The 17 members of the Screen Actors Guild's negotiating committee met Wednesday with federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, but trade reports indicated that little of substance was discussed. Daily Variety, citing people close to the situation, said that the meeting was brief and was intended to introduce the committee to Gonzalez. Last month Gonzalez had his first meeting with SAG President Alan Rosenberg, National Executive Director Doug Allen, and contracts chief Ray Rodriguez. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met with Gonzalez on Oct. 30.

News Corp said today (Thursday) that its first-quarter earnings plunged 30 percent to $515 million from $732 million during the same period a year ago. It blamed cutbacks in local advertising at its owned stations, particularly reductions in automotive, telecommunications and movie ad sales. "It's a pretty grim picture for all local television stations across the country," News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch told analysts during a telephone conference. The 20th Century Fox film studio did not escape the overall nosedive, due to the disappointing ticket sales for such films as Meet Dave and The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Likewise sales of DVDs distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment took a beating. Altogether, filmed entertainment plunged 31 percent. One area that brightened the company's financial picture was Fox News Channel, which reported a 30-percent rise in operating profit from the year-ago period. Murdoch also indicated that the outlook for 2009 was also bleak. After forecasting in August a 6-percent rise in profit for its fiscal year ending June 30, the company said today that its profit would likely drop by a percentage in the low-to-mid teens. Shares in News Corp were down more than 16 percent in late-afternoon trading.


The Dark Knight came to the rescue of Time Warner, helping it to boost third-quarter revenue. The film has grossed $527 million worldwide. DVD sales were OK, largely as a result of the popularity of the Sex and the City DVD release,but the company noted that profits paled in comparison with its sales at the same time last year for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.Time Warner also reported solid results from its cable networks CNN, TNT, TBS and its pay-TV outlet HBO. In a statement, CEO Jeffrey Bewkes said that the company has the "ability to weather difficult economic conditions and the flexibility to invest in the long-term competitive position of our business in a period when others may have to retrench." However, revenue from its AOL unit continued a persistent descent, falling another 17 percent during the quarter. Shares of Time-Warner were down 5 percent to $9.64 in late-afternoon trading.


Kasim Cha Tong, a Malaysian-born Thai lawyer who was a leading campaigner against music and film piracy in Southeast Asia, was shot and killed gangland style in the town of Kota Baru near the Thai-Malaysian border Tuesday. There were conflicting reports about the incident. One said that the assassins knocked on the door of Tong's home after midnight and that when he opened it, one of the men opened fire. Another report said that he was shot after leaving a restaurant. Tong had worked with the MPA and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency since the 1980s to help stamp out piracy in the area.


Michael Crichton, a physician who brought his knowledge of science and medicine to the screen with such screenplays as Jurassic Parkand The Andromeda Strain and to television with E.R., died Tuesday of cancer in Los Angeles at age 66. NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker praised Crichton as a "modern-day Renaissance man," adding, "He was a physician, writer, director and producer -- few people have done so many things so well. As creator and producer of NBC's ER, he helped change the face of televised drama." In recent years, Crichton broke with established scientific opinion on the issue of global warming, claiming in his last novel, State of Fear, that scientific fears that it was being created by pollution generated by mankind were groundless. He was reportedly working on a new novel at the time of his illness, but his publisher, Harper Collins, said that it did not know how advanced it was or whether it could ever be published.