Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hollywood braces for more labor talks

By LYNN ELBER, AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES - In a Century Plaza Hotel ballroom earlier this week, 600 people gathered to hear Hollywood heavyweights tally the fallout from the writers strike.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the hotel, union officials representing movie and TV actors huddled to finalize a battle plan for their upcoming contract talks.

Hollywood is hoping their story has a different ending.

Or better yet, a complete rewrite of the plot — one without a strike.

"It seems completely out of the question that there would be," said actress Ashley Jones, a star on CBS' daytime drama "The Bold and The Beautiful" who also works on primetime TV series and movies.

"But," she continued, "you never know."

With new shows just starting to return to TV, the entertainment industry finally seems to be shaking off the devastating impact of the 100-day strike by the Writers Guild of America that ended Feb. 12 and took an estimated $2.5 billion toll on the local economy. But the industry remains on edge as leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have said publicly they will push for an even better deal than the one writers got.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, has urged the two unions representing actors to begin bargaining by April 1 — three months before the contract covering movies and primetime shows is set to expire on June 30. And pressure for a speedy resolution has come from A-list actors Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, who took out ads in trade publications calling for talks to start immediately.

However, Screen Actors Guild PresidentAlan Rosenberg and Executive Director Doug Allen — a former pro football linebacker — don't seem ready to sign on the dotted line.

The two men "are equally as assertive as the writers guild leadership," said entertainment industry lawyer Jonathan Handel, a former writers guild associate counsel who has closely followed industry contract talks.

The tough stance of the Screen Actors Guild has been tempered by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has shown a willingness to compromise, Handel said. Both guilds declined requests for interviews, saying their leaders were immersed in preparations for the talks, and the alliance has not commented on contract issues.

A key issue for actors is expected to be compensation for TV shows and movies delivered via digital media. Writers and directors also stressed that demand in their separate negotiations earlier this year.

Those unions won key victories, including jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution online and new and better compensation for shows and movies streamed or downloaded online.

Other issues for actors may involve DVD residuals and forced endorsements by actors of products placed in films or on TV shows.

Actor Steve Blackwood, a former regular on NBC's "Days of Our Lives," said a cut of future digital-media money is worth a fight.

"In five to 10 years, everybody's going to be watching TV shows on the Internet," Blackwood said. "If we settle too quickly because no one wants to strike again, then actors will really beef later if they find out the union settled for less than they should get."

Blackwood wants to see union leaders fight hard at the bargaining table but conceded most actors who went unemployed during the writers strike would like to see a quick contract deal. The boards of the two unions plan to meet Saturday to finalize their bargaining plan and possibly set a start date for the talks.

On Thursday, a committee that reviewed member surveys on pay and benefits made a recommendation to be considered at the meeting.

The 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild represents actors in movies, TV and other media. The 70,000-member TV and radio federation represents, among others, actors, singers, announcers and journalists.

Leaders of the unions have already met informally with studio executives who proved crucial to closing the earlier deals with directors and writers. But the meetings so far haven't been substantive, according to two people close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

Greg Daniels, executive producer of NBC's "The Office," said the actors unions could see this as a good time to press their case.

Movie studios were expected to be in a de facto strike mode as of April, unwilling to start filming new projects that won't be wrapped before July 1 — the date of a possible walkout.

Robert David Hall, a star on CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" who recently served as a Screen Actors Guild board member, joined writers picket lines while his show was knocked out of production by the strike. There is no appetite for another walkout, he said, but actors must put their faith in union leaders.

"Nobody can guarantee there will or won't be a strike. My sense is there won't be, but you have to go through the process," Hall said.

The industry's wariness was evident at Tuesday's panel discussion at the Century Plaza Hotel organized by the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.

Only prominent entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren, who was credited with helping resolve the writers strike, answered when the moderator asked if anyone was concerned about a possible actors strike.

"My short version is that if the parties involved in the negotiations stay in the room instead of going to the press," Ziffren said, "we'll get it done and we'll get it done well."

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    Clooney drops the ball with "Leatherheads"

    By Kirk Honeycutt

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
    George Clooney

    But Clooney, the film's director and star, can't make up
    his mind how to approach the story. One minute it's a romantic
    comedy. Then it switches to slapstick, then to screwball comedy
    before sliding into Frank Capra territory with a crusading
    female reporter and a phony hero before settling on a gridiron
    version of "The Natural," a tall tale about how legends are
    made. It's all over the place but never feels comfortable in
    its own period clothes.

    Trying out all these comic subgenres takes time. The film
    overstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes, making the
    climactic game feel anti-climactic. Clooney and co-star Renee
    certainly will lure customers, but story weaknesses
    and ill-defined characters will challenge their most ardent
    fans to root for anything other than a swift ending. Boxoffice
    prospects looks mediocre domestically, and you can forget about

    The parts never add up. The journalistic aspects are all
    stolen from "The Front Page" and "It Happened One Night" and
    feel tired. The chases, fisticuffs and pratfalls are
    exceedingly lame. And the romances never are convincing. Our
    Lexie wouldn't fall for either of these mugs.

    The film shifts styles so often that it strips its gears.
    Characters turn up, often coincidentally, to push the story
    along, but the script by one-time Sports Illustrated colleagues
    Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly relies heavily on old movies
    and not enough on historical invention. The haphazard nature of
    the narrative speaks to the clumsiness of every unlikely plot
    turn and character.


    Dodge Connelly: George Clooney

    Lexie Littleton: Renee Zellweger

    Carter "The Bullett" Rutherford: John Krasinski

    CC Frazier: Jonathan Pryce

    Suds: Stephen Root

    Coach Ferguson: Wayne Duvall

    Commissioner: Peter Gerety

    Director: George Clooney; Screenwriters: Duncan Brantley,
    Rick Reilly; Producers: Grant Heslov, Casey Silver; Executive
    producers: Barbara A. Hall, Jeffrey Silver, Bobby Newmyer,
    Sydney Pollack; Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel;
    Production designer: Jim Bissell; Music: Randy Newman; Costume
    designer: Louise Frogley; Editor: Stephen Mirrione.

    Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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      Oliver Stone casting film on Pres. Bush

      By JAKE COYLE, AP Entertainment Writer

      NEW YORK - Like a bill being rapidly pushed through legislation, Oliver Stone's film about President George W. Bush is expected to begin shooting within a month with a goal toward being released before the president leaves office next January.

      A person close to the film, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because plans were still being formalized, said Stone's "W." will begin filming in late April in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Academy Award-winning director only began shopping his script for financing in January, but has quickly captured the interest of investors and Hollywood.

      Stone has said that the film, which will focus on the life and presidency of Bush, won't be an anti-Bush polemic, but, as he told Daily Variety, "a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from being an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?"

      Representatives for Stone would not confirm reports in Variety and elsewhere about casting decisions because of unfinalized contracts. Expected to play the president is Josh Brolin, who played another Texan in the Coen brothers' Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men."

      Expected to portray First Lady Laura Bush is Elizabeth Banks, whose credits include "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" and the upcoming "Zach and Miri Make a Porno."

      "W." will be Stone's third film dealing with presidential matters, following "Nixon" and "JFK." The filmmaker has been an outspoken critic of the administration's decision to invade Iraq.

      A Hollywood firebrand, Stone's films also include the Vietnam sagas "Born on the Fourth of July" and "Platoon," which won four Oscars including best picture and director, and 2006's "World Trade Center," about two policemen buried in the rubble of the towers after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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        Muslim nations condemn Dutch Koran film

        By Niclas Mika

        AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -
        Muslim nations on Friday condemned a
        film by a Dutch lawmaker that accuses the Koran of inciting
        violence, and Dutch Muslim leaders urged restraint.

        Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom
        Party, launched his short video on the Internet on Thursday
        evening, prompting an al Qaeda-linked website to call for his
        death and increased attacks on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan.

        "The correct Sharia (Islamic law) response is to cut (off)
        his head and let him follow his predecessor, van Gogh, to
        hell," a member of Al-Ekhlaas wrote on the al-Qaeda affiliated
        forum, according to the SITE Institute, a U.S.-based terrorism
        monitoring service.

        Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who made a film accusing
        Islam of condoning violence against women, was murdered by a
        militant Islamist in 2004.

        The film urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses
        from the Koran and starts and ends with a cartoon of the
        Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by
        the sound of ticking.

        The cartoon, first published in Danish newspapers, ignited
        violent protests around the world and a boycott of Danish
        products in 2006. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the
        Prophet as offensive.

        "The film is solely intended to incite and provoke unrest
        and intolerance among people of different religious beliefs and
        to jeopardize world peace and stability," the 57-nation
        Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said.

        U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the film as
        "offensively anti-Islamic" and U.N. High Commissioner for Human
        Rights Louise Arbour said it was "hateful."

        Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic,
        and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a
        former Dutch colony, said it was an "insult to Islam, hidden
        under the cover of freedom of expression."

        The Saudi Arabian embassy in The Hague said the film was
        provocative and full of errors and incorrect allegations that
        could lead to hate towards Muslims, news agency ANP reported.


        Dutch Muslim leaders appealed for calm and called on
        Muslims worldwide not to target Dutch interests. The
        Netherlands is home to about 1 million Muslims out of a
        population of 16 million.

        "Our call to Muslims abroad is follow our strategy and
        don't frustrate it with any violent incidents," Mohammed
        Rabbae, a Dutch Moroccan community leader, told journalists in
        an Amsterdam mosque.

        The Dutch Islamic Federation went to court on Friday to try
        to stop Wilders from comparing Islam to fascism.

        Pollster Maurice de Hond found that only 12 percent of
        those questioned thought the film represented Islam accurately,
        but 43 percent agreed Islam was a serious threat to the
        Netherlands over the long term.

        Wilders has been under guard because of death threats since
        the murder of van Gogh and Freedom Party support rose in
        anticipation of the film to about 10 percent of the vote.

        The Dutch government has distanced itself from Wilders and
        tried to prevent the kind of backlash Denmark suffered over the
        Prophet cartoons.

        Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he was proud of
        how Dutch Muslim organizations responded to the film but that
        it was too early to draw conclusions about the international
        consequences: "There are reasons for continued alertness."

        NATO has expressed concern the film could worsen security
        for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch
        troops. A Belgian government spokesman said security had been
        stepped up at Dutch diplomatic missions in the country.

        Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard objected to the use of
        his drawing of the Prophet Mohammad, saying it was shown out of
        context and that he had taken legal action to have it removed.

        SITE said responses to the Wilders film on al Ekhlaas and
        another al-Qaeda affiliated website, al Hesbah, were
        significantly lower in volume compared to the cartoons uproar.

        (Additional reporting by Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Jakarta,
        Tehran, Islamabad, Aarhus and Brussels bureau; Writing by Emma
        Thomasson; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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          EU condemns Dutch Koran film, upholds free speech

          By Marcin Grajewski
          1 hour, 52 minutes ago

          BRDO, Slovenia (Reuters) -
          European Union foreign ministers
          condemned on Saturday a Dutch film that accuses the Koran of
          inciting violence, but said its author had a right to make it
          under the bloc's free speech principles.

          Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian and leader of the
          anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched his short video on the
          Internet on Thursday, prompting an al Qaeda-linked website to
          call for his death and attacks on Dutch soldiers in

          "The film equates Islam with violence and this view is
          sharply rejected," the 27 ministers said in a statement after a
          two-day meeting in the Slovenian country resort of Brdo.

          "The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and
          violence," they said, expressing support for the Dutch
          government, which has dismissed the film's view on Islam.

          The film, which urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled"
          verses from the Koran, has outraged Muslim nations in a similar
          way to a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his
          turban published in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

          But the ministers said the film fell within the scope of
          the EU principle of freedom of expression and those offended by
          it should refrain from violence or threats.

          "Feeling offended is no excuse for aggression or threats,"
          the ministers said.

          "Muslims, Christians and people of all convictions and
          beliefs must live together in peace and mutual respect."

          Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic,
          and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a
          former Dutch colony, said it was an "insult to Islam, hidden
          under the cover of freedom of expression."

          Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said he was
          satisfied with the support from his EU partners.

          Denmark was hit was hit in 2006 by boycotts and
          international protests over the Prophet cartoons.

          "I do not agree with the film because you cannot say 1.3
          billion Muslims are potential terrorists," Danish Foreign
          Minister Per Stig Moller told reporters on Friday.

          Earlier, British-based LiveLeak, the first Web site to
          post the Wilders film, said it had removed the film after
          threats to its staff "of a very serious nature."

          (Editing by Paul Taylor)

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            Miley Cyrus is Kids Choice front-runner

            By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer
            39 minutes ago

            LOS ANGELES - It was shaping up as the best of both worlds for pop culture phenomenon Miley Cyrus, who came into Saturday night's 21st annual Kids Choice Awards with nominations for favorite singer and favorite actress.

            Cyrus, whose television series "Hannah Montana" was also nominated for favorite show, was scheduled to perform at the awards program, singing "Girl's Night Out" from her hit album "Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus."

            Also scheduled to take the stage was the Naked Brothers Band.

            "I'm curious to see Miley Cyrus perform. She's such a phenomenon and I've never seen her live so I'd kind of like to see what all the hype is about," said Quddus Philippe, a former host of MTV's "Total Request Live," who was among the celebrities scheduled to walk the show's orange carpet.

            Cyrus won last year's favorite TV star award but Beyonce captured the favorite singer trophy. The two were nominated again this year, along with Fergie and Alicia Keys.

            Male singer nominees included Bow Wow, Chris Brown, Soulja Boy and last year's Kids Choice Awards host, Justin Timberlake.

            Competing against Cyrus for the favorite TV actress award were Emma Roberts of "Unfabulous," Jamie Lynn Spears of "Zoey 101" and Raven-Symone of "That's So Raven."

            The 90-minute show was to be broadcast from UCLA's Pauley Pavilion before an audience of 10,000 mostly teen and preteen fans.

            The program, which puts as much emphasis on a rollicking good time as handing out awards, was to be hosted this year by Jack Black. At some point Black and other celebrities were expected to be doused in Nickelodeon's trademark green slime and there was likely to be an acrobatic stunt performed involving slime, although the show's producers were keeping quiet on what was planned. In some years celebrities also take part in burping contests.

            Although the show is as much about fun as awards, it has drawn a huge celebrity turnout in recent years. Among those scheduled to participate were Harrison Ford, Hayden Panettiere, Amy Poehler, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ryan Seacrest. The Jonas Brothers Band, in Florida to promote a forthcoming album and tour, said Friday they were flying home for the event.

            "We're nominated for an award," Nick Jonas said proudly. It was for favorite music group.

            The film "Shrek The Third" had a leading four nominations, including one for favorite animated movie. The other three were for favorite voice from an animated movie and were for Mike Meyers as Shrek, Cameron Diaz as his wife, Fiona, and Eddie Murphy as Shrek's loyal sidekick, Donkey. The fourth went to Jerry Seinfeld for "Bee Movie."

            Murphy was also nominated in the favorite male movie star category for "Norbit."

            Drake Bell was looking to win his third straight favorite male TV star award. He was up against his "Drake & Josh" co-star Josh Peck, as well as Dylan and Cole Sprouse, the identical twin stars of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."

            Awards are voted on by people who cast their ballots at Nickelodeon's Web site, with voting continuing until the day of the show. Early in the week Nickelodeon reported nearly 60 million ballots had been cast, breaking last year's record of 40 million.


            On the Net: http://www.nick

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              Thursday, March 27, 2008

              FX buys cable rights to Universal slate

              LOS ANGELES - FX Network inked a deal Wednesday to buy the basic cable television rights to more than a dozen movies released by Universal Pictures this year.

              The deal by the News Corp. cable channel is estimated to cost about $100 million and cover about 15 movies, but those figures may change depending upon how the films fare at the box office.

              The package includes already-released films "Jarhead" and "Definitely, Maybe" and upcoming movies like the third installment in "The Mummy" series due this summer and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

              Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, said the deal is the first time the studio sold such a large slate of films to a basic cable channel.

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                Metro-Goldwyn agrees entertainment projects in UAE

                ABU DHABI (Reuters) -
                Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc and
                Jordan-based Rubicon agreed to develop entertainment facilities
                with Abu Dhabi-based Sorouh Real Estate in the United Arab
                Emirates, the companies said on Thursday.

                The first project will mix Western and Middle East cultures
                and traditions, they said in a joint statement, without giving

                "It is our hope this partnership will enhance Sorouh's
                position to further cement Abu Dhabi's reputation as a leading
                tourism and lifestyle destination," Sorouh Vice Chairman
                Mohammed Khalaf al-Mazrouei said in the statement.

                Emirates Business newspaper, citing Daily Variety magazine,
                said the projects will cost as much as $1 billion to develop.

                Sorouh is developing 45 billion dirhams ($12.25 billion) of
                real estate projects in Abu Dhabi as the emirate seeks to use
                its record oil wealth to diversify its economy into tourism and

                Last year, Sorouh's biggest Abu Dhabi rival, Aldar
                Properties, agreed with Warner Bros Entertainment to set up a
                film and video-game production company that includes
                development of a theme park, hotels and cinemas.

                (Writing by John Irish and James Cordahi; Editing by
                Michael Urquhart)

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                  Nokia talks to major labels about music service: report

                  HELSINKI (Reuters) -
                  Nokia is in talks with all the major
                  music labels to sell their songs through its "Comes With Music"
                  service, expected to be launched later this year, a company
                  executive told the Financial Times on Thursday.

                  "We have negotiations and discussions ongoing with all the
                  majors and a number of indies as well," Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's
                  executive vice-president, told the Financial Times. "Certainly
                  our target is to have other labels on board."

                  Nokia said in December it would offer unlimited music from
                  at least Universal Music Group for buyers of certain Nokia

                  The world's top mobile phone maker was well placed to
                  weather the economic downturn, Vanjoki also told the Financial

                  (Reporting by Sakari Suoninen; Editing by David Holmes)

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                    Clear Channel says wins ruling on $20 billion buyout

                    NEW YORK (Reuters) -
                    Clear Channel Communications Inc said
                    on Thursday it had won a ruling from a Texas judge that may
                    advance its efforts to force banks to finance a $20 billion
                    buyout of the U.S. radio operator.

                    Six banks led by Citigroup Inc were to provide more than
                    $22 billion of financing for the buyout by Bain Capital
                    Partners LLC
                    and Thomas H Lee Partners LP.

                    But the private equity firms filed lawsuits in New York and
                    Texas on Wednesday, accusing the banks of backing out of their
                    commitments after capital markets deteriorated. Clear Channel
                    joined in the Texas lawsuit.

                    In a statement, Clear Channel said Judge John Gabriel of
                    the Bexar County district court in Texas found on Wednesday
                    night that the company would suffer irreparable harm if the
                    banks refused to fund the merger.

                    It said the judge issued a temporary order directing the
                    banks not to interfere with the merger by refusing to fund it
                    or demanding new terms.

                    San Antonio-based Clear Channel did not answer calls
                    seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Citigroup, which has been
                    speaking on behalf of the bank group, did not immediately
                    return a call for comment.

                    Other banks in the lending group are Credit Suisse Group,
                    Deutsche Bank AG, Morgan Stanley, Royal Bank of Scotland Group
                    and Wachovia Corp.

                    Clear Channel had agreed last May at the height of the
                    private equity boom to be acquired by the private equity firms
                    for $39.20 per share. Since then, banks have become much less
                    willing to make leveraged loans, many of which have lost value
                    because investors have stopped buying them.

                    The banking group faced losses of about $3 billion to $4
                    billion on Clear Channel loans, according to a person familiar
                    with the situation, who requested anonymity because he was not
                    authorized to speak.

                    Clear Channel shares fell $5.69, or 17.5 percent, to $26.87
                    on Wednesday, after reports that the buyout was in trouble.

                    (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Will Waterman)

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                      Ultimate fighter Ortiz enters ring for "Beatdown"

                      By James Hibberd

                      LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                      Consider Tito Ortiz

                      The former Ultimate Fighting Championship title-holder
                      might have been terminated by Donald Trump on NBC's "Celebrity
                      Apprentice" this month, but he's been enlisted by Comcast's
                      videogame-based G4 network to create a reality show.

                      Ortiz is developing "Anytown Beatdown," a UFC-style series
                      where friends and rivals resolve their differences by fighting
                      in the octagon. Ortiz will train the participants in
                      mixed-martial arts fighting, and then let them duke it out.

                      The G4 project was using the name "Anytown Throwdown." The
                      moniker was then shifted to the more aggressive "Anytown
                      Beatdown." G4 has recently been trying to populate its schedule
                      and broaden beyond its videogame base with such acquisitions as
                      ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "Heroes."

                      Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                        HBO "High" on Aussie comedy

                        By Nellie Andreeva

                        LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                        HBO has acquired the hit
                        Australian comedy series "Summer Heights High."

                        The pay cable network will launch the eight-episode
                        mocumentary series, created, written and performed by comedian
                        Chris Lilley, in June.

                        "High" chronicles high school life through three
                        characters, all played by Lilley: Mr. G, a self-important,
                        high-strung drama teacher; Ja'mie, a haughty, private-school
                        female exchange student; and Jonah, a delinquent, break-dancing
                        obsessed student. The show was shot on location at a real high
                        school and features real-life students and faculty.

                        It will run in a late-night Friday comedy block with HBO's
                        new animated comedy "The Life and Times of Tim" during the
                        offseason of "Real Time With Bill Maher."

                        HBO is already tapping into the antipodean comic
                        sensibility with the cult hit "Flight of the Conchords,"
                        starring New Zealand actorsBret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement.

                        Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                          "The Hills" hits highs for MTV

                          By Kimberly Nordyke

                          LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                          "The Hills" are really
                          alive, with the MTV reality show drawing its biggest audience
                          ever this week.

                          Monday's 10-11 p.m. episode, which was the first of Season
                          3's eight "bonus" episodes, averaged 4.8 million total viewers,
                          according to Nielsen Media Research. That marks the series'
                          biggest viewership ever for a single episode, besting what
                          originally was supposed to be the third-season finale in
                          December (4.7 million viewers).

                          On Tuesday, in its first full day live on MTV, the new
                          "Hills" episode delivered 1.8 million streams, up 29% from the
                          day after Season 3's premiere episode.

                          Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                            Dr Pepper issues challenge to Guns N' Roses

                            NEW YORK (Billboard) -
                            Many have tried, but so far nobody
                            has been able to pry the decade-in-the-works Guns N' Roses
                            album "Chinese Democracy" from the hands of lone remaining
                            original member Axl Rose.

                            Now, Dr Pepper thinks it's up to the challenge. The soft
                            drink company says it will give a free can of Dr Pepper to
                            "everyone in America" (excluding ex-Guns members Slash and
                            Buckethead) if "Chinese Democracy" arrives anytime during the
                            calendar year 2008.

                            Rose responded on his band's web site
                            (http://www.gunsnroses) that the band was "surprised and
                            very happy to have the support of Dr Pepper." But the offer did
                            not prompt him to rose to the challenge.

                            "Chinese Democracy" was most recently scheduled for release
                            in March 2007, but promptly vanished from the schedule without
                            a new date being set. Rose said at the time that all the
                            recording had been completed, but there were some "scheduling

                            It will be the first album of fresh Guns N' Roses material
                            since the 1991 sets "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your
                            Illusion II." Rose has reportedly burned through $13 million in
                            recording expenses for "Chinese Democracy," and also burned his
                            bridges with the bandmates who helped him turn Guns into one of
                            the biggest rock groups in the world by the early 1990s.


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                              Smashing Pumpkins lawsuit latest step in feud

                              By Jonathan Cohen

                              NEW YORK (Billboard) -
                              Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy
                              said his recent breach-of-contract lawsuit against
                              Virgin Records comes on the heels of a lengthy feud with the
                              band's former label over the handling of its back catalog.

                              The rock band sued Virgin on Monday, claiming that the EMI
                              unit used its name, music and image without its
                              permission in a "Pepsi Stuff" promotion to market the soft
                              drink and Amazon.

                              Corgan told Billboard that he had been at loggerheads
                              with Virgin for years, but that the Pepsi/Amazon promotion
                              "crosses the Rubicon. You're going to see more of this playing
                              fast and loose with the rules, hoping they don't get caught. At
                              face value, it's not a huge deal. But in terms of precedent, it
                              is, because there will be much more of this coming."

                              The problem is that according to the contract the Pumpkins
                              renegotiated with Virgin in the late '90s, both parties are
                              partners on the catalog. Corgan, on tour with the Smashing
                              in Australia, said his frequent overtures to Virgin
                              about releasing archival material and expanded editions of the
                              band's albums had met with resistance every step of the way.

                              "We've made offers to buy it all," he said. "Look, you have
                              no interest. Let us just buy it. But they won't put a number on
                              it. They've atrophied the catalog down so low that they
                              probably hope we'll crawl back and ask for cash."

                              That won't stop the band from offering unreleased music to
                              fans before the year is out. Potentially in the pipeline are
                              rare early Smashing Pumpkins shows, studio tracks that have
                              never seen the light of day or alternate versions of songs from
                              sessions that spawned albums like "Siamese Dream" and "Mellon
                              and the Infinite Sadness."

                              The group, which is now a free agent after the expiration
                              of its one-album deal with Warner Bros., is also
                              conceptualizing the gradual release of new music in bundles,
                              culminating in an eventual album project. "We may start to
                              release pieces as we go along, and the album comes out over two
                              to three years," said Corgan, who labels this period as both
                              "fun" and "exciting."

                              After a summer break, look for the Pumpkins to return to
                              the road in September for shows in New York, Los Angeles and
                              its Chicago hometown.

                              A Virgin spokeswoman declined comment on the lawsuit,
                              citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.


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                                Emilio Navaira's brother recalls crash

                                By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press Writer
                                1 hour, 54 minutes ago

                                HOUSTON - Raul Navaira remembers seeing his brother, the Tejano music star known to his fans simply as Emilio, signing autographs after an Easter weekend club date in Houston.

                                Raul Navaira climbed aboard the tour bus that Emilio routinely drove and went to sleep for the 200-mile trip home to San Antonio.

                                "It was like any other night," Raul Navaira, 40, said Wednesday.

                                Except it wasn't.

                                "The next thing I knew, I felt stuff falling over me," he said.

                                At about 5 a.m. Sunday, the 26,000-pound motor coach slammed into a collection of freeway barrels that mark the interchange of two highways in Bellaire, a southwest Houston enclave. Emilio was thrown through the windshield, injuring him severely and requiring two brain surgeries, the most recent on Tuesday evening.

                                The 45-year-old father of five and Grammy winner is fighting for his life.

                                "It was weird," his brother said. "Right away. I thought of him. I knew he was driving. I go: 'Emilio, you OK?' I heard a 'Yeh, yeh,' but it actually was our drummer beneath the rubble."

                                He said by the time he made his way out of the bus, paramedics had strapped his brother to a gurney to take him to the hospital.

                                "They didn't let me get to him," Raul Navaira said. "I just shouted out that I loved him. ... Maybe I was in a daze. By the time I got out of the bus, everybody was there and helping."

                                Doctors worried about the condition of Emilio Navaira took him into surgery a second time Tuesday, after medication failed to lower pressure that began to build in his brain around a bruise where they removed a blood clot two days earlier.

                                "We all agreed it was heading in a negative direction and we thought we'd intervene before it got to a critical point," said Dr. Alex Valadka, director of neurotrauma services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and vice chairman of neurosciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

                                He said he reopened an incision made during Navaira's initial surgery Sunday and removed a piece of bone that had been taken out and put back following that first operation.

                                "After the surgery, the pressures in the brain were lower and Emilio tolerated the surgery fine without any problems or complications," Valadka said.

                                He said Navaira remained in critical condition but described him as improved and "perhaps better off than he was a few days ago."

                                "He is still in a coma," Valadka said. "We are still giving him some medication so it's difficult to say at this point how much is from the severity of his injury and how much is the medication. If he continues to remain stable, we'll gradually try to cut back some of the medication."

                                Recovery could take months.

                                "The general pattern with someone with injuries of his severity, you think of prolonged recovery, rehabilitation and a lot of therapy," he said.

                                The wreck remains under investigation. Several members of Navaira's band, including Raul, came away with less serious injuries. Raul had a black eye Wednesday and said he had scrapes and bruises and a sprained ankle but was otherwise well.

                                His brother and their group have released more than a dozen albums, including "Acuerdate," which won the Grammy for best Tejano album in 2003.

                                Police in Bellaire said Navaira was not licensed to drive the tour bus. Authorities were awaiting the results of blood-alcohol tests and said it was possible he may have fallen asleep.

                                Raul Navaira said his brother was accustomed to the long drives each weekend. Asked about the possibility of alcohol being involved, he said: "I don't know."

                                "My heart hurts and goes out to my brother and my other brothers of the band," he said. "It's just sad they have to go through this."

                                The group had planned to be in California for a tour starting this weekend.

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                                  Chinese movie site sues Hollywood group

                                  2 hours, 1 minute ago

                                  HONG KONG - A Chinese movie download Web site has sued a Hollywood industry group for libel over a statement that it says implies that the company admitted to piracy as part of a legal settlement.

                                  Beijing Jeboo Interactive Science & Technology Co. filed the lawsuit against the Motion Picture Association in a Beijing court last week, company official Xie Jiangping told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

                                  An MPA official didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

                                  The libel lawsuit stems from a previous lawsuit Hollywood studios filed against Jeboo.

                                  Five studios sued Jeboo in Shanghai in September and December for supplying Internet cafes with computer software that allowed users to download and watch illegal copies of 20 Hollywood movies, including "Hitch" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest."

                                  MPA said in a statement earlier this month the five studios reached an agreement with Jeboo. The Hollywood studios involved are Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

                                  The statement says the defendants "confirmed the cessation of infringing activities," apologized and paid a "significant" amount of compensation.

                                  Xie said the terms of the deal were confidential but said Jeboo never admitted to piracy.

                                  "We cannot tolerate statements that don't reflect the truth," he said.

                                  Jeboo claims to be China's largest distributor of non-pirated digital entertainment video.


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                                    NC film festival to honor Pam Grier

                                    1 hour, 55 minutes ago

                                    WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Pam Grier will be honored next month during a North Carolina film festival.

                                    The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Grier will receive a master of cinema award during the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. The festival runs April 23-28.

                                    Grier is a Winston-Salem native who appears in the Showtime series "The L Word." She's best known for starring in blaxploitation movies in the 1970s.

                                    Grier was born in Winston-Salem in 1949. Her family later settled in Colorado, where Grier graduated from high school.

                                    Bill Pullman will also receive the award. He's appeared in "Independence Day," "While You Were Sleeping" and other movies.

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                                      Robin Williams, wife are divorcing

                                      1 hour, 32 minutes ago

                                      SAN FRANCISCO - After nearly 19 years of marriage, Robin Williams and his wife are getting divorced.

                                      Marsha Garces Williams filed a petition for dissolution of marriage on March 21 in San Francisco Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences.

                                      The two met when Garces Williams worked as a nanny for Williams' son Zachary, whom he had with his previous wife, Valerie Valardi.

                                      Robin and Garces Williams also have two children together, Zelda and Cody.

                                      Williams, 56, won an Academy Award for his role in the film "Good Will Hunting." He also starred in the 1980s sitcom "Mork & Mindy," and has acted in a number of movies including "Dead Poets Society" and "Patch Adams."

                                      Williams' agent Mara Buxbaum confirmed that the couple is splitting, but had no further comment. An attorney for his estranged wife would not comment on the case.

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                                        New York subway worker in Hollywood's fast lane

                                        By Borys Kit
                                        25 minutes ago

                                        LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                                        A New York City
                                        tollbooth worker in desperate need of a car wrote a crime
                                        thriller script
                                        titled "Brooklyn's Finest" last year. Now he
                                        finds himself rubbing shoulders with some of Hollywood's
                                        finest, including Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and
                                        director Antoine Fuqua.

                                        Living in Brooklyn, Michael Martin had just totaled his car
                                        in an accident. While in physical therapy, he entered a
                                        screenwriting competition, hoping to win the prize money for
                                        his new set of wheels.

                                        "I had never written a screenplay before," said Martin, who
                                        had studied film in college. "I thought, 'How hard can it be?'
                                        I was more like, 'If I win this, I can get a new car."'

                                        His screenplay came in second but eventually ended up in a
                                        far better place: the doorstep of Warner Bros.-based producer
                                        who had been looking for a writer with an authentic and gritty
                                        voice to write a sequel to the 1991 gangbanger saga "New Jack
                                        City," which was in development at Warner Premiere, the
                                        studio's direct-to-DVD division. Impressed by "Finest," Mary
                                        Viola set out find the writer, who then had no agent.

                                        Martin had moved out to L.A., staying at a downtown hotel,
                                        and hooked up with management representatives. He enjoyed a
                                        brief stint writing for Showtime's "Sleeper Cell," but
                                        homesickness overwhelmed him. He returned to New York and wound
                                        up back at the Transit Authority.

                                        Meanwhile, in the hands of Viola, "Finest" became red hot,
                                        quickly attracting top talent. Gere and Cheadle are now
                                        polishing their badges to star in the ensemble police thriller,
                                        which Fuqua will direct for indie financier Millennium Films.
                                        Hawke is also coming on board to star, a move that will reteam
                                        him with Fuqua, who directed him to an Oscar nomination in
                                        "Training Day." Ellen Barkin is also booking a part.

                                        The script almost brought Mel Gibson out of acting
                                        seclusion. He took a string of meetings, but things ultimately
                                        didn't work out.

                                        The story, a sort of "Crash" meets "Training Day," is a
                                        dramatic ensemble with three intertwining story lines involving
                                        Brooklyn cops. "I worked for a bus company that got indicted by
                                        the Feds because of Mob connections," Martin said. "I could not
                                        have written 'Brooklyn's Finest' without that experience."

                                        The movie is prepping for a May shoot in Brooklyn, in the
                                        very locations that inspired Martin to write the script.
                                        "Things are moving very fast right now. It's something I've
                                        been waiting a long time for," Martin said.

                                        Fuqua's last movie was 2007's "Shooter," while Gere was
                                        last seen in Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There." Cheadle was in
                                        theaters last year with "Ocean's Thirteen" and "Talk To Me."

                                        Martin, a new dad, was recently promoted to construction
                                        flagger within the Transit Authority, working inside the subway
                                        system. He is writing "New Jack City 2," often during his
                                        breaks in the subway tunnels.

                                        He drives a new car.

                                        Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                                          Tautou plays gold digger in new film

                                          By ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer
                                          1 hour, 43 minutes ago

                                          PARIS - Filmmakers seem determined to bring out Audrey Tautou's sweetness and spunk. She dispensed random acts of kindness as "Amelie," set off in search of her fiance in "A Very Long Engagement" and played a street-smart but sensitive police cryptologist in "The Da Vinci Code."

                                          That's what makes "Priceless" a surprise: Tautou plays a manipulative, gold-digging, label-obsessed hanger-on.

                                          "It's not necessarily the vibe that I give off, or what I inspire in people," Tautou told The Associated Press in an interview at a Paris cafe. "So for me it was a fabulous opportunity to be able to construct a character, to do a bit more comedy, to transform myself."

                                          In "Priceless," hitting theaters Friday in several U.S. cities, Tautou plays Irene, a dark-haired knockout with a taste for the high life, like luxury hotels on the Cote d'Azur and Chanel and Azzaro evening gowns. Because of her modest means, she attaches herself to rich older men who let her live out her fantasy of being rich.

                                          Her scheme goes smoothly until she somehow mistakes a timid hotel waiter named Jean (standup comic Gad Elmaleh) for a millionaire and, after a night of cocktails with paper umbrellas, goes to bed with him. He falls for her, and finds himself a sugar mama so he can stay in her high-flying world. Irene does everything she can to get rid of Jean, like emptying out his bank account on shopping sprees.

                                          Director Pierre Salvadori, who conceived the movie for Tautou — hanging her picture on the wall while he worked on the script — said he needed an actress who could make Irene's nastiness somehow palatable.

                                          "I felt like (Tautou) could save the character," he said. "She's so tough, mean and manipulative, and if she's not played by someone with humor, fantasy and poetry, the character will immediately be hated."

                                          While this isn't Tautou's first bad-girl role (she played a stalker in "He Loves Me ... He Loves Me Not") Tautou, who made her name playing the gamine do-gooder in "Amelie," says she didn't take on "Priceless" out of a wish to play against type.

                                          "I've never chosen a role in that way — I've never tried to have an image, to create one, to preserve it," the 31-year-old Tautou said. "I take pleasure in getting into different adventures, with different people that — and this may be egotistical — will bring me something new."

                                          Part of the fun of "Priceless" was the fancy gowns. Tautou spends the movie strutting around in skimpy designer dresses and strappy stilettos. Though she'll play fashionista Coco Chanel in her next film, still in development, she's more into comfortable clothes in real life. To the interview, Tautou wore a gray cotton shift, a fluffy back cardigan and not a trace of visible makeup.

                                          "I'm not someone who tries to play up my femininity, that's not really in my nature," she said. "Something I discovered playing this role, wearing outfits I never wore before, was that I could also be a kind of object of desire and of male fantasy, and that's not something that has ever crossed my mind."

                                          Tautou — who comes off as down-to-earth and yes, sweet — sprinkled the interview with hints of her modesty. When she learned she would be co-starring with Elmaleh, a major star in France, Tautou said she worried she "couldn't hold a candle to him" and his comic talent.

                                          She also said that, while she's open to doing more American films after "The Da Vinci Code," she doesn't really see why Hollywood directors would seek her out.

                                          "I'm not at all against the idea of doing a movie in English again," Tautou said. "The only thing I don't feel capable of doing is going off to conquer Hollywood. I don't think I have the strength for it, and I don't feel the desire ... And I really don't see why someone would say, hey, I'm going to go hire that little French girl from (the provincial town of) Montlucon, who has almost never set foot in Los Angeles."

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                                            Sliming good time planned at Kids Choice

                                            By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer
                                            1 hour, 40 minutes ago

                                            LOS ANGELES - He's a perennial winner. So why is SpongeBob SquarePants sounding so nervous before Saturday night's Kids Choice Awards, Hollywood's most raucous, fun-loving awards show, the one broadcast live before an audience of 10,000 screaming preteens, teens and tweens?

                                            "I don't get nervous very often over voiceover gigs," says SquarePants, who is lesser known to audiences as Tom Kenny, Hollywood's Man of a Thousand Voices. "But, man, a screaming, live broadcast that goes on across the country, where any flub or mistake you make is instantly beamed into people's living rooms and there's no do-overs. It's one of the most stressful — but fun — jobs I do in the course of a year."

                                            He'll be doing it again this year, providing the mellifluous voice that is heard but never seen and that keeps the Kids Choice Awards show (8 p.m. EDT on Nickelodeon) moving at its customary frenetic pace.

                                            When it's time to give away the trophy for favorite cartoon, SquarePants himself usually heads to the podium in animated form. (He's won four years in a row and is nominated again this time.) Kenny then switches effortlessly from what he calls his World Wrestling Federation announcer voice to the high-pitched giggle that defines America's favorite aquatic creature.

                                            "Most kids watching the broadcast probably aren't making the connection between that WWF-sounding announcer and the little yellow sponge that they love," says Kenny, who although laughing at the moment, sounds absolutely nothing like SpongeBob SquarePants.

                                            "If they are connecting the dots," he adds, "then I'm doing a lousy job."

                                            As its veteran announcer, Kenny has seen the show — in its 21st year — expand dramatically over the years.

                                            According to Nickelodeon, the show is seen in more than 205 million households across the U.S., Europe, Russia, Israel, Asia, Australia and Latin America.

                                            Miley Cyrus, the hottest thing in pop music at the moment, is scheduled to perform her hit song "Girls Night Out" at this year's show. The Naked Brothers Band will debut the song "I Don't Want to Go to School" from their forthcoming album.

                                            "I'm curious to see Miley Cyrus perform. She's such a phenomenon and I've never seen her live so I'd kind of like to see what all the hype is about," said Quddus Philippe, a former host of MTV's "Total Request Live," who plans to be at the show.

                                            "I just hope I don't get slimed because I plan on wearing my outfit for the rest of the evening," he said, laughing.

                                            Indeed, green, gooey slime has become one of the show's hallmarks. Such celebrities as Robin Williams, Tom Cruise and Pink have been doused with it (actually it was colored pink for Pink). One year the band Green Day sprayed it on the audience. Still another year, BMX champion Mat Hoffman jumped out of a plane on a bike and parachuted into a pool of it.

                                            Meanwhile, when the awards are handed out this year, one of the leading nominees will be Cyrus, who is up for favorite female singer and favorite TV actress and whose show, "Hannah Montana" on the rival Disney network, is also nominated.

                                            Awards are voted on by kids themselves, who go to Nickelodeon's Web site to cast ballots.

                                            "Last year we had around 40 million votes. We reached that last week and we're close to 60 million now," Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president of development and original programming for Nickelodeon, said earlier this week.

                                            Kids are also voting on what outfit Miranda Cosgrove, star of the kids show "iCarly," should wear — and what kind of vehicle in which Jack Black, the show's host, should arrive on stage.

                                            All of that kid-friendly input is what Cohn believes makes the Kids Choice Awards a hit.

                                            "I think the show is still the only place where kids pick their favorite stars and it's different than other awards shows because, as we all know, kid-targeted movies never make it to the big awards shows," she said.

                                            But they do at the Kids Choice Awards, where favorite movie nominees this year include "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Are We Done Yet?" Eddie Murphy is even nominated for his panned performance in "Norbit." And skateboarder Tony Hawk could beat out baseball's Alex Rodriguez or basketball's Shaquille O'Neal for favorite male athlete (as he has in the past).

                                            "Celebrities totally respect kids (at the Kids Choice Awards)," Cohn said. "They turn up. Everyone's there. ... It's everybody who kids want to see most in the whole world."


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                                              LA Times apologizes for Shakur story

                                              1 hour, 57 minutes ago

                                              LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Times apologized for using documents that were apparently fabricated in a story implicating associates of Sean "Diddy" Combs in a 1994 assault on rapper Tupac Shakur.

                                              "The bottom line is that the documents we relied on should not have been used," Editor Russ Stanton said in a story posted Wednesday night on the newspaper's Web site. "We apologize both to our readers and to those referenced in the documents ... and in the story."

                                              Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Chuck Philips, who wrote the story, and his supervisor, Deputy Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin, also apologized.

                                              The apologies followed an investigation launched by Stanton after The Smoking Gun Web site reported earlier in the day that the paper was conned by a prisoner who doctored the documents.

                                              Combs denied that he had any prior knowledge of or involvement in the robbery and shooting of Shakur at a New York recording studio. He and other subjects of the story claimed they had been defamed by the newspaper.

                                              The Smoking Gun said the documents seemed phony because they appeared to be written on a typewriter instead of a computer and included blacked-out sections not typically found in such documents, among other problems.

                                              The Web site claimed the documents were fabricated by a prison inmate with a history of exaggerating his place in the rap music world.

                                              The Times said its March 17 story was based on FBI records, interviews with people at the scene of the 1994 shooting, and statements to the FBI by an informant.

                                              None of the sources was named.

                                              Philips said Wednesday that a former FBI agent examined the documents in question for him and said they appeared to be legitimate.

                                              But Philips said he wished he had done more to investigate their authenticity.

                                              "I now believe the truth here is I got duped," he said.

                                              Marc Lichtman, an attorney representing rap manager James Rosemond, one of two men the story linked to the Shakur attack, had earlier demanded an apology.

                                              "I would suggest to Mr. Philips and his editors that they immediately print an apology and take out their checkbooks — or brace themselves for an epic lawsuit," Lichtman said Wednesday.

                                              The shooting triggered a feud between East and West Coast rappers that led to the killings of Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.

                                              The story said associates hoping to curry favor with Combs — who was overseeing B.I.G.'s white-hot career at the time — lured Shakur to the studio because of his disrespect toward them.

                                              The story and related features on latimes attracted nearly 1 million hits — more viewers than any other story on latimes this year, the newspaper said.

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                                                `American Idol' axes another contestant

                                                By ERIN CARLSON, Associated Press Writer
                                                1 hour, 35 minutes ago

                                                NEW YORK - Uneasy lies Chikezie, who won't wear the crown.

                                                The one-name singer — who previously worked security at Los Angeles International Airport — was eliminated from "American Idol" as the show narrowed the competition to nine finalists.

                                                Chikezie, 22, of Inglewood, Calif., injected the singing contest with enthusiasm and soul. His performances could be risky and kinetic, as when he sang the Beatles' "She's A Woman," or safe and retro, as seen in his earlier rendition of "More Today than Yesterday."

                                                Simon Cowell criticized Chikezie for singing the ballad "If Only for One Night" on Tuesday's performance show: "You chose the wrong song last night. ... It wasn't original."

                                                The other lowest vote-getters were Jason Castro and Syesha Mercado.

                                                Tattooed finalist Carly Smithson took a moment to address speculation she's expecting a child with her husband. She told host Ryan Seacrest: "Apparently I'm pregnant — but I'm not."

                                                Wednesday's show also featured a performance by "Idol" also-ran Kimberley Locke, who placed third behind Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken in season two.


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                                                  Sources: T.I. expected to plead guilty

                                                  By ERRIN HAINES and HARRY R. WEBER, Associated Press Writers
                                                  7 minutes ago

                                                  ATLANTA - Rapper T.I. was expected to plead guilty Thursday to federal weapons charges and will face prison time, according to two people familiar with his case.

                                                  The 27-year-old singer, whose real name is Clifford Harris, was expected to be sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service talking to youth groups around the country, followed by about 12 months in prison, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plea deal had not been finalized yet Thursday morning.

                                                  U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell must approve the deal.

                                                  A change-of-plea hearing was scheduled at 1:30 p.m. at the federal courthouse.

                                                  Harris was arrested Oct. 13, just blocks away and hours before he was to headline the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta.

                                                  He was charged with possession of unregistered machine guns and silencers, as well as possession of firearms by a convicted felon. He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

                                                  Harris was allegedly trying to buy unregistered machine guns and silencers. He initially pleaded not guilty, and has been under house arrest since he was released on $3 million bond Oct. 26.

                                                  He is co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records.

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                                                  Tuesday, March 25, 2008

                                                  Court agrees to stay FCC's new "E911" standards

                                                  By Peter Kaplan

                                                  WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
                                                  An appeals court on Tuesday put the
                                                  brakes on stricter standards that regulators are seeking to
                                                  impose on wireless phone carriers to help police and
                                                  firefighters more accurately locate callers in an emergency.

                                                  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia cited
                                                  "procedural irregularities" in staying an order approved in
                                                  September by the Federal Communications Commission, which would
                                                  tighten standards that wireless carriers must meet for the
                                                  accuracy of their "E911" function, the FCC said.

                                                  In granting the stay, a three-judge panel of the appeals
                                                  court said the wireless carriers are likely to succeed in their
                                                  legal challenge of the FCC order.

                                                  The stay had been sought by a group of rural wireless phone
                                                  companies who, along with major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon
                                                  and Sprint Nextel Corp, had sought to stop the new
                                                  standards from going into effect while they pursue an appeal.

                                                  Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon
                                                  Communications Inc
                                                  and Vodafone Group Plc,

                                                  FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin issued a statement saying the
                                                  agency "will comply with the court's order and continue to work
                                                  with public safety and the wireless industry to ensure that the
                                                  public can get help in times of emergency."

                                                  The new standards are aimed at allowing public safety
                                                  workers to find someone who has dialed 911 from a cellular

                                                  Under FCC standards, wireless carriers using E911 systems
                                                  must be able to determine a caller's location to within certain

                                                  Under the new standards, the compliance of wireless
                                                  carriers would no longer be averaged statewide or region wide,
                                                  a provision that has enabled them to meet standards even if the
                                                  accuracy of their system is poor in some parts of a state.

                                                  The new standards would instead require wireless carriers
                                                  to meet location accuracy standards within the area of each
                                                  local emergency call center.

                                                  The FCC's order required wireless companies to meet annual
                                                  benchmarks over the next five years and comply fully with the
                                                  new standards by September 11, 2012.

                                                  In tightening the standards last year, FCC commissioners
                                                  raised fears that current standards could lead emergency
                                                  responders to search in the wrong place for an injured caller
                                                  on a highway or fail to locate which floor a caller is on in a
                                                  high-rise building.

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                                                    NFL season opener yields to McCain speech

                                                    By Paul J. Gough
                                                    2 hours, 28 minutes ago

                                                    NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) -
                                                    The National Football
                                                    and NBC will likely move up the time of the league's
                                                    September season opener so it won't conflict with presidential
                                                    nominee John McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican
                                                    National Convention

                                                    Since 2002, the NFL has held its season opener on the first
                                                    Thursday night after Labor Day. This year, the game runs smack
                                                    into the final night of the convention, when McCain will
                                                    officially accept the nomination and give a nationally
                                                    televised speech from Minneapolis.

                                                    While the NFL has yet to announce its schedule for the 2008
                                                    season, it's apparently not going to shy away from having its
                                                    season opener on the scheduled day, with the game likely
                                                    featuring the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

                                                    So, the NFL and NBC have agreed in principle to have the
                                                    kickoff at 7 p.m. ET instead of the traditional 8:30 p.m. That
                                                    would mean, except in the event of an overtime, that the game
                                                    would end before NBC's expected one hour of convention coverage
                                                    for the night.

                                                    The move comes with several risks, including a loss of
                                                    audience since the game would start so early on the West Coast.
                                                    Also, it could impact any pregame special or entertainment that
                                                    the NFL or NBC could schedule. It would, though, give NBC News
                                                    a strong lead-in to its convention coverage.

                                                    In August 2000, ABC asked the NFL to start an exhibition
                                                    game at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. so that ABC could carry an
                                                    hour of coverage from the Democratic National Convention
                                                    beginning at 10 p.m. The league agreed.

                                                    The Republican National Convention has been on the NFL
                                                    radar since it was announced for early September. "We've been
                                                    talking with NBC Sports about this," an NFL spokesman said.

                                                    The NFL schedule is announced in two parts, the first in
                                                    late March or early April coinciding with the annual owners
                                                    meeting and the second later on. The NFL owners' meeting begins

                                                    Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                                                      Exclusive theater chain targets rich moviegoers

                                                      By Carl DiOrio
                                                      1 hour, 46 minutes ago

                                                      LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                                                      Get ready for the $35
                                                      movie ticket.

                                                      That's the estimated price of tickets for a new deluxe
                                                      cinema to open this year in suburban Chicago, one of 50 U.S.
                                                      multiplexes set for construction during the next five years
                                                      through a new $200 million joint venture headed by Australian
                                                      entertainment conglomerate Village Roadshow.

                                                      The theaters will boast boosted amenities, including plush
                                                      reserved seating, special parking privileges and upscale food
                                                      and beverage offerings with seat-side waiter service.

                                                      Some or all of those offerings are already available at
                                                      deluxe cinemas in select U.S. markets that charge $20 or less
                                                      for movie tickets. But Gold Class auditoriums will feature a
                                                      40-seat-maximum patron capacity and an even higher-end
                                                      atmosphere, officials said Tuesday.

                                                      "It's an absolutely different environment than anything
                                                      else that exists," Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke said.

                                                      In addition to the cinema in the wealthy Chicago suburb of
                                                      South Barrington, Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas plans to
                                                      open a site in Redmond, Wash., home of Microsoft Corp, by
                                                      year's end. About 20 additional sites are planned for rollout
                                                      by 2010.

                                                      "The demand for luxury moviegoing in the U.S. is very
                                                      strong," said Kirk Senior, CEO of the new Burbank-based joint

                                                      Companies partnering with Village Roadshow in the joint
                                                      venture include Act III Entertainment, a company co-owned by
                                                      Norman Lear and Hal Gaba; Michael Lambert's Lambert
                                                      Entertainment; and the Retirement Systems of Alabama, a pension
                                                      investment fund.

                                                      Village Roadshow operates more than 100 Gold Class screens
                                                      in Australia, Singapore and Greece, part of its roughly
                                                      500-screen worldwide theater circuit.

                                                      Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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                                                        Clear Channel buyout in trouble: source

                                                        By Megan Davies
                                                        1 hour, 23 minutes ago

                                                        NEW YORK (Reuters) -
                                                        The $20 billion leveraged buyout of
                                                        U.S. radio operator Clear Channel Communications Inc was in
                                                        jeopardy on Tuesday, with banks increasingly reluctant to
                                                        provide financing, a source familiar with the situation said.

                                                        The banks appear unwilling to account for any losses on the
                                                        loans they agreed to make for the deal, the source said. But
                                                        the final resolution is unclear, with the private equity buyers
                                                        still wanting to do a deal, the source added.

                                                        If the Clear Channel deal falls apart, it would be the
                                                        latest in a series of leveraged buyouts (LBOs) that have failed
                                                        since the credit crisis began last year. It would leave a
                                                        handful on the table still, such as the $6.1 billion buyout of
                                                        Penn National Gaming Inc and the $34.1 billion buyout of
                                                        Canada's biggest telecom company BCE Inc.

                                                        Clear Channel struck the deal last year to be bought by
                                                        private equity firms Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital
                                                        LLC for $39.20 a share. But the market has changed
                                                        since then and its stock has for months traded significantly
                                                        below the offer price amid concerns about the deal.

                                                        Its shares fell 21 percent to $25.70 after-hours on Tuesday
                                                        after falling 5.6 percent in the regular session on the New
                                                        York Stock Exchange
                                                        , a sign traders felt the deal was doomed.

                                                        "If it fell apart, it would be seen as a casualty of the
                                                        credit crunch as well as the secular and cyclical challenges of
                                                        the radio industry," said David Bank, analyst with RBC.

                                                        Banks that agreed to finance the deal are Citigroup Inc,
                                                        Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group, Wachovia
                                                        , and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc .

                                                        Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for Citigroup,
                                                        declined to comment. Spokespeople from Credit Suisse, Deutsche
                                                        Bank, Morgan Stanley and Wachovia referred questions to
                                                        Citigroup. Royal Bank of Scotland Group was not immediately
                                                        available for comment.

                                                        A spokeswoman for Clear Channel said the company had no
                                                        immediate comment. The company has previously said it expects
                                                        the deal to close by March 31.

                                                        If the deal does fall apart, it could follow others such as
                                                        United Rentals into litigation.

                                                        "A lot has changed since this deal was announced," said
                                                        Hillary Sale, professor of corporate finance and law at the
                                                        University of Iowa College of Law. "Someone's going to have to
                                                        pay breakup fees, and the question is, whether it's just
                                                        private equity firms, or whether the banks are on the hook....
                                                        It depends on the nature of the agreements with the banks."

                                                        The original agreement said that the buyers would pay Clear
                                                        a breakup fee of $500 million if the deal falls apart
                                                        due to a "willful and material breach."

                                                        Since the deal was originally announced average loan prices
                                                        have contracted significantly. In other recent LBO financings,
                                                        such as the buyout of Harrah's Entertainment, the loans were
                                                        sold at a significant discount and the cost of this was mostly
                                                        borne by the banks.

                                                        Banks have to record decreases in the market value of loans
                                                        in their income statements in a process known as "marking to
                                                        market." Any declines in the market value of these loans could
                                                        cut into bank earnings and, in the worst case scenario, cut
                                                        into capital levels.

                                                        Banks are increasingly reluctant to take on credit risk
                                                        because their balance sheets are strained by subprime
                                                        mortgages, collateralized debt obligations and other forms of
                                                        debt that are performing much worse than expected.

                                                        The financing package backing Clear Channel's buyout
                                                        consists of $18.525 billion in senior secured bank debt and
                                                        $2.6 billion of new senior unsecured debt.

                                                        The battle for Clear Channel had numerous twists since the
                                                        company announced in October 2006 that it had hired Goldman
                                                        Sachs Group Inc
                                                        to help it evaluate alternatives.

                                                        In November, Bain and T.H. Lee beat out a rival consortium
                                                        to buy the company for $37.60 a share. But their bid ran into
                                                        trouble when some said it undervalued the company. The buyout
                                                        firms raised the bid to $39 a share and later $39.20 a share.

                                                        The deal still faced a tough shareholder vote hurdle under
                                                        Texas law but in September, they approved the bid and in
                                                        February it passed regulatory approvals.

                                                        (Additional reporting by Dan Wilchins, Sue Zeidler, Faris
                                                        Khan, Doris Frankel and Michele Gershberg; Editing by Andre
                                                        Grenon and Carol Bishopric)

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                                                          Cable companies discuss funding wireless venture

                                                          1 hour, 19 minutes ago

                                                          SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -
                                                          The two largest U.S. cable
                                                          operators, Comcast Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc, are
                                                          discussing a plan to fund a new wireless company that would be
                                                          run by Sprint Nextel Corp and Clearwire Corp, a person familiar
                                                          with the discussions said on Tuesday.

                                                          Comcastis expected to contribute as much as $1 billion for
                                                          the wireless venture, which would use emerging WiMax
                                                          technology, the source said. WiMax is a largely unproven
                                                          technology that promises to support Internet access at speeds
                                                          up to five times faster than traditional wireless networks, and
                                                          can support a range of mobile and video applications.

                                                          WiMax is a potential substitute for fixed-wire high-speed
                                                          Internet that, for instance, could be offered across an entire
                                                          metropolitan region.

                                                          Time Warner Cable is expected to put in about $500 million,
                                                          the source said.

                                                          These parties are trying to raise $3 billion for the joint
                                                          venture, and Intel Corp and Google Inc may be potential funding
                                                          partners, the person said.

                                                          But the talks are still in "very early stages," the source

                                                          The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported that Bright
                                                          House Networks, the sixth-largest U.S. cable provider, is also
                                                          involved in the discussions and would provide between $100
                                                          million and $200 million for the venture.

                                                          The Journal also reported that Intel has also signaled
                                                          willingness to put in $1 billion or more, and Google Inc could
                                                          provide hundreds of millions of dollars.

                                                          Intel, Sprint, Google and Clearwire officials declined to
                                                          comment. Officials from Comcast and Time Warner Cable were not
                                                          immediately available.

                                                          Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. mobile service, has said it aims to
                                                          use WiMax technology to provide wireless connections to
                                                          consumer electronic devices such as music players and cameras
                                                          as well as cell phones and laptops.

                                                          Sprint, which has been bleeding subscribers amid customer
                                                          service problems, said recently that it was reviewing its WiMax
                                                          plans after it was widely criticized by shareholders for a
                                                          commitment to spend $5 billion to build the high-speed wireless
                                                          network based on WiMax.

                                                          Both Sprint and Clearwire have said they were looking for
                                                          outside funding for their WiMax networks.

                                                          Sprint and Clearwire also said last month they were
                                                          continuing to talk even after they announced late last year
                                                          that they ditched an agreement to let customers roam between
                                                          both companies' WiMax networks.

                                                          Meanwhile, cable companies like Comcast are making a push
                                                          to enter the wireless business to fend off competition from
                                                          telecom giants such as Verizon Communications. These companies
                                                          have been snatching traditional cable customers by offering
                                                          bundled services including high-speed Internet, cell-phone,
                                                          land-line and video.

                                                          (Reporting by Anupreeta Das and Duncan Martell in San
                                                          Francisco and Yinka Adegoke and Sinead Carew in New York;
                                                          Editing by Gary Hill)

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                                                            USA Network saves rich people and fights crime

                                                            By Kimberly Nordyke
                                                            2 hours, 31 minutes ago

                                                            LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
                                                            USA Network is
                                                            developing four character-centered projects for 2008-09,
                                                            including one about a doctor to the rich and famous and another
                                                            about a crime-solving nanny.

                                                            "The Nanny Files" centers on a 26-year-old nanny to the
                                                            children of a widower police chief. Unbeknown to him, she gets
                                                            involved in solving his cases using the help of her network of
                                                            other nannies, dog walkers, gardeners and neighbors.

                                                            "White Collar" (working title) centers on a con man who
                                                            escapes from maximum-security prison only to be tracked down by
                                                            his FBI nemesis and used as a consultant to catch other

                                                            "Shirleyville" (a.k.a. "Welcome Homeland") revolves around
                                                            a soldier who, after two tours of duty in Afghanistan, wants
                                                            nothing more than to readjust and get reacquainted with his
                                                            family. But when the mayor suddenly dies, the hometown hero
                                                            finds himself sworn in as his replacement.

                                                            Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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