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'Lovely Bones' the next 'Twilight'?

While executives at Paramount and DreamWorks thought they were making a movie that would appeal to adults, testing has shown the only audience responding strongly to "The Lovely Bones" is teenage and college-age girls.

After spending $150 million on production and marketing costs and counting on a broad -- and adult -- audience, Paramount suddenly is switching its marketing to target the "Twilight" crowd.

Read Ben Fritz and Claudia Eller's story in today's Times.

Entertainment roundup: Billboard, Hollywood Reporter sold

After months of speculation about their future, the entertainment industry trade newspaper Hollywood Hollywoodreporter Reporter, music industry paper Billboard and six other publications owned by Nielsen Business Media have been sold.

Their new owner is a consortium of investors led by James Finkelstein, whose News Communications controls publications including Washington paper Roll Call and the "Who's Who" directories. In addition, Finkelstein owns Thompson Publishing Group, which puts out a variety of niche publications about government regulations.

Read the blog post by Ben Fritz in Company Town here


AOL completed its spinoff from Time Warner today and went back to being an independent Internet company. Entertainment reporter Joe Flint says Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes took the opportunity to issue a "goodbye and don't let the door hit you on the way out" memo.

Read the full post here

Photo Associated Press

Much to the chagrin of California, New Mexico has emerged as a major draw for movies and TV shows in recent years, Richard Verrier writes. Credit a generous 25% film production rebate, favorable climate and an aggressive film office.

Now, the state that bills itself it as "Hollywood's Newest Home" is ratcheting up the competition even further. With the support of a $10-million economic development grant from the state, developers are about to break ground on a major production studio just outside Santa Fe, the state capital.

Read more here

Photo: An artist's rendering of Santa Fe Studios. Credit: Bastien & Associates Inc.

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Here's a roundup of today's entertainment news by reporter Joe Flint: 

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Top stories: Diedrich Coffee picks suitor, ex-subprime executives sued, Zucker and Roberts in D.C.

It's official. Irvine coffee wholesaler Diedrich Coffee Inc. has agreed to be swallowed by Green Mountain Coffee DiedrichblogRoasters Inc., Jerry Hirsch writes this morning.

Green Mountain's $290-million offer ended a nearly two-month bidding war with rival Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. Peet's pulled out of the bidding Monday.

The battle for Diedrich was over control of the company's license to make the single-use ground-coffee pods that fit into the popular Keurig single-cup brewers sold in department stores and household-goods suppliers such as Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Green Mountain of Waterbury, Vt., owns the Keurig brewing system patent and has been buying the handful of roasters that hold licenses to make the "K-Cup" cartridges for Keurig-style coffeemakers.

Read the story here.

Photo: Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times


Scott Reckard writes that three former executives of Irvine-based New Century Financial Corp. were accused by regulators of misleading investors as its subprime-loan business collapsed:

New Century was the nation's second-largest lender to borrowers with spotty credit before its demise in April 2007 signaled an unfolding crisis in the mortgage and housing markets that set off a deep global recession.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Brad Morrice, a co-founder and former chief executive of New Century; Patti M. Dodge, its former chief financial officer; and David N. Kenneally, its ex-controller, of securities fraud. Through their attorneys, all three denied wrongdoing and said they would contest the suit.

The SEC complaint alleges that the executives failed to disclose dramatic increases in the rate of borrowers who were defaulting almost immediately on their loans. The defendants also didn't disclose that investors who bought mortgages from New Century were increasingly demanding that the company buy back problem loans, the suit says.

Read more here.

Photo: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

Joe Flint writes in Company Town that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker are headed to the Federal Communications Commission today. 

GENACHOWSKI On their agenda are sit-down meetings with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and three of the four commissioners, including Michael Copps, the veteran Democratic FCC commissioner, who has already said that Comcast's deal to acquire majority control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. will "face a very steep climb with me." Chairman Genachowski has kept his mouth shut on the deal, other than saying, “The FCC will carefully examine the proposed merger and will be thorough, fair and fact-based in its review.”

Read the full post here.

Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images


--Pat Benson

GE reaches agreement with Vivendi on NBC Universal stake

Entertainment reporter Meg James writes in the Company Town blog  that General Electric Co. has reached an agreement with French telecommunications firm Vivendi to buy its 20% stake in NBC Universal for $5.8 billion, according to one person familiar with the negotiations.

The news was first reported this evening by the Wall Street Journal.  Representatives of GE and Vivendi declined to comment.  Neither company's officials would confirm the Journal's report. 

Last week, GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt traveled to Vivendi's Paris headquarters to meet with Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy in an effort to break the logjam and negotiate an exit for the French firm. GE must buy out Vivendi's interest before it can sell its controlling stake in NBC Universal to cable television giant Comcast Corp. That deal, which is still being finalized, could be announced within a few days.

 [Updated at 11:31 p.m.: For more information, see the full article.]

Penske bets he can beat the odds in Internet media

PenskeFuller Call it the arrogance of youth or foresight few others possess, but Jay Penske is betting that an old editorial model can work in new media.

The 30-year-old chief executive of Media Corp. seemed to have come from nowhere this summer when he acquired Nikki Finke's Hollywood news site in a deal that will net the blogger at least several million dollars. Now he's working with Bonnie Fuller, giving the former editor of celebrity and fashion magazines such as Star, US Weekly, and Marie Claire a substantial equity stake to edit his new site,

At a time when media companies online and off are cutting back, Penske is using the $35 million-plus in  funding he has raised to try to build a mini digital media empire by spending on expensive talent.

"We look at the editorial people in journalism as the ones creating value, and we think original content is what people want," Penske says confidently.

It's a formula for losing money fast, but for anyone with aspirations of standing out from the innumerable sites that rehash and comment on news reported by others, it may still be the only formula that makes sense. To find out how Penske and Fuller are approaching and how it fits into Media's strategy, read this story from Thursday's Times (we're betting some of you missed it over the holiday).

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Bonnie Fuller and Jay Penske. Credit: Media Corp.

Disney Channel names new president

Fi-carolinalightcap-blog Carolina Lightcap, the senior vice president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Latin America, has been named president of Disney Channels Worldwide -- an announcement that underscores the global nature of the network, entertainment reporter Dawn Chmielewski writes in the Company Town blog.

The 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry, who began her career in Los Angeles, is known for building Disney Channel Latin America into a top cable channel in the region. The promotion takes effect immediately.

Read the full post here

High ticket prices likely to mean big box office opening for Disney's 'Princess'

Disney's first hand-drawn animated feature in six years isn't only a throwback in style.

When "The Princess and the Frog" opens Wednesday, it also will be the first Disney animated film since "Brother Bear," its last non-CGI feature, to start in limited release in New York and Los Angeles. The studio is pairing the two initial runs of "Princess" with an "experience" that includes games, actresses dressed as Disney princesses, props, costumes and other activities that give kids fun time beyond the film, entertainment reporter Ben Fritz writes in the Company Town blog.

All those extras mean ticket prices will be substantially higher than for a normal picture. Disney is charging $30 for general admission tickets, $50 for the best seats and $20 per person for groups at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City and on the studio lot in Burbank.

Read the full post here

Photo: A scene from "The Princess and the Frog." Credit: Associated Press / Walt Disney Studios

EMI helps Hulu take on YouTube

EMI Music became the first major music company to agree to distribute its music videos and concert footage on Hulu, the popular online video site.

Starting with today's announcement, EMI will make content available from its various music labels, including Virgin, Capitol and Blue Note. It launches with exclusive footage of Norah Jones performing music from her new album, "The Fall," in a concert at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City.

--Dawn C. Chmielewski

Read the full post here from the Company Town blog

Photo: The cover of Norah Jones' latest release, "The Fall." Credit: EMI Blue Note / Associated Press


Video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 gets Hollywood-scale launch

Modern Warfare 2 generated a record-setting $550 million in sales through Saturday, besting not only the previous mark for a video game but also for movies at the box office, entertainment reporter Ben Fritz writes today. That represents about 8 million units sold, according to estimates by publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. of Santa Monica.

"This provided the entire industry with a shot in the arm," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, who predicted Modern Warfare 2 would ultimately sell 15 million to 20 million units, exceeding $1 billion in revenue.

Call of Duty cost $40 million to $50 million to produce, people close to the project said, about as much as a mid-size film. Including marketing expenses and the cost of producing and distributing discs, the launch budget was $200 million, on par with a summer popcorn movie -- and extremely high for a video game.

Unleashing a Hollywood-scale opening for Modern Warfare 2 has been a priority for Activision Blizzard. The marketing and publicity campaign has featured all of the trappings of a modern movie effort, including ads and trailers designed by top advertising shops, a Twitter feed on which news was strategically disclosed, and a controversial scene involving airport terrorism that leaked onto YouTube and generated much media attention.

"My goal was to create a launch that would compare very favorably to the biggest box offices of all time," Activision Blizzard Chief Executive Bobby Kotick said.

Read the full story by clicking here

Photo: Alejandro Medina, 20, of Culver City, dons a jungle sniper ghillie suit as he takes in the festivities surrounding the release of the video game Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 at Best Buy. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


Michael Moore declares all-out war on capitalism

Director Michael Moore now wants nothing less than the complete overthrow of the modern capitalist system.

From Reuters in Venice today:

Capitalism is evil. That is the conclusion U.S. documentary maker Michael Moore comes to in his latest movie "Capitalism: A Love Story," which premieres at the Venice Film Festival Sunday.

Capitalismposter Blending his trademark humor with tragic individual stories, archive footage and publicity stunts, the 55-year-old launches an all-out attack on the capitalist system, arguing that it benefits the rich and condemns millions to poverty.

"Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil," the two-hour movie concludes. "You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy."

Moore’s long-awaited film, which will open in L.A. and New York on Sept. 23 and nationwide on Oct. 2, is in part his post-mortem on the global financial system crash that began a year ago this month with the collapse of brokerage Lehman Bros.

But the film takes on much more than the usual cast of blood-sucking bankers to make the case against capitalism, delving into unrewarded worker productivity, vultures who make their living off foreclosed homes and horror stories from a privately owned juvenile correctional facility in Pennsylvania.

Time magazine’s Mary Corliss writes from Venice:

"Capitalism: A Love Story" does not quite measure up to Moore's "Sicko" in its cumulative power, and it is unlikely to equal "Fahrenheit 9/11" in political impact. In many ways, though, this is Moore's magnum opus: the grandest statement of his career-long belief that big business is screwing the hard-working little guy while government connives in the atrocity.

As he loudly tried to confront General Motors CEO Roger Smith in "Roger & Me" in 1989, and pleaded through a bull horn to get officials at Guantanamo to give medical treatment to surviving victims of "9/11," so in "Capitalism" he attempts to make a citizen's arrest of AIG executives, and puts tape around the New York Stock Exchange building, declaring it a crime scene.

But Corliss also questions whether Moore’s call for a grass-roots revolution can make it past the theater exit door:

At the end Moore says, "I refuse to live in a country like this -- and I'm not leaving." But this call to arms demands more than a ringleader; it requires a ring, an engaged citizenry who are mad enough not to take it any more. That's unlikely to happen. Moore's films are among the top-grossing documentaries in history because they are pertinent populist entertainments. The question remains: Will "Capitalism: A Love Story" rouse the rabble to revolt? Or will audiences sit appreciatively through the movie, then go home and play the cat-in-the-toilet [YouTube] video?

More reviews of the film from Venice screenings are here.

-- Tom Petruno


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