GROUP WANTS TV ADS FOR FAHRENHEIT BARRED
The conservative and pro-Republican group Citizens United has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission asking it to bar television commercials for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on the grounds that it violates federal campaign laws barring "electioneering communications" 30 days before a presidential nominating convention and 60 days before a presidential election. Moore, who maintains that he is not a member of the Democratic Party, issued a statement Thursday saying facetiously, "I am deeply concerned about whether or not the FEC will think I paid Citizens United to raise these issues," saying that their attacks represented "millions of dollars of free publicity." He added: "I plan on sending them a nice holiday card this year."
COURT RULES AGAINST FCC
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia on Thursday upheld an earlier decision invalidating the FCC's deregulation rules on media ownership. The court ruled that while the FCC had the authority to issue such a decree, it had the obligation to explain its purpose in doing so and show how it benefited the public interest. FCC Chairman Michael Powell immediately issued a statement criticizing the decision, saying that it "has created a clouded and confused state of media law." But Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project, which had opposed the FCC ruling, commented: ""It looks like the court agreed with us that preserving democracy is more important than helping big companies grow bigger." Today's (Friday) New York Times pointed out that the Tribune Company is likely to be affected most of all by the ruling inasmuch as the Tribune's acquisition of several major-market newspapers owned by the Times Mirror Company in 2000 conflicted with existing cross-ownership regulations. (Tribune also owns TV stations in most of the markets.)
CBS NEWS TRIUMPHS WITH MURROW AWARDS
Although it trails its broadcast competitors in the ratings, CBS News on Thursday received more Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in broadcast journalism than any other network news division -- a total of eight, including overall excellence. ABC was second with six awards, including best nightly newscast, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. NBC placed third with three awards, including David Bloom's reports from Iraq during the U.S. invasion. Bloom died from a pulmonary embolism while embedded with the Third Infantry Division en route to Baghdad. The awards will be presented by the Radio and Television News Directors Assn. at ceremonies in New York on Oct. 4.
FORMER BILLBOARD EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SUES PUBLICATION
Raising new questions about the relationship between the entertainment trade press and the businesses that advertise with them, the former editor-in-chief of Billboard has sued the publication, charging that Billboard publisher John J. Kilcullen ordered him not to publish any editorials or articles that might "piss off" record companies and cause them to cancel advertising or subscriptions and warned him that he would be fired if he did not comply. Thursday's edition of "Folio: First Day," published by the magazine industry trade paper Folio, cited an internal memo from Kilcullen saying in part: "I want you to avoid writing provocative headlines or employing photos and cartoons that are not in the best interest of BIG [Billboard Information Group]." Samantha Chang, a former Billboard senior editor, joined Girard in the suit, which also accuses executives of the publication of sexual harassment and "gender and race-based discrimination." VNU, the Netherlands-based parent company of Billboard, issued a statement saying that the pair's "claims have no legal or factual merits."
TORRID BIDDING FOR JOEY
Three of Britain's leading broadcast networks, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB, are said to be engaging in a bidding war for Joey, the Friends spinoff set to launch in the fall. British news reports said today (Friday) that the bidding has already risen past $1 million per episode.
LEWINSKY RIPS CLINTON IN BRITISH TV INTERVIEW
Britain's ITV News said Thursday that it had landed an exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky in which she will respond to Bill Clinton's remarks in his autobiography and numerous recent promotional interviews playing down his affair with her. In promotional clips from the interview released to the press in advance of tonight's (Friday) scheduled broadcast, Lewinsky objects to "the lies he has told about me" and adds: "I don't accept that he had to completely desecrate my character, which not only affected me but my family, my friends and my future.
NEAR RECORD AUDIENCE FOR BRITISH SOCCER MATCH
Portugal's victory over England in the Euro 2004 soccer contest Thursday night drew a near-record audience of 24.7 million viewers at its peak, according to preliminary numbers released early today (Friday). The average audience during the nearly three-hour contest carried by BBC1 was 20.7 million representing 46 percent of the entire British television audience.
N.Y. TIMES PLUCKS FILM CRITIC FROM L.A. TIMES
Stepping up an ongoing raid on the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Times and other top newspapers, the New York Times has snatched L.A. Times film critic Manohla Dargis away to replace the recently departed critic Elvis Mitchell. Dargis's move to the New York newspaper was reported Thursday by entertainment writer Nikki Finke in the L.A. Weekly, where Dargis worked before joining the L.A. Times. Finke described the departure of Dargis as part of an exodus of top-flight editorial personnel to the NYT, including architecture critic Nikolai Ouroussoff, science writer Benedict Carey, and features editor Rick Fla Ste. Finke said that the Jeff Leeds, who writes about the music business, is also about to be hired by the NYT. "What's depressing about Manohla's leaving especially is that we treated her fantastically," a source at the L.A. Times told Finke. "She got to do everything she wanted to do. She's never been unhappy. But the lure of the NYT was too strong, I guess."
FAHRENHEIT NOT LIKELY TO BE HOTTEST FILM
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 may be receiving the most public attention among this week's debuting films, but analysts are predicting that Sony/Revolution's White Chicks (which actually opened on Wednesday) will be the movie to beat. The film took in a whopping $4.2 million on opening day. Last week's box-office leader DodgeBall also performed strongly during midweek and is likely to take second place, according to most analysts. Weighing against Fahrenheit was its limited release. Although distributors were saying that they had booked it into 848 theaters, new reports in some markets were saying that theaters where it was scheduled to play had not received prints and that they were being told that the distributors may not be able to provide prints to all 848 locations by the scheduled opening. A spokesman for the Carmike Theaters chain told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the chain had been told that only 700 prints had been struck. Nevertheless, Fahrenheit is likely to top all other films in per-theater gross this weekend, according to analysts. Daily Variety observed that the distributors are hoping to expand the release of the movie after this weekend and that the per-screen average "will play a large part in determining how much wider it plays."
FAHRENHEIT'S EMBEDDED CAMERAMAN REVEALED
Scenes in Fahrenheit 911 of U.S. soldiers taunting and sexually humiliating Iraqi civilians following the successful invasion were shot by Urban Hamid, an embedded Swedish-Iraqi journalist who is presently a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, the university's student newspaper Camera disclosed today (Tuesday). Moore has declined to respond to questions from interviewers about whether he resorted to subterfuge in order to embed photographers among U.S. forces and has been criticized for not showing footage of the abuses to U.S. military authorities earlier. But Camera reported that the controversial footage by Hamid was actually shown at a theater in Boulder as long ago as March 1 and was subsequently brought to Moore's attention. Hamid, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 12 years, told the newspaper that he has returned to Iraq three times in the past year, presumably to continue to document the course of the war. "Every time I go back, it seems it's gotten worse ... When I last went back, people were so tired and exhausted and had lost hope. It's extremely sad to see."
EISNER: DISNEY "REDUCING OUR INVESTMENT" IN FILMS
After having already announced that it is virtually abandoning hand-drawn animated features, Disney now is planning to cut back on live-action films as well. Speaking to a Deutsche Bank investors conference from Disney's Burbank headquarters, Disney CEO Michael Eisner said, "We are reducing our investment in our film businesses." Disney President and COO Bob Iger added: "If we are going to invest money on entertainment, I think there are better ways to spend than live action." However, he added, "We have some high-ticket [big budget] items we feel good about. ... How many we make is definitely an issue to us." Disney has experienced a string of expensive flops in recent months including The Alamo and Hidalgo, which it produced, and the recent Around the World in 80 Days, which it acquired. Of the latter film, Disney CFO Thomas Staggs observed that Disney owned only a percentage of the film. "The upside was limited but so is the downside," Staggs remarked. The executives also agreed that the decision to cut back on live-action films could also affect their relationship with Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who are likely to balk at any cutbacks. "There's got to be some give here and there," Iger said, "and that is sort of where the rubber might meet the road in terms of any future relationship."
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: FAHRENHEIT 9/11
It's hard to tell whether many reviews of Fahrenheit 9/11 are expressions of political sentiment or artistic appraisals. Indeed, several critics suggest that politics is the overwhelming factor here and that reviews may be superfluous. As Ann Hornaday observes in her review in the Washington Post: "Most people reading this already know whether they're going or not." The majority of critics are showering it with high praise, but it is clear that several of them clearly loathe it. Some critics are of two minds about it. Writes Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "As its worst, Fahrenheit is a work of political vaudeville in which Moore is guilty of many of the things he accuses Bush of: arrogance, agitating the electorate, playing to the base. At its best, it is a magnificent piece of filmmaking that listens to the woman on the street and to the man in the trenches about their changes of heart vis-a-vis Iraq." Among the cheer leaders, Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times that the movie "is a compelling, persuasive film, at odds with the White House effort to present Bush as a strong leader." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Sun-Times cheers louder: "It's another howitzer blast of heartland humor and journalistic chutzpah from director-writer Moore--his cheekiest, gutsiest, most hilarious assault yet on the halls of the rich and mighty." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times agrees, writing: "With expertly deployed footage and a take-no-prisoners attitude that echoes that of his conservative betes noir, Moore has made an overwhelming film. It is propaganda, no doubt about it, but propaganda is most effective when it has elements of truth, and too much here is taken from the record not to have a devastating effect on viewers." But Moore has plenty of detractors among the critics, too. "Moore is so anti-Bush that he becomes a Bizarro-world version of Bush himself: tone-deaf, spluttering, incapable of framing an intelligent debate," writes Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal calls the movie, "a postmodern, postliterary piece of agitprop, coming at a time when truth is often the first victim in supermarket tabloids, radio talk shows, campaign commercials on network TV and gabble-fests on cable." And Terry Lawson in the Detroit Free Press labels the movie "a kidney punch."
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: THE NOTEBOOK
It's opening among fierce competition, but mostly positive reviews of Nick Cassavetes' The Notebook may inspire many adults to go see it. The performances of Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, and Gena Rowland, and James Garner are given particularly high marks, with some reviewers describing them as Oscar-worthy. Stephen Holden writes of the McAdams/Gosling match-up: "Their performances are so spontaneous and combustible that you quickly identify with the reckless sweethearts, who embody an innocence that has all but vanished from American teenage life. And against your better judgment, you root for the pair to beat the odds against them." However, it's all a bit much for several critics who describe the film as two-hanky soap opera. Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News writes that the movie will give "weepers" what they want "by the trowelful. And men hardly need to be warned that this is basically just Titanic without anything cool like a ship sinking or Kate Winslet posing for art." Comments Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post: "Audiences craving big, gooey over-the-top romance have their must-see summer movie in The Notebook, a confection syrupy enough to satisfy nearly every cinematic sweet tooth.