NBC chairman Robert Wright has defended the network's decision to invest in the XFL and devote its Saturday-night schedule last season to the football league's games. In an interview with Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Wright said, "The XFL was not a bad idea at all. The ratings were very acceptable for sports. They were approximately the same as baseball, exceeded the NHL and exceeded the U.S. Open and the French Open. But for Saturday night network programming, they were low." Wright, however, did acknowledge that the XFL telecasts "probably should have started on cable before we brought it to NBC. But it was very expensive programming, so you needed the NBC network advertising to break even. If you started it out on cable, it would have taken too long to make money."
Saturday-night network ratings continued to look dismal as the four major networks averaged less than a 4.0 rating. NBC's numbers, in fact, dropped to a level it hadn't seen since XFL football ended, with a one-hour special, Behind the Movies: Animal Housedrawing a 2.6 rating and a 6 share at 8 p.m. The 1978 movie itself, which aired between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., averaged only a 3.3/7. CBS won the night with a 4.6/10 average. It also won Sunday night with a 6.8/12, largely on the strength of old stand-by 60 Minutes, which scored an 8.5/16 in the 7 p.m. hour.
The debacle of the XFL football league has thrown the World Wrestling Federation for a loss. For the quarter ended April 30, the WWF reported a net loss of $20.4 million versus a net profit of $9.5 million during the same quarter a year ago. According to the company's SEC filing, the XFL cost the WWF $46.9 million. WWF spokesman Judd Everhart told Friday's New York Post: "We rolled the dice on XFL and it didn't work out quite as we expected it would." The XFL telecasts were widely regarded as the biggest flop in television history.
After airing a slew of season finales on its Must-See TV night on Thursday -- and without the competition of CBS's Survivor or the drag of the XFL-- NBC returned to the top of the Nielsen list last week for the first time in seven weeks with an average 9.2 rating and a 16 share. CBS, which had held the top spot since the beginning of April, fell to second place with an average 7.9/13. ABC placed third with a 7.1/12, while Fox ranked last with a 5.9/10.
The top 10 shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. E.R. NBC, 20.1/32; 2. Friends, NBC, 18.7/31; 3. Law and Order, NBC, 14.5/24; 4. West Wing, NBC, 14.1/22; 5. Will & Grace, NBC, 13.4/20; 6. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 12.4/19; 7. CBS Sunday Movie: Like Mother, Like Son, CBS, 11.3/18; 8. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.2/17; 9. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 11.1/19; 10. Judging Amy, CBS, 10.8/18.
CBS CEO Les Moonves predicted Monday that the network would score its first ratings victory in the May sweeps since 1983. He particularly credited the recently completed Survivor: The Australian Outback and the new drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, both of which aired on Thursday night against NBC's ordinarily unbeatable Must-See TV lineup. "The month of May clearly demonstrates the shift in power," Moonves told reporters. But NBC quickly responded that it had won the month among adults 18-49, the demographic group most prized by advertisers. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker remarked that had it not been for the XFL ratings disaster, its numbers would have been unchanged from a year ago.
The WWF is adopting a "try, try again" mentality after the recent demise of the XFL, which the WWF co-owned. It's latest project: a reality series, co-produced with MTV, in which 13 wrestling fanatics are thrown into a house for 13 weeks--forced to train and wrestle one another--until only one remains. According to The Associated Press, the winner's prize will be a contract to wrestle in the WWF. Titled WWF Tough Enough, the show debuts June 21 on MTV.
In a presentation to potential advertisers on Wednesday, WWF chairman Vince McMahon revealed he's contacted the WB network about picking up coverage of the fledgling XFL. According to Variety, McMahon, who is co-owner of the rookie football league along with NBC, admits the XFL will go bankrupt unless high-exposure coverage of the games continues. However, a WB spokesman said: "The WB is not interested in getting the rights to the XFL and neither are any of our affiliates.''
Following a last-ditch effort Wednesday to coerce the WB and UPN to provide XFL coverage, WWF chairman Vince McMahon and NBC--owners of the XFL--announced Thursday that the rookie football league is closing operations. Launched in February, the XFL coverage on NBC Saturday nights drew strong ratings in its first weekend but soon plummeted, forcing NBC executives to pull the plug, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "The bottom line is that we didn't deliver what [the audience] wanted to see," said NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. "They came, but they just didn't come back." The WWF has lost an estimated $35 million on the XFL thus far.
CBS won the first week of the May sweeps, powered by its hit reality show Survivor II: The Australian Outback and its coupled drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The two shows scored second- and third-place finishes respectively, behind an episode of NBC's E.R., which saw the return of Sally Field. CBS averaged an 8.4 household rating for the week with a 14 share. NBC, no longer feeling the drag of ratings for its XFL football telecasts, was close behind with an 8.2/14. ABC, which placed two editions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the top ten, was third with a 7.1/12, followed by Fox with a 5.7/10. Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw set a modern record by maintaining the lead among network newscasts for 52 consecutive weeks.
The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. E.R. NBC, 17.5/29; 2. Survivor II: The Australian Outback, CBS, 16.6/27; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.4/22; 4. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Sunday), ABC, 12.0/18; 5. West Wing, NBC, 11.9/19; 6. Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 11.7/20; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4/17; 8. Law and Order, NBC, 11.3/19; 9. The Practice, ABC, 11.2/18; 10. Friends, NBC, 10.9/19.
TALKS BETWEEN WRITERS, PRODUCERS CONTINUE PAST DEADLINE
Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers stayed at the bargaining table for nearly three hours past the 12:01 a.m. expiration of their contract, then announced that they would resume their talks at noon Wednesday. Although spokespersons for both sides said that the current contract had not been formally extended, the fact that the WGA negotiators did not call for a strike authorization vote appeared to represent a de facto recognition of a day-to-day extension. It also suggested that the two sides may be nearing an agreement. Each side, however, declined to say whether progress was being made. "We are working very hard to reach an agreement," Writers Guild spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden told reporters at the end of last night's (this morning's) session.
NBC CHIEF QUERIES PRODUCERS ABOUT "THE SOPRANOS"
In what was regarded by executives at HBO as a slap at their most successful program, NBC President Robert Wright has written to several top producers asking for their views about the impact of The Sopranos -- "a show which we could not and would not air on NBC because of the violence, language and nudity." The letter was accompanied by a tape of one Sopranos episode that included sex scenes and a violent beating of a prostitute. HBO Chairman Jeff Bewkes told the New York Times, "I take exception to his implication that there in inappropriate content on the show. I feel it's unjustified. It's hard to understand what he's trying to do." Wright told Wednesday's Los Angeles Times that his goal was to provoke a dialogue about where network programming is heading.
GM AND NEWS CORP TO CONTINUE DIRECTV TALKS
The board of directors of General Motors said Tuesday that they wanted to continue talks with News Corp about merging Hughes Electronics' DirecTV with the media giant's Sky Global Networks. GM is the parent company of Hughes.
AUSTRALIA TO AIR "SURVIVOR" FINALE EARLY
Australia's Channel 9, which has been airing Survivor: The Australian Outback about a week after it is seen in the United States, will carry last week's episode followed by the finale only hours after the American telecast Thursday night (Friday in Australia). Executives of the Australian network had feared that revelation of the winner in the Australian press would discourage viewers from tuning in.
ROBB SURFACES -- WITH EXPOSE -- AT "INSIDE"
David Robb, the former Hollywood Reporter journalist who quit his job last week in a dispute with the publisher over an investigative article he had written about the trade paper's gossip columnist, has found an outlet for his work: the online media magazine Inside . Robb includes allegations in his article that Reporter columnist George Christy accepted numerous favors from persons and companies that he wrote about -- particularly Steve Stabler and Brad Krevoy of Motion Picture Corporation of America and Destination Films. He claims that for years Christy received free office space from the now-defunct companies valued at $1,000-$1,250 per month and that although his credits appear in listings for five films produced by Stabler and Krevoy, Christy is nowhere to be seen in any of them. Inside announced Tuesday that Robb will be covering the actors' and writers' guild negotiations for the Web site.
THROWING A CROWBAR INTO THE WORKS
Government and industry lawyers told a federal appeals court Tuesday that unless the panel upholds a ruling barring the distribution of a computer program that breaks the industry's encryption code aimed at preventing DVDs from being copied, perfect digital copies of movies could be uploaded onto the Internet and distributed worldwide. The program, called DeCSS, amounts to a "digital crowbar" for copyright thieves, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Alter told the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. However, Stanford University Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, who represents Eric Corley, the operator of an Internet hacker site that published the code, shot back: "The government is trying to impose strict liability for having a crowbar, whether you're a carpenter or a thief." Corley and others have contended that DeCSS is essential for watching DVDs on many computers that are not equipped with the Windows operating system -- but that it is impractical for bootlegging them on the Internet.
BRITISH WRITER "IMPRESSED" BY QUICK DEAL WITH DREAMWORKS
A British sci-fi writer says that he was "impressed" when he received a phone call from DreamWorks offering to buy the film rights to three novels that he had written as a trilogy. Terry Pratchett told Britain's Guardian newspaper that DreamWorks plans to use the books -- Truckers, Diggers and Wings, together known as the Bromeliad Trilogy -- as the basis for a computer-animated film to be directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek). "You've got to be impressed when someone from the studio phones up from Hollywood one night and turns up for lunch in Wiltshire, England, the very next day," Pratchett said. DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg commented, "There are few authors whose work lends itself to animation as well as Terry Pratchett's."
BRITISH FILM COMPANY GOING AFTER HOLLYWOOD
Britain's commercial Channel 4, whose FilmFour movie division has turned out such moderate low-budget hits as Trainspotting, The Crying Game and Elizabeth, announced Tuesday that it is altering its strategy and will begin producing more expensive films featuring major British and American stars. Channel 4 CEO Michael Jackson said Tuesday that the company is launching 4 Ventures Limited to attract investors in the company's film business. He said that it has already signed Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Andie MacDowell, Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris and Ian Holm for forthcoming projects, including the upcoming $22-million production of Charlotte Gray, based on the Sebastian Faulks novel and starring Blanchett and Crudup.
WILL "BRIDGET" BECOME BRITAIN'S BIGGEST HIT?
Bridget Jones's Diary retained the top spot at the British box office for the third consecutive weekend, earning $5 million to bring its total U.K. gross to $30.1 million, the British trade paper Screen International reported Tuesday. (The film had grossed $36.8 million through Monday in the United States) British analysts projected that the film will eventually eclipse Notting Hill as the most successful British film in history. (Notting Hill earned $43.5 million in Britain and $116 million in the United States.)
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.