie has some funny moments (it "manages to improve from awful to moderately engaging," comments Ty Burr in the Boston Globe), others apparently failed even to crack a smile. Desson Thomson in the Washington Post found it to be "about as funny as malaria." Claudia Puig in USA Today sums up her review in four words: "Club Dread is dreadful."
MOVIE REVIEWS: TWISTED
Twisted, directed by Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Rising Sun, Quills) and starring Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia, would seem to have a lot going for it. Alas, according to most critics, it comes up a twisted mess. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times says that it "walks like a thriller and talks like a thriller, but it squawks like a turkey." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes that it "is so utterly devoid of suspense, energy or credibility it should have been shipped straight to the remainder bin at Blockbuster." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe confesses in the opening of his review that he has always had a secret crush on Ashley Judd. "I would happily pay cash money to watch Ashley Judd read hog reports. Which, coincidentally, is a reasonable description of Twisted." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer offers another reasonable description of the movie: "It's a generic, high-end Hollywood whodunit with a school of red herrings swimming through a plot that has more holes than a gopher farm." Several critics wonder aloud how a director with such prestigious credits as Kaufman could end up directing a movie like this one. Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News asks in a parenthetical note: "Is this what it has come to, Phil?"
PRESSURE BUILDS FOR EISNER'S RESIGNATION
Michael Eisner's effort to keep his job as chairman of the Walt Disney Co. was dealt another blow Thursday when five more state pension funds said that they would not vote for Eisner's reelection at next week's shareholders meeting. In separate statements, representatives of pension funds in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia said they had lost confidence in Eisner's leadership and called for his removal. Coming on the heels of similar action by other state pension funds, including California's CalPERS, the statement by the five represented "a bandwagon effect," media analyst Harold Vogel told today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times. Today's Wall Street Journal observed that Disney is now conceding that well over 30 percent of the votes cast at Wednesday's meeting could go against Eisner.