TALENT'S GOT RATINGS

Talent contests once again dominated the Wednesday-night ratings with NBC's America's Got Talent taking the lead between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. The first half of the Regis Philbin-hosted show scored a 5.3 rating and a 10 share, beating Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, which drew a 4.9/9. Rock Star on CBS finished third with a 3.4/6, while ABC's repeat of The One: Making a Music Star finished fourth. At 9:00, America's Got Talent took the top ratings for the night with a 6.9/12, remaining ahead of Fox's Dance, which drew a 6.0/10. ABC's The One was actually a 1.3 with a 2 share.

WANT TO BUY A TV PREVIEW?

Netflix subscribers will be able to get a sneak preview of two of NBC's most-talked-about new series six weeks before they go on the air in the fall, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). Subscribers can ask to receive a DVD containing the pilot episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Trip and Kidnapped from Aug. 5. The disc, which will also include bonus "extras," will be treated by Netflix as any other DVD title, not like a promotional disc. Variety said that while the deal calls for no money to be exchanged, NBC will benefit from exposure on the Netflix website while Netflix will benefit from free on-air promos.

TITLE OF WORLD NEWS TONIGHT SHORTENED; SO IS GIBSON'S TIME ON IT

On the same day that ABC announced that its signature evening newscast World News Tonight will be shortened to just World News, Charles Gibson, the program's anchor, called for ABC executives to provide greater support for, well, world news. Speaking by satellite from Cyprus to television critics gathered in Pasadena, CA for their semiannual tour, Gibson said, "What's really important is that we do maintain people around the world and coverage around the world and bureaus around the world. ... To all the ABC executives in the room, it's really important." Gibson said that by sending anchors to major international hotspots, networks call attention to the importance of the events they are covering. At the same time, he added, "I'm very mindful that the people who regularly cover the beat know it best, and I don't want to do anything in terms of anchor travel to preempt the prerogative of the people that know it best." Later in the day, Gibson himself was preempted by technical problems as the live network feed from the Middle East failed after the first 20 minutes of the World News telecast. Nightline anchor Terry Moran was quickly summoned to fill in.

NOW CENSORSHIP FOR DEAF PEOPLE

The executive editor of Frontline

, produced by Boston's WGBH for the Public Broadcasting System, has taken exception to a new directive from PBS on how programs are to deal with language that could result in an FCC fine. Writing in Current magazine, Louis Wiley Jr. noted a paragraph in the directive saying that "if the F-word or the S-word were uttered to camera so that viewers could recognize it from the speakerAs mouth, the lips must be pixelated." Wiley speculated that at first he imagined such pixelated scenes turning up on the late-night talk shows. "My next thought? If public television producers are forced to not only bleep words but also to pixelate lips, most will simply cut the scenes, no matter how powerful or relevant, rather than see them turned into a joke." Wiley pointed out that last year, Frontline allowed the use of the F-word six times in one clip during a story about a U.S. infantry company in Iraq, when the company was hit by an explosive device. At the time, he said, he made the decision to leave the words in but to alert stations, since they could have been fined $32,500 per utterance. The fine is now 10 times greater. In the end, he said, only 14 stations agreed to run the unedited program. There were no complaints. Wiley concluded: "What is happening behind the scenes is self-censorship, or what I believe is really indirect government censorship. And that is precisely the problem. Editorial decisions that filmmakers, producers and station managers should make with due regard to their standards and those of their local communities are more and more being shaped by fear of a government agency."

DISNEY'S NEW WAR: WHO WON?

Hollywood veterans see the rise of Marc Shmuger to the head of Universal Pictures and Oren Aviv to the head of Disney as a triumph of marketing over art, published reports noted today (Thursday), in the wake of a major reorganization at Disney announced Wednesday. Both men had previously been marketing executives at their respective studios. Director Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure) told today's Los Angeles Times that Aviv "makes you realize that selling tickets to movies is not embarrassing. ... He's had some of his creativity held back because marketing was not allowed to step on the toes of production." Aviv himself told the newspaper: "I don't think anyone should think of a marketable movie idea as a dirty word. ... I want to make movies like The Pacifier." (He was referring to the family-friendly Vin Diesel film about a former Navy SEAL who is assigned to protect the children of a slain government scientist.) In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, producer Brian Grazer (The Da Vinci Code) worried, "It's as if the managerial elite has made a secret pact to adhere to certain business principles that they want to enforce on agents and artists." The shakeup had little effect on Disney stock. On Wednesday, Prudential entertainment analyst Katherine Styponias said in a note to clients, "We concede that investors are not likely to reward a new film strategy with a higher growth rate until there is some evidence that it has having a positive and significant impact on the results."

IGER STAYS CLEAR OF BLOODBATH, TRAVELS TO CHINA

While a reorganization at the Walt Disney studio was being announced Tuesday, including plans to do away with 20 percent of its staff, Disney President/CEO Robert Iger was traveling beyond the fray, visiting Hong Kong Disneyland to glad-hand the staff there. Iger is also expected to attend Tuesday's opening of the stage version of The Lion King. "Hong Kong Disneyland is a key driver of our strategy to build the Disney brand and our businesses in this important region," Iger said. "The quality and universal appeal of Hong Kong points to the great potential of this asset over the long term."

JACOBSON: COOK'S NOT A BAD GUY

With numerous reports on Wednesday mentioning that Disney Production President Nina Jacobson received word that she had been fired when she phoned Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook from the hospital where her partner had just given birth to their second child, Jacobson herself appeared embarrassed by the stories. Not by the fact that they identified her as a lesbian -- she has long been openly gay -- but because several of the reports suggested that Cook had been brutally thoughtless. "The timing was not intentional and Dick did not want to tell her on the phone on that day," a source close to Jacobson told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Daily News. "She does not want him painted as a bad guy."

MOVIE COMPANY WAS FRONT FOR DRUG RUNNERS, SAY FEDS

A Sunset-Strip movie company, headed by the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, was actually a money-laundering front for an international drug-smuggling operation, according to federal authorities. The alleged criminal activities of Limelight Films were reported today (Thursday) in the Los Angeles Times, which said that Limelight principals Bruno D'Esclavelles and Alexandre De Basseville were arrested during a sting operation in Arlington, VA last month. In a brochure, the company described itself as having "a desire to promote worldwide talented individuals who treasure cinema and cherish the creative spirit of Charlie Chaplin." Kiera Chaplin, the 23-year-old granddaughter of Charlie, who was once engaged to De Basseville, was serving as president of the company. She has not been charged.

KEVIN SMITH STINGS BACK

Director Kevin Smith, who once said that being named by Bob and Harvey Weinstein to write and direct The Green Hornet was like a "dream come true," now says he wants no part of the assignment. Interviewed by the website superherohype.com, Smith, who is promoting his upcoming Clerks II, said, "It was between [Hornet] and Clerks II and I drove toward Clerks II in such a big, bad way and almost had to fight Harvey Weinstein to do Clerks II as opposed to a The Green Hornet movie, cuz he's like, 'it's time for you to grow and stretch as a filmmaker' and I'm like, 'doesn't anybody get it after twelve years? I'm not that talented. This is what I do [well].' This is why I got into film, to tell stories like that. I love watching comic book movies. I'd love to watch a The Green Hornet movie, but would not want to be the guy at the helm of that movie. ... I make one of those movies and I lose the right to make fun of other people for making those movies. I learned that the hard way making Jersey Girl I can't make fun of Raising Helen anymore. If I raise one finger to 'Raising Helen, people are like, 'Dude, you made Jersey Girl."Jersey Girl, which starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, cost $35 million to produce and wound up making only $25 million at the domestic box office.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.