The Front Page: August 15, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Now, this is an issue you can roll up and swat the dog with!

Okay, you'll probably find other uses for your International Weekend Edition of THR, but really: Nice size today, and even better content. Not only is there a cover story by Jay A. Fernandez on Tyler Perry (headline: Cross-dressed for success), in which we learn that everything Perry touches turns to gold, particularly if he's portraying a woman named Medea, but there's also the Summer Film & TV Music special issue, headed up with an article about "the shadowy world of composer representation" by Kevin Cassidy and Stephen Galloway which discusses, among other things, the need for agents to poach from one another.

But my favorite part of the F&TV Music section is this: A spotlight on Danny Elfman (interviewed by Cassidy), who brandishes a can of Campbell's "Cream of Cat" in one photo. He talks a bit about balancing the film scoring he's doing with outside projects, noting: "I once saw a documentary on a guy with Tourette's syndrome. He was able to control it enough to do his work at an office all day, but then he'd come home, lock himself in his room and scream profanities until he finally felt exhausted and OK. That's kind of how it is for me. The film work takes a tremendous amount of control and focus, and I have to form all my ideas to exact timed bits to fit the images and the editing. That builds up a lot of pressure. When I get to write free, it lets that pressure out."

News-wise, there is of course plenty to note, from the fact that the next Harry Potter film is now pushed to next summer; a too-violent Matthew Vaughn flick (appropriately titled "Kick-Ass") "has forced Hollywood studios to pass on making it," so it'll go indie -- Vaughn raised $30 million for the project -- and that an SAG board member now estimates actors are losing $1 milllion a week "by not accepting the AMPTP's offer," as another deadline in the talks between the guild and the studios stalls.

So now that you've got plenty of reading to do this weekend, get started -- you will be expected to know this material....

The Front Page: August 14, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

Ah, it appears to be beautiful male bodies week here at THR; yesterday, you may recall that we featured Ahnold in his "Conan" heyday; today, it's Michael Phelps and his lovely torso (standing next to a more modestly clad Johnny Weissmuller). It's all part of an article by Steven Zeitchik and Paul J. Gough on the likelihood not that Phelps will continue to break more records in the water -- but whether he'll sink in Hollywood, once he returns from China. Because onceyou win all that gold, surely the only goal you have left is as pitchman/movie hunk. "It's always been an impediment to these folks going on because the glory is (supposed to be) enough," marketing consultant Robert Passikoff said. "Isn't that the Olympic tradition?"

Well, if nothing else, some 20 years hence he might marry into camera-friendly family and end up with a show on E!, a la Bruce Jenner, right?

Who says the Emmys aren't inclusive? According to one of today's clips (and an article by Gough on the Web site), Al Jazeera has snapped up its first International Emmy nomination, a turn of events that either makes you believe in the American system of awards-giving-to-all, or makes you  concerned for the future of television. Gough writes that the nom went to the English-kanguage "Kuala Lumpur News Hour," whch received the nomination for coverage of the military crackdown in Myanmar.

And finally, the Emmy Wrap up special issues tag writers and directors today, with an article by Ray Richmond looking at the likely winners come Sept. 21. He notes that the poor drama directors and writers out there have gotten ganged up on by the former "Sopranos" crew, who've fanned out and apparently taken over television, a la "Mad Men" and "Damages." "It's wild to see how the 'Sopranos' influence is really still there," says "Men" creator Matt Weiner. "I was up winning as a producer for that show last year, and now to have the opportunity again in this sort of overwhelming way is just amazing."

The Front Page: August 13, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Is there a funnier way to start the morning than with the sight of Ahnold's bulging biceps circa his "Conan" days? Jay A. Fernandez and Carolyn Giardina have a front-page article today on the "unsheathing" of "Conan" and "Amazon," each of which should show a lot of bulging body parts -- though not the Governator's this time. No, this time it'll be Conan-for-the-new-millennium (a la "Batman") and the budget could be in the $100 million range. "Fans expect (these types of movies) to be more true to the source material," says Paradoz Entertainment CEO and president Fredrik Malmberg said. "There's no reason there couldn't be a Conan movie every two years. He's almost like Batman: He's a dark hero. He's a hard hero. He has to be badass, but we also have to like him."

And, he needs to be sure to have some awesome pecs.

As all of the locals know, it's important to be in New York. Specifically, it's important to be in New York this coming Sept. 26-Oct. 12, because as Gregg Goldstein reports, the New York Film Festival (which runs during that period) will now have a clutch of first-look titles, including Cannes films and projects angling for the upcoming awards season. Where did the year go? Notes Goldstein: "Seventeen of the fest's 28 foreign-language-heavy titles appeared at Cannes in May, including Soderbergh's four-hour-plus Spanish-language biopic, 'Che.' The Centerpiece spot for Universal Pictures' 'Changeling' cements the Angelina Jolie-toplined Cannes entry as a prime Oscar contender, as well as the closing-night slot for 'The Wrestler.'" Well, I know where I'll be during that time ... of course, I don't have to go very far....

FrankenthumbFinally, here's a bit of good, interesting news for the news biz: According to Paul J. Gough's article today, CNN is going to place reporters in smaller American cities, in order to get more local coverage. They're calling them "all-platform journalists" and "will be armed with lightweight technology that will give them the ability to quickly run to a news story and get on the air live," Gough writes. "Technology has changed so dramatically that we can change how we actually operate," CNN senior vp domestic newsgathering Nancy Lane says. "A lot of what we were doing is, if you will, an old-fashioned approach to newsgathering."

Is Al Franken's Satellite Headgear setup that far off?

OK, now you create your own photo caption

By Barry Garron

Here's the picture. What should the caption be?



"Stop, stop, enough all ready. I'll start watching your lousy network."

"Since when do they use enhanced interrogation on cruise passengers?"

"Believe me, honestly, I was NOT trying to grope Dora the Explorer!"

Now it's your turn. There are no prizes because they haven't been in the budget since, well...a while. But others who visit here will recognize you for the witty person you are.

(This is actually a passenger being welcomed aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas ship on the first Nickelodeon Family cruise. Or so we're told.)

The Front Page: August 12, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

File this one under "Things I Hadn't Been Thinking About But Now That You Mention It, That's Kinda Interesting": "Titanic" is probably not going to be sunk by "The Dark Knight," despite "TDK's" amazing prowess at the boxoffice, according to Carl DiOrio. That's actually not the most interesting part -- it's that "Titanic" actually was No. 1 at the boxoffice for 15 consecutive weeks. These days, that completely boggles the mind -- a DVD of the film comes out before 15 weeks are up. (Here's another bit of trivia; No. 2 on the consecutive list (at least since 1982) is "Beverly Hills Cop." Ah, Eddie, we miss your good films.) Anyway, about "Titanic," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman notes, "(It) was once in a lifetime, and I don't think we'll ever have another gross like that in the history of the industry. Of course, if there is one, I'd like to have it." For the record, "TDK" is now at 4 weeks atop the charts, with $442 million; "Titanic" ultimately earned $600.8 cume domestically.

You can file this one under "Meh" at least from my point of view -- the 1970s continue to find renewal on the small screen, as CBS (which at the end of June announced plans to revamp "The Streets of San Francisco") has enlisted "Criminal Minds" executive producer/showrunner Ed Bernero to develop a remake of "Hawaii Five-O," according to Nellie Andreeva. Admittedly, it had a great theme song. But was anyone really calling for a remake? Other than the CBS suits? Notes Bernero, "We will try to keep as much of the original show as possible. I'm not trying to reinvent it." Oh, Lord! (Jack Lord, that is.)

And finally, the medals haven't all been handed out yet, but it's pretty clear who the real winner is at the Olympics: NBC's Web feed. According to Mike Shields' article today, Web viewership records are being broken across the board, thanks to a "steady build" of viewership. "According to Nielsen, -- which besides offering up-to-the-minute results and highlights will stream more than 2,200 hours of live competition through the course of the Games' 17 days -- drew more than 4 million unique users Saturday. That's up from the 2.7 million users who logged in the previous day and less than 1 million that did so that Wednesday," writes Shields. "Yahoo's Olympics site, which does not offer any live footage, pulled in a solid 3.3 million unique users Saturday, bringing it within 684,000 users of NBC's traffic and 2 million more than the third-place finisher, AOL Olympics, which saw more than 1 million users log in that day."

Not just an Olympic moment, it's THE Olympic moment

By Barry Garron

America, you now have your Olympic moment.

No matter what else happens on the balance beam, off the diving board or over the hurdles, the image that always will be associated with the Beijing Olympics will be the instant that Jason Lezak touched the swimming pool wall and gave the U.S. a gold medal in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay.

Nbc_olympics Up to then I thought there was absolutely no way that any part of these games, especially any part involving swimmer Michael Phelps, could possibly be considered underhyped.

If you've been listening to NBC promos, there is hardly a U.S. athlete in China who doesn't have a strong shot at a medal and a decent chance to take home gold. You might even be excused if you thought, based on these spots, that this entire international event was being held to test whether Phelps, one of the members of the relay team, could beat the gold medal record now held by Mark Spitz.

To be sure, there was no such brashness about this particular event when it  was held Sunday (which was Monday in Beijing, but let's not get into that). Analyst Rowdy Gaines, who deserves a gold medal just for his first name, told viewers that he studied the contest again and again and couldn't see a logical way for the U.S. to beat France.

And then came what Gaines, this morning in a conference call, said was "the greatest Olympic relay race I have ever seen." Added announcer Dan Hicks: "Without a doubt, its' the greatest Olympic moment I've ever experienced or called, head and shoulder above anything."Phelps3

The only thing that would have made the moment sweeter is if their eloquence had risen to the occasion, as Al Michaels did in 1980 when the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians and he asked almost rhetorically, "Do you believe in miracles?"

But even without that verbal flourish, this was an unforgettable moment. Or, as Hicks put it a half day later: "It was something out of a Hollywood script. It had everything. It had the guys that did the trash-talking in the French, it had the 32-year-old swimmer in Jason Lezak, who has not had successful Olympic swims in the past trying to catch the world record holder in the 100 meters--and doing it when it looked like he had no chance at all. It was a crazy, crazy moment."

One quick postscript: I've heard very little about the camera work at the Olympics but it has been nothing short of spectacular. Underwater, overhead, from the side--the angles have captured the action better than anything ever seen in the past. It's more than high definition. It's great technology and foresight.

Watching Olympics in the West -- the worst of both worlds

By Barry Garron

It's Saturday night. The Summer Olympics is just in its second night, and I'm already about 200 hours behind in my viewing. NBC Universal is offering 3,600 hours over the course of 17 days and, at this rate, I'm going to miss about 3,500 of them.

Beijingolympic2008 Meanwhile, I'm having second thoughts about how much more wonderful it is to watch these events live. (Actually, being on the West Coast, I'm not seeing anything live on NBC primetime, more about which later.)

It's human nature to prefer watching events live if for no other reason than you feel like a moron getting excited about a contest that ended hours ago. The advent of the Internet, meanwhile, gives most people instant access to sporting results, removing any suspense from tape-delayed contests.

So it's a great coup for NBC that it was able, despite the time difference, to get the International Olympic Committee to schedule the sports Americans like most during primetime in the East and Midwest. It is also proof, if any was needed, that American dollars are still worth something, especially if you stack them 900 million high.Misty3

But now I've discovered a downside to live transmissions -- commercial breaks. I'm watching men's gymnastics, and the guys are doing routines on the pommel horse. Six ads later, and they've magically moved to a high bar. Meanwhile, the announcers act as if nothing unusual happened, like pommel horses normally vanish into thin (or, in Beijing's case, thick) air.

It happened again as I watched Kelli Walsh and Misty May-Treanor defend their gold medal in women's beach volleyball, my favorite sport. After each commercial pod, there would be four or five new points on the scoreboard. In one case, the lead changed.
Had the match been taped, it could have been paused for the ads, and I wouldn't have missed one dig, block or kill.

And that's the other bad part. It WAS taped. At least it was for those of us on Pacific time. So for myself and about 40 million neighbors, we get the worst of both worlds. We get delayed events as well as missing chunks of action.

(Watch this space for additional comments about the Summer Olympics in the days and weeks ahead. Next up: What would the proper amount be if NBC could have taken out an insurance policy on swimmer Michael Phelps?)

The Front Page: August 8, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Do ya feel lucky, punk?

Well, you ought to: Depending on your superstition level, today is the luckiest day of the decade, so make the best out of it. NBC is doing their best to, with the Olympic games opening up in Beijing, and today there's an article from Paul J. Gough pointing out just how heavily invested they are in the whole schmear. Writes Gough, "NBC's household primetime ratings for the Athens Olympics the second-lowest in recent memory, better only than the 2000 Games half a world away in Sydney, when most of the events were long over by the time U.S. viewers tuned in. Estimates vary for what NBC will do in Beijing, though most don't think it will be worse than the 15.0 household rating for Athens. It would be nearly impossible to surpass the 21.6 primetime household rating for the Atlanta games in 1996.... NBC has declined to give its ratings expectations for Beijing, though it's believed that they are guaranteeing advertisers about the same ratings as Athens in 2004. That's still a positive, given the fact that nothing on TV is as strong as it was four years ago."

Meanwhile, it's time for Real Life Imitates a Twilight Zone Episode. Two instances today:

1) A&E loves its "Intervention" and "Dog the Bounty Hunter," both of which have skirted the law -- but according to James Hibberd, that's nothing compared to Set Free Soldiers. "The network recently shot a pilot with the controversial Christian motorcycle gang Set Free Soldiers, a group whose leader and six members were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of attempted murder." Somehow, you knew reality TV shows were heading in this direction. It's only a matter of time.

35393siggraph_341x182_2 2) Check out the photo at left. Don't recognize her? She doesn't mind, because she's a computer generated head on a live-action body. Really, I wouldn't have known, except that there is a certain deadness behind the eyes most frequently apparent in club bouncers. Carolyn Giardina writes today that those sorts of photoreal CG character gimmickries are going to be among the key topics at Siggraph 2008 on Monday. Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Michael Fink, who recently was named president of VFX worldwide at Frantic Films VFX and Prime Focus Group, tells Giardina, "Can we do an absolutely, totally realistic Elvis Presley? Probably not. But that is because he is so well known. But if we had to create a character that nobody had ever seen before? That might be possible at this point. And in a few years it will be possible to do Elvis. A lot of people think it is possible now. I don't." Maybe we won't need an actors strike because they'll just be able to computer generate the faces?

On that note, have a very lucky weekend!

The Front Page: August 7, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

Well, I know what I'm doing tonight: Dancing around with a lot of public TV members. And, you know, The Police, who're playing their final show at Madison Square Garden as a benefit of sorts for the network. For those of us with 1980s hearts (and histories) this is really a very big deal. I wasn't savvy enough in my teens to fully appreciate the band, and once I did they were long broken up -- so this is both the first and last time I'll get to see them. My friend (who clearly thinks we're getting more access than we are) has said if she gets to meet Sting tonight "seriously, I'm gonna hurl." I'll be keeping her away from the nachos.

In other actual newsy type news, it's official: If your comedy gets an "R" you can expect good boxoffice. If not, it's a dicey proposition. Funny apparently has to be profane to make bucks -- at least according to Carl DiOrio's article today, where he cites a survey by Fandango that "suggests that the MPAA should get a thank-you note from filmmakers whenever it slaps an R rating on a comedy." For example, "Superbad" hauled $33.1 million and "Wedding Crashers" with $33.4 million; pundits are now projecting healthy returns for the upcoming "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder." According to Fandango's poll, 83% of respondents said graphic humor doesn't turn them off; 94% said they weren't offended by Robert Downey Jr.'s blackface in his "Thunder" role. Watch your @#$* boxoffice this weekend.

And today also continues our Emmy Wrap coverage, this time looking at the "Ladies in Waiting," written up by Ray Richmond. Glenn Close seems a virtual lock on Drama, while Tina Fey has all the buzz for Comedy ... but nothing is set in stone yet. What is clear is that ageism does not permeate to awards; as Richmond notes, "The average age of the 15 performers honored this year is 49; just one, 'Ugly Betty's' (ABC) America Ferrera, is younger than 36 (she's 24). A mere three are below 42, and five are 60 and above." Way to go, girls ladies!

The Front Page: August 6, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Today's headline for the ThinkFilm article by Alex Ben Block reads: "Call him notorius" (referring to TF's owner David Bergstein). I'm actually more of a fan of the online head: "Has ThinkFilm Lost Its Mind?" Either way, though, the article's a good read. You get the "everything's peachy" comment from Bergstein himself: "There is always an adjective that precedes us: 'Beleaguered,' 'financially distressed.' And none of these people know anything." And then you get the dissenting vote, from "War/Dance" producer Albie Hecht: "He's the biggest disgrace in the film business." Ben Block adds that Hecht, "claims he still has not seen the small advance ThinkFilm promised. An arbitration is pending." Cat fight!

There's a different kind of cattiness over at Andrew Wallenstein's Digital Reporter column today, where he writes about Miley Cyrus's YouTube channel, where she posts short videos with her friend Mandy Jiroux. As he reports: The videos are "mostly harmless high jinks," but the channel "recently became gossip fodder after she posted a video in which the duo mimicked two rival Disney stars, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, in less than flattering fashion." (The video is here.) As Wallenstein notes, that's probably not making Disney all that happy. That said, Disney also doesn't have any creative control over the YouTube channel messagse. Adds Wallenstein: "Maybe it's as simple as that old joke about where a 2,000-pound elephant sits: anywhere it wants to. Cyrus is simply so valuable to Disney that they'll stomach her online antics lest they slay a golden goose."

And finally, for the horror film fan who's long felt excluded from slasher pics with girls in peril, David DeCoteau is coming to your rescue. According to Gregg Goldstein, DeCoteau has signed a deal with Regent Studios and sister channel Here! Networks to direct ten films and two series -- some of which will be released theatrically -- of classic horror tales like "The Pit and the Pendulum," which will be "refashioned to include gay themes." It's an interesting career swerve for the director who made films like "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama." Can we maybe call it "Gouged-Out-Eye-For-The-Gay-Guy"?

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