Entertainment Industry

Category: The Biz

The Morning Fix: 'Avatar' may be expensive. News Corp. going into digital hiding? Dish dishes out for lawyers.

After the coffee, before cursing Joe Flint for making us get up this early.

Money, money, money, money.  In the first of what is sure to be a zillion speculative articles on the topic, the New York Times says that, with production and marketing budgets combined, "Avatar" "may cost its various backers $500 million." Then again, it "may" not, we suppose, but it's safe to say it's no "Paranormal Activity," and maybe it's a good thing that 20th Century Fox got two other investors to pony up 60% of the production budget (whatever that "may" be). Unless, of course, it's a mega-hit.

CoTown Let the "lump-of-coal" jokes begin. Though some reporters preferred to focus on the positive (it was No. 1!), most pointed out that $31 million was a pretty bad domestic opening for "A Christmas Carol." Deutsche Bank even predicted that Walt Disney Co. will have to take a $50 million write-down on the film, according to the Associated Press. Box-office analysis, including the better news for Lionsgate's "Precious," from the Los Angeles Times, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, the Wrap, and Deadline.

Where'd News Corp. go? In the ongoing series of threats "old media" moguls are making against Google and other search engines that send their websites traffic but little revenue, Rupert Murdoch has upped the ante once again. Asked by Sky News why he doesn't make his newspaper and television sites invisible to Google (which can be done with some very simple coding), the News Corp. chief executive reportedly replied, "I think we will." In the digital world, that's the equivalent of moving from the front of the mall to a back alley with an unmarked door.

An easy test? The New York Times says the possible deal for Comcast Corp. to take control of NBC Universal "is likely to be the first major test of the Obama administration’s media regulators." The guy who regularly writes this post at an ungodly morning hour says there are "no major regulatory hurdles here that could seriously impede Comcast's taking a majority stake in NBC Universal." Reuters is reporting that the two sides have agreed to value the media conglomerate at $30 billion. All we know is we're tired of reading articles with the word "expected" in them. [An earlier version of this post mistakenly said $30 million instead of $30 billion.]

Curse those lawyers! Dish Network added 241,000 subscribers last quarter, as Reuters reports. That's good. But its net income fell by 13%. That's bad. As AllThingsD points out, the $328 million that the satellite TV service has spent this year in legal costs as it battles with TiVo over a DVR patent probably had something to do with that.

Curb your enthusiasm, not your wallets. Viacom-owned TV Land and Lionsgate-owned TV Guide Network have teamed up and are spending close to $600,000 per episode for basic cable rerun rights to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," PaidContent reports. TV Land buys reruns all the time, of course, but TV Guide Network is relatively new to the game, having earlier bought rights to "Ugly Betty." These days in television, it's probably a very welcome entrant to the market.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Best Buy prepares for a future when media goes digital; a threesome on "Gossip Girl" tonight is raising eyebrows, but the CW hopes it raises ratings; once vibrant, the Pakistani film industry has all but died.

-- Ben Fritz

The Morning Fix: Vivendi's next move. Obama vs. Fox. Independent analysis. 'Paranormal Activity' is high!

After the coffee. Before deciding if "Paranormal Activity" was scary or just hokey.

Holding the cards. While NBC Universal and Comcast continue their mating dance, all eyes are on Vivendi, the French conglomerate that can make it all happen or make it go away, depending on what it decides to do with its 20% stake in NBC. The Los Angeles Times looks at what is motivating Vivendi and whether when all is said and done, the company may just keep things as they are. Vivendi is holding a board meeting Wednesday, so let the fun begin.

CTlogosmall Malone in the mix? An analyst at Gimme Credit (yes, that's the actual name of the firm) says Liberty Media chief John Malone could also be a potential bidder on NBC Universal. Of course, in the same report the analyst says the odds of that happening are extremely low. That didn't stop Bloomberg from smacking a headline on a story that says, "Liberty Media May Bid for NBC Universal, Analyst Says." Bloomberg also tells us that Jeff Zucker could keep his gig at top of NBC U after a Comcast deal, according to three people. Unless those three people are GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt and Comcast toppers Brian Roberts and Steve Burke, I'm not so sure I'd be going out on a limb. God forbid we let a deal happen first before declaring what the management strategy will be. I mean where's the fun in that?

Debating Leno ... again. As Jay Leno enters his fifth week (seems longer, doesn't it?), the New York Times looks at whether the show is good for NBC or bad. Ratings have fallen off dramatically since its premiere, but that was to be expected. Of course, NBC is not helping Leno much in terms of lead-ins. Until it goes up against reruns and we can see if in fact Leno is an alternative, it may be too soon to judge NBC one way or another. That won't stop us from doing more articles.

Chernin is going old school. Peter Chernin's new production company's (does it have a name yet?) first big home-grown film project will be retelling the story of Moses in "300 style," according to Variety. Hope the fact that everyone knowing how the story ends doesn't hurt the box office.

Independent analysis. Dave Poland's Hot Blog looks at so-called dependent independents or specialty film divisions at the majors and the picture is bleak.

Gloves are off. The Obama administration is going after Fox News, with a spokesperson telling the New York Times that "We don't need to pretend that this is the way legitimate news organizations behave." Fox's Michael Clemente, a senior vice president of news, responded that "perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about." Fox News topper Roger Ailes met with Obama trouble-shooter David Axelrod last month, and we can see that worked out well. 

The Twitter effect. More and more personalities are using Twitter to communicate with the masses There is good and bad in that. While it cuts out the middle man (usually annoying and uptight publicists), it can also get people into hot water when they give that internal censor a few minutes off. The Los Angeles Times weighs in on how Twitter is changing the pop culture landscape. Meanwhile, if you are wondering who to follow on Twitter for entertainment news, gossip and rants, the Wrap provides a handy list (yes, I'm on it, can't wait to tell mom). Conversely, Miley Cyrus says she's quitting Twitter.

Good script at Scripps. Scripps Networks Interactive has quietly built up a strong portfolio of cable networks. Broadcasting & Cable looks at whether it might be next to go if we are in fact about to enter a new round of media consolidation. Chief Executive Ken Lowe insists the company is not for sale.

Oprah's mile-high club? A flight attendant is suing Oprah Winfrey, claiming she was fired for allegedly having sex on the talk-show queen's private jet, a charge the flight attendant denies. Details from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: "Couples Retreat" drew lots of tourists and "Paranormal Activity" set a record at the box office. Uncertainty over the fate of West Hollywood's Book Soup. More of Robert Hilburn's days with John Lennon. 

-- Joe Flint

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The Morning Fix: Sony scales back. Rupert talks crackdown in China! 'Southland' sacked. Another shake-up at OWN.

After the coffee. Before trying to get why a network orders a show only to cancel it before airing. 

Sony slowdown. Now it's Sony Pictures' turn to pump the brakes. The studio has sent the word out that it is not going to be aggressively looking for new scripts or projects at least until April, says the Los Angeles Times. Sony is the second studio in recent weeks to make such a move. Universal Pictures, which just went through a management shake-up, has also indicated it will be reducing its spending until next year.

CTlogosmall No Shine for Sony. Movies aren't the only things Sony is rethinking. The Financial Times reports that Sony is also looking to unload its 21% stake in Elisabeth Murdoch's production company Shine. JPMorgan has been tapped to find a buyer.

A price must be paid! News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is again beating the drum for paid content -- the concept, not the website. In one of his toughest speeches yet, Murdoch said, "The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators [wait, does he mean me?] and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for co-opting our content." The speech was given at the World Media Summit in Beijing. Well, if you are going to push for a crackdown, I guess China's the place to do it. Details from the Associated Press. And, lastly, right behind you on this one, Rupe! 

Bruckheimer, brought to you by Barclays. Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer is closing in on a $20-million development fund via Barclays Bank, reports Variety. The deal comes a day after DreamWorks producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald announced a $10-million fund from Imagenation Abu Dhabi.

Hey, Comcast, look over here! If the cable giant's push to take control of NBC Universal doesn't work, the New York Post is offering up other options. There's Scripps (Food Network, Home & Garden, not sexy but successful), Viacom (MTV, VH1, great brands even if the ratings are off), Discovery (don't you want to have to deal with Jon and Kate Gosselin?) or even Time Warner (TBS, TNT, CNN). Of course, lots of hurdles to all these and no free tickets to "Saturday Night Live." Speaking of Scripps, it's rebranding its Fine Living cable network as the Cooking Channel, although its executives tell the Business Courier of Cincinnati that it won't compete with Food Network (it better not, because Tribune, my bosses, also own part of Food Network and probably wouldn't be too happy about that). 

10-13! 'Southland' down! In a highly unusual move, NBC has canceled its gritty John Wells cop drama "Southland" before its second season even started. The network apparently thought the show was too dark. Of course, it raises the question of why NBC ordered a second season in the first place. The network will have to pay for the six episodes that were already in the can, and will put on the cheaper "Dateline" in its place. Hmm, couldn't be a money thing, could it? Details from the Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times.

OWN brings in new brass. The Oprah Winfrey Network, that smooth-sailing joint-venture cable channel between the talk show queen and Discovery, has tapped Debbie Myers as interim general manager. Myers, who is currently vice president of emerging networks and Discovery's Science channel, will spend lots of time in L.A. working on OWN, which has as much drama behind the camera as a typical Winfrey show does in front of it. The scoop from the Wrap.

Super sellout! CBS is around the 80% mark in selling ads for its Super Coverage next year, according to Advertising Age. The battle won't just be on the field: Both Pepsi and Coke are in the game.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Probe into who leaked Mel Gibson bust dirt to TMZ is criticized. Robert Lloyd on the "Seinfeld"-"Curb Your Enthusiasm" combo.

-- Joe Flint

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The Morning Fix: Calling all rival suitors! Let's break up. Letterman's antagonist. L.A. (finally) looks to slow runaway production

After the coffee. Before avoiding people who will spoil last night's "Glee" that sits in your DVR.

CTlogosmall Rival suitors? Forbes takes a look at other potential bidders on NBC Universal, although some (Disney, News Corp.) seem a little far-fetched and another (Time Warner Cable) just down right absurd. Although the publication quickly dismisses a Time Warner Cable bid, if it is so ridiculous why even report it? Anyhow, others mentioned include Liberty Media and private equity. If it is private equity and you work at NBC Universal, be sure and read this New York Times story and run.

Breaking up is better. Rather than consolidate, cases are being made that the entertainment industry needs to break apart. Citing Time Warner's recent spinoff of cable and Viacom's split from CBS a few years ago, Dow Jones Newswires says synergies remain elusive.

Homing in on Halderman. The New York Times takes a look at David Letterman's nemesis: hard-living CBS News producer Joe Halderman. We don't learn much more than what's been reported by the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove last week. There is, however, an interesting nugget on who posted Halderman's bond and Stephanie Birkitt's forced vacation. NYT ad columnist Stuart Elliott reports that the whole mess has yet to have a negative effect on advertising on Letterman's show.

Free parking? We're back, baby! The Los Angeles City Council has proposed some new incentives in an effort to curb runaway productions, reports the Los Angeles Times. Among the perks under consideration are tax credits and reducing the bureaucratic hassles of shooting at such legendary locales as the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign.

Fading picture. Disney's shrinking of Miramax is the latest blow to the indie film business (although to be honest, we kind of wondered whether indie and Disney, like Vantage and Paramount, aren't something of an oxymoron. Variety looks at the glum new world for niche films. 

Ellen Page, producer. "Juno" and "Whip It" star Ellen Page has a deal to develop a comedy with HBO along with fellow actors Alia Shawkat and Sean Tillman, says the Hollywood Reporter. The show will be about two girls from Williamsburg in Brooklyn who relocate to Silver Lake, which is kind of like going from old Yankee Stadium to new Yankee Stadium.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: FCC again calls for net neutrality. John Horn on "Paranormal's" marketing script. Brian Wilson and Gershwin.

-- Joe Flint

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The Morning Fix: Leno's losses and Letterman's gains. Tellem wants new gig. Rush wants the Rams. Michael Vick and BET.

After the coffee. Before figuring out how to look busy while secretly watching baseball.

Tellem tells him. Another day, another potential shake-up. Nancy Tellem, who oversees CBS Entertainment and CBS TV Studios, is looking to shift out of her day-to-day role into a more strategic position at the company. She's in talks with her boss, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, over whether it can be pulled off. If so, don't look for Moonves to replace her right away. While not seen as a likely successor to the 60 year-old Moonves, the well-regarded Tellem is in his tight inner circle. News and analysis from Deadline and the Los Angeles Times.

CTlogosmall You don't say. Here's a shocker. Vivendi is ready to unload its 20% stake in NBC Universal but, get this, it may depend on the offer they get from NBC U parent General Electric. Wow! Who would've thought that? Bloomberg reports that if it feels it is being lowballed as part of GE's efforts to cut a deal with Comcast, it may hold out and go the IPO route instead.

Leno's losses. USA Today weighs in on Jay Leno's new prime time show, and it isn't pretty. "The former king of late night is turning into the pauper of prime time," writes Gary Levin. Monday's show hit a new low in viewers with only 4.5 million viewing. That said, the story notes that if Leno performs well when the other networks are in reruns, that could help, and NBC brass also points out that it's not like they're giving Jay a decent lead-in. 

Letterman's gains. Who says scandal hurts? David Letterman's Monday show drew a big number, which seems to fly in the face of this New York Post story that says a survey shows more people are likely to tune Dave out after his revelations about affairs at the office.

Please don't! New Line is working on a sequel to the "Vacation" franchise focusing on Rusty Griswold, son of Clark, says the Hollywood Reporter. No word on whether an offer has been extended to Anthony Michael Hall to reprise his role in the original. Did someone get a raise for coming up with this one? Are they so out of ideas that they'll do anything? Is "Vacation" really a brand? My stomach hurts.

Kate's daytime date (minus 8). With her marriage finished and her TLC show likely approaching the finish line, Kate Gosselin is looking for another 15 minutes and is talking with Warner Bros. about a syndicated daytime "View"-like program that would also feature Paula Deen. The New York Times (of all papers) weighs in on the latest back-and-forth between Jon and Kate Gosselin, what it has meant to "Jon and Kate plus 8" and her plans for the future. 

Wonder if the offense will be conservative. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh is part of a group bidding on the St. Louis Rams along with sports business vet Dave Checketts, reports The St. Louis Business Journal. Hope Rush doesn't try to do play-by-play, fans may not want to hear about how a missed field goal was Obama's fault.

DVR Data. Fox's "Glee" and "Bones," and the CW's "Vampire Diaries" are some of the shows that are getting ratings boosts from people with digital video recorders, reports the Wrap. Of course, if the people using the DVR are like me, they skip a lot of the ads. Then again, last night I watched "Mad Men" and worked at the same time and let the commercials play.

If you're serious about Sirius ... The Wall Street Journal looks at Sirius XM's stock, which has been trading under a $1 for quite some time. While the satellite radio broadcaster averted bankruptcy, it may not be a buy just yet.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Ken Howard gets ready for his most challenging role -- president of the Screen Actors Guild. Michael Vick gets a reality show from BET.

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter.

The Morning Fix: Studio shake-ups have Hollywood reeling. More Letterman mea culpas. Viacom's potential big find against YouTube. Conde Nast closes four magazines

After the coffee. Before trying to figure out if your studio is the next to be shaken up.

The big picture. The shake-ups at Disney and Universal point to a bigger paradigm shift in how the movie industry operates. There is no more margin for errors. The old rules don't apply and, oh yeah, nobody still knows anything. Analysis on a changing industry trying to figure out the future from the Los Angeles Times, Kim Masters of the Daily Beast, and Sharon Waxman at the Wrap. If after that you've figured it all out, send us an e-mail.

Will he take Miley with him? Rich Ross, who was instrumental in making Disney Channel a global powerhouse will try to make the not-always-so-smooth transition from TV to movies as head of Walt Disney Studios. The Los Angeles Times looks at what Ross is facing and who might replace him at Disney Channel. The New York Times looks at Ross' track record at Disney Channel. Additional coverage from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter

Universal decision. The long expected shake-up at Universal Pictures went down Monday as Marc Shmuger and David Linde were bounced in favor of Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley. Details from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Variety and an article that is really unlikely to make Shmuger's clip file from Deadline

Smoking gun? Viacom lawyers may have found proof that YouTube staffers knowingly put unauthorized content from the media giant up on the video website. CNET says if true, it could be a big blow to YouTube and its parent, Google, because it would remove protection from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe-harbor provision (otherwise known as the "oops, I didn't know" defense).

Hope the cafeteria isn't next. Conde Nast said it was closing four magazines -- Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride (apparently Dowdy Bride will keep publishing). The move is the latest blow to the magazine industry and comes after consulting firm McKinsey & Co. went through Conde with a fine-tooth comb. So yes, if you hear that your company has hired McKinsey, get worried (just think about that scene in "Office Space" in which the consultant says, "Well, what would you say you do here.") Coverage from the New York Times and the Financial Times

Letterman saga continues. David Letterman once again aired his dirty laundry on TV Monday night, apologizing to his wife for using the office as a pleasure palace. Of course, his wife worked on the show all those years ago. In the meantime, the lawyer for the man accused of being Letterman's extortionist took to the airwaves Monday talking a lot but saying little about his client, "48 Hours" producer Joe Halderman, who also doesn't exactly have a perfect track record in romance (do any of us, really) and used to live with one of Letterman's exes. Details, deep thoughts and a shower afterward from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times

MLB teams with Fox and Turner on playoff package. If you can't get in front of the big screen for the playoffs (a problem for us West Coasters), MLB, Fox and Turner are introducing Postseason.TV, which will work across multiple platforms and cost about $10. If you already subscribe to MLB At Bat, you're already covered. Details from Paid Content.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Bloggers are hit with disclosure rules from the Federal Trade Commission. Patrick Goldstein on new skills for studio chiefs. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter.

The Morning Fix: Whither Hulu? Nikki vs. New Yorker. Zombies kill!

After the coffee. Before figuring out the playoff schedule.

An empire of their own. China wants its own News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom. According to the New York Times, the Chinese government is going to "spend billions of dollars in the next few years" to develop its own media conglomerates. Foreign companies will be allowed to be investors, but there will still likely be tight control on some content, particularly news (duh).

Nikki and the New Yorker. Another month, another lengthy profile of Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke. This time around, it's the New Yorker's Tad Friend stepping up to the plate. Anyone in town will learn little new although it's always fun to read about someone's debutante days, and it's too bad there wasn't more on her childhood or her college years at Wellesley. People out of town will probably wonder what the heck goes on in this town or be bored. If nothing else, she should be pretty pleased with CTlogosmallthat illustration. Of course, she found plenty to hate about the piece and plenty to boast about as well, and for all that, you know where to go. 

More consolidation? If Comcast does the deal with NBC Universal, it could lead to another round of media consolidation, says the New York Post. Frankly, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot left to consolidate except the few remaining cable-programming operators like Discovery and Scripps that aren't part of super-huge conglomerates (and considering John Malone's involvement in Discovery, we're not so sure that qualifies). Nonetheless, while we wait to see if an NBC U deal gets done, we might as well speculate on the rest of the industry too.

Whither Hulu? Speaking of NBC Universal and Comcast, one of the more interesting things to watch will be the fate of Hulu should the deal come off. NBC is one of the founding owners of the video site while Comcast in the past has been anti-Hulu. Los Angeles Times reporters Dawn Chmielewski and Meg James (otherwise known as my cube mates) weigh in on the topic. 

NBC rethinks international operations. Prime time apparently isn't NBC Universal's only problem, The company told the Financial Times it's not meeting its targets for overseas expansion. NBC executive Roma Khanna said the company is going to streamline its overseas efforts and consolidate some channels and hoped to hit $5 billion in revenues by 2011, a year later than originally anticipated.

Local TV finding its voice. Some local television stations are starting to get into the op-ed business, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The move comes as stations struggle to stand out against both local and national competition. TV stations used to offer editorials all the time in their heyday but eased out of the game after the Fairness Doctrine became law (requiring equal time be given for opposing viewpoints). That was blown out over 20 years ago. The real fear since then has been offending advertisers.

Redbox: We're here to help! Mitch Lowe, president and CEO of video kiosk operator Redbox, gets a platform from the Wrap and says Redbox is helping the DVD business, not destroying it. 

Inside the Los Angeles Times: "Zombieland" kills at the box office with $25 million in ticket sales while "Whip It" gets whipped. "One Tree Hill" is the CW's secret weapon. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter.

The Morning Fix: Comcast-NBC Day II. Letterman's confession! NBC orders drama pilot (stop the presses). Michael Vick's non-endorsement deal.

After the coffee. Before making sure your DVR recorded Letterman last night.

Philadephia freedom. After 23 years, General Electric Co. may finally give up control of NBC if a deal with Philadelphia-based cable giant Comcast actually gets done. The odds are still long but the talks that Comcast is looking to take a 51% stake in NBC Universal and combine it with its own entertainment assets was all the buzz Thursday. Reports and analysis from Los Angeles Times, Wall Street JournalWrap, New York Times, Variety and Broadcasting & Cable

CTlogosmall Letterman confession. David Letterman took to the airwaves last night to announce that he had been a target of an extortion plot by a fellow CBS employee (not someone from NBC) who threatened to expose the recently married late night host's sexual history with staffers on his show. Letterman, who had to testify Thursday in a grand jury proceeding against the employee who apparently worked on the news magazine "48 Hours," said he was being blackmailed for $2 million and did acknowledge flings with co-workers. Details from Variety. The disclosure comes when Letterman is really on a roll in the ratings, per the New York Times.

Stop the presses, NBC orders drama! In a stunning development, NBC has ordered an hourlong drama pilot! This news has floored the industry since NBC cleared out its 10 p.m. time period for Jay Leno. Apparently, the network has other hours in prime time to program dramas. Can you smell the sarcasm yet? Still wondering if there was this much noise from writers about NBC when it ran "Dateline" five nights a week a few years back. Anyway, the network has landed a much sought-after J.J. Abrams show about two married spies (wait, I saw that movie and didn't CBS have a similar show years ago?). Details from the Hollywood Reporter and Wrap.

Fire me, will you? Big shocker here. Jon Gosselin (it's scary that I can finally spell his name correctly in the first shot without having to Google), and his lawyer (who used to rep Son of Sam for whatever that's worth), filed a cease-and-desist order shutting down production on TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8" "Kate plus 8." The move came after TLC said it was reducing his role on the show. If you want the details, the Associated Press has them. Can't wait to see what happens next. 

News Corp. vs. Redbox. News Corp. said Redbox is trying to force a deal down its throats and asked a judge to throw out the video kiosk operator's antitrust suit against the media conglomerate and its movie studio. Details from Bloomberg.

No deal but Vick still gets free shoes. Nike went on the record to deny speculation that it signed an endorsement deal with quarterback Michael Vick, who recently returned to the NFL after doing time for running dog fights. Advertising Age reports that Nike is providing Vick with merchandise but not paying him to wear it.

ESPN exits Atlanta. Well, its restaurant does anyway. ESPN has closed its ESPN Zone in Buckhead, according to the Atlantic Business Journal. Earlier this hear, ESPN shuttered its Denver restaurant.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: NBC Universal wants to build housing behind the Universal lot (will Comcast's Brian Roberts live there?). MGM gets a break on its interest payments. Rich Ross getting ready for his close-up at Disney.

-- Joe Flint

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The Morning Fix: Comcast and NBC dancing! A DVR-less DVR. ABC and CBS won't say hey to Jay.

After the coffee. Before contemplating how "Live from Philadelphia, it's Saturday night" sounds.


From Rittenhouse Square to 30 Rock? Philadelphia-based cable giant Comcast Corp. has had some flirtations with General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal about acquiring a chunk of the entertainment giant, perhaps as much as half. There has been lots of speculation lately about whether GE is finally considering unloading NBC, driven in part by uncertainty over what French conglomerate Vivendi will do with its 20% stake in NBC. Comcast denied that it was interested in buying all of NBC, but stopped short of saying there were no talks going on or that some sort of deal might be struck while NBC kept mum. NBC chief Jeff Zucker did issue a memo to staff today, but it didn't say much other than praise for the value of their assets. This morning, Wall Street punished Comcast stock just as it did five years ago when it went after Disney. Coverage from The Wrap, which first popped the news of the talks, the Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Daily Beast and Bloomberg.

One less button to push. Time Warner Cable is introducing "Enhanced TV," a feature that will allow consumers to catch up on shows they've missed without having to use a DVR. This kind of sounds to us like on-demand, which is already available, but who are we to rain on this parade. Anyway, anything that means there is one less thing I have to remember to do (like record tonight's "FlashForward") is a good thing. Details from Bloomberg.

Hey Jay, don't call us, we'll call you. CBS and ABC are encouraging their talent to steer clear of NBC's "Jay Leno Show" since he's now a prime-time competitor, reports our Meg James. There is also still that camp of drama writers and actors no doubt rooting for Leno to fail so NBC goes back to scripted programming. Trying to remember if they picketed outside NBC News when "Dateline" was on five nights a week.

Hey ho, let's go! Fox Searchlight is near a deal to come aboard a Ramones biopic project based on a book by Mickey Leigh, brother of the late Joey Ramone, and author Legs McNeil (I still have an issue of Punk Magazine in my closet). The Hollywood Reporter  says manager Rory Rosegarten, who also was an executive producer on his client Ray Romano's CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," is involved in the project as well.

But is he right for the part? Matt LeBlanc will play himself in a new Showtime series, reports Variety. It's one of those shows within a show shows (confused yet?) and will be co-produced by the BBC, which will also run the series on its channel. 

Inside the Los Angeles Times: The polarizing Polanski case. A visit to "Zombieland." 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter.

The Morning Fix: Bad day for Rather. Polanski debate continues. Clooney vs. Clooney. ABC rediscovers the middle.

After the coffee. Before figuring out who's right in the DirecTV-Comcast feud.

Rather not. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division voted 5-0 to dismiss Dan Rather's breach-of-contract suit against CBS, which stemmed from the former news anchor's controversial report about President George W. Bush's military service. CBS says this fight is over while Rather vows to appeal. Details from the Los Angeles Times and New York Times


Polanski pile-on. The debate (really, should this be a debate?) over the recent arrest of Roman Polanksi, who fled the U.S. 31 years ago rather than face sentencing for unlawful sex with a minor, seems to be dividing Hollywood from, uh, pretty much the rest of the world -- even parts of France. A look at how and why the sides are lining up the way they are. One word of advice to Whoopi Goldberg: You might actually want to read up on the case before spouting off on "The View." Takes from our own Steve Lopez; the New York Times, which goes with the safe "room for debate" approach on its website; and Harvey Weinstein's op-ed in London's the Independent, in which the phrase "so-called crime" actually appears in print next to his name. Also, what has quickly become the definitive piece on the topic by Kate Harding in Salon

Clooney versus Clooney. George Clooney may face tough competition from ... himself. He has two movies set to premiere in the same month -- Paramount's "Up in the Air," which already is generating Oscar buzz, and Overture's dark war comedy, "The Men Who Stare at Goats." The Hollywood Reporter looks at the game of Clooney Chicken and who might swerve first.

Out here in the middle. ABC has rediscovered Middle America with its new sitcom "The Middle," which is set in Indiana and premieres tonight. Our Meg James looks at the show, why the networks abandoned Middle America all those years ago (hint, Madison Avenue) and what's bringing them back.

Criminal Minds II? Another spin-off of a CBS drama? Could it be? It's such a radical idea. Yes, CBS is looking at whether it can duplicate the quiet success of its Wednesday drama "Criminal Minds," according to the Hollywood Reporter. If successful, it would be, by our count, the fifth spin-off on the network's schedule.

Mechanic says industry in need of repair. Former Fox movie-topper-turned-indie-producer Bill Mechanic has some sobering words for the genre in a speech at the Independent Film and Television Production conference. Deadline has a copy of his remarks. 

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Reviews of ABC's "Hank" and "The Middle." Robert Downey Jr. to try on rabbit suit for "Harvey" remake. Stalemate continues in the battle of Versus vs. DirecTV

-- Joe Flint

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