Although CBS grandly trumpeted the signing of two Hispanic actresses, Lourdes Colón and Verónica Díaz, to exclusive contracts earlier this year after their appearances at a CBS-sponsored showcase, neither actress has been cast in any regular role for any show during the upcoming season, the Los Angeles Times pointed out today (Thursday). The newspaper observed that the showcase was presented in response to criticism by minority groups that the television networks have made little effort to recruit minorities either in front of or behind the cameras. CBS, the Times noted, was the only network without a minority member in a leading role on a series this year. The deals with the two actresses are due to expire next month.
MICROSOFT CHARGES INTO CABLE TV
Microsoft has made a deep inroad into the cable distribution business by signing a deal with Comcast in which its Foundation Edition software will be employed in the cable company's digital settop boxes, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday). Comcast is the nation's largest cable-TV company. The new software, which will compete with a similar product offered by Gemstar-TV Guide, will provide viewers with TV schedules, richer graphics, games and ads, as well as the ability to access television shows and movies on demand. "The vision is to allow consumers to access the television they want to watch when they want to watch it," said Steve Burke, president of Comcast's cable division, told the Journal.
MILLIONAIRE PRODUCER SUES DISNEY FOR "SWEETHEART DEAL"
Since it was essentially taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another, the Walt Disney Co. was able to contrive "sweetheart deals" between its ABC Network and Buena Vista TV production company for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire that had the effect of reducing the fees paid to its British creator, Celador, according to a suit filed in Los Angeles Thursday by Celador and its chairman, Paul Smith. "In essence, Disney sits on both sides of the bargaining table in any negotiation for the production and distribution rights to the series, thereby enabling it to manipulate negotiations in any way that serves its corporate interests," the lawsuit said.
POWELL AGREES TO HOLD FCC HEARINGS ON VIOLENCE
FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has gone on the offensive against the use of indecent language and images on radio and television, has bowed to congressional demands and has agreed to hold hearings into the impact on children of television violence. In March, some 39 lawmakers signed a letter to Powell, criticizing the FCC for failing to police violence on television and demanding that the agency hold hearings into "the issue of excessively violent programming and its impact upon children." It asked the agency to consider rules that would restrict such programming to hours when children are not likely to comprise a substantial part of the audience.
HEIRS OF BERNSTEIN SUE WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
The heirs of Leonard Bernstein and onetime television producer Robert Saudek on the one hand and Wesleyan University on the other are locked in a legal battle over commercial rights to seven episodes of the seminal TV series Omnibus in which Bernstein lectured on the structure of numerous classical compositions alongside an orchestra that played passages of the music, the Hartford Courant reported today (Thursday) The heirs claim that Saudek willed the Omnibus tapes to Wesleyan with the understanding that the university's rights to the series would be limited to educational use. Wesleyan denies the claim, saying that any commercial use "would significantly diminish the value of the collection."
REUTERS ACCUSES U.S. MILITARY IN DEATH OF THREE REPORTERS
The Reuter News Agency, one of the world's oldest and most respected news organizations, unleashed a blistering attack on the leadership of U.S. military forces in Iraq Thursday, accusing it of putting into play procedures that led to the death of a Reuters TV cameramen in Iraq last year. Award-winning cameraman Mazen Dana was shot and killed by a U.S. soldier outside the notorious Abu Ghraib prison last Aug. 17 after his camera was reportedly mistaken for a grenade launcher. A military investigation later concluded that neither the soldier nor the military system was at fault in the incident. Reuters, however, charged that the shooting was the result of a system that "demonstrated significant flaws, including the way in which the military communicates, the way in which it trains its personnel and the rules and procedures that govern its conduct in the field." It was the second broadside launched by the news organization this week. On Monday Reuters disclosed that three of its journalists in Iraq, along with another from NBC, were subjected to physical and sexual abuse while being held by U.S. soldiers last January. It called the military investigation of the matter "woefully inadequate."
ABC-TV AIRS NEW PICTURES OF VIOLENCE BY AMERICANS IN IRAQ
Relations between the news media and the U.S. military in Iraq were subjected to additional strain Thursday as ABC News broadcast images of two MPs smiling and making a thumbs-up gesture over the battered corpse of an Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison. ABC said that the man had been identified as Manadel al-Jamadi and that, according to another officer who was assigned to the prison, he had appeared to be "in good health" when he was brought in but died after being taken into the showers by civilian interrogators believed to have been members of the CIA. Meanwhile, it has become clear that the Internet is serving as the repository for footage deemed by established news agencies to be too gruesome to be shown on television. Internet search sites have indicated that "Nick Berg" has become the top search in recent weeks, replacing "Paris Hilton.
DreamWorks executives had every reason to let out joyous shrieks after learning that Shrek 2 set a record for a Wednesday opening of an animated film with $11.8 million. The studio pointed out that other live-action films with bigger mid-week openings have ordinarily been released before a holiday weekend. A news release from the studio described the box-office take as "ogre-whelming." DreamWorks distribution chief Jim Tharp said that the opening "surpassed all our expectations." The film is set to break another record this weekend when it expands into 4,163 theaters, making it the biggest release of all time. Despite its obvious commercial appeal, the film is also entered in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival with mostly sophisticated art films. [Speaking of which, the following is culled from A.O. Scott's comments about the competition favorite, Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, in today's New York Times: "It is a series of moods, nuances and gorgeous moments ... with the usual connective tissue left out, or implied in title cards and voice-overs. After the two screenings early in the evening, quite a few viewers rushed back to see it again later Thursday night, to experience its intoxicating beauty one more time, and also to figure out what on earth it was about."]
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: SHREK
The leading newspaper critics are divided into three more-or-less equal camps over Shrek 2: those who are delighted with the film; those who believe it fails to generate the charm of the original but who find it entertaining nonetheless; and those who take the position that the latest Shrek is dreck. Among the first group is Claudia Puig of USA Today, who bestows four stars on the film and finds it to be "just as funny, sweet and engaging as the first film." Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News writes: "Things keep getting better right through an inspired Hollywood musical ending, full of exuberance and creative charm." John Anderson in Newsday comments: "You certainly don't need a child to go see Shrek 2, in other words. You'll be one when you come out." Rick Groen's summation in the Toronto Globe and Mail is almost certain to be pasted into the ads for the movie: "An ogre for the ages ... all ages." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post describes the movie as "so gorgeously animated and so thoroughly entertaining for all ages that only an ogre would complain it's not quite as fresh as the original." But complain they do. Heading up the group of benign grumblers is A.O. Scott of the New York Times, who writes that the film "tries to compensate for potential lost novelty by taking everything people liked about the original and adding more. ... [It's] a slick and playful entertainment that remains carefully inoffensive ... but I don't really love it." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post reaches pretty much the same conclusion: "Very pretty to look at, very hard to care for," he writes. Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune, while awarding the film 3 1/2 stars, observes that "the repurposing of fairy-tale characters doesn't feel as fresh the second time around." Eric Harrison in the Houston Chronicle virtually echoes those words, writing: "The continuing adventures of Shrek, Fiona and Donkey build on what worked in the first film, but the lack of fresh material hurts the sequel." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe acknowledges that there are hints of "the fizzy, shallow, pun-strewn lunacy that eventually lifts Shrek 2 to within sight of the original film." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times allows that "perhaps I would have liked Shrek 2 more if the first film had never existed. But I'll never know." Among the third group of critics -- those who felt less than enchanted about the movie -- is Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun who sums up the film as "smarm masquerading as satire. ... The helter-skelter story and throwaway gags emerge from a sensibility that confuses gossipy knowingness and jadedness with wit."
MCKELLEN TELLS TARANTINO: ACTORS NOT TO BLAME FOR FEWER BRITISH MOVIES
Ian McKellen has called Quentin Tarantino's recent remarks about greedy British stars being responsible for the collapse of the U.K. film industry "disingenuous." At a news conference in Cannes last week, Tarantino remarked, "As soon as people become stars in Britain they get the hell out of there and go to Hollywood." However, in an interview today (Thursday) with the London Independent, McKellen, perhaps best known outside of Britain for his role as the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, responded: "Not in my own case! If there is a collective blame for the decline in a homegrown film industry, it would more fairly rest on financiers and producers rather than on the actors like me who would love to live at home and film in the U.K." He also pointed out that it is difficult to create successful homegrown films given the relatively small size of the British population. "The U.K.," he observed, "is about five percent of the world market for movies."
PSYCHO SHOWER SCENE VOTED "BEST MOVIE DEPTH"
The shower-scene murder in Psycho was the "best movie death" of all time, according to a critics poll published today (Thursday) by the British magazine Total Film. Deputy editor Simon Crook remarked, "It's the sheer violence of the edit rather than any explicit gore -- 70 different angles, over 90 cuts and those shrieking violins. It's a master class in montage and audience manipulation." Other movies making the list include: Dr. Strangelove (second place), in which Slim Pickens rides out of an airplane attached to an atomic bomb; King Kong (third place), in which the ape topples to his death; Die Hard (fourth place), in which the villain played by Alan Rickman falls from a 30-story building; and Bonnie and Clyde (fifth place), in which the lead characters are riddled with bullets at the end.