ANTI-KERRY TELECAST HIT BY LAWSUIT
The director of a documentary that extols John Kerry's service during the Vietnam War has sued Sinclair Broadcast Group, which plans to air a documentary critical of his service on 39 of its stations tonight (Friday). George Butler, who directed Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, claimed in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Sinclair copied copyrighted photos for use in its controversial telecast, which will include portions of the anti-Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal. The suit also claims that Sinclair used footage from the 1971 documentary Winter Soldier that Butler's film company had licensed from Winter Film. Earlier in the day a survey by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, was released indicating that 78 percent of people who are aware of Sinclair's plans believe that the company should air an opposing viewpoint. The survey was released as Sinclair rejected an offer from Kerry supporter Deborah Rappaport to buy time on Sinclair's stations for Butler's documentary. Rappaport had said that she would be willing to pay the company's regular rates plus kick in an additional $1 million.
RATHER'S RATINGS RISE
The furor over Dan Rather's report over George W. Bush's National Guard service apparently has blown over -- at least for the time being, ratings for his CBS Evening News seem to suggest. Last week, the nightly news telecast averaged 6.9 million viewers, about what it averaged before the discredited report, which aired on the network's magazine show, 60 Minutes. It had fallen to a low of 6.3 million. Ratings could be affected again by the results of an independent investigation of the 60 Minutes report, which is expected after next month's presidential election.
JENNINGS SAYS HE DOESN'T REGARD JON STEWART AS COMPETITION
ABC Nightly News anchor Peter Jennings says he has "never bought the notion that kids get their news from Jon Stewart." Jennings was referring to a poll released earlier this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which found that 21 percent of 18-29-year-olds regularly learned about presidential campaign news from Stewart's The Daily Show and NBC's Saturday Night Live while 23 percent mentioned the three network nightly news broadcasts. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Jennings said, "The Daily Show would not exist were it not for the nightly news, if it didn't have a huge backboard of reporting that we do. Their take on it is fabulous, and is reminiscent of how we talk in the newsroom but don't put on the air."
STOSSEL SAYS HIS NEWSROOM COLLEAGUES HATE HIM
John Stossel, cohost of ABC's 20/20 and its "Give Me a Break" commentator, says that his Libertarian approach to numerous issues on the magazine show has produced "colleagues of mine here at ABC who hate me." In an interview with the student newspaper of the University of North Texas in Denton, where he is due to speak next Tuesday, Stossel said that his beliefs have been "vilified in liberal newsrooms," although, he insisted, he holds many positions that conservatives abhor. "I'm pro-choice, I believe the drug war is a mistake. I think you should be able to have sex with anybody you want," Stossel said. The TV personality is also promoting his book, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media. The final phrase, "became the scourge of the liberal media," is not mentioned in ABC's plugs for it, and Stossel told the university's newspaper that it was misleading and a ploy by the publisher to appeal to conservatives.
STUDY FAULTS LOCAL TV'S POLITICAL COVERAGE
A study conducted between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10 has indicated that 80 percent of all election stories on local TV newscasts concerned the presidential race and only 20 percent, the campaigns for Congress or local offices. The study, for the Lear Center Local News Archive at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, also found that in presidential battleground states, the number of minutes for commercials bought by the presidential candidates outnumbered the stories about them by two to one, and while sports and weather averaged 6.4 minutes during a half-hour period on the local newscasts, election coverage averaged 2.4 minutes. "Nearly two-thirds of all campaign stories contained no candidate soundbites. When candidates did speak, their soundbites averaged just under 12 seconds," the study said. "Forty-five percent of all campaign stories were about strategy or horserace, while only 29 percent focused on campaign issues."
VIACOM, DISNEY TO PAY STIFF FINES OVER CHILDREN'S PROGRAMS
Viacom will pay a fine of $1 million and Disney, a fine of $500,000 for violating FCC rules regarding commercials on children's TV shows. Viacom will also be required to reduce the number of commercials that it sells on its Nickelodeon network by the equivalent of 1,021 30-second spots. Disney's ABC Family channel blamed the problem on an error in its computer system. In a statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said, "The consent decrees entered into today will not only help protect children who watch these cable channels, but will have a much broader impact."
CHAPPELLE'S SHOW SETS DVD SALES RECORD
The double-disc DVD set of Comedy Central star Dave Chappelle's Chappelle's Show Season One: Uncensored from Paramount Home Entertainment has sold 2 million copies, breaking the previous record (for a TV series) of 1.9 million copies sold by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's The Simpsons -- The Complete First Season, Video Store magazine reported Thursday, citing figures from Nielsen VideoScan provided by Paramount. The magazine said that under a new contract extension, Chappelle receives half of all DVD revenue from the show.
JAPAN, TAIWAN CRACK DOWN ON SATELLITE PORN BROADCASTERS
Japanese and Taiwanese police, acting in unison, have cracked down on an Asian satellite broadcasting group beaming pornography produced in the Philippines via an Indonesian commercial satellite, Tokyo's Asahi Shimbun reported today (Friday). Police in Japan arrested four men including a Tokyo businessman who sold satellite dishes and settop receivers to pick up the programming, while Taiwanese police nabbed another Japanese businessman and his Taiwanese staff in connection with the operation. Investigators said that the group had signed up 2,000 subscribers in Japan who were paying about $56 per month to receive the programming.
DISNEY TRIAL: DAY 2
In company memos revealed Thursday during the Delaware trial of a shareholders lawsuit, Michael Eisner, Disney chairman and CEO in 1995, called Michael Ovitz, then Disney's president a "psychopath" and asserted that he had a "character problem." Eisner added: "If I should be hit with a truck, the company can not leave him as CEO or figurehead CEO. ... It would be catastrophic." The memos were disclosed as John Donohue, a Yale University law professor called as an expert witness by the plaintiffs, testified that the memos revealed that Ovitz could have been fired "for cause" and that the Disney board had an obligation to do so. Other memos by Eisner, in which he referred to Ovitz as someone "who cannot tell the truth" and who "does not have the trust of anybody," also indicated that the behavior represented malfeasance and hence, grounds for dismissal. In a statement, a spokesman for Ovitz said, "When the actual facts are presented and fairly considered, they will clearly show that there was absolutely no cause to terminate Mr. Ovitz's employment." In a taped deposition played in court, former Disney chief counsel Sandy Litvack said, "He was work for me. ... I walked behind him with a shovel."
MOVIE REVIEWS: SURVIVING CHRISTMAS
If analysts overestimated how much Team America: World Police would earn last weekend, they could be overcompensating this week bin their estimates of how much Surviving Christmas will earn. "DreamWorks would be thrilled to get past $10 million with the Ben Affleck comedy," Daily Variety said today. Most analysts are predicting it will earn $7-9 million. Reviewers haven't been so merciless in attacking a film since Affleck's 2003 film, Gigli. Indeed, several reviewers are comparing this film to the earlier one -- unfavorably. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News says that it "makes Gigli look like one of the crowning moments in [Affleck's] career." Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer says it's "so bad you're nostalgic for Gigli." Not a major reviewer has much to say about the movie that can be regarded as positive -- unless you take into account Stephen Holden's review in the New York Times, which observes that the moviemakers appear "to have found a clever way to use Ben Affleck's disagreeable qualities. The actor's shark-like grin, cocky petulance and bullying frat-boy swagger befit his character." But most of the reviews are positively venomous. Consider Wesley Morris's in the Boston Globe: "Surviving Christmas is exactly what's wrong with Hollywood: No one responsible for this thing seems ever to have lived outside the 310 area code or had a family or been lonely. It's the sort of stupid swill that gets spewed out by a studio committee, slapped together without a brain, a heart, or a good idea about where to put a camera or when to cut a scene. The finished product (calling it a movie would be like categorizing Spam as meat) is then pumped out to the megaplexes of America by a machine you can imagine only someone like the Grinch cranking." The advice from the Toronto Star's Peter Howell to moviegoers: "Avoid it."
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE GRUDGE
The Grudge is another holiday movie being released this weekend, if you can call Halloween a holiday. The work of Takashi Shimizu, who translates one of his Japanese horror films (from his Ju-on series) into the Hollywood idiom, the movie, most reviewers suggest, has not lost much in translation. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post says, in fact, that "you might argue that this version of the film is a little better than the original." He concludes that the movie will "send you home with jiggly knees and a tummy ache." Gene Seymour in Newsday comments: "There may be more art-house than slaughterhouse in [Grudge]. ... But there are enough of the Hollywood-style musical cues and broad nudges to remind American audiences they are, in fact, watching a scary movie." Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Tribune suggests the movie is not your typical horror film: "Non-linear storytelling and a third-act shuffle of the narrative deck elevates The Grudge above most of its contemporaries, but for true test of how scary Shimizu's remake is, check your seat cushion," he writes. However, Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe & Mail, was obviously left unshaken by the movie, writing that it "is less like a real movie than a long, chronically fractured movie preview. The story doesn't make sense, but you feel bombarded with highlights." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times came to a similar conclusion, commenting: "The movie may have some subterranean level on which the story strands connect and make sense, but it eluded me."