Mel Karmazin's long-rumored resignation as president and COO of Viacom finally materialized today (Tuesday), as the media conglomerate issued an announcement saying that he was stepping down for "personal and professional reasons." Almost from the time of his ascension to the post following Viacom's takeover of CBS four years ago, reports have circulated of private and public bickering between him and Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone -- reports that Redstone has steadfastly denied. In today's announcement, Redstone said that "we very much regret Mel's decision to resign and we wish him well." But in a conference call with analysts this morning, Redstone remarked that Karmazin was "frustrated" and that he didn't know why he quit. "There was no single event, just his frustration," he added. Karmazin will be succeeded by Les Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS, and Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks. They will hold the titles of co-president and co-COO. At one point, Redstone remarked during his conference call, ""It is extremely likely that either one of these will be my successor. I would bet that one of these guys will succeed me." He has said that he himself plans to step down in three years. Investors had credited Karmazin for making Viacom one of the most stable media companies operating during the past tumultuous four years -- even as reports of tension between the two chieftains and worries that Karmazin would quit had put downward pressure on the company's stock. Although the company reported a 60 percent rise in profit during the first quarter -- its highest in seven years -- Viacom shares, which were trading at $48.13 a year ago, had slid to $35.19 by mid-morning trading today, down $0.12 to a 52-week low.
KWAME JACKSON IS FIRED AGAIN
The Apprentice finalist Kwame Jackson has been removed as a judge on tonight's (Tuesday) Miss Universe beauty pageant in Quito, Ecuador after he was spotted talking with two contestants at the Marriott Hotel, the official hotel of the contestants. Jackson said later that he was unaware that the hotel was off limits to the judges. Rules of the contest bar judges from the hotel and all interaction with contestants. "It was an innocent interaction," a spokeswoman for NBC, which is televising the contest, said Monday, "but rather than risk the integrity of the contest, Kwame agreed to step down." The pageant is controlled by Donald Trump, who handed Jackson his walking orders on The Apprentice.
MURDOCH'S FOX NEWS, SKY NEWS COVER DISASTER IN HIT MOVIE
Although many of the conservative commentators and their guests who appear on the Fox News Channel pooh-pooh the notion that global warming poses a significant threat to the environment, the new movie The Day After Tomorrow, produced by the Fox News sibling, 20th Century Fox, makes it clear that if the world is destroyed by such a condition, the destruction will be covered in depth by Fox News. As critic Anthony Lane observes in the June 7 issue of The New Yorker, out today (Tuesday), "Whether the makers of the movie ... were operating under direct orders is hard to tell. Let us simply note that there is barely a scene in which some fearless Fox News reporter, microphone logo to the fore, does not wrestle with the elements in order to keep the public informed." Moreover, when the action in the movie switches overseas, reporters for Sky News, another unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire, are also at the ready.
FOCUS GROUP GIVES THUMBS DOWN TO THE OFFICE
A test audience for the U.S. version of the hit British sitcom The Office have given it the worst marks for a new sitcom in NBC's history, the London Daily Mirror reported today (Tuesday), citing no sources. The focus group reaction was that the show was "too depressing." As a result, the newspaper said, network programmers have shelved plans to make 22 episodes, standing pat with the six shows that they have ordered, which will likely be introduced if a currently scheduled series on the network's fall schedule flops. The Mirror quoted one unnamed British insider as saying, "Americans are used to sitcoms where good-looking people sit on a sofa and crack a joke every 15 seconds. The Office isn't like that."
$86 MILLION -- BUT STILL NO. 2
Despite opening with an estimated $86 million over the four-day Memorial Day holiday, The Day After Tomorrow was nevertheless The Day after Shrek 2. In its second week the DreamWorks animated feature collected about $92.2 million -- well above the gross for any second week in history. In fact, The Day After Tomorrow exceeded the per-theater take of Shrek 2 by nearly 25 percent, but the 20th Century Fox disaster film played in 25 percent fewer theaters than the cartoon, which expanded to a record 4,223 theaters. Overall, the domestic box office recorded a total take of about $240 million, nearly 20 percent higher than last year's record $201.8 million for the holiday. That, in turn, was slightly higher than the previous record of $201.1 million set in 2002. But Dan Marks of box-office trackers Nielsen EDI told Daily Variety that the new record was more than just nosing out the previous one. "That's blowing it to smithereens," he said.
TOP MOVIES ICE OUT THEIR RIVALS
Although clearly more people flooded into the box office over the holiday than at any time in history -- some 37 million -- few of them were interested in seeing anything other than the top two contenders. (The two films took in almost as much as the entire box office did last year over Memorial Day weekend, Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder pointed out in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.) The box office total for Warner Bros.' Troy, for example, plummeted 50 percent to just $15 million in its third week to wind up in the No. 3 spot. The Kate Hudson starrer Raising Helen, from Disney, touched down in fourth place as it debuted with about $14 million, while the MGM comedy Soul Plane crash landed in fifth, opening with $7 million. The top ten films for the four-day Memorial Day weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Shrek 2, $92.2 million; 2. The Day After Tomorrow, $86 million; 3. Troy, $15 million; 4. Raising Helen, $14 million; 5. Soul Plane, $7 million; 6. Mean Girls, $6.3 million; 7. Van Helsing, $6.2 million; 8. Man on Fire, $2.4 million; 9. 13 Going on 30, $1.4 million; 10. Super Size Me, $1.35 million.
TOMORROW SETS OVERSEAS RECORDS, TOO
The Day After Tomorrow had a salutary effect on the environment of the overseas box office where it chalked up an estimated $85 million in 110 countries over the weekend, according to Daily Variety. The film had little competition. In the U.K., it counted $12.9 million in ticket sales as it opened just ahead of Monday's debut of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is expected to dominate the worldwide box office by next weekend.
THE SOUND OF CYAN
MGM's Soul Plane became the first film to be distributed using Eastman Kodak Co.'s new method of storing the soundtrack on a thin layer of cyan dye in the film instead of on a magnetic or optical track. According to the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, the technology requires the installation of an infrared light reader in movie projectors, a relatively inexpensive accessory that has now been stalled in about 85 percent of the nation's theaters. The newspaper observed that the track will mostly serve as a backup to digital soundtracks, which are generally stored on a separate disk that is synced to the projector. Some 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. theaters, however, are not equipped with digital sound systems.
DVD SALES PICK UP AGAIN
Sales of DVDs, which had appeared to be leveling off earlier in the year, shot up 22 percent in April over the previous year to $1.19 billion, according to Nielsen VideoScan. Sales of VHS cassettes, however, fell to $100.98 million, down 51 percent from the comparable period last year. DVD sales in April accounted for 91 percent of all units sold, versus 78 percent in April 2003. The top seller for the month was Disney's hand-drawn animated feature Brother Bear, released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which sold 5.51 million units.
SONY DEVELOPS NEW VIDEO SYSTEM FOR THEATERS
Sony has demonstrated a new digital projection system for theaters capable of providing a picture with twice the resolution of current models. The system employs Sony's Silicon Crystal Reflective Display technology, which produces pixels that are much smaller and therefore more densely packed into the display panel than those of digital projectors currently being manufactured. Production of the new panels is expected to begin before the end of the year, the company said.
CELL PHONE "SHOPLIFTERS" EMERGE IN JAPAN
As camera cell phones become ever more sophisticated, a hint of things to come for movie studios may be contained in a report from Japan's Asahi Shimbun today (Tuesday) in which owners of bookstores in Tokyo complain about "digital shoplifting." The report indicates that visitors to the stores are using their cell phones's camera capability to copy magazines and pages of books. Yoshihiro Maruoka, the operator of one bookstore in Tokyo's Kanda district, an area lined with bookstores, told the newspaper, "If this keeps up, our books won't sell." Cell phones with full video capacity are expected to be marketed within two years and are likely to be so small that anyone using them in a theater would probably go undetected.