NBC: "WE MADE A MISTAKE"
The executive producer of the Today show admitted Thursday that he had erred when he stuck to the script and showed Katie Couric playing badminton while rival morning shows Good Morning America on ABC and The Early Show on CBS carried reports from Iraq showing Saddam Hussein making his first court appearance since his arrest seven months ago. "We made a mistake," executive producer Tom Touchet told the Associated Press. "In retrospect, I'd do it completely differently." (The AP report was featured prominently on the MSNBC website. MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC and Microsoft.) "I felt bad about it. It was not the right call," Couric told the New York Daily News. "We don't like to be remiss in covering breaking news." Today producers later updated the show for its feed to the West Coast, substituting the Saddam footage. The error was compounded by the fact that while ABC's Peter Jennings covered the court appearance from the courtroom and Dan Rather from another location in Baghdad (he was reportedly denied access to the courtroom by Iraqi authorities), Tom Brokaw, NBC's top anchor, was already heading back to the U.S.
DILLER WINS COURT CASE AGAINST VIVENDI
A Delaware judge has sided with Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp and has ordered Vivendi Universal to pay up $600 million in tax payments. Vice Chancellor Stephen P. Lamb of Delaware Chancery Court ruled that the deal between InterActiveCorp and Vivendi was "clear as day" on the matter of taxes. Vivendi announced plans to appeal.
COSBY RAILS AGAINST "MINSTREL" SITCOMS
Bill Cosby stepped up his criticism of contemporary black entertainers for polluting black culture and urged parents to reject it. Speaking in Chicago at the Rainbow/Push Coalition Conference Cosby said: "When you put on a record, and that record is yelling 'nigger this' and 'nigger that' and cursing all over the thing and you got your little six-year-old and seven-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car-- those children hear that. And I am telling you when you put the CD on and then you get up and dance to it -- What are you saying to your children?" He also struck out at current sitcom fare directed at blacks. "Comedians coming on TV [saying] 'I am so ugly, you are ugly, yuck, yuck.' That's all minstrel show stuff. I am tired of it," he commented.
PRIMETIME LIVE TO ADD COMEDY SKETCH
ABC's Primetime Live will feature a topical satire sketch at the end of each telecast beginning this fall, the New York Post reported Thursday. Described as a throwback to David Frost's That Was the Week That Was, which aired on NBC in 1964 and 1965, the feature is one of the new changes being instituted by the news magazine's recently appointed executive producer, Shelley Ross. "I always remember loving the original show. I didn't understand political satire at the time, but I remember my parents enjoying it and I remember laughter in the house, so it must be evoking something that was wonderful," Ross told the newspaper.
THE JURY IS OUT
Fox appears on the verge of executing The Jury. After failing to attract a significant audience after airing on Tuesdays with a repeat on Fridays, the network said that, beginning next week, it will air on Fridays only. It has also halted production of the series while it waits to see whether ratings improve for the five completed episodes that have yet to air.
MARLON BRANDO DEAD
Legendary actor Marlon Brando, a two-time Oscar winner and a seven-time nominee, died Thursday in Los Angeles at the age of 80, the Associated Press reported, citing the actor's lawyer. The cause of death was not disclosed, although it was reported last year that he suffered from congestive heart failure. Brando received his first Oscar in 1954 for his performance in On the Waterfront, and his second 18 years later for The Godfather.
GLICKMAN TAKES OVER AS HEAD OF MPAA
Former Kansas Congressman Dan Glickman, who served as secretary of agriculture under Bill Clinton, told a Washington news conference that e was eager to take up his duties as head of the Motion Picture association of America, succeeding Jack Valenti. Glickman, whose son Jonathan is a producer with Spyglass Entertainment (Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour), appeared taken aback when informed that his selection had been announced, telling a reporter that a deal had not been finalized. But within hours, he was appearing alongside Valenti and repeating Valenti's position that "piracy and protecting the intellectual property rights of creative works has got to be the number one priority, both at home and overseas." He added that "there's got to be a multifaceted approach: enforcement, litigation and education." He did not mention the possibility of a fourth approach suggested by several consumer advocates, that the industry adopt a new marketing approach to allow consumers to download movies from the Internet or buy them in stores at more affordable prices. Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, told Wired magazines Wired News website: "The movie industry has to recognize that despite the fact that they opposed the VCR back in the '80s, the ability of consumers to look at movies in their own homes has been one of the biggest financial benefits the industry has ever seen."
NEW YORK TIMES RAIDS LOS ANGELES TIMES -- AGAIN
The New York Times has poached yet another entertainment journalist from the Los Angeles Times. According to L.A. Weekly columnist Nikke Finke, Michael Cieply is to become the New York newspaper's movie editor. He is the fourth L.A. Times reporter to be plucked from its Calendar section within one week. The Finke article observed that each of the reporters had been well paid and were content in their old jobs, but that the lure of working for America's "newspaper of record" proved too seductive. Although one of the four, film critic Manohla Dargis, denied that it influenced her decision, a Times colleague told Finke that Dargis was unhappy with the fact that the L.A. Times had decided to make the Calendar section available online via subscription, while keeping the rest of the paper free. "She was very aware of being cut off from the world because websites that compile reviews would not have access to her work. And in the current environment out there, the Internet is where reviews are really bandied about," the colleague said.
Studio execs all agreed Thursday that Sony Film's Spider-Man 2 set a record for a Wednesday opening with ticket sales of $40.5 million. They did not agree with Sony's contention that the take was the biggest for any opening. The official record holder is Warner Bros.' The Matrix Reloaded, which took in $42.5 million when it opened on a Thursday last year. But today's (Friday) Daily Variety points out that the record-book entry ought to sport an asterisk since $5 million of that amount was earned during previews that began as early as 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday. Spider-Man 2 did not open until midnight. Meanwhile, Fahrenheit 9/11 continued to perform strongly at midweek, earning $3.4 million on Wednesday, to bring its total to $35.6 million. And DreamWorks' Shrek crossed the $400 million mark with $1.2 million to bring its total to $400.9 million.
NETFLIX REPORTS BIG JUMP IN SUBSCRIBERS
Netflix on Thursday reported that its subscribers now number 2.09 million. The second-quarter figure is up 8 percent from the previous quarter, an indication that it is faring well against Wal-Mart, which recently began competing with Netflix for online DVD renters. In its SEC filing, Netflix said that 1.8 percent of U.S. homes now subscribe to its service but that its far stronger in some major major markets, like the San Francisco/Oakland area, where 7.6 percent of homes have signed up.
MOVIE REVIEWS: DE-LOVELY
Reaction by the critics to the new Cole Porter biography/musical De-Lovely resembles the title to one of Porter's best-loved shows -- Anything Goes. Ty Burr in the Boston Globe observes that while the thought of Porter's music being sung by the likes of Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow "sounds like a hideous idea," the movie actually "turns out to be thoughtful, creative, and generally worthy of its subject, with sins that are more of ambition and miscalculation than of execution." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times awards the film 3 1/2 stars and praises the performances of Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as his wife, Linda Lee. Kline he says, "is ideally cast ... elegant, witty, always onstage, brave in the face of society and his own pain." As for Judd, he remarks, "Who might have know [she] would be so nuanced as Linda Lee?" Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News expresses some minor reservations about the film, but then remarks that overall, "De-Lovely has much de-loveliness about it. There are terrific performances from Kline and Judd, some breathtaking staging and production design, and, of course, some of the best music and lyrics of the 20th century." But Stephen Holden writes in the New York Times that the film is "lifeless and drained of genuine joie de vivre" and while he writes that Kline "can surmount any disaster," Judd, he contends, "Is clueless as to style. She seems to imagine that tilting her chin up to snob level, narrowing her eyes and maintaining precise elocution is all it takes to evoke class." Megan Lehmann in the New York Post writes that "after a fizzy beginning, De-Lovely withers and wanes, becoming a listless trudge through a life -- and ultimately doing an injustice to a complex man and his enchanting, immortal songbook." John Anderson in Newsday calls it a "De-bacle;" Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Times, "de-lousy;" and Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail says that it "isn't d'awful, but it's pretty damn close. ... better than a root canal, marginally superior to Gigli, but bad enough."
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE CLEARING
The critics are also widely divided over The Clearing, starring Robert Redford and Helen Mirren. Up against Spider-Man and a raft of teen-oriented movie fare, the film is described as "solid summer counterprogramming" by Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News. Stephen Hunter in the Washington praises the performances of the actors, noting that for Redford, the movie could be called "an anti-vanity film," in which he allows himself to be "photographed in the least flattering of light, so that the ravages time has worked upon his face are fully exposed. This spirit of honesty extends to the character himself, which, far from being the heroic Redford of yore, is shown to have been flawed, weak, inadequate and far from heroic." But Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes it as "a suspense movie on Prozac. As still and flat as a lake on a windless day." Mike Clark in USA Today takes an in-between position, writing: "This is one of those moderately engrossing movies that seems to collapse all at once during the wrap-up, yet it's well-acted all around, especially by its star, who once again reminds us why audiences have liked him for 40 years."
MOVIE REVIEWS: AMERICA'S HEART & SOUL
And although Disney would probably deny it -- it's documentary America's Heart & Soul could also be considered counterprogramming -- countering the documentary that it rejected, Fahrenheit 9/11. It's being snubbed by most critics, who are predicting that it will receive the same treatment from moviegoers. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times remarks that it "may be the first feature-length documentary filmed entirely in the style of a television commercial." Jan Stuart writes in Newsday that the movie "is the kind of picture that only an unrepentant cynic or a curmudgeon could hate." She then adds: "I have no problems with taking on both of those roles." Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post describes it this way: "As corny as the title." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it "feel-good, flag-waving hooey, but at least it's bipartisan." And Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post suggests that the film might well be considered as a complement (not a compliment) to Fahrenheit. "Perhaps the most eloquent testimonial to the tensions that animate the American idea is the fact that these two movies can be seen in theaters on the Fourth of July. And perhaps the best way to celebrate Independence Day is to see -- and argue about -- both."