Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A&E Scores Record Audience With 9-11 Movie

The cable channel reached 5.9 million viewers and set records in every category Monday night with its 9-11 drama "Flight 93." And there's plenty more where that came from. Projects already filming or seriously in the works include a TV miniseries on ABC by Marc Platt (the man behind "Legally Blonde"), and movies via Oliver Stone, Paul Greengrass and Don Cheadle with...wait for it, Adam Sandler. I guess the musical will have to wait a few more years.

An Early Favorite For NEXT Year's Oscar Race

You read it here first.

The Best CDs of 2005

Pop, rock, country, folk, jazz, blues, Broadway, bluegrass and more -- it's all here. Go here for a complete list of the 50 best CDs of the year, detailed breakdown of who's who and what's what, favorite reissues, my early favorites for 2006 and more.


1. Richard SwiftThe Richard Swift Collection, Volume One (literate pop)
2. Sufjan StevensIllinois (eclectic pop)
3. The EelsBlinking Lights and Other Revelations (suicidal pop)
4. Amadou & MariamDimanche a Bamako (world pop)
5. Betty LaVetteI’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise/ Various I Believe To My Soul (soul)
6. The White StripesGet Behind Me Satan (bluesy pop)/ Bright EyesI’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (folkie pop)
7. Neil Diamond 12 Songs (pop via Brill Building)
8. Hanna McEuen -- Hanna McEuen (country by way of Everly Brothers)
9. The Magic NumbersThe Magic Numbers (60s pop via UK)
10. Various Does Anybody Know I’m Here? Vietnam Through The Eyes of Black America (protest pop)
11. Wolf ParadeApologies to the Queen Mary/ Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah/ Broken Social Scene/ Marah If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry (return of Talking Heads)
12. Bill Charlap and Sandy StewartLove Is Here To Stay (telepathic jazz duets)
13. Lewis TaylorStoned (what Prince and Stevie Wonder used to be)
14. Ali Farka Toure & Toumani DiabateIn The Heart Of The Moon (world music)
15. Fiona AppleExtraordinary Machine (pop, the hard way)
16. Heartless BastardsStairs and Elevators (rock n roll)
17. Various Son Cubano NYC: Cuban Roots, New York Spices 1972-82 (salsa)
18. Hard-FiStars Of CCTV (British rock)
19. Neil YoungPrairie Wind (folk rock staring death in the face and smiling)
20. Supergrass Road To Rouen (underappreciated rock)

"Springtime For Hitler" In Israel

Yes, a stage production of "The Producers" has come to Israel and is packing them in. In contrast, the release of "Munich" garnered mostly shrugs.

Warner Bros. Opens DVD Floodgates

An early supporter of DVDs, Warner Bros. is still sitting on a bigger goldmine of untapped movies than any other major studio. That will change this year when WB releases 200+ titles. (Maybe they wanted to make us pay before putting them out on Blu-Ray DVDs and making us pay for the same movies all over again.) Among the goodies: collections for Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and a "Superman" box that includes the legendary Richard Donner cut of "Superman II" that's almost three hours long. Expect it out in time to coincide with the June 30 release of "Superman Returns."

James Frey Dumped By His Agent

Publishers Weekly has an exclusive interview with James Frey's agent, Kassie Evashevski. She has dumped him. The agent insists Frey never told her the book was fiction; he only asked if they could market it as an autobiographical novel to save his family some embarrassment. But ultimately, she too takes refuge in a lie.
"Certainly after this experience, I have to wonder if there is such a thing as a "nonfiction memoir." One can fact-check facts, but how do you fact-check memory and perception?"
Wrong. James Frey did not make an honest mistake on details or simply have a different perception of events. James Frey LIED. He made up events out of whole cloth. He lied about his jail time, he lied about his treatment while at Hazelden, he lied every step of the way. And how about at least starting with some of the big facts? James Frey never went to jail and he never brawled with cops. These events are central to the book and easily checked. Frey didn't remember things differently or perceive them differently -- he made up lies to aggrandize himself. Period. Of course there is such a thing as a nonfiction memoir. They don't include lies.

UK Box Office

Talk about an inferiority complex: the UK papers always jump on the weekend box office figures for the United States, but often don't even bother to do an item on the box office in their own country. (And trying to find weekly TV ratings is even more difficult.)But here's the top ten, without any dollar figures.

1. Fun With Dick & Jane
2. Munich
3. Rumor Has It
4. Brokeback Mountain
5. Memoirs of a Geisha
6. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardroe
7. Underworld: Evolution
8. Jarhead
9. Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
10. Just Friends

Tim Burton's Oscar Press Release

Director Tim Burton put out a press release commenting on the nomination of "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" for Best Animated Feature alongside "Wallace & Gromit's The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Howl's Moving Castle."

What Tim Burton said: "I am thrilled that Corpse Bride has been nominated and especially happy for all of the artists that worked on the project."

What Tim Burton should have said: "HA HA! Screw you, CGI! Shut out at the Oscars by hand-drawn old-schoolers like Miyazaki and young, hip back-to-the-future stop-motion animators like me and my homey Nick Parks in the UK! Computers suck! (And thank God Pixar didn't put out a movie this year.)"

Film Studios Frightened Of Downloads

Warner Bros. is tentatively testing the waters of legal downloads. In Germany, they'll start making movies like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and TV shows like "Friends" available for legal downloading. Why only Germany and why only WB?

Really, how stupid can major companies be? They run screaming from new technology every single time, no matter how often the feared device (VCRs, DVDs, TV, cable, etc.) proves a godsend and financial windfall. (Studios grossed $25 billion from sales and rentals of DVD and VHS last year. Record labels got an extra $1 billion from downloads -- all "found" money.) Now with Apple's legal downloads an immediate success, you'd think studios would be falling all over themselves to make their content available. Nope. Instead, they're frightened out of their wits. In five years, they'll be making billions off of it and living in fear of the next technological breakthrough.

Oscars: Who Didn't Deserve A Nod

Everyone talks about the people who were snubbed, but they rarely follow that up by detailing which nominations should be removed to make room for their choice. So here's a rundown of which nominations were lazy, misguided or just plain wrong. Mind you, many of these actors and other talent are terrific and have done great work. This just shouldn't have been their year. (And this isn't just my personal taste -- I didn't like "Crash" but I'm not quibbling with that; ditto Keira Knightley in "Pride & Prejudice, which I didn't like but was a commercial and critical success. I'm quibbling with nominations even Academy voters probably don't feel strongly about. These are the ones they can't justify.)

BEST PICTURE: Take back "Munich."
BEST DIRECTOR: Take back "Steven Spielberg"
BEST ACTRESS: Take back Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents and Charlize Theron in "North Country"
ART DIRECTION: Take back "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
COSTUME DESIGN: Take back "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Mrs. Henderson Presents"
DOCUMENTARY: Take back "March of the Penguins" (It's NOT a documentary!)
SCORE: Take back "Munich" (I love John Williams but it's a weak, cliched score)

Overnight TV Ratings

Lots of happy faces today, with "24" doing solid business, "Dancing With The Stars" still tapping away and "CSI: Miami" the top show of the night. The big losers? The WB's "Related" and NBC's murky sci-fi "Surface," which is about to sink back into oblivion.

Surfing Through "24"

Another hour in the worst day of Jack Bauer's life. He makes one thing very clear: torture is AWESOME! And very effective. (At least on TV.)

Quote of the episode comes from once and future love interest Audrey: "Jack, I'm sorry if I'm being a little distant. It's just...it's taking me a little while to get used to you being alive."

The Worst Oscar Coverage: E!

The list is here. (And go here for my initial reacton.) The yahoos at E! went on and on about Terrence Howard getting a nomination even though he only appeared onscreen for a few minutes -- confusing Howard's best actor nod for "Hustle & Flow" with his appearance in "Crash," which wasn't nominated. Then they claimed -- wrongly -- that George Clooney received four nominations, tying him with Warren Beatty and Orson Welles. Actually, he got three nomination. Numerous other flubs. They did answer one question I had: the announcers see the list about an hour and a half before going on air so they can practice name pronunications. Does the Academy take away their cell phones or are they on the honor system?

NOTE: Oscar expert Damien Bona tells me "Brokeback Mountain's" "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" wasn't eligible because it wasn't heard in the film for long enough. In that case, they should have nominated the lovely, wrenching "The Maker Makes" by Rufus Wainwright, which plays over the end credits.

Dave Chappelle On "Oprah"

Watch it this Friday. "Popsurfing's" biggest scoop last year? Breaking the story that Season Three of his show was delayed. Now finally we get to hear from Chappelle himself if it was a mental breakdown, fear of failure, or an addiction to role-playing games online. He better tell Oprah the truth!

The Oscar Nominations

Here they are.

First thoughts: as everyone will point out, "Brokeback Mountain" got eight nominations, the most, but its absence in key categories (no "Best Song?") means it is hardly a slam-dunk. No Art Direction, no Costume, no Film Editing -- those are all areas it could and should have been recognized. No Best Song is easily the most striking -- only three nominees (including "Crash's "In The Deep") and not Emmylou Harris for "A Love That Will Never Grow Old?" or Rufus Wainwright for "The Maker Makes?" Bizarre. Best Picture and Best Director match up exactly, so no one got cheated and we can't spot any thin support that way. So everyone will call it a horse race with "Crash" the likeliest spoiler. And then "Brokeback" will triumph in the end.

My favorite suprise: best documentary short "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin." Corwin is a legendary writer for radio who wrote brilliant, brilliant pieces that have faded a bit in memory but are thrillingly good. (You can find them on old-time radio compilations.) "On A Note Of Triumph" was written for VE Day and is stunning in its presience, dignity and sheer beauty. I've been looking for an excuse to write about him for years and now I've got my chance.

Open Thread -- "GMA" and E!

It's Oscar nominations morning...the only day of the year you can bet money I'm up before 9 am.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Oxford Students Forced To Sign Contracts Saying They'll Attend Lectures

Good Lord. All I can say is thank God they didn't have these when I went to college for seven lovely, unproductive years.

Open Thread -- "24"

So what do you think? Is a feature film a good idea or overkill if they keep the series going?

Primetime Preview

Not much tonight. A&E has that 9-11 movie about Flight 93, but even though it's been four years I just don't want to watch it. BBC America has a pretty good new cop show I saw in London called "Conviction" at 9 that focuses mainly on the police and their private lives. Late night, if you're a fan of Craig Ferguson, the show is a tribute to his father, who died over the weekend. The main action: another hour of "24."

"Ugly Betty" Coming Soon

US networks have finally realized that the telenovela is perfect for American television. Viewers commit to a soap opera, knowing it will last one season with countless cliffhangers and a definite beginning, middle and end. (That's just right for time-strapped people who don't want to commit to a new show for the next five years, not to mention immediate DVD sales.) And one of the first telenovelas to be greenlit is "Ugly Betty," the wildly popular Colombian soap about a plain-looking secretary who flourishes at work. America Ferrera of "Real Women have Curves" is the very smart choice for the lead. And not to worry -- she'll get to blossom as the show goes on. Look for it this summer.

"American Idol" -- Why Does It Ignore The UK?

Bill Carter of the New York Times has a good story about just how explosively powerful "American Idol" is in the ratings. (Probably the only hit show to grow in the ratings later than "AI" was "Law & Order" which got MORE popular after reruns kicked in. Carter focuses on one key difference between "Idol" and other reality hits like the extremely popular "Survivor," "The Apprentice," the never-ending "Amazing Race" and others -- it only airs once a year. (Mind you, Fox fought tooth and nail to get two editions of "Idol" a year -- Simon Cowell had to threaten to quit the last time he reupped if they tried to do that.) But Carter leaves unexplored one interesting sideline: "Idol" began in the UK as "Pop Idol" and it's been duplicated all over the world. But they've only done two editions in the UK and now the show would be overshadowed by "The X Factor," Cowell's own reality contest. Why have they ignored their home country? Presumably because it spawned so many copycats and they were so consumed with the much bigger US market.

"Friday Night Lights" -- How To Cast A Role

You gotta love Hollywood. "Friday Night Lights" was a very good book and a very good movie. Now the drama about smalltown life and the high school football team that means everything to the townspeople is coming to NBC as a drama. But how's this for casting? The real life coach is on the left. Billy Bob Thornton (on the right) played him in the movie. And now Kyle Chandler (bottom) plays him on TV. If they make a version for downloading, they're going to have to resurrect Montgomery Clift to keep this up.

Amadou and Mariam -- My Favorite Blind African Duo

Any moment now I'll finish my list of the best CDs of 2005. And right near the top will be Amadou and Mariam's "Dimanche a Bamako," a heady mix of their traditional style mixed with the irrepresibly catch Manu Chao's pop-ish production. It's sold a remarkable 600,000 copies worldwide so far and you should make it 600,001. The Times of London catches up with them.

Mia Farrow: Quite Fond Of Children

I'm not sure what prompted it, but the Guardian has a lengthy, interesting profile of Mia Farrow. Least surprising revelation: if she hadn't been an actress, Farrow would have liked to be "a pediatrician and work in Africa." Well, of course.

James Frey Fallout -- Nan Talese's Husband An Ass

Publishers Weekly reports on another discredited author. Three memoirs written by a "Navajo" writer named Nasdijj are utter lies -- turns out they were penned by a gay porn pioneer named Tim Barrus. (At least he was a pioneer; that sounds sort of Western-ish.) That brings to mind one of the most famous fake memoirs of all -- "The Education Of Little Tree," a heartwarming memoir about Little Tree being raised by his Cherokee grandparents. It too was a lie -- the author was a virulent white segregationist.

And the NY Post reports on reaction to Oprah's show. A sidebar (not posted online) has the juiciest quotes. Tom Wolfe makes the idiotic comment that "Frey didn't cross the line because there was no line." (Does that mean the astronauts in "The Right Stuff" didn't really go into space?)

Finally, publisher Nan Talese's husband Gay says, "Oprah was wrong and then protected herself and her program. She had to go public because she was shown to be a phony." His wife peddles a pack of lies as a brutally honest memoir and Oprah is the phony? As for the suggested disclaimers, there is only one disclaimer that can go on "A Million Little Pieces" and it's a very short one: FICTION.

Pixar: The New York Times Gets It Wrong

In a business section essay, the New York Times describes "How Pixar Adds A New School Of Thought To Disney." The piece contends that Pixar succeeds in Hollywood because it never went Hollywood -- they've blazed a bold, unconventional path of creativity that upends every Hollywood convention. And what is that path? Instead of bringing talent together for one movie and then having them all disband, Pixar signs people to long-term contracts, building a team that works on all sorts of movies at different stages of development. Directors don't come to Pixar for one movie; they come to Pixar for long-term careers, security and the freedom to be creative.

Of course, what the NYT is describing is THE STUDIO SYSTEM. It's the way movies were made in Hollywood for the first 60+ years of its existence. Directors and actors and costumers and composers signed on to MGM or Warner Bros. for long-term contracts, not just to make one movie. What makes this article especially ignorant is that they claim Pixar will reinvent Disney with this innovation when in fact the Disney animation division is the one area of Hollywood that has stuck to this approach all along. Pixar is a great studio but it isn't because they've invented some bold new approach. It's because they've gone back to the way Hollywood made films for decades. Disney's problem is simply that it lost the animation division's guiding force: Jeffrey Katzenberg. Now they've got John Lasseter and they'll be fine.

TV Ratings: "Dancing With The Stars" Still Light On Its Feet

Now that Mediaweek is back from a sojourn at the TV conventions, overnight ratings are back in action. On Friday, "Dancing With The Stars" was the big winner as Master P finally exited. (Your parents, however, watched CBS and "Ghost Whisperer," "Close To Home" and "Numb3rs.") Saturday was dead because TV networks can't be bothered to put on original programming. (Shouldn't the new CW take advantage of that?) And Sunday was a repeat for "Desperate Housewives," giving "Grey's Anatomy" a chance to shine on its own. And in its 234th season, "The Simpsons" continues to shine. It was Fox's number one show for the night, hitting some 9 million viewers. (If you're a ratings buff, go to www.mediaweek.com and sign up for their daily email newsletter.)

Weekend Box Office -- Final Figures

The Hollywood Reporter has final figures for the weekend, with both "Big Momma's House" and "Nanny McPhee" doing better than expected, "King Kong" dropping out of the Top Ten, "Syriana" collapsing as it goes wide and "Brokeback Mountain" moseying along to $50 mil. Most notably, "Bubble" was a disaster. It opened on 32 screens and grossed a measley $1,625 per screen. The one type of film that could make a go of opening in the theaters and on DVD the same day -- a franchise picture like "King Kong" or a sequel like "Bambi II" -- is exactly the sort of film that would be least likely to do it. A tiny, no-budget, no-star movie like "Bubble" is precisely the film that NEEDS tender loving care, good reviews, and positive word of mouth via a theatrical run to build an audience for a DVD release.

1. Big Momma's House -- $28 mil
2. Nanny McPhee -- $14.1 mil
3. Underworld: Evolution -- $11.1 mil ($37 mil total)
4. Annapolis -- $7.7 mil
5. Hoodwinked! -- $7.4 ($37.7 mil total)
6. Brokeback Mountain -- $6.4 mil ($49 mil total)
7. Glory Rpad -- $5.2 mil ($33 mil total)
8. The Last Holiday -- $4.9 mil ($30 mil total)
9. The Chronicles of Narnia -- $4.4 mil ($276 mil total)
10. The Matador -- $3.8 mil ($5.5 mil total)

Support The Military

AP reports that the Army has launched a major investigation into the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, where soldiers were apparently appearing on a gay porn website. Most websites print the same AP story, with only one local website I saw mentioning that seven soldiers might be involved. Everyone is too polite to actually name the website, of course.

Arctic Monkeys CD Fastest Selling Debut In UK History

Is it still hype when they sell a ton of albums? Arctic Monkeys debut at Number One with "Whatever People Say I Am, That's Not What I Want," the fastest selling debut in UK history. Their album moved 363,735 copies. (The UK charts don't include legal downloads -- with those added in, they'd break 400,000.) Oasis hold the one-week record for selling 655,000 copies of "Be Here Now." The poor lads, they've gone from "bigger than Oasis" headlines to "bigger than the Beatles." Absurd, but a brief listen to the CD is very encouraging.

On the album chart, US act Fall Out Boy is breaking through, along with the superior Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. But the real shocker is on the singles chart, where A-ha of all people is back in the Top Ten with "Analogue (AQll I Want)."

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein Dead At 55

Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Heidi Chronicles" (which launched actress Joan Allen's career), Wasserstein died after a long illness battling lymphoma. She also wrote key early roles for Swoozie Kurtz, Glenn Close and Meryl Streep.

"Commander In Chief" Taken off The Air

"Commander In Chief," which looked like the latest in a string of hits for ABC, will be pulled off the air starting March 7 to show back-to-back episodes of a new comedy called "Sons & Daughters." In logic that only a network executive could comprehend, ABC exec Stephen McPherson admitted to reporters last week that an earlier hiatus for "Commander In Chief" was a huge stumbling block. "I think being off for so long...has hurt it." Their solution? To take the troubled drama off the air for another six weeks. Brilliant.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Primetime Preview

I'm off to grab lunch, read the papers, mass and then see "Capote" one more time before finally compiling my Best Movies of 2005 list this week. Tonight, "Desperate Housewives" is a repeat and "Grey's Anatomy" is new. But my main recommendation is "Bleak House" on PBS. Oddly, they're only showing another hour of the eight hour miniseries (will they drag it out for five more weeks?). On DVD, it's clear the British series was broken up into half hour segments, so at least we can be grateful it won't take another 12 weeks. Well-acted all around, with Charles Dance a great villain. But I've yet to see a single review mention the LUDICROUS direction. When switching scenes (say from a law office to the estate of Bleak House), they invariably cut to three different shots of the home, complete with thudding, ominious music to "jazz" it up. Not to mention the crazy zooms that pop up out of nowhere. It's a credit to the actors that I haven't stopped watching.

Pixar Kills Cheapo "Toy Story 3"

You read it here first. Popsurfing predicted new Disney animation head John Lasseter would put a stop to cheapo, direct-to-DVD sequels to Pixar gems like "Toy Story." According to the UK's Independent, that's exactly what he did on Wednesday. No word yet on how Lasseter will deal with the highly lucrative flood of direct-to-DVD sequels for Disney classics like "Bambi II" (which is out in ten days.) (Perhaps I missed the story about Lasseter kiboshing "Toy Story 3"when my computer was down? A Monday story by Variety about Lasseter taking over makes no mention of it, oddly enough.)

"Quinceanera" Wins Top Prizes At Sundance

In a rare sweep, the two top prize winners at Sundance won both the Audience Awards and the jury awards, giving them critical and popular support. "Quinceanera" tells of a 14 year old girl who gets pregnant, is kicked out of her home, and moves in with her great uncle and gay cousin. The documentary "God Grew Tired Of Us" (great title) looks at Sudanese refugees.

"Frey's Last Stand On Bestseller List?

The latest bestseller lists are out -- and Oprah's dissection of James Frey was too late in the week to affect them. Frey is perched at Number Two on the paperback list, just behind Oprah's latest pick, Elie Wiesel's "Night." He's also at Number Four and Number Nine on the hardcover nonfiction list, with "My Friend Leonard" (the story of his friendship with a mobster Frey met in jail -- though of course Frey never WAS in jail, making the entire book suspect to say the least) and "A Million Little Pieces." Will sales collapse next week? We can only hope. On the fiction lists, throw the word "Templar" in your title and you can ride the coattails of "The Da Vinci Code" -- first-time novelist Raymond Khoury debuts at Number Ten with "The Last Templar," a poorly reviewed thriller. (Maybe it has something to do with the priest/hit man dispatched by the Vatican or the opener where Templar knights ride their horses into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in broad daylight to steal religious artifacts.)

When In Doubt, Quote Paul Rudnick

A fascinating piece by Jesse Green on lawsuits in the theater world. Is a director's contribution unique and copyrightable? If you stage a musical and one year later a regional company mimics almost everything you do, are they ripping you off? At first, I'd say yes. But then Green makes clear that if the staging of a play belongs to a director, in no time it would be impossible to mount, say, "Doubt" regionally without owing outside people a lot of money. (There are only so many ways to stage a nun sitting at a desk.) Does that mean the director "owns" the play in some significant way, just like the playwright? It's complicated and confusing but Green wraps it up nicely with a quote from Paul Rudnick, who frankly should be quoted for every entertainment story. "From now on," Rudnick says, "I'm only going to have my plays directed by lawyers."

"March Of The Penguins" Is Not A Documentary

The New York Times does a feature on the annual absurdities of the Oscar documentary film category. But they fail to mention one salient point: the presumed frontrunner (according to them) is "March of the Penguins." (I'd say it's not, because the biggest commercial hits rarely get nominated and almost never win.) But of course, "Penguins" is NOT a documentary. It's a fictional film that -- in most of the world -- used nature footage to tell a fictional story, complete with actors dubbing dialogue over the shots of penguins. ("Mama, it ees so cooold!") In the US, they simply removed the dialogue and slapped on some banal commentary filled with pseudo-science that ignored the events on screen. If "March of the Penguins" is a documentary, so is "Benji" and "The Incredible Journey."

ABC Anchor Bob Woodruff Seriously Injured In Iraq

A roadside bomb seriously injures new ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman.

Ang Lee Wins DGA Award

Ang Lee wins the DGA. The Oscar nominations come out Tuesday morning. Let everyone else talk about potential upsets and how a month off between the nominations and the awards means Oscar voters will grow bored of "Brokeback Mountain." While I'd never underestimate the ability of the Academy Awards to frustrate and annoy, that's topped only by their ability to do the obvious. And this year, the obvious choice is "Brokeback Mountain."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Can "Running With Scissors" Be Freyed?

I'm reading the memoir "Running With Scissors" to see if it can be checked for authenticity. Smokinggun said they didn't want to be the literary police but that a lot of people brought this book up as being suspiciously wild. Certainly 60 pages in, the book is pretty outrageous: a mom and dad who break up and dump their son with a hippie therapist who lives in squalor, including a little boy running around naked and defecating under the piano to the applause of his siblings. However, none of it (yet) is public record, so nothing to check (unlike Frey's prison term, etc.). Anyone read this book?

Surfing Through "Silas Marner"

Directorboy just finished the George Eliot masterpiece "Middlemarch." (Truly as great as its reputation.) He wanted to read more, so I picked up two pbs of "Silas Marner" -- the story of a hermit-like weaver who becomes obsessed with gold until its stolen and "replaced" by an orphaned little girl. Just finished mine and while certainly not as magisterial as "Middlemarch," it's sharp and delightful in a simpler way. Could easily be filmed with too much sentimentality (the way people ruin "Our Town"), but to my surprise this "heartwarming" story has rarely been tackled. A few silent versions, a 6 part British TV version in the 60s and Ben Kingsley hot off "Gandhi" in 1985. Would love to check that one out. *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 4)

The Weekend Box Office: Friday Results

Based on Friday figures, here are the early estimates for the weekend box office from Box Office Prophets. (They're usually right on target -- studios often know by Friday at 8 p.m. how a movie will track over a three day weekend.) "Brokeback Mountain" continues its steady trot at the box office, moseying on up to $50 mil total. But "Syriana" went wide onto 1,600 screens and collapsed while "King Kong" fell out of the top ten.

1. Big Momma's House 2 -- $23.5 mil est.
2. Nanny McPhee -- $11.2 mil est.
3. Underworld: Evolution -- $10.7 mil est ($37 mil total)
4. Hoodwinked! -- $8.3 mil ($36 mil total)
5. Annapolis -- $7.3 mil est.
6. Brokeback Mountain -- $6.7 mil est. ($50 mil total)
7. Glory Road -- $5.2 mil est.($33 mil total)
8. The Last Holiday -- $4.9 mil est. ($30 mil total)
9. The Chronicles of Narnia -- $4.4 mil est. ($276 mil total)
10. Fun With Dick and Jane -- $3.6 mil est. ($105 mil total)

Matthew Perry Joins New Aaron Sorkin Drama

Sure he dabbles in drugs, but Aaron Sorkin is responsible for two great TV shows: "Sports Night" (starring Felicty Huffman) and the first four years of "The West Wing." So there's every reason to look forward to his new ensemble drama at NBC that will go behind-the-scenes of a sketch comedy show ala "SNL." Matthew Perry will play a staff writer turned show runner (who has just broken up with one of the top female stars), Steven Weber plays the network head and DL Hughley will play a top cast member. No matter what, he's sure to fare better than Matt LeBlanc in "Joey."

The LA Times Music Preview

Here's a good preview of all the CDs due out between now and June. My most anticipated:

Teddy Thompson's "Separate Ways" (which they don't mention)
The Arctic Monkeys (Feb 27)
Nick Cave's score for "The Proposition" (Feb 27)
Elvis Costello's live concert with a jazz orchestra (Feb 28)
Donald Fagen's "Morph The Cat" (March 7)
Outkast's "Idlewild" soundtrack (March 7)
Kris Kristofferson's "This Old Road," with Don Was; first CD in a decade (March 7)
Stephen Merritt's "Showtunes" (March 14)
Willie Nelson tribute album to songwriter Cindy Walker (March 14)
Sparks -- "Hello Young Lovers" (March 21)
LL Cool J's return to Def Jam (March 21)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' second album "Show Your Bones" (March 28)
Maxwell's new soul album (April 4)
The Vines' hopefully post-drug abuse comeback "Vision Valley" (April 4)
British rapper The Streets' "The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (April 11)
Elefant's "The Black Magic Show" (April 18)
Dixie Chicks more rock than country (April 25)
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris duets album (April 25)
John Mayer's "Continuum" -- what will his blues outing do to his pop? (May)
Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint -- "The River In Reverse" (May)
The Raconteurs -- side project with Jack White and Brendan Benson (May)
Scissor Sisters -- (May 16)
Nellie McKay's Sony-dumped "Pretty Little Head" (TBA)
Prince -- "3121" (TBA)
Paul Simon's "Surprise," a collaboration with Brian Eno, who always brings out the best in people (TBA)

Zhang Yimou and Gong Li To Reunite

One of the great screen partnerships of the 80s and 90s -- director Zhang Yimou and the actress Gong Li -- are set to work together again after a decade apart. Called "Autumn Rememberance," it will cost $44 million (the most ever for a Chinese film) and costars Chow Yun Fat. Among the Zhang/Gong collaborations: "Red Sorghum," "Ju Dou," "To Live," "Shanghai Triad," "The Story of Qui Jou" and the classic "Raise The Red Lantern."

French Oscars Doesn't Skip "Beat"

The Cesar nominations -- the French equivalent to the Oscars -- are out and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" has 10 nods. A nominal remake of the James Toback film "Fingers" (which I hated), "Beat" is one of the best movies of the year. Also nominatred is the sacharine Oscar bait "Merry Christmas" (about the Christmas Eve truce in the trenches of World War I), and the Dardenne brothers' very good drama "The Son."

Bryan Brothers Win Third Grand Slam

I'm a big tennis buff (my mom and brother have worked all the Slams as umpires and I was a ballboy growing up in Florida). But how stupid are the officials running tennis? Everyone knows the Australian needs to move to the end of the season. And everyone knows doubles is tremendous fun -- fast-paced and exciting and a real crowd pleaser. The US has the top men's doubles team in the world: the Bryan brothers, who've just snagged their Third Slam. They're tremendously promotable, but instead tennis treats doubles like an annoyance. Their win tonight in three was one of the most fun matches of the tournament and one even a casual fan can enjoy. Oh well. (And what's with the chirping? So many birds are nesting in the rafters that the birdsong becomes overwhelming at times.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mauresmo Triumphs In First Slam

Amelie Mauresmo is cheated out of a proper victory as Justine Henin-Hardenne retires with an "upset stomach" when trailing 6-1, 2-0. Unfairly, there will always be an asterisk by the out Maursemo's first Grand Slam. Hopefully, with the monkey off her back Mauresmo can do it again. She was certainly the best female player all tournament. (And hopefully Justine has a better excuse than a tummy ache. If she could stand, she should have just stumbled through the last four games. It's been decades since a woman retired in a final and her injury was hardly devastating.)

As for the men's, hopefully Federer will have a great match and win. At least the Aussie Open has given us a great new villain: the hissable, hateable punk Nicolas Kiefer.

SciFi Friday

And now I'm going to clear my head after 48 hours of computer troubleshooting, curse my Maxtor backup harddrive and get ready for "Battlestar: Galactica's" new episode.

Joaquin Phoenix Tries To Guarantee Oscar Win

But then he wimps out and is unhurt after traffic accident in which his car flipped over.

"Nanny McPhee" -- The Popsurfing Review

I expect more from Emma Thompson (and really, what has TAKEN her so long to write another movie). But I'm also too much of a fan to pretend I didn't enjoy this trifle a tad just for her droll, low-key performance as avery unattractive nanny. Mild, at best, but inoffensive if you're taking the kids. ** 2/4.

"Manderlay" -- The Popsurfing Review

I'm not a huge Lars Von Trier fan. But I enjoy his showmanship, was moved by "Breaking The Waves" and got a kick out of the uniqueness of "Dogville." But I saw the similarly shot "Dogville" at Cannes -- another movie with basically no sets and done on a soundstage a la "Our Town" -- and HATED it. Utterly tone-deaf on race relations. No stars. 0/4

Oprah: We Know She Can Sell Books. Can She Stop Them, Too?

Oprah's stamp of approval can sell literally millions of copies of a book. But can her disapproval cut the legs out from under an established blockbuster? We'll have to wait till a week from Sunday to find out what effect she's had on the sale of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. We certainly feel vindicated by her Thursday show. While the traditional media distorted Oprah's comments on Larry King, Popsurfing was the only one to accurately describe what she REALLY said: that Oprah was disappointed with Frey, angry at the publisher and not a happy camper. She did NOT call to give unwavering support to Frey.

As for her special, Oprah did a great job with Frey by not letting him off the hook and insisting he lied. His publisher Nan A. Talese came across as an idiot, frankly, talking about the "authenticity" of his voice when Frey had just admitted it was a pack of lies. They also missed the basic truth of modern publishing: publishers not only don't factcheck nonfiction books, they barely COPYEDIT them. Finally, the guy from the Poynter Institute was foolish, too, discussing how memoirs should be labeled to say how honest they are. Talese jumped at that idea, as if a disclaimer at the beginning would make Frey's lies okay. The only label that "A Million Little Pieces" deserves is the label Frey tried and failed to sell the book under: fiction.


Computer back up, but my wonderful Maxtor backup harddrive -- which gave me such peace of mind when my computer crashed because I KNEW it backed up my entire harddrive every monring at 5 am -- failed me. Turns out it had stopped backing up my computer on NOVEMBER 8TH (apparently because I took the radical step of rebooting the computer). So I've lost two and a half months of work, transcripts, emails, interviews, press releases, pitches, contacts, invites to movies and theater, etc etc. I'm an ass. And now I know that even an automatic backup system needs to be checked. Lord I can't wait to buy a Mac because my computer software probably would have never crashed in the first place.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At The Watercooler: "24"

First, the new season is great fun -- just as silly and over-the-top as ever (without being laughable or sacrificing suspense). The standout this year has to be Jean Smart as the unstable but savvy First Lady. But I was wrong about the movie version of "24." Now I think it's a terrible idea. Why? I assumed they would retire the show, give it a rest and come out a year or so later with a slam-bang feature film. Instead, they'll decide in the next two months whether to go ahead with the film. If they do, they'll film it while on hiatus and then jump right in to Day (and season) Six. Do that and people will just get sick of the show. It reminds me of when "The X-Files" released its movie between the fifth and sixth season. That was surely the beginning of the end for the show, both creatively and commercially. If you make a movie, the stakes have to be raised -- it can't just be a bridge between new TV episodes. And that's exactly what they'll be stuck with. I always believed "24" could work for multiple seasons and they've accomplished that brilliantly. But squeezing in a movie -- rather than taking a breather, doing it right and letting us miss Jack Bauer -- will ruin the franchise.

"Lost" Hobbit Speaks Out On Drugs

Unlike Paul McCartney, "Lost" star and one-time hobbit Dominic Monaghan is not about to take an abstinence pledge (even though he's dating the show's Evangline Lilly). Monaghan says he's used drugs like pot and LSD but never abused them. And he talks about it becuase his idol John Lennon did the same. But his character Charlie (who gets highlighted in tonight's new episode) can keep the heroin -- that's a little stern for him. And Monaghan's been dry for over a year. So maybe he's not such a free spirit as all this suggests.
"The temporary highs that I've felt on drugs pale in significance to the highs of a sober mind, catching a good wave in the water or being in love, or hugging my mama or feeding my chameleons."

A Good Day For Jamie Foxx: Primetime Special and a #1 CD

At this rate, Jamie Foxx's upcoming "Miami Vice" will become a box office smash AND an Oscar contender. Indeed, he can't seem to do any wrong. His album "Unpredictable" is back on top of the Billboard charts. And tonight he has a primetime special/concert on NBC at 8 p.m. It sounds dangerously goofy, with sketches recreating his childhood mixed in with celebrity duets. Also on the charts: UK war veteran James Blunt (who served in Iraq) hits the Top Ten. And Oprah doesn't just sell books: Neil Diamond performed on her show and jumped from 119 to 22. (Well-deserved; his album is great.)

James Frey To Appear On Oprah?

Publishers Weekly reports that the liar James Frey is apparently going to be in Oprah's studio on Thursday, though it's unclear whether he'll be taping a segment for the future or appear on TV right away. That makes me wrong: I thought Winfrey's comments on "Larry King" were politic but made clear she thought the book was powerful but was disappointed in Frey's lies. I believed she would never have him on the show again. What questions should Oprah ask?

Frey's own people have made a huge mistake. His publisher is providing people to try and back up Frey's claims about his treatment at Hazelden, instead of letting Frey blandly claim no one expects a memoir to be true. One is a state judge convicted of mail fraud and could be sentenced next month for up to 20 years. A roommate of Frey's, he failed to confirm brawls between patients, the hole in Frey's cheek or the resetting of Frey's nose by attendants. Anyone needing medical attention would have been taken to a hospital, he admitted. The other witness also admitted he'd never seen any brawls and also admitted Frey lied when describing card playing and gambling by patients during group lectures. And these are people trying to DEFEND him.

UPN/WB Merger: The Big Loser Is Rupert Murdoch

In a New York Times story on the merger, it mentions that the one station group left out in the cold after this merger is the one owned by News Corp. Probably none of them will become part of the new CW network. That means the stations owned by Murdoch just plummeted in value. (The individual TV stations often make more money overall for corporations than the actual "network" itself.) Oh, and I liked Les Moonves' joke about the name. "We couldn't call it The WC for obvious reasons."

BBC's Shoddy Reporting On "New" Movie Awards

The BBC ran a story about a new movie award based on "moral values" and launched by a US filmmaker. It's called the American Value Awards. Now technically, the BBC sort of got it half right. They headlined the piece "Lauded Films See One-Man Backlash." It certainly is the creation of one man, Michael Class. But he's not a filmmaker, he hasn't really "launched" a new movie awards (all he did was add a page to his own negligible web site which has zero traffic), and the entire event is so un-newsworthy that simply filing the story gave it much more legitimacy than it deserves. Frankly, the guy's home town newspaper shouldn't cover. If I add a page to my web site and announced a new awards show, would the BBC write a story on it? They shouldn't.

Turns out the crank self-published a children's book with the explanatory title "Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame: The Story of the Boy Who Traveled Through The Past By Stepping Through The Picture Frame On His Bedroom Wall." (That sure takes care of the need to ask "What's it about?") He's got it on sale at Amazon.com, where four reviews all give it five stars and the reviewers (whom I'm sure the author has never met) say things like "I've never seen such a reaction to a book before!"

Class's own website mostly promotes the book, though it briefly mentions his desire to promote movies that deserve it more than liberal fare like "Brokeback Mountain," "Syriana," and "Munich." His choices? "The Chronicles of Narnia," which celebrates pagan creatures like the centaur; "Harry Potter," which encourages children to dabble in black magic and other Satanic practices; "Star Wars Episode III," which is a thinly veiled attack on President Bush; and "Millions," an Irish film which makes a mockery of religious saints. Some values!

Overnight Ratings -- "Commander in Chief" Falling In Polls

"American Idol" continued to dominate all of television -- its two hour block drew 34.8 million viewers. (And in my opinion, continued to deliver a well-edited mix of heartfelt and silly contestants.) "Love Monkey" dipped 10% from its debut -- perfectly respectable though week three should stabilize or it's in danger. The big news? The increasingly ludicrous "Commander In Chief" has plummeted in the ratings. Five new episodes in a row have hit record lows, with this week's audience 10.3 million overall and behind even "Scrubs" in the desirable 18-49 demo. It ain't easy appearing opposite "American Idol" but the drama's problems began long before last week. As with Aaron Sorkin and "The West Wing," series creator Rod Lurie was apparently indispensable: when he was in charge, "Commander" was growing in the ratings.

At The Watercooler: "American Idol"

So are Simon and Randy jerks making fun of "gendernauts" (people who are confused for members of the opposite sex) or just treating everyone the same -- with dismissive airs? They've been blasted by GLAAD and others for mocking kids -- mostly boys who look like girls. Are they taking advantage of these kids or being bigots? Keep in mind the first few shows always traffic in talented singers mixed in with weirdos. Should they consider these kids weirdos -- just like the brain-dead entrepreneur who could barely pronounce the word -- or keep them off camera if they're gonna mock their appearance. Weren't you confused abut the gender of some of them or is it wrong to make sport of that?

AOL Ashamed Of Gay Music Site

AOL launches a gay music site called "G-Sides, Music For The GLBT Community." Then they immediately spoil whatever they hoped to accomplish when the head of AOL Music said it wasn't necessarily a "gay music" site. Uh, right.

Paul McCartney Stops Smoking Pot

With demand dropping significantly, others can expect the price of marijuana to drop significantly, at least in the short term until the market adjusts. (He and Linda smoked together every day.) Wife Heather Mills insisted, apparently. Not to make any links, but that means "Chaos and Creation" -- McCartney's best album since 1982's "Tug of War" -- was probably the first one recorded in his entire career without the influence of drugs.

Actor Chris Penn Is Dead

No sign of foul play or the cause of death. His best movie is obviously "Reservoir Dogs." His next best? Choose from "Footloose," "All The Right Moves," "At Close Range" and "True Romance."

Steely Dan Shocker!

Steely Dan is mulling a summer tour -- which is already pretty shocking, since Steely Dan (a group I love) is the very definition of a studio band and should never, ever tour. But then, in a surprising revelation, Donald Fagen disclosed the songs he might -- mind you, MIGHT -- be considering for his solo tour in March.
"I will probably do a lot of the new album and then some stuff from my previous solo albums," Fagen speculates about the tour set list. "Then, a couple of Steely Dan tunes and maybe some surprise tunes or covers I've been thinking about."
Hey, you read it here first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jerry Seinfeld A Post-Sitcom Flop?

In writing a nice profile of "Sex and the City's" Cynthia Nixon, the New York Times makes an odd assertion, referring to "the lackluster follow-up careers of the entire cast of "Seinfeld." That would be fine if they were talking about the secondary characters, but surely that doesn't apply to Jerry Seinfeld himself. He's released an acclaimed documentary film about his standup, done an HBO special that scored hugely in the ratings, his every appearance on late night talk shows is a smashing success, he's gone on tour to sold out houses whenever he wants and even his TV commercials (notably the witty Superman riffs for American Express) have been garlanded with attention. Seinfeld's been too smart to do another sitcom (at least, so soon) and he's never tried to have a movie career, but no one could call his work since "Seinfeld" anything other than a smashing success.

Primetime Preview

"Gilmore Girls" is a repeat. (Already?) "Scrubs" riffs on "The Wizard of Oz," the increasingly ludicrous "Commander In Chief" faces a terrorist takeover of Air Foce One, "The Shield" has lost our interest, we'll be giving "Love Monkey" another shot and both Betty White and Michael J. Fox guest on "Boston Legal." But all eyes are on "American Idol." The first two episodes were extremely well edited -- probably the best balance yet between real talent, miserable singers and compelling/funny backstories. Can they keep it up?

Disney Buys Director John Lasseter For $7.4 Billion

Yes, Disney just bought Pixar for $7.4 billion. But it would have been an empty gesture if they hadn't put director John Lasseter as the head of animation. (Lasseter is the director of "Toy Story 1 and 2," "A Bug's Life," the upcoming "Cars" and is the driving creative force behind Pixar -- in short, our generation's Walt Disney.) They were smart enough to do that, so this is in fact good news.

We know Lasseter will put the kibosh on planned cheapo direct-to-DVD sequels to "Toy Story," "Little Nemo" et al. But will he also put a stop to Disney's cheapo direct-to-DVD releases like "Bambi II" (out February 7)? Doubtful. Those aren't his babies and they're wildly profitable. But Lasseter will almost surely bump up their quality -- and he'll also probably revive some hand-drawn animation, stop-motion animation and other styles. He's too smart to be fooled into thinking Pixar succeeded because it was computerized animation. It succeeded because that was the right style for those stories.

X-Box Units Very Scarce

Microsoft has done a terrible job of filling demand for their new edition of the X-Box. They should at least have planned for 2 million units. They said they expected to sell 3 million by the end of February, but as of Jan 1 they've only shipped 1 million units worldwide. That plus the lack of new games to take advantage of its new capabilities is turning the X-Box into a dud. If you haven't bought it yet, why not wait till the next PlayStation comes out? Why do you care if you're not a gamer? Because everyone is fighting over the next version of DVDs, and with X-Box stumbling, its (future) support of HD-DVD is one more nail in the coffin of that format. Expect Blu-Ray to triumph and the format war to fizzle out before it gets started.

WB and UPN merge Into New Network - An Update

The big story of the day is the merger of the WB and UPN into one network. Now instead of those two weblets fighting over fifth ranked bragging rights, they can spend their day explaining why being fourth among girls aged 13-22 makes them an essential buy for advertisers. Priv8pete asked what would happen to his local UPN and WB stations. In most cases,the UPN would become The CW and the WB stations would be orphaned (depending on the area they cover).

But the big question for viewers is, "What will happen to my favorite show?" I've updated the list (I forgot about "Everwood," which isn't airing this week. I think it's safe for another year, unlike the similar and weaker One Tree Hill.) And blogger Magnolia pointed us to a comment by Les Moonves echoing our suggestion that "Gilmore Girls" followed by "Veronica Mars." Let's hope, though tiny signs of life means a third season should happen.

CDs Out Today

If you're heading to the record store, these are the CDs I have my eye on:

Rosanne Cash -- Black Cadillac (early reviews are very strong)
Duncan Sheik -- White Limousine (another likely best-of-year release)
Soweto Gospel Choir -- Blessed
Tortoise and Bonnie Prince Billy -- Brave and the Bold
Yellowcard -- Lights and Sounds (though I'm worried they tried to "mature")
Arctic Monkeys -- on import
Eric Matthews -- Foundation Sound

And these reissues:

Crosby, Stills & Nash (remastered debut)
Lisa Loeb -- Very Best Of (directorboy has a crush)
Augustus Pablo -- King David's Melody (start with the classic King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown but this is pretty great too)
Kenny Rogers -- 21 Number One Hits (hey, my very first cassette was his Greatest Hits)
Linda Ronstadt -- Best Of Capitol Years (finally, her brilliant "Heart Like A Wheel" gets remastered)

Showtime Okays Season Two Of Horror Anthology

So Showtime has ordered a second batch of stand-alone fright flicks for "Masters of Horror," to debut in the fall. They've already used top names like John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Joe Dante, John Landis and others -- all seduced with the offer of complete creative control. The only problem? They got scared during season one. Showtime freaked out when Takashi Miike turned in "Imprint," a truly outlandish, envelope-pushing entry. They couldn't even bring themselves to air it at, say, midnight? I wonder what their first clue was that they might not have the stomach for it?
"Definitely, at the script stage we made comments about the aborted fetuses," a Showtime executive said.

UK Boxoffice: Fun With Jim Carrey

Reuters has the Top Ten movies in the UK over the weekend.

1. Fun With Dick and Jane
2. Underworld: Evolution
3. Brokeback Mountain
4. Memoirs of a Geisha
5. Jarhead
6. Narnia
7. Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
8. Just Friends
9. King Kong
10. Cheaper By The Dozen 2

Hollywood: Where Creativity Flourishes

Universal is finally jumpstarting a movie version of "Magnum PI." (Genius!) Heck, I think Tom Selleck could still play the lead but they'll surely go young. (Jason Lee, perhaps? He's already got the moustache.) The only problem is that it's being written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who helmed "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," one of the laziest, sloppiest comedies I've ever seen.

The other brainstorm in LA? After decades of flourishing on UK TV, they're finally getting ready to launch "Top of The Pops" on US TV. Brilliant! (That's the weekly countdown show of the top songs, with bands often performing live.) The only problem? They're about 25 years too late. Now they'll be competing with similar shows like "TRL" on MTV and "106th & Park" on BET -- plus the fact that fans can get the Top Ten online the second its announced, so watching a TV show "revealing" them is one reason the UK "Top of the Pops" has been moribund for years and was shunted off to a weak timeslot.

WB and UPN Merge -- What Shows Will Be Cancelled?

Okay, so The WB and UPN are merging into one network called The CW as of September. The trades have the news, but here's what viewers care about: what shows are safe and what shows are in danger of disappearing? Give a little edge to UPN shows like "Veronica Mars" since that network's topper will be in charge.

Gilmore Girls
Everybody Hates Chris
America's Next Top Model
Beauty and the Geek
Aquaman (fall spinoff)
Friday Night Smackdown


Veronica Mars (critically beloved and a good fit with "Gilmore Girls")
Everwood (probably good for another season, unlike...)
One Tree Hill (which is fading fast)
Living With Fran

The seven black sitcoms that helped UPN survive:

One on One
All Of Us
Half and Half
Love, Inc
(mostly long in the tooth, with maybe Girlfriends being saved to pair with "Everybody Hates Chris." At least three if not more will be gone.)


7th Heaven (already cancelled -- spinoff still a possibility)
Related (WB on Mondays)
South Beach
What I Like About You

"Penguins" Director Switches To Foxes

The director of "March of the Penguins" clearly said, "Mon dieu, why mess with a good thing?" For his next film, he is using the exact same template that turned "Penguins" into a worldwide phenomenon. As with "Penguins," he'll use documentary-like nature footage and combine it with a fictional story. (In case you didn't know, "March of the Penguins" is NOT a documentary -- in most of the world it has actors dubbing dialogue over the actions of the penguins -- such as, "Mama, it ees so cold!" -- to tell a very banal tale.) With "The Fox and the Child," we'll see a little girl interact with a fox, as an adult woman narrates a look back at this heart-tugging childhood incident. Filming starts in March and the film is set for a December 2007 release. (Hey, it takes a while to get a fox to hit his mark.)

WOW -- The WB and UPN Networks Merge To Form One New Network Called The CW

CBS (which owns UPN through Viacom) and Warner Bros. announced today that they would combine their two netlets into one channel called The CW. It all starts in September to coincide with the new fall season. What does this mean? The big hits like "Gilmore Girls" and "America's Next Top Model" are obviously fine. So are critical faves like "Everybody Hates Chris" and growing reality show "Beauty and the Geeks." But UPN's stalwart Monday night block of "urban" (ie black-themed) sitcoms could disappear. So could UPN's "Veronica Mars," unless The CW wises up and uses that show as a building block or pairs it with something compatible like "Gilmore Girls." ("Supernatural" can certainly stand on its own.)My head is still spinning.

Arctic Monkeys Breaking UK Records

The Arctic Monkeys are turning into the biggest UK act since Oasis debuted some ten years ago. Their debut album sold 100,000 copies on the first day and is posied to sell some 350,000 in its first week. That would make it the fastest selling debut in UK history, breaking the record set by Hear'say, the TV-launched pop band. New Musical Express -- the resurgent UK music mag -- also showered nominations on the band. Arctic Monkeys joins Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis and Bloc Party as nominees for Best British Band, even though they'd only put out two singles.

Open Thread

Blogger was down all morning.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Late Nite Open Thread

Jay has the best musical guest -- Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Sarah McLachlan performing "Homeless" (one of their tracks from Paul Simon's "Graceland"). But Dave has Anthony Hopkins, who is proving increasingly egotistical. Does anyone remember that career award he just got at the Golden Globes? Gwyneth Paltrow deemed him the Laurence Olivier of our day and Hopkins nodded his head in polite agreement. ("Quite right," he might have said, though you knew he was thinking, "Actually, Olivier was the Anthony Hopkins of his day.") But the movie montage that followed was excrutiating and awful. They showed clips from virtually every piece of junk Hopkins has appeared in. "Meet Joe Black?" "Amistad?" A full minute from the possessed ventriloquist's dummy "Magic?" "The Edge," that forgettable flick with Hopkins and a bear? Perhaps the Olivier that Paltrow had in mind was the late career ham who would star in just about any piece of junk for the right price.

"24" Open Thread

Five years in, this show is hotter than ever. Time to launch the movie franchise or stick with a winning formula for another few days?

Primetime Preview

Aaron aka Richboy will be keeping an eye on Skating With Celebrities and Bachelor in Paris. I'll probably check out "How I Met Your Mother" and the new poorly reviewed Jenna Elfman comedy "Courting Alex." But the best show of the night is "24." What happened with this show, by the way? Everywhere I went on vacation in Pennsylvania and Alabama, people who'd never seen the show before were raving about it. Certainly DVDs helped: two people in Alabama got hooked and were racing through earlier seasons on DVD. Tonight Jack meets up again with wet noodle Audrey.

"Brokeback" -- Further Signs of Progress

Here's an interesting observation. Most of the early stories about "Brokeback Mountain" used either the image from the poster (two men near each other but looking away) or a shot of Jake lying on the ground looking at the scenery with Heath nearby. But in the last week, more and more I've seen people use this shot of Jake and Heath in an unabashedly intimate pose. Time magazine used it in its feature on the film's success. Clearly, since America has no problem with the movie, the traditional media is getting more comfortable with it as well. [Photo by Kimberly French of Focus Features.]

Jack Black Es Stupendo!

Here I am ignorantly using Spanish to promote a very fun article about Jack Black's next film "Nacho Libre," an ode to Mexican wrestlers and the crazily dramatic movies they'd star in. The LA Times has the goods on Black as a priest who dons a mask and wrestles at night (and it's based on a true story). The director helmed "Napoleon Dynamite" and darned if he may avoid being the one-hit wonder I imagined.

Steve Carell Gets Famouser and Famouser

It's a good year for Steve Carell. His slow-building sitcom "The Office" has finally stepped out of the shadows of the brilliant British original and become a part of NBC's new Thursday night lineup. His hit film "The 40 Year Old Virgin" is raking it in on DVD and hitting some Best of the Year lists. He's making news by shutting down "The Office" in March to film a new movie. And now he plays a Proust scholar in the first hit film of Sundance.

"Da Vinci Code" Beset By Lawsuits

One UK paper reported that Opus Dei was considering suing the film version of "The Da Vinci Code." Since it didn't quote anyone by name and the only quote given from an anonymous spokesperson (who is annoyed that Opus Dei is portrayed as "secretive!") didn't mention a lawsuit, I ignored it. (You gotta take the British press with a grain of salt.) But now the Times of London is reporting that the authors of the non-fiction work "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" are suing the filmmakers in London and may delay the movie's release in the UK because of it. Hard to understand why they'd bother now and how they can sue the movie but not the internationally famous book it's based on. Surely, the filmmakers had a right to accept the book as unquestioned given its remarkably high profile for the last three years?

"Brokeback" -- What Larry David Really Said

Time magazine has a decent wrapup of "Brokeback Mountain's" success. But they -- like almost everyone else -- either didn't understand or didn't get the joke in Larry David's op-ed in the New York Times about the movie. Time magazine, in talking about supposed resistance to the film, says
And there are plenty of liberal straight guys like Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, who wrote a puckish Op-Ed in the New York Times, confessing, "Cowboys would have to lasso me, drag me into the theater and tie me to the seat" for him to see it.
But read the entire column for yourself. Larry David wasn't saying he wouldn't see the film. He was satirizing people who wouldn't; he was mocking the men who were "afraid" to see "Brokeback." For God's sake, he is a comic. Didn't anyone notice that David said he was so easily influenced that if he went to see a movie like that, all bets were off and he might go gay? Joke! He even ends by referencing the famous "Seinfeld" episode about Jerry and George being mistaken for gay that launched the catch phrase "Not that there's anything wrong with it." So enough with people quoting Larry David as if he was serious when he said he'd never go see "Brokeback." It was a joke.

Charles Dickens A Bore?

On Friday, the New York Times made such a childish assertion, I can't help bringing it up again. In a review of "Bleak House," the new PBS miniseries, the Times said "'Bleak House' is too good to be homework. Unfortunately, it is such a fixture on required reading lists that many people forget to read Dickens' for fun."

Who exactly does the NYT have in mind? Presumably there are some buffoons out there that don't like Dickens, but they're hardly likely to be reading the Friday arts section of the NYT. Of course, the book that pops up on most reading lists is "Great Expectations," not "Bleak House." But whether students are reading "Great Expectations" or "Bleak House" or "Oliver Twist" or "David Copperfield" or just about anything else by Dickens, their usual reaction is not boredom (it's hardly "The Scarlet Letter" or some other worthy novel short on dramatics but long on critical praise) but excitement over one of the great entertainments. Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved writers of all time; his serialized novels were the "24" of their day, with each chapter providing a delicious cliffhanger. To what possible audience does the NYT think it's talking in assuming that we all think Dickens is a bore? (USA Today made an almost identical claim.)

UK Charts: Arctic Monkeys The Latest Next Big Thing

The UK goes crazy hyping every new band. The music press will tout a group as more important than the Beatles before their first single has even been released. Then a week later, they'll do it again with someone else. But of course sometimes they're right and a new band really is worth watching. That was true of Magic Numbers (whose debut was one of my favorites of last year) and Hard-Fi (ditto) who are perched at Number One on the album charts in the UK. And the Next Big Thing? Arctic Monkeys, whose third big hit debuts at Number One on the singles chart with "When The Sun Goes Down." (At Number Three is Will Young, the very first winner of "Pop Idol," and someone who like Kelly Clarkson is having a real career.) Their album comes out this week and I've already ordered an import so we'll know soon how they measure up.

Bestsellers: James Frey Continues To Reap Sales

Looking at the new bestseller lists, "The Da Vinci Code" is just weeks away from three years on the charts and it's right where it usually is: at Number One. Clearly no one is in the mood for serious reading: every title on the list is an "airport book," light reading that can be forgotten as soon as it's over. On the nonfiction list, the popular memoir genre is represented by at least six titles. But while James Frey (at Number Three with "My Friend Leonard") made up most of his dramatic stories (his new book is about the mobster friend he made while serving time, but of course he never did serve time), the others seem bizarrely truthful. Laci Peterson's mom did lose her daughter to foul play, journalist John Grogan does own a dog, Joan Didion's husband did die, Frank McCourt was a schoolteacher, and Karrine Steffans ("Confessions of a Video Vixen") did appear in a lot of hip-hop videos. How old-fashioned of them.

Around The Watercooler -- "Bleak House"

Ok, now a confession. When I said the new Masterpiece Theatre was great fun, I didn't make myself clear. It's well-cast and well-acted (with Gillian Anderson quite unrecognizable with a deep voice and British accent). But the movie is directedly idiotically by Justin Chadwick. Over-the-top zooms, dramatic pans, and hilariously goofy scene cuts (if they switch from London to Bleak House, it's sure to include three quick cuts with thudding ominious music that makes the movie seem like a James Bond film rather than a sober, period drama). Obviously, they were determined to sex up Dickens and make it seem as "modern" as possible. Of course, all they really do is make the viewer feel like they're watching a chop-socky movie -- all that's missing is some bad dubbing.

"Law & Order" To Face Off Against "Lost"

NBC executives announced lots of new shows and timeslot changes for the fall. (Goodbye "West Wing" and "Will & Grace.") The most dramatic? "Law & Order" will move up to 9 p.m. and face off against "Lost" on Wednesdays. Neither show has to be the loser here, since two very popular shows can flourish opposite each other. I'll bet they both stay in the top 20, with "Lost" naturally doing better. The original cast members of that drama just got a raise to about $80,000 an episode. Good news for them. The bad news for us? They were also asked to extend their contracts (probably to six seasons). "Lost" should be building to a finale in season three, not planning a long run. Frankly, it already feels like it's running out of ideas.

Weekend Boxoffice: "Hoodwinked," "Brokeback" Triumph

Our tip that the CGI remake of "Little Red Riding Hood" would score at the box office is looking smarter and smarter. "Hoodwinked" dropped a tiny 11% this weekend from its opening, showing very good word of mouth. It grossed $11.1 million and is just under $30 mil. It finally faces some family film competition Friday when "Big Momma's House 2" opens, but $50 mil looks likely. That plus DVD sales means this "indie" cartoon (budgeted at less than $15 mil) is a huge success. "Brokeback Mountain" capitalized on four Golden Globes (including Best Drama) to expand to almost 1,200 screens, gross $7.8 mil and hit $42.1 mil total. With Oscar noms coming up, $75 mil now looks in sight, an exceptional total for another modestly budgeted film they said would never play in the heartland. And look at two movies crossing $100 mil this week: "Walk The Line" had every possible advantage, including hot young stars, massive media attention and fondness for Johnny and June Carter Cash. "Fun With Dick and Jane" was a tepid remake that had nothing going for it, no good reviews, no media attention, nothing. Nothing except one thing: Jim Carrey in the lead. And that's why he makes the big bucks.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Da Vinci Code" To Open Cannes

The Tom Hanks thriller "The Da Vinci Code" will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 17. Traditionally, the opening night film (like the Closing Night Film) is a dud, either some dull attempt to fulfill a French quota or just a dog hoping to piggyback on the attention of Cannes for a European debut. Cannes is trying to change that, opening 2005 with "Bad Education" and now this. I'll be there to tell you if it's a success. But director Ron Howard's Cannes track record certainly ain't good: he made his debut there with "Willow," and then returned with "Far and Away" and "Ed TV."

Don't Miss "Bleak House" on PBS

I've got the entire series and it lives up to its billing -- great fun, with Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files" terrific in the lead. Later, I'll mock the NYT review. Just walked in the door after travel delays (with my aged mother in tow).

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Open Thread

And now, my brother's wedding in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Look for the active return of this (mostly) one-man show Sunday afternoon.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"Battlestar: Galactica" Open Thread

President Roslin gets sicker and sicker while a forced-abortion subplot plays with our sympathies for the Cylons. I'm torn over Roslin's illness: I'd hate to lose her character but I'd hate even more for the show to cheat on the reality it's created. So which do you prefer? A clever out that keeps Roslin alive or a sad death that stays true to the show's heart?

Jonathan Rhys -Meyers Joins Showtime Series

About 98 emails to go through, not to mention a ton of catching up and then the new "Battlestar: Galactica" to enjoy. Here's the first thing that caught my eye. A few days after winning a Golden Globe, not to mention the lead role in the best Woody Allen movie in years, not to mention a major part in the upcoming "Mission" Impossible III," devilishly handsome Rhys-Meyers signs on to play the young Henry VIII (no fat suit for him) in "The Tudors," a series launching with ten episodes in early 2007 on Showtime. With cable making shows with much shorter runs (just ten episodes per season, eg), we should see a lot more stars on the rise doing both at the same time. Michael Hirst -- who wrote the screenplay for the very entertaining "Elizabeth" starring Cate Blanchett -- created it. And "Desperate Housewives" director Charles McDougall will helm the first two episodes.

"Stargate Atlantis"/"In Justice" Open Thread

A bomb threatens Atlantis while those card carrying ACLU members on "In Justice" think a confession dragged out of a boy after sweating him for 16 hours of interrogation is a joke.

"Dancing With The Stars"/ "Stargate" Open Thread

Isn't one hour too long for a results show? And "Stargate" deals with duplicates of the team popping in from alternate realities. Hey, be glad they're not Cylons.

Primetime Preview

"Dancing With The Stars" results show, noble crime drama "In Justice" is gaining a little traction, "The Book Of Daniel" annoys gangsters by having a tough guy come out...and of course SciFi Friday.

Open Thread

Off to talk with students on (Lack Of) Career Day.

The President's Polling Numbers Are Falling

Not Bush: Geena Davis. "Coomander in Chief" has dropped dramatically in the ratings since its smashing debut. Do you blame creator Rod Lurie, who got so overwhelmed and behind shcedule they had to shut down production for three weeks? That forced the show to go on hiatus after just a few episodes? (Until then, the show was going like gangbusters.) Or do you blame new showrunner Steven Bochco, the edgy creator of "NYPD Blue" who seems an odd fit for a family friendly drama like this? Or do you just blame the show, which has the President interrupt preparations for a nuclear showdown to chat with her duaghter? Well, we blame their snafu on showing the Iraqi flag when they meant to show the North Korean flag. No one trusts a president who doesn't get their facts right.

"Arrested Development" Creator Tired Of Being Jerked Around?

Showtime confirmed it has been in talks to pick up "Arrested Development" but that no deal has been made. The problem? Getting creator Mitch Hurwitz to stick with the series. According to Showtime honchos, Hurwitz is sick of the constant heartache and indecision surrounding the series and may prefer to just call it a day.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Latenight Preview

Jon has Josh Lucas, star of the modest sports flick hit "Glory Road." Dave has singer Anna Nalick. Jay has Albert Brooks, Jenna Elfman and Mary J. Blige (which seems like a repeat to me). Conan has the delightful Kate Beckinsale. And of course there's always the shell-of-its-former-self news show "Nightline."

"Earl"/"OC" Open Thread

Why does the appearance of Marissa's 14 year old sister make me want to glance at "The OC" for the first time in ages?

"Dancing With The Stars"/ "Everybody Hates Chris" Open Thread

Who should get the ax this week?

Primetime Preview

Finally, a new episode(I believe) of "Everybody Hates Chris." What do it and "My Name Is Earl" have in common that "Arrested Development" doesn't? An essential sweetness. That's the difference between a cult hit and smash. (Except for "Seinfeld," the exception....) Richboy aka Aaron will have his eye on round three of Dancing With The Stars and the karaoke competition on the (also sweet-natured) "Beauty and the Geek."(I'll keep an eye on the in-the-works spin-off with hunky guys and dorky gals.)And yes, NBC has a Sorta-Should-See lineup with the dying "Will & Grace," Seth Green on "Four Kings," "Earl" and the ever-improving "Office."

Altman Film To Premiere At Berlin

The Berlin Film Festival has announced most of its lineup. I'm most excited by the debut of Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion," which has a great cast. It's only been a few years since "Gosford Park," one of his best, so there's reason to hope. Other intriguing films include "V For Vendetta" (which I assume is a mess) and two flicks from Michel Gondry: "The Science of Sleep," about a man held captive by people in his dreams; and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," a concert film/sketch comedy piece inspired by "Wattstax." That could be tremendous fun and who doesn't want Chappelle to stop with the online gaming and rejoin the world?

Overnight Ratings: "Idol" Tops, "Skating" Flops

No surprise to anyone, night two of "American Idol" was a monster in the ratings, scoring 31.4 million viewers. But as your savvy Popsurfing team predicted yesterday, that massive audience was wasted on "Skating With Celebrities," which plummeted some 40% to 18.7 mil, getting beat by "Lost." "Idol" should have gambled big and put "Prison Break" on at 9 p.m. instead of holding on to it until March.

This Post Is So Brokeback

"Brokeback" becomes slang. (Thanks to blogger Raul for the tip.)

"Eyes On The Prize" Returns To PBS

One of the most acclaimed documentaries of all time -- "Eyes On The Prize" -- returns to PBS in the fall. First airing in 1987, "Eyes" has been unavailable on vidoe or DVD and hasn't been seen on TV due to rights issues (music, clips, etc.). Thankfully, some 20 years later it will be seen again.

Beastie Boys Are "Awesome"

The Beastie Boys have probably already reached their sell-by date (no shame in the rap world, where they've already had a much longer and more productive career than most). But they're still clever enough to come up with new angles: in this case, a concert film shot by fans (they distributed cameras before a show at Madison Square Garden) and premiering at Sundance. Normally, my favorite concert films ("Stop Making Sense," "Jazz On A Summer's Day," etc.) prove how the cut-cut-cut of most such films is desperate and wrong -- if you have a great performer and a great image, stick with it. The Beastie movie -- called "Awesome" -- will definitely test my patience: most shots last less than a minute, many are merely a second long and the 90 minute film includes almost 6,732 edits. Oy.

Disney Looking To Buy Pixar

Well, duh. They should have done this years ago. Jobs would become the single biggest shareholder of Disney stock in the reported deal. But it's all pointless unless the creative talent is on board too and they're put in charge of Disney animation. If that happened, they'd probably be smart enough to continue hand-drawn animation (which Disney has run away from) and they'd certainly put the kibosh on cheapo direct-to-DVD sequels to "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story," et al.

The Long National Nightmare Is Over

Kelly Clarkson is agreeing to have her songs performed on "Idol" on a case by case basis. Good decision. No matter how many years Clarkson is in the business -- and clearly she's in it for the long haul -- every story about her will mention (or self-consciously discuss how it won't mention) the fact that she was the first "American Idol." Why fight it?

"Narnia" sequel "Prince Caspian" Starts Shooting This Fall

We already knew "Prince Caspian" would be the sequel to "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." (It's the only other book with all four Pevensie children.) Now comes word they'll start shooting in the fall. But it's the movies after this one that will prove tricky -- with few or no returning characters, they'll have to sell the movies based on the "Narnia" name only. Does that seem an obstacle to you or a slam-dunk? (Pictured: William Moseley as Peter Pevensie.)

Amazon.com's First TV Show

Amazon.com launches a TV show June 1st with Bill Maher interviewing celebrities in a half hour series that will stream on its wildly popular website. Maher could very well reach a wider audience with this freebie on the web than his does Friday nights on HBO. It's a whole new world. Amazon pretends its going to let Maher introduce their customers to all sorts of new talent. But since the first guests are Stephen King, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Toni Collette and Armistead Maupin, that's hard to swallow. Still, the only dumb part of this is that they're premiering an episode at Sundance and online January 24 and then waiting four months to launch it for real.

British "Oscar" Nominations Out

Every award show tries to position themselves to influence the Oscars (and thus guarantee a flow of celebs). This year, the British BAFTA awards follow suit with nominations that look exactly like what we can expect on January 31st. Their one big push: "The Constant Gardener" with ten nods. But check out the Best Picture nominations: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "The Constant Gardener," "Crash," and "Good Night, and Good Luck." Put "Walk The Line" in that mix and you've covered the Oscar noms as well.

"Commander in Chief" Flag Snafu

Tuesday night, in the first episode of "Commander in Chief" since Geena Davis won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, the show had a little trouble with international flags. In the lead up to the climactic scene of almost-nuclear war -- as North Korea is beefing up troops on the South Korean border -- we were shown two shots of the guard tower in the DMZ. The problem? Instead of displaying the flags of South and North Korea, they showed the South Korean flag and the flag of Iraq, pre-fall-of-Saddam. Either the producers have a funny sense of humor ("So, Kim Jong-il, you like Western movies and TV? Well, take that!") or they just don't know the difference between members of the one-time Axis of Evil. Very strange. (See relevant flags below)

North Korea *************** Iraq (until fall of Baghdad)

Around The Watercooler: "American Idol"

Critics complain that "American Idol" is all about mocking people who can't sing. So why is it that everyone I speak immediately brings up the singing cowboy, that nervous, innocent kid with a pretty good voice who's never been on a plane but sure would like to give it a try? Stories like that are what "Idol" is really about.

"Today"/"GMA" Open Thread

Hello from Birmingam, Alabama where I'm speaking at my niece's high school for (lack of) Career Day on Friday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Late Nite Open Thread

Jon welcomes former CIA head James Woolsey. "The Colbert Report" welcomes author Frank McCourt, who will probably confess he grew up wealthy and never worked as a teacher. (McCourt's new memoir is "Teacher Man.") Dave welcomes Kate Beckinsale and Bob Saget, who is wonderfully foul-mouthed as a comic and will probably plug the hilarious documentary "The Aristocrats." Jay has Colin Firth, Sasha Cohen and Fort Minor. Conan has Josh Lucas, who has a hit film with "Glory Road" and may finally be remembered for something other than being "that guy who looks a lot like Matthew McConaughey."

"Lost" Open Thread

Can anyone explain why Michael would hide the info about his son from the rest of his friends on the island? That made zero sense. (And this on a show with a sentient black fog that roams around the island like the water creature from "The Abyss.")

"American Idol" Open Thread

So who's the best at being the worst?

"Futurama," "King of the Hill" To Return?

I haven't been covering the annual mid-season convention when TV execs tout their new shows and explain why they're doing really, really well and their competitors are not. (The convention is one reason there are no overnight ratings readily available this week.) But Fox execs had a lot to say worth mentioning. They've cancelled the dog-tired sitcoms "Malcolm in the Middle" and "That '70s Show" but claimed they were only pulling the plug because "we didn't want to see these shows kind of crawl to their ending." Um, then you should have cancelled them two years ago before the stars left "70s" and "Malcolm" faded into irrelevance.

As for other shows, they're too embarrassed to say "Arrested Development" is cancelled -- probably because ABC and Showtime want to pick it up -- but admit it's all but dead. The unsung "King of the Hill" -- one of the most believable sitcoms of the past five years -- could come back for more episodes in 2007. And the long-gone "Futurama" is not out of the question for a revival a la "Family Guy." For more news, check out Mediaweek's column by Marc Berman.

Spielberg Upset Universal Ignoring "Munich"?

The Drudge Report is suggesting Spielberg's camp is quietly angry (how adult of them) over Universal ignoring their film in favor of "Brokeback Mountain." The LA Times award site Gold Derby picks up on the rumour. Spielberg may very well feel slighted -- but it doesn't begin with Universal, it begins with universal acclaim for "Brokeback" and decidedly mixed reviews for "Munich." As one commentator at GoldDerby points out, it was also Spielberg who put the kibosh on promoting the movie in the first place, saying it should speak for itself. When you turn off the pr machine, it's very hard to turn it back on again. Of course, Universal would love to have two big Oscar contenders -- not to mention three with "King Kong," which just hit $500 million worldwide and had infinitely better reviews than "Munich" to boot.

Finally, no one mentions the most diabolical reason why Universal would conceivably diss Spielberg. They thought they had a deal to buy their longtime partner DreamWorks but Paramount snatched it out from under them. Maybe this is subtle payback?

Primetime Preview

Another hour of "American Idol" will be unstoppable. But I bet Fox has wasted the post-"Idol" slot with "Skating With Celebrities." They would have done better to use that slot for "Prison Break" and not delay its return till March. "Lost" includes a backstory on Jack -- imagine that, focusing on one of the characters that made the show a success.

Sundance Sneak Peek

Sundance starts tomorrow and USA Today has a good preview of ten movies people are talking about. It's led by the new Paul Giamatti drama "The Hawk Is Dying," whic especially interests me. It's based on a book by Harry Crews, who I took a writing class with in college (when he bothered to show up sober) and my friend Gene Page worked on the film as a still photographer.

On The Pop Charts: Blige On Top Of Foxx

Mary J. Blige gets back to the top of the Billboard charts after Jamie Foxx held the top spot for two weeks. And anyone who tries to pretend "American Idol" doesn't really launch genuine pop stars, think again. Last year's winner Carrie Underwood is at Number Three with her debut and the album charts are filled with other contestants, including Kelly Clarkson of course. The same is true in the UK, where the equivalent first season winner of "Pop Idol" -- Will Young" is in the Top Ten with his third album and the top of the singles chart is held by Shayne Ward, the winner of Simon Cowell's "The X Factor."

Why Movie Stars Make So Much Money

The New York Post is reporting (in a story I can't find online) that the Broadway debut of Julia Roberts has already sold $7 million in advance ticket sales. If the production of "Three Days Of Rain" wasn't so short, she'd probably sell $20 mil or so.

And unnoticed at the box office is "Fun With Dick & Jane." A forgettable Jim Carrey vehicle that got almost no attention and even fewer good reviews, it hit $95 million at the box office and will easily hit $120 mil or so. These people get paid huge amounts of money...and they're worth every penny.

"American Idol" Bigger Than Ever

Last night's debut of "AI" was watched by 35 million viewers -- its biggest opener ever and Fox's single biggest night of ratings for a regular series ever as well. In other "Idol" news, the New York Times mentioned the casting of Diana DeGarmo in "Hairspray" by describing her as "one of the most popular 'American Idol' contestants despite a second place finish." That's exactly wrong, since DeGarmo is one of the least popular finalists, with only runner-up Justin Guarini ranking even lower in post-"Idol" success.

In other TV ratings, "Scrubs" was beaten by a repeat of "Commander In Chief" and "Love Monkey" was spanked by "Law & Order: SVU." "Love Monkey" dropped some 33% in viewers but can take comfort in holding on to almost all of the target 18-49 demo.

NOTE: Lots of reports say Kelly Clarkson won't let her songs be heard on "American Idol." (Simon Cowell rightly says that would be stupid of her.) The "AI" producers say they have a call in and it's just a paperwork issue. But didn't someone sing 'Since U Been Gone" last night?

Bob Dylan For Men Only?

In a review of the TV series "Love Monkey," the New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley blithely says, "No woman really loves Bob Dylan."

Where to begin? Do no men like Joni Mitchell? My friend Kitty -- who has seen more Dylan concerts than you can shake a stick at -- would have something to say to Stanley. But the idea that any artist or genre or style of music is for men or women only is so childish that it's hard to take seriously. Maybe Stanley doesn't like Dylan. That makes her a fool. But she shouldn't drag every other member of her sex down to her own silly level.

"Harry Potter" Heads To Paperback

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" hits paperback on July 25 with a first printing of 2 million, says Publishers Weekly. That brings the total number of Potter books in print to 120 million. That's 120 million in the US alone, mind you. Presumably some penny pinchers are pleased by the news and of course a paperback is easier to tote around. But since it's priced at $10 and the hardcover can be found easily for $17, is it any surprise sales of paperbacks are floundering? They get more and more expensive every day.

Around The Watercooler -- "American Idol"

Yes, the bad auditions are entertaining. But as always, Fox plans to beat them to death. Two weeks and four episodes would be more than enough but Fopx is planning three weeks. Still, it does have a bizarre fascination as you try and figure out what exactly is running through these people's minds. My favorite had to be the cop who came in uniform and sang two lines of "I Shot The Sheriff." He was terrible, of course, but as he sang "I shot the sheriff/ But I did not shoot the deputy" over and over and over, it became almost surreal. How long would he keep on going? How many times would he repeat those two lines as the judges sat there dumbfounded? Andy Kaufman would be proud.