Reporter editor Busch quits

Hollywood Reporter editor Anita M. Busch resigned Monday following a dispute with publisher Robert Dowling over his decision to quash an article by the trade paper’s labor reporter. The article by David Robb questioned whether the paper’s gossip columnist, George Christy, had accepted favors from movie producers in return for mentions in his column. Robb resigned last week. Another Reporter writer, Beth Laski, also quit Monday. Busch, who last week appeared to be trying to control the internal fallout from the incident, apparently was jolted by a statement issued by Dowling to The Associated Press on Friday accusing Robb of losing his objectivity and failing to adhere to the Reporter‘s standards and journalistic ethics. In a letter to the editorial staff, Busch said, “I just can’t stand by comments made to The Associated Press about a journalist that I know as being one of the most ethical and incorruptible I have ever worked with.” In a statement Monday expressing disappointment over Busch’s resignation, Dowling repeated his accusations against Robb and, in interviews with other publications, maintained that Robb’s story was not killed but “reassigned.” He told the Internet media magazine Inside: “As I said in the staff meeting today, if I had to do it over again, I would make the same decision.” A story about the Christy matter, written by two other Reporter writers, appeared in the trade paper on Monday, noting that the Screen Actors Guild is investigating charges that Christy received credits in movies without ever working in them in order to receive benefits from the guild’s pension and health fund. Robb told the New York Post that it was “a shadow of my story. They had to write something.” Meanwhile, Christy, in an interview with AP, insisted that he had in fact worked in the films for which he was credited. He added, “I should say that there is such a thing as a cutting-room floor.”

According to a study by the organization Children Now, the so-called Family Hour between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., contains the least racially diverse casts in all of primetime TV. Minorities are included in these shows only to provide “a service, a piece of information or a punch line,” the study said. It found that only 13 percent of network fare during the hour featured a mixed cast, versus 67 percent during the 10 p.m. hour. The study also found that men outnumbered women on programs during the 8 p.m. hour by more than 2-1 and that the female characters on them tended to be “beautiful, young, thin and white.”

In a one-time stunt, Fox TV’s That ’70s Show on Tuesday will include commercials for five regular advertisers — Cola-Cola, Dr Pepper, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Volkswagen — that originally aired in the ’70s. Jon Nesvig, president for sales at Fox Broadcasting, told Tuesday’s New York Times: “We were looking for a way to ‘event-ize’ That ’70s Show for the sweeps. … It becomes a little bit like the Super Bowl, where the commercials are part of the show, so hopefully people will stay tuned to watch.” Although the TV Land cable channel regularly runs vintage commercials for free, advertisers will be paying an estimated $150,000 apiece for those airing on Fox tonight, the Times reported.

James Cameron, who has proposed a television series for Fox TV filmed aboard the International Space Station, has indicated that he does not want to become embroiled in the same sort of controversy between NASA and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency that involved “space tourist” Dennis Tito. In an interview with Tuesday’s USA Today, Cameron said that he would await the completion of safety and training protocols for non-professional astronauts. The newspaper quoted a Russian space official as saying that Cameron would be required to undergo extensive training before being allowed to fly to the space station and that he would not be able to make the trip until late 2002 at the earliest.

Although it won its time slot, NBC’s The Weakest Link slipped significantly in the ratings Monday night. The Anne Robinson-hosted quiz show sank to an 8.7 rating and a 14 share versus a 10.5/16 a week earlier. The slide helped CBS regain the leadership on Monday night as it averaged a 9.3/14. ABC took second place with an 8.7/13, while NBC slid to third with an 8.5/13, just a notch above Fox, which scored an 8.4/13.

The Walt Disney Co. is attempting to block affiliates of the Radio Disney kids radio network from accepting promotions and advertisements for the upcoming DreamWorks movie Shrek, the online media magazine Inside reported Tuesday. Inside published a notice that appeared in Radio Disney’s affiliate newsletter, reading in part: “Due to recent initiatives with the Walt Disney Company, we are being asked not to align ourselves promotionally with this new release. Stations may accept spot dollars only in individual markets.” Promotions and screenings for Shrek that had already been arranged in San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland Phoenix and Seattle were canceled, Inside said.

Spokespersons for the Writers Guild of America and for film and TV producers continued to express optimism Monday that the two sides would be able to agree to terms for a new labor contract before the current one expires at 12:01 a.m. PT Wednesday. However, as Tuesday’s Washington Post observed, there is “little clear evidence to support the sunnier view,” and many expect that the guild may ask members for strike authorization following today’s meeting (although it is likely to agree to an extension of the deadline). On Monday, Mayor Richard Riordan renewed his offer to mediate the dispute and implied that he was miffed that his previous offer had not been accepted. “Both sides so far have said they don’t want politicians involved,” Riordan said, “but a strike could be devastating to the city.”

Calling it a “colossal display of hypocrisy,” the enterprising online investigative site The Smoking Gun reported Monday that actor Ben Affleck, who received much TV coverage during the last election when he participated in get-out-the-vote drives for Al Gore, never bothered to vote in the election himself and in fact has not voted in federal or state races since 1992. Although on election day, Affleck concluded an appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell show by remarking, “I think this is the time to get involved, especially the young folks who are here. … I’m about to go vote,” he had not even registered to do so, the article claimed. A spokesman for the actor said that he was prevented from voting because of a “bureaucratic snafu.”

For the first time since 1957, the Ealing comedy logo will be attached to a new film when a remake of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest is released next year, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Tuesday. The $15-million film starring Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Reese Witherspoon recently began shooting in the west London studio, now owned by the BBC, where such classics as Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man in the White Suit, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers were produced.