In a surprise move, Rupert Murdoch on Sunday withdrew from the bidding for DirecTV after General Motors' board of directors failed to announce a decision on whether to sell the home satellite service to Murdoch's News Corp or to Charlie Ergen's EchoStar Communications. Hours later, GM concluded a deal with EchoStar that reportedly guarantees GM a $500-million break-up fee if regulators nix the deal or if EchoStar is unable to come up with the $32.3 billion in stock, cash and assumed debt that it has offered. Today's Wall Street Journal said that another part of the deal calls for EchoStar to pay $5 billion in cash to buy GM-controlled PanAmSat Corp., even if the DirecTV deal is rejected by regulators. (Ergen reportedly personally guaranteed half the cash commitment.) "Murdoch's behavior is similar to that of a spurned lover," Robert Chapman of Chapman Capital told Bloomberg News after Murdoch walked away from the deal. "But if GM needs to jettison EchoStar, I feel confident News Corp will be there." However, an unnamed News Corp executive told the London Financial Times: "We are through. We are done. Life goes on. It is over."
A scene on The WB's teen-targeted drama Dawson's Creek will show two gay teens locked in an extended kiss Wednesday night, USA Today reported today Monday. "I timed it," Scott Seomin of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told the newspaper. "It's like a 5 1/2-second mouth-to-mouth kiss. We haven't seen anything like this before on network TV." The episode is certain to arouse anger among numerous religious and pro-family activists. Heather Cirmo of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., told the newspaper that the episode will do a disservice to "impressionable teens who have questions about their sexuality by promoting a myth that homosexuality is something you're born with."
NBC FINALLY MAKES GOOD ON ITS PROMISE TO BUYERS
NBC finally scored a 4.5 rating Saturday night, the precise number that it guaranteed advertisers for its XFL football games. However, it pulled the number with a repeat of the James Bond movie Goldeneye.The movie peaked at 10:30 p.m. with a 5.4/10. Last week, the championship XFL contest averaged only a 2.5/5. The highest numbers for the night were scored by CBS's The District, which earned an 8.8/13 in the 10:00 p.m. hour and helped CBS win the night.
MURDOCH SEEN PULLING OFF DEAL TO BUY DIRECTV
Contrary to earlier reports, News Corp's proposal to take over Hughes Electronics' DirecTV will not be put to a vote of the General Motors board at its regular meeting Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. GM is the parent company of Hughes. Nevertheless, the newspaper said, top GM officials are continuing to meet with News Corp execs, including Chairman Rupert Murdoch, and are expected to recommend that the board approve Murdoch's latest proposal. Citing a "highly placed source," the Times said that a deal for DirecTV to be incorporated into Murdoch's Sky Global Network could come together in the next month.
BACARDI KNOCKING DOWN BARRIERS TO TV BOOZE ADS
Bacardi is expected to slice a large rip in the broadcast and cable industry's self-imposed ban on liquor advertising when it launches a sexy ad for its Disaronno Originale Amaretto liqueur on several cable outlets this week, the Wall Street Journal reported today Monday. The newspaper said that among the cable outlets carrying the spot will be Viacom's VHI, AOL Time Warner's TBC networks, and Comedy Central, jointly owned by Viacom and AOL Time Warner. In most instances, the ads, part of a $1.1-million cable marketing campaign, will run not on the networks themselves, the WSJ observed, but as local spots during station breaks in large markets, thereby circumventing anti-liquor policies by the nets.
BBC PLANS TO AIR LIVE INTERVIEWS WITH EXECUTION WITNESSES
As part of its plan to broadcast a documentary, The Oklahoma Bomber, in Britain on May 16, the day set for Timothy McVeigh's execution, the BBC will air live interviews with relatives of his victims after they have witnessed him being put to death, the London Independent on Sunday reported. The plans have sparked outrage by opponents of the death penalty in Britain. Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told the newspaper: "It disgusts me and I think it's a gross misuse of public funds. What makes it so shocking is that it's the BBC, which has a reputation for probity and ethical conduct." But David Belton, who was assigned to produce the live inserts for the documentary, replied, "We want to know if witnessing the execution has been a cathartic experience for the relatives, if it has helped them in the healing process. This is a legitimate question to ask, and it's in the public interest."
BRITISH MINISERIES LIKELY TO INFURIATE VIEWERS
Britain's commercial Channel 4 is bracing for a barrage of criticism when it airs the two-part miniseries Men Only on June 3 and 4, the London Sunday Times reported. The drama depicts upper middle-class men engaging in an assortment of amoral conduct and includes a graphic scene of a nurse being raped by three men, including a doctor, after being drugged with a horse tranquilizer. According to the Sunday Times, the men display little, if any, remorse afterwards. The drama, which was bought by Channel 4 two years ago, had originally been scheduled to air earlier this year, the newspaper said, and some executives of the network have questioned whether it should air at all. But Tessa Ross, head of drama programming for Channel 4, told the Sunday Times that she is "happy for Men Only to go out."
AOL TIME WARNER SETS SIGHTS (AND SITES) ON EUROPE
Seeking to expand its cable and Internet broadband operations into Europe, AOL Time Warner is in talks about forming an alliance with the British cable operator NTL, published reports said Monday.
OPTIMISM RISES OVER POSSIBLE WGA-PRODUCERS DEAL
Film and TV producers spent the weekend at the negotiating table with negotiators for the Writers Guild of America hoping to avert a strike following the expiration of the current labor contract at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. WGA officials have indicated that they are willing to agree to an extension of the current contract on a day-to-day basis if progress in the talks is being made. They have not yet taken a strike-authorization vote, which is required before a strike can begin. Monday's Los Angeles Times quoted labor and industry executives who have been in contact with the two sides as saying that they expect a deal this week.
REPORTER PUBLISHER SAYS NEWSMAN "LOST HIS OBJECTIVITY"
The publisher of the Hollywood Reporter has defended his decision to kill a story by his labor reporter that accused the trade paper's gossip columnist of accepting favors from two movie producers. Robert J. Dowling said in a statement on Friday that he spiked the story by reporter David Robb "because I felt that, over the course of time, he had lost his objectivity on this issue and was no longer adhering to The Hollywood Reporter's standards of journalistic, ethical and professional conduct." Robb subsequently resigned. Meanwhile, the trade paper reported Monday that the Screen Actors Guild has initiated an audit of gossip columnist George Christy's film credits as part of the guild's routine investigation of individuals who it believes might be defrauding its pension and health plan.
CLOONEY TO RETURN AS BATMAN?
George Clooney is expected to fulfill a deal with Warner Bros. to portray Batman a second time, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today. The newspaper quoted Darren Aronofsky, who has been tapped to direct the upcoming Batman: Year One, as saying: "George Clooney is going to be back as Batman in the movie. There are no major casting changes." Clooney was critical of his own performance as Batman in 1997's Batman and Robin, joining many reviewers in rapping the movie, which fell far short of studio expectations at the box office.
WEALTHY SINGER TO INVEST IN SCOTTISH MOVIE STUDIO
Former Eurythmics member Dave Stewart has decided to make a substantial investment in an $8-million film studio in Inverness, Scotland, the London Sunday Times reported. The studio, which is due to have a fiber-optic link to Stewart's multimedia company, the Hospital, in London, is likely to become the first film studio in Scotland. It is also being backed by James Cosmo, who costarred in Braveheart with Mel Gibson. "It won't be Hollywood, but it will be a proper working studio," Cosmo told the Sunday Times. Named Highland Studios, the facility sill reportedly have two main sound stages, one 15,000 square feet; the other 8,000 square feet. Plans by a rival group including Sean Connery to build a studio near Edinburgh have stalled, the newspaper said.
There really is no accounting for taste, especially in the minds of youngsters. Will Smith and his summer box-office disappointment "Wild Wild West" grabbed three awards at Nickelodeon’s 13th annual Kids’ Choice Awards taped Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Smith won three orange blimps for favorite song ("Wild Wild West"), favorite song from a movie (ooh … guess the song) and favorite male singer.
Rosie O'Donnell (who emceed the event) and Adam Sandler each won two awards. O’Donnell, in fact, picked up the highest honor of the evening, the Hall of Fame Award for her humor and charity work.
Other orange blimp winners included the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Melissa Joan Hart and Mandy Moore.
And in a surprise career move, Robert De Niro (yes, Robert De Niro) presented an award, as did LL Cool J, 98 Degrees, Carly Pope and Leslie Bibb from the WB’s "Popular" and Mel Gibson.
GARBO’S SECRETS INTACT: Historians unsealed more than 100 letters and other correspondence between Greta Garbo and Mercedes De Acosta on Saturday, but anyone hoping that rumors of a lesbian love affair between the actress and her socialite friend would be confirmed are likely to be disappointed. Garbo's grandniece, Gray Reisfield Horan, told the Associated Press, "I see nothing that refers to a liaison … I don't think there's much here to back it up. I only knew her to be interested in men." The items were unsealed 10 years after Garbo’s death, as she requested in her will. Garbo’s estate won’t let the media quote the letters, but it’s possible the letters may be published in a book.
LATIN SIZZLE: Actors Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz, along with singers Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, were among the Hispanic performers who were honored Sunday in Pasadena, Calif., at the fifth annual American Latino Media Arts Awards.
ALMA kudos also went to Latin tube talents Hector Elizondo of "Chicago Hope," Wilson Cruz of "Party of Five" and Laura Ceron of "ER."
Ten musical performers were recognized, including the Backstreet Boys, Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan (with 'N Sync), Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Rage Against the Machine and Santana. Martin nabbed the male entertainer of the year award for shaking his bon-bon while Lopez, also of bon-bon fame, and Aguilera, of future bon-bon fame, received awards for female entertainer and new female entertainer, respectively.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MOUSE: Disney has paid horror director Clive Barker an advance of $4 million against nearly $8 million for all movie and ancillary rights to four unpublished fantasy novels he is writing. Collectively, the books carry the tentative title ``The Abarat Quartet.''
BLAME CANADA: Actor, Canadian and former Julia Roberts fiance Kiefer Sutherland joined thousands of protesters in Calgary, Alberta, on Saturday to protest plans to privatize some of Canada’s public health care system. Perhaps he was worried about his own benefits, since his acting career has apparently gone into cardiac arrest.
MURDOCH HAS CANCER: Doctors are planning several weeks of radiation treatment for Fox media mogul Rupert Murdoch. In a statement published by Murdoch's newspapers over the weekend, a spokesman said: "His doctors have told Mr. Murdoch the prognosis is very good. ... He has no intention of changing his work schedule."
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: All it takes to own the pair of ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" is a whole lotta of cash. A pristine pair of slippers made for Judy Garland will be sold to the highest bidder May 24 by Christie's auction house, and collectors estimate the pair could fetch $750,000. Also available are the Cowardly Lion's "Oz" costume, a Rolls-Royce from the James Bond classic "Goldfinger" and Christopher Reeve's Superman capes and body stockings.