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Category: Universal

The Morning Fix: 'Idol' ratings tumble! SOPA and PIPA fight rages on.

After the coffee. Before trying to make this a three-day weekend.

The Skinny: I'm picking the Giants and Patriots this weekend, which is no doubt also the match NBC wants for the Super Bowl. Friday's headlines include a look at the new Star Wars video game, a box office preview, the latest on the piracy legislation fight and a tumble in the ratings for "American Idol."

The Daily Dose: Co-worker Ben Fritz asks this burning question: Mirror mirror, on the wall, which media conglomerate engages in the most blatant cross-promotion of them all? "Top Chef" fans likely noticed that this week's episode was essentially an hour-long commercial for June's big-budget movie "Snow White and the Huntsman." Film star Charlize Theron was the guest judge and the challenge was to cook a meal fit for an evil queen (guess which character Charlize plays). Not mentioned in the episode is that "Snow White" comes from Universal Pictures, which like "Top Chef" network Bravo is owned by Comcast Corp.'s NBC Universal. Smart corporate synergy or crass product placement? How about both?

American Idol ratings fell in its season premiere
Can't we all get along? The battle over proposed bills to fight piracy continues to rage on. Hollywood is furious that its efforts to curb theft and piracy have been overshadowed by Silicon Valley's claims that the laws will hurt innovation and free speech. In the meantime, an activist group has been hacking into websites to protest the bills and some sites went dark for a day as a form of protest. Of course, if Hollywood and the TV networks shut down for a day for political purposes, they'd hear about it from regulators and consumers. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cancelled the vote on one of the bills. Meanwhile, on Thursday the feds shut down the site Megaupload for violating piracy laws. The latest coverage from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Variety.

An expensive galaxy far far away. It cost $200 million and took six years to make. No, we're not talking about James Cameron's next movie. We're talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the costliest and riskiest video game ever made. The Los Angeles Times looks behind the scenes at the making of the game and what it will have to do to be a hit.

Jump ball. Reading the stories about the box office this weekend and it seems to me that there is not going to be any dominating by any movie. "Underworld: Awakening," Sony's latest chapter in its vampire series (is it sign of how out of it I am that I have never heard of this franchise?) is expected to end up on top. I am no expert but I predict "Haywire," the action movie starring Gina Carano, is going to do better than people think. Projections from the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Reporter.

Secrets of phone hacking. Earlier this week, News Corp. settled a bunch of claims having to do with phone hacking at the company's now-closed tabloid News of the World and its still up-and-running paper the Sun. While the company has tried to say that settling is not an admission of guilt, that's a hard sell. In the meantime, the Guardian, the biggest thorn in News Corp.'s side, offers up its story on how the media giant hid and misled authorities about the scope of the scandal.

Out of tune? Fox's "American Idol" returned Wednesday night and only 21.9 million tuned in to watch the season debut of the show's 11th season. Yes, the number is the lowest for the show since Season 1. But it is also an amazing number for a show that old. In my opinion, it is a little too early to start playing Taps for "American Idol." More on the numbers from the Wall Street Journal.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Betsy Sharkey went crazy for "Haywire."

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter. Even when I'm not there, I'm there. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Photo: "American Idol." Credit: Michael Becker / Associated Press.

On Location: 'Bourne Legacy' makes a stop in the Philippines

Bourne
The hit franchise known for trotting around the globe, from France and Italy to India and Morocco, is adding a new location to its roster: the Philippines.  Universal Pictures' “The Bourne Legacy,” the fourth movie based on the Robert Ludlum novels, will start filming in Manila, the country’s capital, this week.

Scheduled to be released in theaters Aug. 3, the latest installment in the spy series was written and is being directed by Tony Gilroy -- who penned the first three films -– and will be the first without Matt Damon playing the title role. Bourne is not a character in the new movie. Jeremy Renner, instead, will portray an agent in the same line of business as Bourne, with Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton co-starring.

The production, which has a budget of more than $100 million, will spend about 45 days in the Philippines. Scenes have already been shot in New York and Alberta, Canada, since filming began last September. 

Although a few smaller-budget independent movies, including John Sayles’ 2000 “Amigo,” have been made in the Southeast Asian country, the fourth “Bourne” will be the biggest Hollywood production to be shot there since the late 1970s and 1980s. Several classic war films, among them Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 “Apocalypse Now” and Oliver Stone’s 1986 “Platoon” and his 1989 “Born on the Fourth of July," used the Philippines as a stand-in for Vietnam.

Manila has a history of being used to portray other cities: It served as Jakarta in Peter Weir’s 1982 drama “The Year of Living Dangerously,” Bangkok in Jonathan Kaplan’s 1999 thriller “Brokedown Palace,” and Panama City in Showtime’s 2000 biopic “Noriega: God’s Favorite.” 

“Legacy,” however, will be the first notable Hollywood movie to represent the capital as itself. Action scenes including a helicopter hovering above the financial district and a long car chase through a major thoroughfare are to be shot in the city, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. The production will also film in Palawan, an island province known for its pristine beaches and tropical rain forests.

Universal declined to comment on the project, but officials in the Philippines are hoping "Bourne" will play a vital role in elevating the country's profile in Hollywood. "This will generate great interest in our country since [it demonstrates] we can provide the facilities for such big productions,” the Film Development Council of the Philippines said in a statement.

Though there are no film incentives available in the Philippines, the Film Development Council touts its cheap transportation, accommodations and labor, as well as widespread fluency in English as factors that can make the country more attractive to Hollywood filmmakers. “It is also a melting pot culture where locations can be depicted as Asian, Hispanic or prewar American,” the council said.

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-- Dima Alzayat

Photo: Matt Damon and Dan Bradley on the set of "The Bourne Ultimatum." Credit: Abbot Genser/Universal Pictures.

 

NBC's Bob Greenblatt adjusts to bigger stage

BobgreenblattNBC's Bob Greenblatt says even a modestly successful show on cable TV can be declared a hit and can run for multiple seasons. But not on broadcast TV.  

The network's entertainment chairman several times on Friday reminded the Television Critics Assn. press tour gathering in Pasadena that broadcast television is different.

Greenblatt, who joined NBCUniversal last January after seven years programming premium cable channel Showtime, tried to minimize comparisons between his stellar track record at Showtime and his more modest results in his first development season at NBC.

Shows on network TV live or die based on the ratings they produce. Greenblatt said he launched more promising shows in three months this fall at NBC than during an entire year at his previous network. And NBC still slogged through a bruising fall, with its ratings plummeting 11%.

Greenblatt bemoaned how the NBC drama "Prime Suspects" was an incredibly strong show creatively, and would have lasted at least five seasons on a cable channel, but couldn't find a big enough audience on the network. Production on the program, a remake of a British television hit, stopped midway through the first season. 

"Maybe I should just blame the hat and move on," Greenblatt said, referring to the distracting fedora that the "Prime Suspects" star, Maria Bello, wore in her role as an intense police detective. 

"There were no great revelations this fall other than [our experience] keeps reinforcing how hard it is to break through," Greenblatt said. 

Read the full story about NBC's "really bad" fall season at our Show Tracker blog.

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NBC unveils midseason schedule, "Community" and "Prime Suspect" on bench

—  Meg James 

Photo: NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt speaks at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. Credit: Chris Haston / NBC

Harry Potter attraction won't arrive in L.A. until at least 2016

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Before Harry Potter establishes a new home base in Los Angeles, Hogwarts Castle will need to pass environmental review.

While young fans dressed in full wizard regalia were already hoisting their butter beer in excitement at the official unveiling of plans to build a Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, they may be teenagers by the time it opens for business.

The 20-acre Wizarding World attraction at Universal Studios Orlando took four-and-a-half years to build and the similar one planned for Universal Hollywood will take about the same amount of time, Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams said in an interview.

That would suggest a late-2016 opening, but even that date could prove optimistic. The Wizarding World attraction is part of a planned $3-billion overhaul of Universal's theme park and film and television studio lot. Universal is seeking approval from planning officials for the overhaul's effect on the environment and the surrounding community.

Universal can't break ground on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter until that regulatory process is complete.

Williams added that Harry Potter rides and shops will be built in the current confines of the theme park. That will likely mean some existing attractions will need to be torn down or refitted to be more appropriate for muggles.

RELATED:

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'Harry Potter' may work its magic at box office and break records

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Confetti falls at the end of an event announcing that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Harry Potter Wizarding World coming to Universal Hollywood

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This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was trumpeted at Universal Studios Hollywood on Tuesday, as California Gov. Jerry Brown and top officials from Warner Bros. and Universal Studios promised the creation of thousands of new jobs and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in building the new West Coast attraction.

But don't hold your breath: The new attraction will not open until at least 2016.

"It is a great day when we see investment in California and investment in the imagination," the governor said.

PHOTOS: Top Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions

Universal Studios' President and COO Ron Meyer and Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said the new park would cost "several hundred million dollars" to construct, and create more than one thousand jobs on the Universal City lot and many more in the surrounding area. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky applauded the "quality jobs" that he said would come with the creation of the new attraction.

Guests at the Tuesday morning press event were served mugs of Harry Potter's signature drink "Butterbeer," and watched a video greeting from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is visiting China on city business. Also on the stage, under a marquee reading, "Hogwarts Is Coming to Hollywood," were "Harry Potter" actors James and Oliver Phelps, who play the mischievous twins Fred and George Weasley in the boy wizard films based on the wildly successful novels by British author J.K. Rowling.

The new attraction will be constructed entirely within the existing Universal Studios property, those making the announcement said. There will be no new real estate purchased for the creation of the multi-acre Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But the West Coast construction will occur in tandem with an expansion of the Wizarding World at Universal Orlando. That 20-acre attraction, which opened in June 2010, drew more than 7 million visitors in the first year, and led to a 68% increase in attendance for the first three months of 2011.

The Los Angeles Potter park will closely resemble its Florida cousin, said Universal's Meyer.

"When you first see Hogwarts Castle and ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you will find it an unforgettable experience," Meyer said. "This will change the face of tourism in Southern California."

 -- Ben Fritz

[For the Record, 1:40 p.m. Dec. 6: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky is a city councilman and that the Weasley twins are "evil."]

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Photo: James Phelps and Oliver Phelps, who play the Weasley twins in the "Harry Potter" movies, at the unveiling of plans for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.

Harry Potter attraction plans at Universal Hollywood coming Tuesday

HarryPotterWizardingWorld
Harry Potter is making his Los Angeles debut on Tuesday.

Executives from Universal Studios and Warner Bros. will unveil and for the first time publicly discuss their plans to build the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood at a late-morning news conference.

Universal announced the event, stating in an email that it would be "hosting a Butterbeer toast to celebrate a very special announcement." People close to the matter but not authorized to discuss the event beforehand confirmed it would be the unveiling of plans to duplicate the massively successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction from Universal Studios Orlando at the L.A. theme park.

Top executives from Warner Bros., which made the "Potter" films and controls licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling's books about the boy wizard, will be in attendance along with those from Universal. They will include the leaders of both companies: Warner Chairman Barry Meyer and Universal President Ron Meyer (no relation).

In addition, demonstrating the significance of what will likely be a huge investment in building the Potter-themed rides and shops, along with the longer-term boost to tourism, California Gov. Jerry Brown will be in attendance.

The Orlando Wizarding World of Harry Potter has brought in more than 7 million people in its first year and was the main driver in a 36% increase at Universal's park there in the first three months of 2011.

The attraction isn't expected to open at Universal's Los Angeles location — right next to its film and television studio in Universal City — until 2015 at the earliest.

— Ben Fritz

RELATED:

Harry Potter attraction coming to Universal Studios Hollywood

Disney to license rights to 'Avatar' for theme park attraction

'Harry Potter' may work its magic at box office and break records

Photo: A fan in full regalia at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters.

Harry Potter attraction coming to Universal Studios Hollywood

HarryPotter
Hogwarts is coming to Hollywood.

Universal Studios is planning to build a replica of its successful Florida Harry Potter theme park in Los Angeles, said people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

A contract between Comcast Corp.-owned Universal and Warner Bros., which made the "Harry Potter" movies and controls licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling's books about the boy wizard, is being finalized and should be done within the next few weeks, the people said.

The new attraction is expected to open at Universal Studios Hollywood no earlier than 2015.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando has drawn more than 7 million people and was a primary driver in a 36% boost in attendance at the theme park in the first three months of 2011.

Families have flocked to the park to go on Potter-themed rides, like the Flight of the Hippogriff, visit replicas of Potter locations like the Three Broomsticks Inn, and even drink a re-creation of the story's  famous butterbeer.

Universal was not the only entertainment company seeking to replicate The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Southern California. Walt Disney Co. also held discussions with Warner to secure the rights for Disneyland in Anaheim. Recently, Disney signed a partnership to create attractions based on 20th Century Fox's "Avatar," the first of which will begin construction in Orlando in 2013.

A remaining question is where the Potter rides and shops would be placed at the land-strapped Universal Hollywood. In order to make room, the park would likely have to remove or retrofit existing rides.

News of the deal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

— Ben Fritz

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Times staff writer Brady MacDonald contributed to this report.

Photo: Fans snapping pictures of the cast of the "Harry Potter" movies at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters.

Universal acquires French animation studio for Illumination unit

DespicableMe
Santa Monica-based Illumination Entertainment is looking more and more like a traditional animation studio.

The company's owner, Universal Pictures, has acquired French animation house Mac Guff Ligne, which made Illumination's 2009 hit "Despicable Me" and is working on its next two pictures: March's "The Lorax" and 2013's "Despicable Me 2."

Illumination is the family entertainment unit of Universal founded and run by former Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri. Along with "Despicable Me," Universal released Illumination's so-so performer "Hop," a live-action animation hybrid, in April.

In the past, Meledandri has said that Illumination would outsource all of its animation work rather than employ artists as competitors like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks do. Apparently that approach has changed somewhat based on the significant amount of work that Mac Guff Ligne is doing for Illumination.

Unlike those other animation studios, Mac Guff employs fewer than 50 people on a permanent basis. It expands to as many as 350 people, however, at the peak of production on movies.

Universal is looking to Illumination to eventually provide it with two movies per year.

Mac Guff, which is based in Paris and will now be called Illumination Mac Guff, will continue to be led by its president, Jacques Bled. He will now report to Meledandri.

— Ben Fritz

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Photo: A scene from "Despicable Me." Credit: Universal Pictures.

Comcast profit up 5%, though NBC and Universal film struggle

Comcaststory
Comcast Corp. reported strong third-quarter earnings, holding onto more cable customers than expected despite the sluggish U.S. economy. However, the media conglomerate's two NBCUniversal units turned in frowny-face results.

The NBC broadcast network and the Los Angeles based Universal movie studio posted weak numbers for the quarter ended Sept. 30. The film studio underperformed at the box office, resulting in a 7.8% revenue decline compared with the third quarter of 2010. 

Tepid ratings at NBC as well as increased spending for new prime-time programming added to the drag on NBCUniversal's overall results. The broadcast TV division barely turned a profit.

As usual, NBCUniversal's collection of profitable cable television networks, including USA, Bravo, Syfy and E!, did their best to make up for lackluster numbers in the broadcast and film units.  

"The core of the programming business in NBCUniversal's cable networks unit and the results were good," Craig Moffett, senior analyst for Bernstein Research, wrote Wednesday morning just after Comcast released its earnings. "But the face of NBCU is the broadcast network, and while investors were braced for a weak result, they didn't disappoint in disappointing."

Overall, NBCUniversal generated $5 billion in revenue, a 4.6% increase from the year-earlier period.  Cable networks delivered 12% higher revenue of $2.1 billion. The broadcast television division contributed $1.5 billion for the quarter, an increase of 2.9%. 

The movie studio generated $1.1 billion in revenue compared with $1.2 billion in the 2010 period.  Revenue for theme parks, including Universal Studios in Los Angeles, swelled 9.1% to $580 million. 

Comcast acquired 51% of NBCUniversal in January and longtime owner General Electric holds the remaining 49%.

The bulk of business for Philadelphia-based Comcast is the delivery of cable television and high-speed Internet service to homes and businesses. Analysts were pleased at Comcast's cable subscriber losses -- 165,000 homes -- which was significantly better than the staggering loss of 275,000 in the third quarter of 2010.  

Revenue to the company's cable communications unit, which includes the video and high-speed Internet customers, increased 5% to $9.3 billion.

As a whole, Comcast -- the nation's largest cable television provider -- generated $14.3 billion in revenue, an increase of 51% over the year-earlier period. Net income attributable to Comcast was $908 million, or 33 cents a share, up from $867 million, or 31 cents a share, in the third quarter of 2010.

Analysts had been expecting earnings of 40 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.  Comcast executives said investments in the quarter contributed to the lower-than-expected earnings.

"Comcast's core cable business may not be "on fire" ... but their cable metrics are all significantly stronger than peers," Moffett wrote in his research report.

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Comcast profit up 5%, though NBC and Universal film struggle

-- Meg James

Photo: Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia. Credit: Roberto Gonzalez / The Orlando Sentinel.

 

Universal Pictures gives producer De Passe historic moment

Suzanne_de_PasseStory
In June 2010, when its merger was under heavy attack from lawmakers, regulators, members of the creative community and minority activist groups, independent producer and former Motown Productions President Suzanne de Passe testified at a congressional hearing that Comcast's plans to acquire control of NBC Universal was not necessarily a bad thing.

A combination of Comcast and NBC "presents the opportunity for doors to open," she said in written testimony at a House Judiciary Committee field hearing held in Los Angeles. While she warned that in general media consolidation has hurt minority producers such as herself, she said, "Comcast has both the financial and distribution resources to use this opportunity to create meaningful and institutional change in a system that has proven it will not do so on its own ... this can be a historic moment for minorities."

Now Comcast is putting its money where De Passe's mouth is as its Universal Pictures has signed a three-year, first-look production deal with De Passe Jones Entertainment, the production company she runs with Phillip Madison Jones.

“Suzanne and Madison are trailblazing producers who have great respect in multiple divisions of the entertainment industry,” said Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson and co-Chairman Donna Langley in a joint-statement.  “We are fortunate to work with such respected partners and look forward to their upcoming projects with the studio.”

In a statement, De Passe and Jones said they are “are excited and honored to have the opportunity to work closely with the immensely talented team of executives at Universal to produce films in a variety of genres.”

De Passe's testimony was a much-needed shot in the arm for Comcast's efforts to get approval for its merger from government regulators. At that same hearing, Stanley Washington, chief executive of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media and one of the most outspoken critics of the merger, called Comcast a "plantation." Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) even suggested Comcast tried to buy her support for the deal, an accusation the cable giant denied.

-- Joe Flint

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Photo: Suzanne de Passe. Credit: Universal.

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