MURDOCH: G'DAY AND HOO ROO
Rupert Murdoch has won shareholder approval to move News Corp's headquarters from Australia to the United States. He had previously maintained that doing so was a legal and tactical maneuver, and in remarks to his Australian shareholders today (Tuesday), Murdoch said: "Let's be clear about this. This is strictly legal, a piece of paper... We're not moving anything at all." Murdoch was born in Australia and forged his media empire from his base in Adelaide, where his father had founded News Corp. "For more than 50 years we've used our base in Adelaide to leverage a rather sleepy second paper into an international media company that cuts across borders, technologies, media and especially conventional wisdoms, but we will always have only one heart," he remarked during an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in 1985 also presumably for legal and tactical reasons. Foreigners are not permitted to own broadcasting stations in the U.S. Turning to other matters, Murdoch also maintained today that his Fox News Channel is not biased in favor of Republicans. He told the shareholders that FNC is "full of Democrats and Republicans. The others only have Democrats. We don't take any position at all. ... We're not in the least bit biased. We're a fair and balanced company and our slogan is 'fair and balanced, and you decide.'"
SINCLAIR'S HOT-BUTTON DOCUMENTARY PULLS BIG RATINGS
Demonstrating once again that there's nothing like controversy to boost the ratings of a television show, Sinclair Broadcast Group's one-hour special, A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media, pulled big numbers in 21 metered markets where it was shown on Friday. Some stations, including those in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Oklahoma City, and Tampa saw their ratings shoot up more than 40 percent over those for the same time period in the previous four weeks. Seven stations, however, posted ratings losses. Meanwhile, in a "guest commentary" posted on the Broadcasting & Cable website, Sinclair's former Washington bureau chief, Jon Lieberman, accused his onetime employers of going out of their way to present the comments of members of the Bush administration "but they didn't always balance the stories with the Democratic response." When that imbalance occurred, Lieberman wrote, "It became impossible for me to do my job properly. No Democrats would talk to me. ... Who could blame them?" The last straw, Lieberman indicated, came when Sinclair executives decided to air the anti-Kerry documentary Stolen Honor as "news." Lieberman was subsequently fired for publicly questioning the company's decision. Under intense criticism from advertisers and shareholders, Sinclair altered its plans and aired only five minutes of Stolen Honor during last week's special.
SINCLAIR CHIEF SAYS HE'S NOT "LOONEY-TUNES"
Sinclair Broadcasting Group CEO David Smith has insisted that he has been unfairly characterized as "a right-wing Looney-Tune conservative" who imposes his political viewpoint on his stations. In an interview with the Washington Post, Smith insisted that he doesn't even watch the programs that his stations air. "The fact that we're in control supposedly of all the TV stations -- I'm not in control of anything. [The Sacramento affiliate] has 100 people in it and they've all got their own view." Asked about the frequent criticism directed at him by consumer and public-interest groups, Smith commented, "They just do what public-interest groups do, which is make noise that suits their agenda."
KAHLUA TO HOUSEWIVES: "I'LL DRINK TO THAT!"
Some advertisers may have shied away from ABC's new hit Desperate Housewives, but it is also attracting premium advertisers seeking to appeal to married suburban women, USA Today indicated today (Tuesday). Among the new ad buyers will be the liqueur Kahlua, which is expected to announce its upcoming ad campaign today, including a TV ad showing a woman walking an alligator on a leash that will debut on Housewives on Nov. 8. Adrienne Nagy, Kahlua brand manager, told the newspaper that her company had ordered spots in the program before it went on the air. As a result, it paid about $160,000 per 30-second spot. They're now selling for more than $300,000, according to USA Today. A "pro-family" group, the American Family Association, has been leading a campaign to pressure advertisers to pull their ads from the network if it continues to run the series. So far, Kellogg's, Tyson Foods, and Lowe's have done so.
JENNINGS' WINNINGS NOW STAND AT $2 MILLION
Ken Jennings' winnings on Jeopardy crossed the $2-million mark Monday, climbing to $2,006,300. The all-time biggest game-show prize was $2,180,000 won by Kevin Olmstead on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2001.
FRANCE LAUNCHES GAY CHANNEL -- WITH PORN
France has launched its first gay-oriented television channel, Pink TV, following the debut of similar channels in Italy and Canada. Pink TV, which will be available for about $15 per month, reportedly offers gay porn, campy TV series (like Wonder Woman and Japanese cartoons) and several U.S. and British TV shows featuring gay characters. Pornographic movies will be shown after midnight. The station's head, Pascal Houzelot, told reporters: ""I don't have a problem with that at all. ... Sexuality is part of life and TV aims to mirror life. Why shouldn't we show sex?" He also indicated that the films were "economically necessary."
WHEN $8.5 MILLION IS A PAY CUT
An attorney representing former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz appeared to have easily shot down testimony by an expert witness called by shareholders in their lawsuit against the company. Kevin J. Murphy, a USC economics and law professor, had testified earlier that Ovitz's pay package of $8.5 million in salary and bonuses at Disney represented "one of the most generous -- if not most generous -- ever offered to a non-CEO level in corporate America." He called it "unreasonable" and not in the interest of shareholders. However, under cross-examination, defense lawyer Gary Naftalis asked Murphy, "Did you see references in the evidence that Mr. Ovitz was making $20-25 million a year at Creative Artists? [the company he had headed before coming to Disney]" Murphy acknowledged that he had but had not taken that figure into account in reaching his conclusion. However, in reporting on the exchange, Daily Variety commented today (Tuesday) that Ovitz "took one hell of a pay cut when he bolted CAA for Disney."
THE GRUDGE SCARES UP $39.1 MILLION
Although Sony's The Grudge earned $39.1 million over the weekend -- about twice what box-office analysts had predicted, the result was well off the $48.3-million October record set by Scary Movie 3, which led a blazing box office during the comparable weekend last year. Both films were rated PG-13. Nevertheless, the success of the two films present a lesson for movie distributors, New York Daily News movie critic Jack Mathews observed today: "Scary movies sell in October like turkeys in November. But they well a lot better when teenagers can buy them." The only other new movie to open wide over the weekend, Surviving Christmas, looked like it might not survive Halloween. The DreamWorks comedy, starring Ben Affleck, opened in seventh place with just $4.4 million. Another disappointment was Paramount's Team America: World police, which earned only $6.4 million in its second week to place fifth. Ticket sales for the top 12 films were off 18 percent from the same weekend a year ago, with a total gross of $98 million.
The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. The Grudge, Sony, $39,128,715, (New); 2. Shark Tale, DreamWorks, $14,308,271, 4 Wks. ($136,982,460); 3. Shall We Dance?, Miramax, $8,589,988, 2 Wks. ($24,418,113); 4. Friday Night Lights, Universal, $6,947,460, 3 Wks. ($47,269,480); 5. Team America: World Police, Paramount, $6,388,442, 2 Wks. ($22,115,806); 6. Ladder 49, Disney, $5,324,148, 4 Wks. ($61,365,196); 7. Surviving Christmas, DreamWorks, $4,441,356, (New); 8. Taxi, 20th Century Fox, $4,123,642, 3 Wks. ($29,729,699); 9. The Forgotten, Sony, $3,278,603, 5 Wks. ($61,988,961); 10. I (Heart Symbol) Huckabees, Fox Searchlight, $2,902,468, 4 Wks. ($5,807,764).
DISNEY HEAD HUNTERS ON THE PROWL
Disney's board of directors announced Monday that it had selected head-hunters Heidrick & Struggles to help it find a successor to CEO Michael Eisner. In a statement released over the signature of Disney Chairman George Mitchell, the company emphasized that it expects to complete the selection process and announce a successor before next June.
MOVIEBEAM OFFERS ENHANCEMENTS
MovieBeam, the Disney-owned movie-on-demand online rental service, indicated Monday that its download packages will begin to look more and more like DVD sets, including such extras as short films, behind-the-scenes footage, making-of featurettes, celebrity interviews and more. The service, currently being tested in Salt Lake City, Spokane, and Jacksonville, FL, said that it will also offer other enhancements, including access to trailers for current theatrical movies.
GEISHA ROLLS AT LAST
The longtime-in-the-works Memoirs of a Geisha, based on Arthur Golden's best seller, has finally begun filming in Los Angeles under the direction of Rob Marshall (Chicago), the production announced Monday. Steven Spielberg acquired film rights to Geisha more than seven years ago and initially announced that he would begin directing it in 1998. In that year, he announced a one-year delay and said that he expected the film to be released in 2000. Early this year, he announced that, because of competing projects, he would not direct the film himself but would serve as its producer. (Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick are listed as co-producers.) The movie is a joint project of Sony's Columbia Pictures, DreamWorks, and Spyglass Entertainment.