ABC FIGHTS SUBPOENA IN JACKSON CASE
ABC said Wednesday that it plans to challenge a subpoena ordering journalist Martin Bashir to testify at Michael Jackson's upcoming child molestation trial. Bashir produced a controversial documentary for a 2003 British TV titled Living With Michael Jackson that included an interview with the boy who now accuses Jackson of molestation. In the documentary, Jackson held the boy's hand while the boy nuzzled his head against Jackson's shoulder and denied that anything untoward had occurred during his sleep-overs at Jackson's Neverland Ranch. The documentary was subsequently broadcast by ABC in the U.S., and Bashir was hired last year as a correspondent for the network's 20/20 magazine program. In a statement on Wednesday, ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said, "ABC News and our correspondent Martin Bashir will fight the subpoena, which seeks to invade both the news-gathering and editorial process. We feel strongly that the California shield law protects the rights of journalists who cannot be -- or be perceived to be -- arms of either the prosecution or defense as they pursue the news." Meanwhile ABC's other magazine program, Primetime Live tonight (Thursday) is expected to reveal details of testimony given by the boy to a grand jury, including an account of how Jackson once masturbated him in his bedroom.
In a major programming shakeup, CNN has announced that it will be adding long-form entertainment and legal news programs to its Headline News service during primetime and will drop many of the softer features during its Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn programs on its primary channel. CNN chief Jim Walton told the Winter press tour of TV critics in Los Angeles that the two news channels will be coordinated "so if there is a talk show on Headline News, there will be newscasts on CNN."
BEGALA DEFENDS THE VALUE OF SHOUTING
Former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala has taken issue with CNN boss Jonathan Klein's recent observation that he doubted that Begala and fellow Crossfire liberal co-host James Carville briefed the president "by screaming at him for half an hour." Begala told today's Philadelphia Inquirer: "The decibel level in an important meeting in the White House ought to be, and frequently was, much higher than it is on Crossfire. The president needs good people around him with strongly held views and different perspectives." Klein recently announced that he would probably fold Crossfire into CNN's Inside Politics as a feature. Meanwhile, in a column due to run in Sunday's New York Times, veteran critic Frank Rich has called the Jan. 7 edition of Crossfire, "the worst show in its fabled 23-year history." Rich took Begala and co-host Robert Novak to task for lobbing softball questions at Armstrong Williams, who has admitted accepting $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote its No Child Left Behind program. That the deal has received so little scrutiny from the press, Rich commented, "is a snapshot of our cultural moment, in which hidden agendas in the presentation of 'news' metastasize daily into a Kafkaesque hall of mirrors that could drive even the most earnest American into abject cynicism."
LOST FINDS THREE ADDED MINUTES
Some TV viewers were expressing anger on Internet message boards and blogs Wednesday over ABC's decision to allow its hit drama Lost to run a full three minutes past 9:00 p.m. in hopes of discouraging audiences from switching to another channel and instead sticking around for Alias. One angry viewer posted a message saying that in retaliation he plans to write to advertisers telling them that he now plans to tape Lost and fast-forward through all the commercials. He encouraged others to do the same. "If the advertisers take note of many letter writers, they will pressure ABC to stop the practice of dragging over to the next show." Nonetheless, the network's tactic appeared to have paid off -- big time. Lost once again pulled in huge numbers, a 12.6 rating and a 19 share, beating CBS's Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, which posted a 7.3/11. Alias recorded a 9.2/14, topping NBC's second-place The West Wing, which pulled a 7.8/12. ABC dropped to third at 10:00 with its Wife Swap drawing a 6.7/11. It was beaten by NBC's Law & Order with a 9.9.16 and CBS's CSI: NY with a 9.1/15.
DON KING SUES ESPN FOR A HAIR-RAISING $2.5 BILLION
Fight promoter Don King has filed a $2.5 billion (sic) defamation lawsuit against Disney-owned ESPN, claiming the sports channel "put me in a false light and slanted and twist the truth" when they aired a biographical feature about him on a May 14, 2004 episode of SportsCentury. Speaking to reporters in New York after filing the 8-page suit, King said, "There were a lot of outright falsehoods in that program. I felt this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm going to fight back. I'm going to stand up and fight for my rights." An ESPN spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit but pointed out that the program had reduced more than 250 biographies that have been recognized are respected for their "journalistic quality and integrity."
CBS LOSES THE WILL
CBS's The Will swiftly became The Was Wednesday when the network canceled the reality series after just one broadcast. The 2.9 rating garnered by the episode is believed to be the lowest ever recorded for a series premiere in all of television history. The network plans to substitute a repeat of its hit Sunday-night drama Cold Case in the time slot next Saturday.
TIVO FOUNDER QUITS AS CEO
The Founder of TiVo, the digital video recorder company, has announced that he is stepping down as CEO but will remain as chairman as the company faces increasing competition from cable and satellite operators who have begun to market their own DVRs. Michael Ramsay's resignation comes only a week after TiVo's biggest customer, DirecTV, announced that it planned to develop its own DVR and make it available to subscribers.
SONY BRINGS HDTV-LIKE QUALITY TO ORDINARY TV -- AT A PRICE
Sony has unveiled a new settop processor called the Qualia 001 Creation Box that can substantially increase the image quality of an ordinary TV set, giving ordinary broadcast television pictures the appearance of high-definition TV. The heart of the device, about the size of a VCR, is a microchip that sharpens the edges of objects within an image. The greatest hindrance to widespread distribution of the device is its price. It is expected to go on sale in Japan on January 29, priced at $5,080. No plans are currently afoot to introduce it into the U.S. market.
OVITZ TROTS OUT A DEFENDER
Trial attorney Larry Feldman, appearing as an expert witness for former Disney President Michael Ovitz, testified Wednesday that if Michael Eisner had greenlit the deals that Ovitz had pursued, they would have "paid his salary tenfold." Feldman maintained that Ovitz's primary skill was deal-making, but that he was thwarted in his efforts every step of the way by Eisner. "This was a man that had big visions. He was not a meat-and-potatoes kind of person. Those things have to be supported," he said in a Georgetown, DE court which is hearing a shareholders lawsuit against Disney's board that claims that it failed to scrutinize the hiring and firing of Ovitz by Eisner.
VIACOM TO MOVE MOVIE, TV LIBRARY TO DVD
Saying, "Content is king, and we are the kings of content," Viacom chief Sumner Redstone has promised to move "underutilized" movies and TV series off the company's shelves and onto DVDs. As reported by Video Store magazine, Redstone told analysts at the 15th Annual Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Phoenix, AZ. "Of over a thousand movie titles, we only utilize less than half for DVD. We have 2,900 television series and movies; we've only used 5 percent. ... So you can see us aggressive in the DVD market and taking in a lot of money for Viacom and hopefully for you guys." He also promised that Viacom's brands, which include Paramount, CBS, MTV and Nickelodeon, will be "properly represented on the Internet" and other platforms. "That will be a bonanza for us," he predicted. Meanwhile Viacom's bond prices plunged Wednesday after Redstone said that the company planned to increase its debt in order to finance various undertakings, including more expensive movie productions.
TORONTO FILM OFFICIALS TO SHMOOZE HOLLYWOOD EXECS NEXT WEEK
Toronto is sending a group of officials and film executives to Hollywood next week to tout the Ontario government's new tax initiative that is expected to boost film and TV production in the province. Members of the Ontario Media Development Corp. (OMDC), a state-funded agency, are expected to assure Hollywood executives that the increase in tax credits will more than offset the declining value of the American dollar against the Canadian, which has had the effect of discouraging production in what was once billed as Hollywood North. In an interview with the Canadian Press wire service, Donna Zuchlinski, manager of film for the OMDC, said that since the announcement of the new tax initiative, "we've received calls from a number of film productions who said as a direct result of the tax incentive they are bringing their productions to Ontario."
CHINA SAYS MORE FOREIGN FILM PRODUCERS WILL ARRIVE THIS YEAR
The Chinese film industry is expected to get a big boost this year as producers from Russia, Austria and North Korea join those from other countries, including the U.S., to step up movie production in the country, according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua. "In 2004, approximately 80 percent of the 212 movies produced in China were funded by private or foreign companies," the news agency said, citing statistics from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. It also took note of large investments by foreigners in the construction of multiplex theaters throughout China
IT'S THE PITTS FOR FOREIGN JOURNALISTS IN TOKYO
Overseas reporters who flew to Tokyo hoping to question Brad Pitt about the breakup of his marriage to Jennifer Aniston were barred from a news conference arranged by the distributors of Ocean's Twelve. Reuters reported that only Japanese reporters, who have a reputation for politeness and not asking embarrassing questions, were permitted to attend the conference and that they were asked in advance to refrain from asking Pitt, who attended the conference with costars George Clooney and Matt Damon, any personal questions. The French wire service AFP said that the 700 Japanese reporters and 150 cameramen covering the event also had to promise not to release their footage to the foreign press. Clooney reportedly opened the conference by remarking, "I know that there has been a certain topic on everyone's lips for the past few days, so I am happy to tell you that my neck is all right." A Tokyo tabloid said that Pitt had canceled all 10 promotional interviews scheduled on Japanese television programs.