News, May 12: Possible Disney/Miramax Split on the Horizon, Sizemore Blames “Dirty” Test Results, NBC To Merge With Universal, More…

Top Story: Possible Disney/Miramax Split on the Horizon

Could the bloom be off the rose that is the relationship between family-oriented Walt Disney Inc. and its edgy subsidiary Miramax Films? Variety reported Tuesday that negotiations between Mouse House CEO Michael Eisner and Miramax chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein have reached a stalemate. Under the current agreement, which expires in 2005, Miramax distributes its film through Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. And while Miramax normally finances or acquires films and then distributes them without a tussle, the indie studio must still seek Disney’s approval for large-budget films (those over $30 million). According to Variety, the impasse in the negotiations is over money. Eisner is seeking to scale back Miramax’s $700 million-a-year budget while the Weinsteins would like to see it maintained. If talks between the two sides reach a Pixar-like deadlock, Miramax could tentatively buy back the company and its library or seek third-party distribution for future productions. But the loss of its indie arm would be a sever blow to Disney: Miramax is believed to have generated $2 million in profits for the Mouse House last year and currently supplies 40 percent of its live-action releases.

Sizemore Blames Dirty Test Results on Prescription Drug

Actor Tom Sizemore, who was convicted in 2003 of beating and threatening his ex-girlfriend, former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, blamed his “dirty” test results on his continued use of the prescription drug Eldepryl. Prosecutors filed documents on Monday accusing Sizemore, who last year was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to complete a residential drug rehab program for his addiction to crystal meth, of violating his parole by testing positive for methamphetamine use and for contacting Fleiss. But Sizemore‘s lawyer filed a declaration from a doctor blaming the test on his continued use of Eldepryl, which metabolizes as a substance similar to the illegal drug. Prosecutor Robert Cha, however, noted Eldepryl is only approved for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, which Sizemore does not suffer from. A hearing is set for June 25 in Los Angeles.

NBC, Universal To Merge

NBC closed its deal to merge with Universal Wednesday, creating a new media conglomerate that will take its place alongside giants such as Time Warner Inc. and Viacom Inc., AP reports. The new company, to be known as NBC Universal, will be led mainly by NBC executives including Bob Wright, the NBC chairman who will become its chairman and CEO. Wright will also continue as vice chairman of General Electric Co., NBC’s parent company. Wright said in a statement the combination presented a “tremendous growth opportunity for our viewers, advertisers, employees, and GE shareowners.”

Kiefer Sutherland Single Again

24 star Kiefer Sutherland has filed for divorce from his wife of nearly eight years, citing irreconcilable differences, The Associated Press reports. Sutherland and his wife, Elizabeth Kelly Winn Sutherland, were married on June 29, 1996 but have been separated since August 1999. This was the 37-year-old actor’s second marriage; He wed his Then Killing Time co-star Camelia Kath in 1988 but the couple filed for divorce two years later. Sutherland was also engaged to Julia Roberts, whom he met while filming Flatliners in 1990. The nuptials were scheduled for June 14, 1991 but never took place.

Raiders Didn’t Hire Apprentice Nick

A spokesman for the Oakland Raiders told the AP Tuesday that reports the franchise had hired The Apprentice contestant Nick Warnock to sell luxury suites at the Oakland Coliseum were “premature.” Artie Gigantino said the Raiders met with Warnock, 27, last week but no deal had been completed. “The way it was left, Nick was going to fulfill prior commitments and when he was done we’d revisit what the next step was,” Gigantino said. Warnock is currently working for Jason Binn’s Niche Media Holdings, publisher of several high-end magazines. He will sell advertisements and will be based in Los Angeles, the AP reports.

Primetime Nielsen Ratings From May 3-9

Thursday’s series finale of the NBC sitcom Friends drew an average 52.5 million viewers, giving the network to its best weekly showing in two years. Friends ranks as the fourth most-watched series finale in TV history, behind CBS’ M*A*S*H(106 million), and NBC’s Cheers (80.4 million) and Seinfeld (76.3 million). According to Nielsen Media Research figures, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships for the week of May 3-9 were: Friends, NBC, 52.5 million; Friends Clipshow, NBC, 36.9 million; ER, NBC, 28.4 million; Survivor All-Stars Finale, CBS, 24.8 million; Survivor All-Stars Reunion, CBS, 23.9 million; American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 22.8 million; American Idol (Wednesday) Fox, 21.2 million; CSI, CBS, 20.4 million viewers; NBC Movie of the Week: ‘10.5’ (Monday) NBC, 19.9 million; Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 19.2 million.

Tarantino Commends Some Movie Piracy

In the right context, director Quentin Tarantino isn’t completely opposed to movie piracy. In an anti-piracy seminar Tuesday in Cannes, Tarantino told audiences he was grateful people sold bootleg copies of his Oscar-winning film Pulp Fiction in China, where the violent thriller had not been released. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the auteur also said he was happy that certain rare movies not available from legitimate sources can be found on bootleg. “I would be a liar if I was to say, across the board, no piracy,” Tarantino said. The Motion Picture Association (MPA), the foreign lobbying arm of the major Hollywood studios, estimates pirated hard copies has resulted in losses of about $3.5 billion for its member companies.

R&B Artist Whitehead Found Dead

R&B singer John Whitehead, best known for his 1979 hit song “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” was found shot to death in Philadelphia, Penn., Tuesday. AP reports Whitehead, 55, and another man were working on a vehicle when they were shot by two gunmen. Whitehead was shot in the neck and collapsed, while the other man, Ohmed Johnson, was shot in the buttocks and was reported in good condition early Wednesday. “Why did they do this to my dad?” Dawn Whitehead, 33, asked at the scene. “I just talked to him yesterday … He was a fun person. Who would want to kill him?” Police had no immediate suspects or motive.

Soldier’s Video Diary To Air on CBS

On Wednesday, CBS’ 60 Minutes II will air a video diary of a young Amer