STUDIO BRIEFING: February 25th, 2004

...a summary of today's studio happenings.

SUPER SEX WINS
Sex trumped money Sunday night as the series finale of HBO's Sex and the City attracted an estimated 10.6 million people, according to figures released Tuesday by Nielsen Research. While ABC's Super Millionaire drew 17.5 million during the same time period, Nielsen pointed out that HBO can be seen in fewer than a third of the homes that can receive ABC. That said, the number of viewers aged 18-34 who watched the show outnumbered those in the same demographic group who watched Millionaire. A bigger surprise may have been the phenomenal showing of the series finale of Fox's My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé on Monday night at 9:00 p.m. The show drew a big, fat 12.2/18, translating to 21 million viewers, beating CBS's perennial champ in the time period, Everybody Loves Raymond (11.5/17). Mike Darnell, head of reality programming for Fox, told today's (Wednesday) New York Times that he was not surprised by the number, "because we saw the momentum building, and we thought we had a really great finale." The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 18.5/27; 2. Friends, NBC, 15.2/24; 3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.5/22; 4. E.R., NBC, 14.4/23; 5. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 12.9/20; 6. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8/20; 7. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 12.6/20; 8. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 12.4/18; 9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.3/19; 10. The Apprentice, NBC, 12.0/18.

MILLIONAIRE -- A LITTLE LESS THAN SUPER

Ratings for ABC's Super Millionaire have slid since Sunday night's debut. On Monday night, the Regis Philbin-hosted quiz show placed second in its time slot, and on Tuesday night it dropped to third. Although it was up substantially from programs that occupied its slot in previous week, its numbers did not achieve the same high level as the original series five years ago, garnering a 9.4/14 Tuesday night (24 percent above the ratings for last week's NYPD Blue, which aired in the same 10:00 p.m. hour). The show was beaten by NBC's Law & Order: SVU (11.9/18) and CBS's Judging Amy (9.7/15).

PETE ROSE: THE MOVIE

ESPN said Tuesday that it plans to produce a movie about Pete Rose that will focus on the period leading up to his suspension from baseball. The film, titled Hustle, is due to air on the sports channel on Sept. 25. ESPN exec Mark Shapiro said that the film will go beyond the gambling accusations that shot down Rose's star. "In order to feel some sympathy for him, we'll have to build him up," Shapiro told today's (Wednesday) New York Times, "so you'll see the backdrop of his success years in Cincinnati and take some time to tell the hard-working American story that he encapsulated."

EMINEM CLAIMS APPLE PIRATED HIS TUNE

Singer Eminem has sued Apple Computer, alleging that the company used one of his hit songs, "Lose Yourself," in a television commercial for its iPod digital recorder/player without authorization. The rap star also named the advertising firm Chiat/Day and MTV. Reuters cited a paragraph in the law suit stating that "Eminem has never nationally endorsed any commercial products and therefore he indicated, through his manager, that even if he were interested in endorsing a product, any endorsement deal would require a significant amount of money, possibly in excess of $10 million."

NEW HEAD OF BRITAIN'S ITV ANNOUNCED

British banking executive Peter Burt has been named chairman of the newly merged ITV. Shareholders groups that had blocked the appointment of Carlton Chairman Michael Green to the post reportedly gave Burt a thumbs-up. Overseeing the coming together of two companies like Carlton and Granada is nothing new to Burt. In his previous post as CEO of HBOS, he oversaw the 2001 merger of the Bank of Scotland with Halifax Bank. He retired last year.

THE PRIVATE EYE AND THE TABLOIDS
A Los Angeles television station has begun airing excerpts from telephone conversations between jailed private investigator Anthony Pellicano and a now-deceased reporter for the National Enquirer and the Globe. In the tapes, made by reporter Jim Mitteager before his death in 1997, and being played by KCBS-TV, Pellicano is heard offering to provide dirt about some of his clients in return for an agreement from the reporter to kill a story about others that Pellicano apparently looked upon more favorably. In one case he offers to give Mitteager a story about Jean-Claude Van Damme, whom he has just signed as a client, in return for Mitteager's dropping one about Whoopi Goldberg, another Pellicano client. When Mitteager asks what he has on Van Damme, Pellicano replies, "I don't have anything yet. I got to sit down and talk with him. The ink isn't even dry yet." In another conversation, Pellicano tells Mitteager, "Every chance I get, I put money in your pocket." But when Mitteager tells Pellicano that he wants $5,000 to kill a story about Goldberg, the detective shoots back, "Now you want to give me a reasonable number, the answer is yes. ... Five thousand is crazy."

NETFLIX SHARES TAKE A DIVE

Shares in Netflix, the online home-video rental outfit, plunged 12 percent Tuesday after the company announced that the costs of signing up new subscribers would increase by about $2 per subscription, or a total of $36, from its previous estimate. On the other hand, the company said that subscriber growth is increasing at a clip that is faster than expected and projected that about 1.9 million subscriptions would be recorded by the end of the current quarter.

ACADEMY KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON OSCAR SHOW'S TV ADS

Following complaints about the alleged raunchiness of some Super Bowl commercials, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Tuesday that it intends to closely monitor the content of ads that will air during Sunday night's Oscar telecast. "We want the show to reflect, not a stuffiness, but a dignity appropriate for film's highest honor," academy exec Ric Robertson told the Associated Press. "We want it to be a family affair that can be appreciated by the widest possible audience." An ABC executive told he wire services that the network is also assigning an executive in its broadcast standards division -- the network's censorship unit -- to make sure an advertiser doesn't try to make a last-minute change in its ad.

DISNEY ASKS JUDGE TO THROW OUT POOH LAW SUIT

Attorneys for the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday asked a Los Angeles judge to throw out the suit filed against it by heirs to the Winnie the Pooh rights holder on the grounds that the plaintiffs broke into its offices and stole crucial documents from desks and filing cabinets. Relatives of the rights holder, the late Stephen Slesinger, claim that their investigators found the documents in Disney's trash after they became suspicious that the company would try to dispose of incriminating evidence.

DELAWARE JUDGE RELEASES DISNEY RECORDS

A Delaware judge on Tuesday chastised the Walt Disney Co. for attempting to "sanitize the public record [by] effectively maintaining a cloak of secrecy with respect to certain testimony and documents concerning the conduct of Disney officers and directors." Chancery Court Justice William Chandler's comment was included in a letter to the lawyers for Disney's board, who had sought to keep documents filed in a shareholder's lawsuit sealed until a shareholders' meeting in March. The documents could provide ammunition for former directors Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, who have asked the shareholders to withhold their votes from Disney Chairman Michael Eisner.

PENNSYLVANIA SUES TIME WARNER

The state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday filed suit against Time Warner and subsidiary AOL, charging that they intentionally misled investors about their financial soundness, thereby causing the state's investment funds to lose at least $100 million. The suit alleges that while the state investment groups, including the Public School Employees' Retirement System, the State Employees' Retirement System, and the State Workers' Insurance fund, lost money, company insiders made more than $1 billion by selling stock at inflated prices. Pennsylvania's suit follows similar legal action taken by Minnesota, West Virginia, California and Ohio.

MOVIE REVIEWS 2: THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

A few film critics have actually waited until today, the official opening date of The Passion of the Christ, to weigh in on the movie. Among them, A.O. Scott in the New York Times, who writes: "The Passion of the Christ is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus' final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it. Mr. Gibson has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one. It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal: "I found myself stunned, then horrified, then defensively benumbed, by a level of violence that, in another context, would be branded as pornographic. No one who watches Mr. Gibson's dramatization of Christ's final hours will come away unaffected by its intensity. Yet this work of manifest devotion, financed by the filmmaker himself, is ultimately overwhelmed by his obsession with physical suffering to the exclusion of political and metaphysical context." Carrey Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Even for the faithful, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is too much Good Friday and not enough Easter Sunday. Emphasizing Jesus' agony over His ecstasy, Gibson has delivered a blood-drenched epic more stunning for its brutal violence than for its depiction of the Calvary. This work of obvious devotion may well be the first spiritual splatter film." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News: "Controversy aside, it is dramatically intense, skillfully constructed and often harrowing, in ways that should have an impact on people of any or no particular faith. Just be ready for oceans and oceans of blood." Claudia Puig in USA Today: "Despite controversies swirling around the movie, one cannot deny that Gibson has made a stunning film, beautifully photographed in contrasting dark and golden hues by Caleb Deschanel. However, the one thing The Passion is not is enjoyable. The nearly half-hour march to Golgotha, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, is excruciating."


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