WaxWord

August 2008

August 31, 2008

Box Office Slooooow

The first official weekend estimates reflect a slow, leisurely Labor Day weekend. Kind of numbers that put Hollywood on edge.

Media By Numbers has the estimated tallies for the weekend, Friday-Saturday-Sunday, not yet including tomorrow's moviegoing: So far, "Tropic Thunder" has taken in $11.5 million, for a weak $3,311 per theater average. "Babylon A.D." has taken in $9.7 million; "The Dark Knight" $8.75 million; and "The House Bunny" $8.3 million.

With each of these films, the per theater average hovered around $3,000, which is hardly an enthusiastic audience. Like most families, I weeded my garden this weekend and shopped for back to school supplies. There was nothing that made it worth driving all the way to the cineplex. And no one is headed to the movies down in Louisiana.

August 30, 2008

Obama Snubs Foreign Media. Why?

This seems like myopic behavior by the Obama campaign.

At the coming out party for the Democratic nominee -- the past week's Obama-fest in Denver -- the campaign declined to give clearance to foreign television media to report live from the floor of the convention. This is like having the Olympics, and making the television cameras report from outside the water cube.

Can this be true? Barack Obama, who has pledged to change the perception in the world that America is arrogant and isolationist, self-centered and smug, took the first opportunity to undercut his argument. At the moment when he had the attention of millions of Americans, he blew it with the rest of the world -- and the rest of the world, by all accounts, is completely enamored of the man.

"I can't really call what I'm doing journalism," complained Laura Haim, the correspondent for the French cable station Canal Plus, on CNN this morning from Denver. She was pretty angry, and understandably so. She said that foreign correspondents such as herself were allowed a half-hour on the convention floor per day, which was essentially useless, and could not broadcast live.

In media as in war zones, we American journalists are usually treated as well as we treat others, so don't be surprised if there is some kind of retaliation in European circles.

This choice also makes me wonder if the decision to give access to dozens of bloggers at this year's convention has crowded out the journalists who have access to millions, truly millions, of decision-makers overseas. Most of all, this sends a message directly at odds with Obama's rhetoric.

This is not the first time that foreign journalists have complained about not having access to the candidate. In July, a German correspondent complained in an op-ed in The Washington Post that foreign journalists had not been allowed to interview Obama:

"This spring Obama allowed at least one foreign reporter on trips to Ohio and Texas. But as the campaign has progressed, access has become more difficult for foreign correspondents. E-mail inquiries get no reply, phone calls are not returned. My colleagues and I know: We are last in line. We don't matter,"  wrote Christoph von Marschall, of the Berlin-based Der Tagesspiegel.

Funny enough, Haim wrote a letter to the Post to say that she had had an interview with Obama, but that she had not been credentialed to travel with him abroad or in the United States.

Early Weekend Box Office:

The early estimates, according to my studio sources, will put "Tropic Thunder" at the top of the Labor Day weekend box office sweepstakes with a $14.6 million take at the box office.

Close behind, competing neck-and-neck, will be: "The Dark Knight" taking in a still-amazing $12 million; "Babylon A.D.," taking $11.8 million; and "The House Bunny," with an impressive $11.8 million too. ("The Dark Knight" inches ever close to the $500 million box office figure domestically. It will get there.)

Tip of the hat to Universal, who put out a sing-along version of "Mamma Mia" on 300 screens, which bumped the movie up 18 percent this weekend to take in $5.9 million. It is now over $132 million cumulatively.

More later on the box office as a whole. This year to date is running slightly behind last year, according to Box Office Mojo: $6.72 billion versus $6.78 billion.

August 29, 2008

Pellicano, Christensen Guilty; Wish I Cared More

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano and attorney Terry Christensen were found guilty, guilty, guilty today of illegally wiretapping the ex-wife of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

Christensen was Kirk Kerkorian's lawyer, digging up the dirt during a nasty divorce. He hired Pellicano, who was known to get the goods.

I know this stuff is important, but it is the essence of anti-climax. This trial was supposed to turn Hollywood upside-down; supposed to doom the career of power attorney Bert Fields (remember?); supposed to undo dozens of verdicts in high-profile cases in which Pellicano played a role.

In the end, Pellicano wouldn't talk. Christensen, the only attorney implicated, will lose his law license. Having already been convicted for similar shenanigans, Pellicano will serve his sentence - not likely to be more than a decade - concurrently with his current ones. (Here's the L.A. Times story.)

So: two felony convictions. Now stay tuned for the civil lawsuits. Also not very interesting.

Actually, stay tuned for a post I am preparing about the far more interesting, but complicated and decidedly unsexy investigation into guild and studio complicity in keeping money that should have gone to members of the Hollywood guilds for foreign levies.

August 28, 2008

Obama: Do We Dare Believe?

Obamania_2 My husband refused to watch Barack Obama.

He stayed in the bedroom, clicking on French television while the first African-American to seriously contest the U.S. presidency accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party before a throbbing wall of humanity in Invesco Field.

“This moment, this election, is our chance to keep the American promise alive,” Obama said, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech about his own lofty dreams.

    It was history, live. My husband wasn’t interested. 

     Me, I like Obama. How can I not? He’s likeable. He’s intelligent. Articulate. Empathic. Optimistic.

    Listening to him, it is possible – even just for a second or two – to leave behind the cynicism of our life experience. To embrace his belief, secretly our own, that as a country we can change. That as individuals we can grow and improve and collectively become a better society. That despite the obvious – that we are a deeply divided nation -- we can find common ground. 

     My husband doesn’t want to hear it. Which is kind of crazy. An immigrant to this country and a political junkie, my husband finally took the oath of American citizenship two years ago so that he could vote. This will be his first presidential election as a U.S. citizen, and yet he has sworn – since Hillary fell out of the running -- that he is going to sit it out. He will not vote for Obama, and he can’t support John McCain and the party of a failed administration.

Obama, my husband says, is a politician. A gifted orator. And the world is a hazardous place. Tonight he was offended by the spectacle of a mass, staged political event, a stadium packed with 80,000 people screaming the name of their new leader.  As a European, he’s seen such sights before.

“It’s manipulation,” he called out from the other room, disgusted. “It’s banal.”

I thought about this. I had found Obama’s speech moving. “All across America, something is stirring,” the candidate said. “What was lost in the past eight years was our sense of common purpose.” Now is the time, he said, to reclaim it.

In his speech, Obama denounced cynicism. He rejected “the same old politics” and its players. He dared to suggest that those who oppose abortion and those who support the right to choose can find things to agree about. That hunters in rural Ohio and those who fight gang-bangers in urban Cleveland can concur on banning automatic weapons.

He argued passionately for moderation. Would I have felt differently if the pulsing waves of people visible all the way up to the bleachers were cheering a different political message? Or a religious one? Would I have felt fearful, instead of moved? 

I was struck nonetheless by the unlikelihood of it all. Here’s a candidate close to my own age, vastly inexperienced for so weighty a position. In the moment, his argument is stirring. He conjures a vision that we yearn to grasp, a vision of change. Change is scary to most people. It is so much easier to choose the familiar, even when the familiar is not desirable.

But my husband, whose political instincts are finely honed, does not trust the message, or the man. He has believed before, and been disappointed. Barack Obama, he says, wants to be the president more than anything else, and his words are tailored to that goal. "This election has never been about me. It's about you," said Obama tonight. That's a good line, observed my husband, wryly.

    “I get it,” said Obama.

    Maybe he does. If so, do we dare believe it too?

Driving While Surfing: Please, Stop

This is the second time in a few weeks that I've nearly been crushed in a head-on collision by a car driving down my quiet, leafy street that inexplicably began to veer into my lane. I'm driving 30 mph. He/she's driving 30 mph. Except for my reflex to swerve into the curb, honk and pray, I wouldn't be writing these words. What could explain such stupid driving behavior? In both cases, they were looking at their cellphones while the car drifted off into opposing traffic. Readers, help me out here: how can we stop this epidemic of texting, emailing, message-checking and surfing the web - while driving?

August 26, 2008

Bratz Gets Off Easy; Mattel Sulks

A jury in Riverside awarded Mattel, the doll-making giant, $100 million in damages against MGA Entertainment over similarities between its "Bratz" doll franchise and the Barbie products of Mattel, Marc Lacter reports. That award is far less than the $2 billion award sought by the El Segundo-based toymaker.

MGA Entertainment, along with Avi Arad and Lions Gate, made last year's "Bratz" movie, which took in a paltry $10 million. But I guess they can now go make a sequel.

Hollywood Heavyweight Saban Might Defect to McCain

Hillarysaban One of Hollywood’s leading Democrats, billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, has been one of Hillary Clinton’s most stalwart supporters. Now that his gal is out of the running, he is not close to being won over by Barack Obama. Saban has studiously avoided Denver this week, and said today he might even vote for McCain.

“I’m on the fence about what to do,” he said in an interview. Obama and Joe Biden are simply too liberal for him, he said. “I’m happy to pay taxes and smile,” he said. “I have no problem with liberals, except for national security. I will worry about health care, education, the Supreme Court after I know that I will be alive. If I’m not alive, do I care if I have health care?”

A Cairo-born Israeli-American, Saban has contributed vast sums to Democratic causes -- $186,500 this year, together with his wife Cheryl – and has raised far more from his network of wealthy friends. Bill Clinton is on his speed dial. (Trust me, I’ve seen it.) But he thus far has not given a nickel to Obama, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Apparently even with the addition of foreign policy veteran Joe Biden to the ticket, Saban does not feel confident with Obama at the helm in a dangerous world. He believes, the mogul said, that Iran is preparing a nuclear weapon to wield against Israel in the next two years, while Biden seems to believe that such a threat is a decade or more away.

“As a Jew, a Holocaust in the 21st century is unacceptable to me,” said Saban.

Let's not get carried away: as a whole, Hollywood has gone crazy for Obama. But there is evidence that other Hillary supporters in Hollywood are similarly undecided, and might lean toward McCain. Stanley Gold, of Roy Disney’s Shamrock Holdings, has so far maxed out his contributions to the party, but given no money to Obama. Producer Stephen Bing has spread all kinds of largesse to Democratic candidates -- $110,200 this year – but none to Obama thus far.

Observed Saban: “Like every American, I have 3 options: vote for Obama, vote for McCain, or do nothing. Like some of my friends, I’m sitting on the fence.” The nominee will have his work cut out.

Defamer Loves Me

See the MGM post below for a genius graphic pitting yours truly against Nikki Finke.

And who said I had no sense of humor????

SHOCKING PRETRIAL NEWS: D.A. TO DROP HALF OF THE CASE AGAINST ANAND JON

Anandjon1 On the eve of the trial for serial rape of ex fashion designer Anand Jon, the district attorney on the case has announced her intention to dismiss half of the alleged victims, and more than half of the 59 counts against him -- including forcible, rape, sexual exploitation of a child, sexual battery and forcible oral copulation.


During pretrial motions on Monday, deputy district attorney Frances Young said she would be filing an amended indictment on Wednesday to reflect the reduced charges, as jury selection begins.


“We’re left with 10 victims and 29 remaining counts,” Jon’s attorney Tony Brooklier told me today. Jon, an Indian-born fashion designer, has been sitting in the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles for a year, awaiting trial, all the time protesting his innocence. Now half his accusers have just evaporated.


What is the DA thinking? A spokeswoman for the D.A. refused to comment, citing a gag order by the judge. But a source in the prosecution office said that a decision was simply made “to streamline” the process, and get Jon “on the solids.”


Sounds like hogwash. The defendants that will be dropped tomorrow include some of the most unbelievable testimony that I read in the eight volumes of grand jury questioning. Notably dismissed is Katie W., the innocent young farm girl from outside Montgomery, Alabama who accused Jon of raping her in New York, but then followed him to Los Angeles where, she said, he raped her again. My story in Los Angeles magazine recounted a video of Katie W. found among Jon's effects, in which she cavorts for him naked, with no sense of shame or regret.


The others alleged victims to be dismissed were also noted in my story in this month’s Los Angeles magazine as problematic witnesses: Lindsay B., Lori B., Ashley H, Avery G.


The most troubling testimony came from yet another teen to be dismissed tomorrow. Chloe N testified that Jon had raped her vaginally and anally in the most heinous of ways. But she also said she had been molested as a child and that "stuff like that" had happend to her before. And she testified that she’d told no one of being  raped by Jon, not even her therapist, until the moment of the grand jury testimony: “And I still haven’t, other than this,” she said.


I have to wonder how closely the D.A.'s office was reading this testimony, while Jon sat in jail month after month. Also important to note is that most of the alleged victims to be dismissed tomorrow are key claimants in the New York case against Jon, which will be set for trial after Los Angeles.


More as news breaks in this fascinating case.

Obama Documentary Fever: HBO to Buy Behind the Scenes Portrait

Obamadnc

When Barack Obama mounts the shimmering blue stage at the Pepsi Center on Thursday night, he’ll be trailed by a film crew, one of six or seven cameras that are following his every step in Denver for a feature-length documentary about his historic journey. With two years of behind-the-scenes access to the candidate the film, co-produced by Edward Norton and directed by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, may turn out to be a uniquely historic account.

Norton believes it will be. “Whether he wins or not, this will be one of the most intimate records of a presidential campaign,” he said in an interview. “I’d say with confidence there’s never been as thorough a documentation of a presidential campaign from the inside.”

HBO seems to agree. The cable channel is poised to acquire the still-in-progress documentary, according to individuals on both sides of the deal. A movie studio may also buy theatrical rights, I’m told. 

The crew has spent Thanksgiving at the Obamas’ home, has been backstage at every major campaign speech, traveled with the candidate to Kenya, and conducted lengthy interviews with Michelle Obama, speechwriters and other key staff. But a key component of the crew’s access has been its agreement not to release anything before the election.

That’s fine by the filmmakers, said Norton. “We’re very much taking a non-partisan approach,” he said. “It is not in any way a laudatory or partisan angle on him. It’s not a campaign film. Our angle is we wanted to document for the historic record as intimate a portrait as possible of the first major African-American candidate for president.”

Norton admitted, however, that the Obama machine has frustrated the filmmakers in restricting access at key moments. I asked if there was footage from the tense days around the Rev. Wright affair. Norton said: “No one in their right mind will put their toughest moments on film. We hope to get a few of them. But we’re sticking to the mission statement, which is to reveal the country through his candidacy, as much as to reveal him.”

The filmmakers aim to complete and release the film within the first 100 days of an eventual Obama presidency.

At least one other Obama documentary, this one with no special access to the candidate, is complete. “Hype: The Obama Effect” was made by the pro-Republican group, Citizens United Productions, and debuted at a Denver theater on Sunday. It will also screen next Wednesday in Minneapolis, before heading to a limited theatrical release and DVD sales. The film focuses on what it considers Obama’s weakness – how dazzling he has been to those around him, based on little substance.

A trailer on Youtube features a clip of Obama dancing with Ellen De Generes (subliminal message: She’s Gay!) and bits of the interviews conducted for the film with the likes of Tucker Carlson and Dick Morris. “There’s a void when it comes to conservative filmmaking,” said a spokesman for the group, Will Holley. “There’s a market there. By virtue of being the only ones, we are the leaders.”

August 25, 2008

No, but Really: MGM Isn't For Sale

UPDATE: My thanks to Defamer for this genius graphic of the battle of the titans about to happen (not, sorry guys). Waxmanfinke But I found it hilarious!

Ron Grover at BusinessWeek and Nikki Finke are convinced that MGM is for sale, and are reporting as much. MGM took the unusual step of issuing an official, strong denial earlier today:

"Contrary to recent media reports, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) is not for sale. There is no 'asking price' for the company.  MGM's existing financing arrangements are sufficient to meet its needs.  Goldman, Sachs has been retained to explore enhancements to MGM's long-term capital structure."

So I wanted to know what the hell that meant -- "enhancements" to the "capital structure"? Finke says that this still means a sale. It doesn't really sound like it to me. I'm told from inside the studio that Goldman Sachs was in fact retained to help the studio come up with solutions to its debt problem - a matter that only looms seriously in four years time - but emphatically not to broker a sale.

Still, rumors - even false ones - have a way of taking on lives of their own. Just a week ago or so, MGM executives were hinting that a new round of $500 million in film financing was about to close. I wonder if this talk of a sale, true or not, will affect the conclusion of that capitalization.

August 23, 2008

Box Office: "House Bunny" Gives "Tropic Thunder" A Run for the Money

Update: Final weekend boxo office estimates are out from Media By Numbers. As expected, "Tropic Thunder" won the weekend, bringing its total box office take to $65.6 million:

Tropic Thunder: $16.1 million.

The House Bunny: $15.1 million

Death Race: $12.3 million

The Dark Knight: $10.3 million

What can we say about our popular culture when "House Bunny," a celebration of dumb blondeness, threatens to edge out "Tropic Thunder," a celebration of Hollywood self-obsesssion?

Studio sources tell me the early box office estimates for the weekend give the Ben Stiller comedy the edge, taking $15.2 million for the weekend for a cumulative total of $64 million, but the heavily-promoted Anna Faris comedy was not far behind, taking an estimated $14.8 million. "The House Bunny" actually beat "Tropic Thunder" in the Friday tally -- $6.2 million to $4.6 million.

"The Dark Knight" finally fell from its stratospheric heights to 4th position; it will take in $9.9 million if the trends hold. Don't forget, though, that it is now the second highest-grossing film (domestically) in Hollywood history. "Death Race" took in a respectable $12.2 million.

We'll have the official numbers for you tomorrow.

August 21, 2008

Pageant of the Masters: 75 Years

o. Pageant This year's "staycation" has taken me to Laguna Nigel Beach, where the famed Pageant of the Masters has been leaving audiences gasping with amazement for 75 years. Happy anniversary. Hundreds of volunteers and professional crafts people, musicians and technicians create "tableaux vivants," or "living pictures" of famous paintings, and sculptures, and porcelain and fountains. The image at left was one of the many amazing, not-to-be-believed scenes, this of a sculpture by Edward Eyth, which was created for this year's Olympics, and is currently on display in Beijing. Recreated here in southern California, I found it impossible to believe that two people could stand still for three minutes in this position of balance and contortion, but they did. Pageant2 The two-hour show also featured scenes from Shakespeare, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, an insane living sculpture from off the top of the Garnier Opera House in Paris. Happily, from time to time one of the child posers would move a bit. Otherwise it was hard to imagine that these were real people and not painted figurines. At left, see an art director working on a scene from one of Toulouse-Lautrec's Montmartre cafes. The show ended with its signature recreation of the "Last Supper." This outdoor event is performed seven days a week in the month of August, and is on for another week, but is sold out. (Note to the courageous: I found some tickets at the door.)

Bravo to Laguna Beach for keeping alive this long-lost, 19th century performance art.   

August 18, 2008

12 Bids for Variety's parent, Reed; Sale Expected in 3 Months

Variety's parent company, Reed Business Information, has received 12 offers for the division of trade papers, believed to be valued at about $2 to $2.5 billion, the London Telegraph reports today.

The bidders reportedly include McGraw Hill, the U.S. publisher, but as expected come largely from private equity buy-out firms including Advent, Quadrangle, a joint bid by TPG and DLJ Merchant Banking, the private equity arm of Credit Suisse, and another group bid by Cinven and Candover, the latter being advised by Goldman Sachs, according to the article.

Notable is that the owner of The Hollywood Reporter, the Nielsen Company, is cited as having "shown interest." What is unclear from the article is whether all 12 of these bids are for the entire division, a pricey bet in print at a time when print is considered a dying business, or merely for chunks of it. A deal is expected within the next few months. 

In a related topic, the sale of The Hollywood Reporter, a former employee at Nielsen from New York writes in anger that the company's official denial of a sale are belied by its actions in-house:

If Nielsen is not selling NBM, how come in the last year they have given up 3 floors (to AOL) in their NYC office and packed their remaining employees on to the 4 floors they have left. Laid off their entire finance, billing and IT departments and outsourced them to India. In my time at Nielsen, department groups/brands had cutbacks that made day to day job functions difficult. The Fed Ex privileges were taken away from the sales reps and we were directed to ask our clients for their Fed Ex acct numbers, should they need something in a hurry. The ordering of supplies had been extremely cut back as well. Employees are left to raiding the desks of former colleagues who have left or been laid off. My final question is, if Nielsen has no intention of selling NBM how come they have cut circulation, issues published, magazine size, paper stock and employee head count on all of its brands?

Paula Wagner Whines; MGM Nears New Financing

Cruise_wagner

Will MGM become a real studio again? The task keeps getting harder.


When veteran Mary Parent came in five months ago to get the studio into gear and make movies other than James Bond, she faced a number of challenges, but none more delicate than dealing with the two elephants that were already in the building: Tom Cruise and his partner, Paula Wagner, at the newly-reconstituted United Artists.


Were they a blessing or a curse? Were they a desperation deal cooked up by Harry Sloan, in need of some glitz to impress Wall Street? Or were they a major leg up for a studio attempting to reestablish itself as a player in Hollywood?


The answer came with the exit of Paula Wagner last week. Though a veteran as Cruise’s longtime producing partner, Wagner had never before run a studio division, a job that requires decisiveness, focus and hardheaded number-crunching. She’d never green-lighted movies, nor been responsible for losses or wins. This turned out to be a critical gap.


Under Wagner, UA’s one release, “Lions for Lambs,” lost the studio close to $40 million, according to one person close to the film. And Cruise’s upcoming “Valkyrie” drags bad buzz and shifting release dates in its wake.


In abruptly exiting the studio last week, Wagner made it known that she believed Sloan was after the $500 million that was United Artists’ fund for making movies. She’d been squeezed out and stymied from doing her job. (See Patrick Goldstein, in which someone “close to the situation” complained that “whenever Wagner tried to greenlight a movie, Sloan blocked it.” The someone gave no specifics.)


This whining is unpersuasive. Wagner had the authority to green-light movies at budgets up to $60 million. Contractually, Sloan couldn’t block her from doing so, so what gives?


From what I have heard over the past months, Wagner never got around to doing her job, finding a strategy to get UA on profitable footing. Instead she proceeded to run the studio more like the producer she once was -- buying properties, developing pitches on the basis of taste and judgement. She bought books, but didn’t get scripts in the door. She pulled the plug on Oliver Stone and his movie, “Pinkville.” Moguls don’t have that luxury. They need to release movies, fill a pipeline, bring money to the bottom line.


Wagner’s failure puts MGM in a poor position. Under the terms of United Artists’ financing, the division is obliged to release two films by early 2010, according to individuals familiar with the terms of the deal. As of now, UA has no two such films in the pipeline. The overall slate deal requires the release of 15 to 18 films in five years. Merrill Lynch will want its money back.


This now becomes the problem of Sloan, Parent and Cruise. “There will be be resource sharing. We will figure things out as we go forward,” said one senior executive, who wouldn’t talk on the record. “We’ve always said this was a rebuilding process.”


No one at MGM would comment officially, including on what I’m hearing is a deal close to conclusion with the Royal Bank of Scotland for another $500 million in financing for MGM. If true, that will quiet critics who keep saying that Sloan doesn’t have the money to make movies, or that he’s after UA’s filmmaking cash. But it won’t quiet them for long, unless MGM starts showing some stability and results.

 

August 16, 2008

"Dark Knight" Rising in the History Books

Sunday update: "Tropic Thunder" finally took in an estimated $26 million, according to Media By Numbers. "Dark Knight" took in $16.79 million, and now has a cumulative $471.9 million in domestic gross, surpassing "Star Wars," as expected.

I'm travelling and missing some of my blogging tools, but wanted to weigh in with the latest of "Dark Knight's" record-breaking journey:

The Warner Bros Batman movie is poised on Saturday to overtake "Star Wars" as the second highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office. "Star Wars," first released in 1977, has taken in $460.9 million over the past 30 years. "The Dark Knight" is already at $459.6 million as of this morning, according to Media By Numbers, and will almost certainly surpass George Lucas's classic today.

In other news, "Tropic Thunder," the Ben Stiller comedy, will win the weekend with an estimated $24 million take at the box office. Quite a good showing, but this was no low-budget affair.

Here's the historic list from Media By Numbers:
1. TITANIC PARAMOUNT $600,788,188 Fri, 12/19/97
2 STAR WARS** FOX $460,998,007 Wed, 5/25/77
3 THE DARK KNIGHT WARNER BROS. $459,608,000 * Fri, 7/18/08
4 SHREK 2 DREAMWORKS $436,471,036 Wed, 5/19/04

August 14, 2008

Journalists Reflect on Edwards, and Tabloids

Walter Shapiro, in Salon:

"As a reporter covering my eighth presidential campaign, I am mostly interested in the journalistic lessons arising from my flawed character assessment of John Edwards. This was not a case of the Inside-the-Beltway Syndrome in which beloved Washington figures get every conceivable break from a sometimes gullible press corps. Edwards was always a bit of a political outsider (especially after he recast himself as the left-wing populist in the 2008 presidential field) and my affection for him was more idiosyncratic than reflective of press-bus groupthink...  My mistake about John Edwards was believing all his public boasts about his nearly perfect marriage. I allowed myself to judge him through the prism of his union with Elizabeth when I would have reached a far different conclusion if I had gazed through the lens of his dalliance with Rielle Hunter.

Ann-Louise Bardach, in a memorable 2004 piece about Arnold Schwarzenegger and the National Enquirer, describing how Schwarzenegger won the complicity of the tabloid in laying off the sleazy exposes while he was running for governor:

"In the last 15 years, the tabs have earned a reputation for nailing down hard-to-get stories for the simple reason that, unlike the mainstream media, they often pay sources and hire private investigators. The meshing of the tabs and the mainstream media went into high gear during the O.J. Simpson trial and was standard practice by the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Schwarzenegger, of course, could have curbed his excessive behavior. But there is scant evidence of this having occurred before 2003....   Pecker still insists that Schwarzenegger does not have tabloid immunity. "Will I send 50 reporters to dig up something on my partner?" he asks. "No. I'm not going to do that. But if anything that's newsworthy comes up, something that we know will sell, we'll publish."

That would be David Pecker, chief exec of American Media, Inc, (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer and the Star.

Programming Note

20080303msnbcabramsrus Watch for me on MSNBC tonight @ 9pm EST, talking to Dan Abrams about the John Edwards Affair. 

August 13, 2008

The Edwards Affair: The Law of the Tabloids

Edwards2 The National Enquirer has still more details of the John Edwards affair this week: Rielle was whisked away in a jet. The couple had met three times at the Beverly Hilton this year. "John Edwards is still lying," says an Enquirer source.

As the pieces of this sordid tale continue to fall together, it is worth taking another look at why the mainstream media has been unable to match the reporting precision of the National Enquirer. The reason boils down to this: tabloids pay. And they pay big.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about tabloid journalism: it is usually the principals involved who provide the crucial details, for money. That’s why the information is so often on the nose.


How does the News of the World manage to be there just when Michael Jackson or Elizabeth Taylor leaves their plastic surgery appointment? It’s not by chance. Usually the doctor tips them off. Sometimes they even have the celebrity’s agreement.


My guess is that there is a simple reason why the mainstream media is unable to confirm the Edwards-Hunter affair during these past weeks. Because very few people knew what had been going on. Edwards’ staff didn’t know. Elizabeth Edwards didn’t know. The group may have been as small as three: Edwards, Hunter and her pal Bob McGovern.


One of those, in my view (and not Edwards), sold the information.


To be clear: John Edwards acted like a fool. He shamed himself. He damaged his family. He showed appalling judgement. But watching him on ABC in his public display of self-pity and desperation, it seemed like something private came unraveled. It felt very much like a blackmail scheme gone awry – and everybody lost.


Imagine if Hunter was blackmailing Edwards for money -- or, for more money, since she was already being paid a monthly stipend. And if she were pressuring him by leaking information to the National Enquirer. And if she tipped off the Enquirer to the July meeting, including such details as the number of rooms rented, and who was in them.


My guess is that Edwards declined to meet her demands these last months, including at this last meeting. He told ABC the meeting ended without “resolution.” I’d guess that Hunter sold the photo from an earlier meeting at the Beverly Hilton to the National Enquirer. That would explain that fuzzy picture of Edwards holding a baby, which was not taken in July, when Edwards wore a button-down shirt. The editor of the Enquirer editor said on CNN last week that we “can presume” he paid for that photo. Who took it? Someone in the hotel room with Edwards, obviously.


Whose baby is it? I don’t know. Maybe Edwards is lying about paternity. The Enquirer insists the baby is his, with no evidence other than "sources." So maybe he isn’t. Either way, someone was able to produce enough evidence – the fuzzy photo - to allow the Enquirer to make its case. Who stood to gain from that?

Last week I spoke to a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer who said he spent five days in Los Angeles trying to confirm any aspect of the Beverly Hilton story. He came up with nothing. Zero. Zilch.


Not because he wasn’t trying. Because without a checkbook, the Raleigh News & Observer was not going to be let into the world of Rielle Hunter.

Rafat Says I'm "Late to the Party"

I'm a little late posting this, but worse than that, Rafat Ali at Paidcontent.org has decided that I'm late to the Internet party, in a front-page story in Variety yesterday. I'm sure that he's right. But you know what? We're going to push ahead anyway. And Rafat, we'll check back later on our timing.

August 11, 2008

Introducing The Wrap News

Many of you know that I have been working on creating a new company to cover Hollywood. Marketwatch has the story today.

Here is the press release we issued:

THE WRAP NEWS CLOSES SEED ROUND

Hollywood News and Information Network,

Led by Sharon Waxman, Readies January 2009 Launch


LOS ANGELES, CA, August 11, 2008
The Wrap News LLC announces the completion of a round of seed funding of $500,000.

Based in Los Angeles and New York, The Wrap News is a news and information network covering the entertainment and media industries that will be available on multiple platforms. It will begin with an online presence at thewrapnews.com, in coordination with editorial partners, in January 2009.

Led by nationally renowned journalist Sharon Waxman, the former Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times, the site will be anchored by other top journalists in the fields of entertainment and media.

Using the Web, they will marry top-quality journalism in real time with social networking functions to build a premium community of users that interacts with reporters and the news that affects their lives. The Wrap News will feature both original news content and aggregated news from around the Web, as well as user-generated content.

The Wrap News will build the best, most dynamic, most valuable and most discerning community of entertainment professionals, influencers and enthusiasts on the Web.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity that the Web has presented us at a time when newspapers are struggling,” said Waxman. “The Wrap News will fill a gaping space on the entertainment landscape for smart, sophisticated news and analysis, enhanced by the contributions of an incredibly talented community – entertainment and media insiders and those who are passionate about those worlds.”

About The Wrap News LLC:

The Wrap News LLC is a news and information network that will deliver high-quality, original news content covering the entertainment and media industries, while connecting the global community of entertainment professionals, influencers and enthusiasts.

For More Information:

Tim Doyle

info@thewrapnews.com

Investor Relations:

Ted O’Donnell

(646) 213-1295

August 10, 2008

"Dark Knight" Sails Into #3 All-Time Spot

Final box office estimates put "The Dark Knight" in the number one spot for the weekend, with a $26 million haul. But that's not the fun part. That number pushed the Warner Brothers film to a $441 million total so far in its domestic release, knocking "Shrek 2" out of its path to become the third-highest grossing successful film of all time (domestically; worldwide is another matter). Back in 2004, "Shrek 2" took in $436 million in its domestic release.

"Pineapple Express," the R-rated pot-smoking comedy, took in $22.4 million, a huge number for a movie that reportedly cost less than $40 million to produce.

Here's the rest, all from Media By Numbers:

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, $16,113,170

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, $10,770,000

Step Brothers, $8,900,000

Mamma Mia! $8,080,820

August 09, 2008

Losses of the Bernies: Mac, young. Brillstein, old. Both missed.

Berniemac Hollywood lost two Bernies in the past two days: one young, one old. One healthy, one ailing. Both broke new ground in the industry. Both losses are harsh.

Bernie Mac, the charmingly self-deprecating family guy of "The Bernie Mac Show," died suddenly at 50 today in Chicago, from complications due to pneumonia, a publicist said. He'd recently been hospitalized, and had overcome a lung disease in recent years.

Bernie Brillstein, the talent manager whose very name sounds so ... Hollywood! was a towering figure especially in television for decades. He mentored dozens of those in the circles of power in Hollywood today (not only Brad Grey, his former partner who now runs Paramount Studios). Brillstein succumbed to pulmonary disease at a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday night. Berniebrillstein RIP to them, and condolences.

Box Office Beat (EARLY!): Expected 20 Percent Drop due to Olympics, Dark Knight Holds Top Spot

Bad news for Hollywood: I'm hearing from studio sources that despite the huge interest in "The Dark Knight" and "Pineapple Express," the box office total is expected to drop 20 percent this week over last year because of viewer interest in the Olympics.

Other news: In the neck and neck sweepstakes between the blockbuster thriller and the stoner comedy, Warner Bros' "The Dark Knight" is going to take the weekend with an estimated $25 million haul at the box office, according to estimates within the studios. That will beat out of Sony's "Pineapple Express," which is doing strong business, but will not be able to beat the caped crusader, with an estimated $22 million.

If these estimates bear out through the weekend, it will mean that "The Dark Knight" will have dominated the Number One spot at the box office for four straight weeks. Don't forget that it soared past the $400 million mark this week, and at this rate is expected to end up as the second biggest gross at the domestic box office in Hollywood history.

The Judd Apatow comedy - which has been greeted with great reviews and a Seth Rogen media love-a-thon the likes of which hasn't been since.... Steve Carell! - already took in  $12 million on Wednesday, $6 million on Thursday, and at least that much on Friday.

Here are the other estimates: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - $15 million; Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 - $11 million; Step Brothers - $9 million; Mamma Mia - $8 million.

August 08, 2008

Edwards Admits; New York Times Finally Writes

Edwards We knew it was coming, but we wondered: When?

John Edwards has fessed up to an affair with Rielle Hunter, has admitted that he lied publicly, has agreed that he was indeed with her at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last month. He's still holding out on claiming the child. And for some strange reason he added that he did not love Hunter.

All this in an interview with ABC's Nightline that will surely snag a huge rating tonight.

I don't know if anyone is giving the former presidential candidate media guidance (leaked on a Friday, on Olympics-launch date). At this point the whole thing seems to be like skydiving without a chute. But there are a few quick pointers I'd offer up: if you're going to confess to something that shows epically poor judgement, lay it all out there. Don't hedge. Don't deny paternity of the child unless you're sure, and unless you can explain facts like that photo the Enquirer published this week of you holding the baby. Edwards told ABC he hadn't done a DNA test. So he can't be sure about paternity.

Second, hasn't Edwards learned anything spurned mistresses from his pal Bill Clinton? It was Clinton's callous public dismissal of Lewinsky, saying that he hadn't had sex "with that woman" that helped turn her into a dress-wielding mass of revenge. Edwards just publicly baited his ex-mistress, to endear him to whom? The American public? His wife, Elizabeth? Hunter will make him pay for that, I predict. (See my comments on this in today's Raleigh News & Observer.)

And finally: The Media. Once again old-time media was forced to chase the Enquirer's ambulance on a major national story with heavy political implications. The New York Times finally published its first story about Edwards and Hunter today, citing the ABC interview in advance.

How strange. The paper of record has weighed in at the end of the story, rather than the beginning or the middle. Edwards' political career may effectively be over today, but readers of the Times would never have seen it coming.

August 07, 2008

Recession Puts Moviegoing in Peril

A new study by a market research company called Interpret LLC suggests that the economic downturn may have a negative impact on moviegoing. This is interesting because past history suggests (and this summer's robust box office seems to confirm) that when money is tight, folks still spend their money on inexpensive entertainment like going to the cineplex. From today's WSJ story:

But Interpret's recent study suggests that in the face of financial turbulence, a night at the movies might be one of the first leisure activities consumers give up. Surveying about 1,000 U.S. consumers, ages 18-54, Interpret found that 52% of respondents said they were seeing fewer movies at the multiplex, significantly more than the 35% of respondents who said they were attending fewer live sports events.

Pineapple Express: Thank You, Judd Apatow

Pineapple I've only now recovered from the midnight screening of "Pineapple Express" on Wednesday. The hall was packed with teenagers, and the smell of weed wafted through the theater. I kept my expectations low. Years in Hollywood has taught me not to believe the trailers. And far too often I have showed up to comedies by the Apatow mainline network and farm team only to be offended ("Knocked Up"), or bored ("Walk Hard"). This, however, is the real deal -- smart writing, strong characters, a well-considered plot packed with action, led by a director (David Gordon Green) who knows what he's doing. The movie has plenty of goofy gags, but it pulls its humor from juxtaposing the casual, emo, sensitive American geek-male vibe against the familiar, brutal violence of the drug trade as depicted by Hollywood for decades. (My personal favorite: the drug dealer Red, played by a genius Danny McBride, debating the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation with Dale Denton, played by Rogen, as Red bleeds to death on his bathroom floor.) It's funny even if you're not high.  I smell a cult hit that will follow Rogen, McBride and James Franco their whole careers. (The one-day box office from Wednesday bodes well: $12.5 million.)

But there's a noteable trend underway with these comedies. The R material seems to get harder and harder. The language in "Pineapple Express" is beyond raunchy, and the violence is extreme. Same, I hear, for "Tropic Thunder." Now I read that Kevin Smith managed to snag an NC-17 rating on his upcoming Seth Rogen comedy, "Zach and Miri Make a Porno." The ratings board dialed it down to an R this week after a couple of trims.

The Dailies - August 7, 2008

Dailies_aug8_2008

Ledger-gate: A bizarre DEA power grab?
Fresh from a heavy-handed raid on a Culver City medical marijuana clinic, the DEA declines to pursue a criminal investigation of Heath Ledger's accidental death, letting Mary-Kate Olsen off the hook from testifying.  But why such an unprecedented inquiry in the first place?

What happened to Tom Cruise's career?
Roger Friedman dishes out high praise for Tom Cruise's "Tropic Thunder" cameo, but who knew this would be Cruise's only appearance on film this year?  Fans, who last enjoyed him in "Lions for Lambs", will have to wait until February 2009 for the actor to plant a bomb (literally) in "Valkyrie."

James Cameron reveals "Avatar" tech details
With principal photography over, it's now all about CG production for the $200 million 3-D epic. Cameron calls "Avatar" "the most challenging film I've ever made."

-- Tim Doyle

August 06, 2008

Hollywood Reporter is For Sale: NYT gets the pitch

Update: I've seen commenters question the figures in my earlier post. Several former Hollywood Reporter executives have written to confirm that my numbers are right in the ballpark. A couple of years back, according to these execs, The Hollywood Reporter was making $50-$60 million in gross revenues, and had 30-40 percent profit margins.

Since I broke this story two days ago, media executives have weighed in to confirm that The Hollywood Reporter, along with the other 41 titles at Nielsen Business Media, is indeed for sale. This, despite the on-the-record denial of Gerry Byrne, who heads the entertainment group of the Nielsen Company division.

Perhaps the directors of the six private equity firms that acquired the Nielsen Company in 2006 - the Blackstone Group, the Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, AlphInvest Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners, known collectively as Valcon - haven't told him. Either way, they are keeping the matter discreet.

On the top floor of media companies, however, it's not a secret. According to a media executive with direct knowledge of the meeting, a principal in one of the Valcon private equity firms floated the idea of a purchase by The New York Times at a meeting of the Times' board of directors this week. (I cannot reveal the identity of the executive to protect the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.)

But that doesn't sound like the right fit to me. The New York Times is not in the business-to-business business. And I'm not sure why a big media company saddled with a core print business would take on more dead-tree properties.

Another source with direct knowledge of the Valcon purchase from the Dutch publishing entity VNU in 2006 tells me that each of the six private equity firms has the right of first refusal to bid on the business media unit. Others have written to say - without proof, so I pass it along as speculation - that there is a long-term plan by Valcon to buy Variety as the crown jewel of the Reed Elsevier b-to-b trade papers, and then circle back and buy Nielsen Business Media.

The plan? To make Hollywood a one-trade town.

Here's the John Edwards Photo: More Questions

Enquirer The National Enquirer has finally published a photo - ONE! - of John Edwards, with baby, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. "The Photos Everyone's Been Waiting For," says the headline in the online edition of the Enquirer. Hmmmm. I'm hardly satisfied. This single, fuzzy image, labelled "spy photo," begs the question of who shot it, and why. Was it Rielle Hunter's pal who drove her from Santa Barbara to the hotel last month? Did that person, who was on the inside of this tryst, surreptitiously take the image and sell it to the Enquirer? (And why the sweat-soaked t-shirt please?) Here's the real kicker: where-oh-where are the photos from the photographers chasing Edwards through the halls of the hotel to the men's room where he took refuge? Those would back up the Enquirer's lengthy account of the former candidate's response to being confronted at the hotel. What is the Enquirer saving those pictures for?

There's also room to wonder what is going on in smoke-filled rooms at Democratic Party headquarters right now. If Edwards continues to duck questions about this incident, can party leaders possibly allow him to appear at the Democratic Convention and distract from the historic moment of Barack Obama's coronation? Hardly.

New York Times Watch: Still not a word from the paper of record. 

August 05, 2008

The Accidental Mogul: David Bergstein Gets a Taste

Bergstein_4 ...but just a taste of what's going to be coming. Alex Ben Block has a a very good piece of reporting in today's Hollywood Reporter, in which he interviews the unpopular partner in ThinkFilm, David Bergstein, who is facing a series of lawsuits and whose financing troubles have left a host of movies in limbo and creditors in a state of fury. Block lets Bergstein have his say: "Our business plan is not so much about the movie business... It's really to build a global digital distribution business. It's based on the expectation that in the not too distant future most content will be delivered digitally and on-demand."

But then Block goes on to cite the reasons why Hollywood has learned to loathe this guy, selling off films that he committed to release, cancelling others and scheduling no release dates for some recent pick-ups from Sundance. This summer's debacle with David O. Russell's film "Nailed" - production was shut down repeatedly by the guilds over lack of payment - has been the most public of the company's travails. Bergstein appears to be well and truly out of money.

Bergstein is an accidental mogul, getting into Hollywood because he loaned former dry cleaner/clubber Elie Samaha money and then inherited Samaha's library when Franchise Pictures went bust. Then in 2006, Berstein and a construction pal, Ron Tutor, bought Thinkfilm for a reported $18 million from Jeff Sackman and Co., a well respected indie.  But apparently Bergstein knows little about how business is done here. I've been hearing for weeks about people stiffed by Bergstein - advertising companies, publicists, producers and their actor-partners - after having been made promises, and after cutting their fees to get a green light from Bergstein.

There's a lesson here somewhere. "When people are desperate to get their movie made, they'll make a deal with the devil," said one embittered producer, who is owed about $200,000. "You know he's gonna f--- you. But at least you get your movie made."

"Dark Knight" Still at a Gallop

In 18 days, "The Dark Knight" has crossed the $400 million landmark in its domestic release, according to Media By Numbers. It killed the competition last weekend, including and especially "The Mummy" sequel, despite being in its third week of release. Amazing to note that the drop-off in interest in "The Dark Knight" was smaller this past weekend than the week before that, and the exit polls suggest that viewers are going to see the Chris Nolan action-drama figure repeatedly. Meanwhile, let's remember that the international box office has only just gotten started. (And can someone please answer my question on the absence of a day and date release?)

As we suspected, "The Dark Knight" will become one of the most successful movies at the box office in Hollywood history. The only question is: how successful? Warner Bros expects the film to top out domestically at around $500 million, which will knock"Star Wars" from its number 2 perch, and put it just after "Titanic" - the top-grossing film of all time, which took in $600 million domestically, and a total of (gulp) $1.8 billion worldwide. But "Titanic" will hold on to its title. "Nothing is going to touch 'Titanic,'" Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Media By Numbers, told me today.

Kirkus Reviews: Loot

Second review of "Loot," from Kirkus Reviews. An excerpt:

"Former New York Times culture correspondent Waxman (Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System, 2005) adroitly and expertly explores a centuries-old struggle.... Who has the right to the world’s treasures? The case of the Elgin marbles illustrates how difficult such questions are to answer. Much of the Parthenon was destroyed during the marbles’ removal, but the temple was being used at the time by the occupying Turks as a storage facility for gun powder, with more than one resulting explosion. Athenian pollution subsequently corroded much of what remained on site, but the British Museum’s attempts to clean the marbles has also had disastrous effects. In Waxman’s hands, the question of justice remains intriguingly slippery, and the argument over who owns history takes on new depth. Erudite and wholly satisfying."

Obama and Hollywood: A Compendium

Obama A news site I've never heard of, newsmax.com, which purports to be an "independent" publication with "a  conservative perspective" offers up its list of Hollywood Obamamaniacs today. The list offers few surprises - Scarlett J., George C., Matt and Ben, Halle, Oprah and Will - but the site seems thoroughly obsessed with the presumptive Democratic nominee, which is interesting enough. Here tis.

August 04, 2008

Sources: The Hollywood Reporter Up for Sale

Hr1 The Hollywood Reporter is up for sale, I’m told by two solid sources. Are you really surprised? At a time of deep decline in the newsprint business, and with rival Variety  already on the auction bloc, the Nielsen Company has quietly put up for sale the bundle of 42 trade papers in its Business Media division, which includes THR, Billboard, Backstage, Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek and Editor & Publisher.

Here’s why this makes sense: The value of the trade paper, once a Nielsen flagship, has declined from a $20 million EBITDA to $9 million, and may drop as low as $6 million in the coming year, according to my sources. The trade has already eliminated about one-third of its 135 positions, which includes a significant number in ad sales, and editorial cuts in such key news centers as New York and Washington. Most distressing is that despite the website’s major redesign in late April, web traffic has seen no appreciable change, and indeed is declining of late.

The folks in charge at Nielsen dispute the news, but aren’t exactly in lockstep. Eric Mika, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, said he hadn’t heard a thing. “I wouldn’t say it’s true or false,” he said. “It hasn’t come across my desk.” He noted that the Reporter is investing in new initiatives, and reported “fantastic growth on subscriptions in print and digital” in the past three months. (If so, online growth is invisible to the naked eye.) Transforming the international edition into a Friday weekend edition in January has bumped circulation 22 percent, he said.

Gerry Byrne, who since February has led this division, emphatically denied that it is for sale. “We’ve got big plans to expand. The challenges of change are big. But content is king.” He hinted that the Reporter would expand into the consumer business. “We’re going where we can hit our primary customers, but we’re looking at consumers,” he said. “The joint is not up for sale.” Byrne said that reports of a sale may be coming from “unsolicited callers” who are eager to get their hands on the well-known brands in his division.

I doubt it. Anyone can see the Reporter is not thriving. And neither of my sources, who each declined to go on the record, are in a buying mood.

Face-lifts 2.0: The New Celebrity Face

Faces_2

Scary? You bet. We've all read about the plastic surgery disasters that lead to the sad outcomes pictured here. But New York magazine has a fascinating and often hilarious look at the new  celebrity face, and why it looks so damn good: Demi's, Madonna's, and Angelina's. Today's top doctors, it turns out, don't tighten the skin and overpump the lips, they add volume. Baby fat. Here's the new surgeon-to-the-stars, David Rosenberg:

"What has transpired in the past ten years, says Rosenberg, is “further dissection of the deeper layers” for a face-lift that is almost entirely muscular. Rosenberg and surgeons like him go under the cheek-fat pad and disconnect the platysma, which is a sheet of muscle that supports the lower face, then they resuspend it higher with stitches under the skin. “That’s how you fix the surface—from below,” he says. “I am working on the undersurface, and everything gently comes with it. So there’s a feminine quality, it’s soft and smooth. When it heals, you don’t see tension on the outer surface.”

Now you get it? Here's the rest.

August 03, 2008

Eszterhas Reveals: A Love Child (Not with Sharon Stone)

Cross_2

When I visited Joe Eszterhas a month ago, he told me he had a new book coming out about his rediscovered faith in Christ. But he didn't tell me that he had hidden yet another real-life drama in its pages: a child, a daughter, given up for adoption four decades ago. Her name is Suzie Perryman, and she was born around 1967 to Eszterhas, then a Cleveland newspaper reporter, and his then-girlfriend, and given up through the local Catholic Diocese. Perryman sought out Eszterhas about a decade ago, but only really began a relationship with him after reading that he'd contracted throat cancer several years back. Then her own children were diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and Eszterhas helped his estranged grandchildren get a proper diagnosis and treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. Even so, Eszterhas describes their relationship as "a work in progress." The Plain Dealer, Eszterhas's old employer, told the story today, and the iconoclastic screenwriter emailed me tonight that the story was "complete and accurate."

Complete? Not really. I have a ton of questions: who's the Mom, described as a "successful set designer"? Why adoption? Any regrets? What do his other children (two grown ones from marriage A, four young ones from marriage B) think?

Eszterhas seems to have an endless supply of unrevealed personal drama. We learned in recent years his father wrote anti-Semitic propaganda for the pro-Nazi Hungarian government during the war, and that the State Department sought to deport him. We learned that Eszterhas had torrid affairs during his first marriage, most interestingly with Sharon Stone. Now this. Is there anything else Joe Eszterhas is not telling us?

Weekend Box Office

From Media By Numbers, domestic box office. (Short version: Dark Knight keeps raking it in; Kevin Costner - see no. 6 - will need a stiff drink.)

1. The Dark Knight $43,800,000.

2.The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor $42,450,4001

3. Step Brothers $16,300,000

4. Mamma Mia! $13,120,670

5. Journey to the Center of the Earth $6,875,000

6. Swing Vote $6,300,000

August 02, 2008

"Hopkins": More, Please

In this summer of dismal television, is anyone out there watching the inspiring, beautiful, dramatic, fascinating, heart-wrenching documentary series on ABC, "Hopkins"? This six-part series is almost over, and in the course of these weeks, we've gotten to know real-life doctors and patients and their families, interns and nurses and surgeons in their most intimate moments.

We watch as they dispense life, or deal in death. We observe, week after week, as a baby with an enlarged heart fights to survive, or a couple undergoes a three-way kidney exchange so the wife can get the organ she needs. We've watched newborns die, we've watched interns make rookie mistakes. We've seen residents recoil at gunshot victims and surgeons allow themselves a moment to feel heroic. The payoff is so much more gratifying than "ER," or "Scrubs" or "Grey's Anatomy." Because it's real.

This is journalism at its best, and it is extremely hard to achieve, the result of great courage on the part of Johns Hopkins - who let camera crews in to see the good, bad and incompetent - and of great effort, patience and editing skill by producer Mark Gordon. Bravo, too, to ABC.

Is the public paying attention? The ratings have been up and down, and lately down. "Hopkins" started out winning the night among its competitors, but it hasn't done so well since. The show draws strong female audiences; this past week it lost - by a lot - to a new CBS police thriller-drama, "Flashpoint."

We viewers have to tune in when the networks bother to broadcast something of quality. Otherwise, we get what we deserve. This coming week is the finale. Let's watch it.

August 01, 2008

John Edwards Update: Mass Media Takes a Bite

The John Edwards-Rielle Hunter story is finally leaking into the mainstream media. McClatchy has weighed in on the story, reprinted in parts as far afield as Cleveland (thanks Mom!), Charlotte and Modesto. And reporters from other outlets are probing the former candidate on the question. Edwards ducked the subject when a dozen reporters and photographers tried to ask him about his night at the Beverly Hilton, the alleged affair and subsequent baby, at a speech he gave this week at an AARP symposium on poverty and aging in Washington. Edwards slipped out the back of the hotel and told a journalist, "Can't do it now, I'm sorry." Commentators are quite rightly pointing out that if Edwards had nothing to hide, why not do a paternity test and be done with it? And there's another story today, this in The Charlotte Observer, digging up the fact that Hunter's child, Frances, has no father listed on the Santa Barbara birth certificate.

Couple of other points worth noting: The New York Times, the paper of record, has yet to print anything on the topic. This is particularly uncomfortable for the paper in the wake of having published a front-page piece in February that suggested an affair and improper ties between John McCain and a female lobbyist who was not his wife.

Here's another question: Where is Elizabeth Edwards? How is she taking all this? She is typically not shy about berating the media when she feels they have stepped over the line.

And finally: Why is the National Enquirer playing coy? Where are the photos and the full-out coverage from its multiple-reporter-photographer-extravaganza- chasing-John-Edwards-into-a-Bathroom at the Beverly Hilton? Roll tape please.

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