ABC DANCES AWAY WITH WEDNESDAY WIN
Proving that it was no one-week fluke, the second episode of ABC's Dancing with Stars drew bigger ratings in its latest outing than it did in its first -- when it was the second most-watched show of the week (behind CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.) Wednesday's telecast drew a 9.8 rating and a 16 share, a notch above last week's 9.4/16, according to Nielsen Research. It was enough to give ABC a win for the night with an average 6.5/11. NBC was second with a 5.7/10. CBS followed with a 5.5/10, while Fox trailed with a 3.0/5.
COSTAS TO SUB FOR KING
CNN has landed Bob Costas to act as "substitute host" for Larry King Live. Costas, who once hosted his own late-night talk show, Later with Bob Costas, on NBC, said in a statement, "I've always enjoyed the long-form interview, and Larry's program is synonymous with that television format." Asked by Newsday whether he's being groomed to eventually replace King, who fronts CNN's most-watched hour, Costas replied, "I was aware that question was inevitable...I understand that, but really, it's [only] for the next year - it's twenty shows - and I think I'm well suited to do it, based on what I've done in the past. I know I'll enjoy it and they made it so that I can fit it in very nicely with my existing schedule." Nevertheless, Shari Anne Brill, a Carat USA ad exec, told Bloomberg News that CNN is "looking for an heir to replace King when his contract is up and is taking Costas for a test drive."
GRAMMYS GET OUT OF THE WAY OF HOUSEWIVES
Hoping to arrest its plummeting ratings, the 2006 Grammy Awards will return to Wednesday nights beginning next February 8, moving out of the Sunday-night slot that it has held for the past three years. The CBS telecast will thereby avoid competition with ABC's hit Desperate Housewives, which drew away a sizable chunk of its audience last year. Ratings for the awards telecast dropped 25 percent to their lowest level since 1997.
DILLER A DOLLAR RICHER, $3.4 BILLION, IN FACT
Barry Diller is $3.4 billion richer following his announcement Wednesday that he had reached a settlement with NBC Universal and Vivendi Universal to sell a stake he held in the companies back to them. Diller, whose IAC/InterActiveCorp held a 5.4-percent stake in Vivendi Universal, had balked at NBC's acquisition of 80 percent of the entertainment units of Vivendi because of tax-related concerns. In a telephone conference on Wednesday, Diller expressed relief that the deal had been consummated. "Three-way relationships are always complex and all the parties are [now] better off," he said.
ACTORS' UNIONS CARVE OUT DEAL WITH GAME MAKERS
Negotiators for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and TV Artists (AFTRA) have reached a tentative agreement with the publishers of video games giving the actors who provide voices on them a 36-percent hike in minimum pay over 3 1/2 years (to $750 from $556 per four-hour session) but no residuals. SAG President Melissa Gilbert said that union negotiators signed off on the deal "with great reluctance" because it contained no provision allowing for residuals. AFTRA President John Connolly sounded more upbeat, remarking, "While we did not get all we want and deserve, this contract is another important step in building artists' power in this growing sector."
FRANCE'S NEWS CHANNEL OKAYED BY EUROPEAN REGULATORS
European Union regulators have approved an alliance between the government-owned France Television and a private group, TF1, to create a French-language news channel that would compete with CNN and the BBC. The regulators said that the French International News Channel (Chaine Française d'Informatión International), as "a service of general economic interest" would not breach regulations that limit state aid to private companies. The company also agreed to block transmission of its programs within France. The government plans to pump $37 million into the channel to start it up and run it for the rest of the year. The figure is expected to rise to $85 million next year.
AL-QAEDA SUSPECT FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST MILLIONAIRE PRODUCERS
Lawyers for a man accused of aiding al-Qaeda said Wednesdy that they plan to file an official complaint against the producers of the Australian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. On Monday's episode, a contestant was asked: "Suspected of associating with the terror network al-Qaeda, Joseph Terrence Thomas, was dubbed what? a) Jihad Jack; b) Joe Blow; c) Terror Terry; or d) Thomas the Tank Buster." (The correct answer was "Jihad Jack.") Thomas's lawyer, Rob Stary, said that the question could prejudice his client's trial. He added: "Personally, I think it's completely inappropriate to trivialise the matter when court proceedings are well and truly in place." A spokesman for Channel Nine, which aired the program, told the Sydney Morning Herald: ""It didn't refer to what Jack Thomas might have done, more so what he has been dubbed."
COMING SOON -- THE SIMPSONS: THE MOVIE
It's now official. There will be an animated theatrical movie based on television's The Simpsons. A spokeswoman for the series said Wednesday that the show's principal voice actors and a team of its writers had signed on for the project. Antonia Kaughman told MTV News that they will be working on the movie at the same time that they will continue to work on the TV show -- that fans won't have to wait until the series vanishes from the air. "Now we're going to get the best of both worlds, evidently," Kaughman said. She added that series creator Matt Groening "just kind of laughs, because we always said there was no way to pull the writers off or go hire writers that haven't worked on the show. ... They finally worked out a movie team, a team of the writers, because we could never hire outside writers -- they had to be Simpsons writers, and most of them were working on the show. Well, they finally put this team together that has time on the side, and they've been working on the script." She said that the project was only in its infancy and that there is "no release date -- we don't have the animation house lined up yet." Separately, Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart Simpson, said on BBC Radio: "I don't know the name of [the movie], and I can't go into details about it, and we'll just have to see how it goes, but I think it's going to be great and the fans are going to dig it."
SONY PULLS PANTHER
Sony, which began showing a trailer for its upcoming Pink Panther movie preceding the release of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, has yanked the film from its scheduled August 5 release date following disparaging reviews on a number of websites, Reuters reported. One review on JoBlo.com remarked, "How could anything with Kevin Kline and Steve Martin by so unfunny?" Add yet another format for watching movies while on the move. The film is now scheduled to be released on Feb. 10.
DREAMWORKS TO RELEASE MOVIES IN GAME BOY FORMAT
DreamWorks Animation announced Wednesday that it will release Shrek, Shrek 2, and Shark Tale later this summer in Nintendo's Game Boy Video format, developed by video-game publisher Majesco. Game Boy dominates the market in handheld video gaming but is facing a serious challenge this year from Sony's PlayStation Portable, which also is offering movies for its system. Meanwhile, Wired magazine has reported that Sony has officially licensed eight videos using PSP's UMD format produced by two Japanese adult-video producers. They will be labeled "Explicit Adult Content." The magazine noted, however, that it was unlikely that such videos would be licensed by Sony for distribution in the U.S.
MOVIE RELEASED SIMULTANEOUSLY ON DVD IN CHINA AND THEATERS IN U.S.
In an apparent move to thwart China's video pirates, Warner Bros released The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on DVD in China on the same day that it debuted theatrically in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday). The newspaper said it was the first instance where a studio had released a film on DVD in another country at the same time it released it in theaters in the U.S. Warner Bros. had no plans for a Chinese theatrical release of the movie. Presumably the Chinese DVDs of the movie are being pegged at a price commensurate with that of bootleg disks. The Times noted that the strategy cold backfire for Warner Bros. if bootleggers grab the Chinese DVDs to create copies. (The Pants DVDs are subtitled in Mandarin.) However, according to the Times no copy of the Chinese version has yet been uploaded onto the Internet. In a related matter, the city of Shanghai has unveiled a low-priced movie card, priced at $12.00, that will allow holders to see up to 30 movies at 20 theaters during off-hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) any day of the week until the end of next March. Today's Wenhui Daily reported that 2 million people are expected to buy the card.
BOYLE TAKES BLAME FOR FAILURE OF THE BEACH
In a rare case of a director publicly agreeing with the critics of his film, British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Millions) has put the blame for the failure of his 2000 movie The Beach, his only big-budget studio production, squarely on himself. Boyle told Ireland Online that he should not have taken on a project that he had no understanding of, and he admitted that the island of Phi Phi in Thailand was alien territory for him. He described himself as "a city boy" and said that there were times while he was filming that he didn't know what he was doing there. Critics were wrong to make Leonardo DiCaprio the brunt of their criticism of the film, he said. In an earlier interview with Britain's Scotsman newspaper, Boyle remarked, "He's a beautiful bloke and was grand on the film."