WEINSTEIN PRAISES FOX NEWS'S AILES
Miramax Co-chairman Harvey Weinstein has praised Fox News Channel for becoming his "unlikeliest of allies" in getting word out about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Interviewed by Variety editor Peter Bart on AMC's7 on Sunday, Weinstein identified Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes as the biggest media supporter of the film -- even though he disagreed with its content. Appearing on AMC's Shoot Out on Sunday, Weinstein said, ""I mean when he sees this movie -- I don't want to be responsible for a cardiac bill -- but on a First Amendment issue, it blew his mind. So the best coverage we had wasn't ABC, CBS or NBC -- even Michael Moore couldn't believe it -- there's Fox News. A movie in [Ailes's] mind that couldn't be distributed or had to fight for distribution, just was un-American. He'd rather say, 'Bring it on, we'll deal with that, but you have a right to show it.'" Today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times quoted a Fox News spokesman as confirming that Weinstein's quotes accurately represented Ailes's thinking. By contrast, during an interview with Moore on Friday, NBC newsman Matt Lauer appeared to strongly support Disney's decision not to distribute the film. He told Moore: "They paid you. The check's cleared, and they can look at it and say, you know what, this is not the kind of movie we want to distribute right now. ... It's their right." Moore agreed, but pointed out that with fewer and fewer media outlets existing in America as a result of mergers, they can now limit the number of voices that can be heard.
VIACOM'S REDSTONE: WITH KARMAZIN OUT, CREATIVITY WILL FLOURISH
Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone has indicated that with the departure of Mel Karmazin as president and COO of the company, its purse strings will be loosened in order to encourage more experimentation and creativity. In an interview appearing in Sunday's New York Times Redstone remarked: "I would never denigrate Mel. But Mel was great when the economic environment was poor and the company agenda was to cut expenses and control expenses. But now we have an escalating economy and the name of the game is creativity and content." He noted that he is moving forward with plans to introduce a gay channel -- something, he maintained, that was placed on the back burner during Karmazin's reign because it would cost $30 million. "This is a channel that we believe will be worth billions in the future. The demographic is enormous. The people spend tons of money, I mean, that community -- advertisers love it. But again, one has to be hell-bent on creativity and willingness to make investments in creativity." He said that he believes the company will now make great strides because he is working closely with Les Moonves and Tom Freston, whom he described as his friends. "And people don't realize that having a company run by friends makes a difference." During Karmazin's tenure, numerous reports mentioned that while Redstone was a social and gregarious soul, Karmazin eschewed social relationships with co-workers and business associates.
AFTER THE FIGHT, A FIGHT OVER BRITAIN'S BIG BROTHER
In an effort to prevent a repeat of last week's melee that broke out in the house used for the taping of the British version of Big Brother, producers Endemol and the TV network Channel 4 have removed a contestant named Emma, who was involved in the brawl, maintaining that although she was no "no more to blame for the events of Wednesday night than anyone else" moving her out "was the best course of action to ensure the welfare and safety of all the housemates." The incident triggered angry protests from a variety of sources. David Wilson, a professor of criminology who worked as an adviser to the program, quit, saying that he could no longer be associated with a program that "provoked interpersonal violence for entertainment." Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, issued a statement saying: "Reality TV has become more and more extreme. The Big Brother producers dubbed this series 'Big Brother gets evil' and designed the format to create tension and trouble, which they presumably thought would make acceptable viewing. Nobody wants to clamp down on ideas or stop TV being inventive; but this is becoming an increasingly ugly spectacle."
QUEEN'S GRANDDAUGHTER TO RECEIVE $55,000 FOR INTERVIEW
The British network Channel Five has agreed to pay a 23-year-old member of the royal family $55,000 for an interview in which she would describe what it is like growing up as the granddaughter of the queen. Britain's Guardian newspaper said that the interview with Zara Phillips next Sunday will include a discussion of her relationship with Princes William and Harry and her own romantic life.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was the name of the game at the box office over the weekend as the 20th Century Fox comedy starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn took in an estimated $30 million, well above expectations. The goofy comedy left the Steven Spielberg comedy The Terminal grounded with a take of just $18.7 million -- probably less than it took to build the airport terminal set used for filming the $110-million film. Commenting on the results, an analyst for the financial news service Investrend said on its FinancialWire.com website: "The American thirst for low-brow entertainment simply cannot go unquenched, if the weekend's box office is any example." But Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told the Los Angeles Daily News: "People wanted to laugh, with all that is going on in the world. ... It's a genuinely funny movie and is the only comedy out there. Everything else is either family movies or films with a more serious tone." Results for The Terminal were among the weakest ever for a Spielberg film. DreamWorks, which produced it, was nevertheless continuing to bask in the continued success of its computer-animated Shrek 2. The movie raked in $17.4 million. Meanwhile, Disney was attempting to come to grips with another big flop, its fourth in a row, as Around the World in 80 Days earned just $6.8 million. Asked why he thought the movie performed so poorly, Disney's distribution chief Chuck Viane told the Associated Press: ""Little [failure] streaks like this happen to everybody, but [the movie business] isn't about the short term." The total box office was down about 10 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago, with the top 12 films earning about $127 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, $30 million; 2. The Terminal, $18.7 million; 3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, $17.4 million; 4. Shrek 2, $13.6 million; 5. Garfield: The Movie, $11 million; 6. The Stepford Wives, $9.2 million; 7. The Chronicles of Riddick, $8.3 million; 8. The Day After Tomorrow, $7.55 million; 9. Around the World in 80 Days, $6.8 million; 10. Troy, $1.7 million.
BLOCKBUSTER SPINOFF BEGINS
In advance of its planned spinoff from Viacom, Blockbuster on Friday announced a special cash dividend of $5 per share. Since Viacom itself owns 81.5 percent of Blockbuster, the decision will put $738 million into the media giant's coffers. In a statement, Blockbuster chairman and CEO John Antioco said, "We are pleased to be moving forward with our split-off from Viacom, and we believe that by becoming a separate company we will be better able to pursue our retailing strategy." In the same statement, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone commented, "Viacom's separation from Blockbuster is a major event that begins a new chapter in the Viacom growth story and brings significant advantages for both companies as we pursue our separate paths to success."
MESSIER ARRESTED IN PARIS
Former Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier was taken into custody by French police early today and was being questioned about what they called "financial misappropriation" while he headed the company. No charges against him have been filed and news reports indicated that it was likely that he would be released in 24-48 hours.
HEAD ON WINS GERMAN FILM PRIZE
Fatih Akin's Head-On (Gegen die Wand), which won the Berlin Film Festival's top Golden Bear award in February, was awarded the German Film Prize on Friday for best film, best actor, best actress, best direcor and best camera. Particularly striking was the decision by the judges to award the best actress award to Sibel Kekilli, a relatively unknown actress whom German tabloids recently exposed as a former porn star. Sophia Copolla's Lost in Translation won the best foreign film award.
GERMAN DISTRIBUTOR AWARDED ANOTHER $29 MILLION
A federal court jury in Santa Ana, CA on Friday awarded $29 million in punitive damages to the German film distributor Intertainment, after it had aleady awarded it $77 million on Thursday when it concluded that Hollywood producer Elie Samada had inflated budgets of his films. Intertainment claimed that Samada kept two sets of books, one of which was approved for public consumption; the other, for displaying to investors. As a result, it claimed, it ended up paying for nearly all of Samada's productions although its contracts stipulated that it would only be obligated to pay for 47 percent of them.