U.S. TROOPS SEIZE U.K. NEWS VIDEO
Britain's Guardian newspaper charged today (Monday) that American troops in Baghdad blasted into the home of a reporter working on a report for its TV news unit, Guardian Films, forced him to lie on the floor, tied his hands, then confiscated video tapes that he had shot for a documentary. (The film, which was scheduled to air on Channel 4's Dispatches program, reportedly looks into claims that tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated.) He was then reportedly hooded and taken into custody. The Guardian said that the reporter, Dr. Ali Fadhil, had only two months ago won the Foreign Press Association's young journalist of the year award. Veteran documentary filmmaker Callum Macrae, who is directing the film, told the Guardian, "The timing and nature of this raid is extremely disturbing. It is only a few days since we first approached the US authorities and told them Ali was doing this investigation, and asked them then to grant him an interview about our findings. We need a convincing assurance from the American authorities that this terrifying experience was not harassment and a crude attempt to discourage Ali's investigation." Fadhil said later that the troops shot up the door of his home as they entered while he and his wife and child were asleep, telling him they were looking for an Iraqi insurgent. Although they released him several hours after his arrest, the Guardian reported, they have not yet returned the tapes.
NETWORKS SHUNNING DOCUMENTARIES, SAYS KOPPEL
In their one-track effort to court 18-49-year-old viewers, the major television networks have rendered the one-hour documentary virtually extinct, according to newsman Ted Koppel. Interviewed by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz on CNN's Reliable Sources, Koppel said that networks nowadays regard documentaries "as the sort of thing that you give a veteran anchor if it's the only way to keep him happy." Koppel asserted that the major networks have been "cowed" by advertisers into believing "incorrect information" that the biggest spenders are younger viewers. "It's always been my experience that the 45-year-olds and the 50- year-olds have a lot more spending money than the 20-somethings do. But they've managed to convince the commercial networks that those are the people they want to get. And therefore, much of the programming tends to skew in that direction."
VARGAS, ROONEY CONSIDER COURIC'S POSSIBLE MOVE TO CBS
ABC's Elizabeth Vargas and CBS's Andy Rooney have weighed in with widely divergent views about the possibility that Katie Couric will become the anchor of the CBS Evening News. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Vargas said that "If CBS goes with Katie, that will be a wonderful move for them ... but if they do that, they'll probably change that show so it caters to her strengths." But, appearing on Larry King's CNN interview show, Rooney remarked, "They're talking about giving Katie Couric $20 million. I say take that $20 million you could buy 40 reporters, 40 new reporters. You could give them each $250,000. I mean, there are hundreds of reporters who would jump at getting $250,000. ... Open up the bureaus we used to have in Buenos Aires and Warsaw, Poland. We used to have them everywhere. Open those up again with that $20 million. Katie will be all right without it."
FEW VIEWERS CRACK OPEN BOOK OF DANIEL
Despite the hurricane of controversy that hit NBC's The Book of Daniel in advance of its debut on Friday, the TV show attracted only so-so ratings. NBC devoted two hours to the premiere episode on Friday -- from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. -- with the first hour posting a 5.9 rating and a 9 share (tying for second place) and the second hour, a 5.7/10 (third place). Still, the numbers represented a slight improvement on NBC's usual Friday-night ratings. All four major networks have seen a significant erosion in their audiences on that night. However, ABC's Dancing with the Stars demonstrated that viewers could be lured back. The "results" episode, airing in the 8:00 p.m. hour, recorded an 8.6/15. CBS won the night with an average 7.9/13. ABC followed with a 6.5/11. NBC placed third with a 5.6/9, while UPN's 3.1/5 edged out Fox's 2.9/5.
WHY ARE VIEWERS ABANDONING THE NETS? MAYBE IT'S RERUNS
A striking increase in the number of reruns on the major networks may be largely to blame for a significant slump in ratings in the key demographics, according to MediaLife magazine. The trade publication reported on an analysis of Nielsen ratings data by media buyers Magna Global, which shows that reruns have been averaging 36-43 percent during non-sweeps periods versus 30 percent 10 years ago and less than 15 percent in the early 1980s. Reruns even during sweeps months have risen as well, the study showed, to 21 percent from 14 percent just three seasons ago. Steve Sternberg of Magna wrote: "The heavy repeat load in the middle of the so-called first-run season is one of the leading causes of network audience erosion." He said that the heavy number of reruns "add to viewer confusion, interrupt viewing patterns, encourage channel switching, and benefit the broadcast networks' competitors."
In Friday's edition of Studio Briefing we incorrectly attributed to the online Slate magazine a quote concerning NBC's online deletion of a segment of an interview about government eavesdropping. It should have been attributed to the online Salon magazine.
THE HORROR! HOSTEL WINS BOX OFFICE CROWN
In a shocker that rivaled anything in the movie itself, Lionsgate's horror movie Hostel debuted at the top of the box office with an estimated $20.1 million over the weekend. It pushed the previous No. 1 film, Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which brought in about $15.4 million, into second place. Universal's King Kong dropped to third with about $12.5 million. The strong showing of Hostel, which played in only 2,195 theaters, left analysts aghast. "Hostel tops Narnia and we're all going to hell," headlined cinematical.com. The Associated Press described the box office results as "sheer torture." The British website monstersandcritics.com grudgingly remarked, "Not a bad bit of instant profit for a cheaply made splatter flick." Reel Source analyst Chad Hartigan told Bloomberg News that the film marks "a return to really sick, unsettling images, and that seems to be what the young audience is looking for." However, Exhibitor Relations President Paul Dergarabedian maintained that the results did not surprise him. "Horror films are like gold at the box office," he told E! Online. "Audiences love to be scared and enjoy these types of films in the communal environment of the theaters." Meanwhile, Focus Features added another 214 theaters to the 269 already showing Brokeback Mountain, and saw its ticket sales jump 59 percent. It averaged $11,881 per screen, substantially higher than the $9,157 per-screen average of Hostel. Focus was particularly heartened by the fact that many of the new theaters were located in suburban areas, where the film, which concerns the tortured romance of two gay cowboys, was expected to be shunned. Steven Spielberg's Munich, from Universal, also expanded -- to 1485 screens -- and increased its take over last week by 56 percent, finishing sixth. On the other hand, two films that made their debuts over the weekend, Grandma's Boy (from Adam Sandler's production company) and BloodRayne, flopped, failing even to make the top ten. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Hostel, $20.1 million; 2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $15.4 million; 3. King Kong, $12.5 million; 4. Fun With Dick and Jane, $12.2 million; 5. Cheaper by the Dozen 2, $8.3 million; 6. Munich, $7.5 million; 7. Memoirs of a Geisha, $6 million; 8. Rumor Has It, $5.9 million; 9. Brokeback Mountain, $5.75 million; 10. The Family Stone, $4.6 million.
UTAH THEATER WON'T SCREEN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
At the last minute, a theater in a shopping mall in Sandy, Utah, a Salt Lake City suburb, yanked all screenings of Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy romance, on Friday. A movie patron, Karen Tiblier, who went to the theater with a friend to catch a matinee screening of the movie, told the Salt Lake City Tribune, "I even called in advance yesterday, and they said the first showing was at 12:45 p.m. ... This is the first time I've been slapped in the face with what I believe to be closemindedness. ... This movie has gotten stellar reviews, and it's already up for boatloads of awards. Not showing this film says bigotry and fear." Theater management declined comment, as did Larry Miller, the Utah Jazz owner, who also owns the shopping mall. In a statement, Focus Features, the film's distributor, said, "Only hours prior to opening Brokeback Mountain, [the theater management] reneged on their licensing agreement with Focus Features and refused to open the film today as scheduled. Given the gigantic grosses already being posted in Salt Lake City for Brokeback Mountain, this is their loss." The Utah Film Critics Society named Brokeback Mountain the best movie of 2005.
CAPOTE WINS NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS' AWARD
Parting with most other film-critics groups, the National Society of Film Critics named Capote best picture of the year on Saturday. The film has received numerous best-picture nominations, and its star, Philip Seymour Hoffman, is included in virtually all the major best-actor lists, but it had generally been considered a longshot to actually win any of the contests. The National Society of Film Critics is composed of newspaper and magazine critics from New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, as well as those from several leading news weeklies.
YOU'LL SOON BE GOOGLING FOR MOVIES
Google on Friday confirmed reports that it will soon launch its Google Video Store, which will not only sell downloads of CBS programs and NBA games as previously reported, but will also permit independent filmmakers to upload their movies and sell them online at a price they can set. Google will received 30 percent of the revenue generated by such sales. In unveiling the Google Video Store at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Friday, Google co-founder Larry Page said, "From the largest studio to smaller independents, content producers are in charge."
SOROS GROUP NEGOTIATING TO BUY DREAMWORKS LIBRARY
Paramount could get back nearly two-thirds of the money it paid to acquire DreamWorks SKG if a deal to sell DreamWorks' 59-title library to a private equity group headed by billionaire George Soros is consummated, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that Paramount, which paid $1.6 billion in cash and assumed debt for DreamWorks, is seeking about $1 billion for the library.