FRENCH COMPANY HOLDS NBC'S FATE IN ITS HANDS

Vivendi, the French water-company-turned-media-conglomerate, may control the fate of NBC Universal, the New York Times reported today (Monday), noting that a little-known clause in its contract with GE gives it veto power on any change in control of the company. It has been widely reported that GE, which bought 80 percent of Vivendi's holdings in NBC Universal in 2004, wants to sell the studio and TV company to cable provider Comcast. But Vivendi, which retained 20 percent of its ownership in NBC Universal (and 100 percent of its ownership in Universal Music Group), has a window in November each year in which it can opt to sell its passive stake to GE. The Times pointed out that although Vivendi has no particular reason currently to sell, forecasts for media companies in general have been cloudy; moreover, the dollar continues to weaken against the euro, thereby depressing whatever earnings it does accrue from its U.S. holdings. Claudio Aspesi, senior media analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in London, told the Times: "This might not be a bad time to sell." Meanwhile, Daily Variety reported today (Monday) that Universal Music's Vivendi Entertainment unit is "looking to tap into the faith-based market" by acquiring North American theatrical distribution rights to the feature Letters to God from Possibility Pictures. Vivendi Entertainment, the trade publication noted, plans to release its first film, New York, I Love You, on Friday. The report suggests that Vivendi could very well use any proceeds from the sale of its NBC Universal sale to expand its own presence in the movie business via Universal Music.

IS LENO HELPING OR HARMING NBC?

The continuously dwindling audience for the new Jay Leno Show appears to be having a domino effect on the rest of NBC's schedule, the ratings for the local newscasts that follow it, the Conan O'Brien-hosted Tonight show, and Jimmy Fallon's late-night talk show that follows Tonight, the New York Times reported today (Monday), citing a prominent advertising executive. Shari Anne Brill, the senior vice president and director of program analysis for the advertising agency Carat, told the newspaper that she had predicted the ratings dive after NBC decided to air Leno at 10:00 p.m. "It was never a ratings decision. It was a money decision," she said. But Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment, observed that ABC is doing worse than NBC in the 10:00 p.m. time period overall with shows that have budgets that are three times higher than Leno's. "Jay is doing fine," Gaspin told the Times. "Conan is doing what we expected him to do. ... We're going to look at our average over the full year."

COMICS ECALATE OBAMA SPOOFS

For the first time in memory, winning the Nobel Peace Prize has become the subject of late-night lampooning by TV talk-show hosts and Saturday Night Live. The latest comedy attack follows an SNL sketch a week earlier in which a faux President Obama, played by Fred Armisen, boasted that he didn't understand what his critics were complaining about since he had accomplished "nada" during his first year in the White House. This week, Armisen's Obama announced that he had won the Peace Prize "for not being George Bush." Jay Leno likewise described the award as Obama's "biggest accomplishment as president so far." Jimmy Fallon took note of the fact that the prize comes with a $1.4 million cash award. "Usually to get a check that big, you need to blackmail David Letterman," he quipped. In the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: "We can take it as a sign of what a lucky fellow our President is that winning the Nobel Peace Prize has been widely counted as a bad break for him. ... Given that his perceived political problem is exaggerated expectations, does he really need a Nobel Peace Prize before he has actually made any peace?"

WHAT WILL HOMER AND BART SAY?

Playboy magazine, which has seen its circulation plummet 18 percent in three years to 2.6 million from 3.15 million, has put The Simpsons matriarch Marge Simpson on the cover of its November issue and included an interview with her and even a centerfold portrait. Details were, er, sketchy, but the magazine's editorial director,James Jellinek, told the Associated Press that the centerfold is "very, very racy." And at a time when racier fare can generally be found with the click of a mouse on an Internet browser, Playboy spokeswoman suggested that it was the uniqueness of the Simpson character's appearance in the magazine that would lift circulation. "We knew that this would really appeal to the 20-something crowd," she told the A.P. Playboy has apparently been able to persuade some convenience-store outlets to display the magazine on their shelves for the first time in years. The A.P. said that 7-Eleven stores, which have refused to stock it for more than 20 years, has agreed to offer the Marge Simpson issue.

Cinemark Movie Club