VIACOM'S GAY CHANNEL TAKES SHAPE
Logo, Viacom's first gay-themed cable network, plans to launch in February with 25 percent original and 75 percent acquired programming, and with plans to increase the original slate over the following 18 months, the Los Angeles Daily News reported today (Thursday). The newspaper said that 40 programs are in development with 20 in the pilot stage. MTV, which will operate the channel, has locked up deals with the Time Warner and Adelphia cable systems in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The newspaper quoted Viacom Co-president Tom Freston as saying that he does not expect a widespread backlash. "We know that some people are uncomfortable with the concept of the gay and lesbian community, period," he said, "However, it's fair to say that it has really reach a level in the last several years of being increasingly mainstream."

VIACOM BUYS ITS GERMAN RIVAL

Viacom, which already owns MTV, has agreed to buy a majority stake (75.8 percent) in the music channel's German rival Viva for $375 million. Current shareholders include Vivendi Universal and Time Warner. In a conference call with analysts, Bill Roedy, who heads MTV's overseas operations, remarked, "Germany is our No. 1 market outside of the U.S. ... We see tremendous growth opportunities in Germany and it is one of our world global priorities." Viva was launched in 1993 to spotlight young German musicians, which MTV Germany (which serves the German-speaking market, including Austria and parts of Switzerland) had largely neglected.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT TAKES FLIGHT

After receiving four product placement spots on NBC's The Apprentice last season, Marquis Jet received a featured spot on NBC's Last Comic Standing on Tuesday. The company said that it provided the plane (and a Marquis Jet Card, entitled the winner to 25 hours of free private jet transportation) in exchange for the product placement positions and that no cash was exchanged. The company said that the show's producers contacted them after seeing The Apprentice episodes, which the show's star, Donald Trump, described as "the world's greatest infomercial." Marquis Jet exec Ken Austin said in a statement that the company had subsequently been offered spots on other shows, "and we have turned down many that were not appropriate." However, he said, "Last Comic Standing is a massive hit for NBC and we're extremely excited to have participated."

OZ STARS TO REUNITE

The members of the cast of the HBO prison series Oz have been reunited to appear as jurors on Tuesday's episode of the new Fox drama The Jury. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Fontana, who created both shows, remarked, "Oz fans aren't used to these characters interacting without brutalizing each other. To see them behaving in a relatively normal manner ... [as jurors] appealed to me." Fontana also is bringing back the prison set used in Oz, and in fact created the episode around it. (It concerns the trial of a convict accused murder during a prison brawl.)

GEMSTAR-TV GUIDE CUTS LEGAL COSTS, AGREES TO SEC SETTLEMENT

In a move apparently aimed at cutting its enormous legal costs, Gemstar-TV Guide has agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission $10 million to settle charges that previous executives of the company had cooked the books. The company did not admit to wrongdoing. Gemstar-TV Guide reported legal fees of $77 million last year and would have been required to pay attorney fees for the company's former CEO and founder, Henry Yuen, and former CFO Elsie Leung, who were forced to resign two years ago following the charges of accounting irregularities. Shares in the company, which traded at a high of more than $100 in 2000, closed Wednesday at $4.82.

SEARCH FOR NEW MPAA CHIEF NEARS END
Representatives of the seven studios that form the Motion Picture Association of America are due to discuss the search results by executive recruiter Spencer Stuart, assigned to select a successor to MPAA chief Jack Valenti, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday), citing unnamed studio sources. The newspaper observed that while an official announcement is not expected until July at the earliest, one name at the top of the list was former Kansas Congressman Dan Glickman, who served as secretary of agriculture under Bill Clinton. (Clinton reportedly served as a reference for Glickman.) Other top candidates, the Times said, are former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and San Diego school superintendent Alan Bersin. The newspaper also observed that the studios are considering dividing the post in two, and appointing a CEO and COO.

CONSERVATIVE GROUP CLAIMS VICTORY OVER FAHRENHEIT 9/11

Although its distributors claim that Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 911 will open in 858 theaters on Friday -- the biggest release for a documentary ever -- the conservative outfit Move America Forward, set up to battle the film, claimed victory Wednesday in its effort to induce theater owners to refuse to screen it, noting that the distributors will fall short of the more than 1,000 theaters that they had originally forecast. Sal Russo, who formed MAF from his political PR office in Sacramento, told CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, "Once the hard-core leftist political activists have seen the film this weekend its appeal will die down because the Blame America First constituency frankly is not that large." Meanwhile, the film broke sales records at two New York City theaters Wednesday as each sold out tickets before noon. The Village Cineplex 7 theater said that Fahrenheit sold $49,000 in tickets, beating the previous record of some $43,000 set by Men in Black in 1997. It planned to remain open throughout the night. The film earned an additional $30,000 at the Lincoln Plaza theater, where all sixteen screenings sold out.

GIBSON REMAINS ON THE OUTS WITH SOME STUDIO EXECS

Despite Mel Gibson's towering success as the producer-director of The Passion of the Christ, film studios have shown a reluctance to deal with him, and none has shown interest in starring him in a movie, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). The newspaper, citing an unnamed senior Sony executive, reported that Sony Films Chairman Amy Pascal turned Gibson's agents down when they proposed him for the lead in a remake of All the King's Men because she was offended that Gibson had been unwilling to distance himself from his father's remarks that the Holocaust never occurred. Another unnamed studio CEO, citing the same issue, told the Times that he would strenuously resist casting Gibson. He added, however, "He'll find a movie. Nobody's going to blacklist him."

BILL STRIKES AT P-TO-P SOFTWARE

A bill supported by the film industry was introduced in the Senate Wednesday that would make anyone providing technology that could serve as an inducement to others to violate copyrights liable for civil penalties. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, in introducing the bill, observed that currently copyright holders can only go after users of such technology, who are often children. The new law would allow them to go after those who provide the users' software. In a statement, MPAA President Jack Valenti commented that the bill "is grounded in the common-sense notion that people who 'actively induce' others to break copyright laws are themselves violating copyright laws and should face legal consequences." Others, however, suggested that it would effectively overturn the Betamax decision, which essentially gave consumers the right to record programs off the air for personal use, although the bill states that it is directed only at those who encourage users to break copyright laws. (Today's Daily Variety commented that the proposed legislation "would usher in the most sweeping changes to copyright law in the 20 years since courts legalized the Betamax videocassette recorder.")

JULIE ANDREWS SAYS POPPINS DVD IS SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC

Julie Andrews says she was "staggered" when she sat in front of a monitor to record reminiscences about the making of Mary Poppins, her first film hit, for a new DVD being released to celebrate the film's 40th anniversary. She told the trade publication Video Store magazine that she was particularly struck by the film's special effects, which were created before computer technology. "It's not at all creaky; it's not at all dated. It holds up brilliantly," Andrews said. She also noted that the DVD producers have been able to find outtakes from the original film as well as wardrobe and personal stills, rehearsal tapes, and interviews with co-star Dick Van Dyke and herself.

Cinemark Movie Club