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News, Dec. 30: Jackson's Spokesman Quits, Oscar Ballots Sent Out Early, "Home Improvements"'s Hindman Dies, More…

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Dec 30, 2003 | 2:14pm EST

Top Story: Jackson's Spokesman Resigns Over "Strategic Differences"

Stuart Backerman, Michael Jackson's chief spokesman, resigned Monday, citing "strategic differences" with other members of the singer's team over the handling of child molestation charges, Reuters reports. "I resigned today over strategic differences with the way things are going," Backerman told Reuters in an interview. He declined to elaborate on those differences, and added: "The one thing I will say is that I love Michael Jackson and his fans." Backerman's resignation comes a day after CBS News broadcast an interview with Jackson in which he emphatically denied the felony charges facing him and reiterated the fact that he saw nothing wrong with sleeping with children. According to preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research, the interview drew more than 18 million viewers to 60 Minutes when it aired Sunday from 7:30-8:30 p.m. EST.

King Reigns Overseas

New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment of director Peter Jackson's epic trilogy, has grossed $270 million in foreign markets in its first 12 days, Variety reports. With many rival distributors holding off on their releases to avoid going up against The Return of the King, the film has pulled in an estimated $83 million for the three-day weekend from 38 markets. Its overall cumulative total is 27% ahead of where last year's The Two Towers was after 12 days and 73% ahead of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001.

Oscar Ballots Sent Out Early

Nomination ballots for the 76th Academy Awards were mailed Monday to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science's 5,803 voting members--a surprise to some not expecting them so soon. The Academy announced last April nomination ballots would be sent out Jan. 2 but the organization's rulebook mailed to members in August included a revised calendar with a Dec. 29 date for mailing of the ballots. The ballots must be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m. on Jan. 17. Ballots received after that deadline will be ineligible. The nominations will be announced Jan. 27 at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater and the awards ceremony will be held at the Kodak Theater Feb. 29.

New York Movie Tix Pass $10 Mark

The price of movie tickets in New York City just passed the $10 mark as two area chains hiked the price of general admission this week 25 cents to $10.25 for adults and $6.75 for children, Variety reports. It marks the second price hike by the Loews Cineplex theaters and the Regal-owned United Artists Union Square multiplex in less than two years. According to the MPAA, in 2002 the average ticket price in the U.S. was $5.81, up 2.7 percent from 2001. In 2003, the average price increase was around 4 percent. Manhattan has always had the steepest ticket prices and its average ticket price remains a good $4 above the U.S. national average. A statement from Loews said: "Given the richness of entertainment we offer, we feel that our tickets are priced at a fair value for everyone to enjoy the show."

Home Improvements's Earl Hindman Dies

Actor Earl Hindman, who starred on Tim Allen's long-running TV sitcomHome Improvement, died of lung cancer Monday at the age of 61, The Associated Press reports. Hindman was best known for his Home Improvement character Wilson, whose face was always hidden by a fence with only his eyes and forehead visible to audiences. His wife, the Rev. Molly McGreevy of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., told The Advocate of Stamford: "Earl had a very deep voice. It was very rich, very warm and very recognizable. He was the funniest human being I ever met. Even after 27 years of marriage, he could always crack me up."

Jolie Visits Sudanese Refugee Camp in Egypt

On Monday, Angelina Jolie was in Egypt distributing winter clothes, blankets and toys at a Sudanese refugee camp on the outskirts of Cairo, the AP reports. According to a statement from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Jolie was in Egypt as a goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR and toured the Kilo Arbaa We Nus camp outside Cairo with Egyptian film star and fellow goodwill ambassador Adel Imam. The Oscar-winning actress, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency since 2001, also donated $20,000 to build a community health center in the crowded camp, which houses tens of thousands of African refugees, mostly from war-torn Sudan.

Fox Unveils Hybrid Reality Show

Fox has wrapped production on My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé, an hour-long hybrid reality-scripted show described as "the ultimate practical joke." According to Variety, the show's premise starts with producers enlisting an unsuspecting woman who knew she was going to be on a reality show. Her mission is to convince her friends and family that she met a man on a reality show, fell madly in love with him and is planning a quickie wedding in the next few weeks. She would stand to win $1 million if she can make it through the wedding ceremony as her horrific faux fiancé tests the limits of her entourage. Obnoxious Fiancé, a replacement for the short-lived drama, Skin, is set to premiere Jan. 19.

Spears Set To Rock in Rio

Britney Spears will join Metallica, Guns N' Roses and Slipknot June 5 at Portugal's Rock in Rio-Lisbon festival, Billboard.com reports. The Rock in Rio-Lisbon festival will be her first international performance date of 2004 and will be followed by her North American tour in support of her latest studio album, In the Zone, starting March 2 in San Diego and wrapping the second week of April in New York. Sting and Alejandro Sanz are among the other acts set to perform during the May 29-30 and June 3-6 event at the Bela Vista Parque in Lisbon.

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