KATRINA BLOWS DOWN RATINGS
A hastily improvised Dateline special about Hurricane Katrina, which bumped regular hosts Stone Phillips and Ann Curry off the air entirely and relegated regular correspondents to narrators, nevertheless wound up as the most-watched television show for the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4. The special, hosted by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, scored an 8.2 rating and a 13 share, representing 12,180,000 viewers. A Friday Dateline about the hurricane's aftermath posted a 7.3 rating and a 13 share, winding up in fourth place, and an ABC news special on the same night garnered a 6.4/11, tying for ninth place. NBC Nightly News also commanded ratings that exceeded all but five of the top-ten shows in primetime, averaging 10,580,000 viewers each night. ABC's World News Tonight drew audiences larger than all but eight of the top ten, averaging 9,470,000 viewers. By contrast, CBS's primetime average for the week was 7,600,000 viewers (5.2/9); NBC's was 6,100,000 (4.1/7) and ABC's was 5,670,000 (3.8/7). Among the cable news outlets, Fox News Channel averaged 4,060,000 viewers in primetime, making it the most-watched cable outlet last week (34 of the top 40 programs on cable were from FNC), while CNN averaged 3,920,000.
The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. Dateline Special: Hurricane Katrina (Wednesday), NBC, 8.2/13; 2. CSI: Miami, CBS, 7.9/13; 3. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.7/16; 4. Dateline (Friday), NBC, 7.3/13; 5. Two and a Half Men (9:30 p.m.), CBS, 7.2/11; 6. Two and a Half Men (9:00 p.m.), CBS, 6.9/10; 7. Prison Break (series premiere), Fox, 6.8/11; 8. Law and Order, NBC, 6.6/11; 9. ABC News Special: In the Path of Katrina (Friday), ABC, 6.4/11; 9. NCIS, CBS, 6.4/10. (NOTE: NBC's benefit concert on Friday night was not rated because it aired without commercials.)
REPORTERS OUTRAGED BY BUREAUCRATIC FUMBLING IN KATRINA'S AFTERMATH
TV correspondents in the hurricane-devastated areas have been growing increasingly passionate and confrontational in reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. NBC correspondent Campbell Brown, who grew up in Louisiana, remarked that officials "let the bureaucracy get in the way of saving lives. ... A lot of people died, I believe unnecessarily, and there has to be some accountability." On Wednesday NBC anchor Brian Williams wrote on his blog that while military personnel have now returned law and order to New Orleans, they have "started taking aggressive stances at the media." He cited one case in which his camera crew was barred from taking pictures of a National Guard unit. Williams concluded, "Rules (or I suspect in this case an order on a whim) like those do not HELP the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States." Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs told the St. Petersburg (FL) Times: "What we've seen in the past week is the enormous journalism gap between covering policymakers and policy-feelers -- those who are impacted by politicians' decisions. ... Journalists are extremely affected by the people they cover."
FEMA BARS TV REPORTERS FROM SHOWING BODIES
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has barred reporters from accompanying rescue boats as they search for storm victims, Reuters reported on Wednesday. It quoted a spokeswoman for the agency as saying that the purpose of its policy was to assure that the recovery of victims be "treated with dignity and the utmost respect." In a separate email message to the wire service, FEMA asked that "no photographs of the deceased be made by the media." Commented Rebecca Daugherty of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: "The notion that, when there's very little information from FEMA, that they would even spend the time to be concerned about whether the reporting effort is up to its standards of taste is simply mind-boggling. You cannot report on the disaster and give the public a realistic idea of how horrible it is if you don't see that there are bodies as well." In an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Jones, currently director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, commented that FEMA's ban was meant "to minimize the perception that the government didn't do its job. ... I'm very suspicious of their motives."
NEW YORK TIMES REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO GERALDO
The New York Times has refused to apologize to Geraldo Rivera for written comments by TV columnist Alessandra Stanley in which she accused Rivera of nudging an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so that he could be taped helping lift a woman in a wheelchair to safety in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Fox News reran the tape in question on Wednesday, which appeared to show no such nudging by Rivera. Fox quoted a Times spokesman as saying that "several editors here have reviewed the tape and we feel comfortable that Alessandra described this scene accurately."
AP DENIES RACISM IN PHOTO CAPTIONS
The Associated Press has countered claims that captions on two similar photos showing hurricane survivors carrying supplies in chest-high water in New Orleans evidenced racism. In the first, a black man was described as "looting" the items; in the second, a white couple was described as "finding" them. The photos were alluded to by rap singer Kanye West during an appearance at a televised benefit concert on Friday. However, the AP has pointed out that on Friday it ran an article noting that the photographer in the first photo witnessed the man looting a store and that the photographer in the second photo witnessed the couple scooping food items out of the water.
TRUTH TO FACE NC-17 CONSEQUENCES
The MPAA's appeals board has refused to lift an NC-17 rating for Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies even after the director made additional cuts in an effort to have the highly restrictive rating reversed. Egoyan had previously acknowledged that the scene most responsible for the rating, a ménage à trois involving co-stars Kevin Bacon and Rachel Blanchard, was shot in a single take that could not be cut and was essential to the movie's plot. "We couldn't trim any more without destroying the heart of the movie," Egoyan told the Hollywood Reporter Thursday. The film's distributor, ThinkFilm, said it would now release the original uncut version that screened last May at the Cannes film festival. (It is also scheduled to be screened at the Toronto Film Festival next week.) "The good news is the film will go out as it was originally intended," said Egoyan. In a statement, Robert Lantos, the film's producer and the chairman of ThinkFilm, said: "This film stars some of the most talented actors in the movies today, is based on a popular mainstream novel and is written and directed by a filmmaker known for his artistic integrity and achievement. Where the Truth Lies has not encountered this kind of restrictive rating anywhere else in the free world."
AMERICANS READY FOR 9/11 DRAMAS, SAYS PURDUE PROF
Hollywood appears to have waited a respectable amount of time before producing a movie about the 9/11 events, Purdue University film expert William J. Palmer, observed Wednesday. "Just like a spouse mourning a death, there is a proper time to wait before one starts dating. The same is true for Hollywood. With past events, such as the Vietnam War and Watergate, there was a two-year gap before films were produced. The trend is different for 9/11," Palmer said in a statement released by the University. Currently in production is "Untitled Oliver Stone/September 11 Project," reportedly dealing with a group of police officers trapped in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
WILL VOTERS TERMINATE ARNOLD?
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared under siege today (Thursday) as the Los Angeles Times reported that his fellow Republicans have effectively blocked his effort to halt runaway production in the state, arguing that his proposed tax breaks amount to a giveaway to Hollywood, and as other reports indicated that his Democratic supporters are deserting him over his announced decision to veto a measure passed by the California legislature that would permit gay marriage in the state. Meanwhile, the Field Poll indicated on Wednesday that a majority of California voters would not vote for the former movie star if he ran for reelection.
HOWARD SIDESTEPS QUESTIONS ABOUT DA VINCI CONTROVERSY
Ron Howard, the director of the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, which is currently shooting in Britain, has declined to discuss the brewing controversy over his film among fundamentalist religious groups. Arriving at the Deauville American film festival for a screening of his Cinderella Man, Howard told Agence France Presse, the French wire service: "I can tell you we are halfway through the filming and the actors are doing a spectacular job. ... It's a fascinating story to adapt and essentially it's a great opportunity to entertain and provoke conversation."
SCORSESE'S DYLAN DOCUMENTARY TO GET FREE THEATRICAL RELEASE
Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, which is scheduled to air on PBS on Sept. 26 and 27, will get a free (first come, first served) theatrical release in 30 cities during the week of Sept. 20, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). The trade paper reported that the unusual deal was signed at the Toronto Film Festival with Emerging Pictures, which has set up a network of theaters in museums, performing arts centers, science & technology institutions and restored movie palaces that are members of the League of Historic American Theaters. The film will be distributed to the theaters by satellite. The nearly four-hour documentary will simultaneously be released by Paramount Home Video on DVD. No Direction Home tracks Dylan's early career from 1961, when he arrived in downtown New York, through his near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966. [Full disclosure: the editor of Studio Briefing contributed footage from his documentary The Idol to the Scorsese film.]