CBS IN CLEAN SWEEP ON SWEEPS' FIRST NIGHT
CBS got off to a fine start on the first night of the November sweeps Thursday by drawing an audience that nearly equaled that of NBC, ABC, and Fox combined. CBS averaged a 14.0 rating and a 22 share, while second-place NBC drew a 7.5/12; ABC, a 5.5/8; and Fox, a 3.3/5. CBS dominated every half hour of primetime, peaking with a 17.8/26 during the 9:00 p.m. hour with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. ABC preempted its schedule to air a Wonderful World of Disney presentation of its movie Pirates of the Caribbean, which, although failing to lift the network out of third place, nevertheless improved on its usual Thursday-night numbers.
TIME WARNER -- AND NEVER THE TWAIN WILL SPLIT
Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons indicated Thursday that there will be no spin-offs of any part of his company. Referring to the current trend toward the demerging of media companies, Parsons told a meeting hosted by Syracuse University's Newhouse School that the breaking up of companies such as Viacom will have little lasting effect on their share price. He said that investor Carl Icahn's effort to force Time Warner to spin off its cable division was aimed at getting "the stock price up to a point where he can sell it." Icahn, he added, thinks that Time Warner shares are undervalued. "He's right. [But] the remedy he has proposed is not likely to accomplish what we both want," Parsons added. "I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that in about three years' time you will see these [sundered companies] come back together again," he said. Asked how Time Warner's CNN cable network could overcome the dominance of Fox News Channel, Parsons replied that "dominance" was too strong a word, then observed that CNN earns more than Fox News because of its upscale audience. He did not discuss the recent programming shake-ups that included this week's ouster of Aaron Brown and his replacement in the late-night time period by Anderson Cooper.
CBS ACQUIRES COLLEGE SPORTS NETWORK/WEBSITES
In advance of its being split off from Viacom, CBS on Thursday announced that it was acquiring CSTV Networks, a cable channel and website group that focuses on college sports, for $325 million. CBS said that CSTV will continue to be operated by its founder and CEO, Brian Bedol.
FORMER CPB CHAIRMAN TOMLINSON QUITS BOARD
Kenneth Tomlinson, the former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, resigned from the board on Thursday less than two weeks before an independent inspector general was scheduled to publish the results of his investigation of Tomlinson's activities during his tenure as chairman. He had been accused of hiring an outside consultant to monitor CPB programs, in particular Now With Bill Moyers, to determine whether they displayed liberal bias. The report by Inspector General Kenneth Konz, due to be released on Nov. 15, is expected to chastise Tomlinson for launching a secret political inquiry into CPB programming without consulting members of the board. In a statement Thursday, the board -- of the eight members, five are Republicans -- said that it did not believe that Tomlinson had "acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting, and the board recognizes that Mr. Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings in the soon-to-be-released inspector general's report." It applauded Tomlinson's "legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting."
FATHER AND SON REUNION ON FOX NEWS
Marking the first time father and son have ever appeared together on television, Fox News's Chris Wallace on Thursday interviewed his father, 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace as the elder Wallace promoted his memoir, Between You and Me. As reported by the Associated Press, at one point the younger Wallace observed that he sometimes gets messages from people who say, "You're just like your father." And they don't mean it as a compliment. He asked whether he understood the public's disaffection with the mainstream media. Wallace père branded the attitude as "damned foolishness," adding: "Even a liberal reporter is a patriot, wants the best for this country. ... And people, your fair and balanced friends at Fox, don't fully understand that."
GMA OFFERED MORE NEWS WHEN ABC ENTERTAINMENT RAN IT, SAYS EX-HOST
David Hartman, the onetime host of ABC's Good Morning America, indicated Thursday that there was more news presented on the show when it was produced by the network's entertainment division than there is now. Interviewed by the Associated Press as the morning show celebrated its 30th anniversary, Hartman, who left GMA in 1987, said that when he was co-hosting it with Joan Lunden, "It was all interviews and talk -- purely information." At the time, however, it ruled as the most-watched morning program, beating NBC's Today. "Now," he said, "it's kind of morphed between news and information but also a significant amount of entertainment. It's the nature of the industry today, it's not good or bad. It's what the networks have to do to please people who get up in the morning." ABC News took over production of GMA in 1997. It now ranks second to Today.
ANDY ROONEY: WHAT'S A BLOG?
Unrepentant curmudgeon Andy Rooney took his own network to task Thursday for failing to bolster its news division. "The news is not being reported in any comprehensive way by CBS News," Rooney said in an interview with the CBS blog, "Public Eye." He expressed unhappiness over the changes in the news division since he joined it a half century ago. "The emphasis used to be on collecting and then distributing the news. The emphasis now is on saving money. CBS management is saving money better than the reduced news staff is collecting and distributing the news," he said. Rooney also criticized CBS's efforts to augment its news coverage with online enhancements like the "Public Eye" blog. "I have never read the CBS 'Public Eye' blog," he said. "I'm trying to find out what blog means. It seems vastly overrated as a communications tool."
WEEKEND OF THE CHICKEN -- AND THE MOUSE
This is the weekend when Disney shareholders will learn whether the sky will be falling on them -- in particular, whether the company's decision to abandon hand-drawn animation and produce its own computer-animated features will pay off or whether its switch to CGI will turn out to be yet another costly misjudgment that will further sink the company's worth. In recent months, the company's stock has remained in a rut of around $25 per share, but many analysts expect it to move one way or another next week as results for this weekend's Chicken Little come in. Box-office analysts and tracking services have been cautious, with most predicting that it will earn about $35 million -- about half what Pixar's The Incredibles took in on the same weekend a year ago. But Daily Variety observed today (Friday) that predicting how family films will perform "is notoriously difficult since tykes aren't well polled." Moreover, it added, "the wildcard is whether young adults without kids in tow will show up." Certainly the reviews for the movie are not going to help, with most major critics frying it. On Wednesday, rumors spread on the Internet that the film's director, Mark Dindal, had quit his job at Disney. (Disney denied it.) Several blogs forecast that Disney animation chief Tom Schumacher would turn out to be the fall guy if the film fails at the box office.
MOVIE REVIEWS: CHICKEN LITTLE
Several critics have invoked variations of the line "Chicken Little lays an egg" in their reviews of Disney's first attempt to produce an all-computer-animated feature. One of them is Joel Siegel of ABC's Good Morning America, who also refers to an ad that Disney is using to promote the film, showing a picture of the title character ducking -- along with the caption "The End Is Near." Comments Siegel: "Sadly, unless [Disney heeds] Walt's timeless advice [that] the most important thing [in a film] is story, the end may be near for Disney animation. They just don't know how to do it anymore." Steven Rae in the Philadelphia Inquirer mourns what he says is the fact that the movie "is entirely lacking in anything 'Disneyesque.'" Comments Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal: "For those of us who grew up on the magical splendors of Disney animation, this magic-free film is heartbreaking." Many other reviews express less sadness over the studio's latest offering and much more of what sounds like contempt. A. O. Scott in the New York Times says that the film has "the distinction of being a terrible movie -- a hectic, uninspired pastiche of catchphrases and clichés, with very little with very little wit." Gene Seymour, writing in Newsday remarks, "The whole movie comes on like a strident stand-up comic begging and pleading for laughs." But if the script is weak, can the computer animation strengthen it? Not with this movie, say the critics. Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News writes that it's "almost rudimentary compared with such Pixar/Disney hits as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles." And Lou Lumenick concludes in the New York Post: "The artistic bankruptcy of Chicken Little makes a pretty good case that Disney should re-up with Pixar." The film does draw one positive review from among the major critics. Mike Clark's in USA Today, but it's not exactly a rave. Writes Clark: "As creature features go, lusciously pigmented, child-friendly Chicken Little is no Howard the Duck [a 1986 flop from George Lucas]. But it also isn't quite the computer-animated home run Disney really needs post-Pixar."
MOVIE REVIEWS: JARHEAD
Several critics are faulting Jarhead for presenting an elegant view of America's soldiers during the first Gulf War without any sort of social viewpoint. "It is a movie that walks up to some of the most urgent and painful issues of our present circumstance, clears its throat loudly and, with occasional flourishes of impressive rhetoric, says nothing," writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail puts it this way: "The result is a war picture that, trying to pass off fidelity to the book as objectivity, sacrifices any voice of its own, and ends up not knowing what to think." Nevertheless, Jake Gyllenhaal is receiving much praise for his performance as a Marine looking for action in the war but getting little. Stephen Hunter writes in the Washington Post: "What's so good about the movie is Gyllenhaal's refusal to show off; he doesn't seem jealous of the camera's attention when it goes to others and is content, for long stretches, to serve simply as a prism though which other young men can be observed." Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News takes particular notice of Gyllenhaal's "minimalist yet riveting performance." Steven Rea comments in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Gyllenhaal is having quite a year, with a key role in the under-appreciated Proof and a brilliant turn opposite Heath Ledger in the forthcoming (and heartbreaking) Brokeback Mountain. His work as Swofford in Jarhead is strong.
THEATERS SHOWING R-RATED FARE ALSO SHOWING STERN PROMOS
Sirius Satellite Radio is using movie theaters screening R-rated films to show ads promoting Howard Stern's upcoming show for the pay-radio company. The New York Post reported today (Friday) that a 60-second ad for Stern's daily show will debut today in about 2,000 theaters and run until the end of December. The newspaper described the spot as being "a lot like his show: raunchy, sophomoric and outrageously funny." It added, however, "Rarely has a marketing campaign that shot for the stars fallen so short of good taste."