The Front Page: August 5, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

StrikeWatch hasn't exactly gotten off the ground, and in a lot of ways that's a good thing, but at the same time it raises the question -- so what the heck is going on between SAG and the studios? Leslie Simmons pokes around to see what's going on today, saying that the two side sare "taking their disconnect to new heights." The AMPTP says there are no plans ongoing or planned, but SAG chief negotiator Doug Allen notes, "Progress doesn't have to occur directly across the table. Discussions through alternative channels are ongoing as we work toward a fair deal for actors as soon as possible." Clearly, these alternative channels are on a different frequency from the rest of the industry.

Since you're reading this on the Web (or maybe your mobile phone if you're so inclined), it probably won't come as a huge surprise to learn that according to Paul Bond's article today, the Internet is "projected to become the main source of ad revenue by 2011." That, in addition to the fact that broadcast television has gotten more ad dollars in 2008 than newspapers for the first time ever -- according to a study by Veronis Suhler Stevensen (a private-equity firm). "In 2011, the top 3 U.S. advertising media should break down like this: $59.8 billion for the Internet, $51.2 billion for broadcast TV and $43.7 billion for newspapers," he writes. The future is here now, folks. Ah, print publications, we hardly knew ye.

And finally, in music related news, two things: You can stop listening to all of those breathless news stories about someone leaving "American Idol." I mean, yes, showrunner Nigel Lythgoe is out (he'll be doing more things with reality king Simon Fuller) but Randy, Simon, Paula and Ryan are all still sitting pretty. (The kids will be happy to know that, and so will my mom). But in one of the odder casting moves of the month, Joss Stone will become Henry VIII's IV wife, in Showtime's "The Tudors," which immediately tells us that the Jane Seymour storyline will be far briefer than I ever intended. I love Joss's music, and I'm rather sorry to see her head onto the screen. Let's just hope she doesn't lose her head over all of this. Er ....

The Front Page: August 4, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Geeks inherit the earth, continued from last Friday: Unsatisfied with owning Comic-con and the hearts, minds and wallets of most of Hollywood, now the geeks are getting in line ahead of the critics at the next TCA, writes James Hibberd and Barry Garron. Organizers of the Television Critics Assn. have slated their 2009 event to occur after next year's Comic-con -- which means the dog days of summer will no longer be so draggy for TV critics. "It's been set in July for years and there's really no reason for it to be there necessarily," TCA president Dave Walker told Hibberd and Garron. He also noted that hotel rates are more favorable later in the summer, one of those factors that need to be taken into consideration when looking at the paltry budgets TV critics have. But he also insisted that Comic-con did not factor in the change. We think the TV snow is getting to his brain.

Speaking of TV and critics, today's the Emmy Wrap Critics and Emmy Watch Crafts pages; in it we've snagged Matt Roush from TV Guide and Robert Bianco from USA Today to weigh in on some of the top categories at this year's Emmys -- let's put it this way: "Mad Men" just can't go wrong, nor can Glenn Close. But neither of them have much good to say about any of the reality candidates: "I'm not convinced any of these shows need to be in competition," says Bianco of the Reality Program slots; Roush looks at the competition program and suggests, "Why not just christen this the 'Amazing Race' category?"

And finally, all hopes and best wishes for a speedy recovery to Morgan Freeman, who was in a car accident on Sunday night and is at last report in serious condition in Memphis.

On the Screen but Under the Radar: Ovation TV highlights touring rock acts

By Barry Garron

For those who want to know a little more about up-and-coming rock acts, a new series offers a weekly glimpse into rock's future.

Starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Ovation TV presents "Bonefish Grill's Notes From the Road," which is a mouthful due to the necessity of including in the title the restaurant chain that sponsors the show.

Bravery "Notes" profiles popular musical acts touring the U.S. The groups and performers are far from unknowns but have not yet reached the pinnacle of rock stardom. The premiere features New York rock band The Bravery (left). Future episodes highlight 3 Doors Down, Josh Kelley, Gaven DeGraw, Vanessa Carlton, Ben Folds, Jason Mraz and Matisyahu.

The series, from Larry Klein Productions,  consists of equal parts interview and performance. Numbers are performed before intimate settings at (of course) local Bonefish Grill locations.

In the premiere, each member of The Bravery has something to say about the music but lead singer Sam Enticott dominates. He discusses, among other things, life on the road, a search for new sounds and the influence of the Beatles. The six numbers played are "Honest Mistake," " Believe," "The Ocean," "This is Not the End," "Time Won't Let Me Go" and "Conditional."

The Ovation network is available on DirecTV, Dish and some cable systems. In September, episodes will be rerun on three XM Radio channels.

National Geographic looks for answers in holy book

By Barry Garron

It's a book that's centuries old and, to more than a billion worshipers, it is holy, the divine word of God.

Koran2 And isn't it fascinating, asks the National Geographic Channel at 6 p.m. (PT) Tuesday, that it often means diametrically different things to the people who read it? Some say it makes women second-class citizens. Some say it requires strict punishment for crimes. Some say it should serve as the basis for civil and criminal law. Others completely and entirely disagree.

The book in question here is the Koran, though the similarities to the Bible are so great that it is both puzzling and disappointing that National Geographic doesn't point this out in its two-hour documentary, "Inside the Koran."

The Koran, according to believers, consists of revelations made by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years. Muhammad dictated the words to others who wrote them down and, two decades after the prophet's death, compiled them in a single volume, the Koran.

As it turns out, like all good religious books, you can get the Koran to say just about anything you want it to. The Koran gives the green light to beheadings, but it also says real penitence should bring forgiveness. The Koran says suicide is a no-no, but it promises great rewards in the afterlife to martyrs.Koran

How are such differences possible, wonders the program. And how can it be that, throughout history, more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims over religious differences than by foreigners?

"Inside the Koran" explains how different branches of Islam formed with different interpretations of the Koran. Shiites revere Muhammad's nephew, Imam Ali, while Sunnis say the practice is akin to saint worship.

Sound familiar? Of course, which is why it's hard to understand why National Geographic resists drawing the obvious parallels between East and West. Historical events and great philosophers have their place, of course, but the vast majority in any religion simply accept on faith what they are told. Meanwhile, religious scholars seldom have a problem finding justification in ancient and ambiguous texts for all sorts of outrageous behavior. Yesterday's ministers found Biblical justification for slavery just as today's imams defend female genital mutilation.

By all means, watch "Inside the Koran" to learn about the Islam world. But don't be surprised if you learn about Western religion at the same time.

The Front Page: August 1, 2008

Frontpagenew2By Randee Dawn

When one of your co-workers shows up wearing a black T-shirt with an alien slogan from "When the Earth Stood Still" on the front, you know: He's just come back from Comic-Con, 2008. (And if you needed further proof, the logo from the massive convention (130,000 estimated) was emblazoned on the sleeve.) And the geeks have inherited -- if not the earth, then Hollywood. I think that was written down somewhere.

In any case, our T-shirt wearer ("I just needed a clean black shirt, really!") Steven Zeitchik has wrapped up the whole thing into a neat package in today's cover story, noting how despite the vast attendance, producers and execs still aren't quite sure how it benefits them. He writes, "Reaching the most devoted segments of entertainment consumers months or even years before a film or series debuts was once a luxury; now it's a priority. The hard-core fans are so powerful, the thinking goes, that they not only should be targeted but also allowed into the process, their voices shaping marketing campaigns and even creative directions."

I'm not sure which is worse, though, creativity by a committee of well-paid scribes, or a committee of devoted fans. Does anyone really think "Star Trek" would have been improved had the fans written the episodes?

Meanwhile, the masses (in smaller amounts) are making a sleeper hit out of the French film "Tell No One," Zeitchik also reports (the man gets around). "With almost no advertising, Guillaume Canet's layered French-language mystery about a doctor wrongly suspected of killing his wife has grossed nearly $1.7 million in a month of very limited release," he writes today; there's a blog item over here, too.

And finally, for something completely different: Someone appears to finally be taking the Beijing Olympics seriously. For all of the pomp and circumstance, human rights issues and leaked opening ceremonies, until recently -- barring a good Jonathan Landreth article, that is -- it seems hard to find a place where someone is seriously saying this might turn into a disaster of varying proportions. NBC's Dick Ebersol is that man, and he notes (in Paul J. Gough's article): "We're ready to move from sports and Olympics to news the moment something really serious happens hereI always personally hope that it's basically an Olympics about sports. But if it isn't going to be sports, we'll be ready for news."

Now that might make for some must-see TV.

The Front Page: July 31, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

There was a time when pirate movies were considered boxoffice zeroes. Then came "Pirates of the Caribbean," which made more money than anyone thought it had a right to -- at least until they saw the thing. And part 2. And maybe not so much part 3, but you get the picture.

Another big risk is -- all "Mummys" aside -- films that take place in ancient Egypt. Hollywood still hasn't recovered from the 1963 disaster of "Cleopatra," which nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox and went so far over budget Fox is still probably trying to pay it off. But that hasn't stopped producer Lucas Foster who, according to Elizabeth Guider, has optioned "The Arms of the Sun," a novel -- part of a trilogy, mind you -- that focuses on Nefertiti, pharaohs, and monotheism. "It will be the basis for an epic romantic adventure film -- movies like this are why I became a filmmaker," says Foster. Joseph L. Mankiewicz may have said something like that once, too. Then again, "Cleopatra" did win four Oscars, so ... may the gods (or god) be with you!

Speaking of death-defying risks, who doesn't remember those horrific "Faces of Death" movies that came out in the 1980s, the (closest thing to real) "snuff" films that actually showed people dying? Remember watching them? Not me. But I'm in a minority, because it seems that the TV version of such a thing, "1000 Ways to Die" has been picked up by Spike TV for 10 half-hour episodes, according to Nellie Andreeva. Now, they won't actually show someone dying from a jalapeno pepper (though that's become far more likely lately with that salmonella scare), but there's gonna be a lot of CGI, let's put it that way. producer Thom Beers puts it this way: "It's Darwinism meets 'CSI.' It's the science of stupid death."

Continue reading "The Front Page: July 31, 2008" »

Emmy hosts -- the bland leading the bland

By Barry Garron

Lest you think otherwise, I truly sympathize with the plight of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences and whichever network (ABC, this year) carries the Emmy Award telecast. The award show business isn't what it used to be.

There was a time people circled the dates of award shows on their calendars. They oohed and aahed at the sight of the stars in their incredible gowns and tuxes. So many stars in one place at one time was something not to be missed.

Slowly, the wheels began to fall off the trophy cart. There were suddenly more award shows than convenience stores. Between these new shows, tabloids, reality shows and celebrity newscasts, it's become easier to see stars than Starbucks. Meanwhile, the growth of cable gave people lots of other things to watch.

Nm_ryanseacrest The Emmys have some unique problems. Younger viewers found the awards as relevant as Ataris. Older viewers were increasingly put off by lists of nominees with unfamiliar names, including actors and programs on premium networks they did not receive.

So how did the TV Academy and the producers respond? Last year, they ditched the tradition of having a smart and funny host and, instead, gave the job to Ryan Seacrest (left). Who knows why they do such things? Maybe they thought the zillions of people who watched "American Idol" tuned in mainly to see Seacrest and they would follow him to the Emmys.

So what happens? Ratings fall 19% from the previous year. The telecast draws an average of 13 million viewers, the second lowest in history.

You would think that anybody outside the White House would learn from such a foolish mistake. No suchTombergeron luck. This year, ABC announced, not only will Seacrest be back, he'll be joined by the other Emmy-nominated game show hosts: Tom Bergeron (right), Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Jeff Probst. With the exception of Mandel, an accomplished stand-up comedian, you'd have to go to the coroner's office to find a bigger group of stiffs.

What are they thinking? Do they expect the following conversation in America's living rooms?

Husband: Honey, let's watch the Emmys this year.
Wife: Isn't Ryan Seacrest going to be the host? He sure wasn't funny last year.
Husband: Oh, but wait. He's going to be joined by Jeff Probst and Tom Bergeron. It should be hilarious. And that Heidi Klum, I'll bet she gets some killer lines.

To be fair, Seacrest, Bergeron, Klum, Probst and Mandel are fine hosts for their respective game shows. This is because they understand that their job is to facilitate the other elements of the show and to not personally stand out. And that's precisely the opposite of what you look for in an award show host.

Last year, Fox and the Academy took their lumps for naming Seacrest as host. At least they could say they wanted to try something new and different. It was time for an experiment. But I don't know what the excuse is when the experiment fails and you just do more of the same.

The Front Page: July 30, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Welcome to today's edition, in which Ron Meyer eats The Hollywood Reporter whole!

Actually, that's probably not entirely right, though there is certainly a lot of Ron Meyer content today, since he's the subject of our Leadership Award special issue with articles by Alex Ben Block, Stephen Galloway and Cristy Lytal -- in which we learn, among other things, that Universal Studios' president and COO has Andy Warhol paintings of Chairman Mao on his office walls. Notes Meyer, paintings or no, "You can't operate out of fear. I mean, we all know that we're going to lose our jobs if we don't deliver results, but you can't deliver results every day. And I want people in a bad time -- I know what to do in good times -- I want in bad times for everybody to feel empowered to go out and take chances, and go out and come back to fight another day. We all need that."

In non-Meyer related news, however (and there's a fair amount of that as well), Universal is negotiating with The Weinstein Co. to partner on Quentin Tarantino's next project, "Inglorious Bastards," while Universal has hired Kori Bernards as svp media relations -- both stories by Borys Kit. Um, well, maybe it really is the all Universal/Meyer issue after all.

Ah, here's something Universal has no hand in: According to Nellie Andreeva, ABC "is making a French comedy connection," having picked up a U.S. version of the Gallic comedy, "Don't Do This, Don't Do That." (Presumably, it will be renamed so it can fit in the TV listings and simultaneously still appeal to the short attention span of American audiences.) But I already like Bob Kushell, who co-EPs over at "Samantha Who?" and is likely going to be adapting the documentary-style look at two families. He notes, "I don't like to thin of it as a French format; I think of it more as a 'freedom' format."

Please don't ask anyone in L.A. 'What's shakin'?' today

Quake_3So we had one of them earthquakes that Los Angeles is famous for this morning. I think it was like a 5.4 on the Richter Scale, which I liken to a false alarm. What kind of self-respecting temblor can't even manage a lousy 6? Talk about a wannabe. On my own Scare the Living Crap Out of You Scale, this one barely sent the needle jiggling at all. It was rolling, not at all jerky and jolting -- like riding a tricycle over a grassy knoll (and not the one in Dallas). It ranked somewhere in the middle between "Was that an earthquake?" and someone trying to wake you up out of a sound sleep. Nothing on my shelves so much as budged. My dog barked, like, twice, looked around, seemed to think, "That's it?" and laid back down. He was asleep again within five minutes.

Now 1994, that, ladies and gentlemen, was an EARTHQUAKE. By comparison, today's quake was the equivalent of breaking wind during a cocktail party.

In '94, the Northridge quake was more powerful and frightening than every other shaker I've experienced combined, and I've been through all of 'em in Los Angeles since 1971. I was living in a condo on the third floor of a building in West Hollywood, and I describe it as feeling like two humongous sumo wrestlers picking up my bed and fighting with each other over the frame. It woke me out of a sound sleep at like 4 in the morning. It was still pitch dark outside and felt very much like the end of everything we hold dear (and even a lot of the stuff we don't). Today's wasn't even the end of the phone conversation I was having at the time it struck.

Quake2Of course, I live probably 40 miles from this quake's epicenter around Chino Hills in San Bernardino County. I can't say I had much of a clue where Chino Hills was before today. I'm still not entirely sure, actually. All I know is they've got a prison there someplace. And now it's known as Earthquake Country, too. I'm guessing that the median price of a home there just plummeted about 20% in the space of four hours.

What's always amusing about L.A.-area quakes -- and yes, there is a little-known lighter side, particularly when nothing breaks in your cabinets and the earth doesn't open up to swallow every trace of your time on the planet --is that the local and national television news will ALWAYS make it look infinitely worse than it is. They'll shoot footage of the one supermarket in the area where stuff fell off the shelves. If a small fire breaks out, the cameras will shoot it in such a way that it will be made to look like a spectacular inferno. Any cracks in the pavement will be shot to resemble a scar on the earth's crust itself. And from turning on the news just now, I see the story already is being hyped as "EARTHQUAKE 2008"!

The tectonic plates have shifted!!!!!! The Apocalypse is nigh!!!!!!! Everybody run for your lives!!!!!!!

Endofworld It is thus small wonder that friends and family members around the country, and around the world, place anxiety-riddled phone calls during which they inquire with trepidation and dread, "Are you all right?" And I mean, they're basing this on screaming Internet headlines and news footage that make it appear that the gates of Hell have opened and claimed Los Angeles in a fury of raging fire and imminent plague.

But trust me. We're all fine. And I'll let you know if life has returned to normal as soon as I emerge from my underground fallout pod.

(Photos courtesy Reuters)

The Front Page: June 29, 2008

Frontpagenew3 By Randee Dawn

Summer: The season of reruns. Or, in this case, retreads and reinvigorations. Just look at the front of today's THR for evidence....

Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne may no longer have their beloved New Line, but according to Steven Zeitchik's article today, they've got their first post-NL deal at Warners, "boarding an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov futuristic sci-fi epic 'Foundation,'" which will be produced through their new Unique banner. Those books were trippy, man, so they definitely have their work cut out for them. "This epitomizes the movies we want to make, not the movies that ought to be made to fill a slate or movies that repeat an old formula," said Shaye.

Elsewhere, CBS is creating its own kind of rerun -- a remake of "The Streets of San Francisco," which will be a contemporary version of the 1970s cop show starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas, according to Nellie Andreeva's article today. There will be a modern twist on the central characters' beefs with one another, according to Sheldon Turner, who is co-writing the scripts: "The times are very similar -- it was the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the Iraq War now," he tells Andreeva. "There is the same sort of tension between generations, and we wanted to carry that to the new series."

Here's a little bonus: Last year I got to talk to Michael Douglas, who brought up SoSF himself, and reminisced about his time in television. "(Streets) was shot on location in 7 shooting days, and we'd do 26 hours straight. When you have that background and a tight budget, a tight schedule frees you up -- you have to go back to trusting your instincts, trusting what got you there in the first place."

And finally, in the spirit of continuing dramas, Andreeva also reports today that AMC's "Mad Men" brought in 2 million viewers for its second season premiere on Sunday -- which more than doubles the 915,000 average viewers who watched last season.

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