DISCOVERY LAUNCHES -- TV REPORTERS STAY HOME
The launch of the space shuttle discovery went off without a hitch at 10:38 Eastern time today (Tuesday) from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, FL, but many local TV reporters who showed up on July 13th presumably did not want to risk the cost of a return visit. NBC News consultant Jeff Gralnick wrote in his Shuttle Diary on MSNBC.com: "It's like a scythe was taken to the media group that was here for launch attempt one. Over a thousand then and perhaps half that by observation this time. Empty camera platforms. Fewer uplink trucks. Fewer reporters and broadcasters. Seats available -- lots of them -- at the press briefings. Clearly while the space agency was budgeted for more than one launch attempt this month, the media may not have been which makes you wonder this: If it was so important to be here for the first attempt why not the second? It is still, after all, the same attempted Return To Space."
TV GUIDE TO GROW UP
TV Guide plans to grow from pocket-size to standard-size and cut its circulation from 9 million to 6 million, published reports said Monday. The Associated Press reported that the new version of the magazine is expected to launch in October and that stories will comprise 75 percent of each issue while listings will comprise 25 percent. In the current format, the percentages are reversed.
NBC TURNS TO FILM DIRECTOR, WRITER FOR NEW DRAMAS
Struggling NBC is looking to the movie business for help in arresting its steep ratings decline, signing up director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) and screenwriter Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) to come up with new dramatic series for midseason next year. Darabont has agreed to create one drama series and produce a second (neither was described); Haggis has agreed to serve as writer, director and executive producer of The Black Donnellys, set in New York's Hell's Kitchen.
CHECKBOOK JOURNALISM: THE CHECKS MAY GROW BIGGER
Syndicated tabloid TV magazines, which, unlike network news shows, rarely hesitate to pay celebrities for interviews, will now face competition from an American version of the British tabloid OK. Richard Desmond, publisher of OK, said in London Monday that he is plunking down $100 million to launch the U.S. version next month with an initial print run of 1.3 million. Not only are celebrities paid to appear in OK, but they are also given final approval of what appears in the articles about them.
NBC'S INTENT CODIALE WITH FRENCH TV
Only days after announcing plans to produce foreign versions of some of its more popular U.S. television shows, NBC Universal said Monday that it will co-produce with Wolf Films and TF1, France's leading private TV network, a French version of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In a statement, NBC said that the series is currently in pre-production in Paris and "will initially adapt the original U.S. scripts, taking into account language, culture and the Napoleonic Code [the French legal system]." Takis Candilis, head of drama for TF1, noted that the U.S. show has always been popular in France. "Taking these unique characters created by Dick Wolf and adapting them for French viewers in primetime will enable a whole new, and much larger, audience to enjoy this great drama. We're sure that it's the beginning of a long story," he observed.
MORE JAPANESE VIEWERS REFUSING TO PAY LICENSE FEES
Following recent scandals involving producers who had misspent production money, Japanese viewers have increasingly been refusing to pay mandatory license fees to receive the public broadcasting network NHK, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday. As a result, the newspaper said, the broadcaster is expected to slash $1.9 billion from its $6 billion annual budget. Since the beginning of the year nonpayers have risen from about 450,000 to 970,000.
BRIT TO HEAD DISNEY'S MIRAMAX
The Walt Disney Co., often described as Anglophile to a fault, has hired British-born Daniel Battsek, head of the company's U.K. film distribution unit, to oversee Miramax Films after the official departure of its co-chairmen, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, in September. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times, Battsek indicated that he will be immediately faced with rebuilding the company, since many of its top executives will be departing to join the Weinstein's new firm. He told the newspaper that Disney wants him "to bring in to that Miramax label some fabulous filmmakers, to make some great quality movies -- that make a profit -- and make the company proud to be involved with me and with that part of the company." The Times observed that Battsek had previously distinguished himself at the now-defunct Palace Pictures "for innovative marketing and publicity and for aggressive and successful awards campaigns -- all hallmarks of Miramax as well." In a separate interview with Newsday, Battsek said, ""One always has to find a balance between what your heart really believes in and what your head really tells you is the smart thing to do." Miramax will remain headquartered in New York, Disney said.
SCOTTISH CHURCH OPENS ITS DOORS TO DA VINCI CODE PRODUCERS
Although several churches featured in the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code have shut their doors to the producers of a movie version of the book, Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh has not. The church, which figures in the climax of the book, has reached an agreement with the producers to permit both interior and exterior filming there in September. The BBC has indicated that location fees alone could generate $175,000 for the church. However, it noted, Dr. Andrew Sinclair, a descendent of the chapel's founders and a historian, reportedly has objected to the chapel's being used for filming a story that he regards as "preposterous." (The book poses the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired children.) Currently the chapel is undergoing renovation and is covered with a canopy. Rosslyn Chapel director Stuart Beattie told the Scotsman newspaper, "We could not take it down for the filming - absolutely not. I am sure that computers and airbrushing are possible. We may well be enamored with the film industry, but not to the extent that we would want to take the canopy down for them."
BOOTLEGGERS HUSTLING COPIES OF HUSTLE & FLOW
Producer John Singleton and others connected with the production of the just-released Hustle & Flow suspect that someone within the Paramount organization leaked a pristine print of the movie to bootleggers, who immediately made thousands of pirated DVDs from it, the New York Daily News reported today (Tuesday). Columnist Lloyd Grove said that he had received information from sources that 2,500 DVD copies have already been confiscated by authorities in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte and Dallas.
ANOTHER HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION STUDIO BITES THE DUST
Citing a "changing creative climate and economic environment," the Walt Disney Co. announced today (Tuesday) that it will shut down DisneyToon Studios Australia in Sydney next year. The animation studio is one of the few still churning out hand-drawn animated features -- mostly for television and DVD. It was expected that the studio will shift outsourcing for its hand-drawn projects to Asian companies with which it is already doing business, including Cuckoos Nest Studio in Taipei, Studio Fuga in Tokyo and Toon City Animation in Manila. Disney reportedly expects savings in the neighborhood of $40-50 million a year.
NEW LINE YANKS "PRINTABLE PURPLE HEARTS" FROM WEBSITE
New Line Cinema has removed the "printable Purple Hearts" that appeared in a sham advertisement on the Internet promoting the movie Wedding Crashers. The ad had been condemned by veterans organizations, and one Congressman, Rep. John Salazar of Colorado, introduced a bill in the House on Friday (the Stolen Valor Act) that would make it a federal crime to falsely claim to have earned a Purple Heart. In a statement, Salazar said, "If any movie-goers take the advice of the Wedding Crashers and try to use fake Purple Hearts to get girls, they may wind up picking up an FBI agent instead." Announcing the studio's decision to yank the ad from the movie's website, a spokesman for New Line said Monday, "We understand the sensitivity regarding the medals and did not intend to make light of their significance in any way."
DATE SET FOR RELEASE OF FINAL STAR WARS EPISODE
Star Wars fans will be able to complete their collection of the six "episodes" of the sci-fi serial on Nov. 1 when the final installment, Revenge of the Sith, is released on DVD. Lucasfilm also announced that it will release the video game Star Wars: Battlefront II on the same day. The final DVD package will include an extended "making of" documentary, Jim Ward, vice president of marketing and distribution for Lucasfilm, said in a statement. "From the beginning of production, George wanted to be sure we chronicled everything that went into the making of Episode III specifically to create an incredible DVD experience," he said.
ISLAND'S BAY SINKS
Chocolate won out over popcorn in a big way over the weekend as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remained at the top of the box office for the second week in a row, while the popcorn summer flick The Island tanked. Charlie earned $28.3 million for Warner Bros. and the theaters showing it, down 50 percent from its opening. The No. 2 film, New Line Cinema's Wedding Crashers was off only 24 percent, earning $25.7 million. In its third weekend, 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Four remained in third place with $12.6 million, edging out the debut of DreamWorks/Warner Bros.' The Island, which brought in just $12.4 million, about a tenth of what it cost to make. (In an interview with today's Los Angeles Times director Michael Bay, whose previous five films had opened at the top of the box office, commented: "Everyone from [Steven] Spielberg to [Robert] Zemeckis to [Stanley] Kubrick -- they've all had big flops. ... I was five for five. You know it's going to happen. It hurts," Bay added. "It's always the director's fault.") Bad News Bears debuted in the fifth spot with $11.4 million.
The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Warner Bros. $28,253,338, 2 Wks. ($114,058,892); 2. The Wedding Crashers, New Line, $25,665,065, 2 Wks. ($80,366,504); 3. Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox, $12,646,871, 3 Wks. ($122,931,780); 4. The Island, DreamWorks/Warner Bros., $12,409,070, (New); 5. Bad News Bears, Paramount, $11,382,472, (New); 6. War of the Worlds, Paramount, $8,925,605, 4 Wks. ($208,430,643); 7. Hustle & Flow, Paramount, $8,017,808, (New); 8. The Devil's Rejects, Lions Gate, $7,067,335, (New); 9. Batman Begins, Warner Bros. $4,727,469, 6 Wks. ($191,105,194); 10. March of the Penguins, Warner Bros. $4,382,340, 4 Wks. ($9,306,689).