HE'S NOW OUT OF JEOPARDY
Ken Jennings has finally lost at Jeopardy, Television Week reported on its website Wednesday, without naming sources. The trade publication said that Jennings lost during an episode taped on Tuesday, his 75th appearance on the show. The question (or answer) that stumped him was not disclosed, and Television Week said that King World and the producers connected with the show refused to confirm the report. Jennings reported has won more than $2.5 million in cash and prizes. Ratings for the show soared 19 percent.
TV REVIEWS: JOEY
NBC will learn tomorrow, when overnight ratings are released, whether it can regain dominance of Thursday night, which it once dubbed "Must See TV" night. The network is launching Joey, its Friends spin-off, and the second season of The Apprentice, the Donald Trump reality show, and critics generally agree that while the two shows are promising, they are not likely to be regarded as must-see attractions. (Aaron Barnhart in the Kansas City Star calls tonight the beginning of the "Might See TV" era.) Tom Shales in the Washington Post dismisses the show, writing that the Matt LeBlanc character "is still a lovable dummy, but over the summer the ratio of lovable to dumb appears to have changed for the worse. At times the script makes him out to be such an idiot that he's not only unsympathetic but also a nagging nuisance." Adam Buckman in the New York Post comments that some of the scenes in the premiere show are downright tasteless, including one in which Joey's sister invites him to feel her breasts and another in which she makes a remark belittling Dominicans. Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Sun-Times labels the show just "OK," but adds: "Amid a weak field of new comedies and on a network increasingly desperate for a fresh sitcom success, that's at least a start." But David Bianculli in the New York Daily News predicts that fans of Friends will be pleased with the show. "It's not as superb a continuation of a great show as Frasier was of Cheers," he writes,"but it should engender much of the same good will." And Robert Bianco in USA Today concludes: "Joey is a well-cast, well-structured, solidly funny sitcom."
HDTV TO TAKE TO THE SKIES
Hoping to challenge cable in the high-definition-television (HDTV) market, satellite broadcaster DirecTV said Wednesday that it plans to spend more than $1 billion on four satellites that will allow it to offer a plethora of HDTV programming. The first two satellites, which are due to be launched early next year, are expected to begin providing HDTV channels to subscribers by midyear. The other two satellites -- all of them are being built by Seattle-based Boeing -- are due to be launched in 2007.
TV SET MANUFACTURERS SWITCH TO FLAT SCREENS
In an intense effort to come from behind, Sony, Hitachi, and Sanyo are planning a concentrated fourth-quarter marketing campaign to push new flat-panel TV models, the Asahi Shimbun observed today (Thursday). It noted the three manufacturers had left the pre-Olympics period to Matsushita, Sharp, Pioneer, and JVC, who enjoyed strong sales; Matsushita, which markets its products in the U.S. under the Panasonic label, captured 30 percent of the plasma TV market while Sharp took more than 50 percent of the LCD sector. A Sony official told the newspaper that the company is planning "record spending" to promote eight flat-screen models that it will start shipping this month. "Even in an Olympic year, the peak demand will come at the end of the year," he observed. Although sales have cooled since the Olympics, they are expected to pick up around the holiday season as the Japanese manufacturers engage in an expected price war. Analysts suggested the competition could put profit margins under pressure, and an unnamed manufacturer told the newspaper that it could even suffer a loss on sales of flat-panel TVs.
HAPPY DAYS SPECIAL PLANNED FOR NOVEMBER SWEEPS
ABC is planning to mark the 30th anniversary of Happy Days with a clip-show special that could air as early as the November sweeps, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). The trade paper said that the special will be exec produced by Henry Winkler ("The Fonz") and his partner, Michael Levitt, and that virtually all of the former cast members of the original series, which aired from 1974-84, have signed on. Besides Winkler, they include Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Erin Moran, Anson Williams, Donny Most, Scott Baio, Pat Morita, Crystal Bernard, Linda Purl, Cathy Silvers, Gavan O'Herlihy, and Randolph Roberts. (The latter two played the same character.) Also participating: the show's creator, Garry Marshall.
THE NEXT GREAT CHAMP LANDS ON THE MAT
Pre-broadcast controversy surrounding Fox's The Next Great Champ did not drive viewers to see the new reality series Tuesday night as it took a dive in the opening round with a dismal 3.3 rating and a 5 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour. In the same hour, CBS's Big Brother 5 recorded a strong 6.8/11, while NBC's Father of the Pride posted a 6.1/9. (While Pride's numbers were down some 20 percent from its debut a week earlier, analysts observed that the show had to overcome the fourth-place finish of its lead-in, Last Comic Standing.). ABC finished third in the hour with a rerun of According to Jim. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today (Thursday) that the premiere of MTV's Real World: Philadelphia delivered a 9.1 Nielsen rating in the Philadelphia area at 10:00, making it the second-most watched show on TV, broadcast or cable, bested only by CBS's Amazing Race.
OZZY TO CONFRONT ANNE ROBINSON ON U.K.'S WEAKEST LINK
In what appears certain to become a huge ratings draw in the U.K., Ozzy Osbourne has been set to appear on a November celebrity edition of The Weakest Link, the London Sun reported Wednesday. (The appearance of the often nonsensical Osbourne facing the no-nonsense quiz-show host Anne Robinson is likely to be billed as the Lady in Black vs. Black Sabbath.) Two years ago, Osbourne remarked in an interview that he was "sexually aroused by Anne's dominatrix routine." A U.S. version of the show, also hosted by Robinson, aired in primetime from April 2001 to July 2002.
VIACOM GETS RID OF THE BLUES
The busting of Blockbuster began in earnest Wednesday as Viacom offered to sell its 81.5-percent stake in the company to its own stockholders, who can trade each Viacom share for 5.15 shares of Blockbuster -- essentially amounting to a discount of about 16 percent. Viacom bought Blockbuster in January, 1994 in the belief that the movie rental stores would provide a steady cash flow and thereby help it finance the acquisition of Paramount (which it bought the following month). But Blockbuster, facing intense competition in a market that it helped oversaturate, has remained a troubled company, and Viacom has come under intense pressure from investors to dump it. "Having endured a laborious wait, Viacom holders should view today's news as a catalyzing event, one which should shift investor focus to life after Blockbuster," Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen told investors Wednesday. Now based in Dallas, the company sent a letter to shareholders quoting Blockbuster chief John Antioco as saying, "We will be better equipped to achieve our goals as an independent, stand-alone company rather than as a subsidiary of Viacom."
OVITZ WANTS OUT OF DISNEY SHAREHOLDERS SUIT
Michael Ovitz's attorney, Mark Epstein, told a Delaware court Wednesday that his client should be excused as a defendant in the shareholders suit which claims that Disney's $140-million severance deal with him in 1997 violated Delaware law. Although the suit claims that the severance package was negotiated between Disney chief Michael Eisner and Ovitz, Epstein maintained that other executives and directors participated in the decision. The shareholders suit is due to go to trial on Oct. 18. Chancellor William Chandler promised a speedy ruling on Ovitz's motion.
DETAILS OF STAR WARS DVD RELEASE DISCLOSED
The Sept. 21 DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy will be accompanied by a fourth disc that includes a two-and-a-half-hour documentary, Empire of Dreams, by Kevin Burns, featuring interviews with 40 people involved in the original productions, including director George Lucas and all of the cast members, Video Store magazine reported on its website Wednesday. It also includes footage of some of the actors who auditioned for the leads, including Kurt Russell, William Katt and Cindy Williams. Some of the actors who appeared in the prequels have reportedly been inserted into some of the scenes in the original films, and Lucas has also introduced "subtle changes" into additional scenes. Each film was cleaned digitally by restoration expert John Lowry, who told the magazine: "These were the dirtiest, grimiest films I've ever had the pleasure of working on." He remarked that his team sometimes had to remove hundreds of dust particles from each frame of the negative. The set features a number of extras, including a game that can be played on Microsoft's Xbox.
TORONTO FILM FEST OPENS WITH BENING STARRER BEING JULIA
The Toronto International Film Festival opens tonight with a screening of Being Julia, starring Annette Bening and directed by Istvan Szabó. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail writes that the film gets off to a slow start but that "the extended climax is a mini-gem of sustained comedy. The result is fitfully entertaining -- light-bright, flecked with unintended patches of gray." Bening, who is returning to the screen after a prolonged absence, is being touted as an Oscar candidate for her performance in the film as an aging actress. Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, while giving the movie itself a so-so write-up, lavishes praise on Bening's work, writing, "The movie's primary point of interest is Bening, and she fills the gaps with a performance that's funny, passionate, neurotic and aptly diva-proportioned."
THAI BUDDHISTS DENOUNCE U.S. POSTERS FOR NEW MOVIE
The poster for the indie film Hollywood Buddha, due to open in the U.S. on Sept. 24, has been denounced by Thai Buddhists, including the House Committee on Religions, Arts and Culture. The poster shows an actor sitting atop the head of a large golden Buddha, something regarded as disrespectful by followers of the religion. The Bangkok Post quoted Udom Charoen, director of the National Buddhism Office, as saying that the producer, Philippe Caland, "might not have had malicious intentions [with his film], but the poster should be removed" from displays in the U.S. The film tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck Hollywood producer who is persuaded by a Buddhist friend to rent a Buddha statue to bring him luck.