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The Morning Fix: ESPN near renewal deal for 'Monday Night Football.' Slow weekend at box office. Fox TV shake-up. Oprah wears out reporters at news conference.

January 7, 2011 |  8:01 am

After the coffee. Before making my playoff predictions, which I won't share with you since I don't gamble and you shouldn't profit off of my knowledge.

The Skinny: Man, doesn't it seem like this year has been going on forever? After spending an afternoon listening to Oprah Winfrey answer questions, I know why she has a talk show. The lady can talk. Don't call me this weekend; I'll be watching football.

A Fox flees henhouse. Tony Vinciquerra, the chairman and chief executive of Fox Networks Group, is exiting the company. Vinciquerra primarily oversaw the business side of Fox's TV operations, which means he had the fun task of overseeing distribution deals with cable operators and talent deals on "American Idol." However, Chase Carey, who returned to News Corp. in 2009 as chief operating officer, has taken a very active role in many of those areas. David Haslingden, CEO of Fox International Channels, will take Vinciquerra's job, but the role will be smaller with fewer direct reports. Details on the restructuring from the Los Angeles Times.

Get ready to pay more for some football. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN is near a deal to renew its contract for "Monday Night Football." Already the most expensive TV package at $1.2 billion a year, ESPN could end up coughing up as much as $1.8 billion annually for the package. The NFL has had huge ratings this year, but a ton of new cash coming in might make those labor talks even more complicated. Meanwhile, ESPN, already a very expensive cable network with a per-month per-subscriber fee of $4, may want big fee increases the next time its distribution deals are up. ESPN's current contract isn't up until after the 2013 season. The dirt from Sports Business Journal and the Wall Street Journal.

Country soft? The first weekend of January is usually a slow one for box office. People are still nursing their hangovers, reassessing their spending habits and, in my case anyway, watching playoff football. The box office is again expected to be dominated by "True Grit" and "Little Fockers." The two new big releases -- "Season of the Witch" and the musical drama "Country Strong" -- are not likely to make a big dent. However, my hunch is that "Country Strong" will be bigger than the experts think. Box office projections from Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times.

How much is too much Portman? Fresh off her critically acclaimed performance in "Black Swan," Natalie Portman has a slew of movies coming out, some that may not scream high quality. Will that hurt her Oscar chances? What about the quirky James Franco making a return to the soap "General Hospital"? Deadline Hollywood looks at some potential outside issues for the likely Oscar nominees.

Don't ask Oprah Winfrey about her dreams. On Thursday, Oprah Winfrey came to the TV press tour in Pasadena to pump up the volume for OWN, the cable network she and Discovery Communications launched on Jan. 1. Winfrey may have set a record for longest answers. As usual, many of the questions from the press were, how to put it, less than intellectually stimulating. But rather than dismiss them, Winfrey waxed on and on and on. At one point, 15 minutes into an answer, it was hard to remember just what question Winfrey had been asked. The always-reliable Lisa deMoraes of the Washington Post captured the event perfectly.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Mary McNamara on Showtime's new dramas "Episodes" (which I loved) and "Shameless" (which I didn't).

-- Joe Flint

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