VIEWERS FIND LOST
After being lost in a ratings wilderness for years, ABC surprisingly found itself beating its competitors with a new drama Wednesday night, ironically titled Lost. In the 8:00 p.m. hour, the series opener pulled an 11.6 rating and a 19 share, well above the 7.9/13 scored by second-place CBS with its Dr. Phil special. The new show also performed strongly among the key 18-49 demographic group with a 6.8/20. Meanwhile, in the first head-to-head match between CBS's CSI: New York and NBC's Law and Order at 10:00, CBS was the clear winner with a 12.1/20, while NBC settled for a 10.7/17.
NIELSEN MAY INCLUDE GAYS IN RATINGS DEMOS
For the first time, Nielsen Media Research, which compiles television ratings for networks and advertisers, may begin asking those who participate in their surveys about their sexual orientation, according to reports appearing on gay-activist websites Thursday. Stephen Macias, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) disclosed that the organization and Nielsen have had talks to discuss ways that gay and lesbian viewership can be disclosed to advertisers. "Until you define what the gay market is you can't program to it," Macias said, "and you can't solicit the support of advertisers for programs that appeal to a gay audience." Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus confirmed the talks, saying, "We don't know how we'll keep track of this community ... but GLAAD will help us figure out a way to do that."
MINUTES PROBER ONCE CRITICIZED IT
Former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who was tapped by CBS on Wednesday to investigate a discredited 60 Minutes report concerned President Bush's National Guard service, was highly critical of the program in a book that he published last year, the New York Times observed today (Friday). The newspaper cited Thornburgh's reference to the program's "usual sensationalized treatment" in discussing a 1992 report concerning the Justice Department's handling of a case and his suggestion that he had once turned down an interview request by Mike Wallace. Wallace told the Times that he considered Thornburgh an inappropriate choice, not because of what he had written about the show but because he believed the investigators should include someone familiar with the workings of TV news. In an interview with the Boston Herald, former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite said that his "reaction at the moment of course is embarrassment for everyone who is connected to CBS" but that he is keeping an open mind on the matter until the investigation is completed. Meanwhile, ratings for the CBS Evening News With Dan Rather have plummeted 49 percent in New York since the scandal broke -- from 266,000 viewers on Sept. 13 to 135,000 one week later, the New York Post reported today.
VIACOM SET TO ENTER CHINESE MARKET
Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone said today (Friday) that his company has reached an agreement with Beijing Television to co-produce entertainment programming in the Chinese capital and launch a Chinese version of MTV. "We've developed relationships with Chinese officials, and as a result of those relationships, doors have opened to us in the past year," Redstone told Bloomberg News in an interview in Hong Kong. Viacom has been competing with several media rivals, including News Corp and Time Warner to enter the Chinese television market, which comprises more than one billion viewers, the largest in the world. Until recently TV programming in the country has been tightly controlled by the state.
DGA SIGNS CONTRACT WITH TV, FILM PRODUCERS
In what is likely to set a template for future negotiations between TV and film producers on the one hand and the leading talent guilds on the other, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced Thursday that it had reach a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on a new three-year contract. The deal increases health plan payments but leaves the formula under which residuals are computed unchanged. Reporting on the agreement, Daily Variety observed today (Friday) that it particularly represents a significant setback for the Writers Guild of America, whose members have been working without a contract since May, waiting to see whether the DGA would be able to budge the producers' adamant refusal to increase DVD residuals. Variety quoted DGA President Michael Apted as saying, "This is the wrong issue at the wrong time for our guild. ... The reality is that our members already earn unprecedented residuals. Residuals for our members have grown from $36 million in 1984 to $225 million in 2003."
PARTICIPANT KILLED DURING CBS CONTEST
A contestant on CBS Sports's Subaru Primal Quest was killed Tuesday when he was struck by a 300-pound boulder while competing in Orcas Island, WA, published reports said Wednesday. The race was stopped following news of the death of Australian Nigel Aylott but was allowed to resume on Wednesday after consultations with Aylott's teammates, family and friends. Primal Quest spokesman Gordon Wright told reporters, "After talking it through we decided to restart the race, but we've shortened it fairly significantly." Aylott's team, however, withdrew from the competition.
PRODUCER'S ATTEMPT TO RESCUE MCENROE FAILS
Less than two months after veteran talk-show producer Woody Fraser was selected to ride to the rescue of John McEnroe's ratings-challenged show on CNBC, Fraser has been given his walking papers. Fraser, whose credits include The Mike Douglas Show, The Dick Cavett Show and The Steve Allen Show, had been unable to boost ratings for McEnroe's shows, which have consistently drawn minuscule audiences.
BBC KILLS ANIMATED SERIES THAT MIGHT OFFEND CATHOLICS
The BBC has confirmed that it has yanked an animated comedy series titled Popetown for fear of offending Catholics. The channel's controller, Stuart Murphy, said on the BBC website that "the comic impact of the delivered series does not outweigh the potential offense it will cause." Ten episodes had been completed, but Murphy said that they sometimes crossed he line "between the scurrilously funny and the offensive." The series is set in the Vatican. Alan Marke, managing director of Channel X, the independent company that produced the show, said that he was "incredibly disappointed" with the decision, "but I understand the world has changed since the series was originally commissioned and sympathize with the difficult decision the BBC has had to make." The decision was applauded by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: THE FORGOTTEN
Film critics rarely warn readers when their reviews contain detailed descriptions of the plot -- "spoilers," in the Internet vernacular. But Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert posts this notice at the head of his review of The Forgotten: "This review contains spoilers. If it didn't, I can think of no way to review it at all, short of summarizing the first three minutes and then telling you some very strange stuff happens. My advice: If you plan to see the film (which I do not recommend), hold the review until afterward." Then, after a detailed discussion of most of the film's spooky plot, Ebert writes: "I will not spoil details of the last act, except to say that it is preposterous." That's an adjective that other critics employ in their reviews of the movie, too, among them, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, and goes on to fault the director, Joseph Ruben, for failing to take advantage of star Julianne Moore's considerable talent. "Moore delivers a performance that has all the emotional commitment of a bored kid playing with a light switch," she writes. Megan Lehmann in the New York Post figures that Moore must be "slumming it" in a movie whose screenplay is "Swiss cheese." Like Roger Ebert, Ty Burr is also reluctant to reveal very much about the film ("a grade-A B-movie," he calls it), stopping himself in mid-review with the comment, "I'm not saying any more, because it would sound incredibly silly and you wouldn't see the movie."
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Jan Stuart, writing in Newsday, figures there are two types of people Shaun of the Dead will appeal to: "People who love zombie flicks and especially people who can't stand them." Apparently film critics make up both types, because they are giving the British spoof some fine reviews. Ann Hornaday writes in the Washington Post: "If the zombie genre steadfastly refuses to die, we can be grateful to Shaun of the Dead for breathing fresh, diverting life into the form, with subtle visual humor and a smart, impish sense of fun." Leah McLaren in the Toronto Globe and Mail awards the movie 3 1/2 stars and concludes, "In the end, Shaun of the Dead plays perfectly on two levels -- it's a clever comedy, but disguised as a fun, dumb horror flick. A movie made to delight, and even accidentally enlighten, both the living and the dead." Indeed several reviewers remark about the classy direction, performances, and all-around care that went into the making of the film. Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News is one of them, writing: "The real marvel of Shaun of the Dead is how much compelling characterization it works in along with everything else. The actors are so subtly good at turning their comic archetypes into realistic (if not, technically, well-rounded) people that, whenever we lose one to the mindless munching masses, we feel the bite of real tragedy." And Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News concludes his review by writing: "This movie is destined for cult greatness. See it now and you can say -- honestly, for once -- that you were there in the beginning."
Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: FIRST DAUGHTER
First Daughter ought to be called Worst Daughter, Lou Lumenick puns in the New York Post. Most other critics appear to agree that it is worse than Chasing Liberty, which came out in January with pretty much the same plot about a presidential daughter falling for a Secret Service bodyguard -- and quickly faded. In fact, says Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe, the movie "is such a phony-cutesy fairy tale that it makes the European gallivanting in Chasing Liberty seem like Bonnie and Clyde." Writes Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "In a year glutted with teenage movie heroines who are either hereditary or civic royalty, First Daughter is the second presidential-child film. Is there a limit to this incessant princessitude?"
FANS DISCOVER GLITCH IN STAR WARS' DVD SOUNDTRACK
Fans of John Williams are up in arms over an apparent glitch in the new Star Wars DVD set in which the left and right channels fed to the rear speakers in surround sound are reversed in the original Star Wars movie (Episode 4). John Takis, who frequently analyzes film scores for Internet groups, points out that the violins can be heard coming from the left surround-sound speakers and the cellos from the left. "It is essentially a 124-minute audio glitch," Takis writes on the John Williams fansite, www.JW-Music.net. "The sound effects are correctly positioned in the surround channels. It's just the music that's backwards." Takis also takes issue with other aspects of the sound mix for the original movie. "Remember the awesome fanfare version of the Force theme that kicks off the Death Star battle?" he writes "Good luck hearing it this time around -- it's virtually inaudible."
SONY NOW SAYS IT HAS "DEFINITIVE" DEAL TO BUY MGM
Sony, which previously used the terms "tentative" or "in principle" to describe its deal to buy MGM, changed its description to "definitive" on Thursday as MGM's directors approved the $4.8-billion acquisition. Following regulatory approval, the deal is expected to close in mid-2005. It was also disclosed Thursday that Comcast will contribute $300 million to the overall investment, about the same as Sony is putting up. In a statement, MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian said, "This transaction will deliver the full value of MGM to our shareholders, while creating significant value-creation opportunities for the new owners and expanded options for consumers to enjoy MGM's content." It was not clear whether Yemenidjian will remain with MGM when Sony takes over.