PEOPLE'S CHOICE KICKS OFF AWARDS SEASON

   Announcement of nominees for the People's Choice Awards has officially kicked off the Hollywood mutual admiration season for 2001. Denzel Washington, "Remember the Titans," Mel Gibson, "The Patriot," and Tom Hanks, "The Green Mile" led the motion picture categories. The 27th Annual People's Choice Awards will be presented Jan. 7 during a CBS special at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Nominees and winners are selected by a Gallup Organization poll that Gallup says will include more than 213 million Americans this year.
   To read what movie awards are really all about, check out the Blackflix.com article "Movie Awards: What Do They Really Mean."


NAACP COALITION FINDS NETS LACKING

The NAACP and a coalition of minority groups took the four major TV networks to task recently, saying that while they have made "some progress" during the past year, the networks continue to underemploy ethnic minorities in the fields of acting, writing, directing and in executive offices.
   At a news conference at the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists' offices in Los Angeles, representatives of the coalition reported that while blacks are doing considerably better than their Latino, Asian-American and Native-American counterparts, all ethnic minorities are still underrepresented in Hollywood.
   At NBC, the number of on-air African Americans increased by 14%. The number of behind-the-camera talent in writing and producing positions increased from 6 to 16. At CBS, five African Americans were added in directing positions and six African Americans in staff writing positions. At ABC, on-air talent increased by three African Americans but no notable progress has been made for black writers, producers and directors. At Fox, which has several shows featuring black actors, the number of minority actors and minority writers actually stayed the same for the 2000 season, while the number of minority directors actually decreased.


AUDIENCES GET SHORTER FILM FARE

   USA Today film writer Susan Wloszczyna observed recently that almost every film in serious contention for an Oscar this year is running at no more than two hours and twenty minutes. She noted this contrasts sharply with last year, which had Oscar nominees lasting more than 2 1/2 hours. Last years longer films "The Green Mile" and "Magnolia," ran more than three hours.
   The reason for shorter films could be the financial trouble currently besetting the theater industry. The shorter a movie is, the more times it can be shown in theaters and the more money theaters and studios make. But studio officials deny the charges, saying directors were not told to make shorter movies. But in a statement that almost contradicts that claim, Russell Schwartz of USA Films commented, "The directors are policing themselves. They are getting it."


HOLLYWOOD'S GERMAN CASH COW DRYING UP

   For the past two years, Hollywood has been funded in large measure by Germany's public companies and private investment funds based in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin. But Hollywood's Euro-cash cow could be running dry.
   The Neuer Markt index, Germany's version of NASDAQ, recently hit a new record low for the year, and now stands at just 40% of what it was worth at its high back in March. The Neuer crash, combined with changes to the country's tax laws may soon bring and end to the lucrative movie funding Hollywood has seemed almost addicted to of late. In the future, film makers who put all their funding eggs in a German basket may discover they're suddenly out of cash before their films are in the can.


WHITNEY OUT OF TROUBLE - MAYBE

   The marijuana charges against Whitney Houston stemming from an incident at the Kehole-Kona Airport in Hawaii could end up as three months probation instead of jail time. Houston didn't go to to her court hearing in Hawaii, but her lawyers agreed to the probationary sentence on her behalf. Houston faced the possibility of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, but the judge said if she follows the probation conditions and behaves, the case will be erased from her record in three months. A security guard seized Houston's handbag back in January when it was found to contain half an ounce of marijuana.
   While the light sentence may be a break for Houston, many argue that it's just another judicial slap in the face to those who get busted on similar charges and are routinely given a full one year probationary sentence or worse. Houston's sentence reinforces the sad adage that if you're rich and famous, you can get away with things the average person pays more dearly for.



IT'S A GIRL!

   Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith celebrated the opening of Will's movie, "The Legend of Bagger Vance" with a premiere of their own the day before the movie opened. Jada gave birth Halloween night in LA to daughter, Willow Camille Reign Smith. Both mother and daughter are said to be resting at home and doing fine. This is the couple's second child and third for new daddy, Will.


MIRAMAX SELLS RIGHTS TO HIGHLIGHT

   When you've got a winner capitalize on it. That seems to be the case for Miramax. Following on the heels of its success with "Scary Movie," the company recently sold the German-language rights to three of its upcoming movies to Swiss rights-buyer Highlight Communications. The films are: Keenen Ivory Wayans' "Scary Movie 2," Patrick Lussier's "Dracula 2000" and the sci-fi thriller "Equilibrium." Highlight is currently distributing "Scary Movie" in Germany, where it has earned $13 million in just two weeks.


THEATERS WANT STUDIO MONEY

   The National Association of Theatre Owners are asking studios to share the cost for more responsible action in the marketing and exhibition of R-rated films, promising to increase ratings enforcement efforts in response to public and political pressure if they get financial assistance from distributors to help defray labor costs associated with tighter security at extreme R-rated and all NC-17-rated films.
   NATO issued a 12-point plan in response to the Federal Trade Commission's report "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children," and said its members will tighten standards on exhibition of trailers for R-rated films, encourage members to devote more management and staff resources to checking ID's and supervising auditoriums, and work to inform moviegoers why films received their ratings. But the Catch-22 to this plan lies in getting financial assistance from the studios. It remains to be seen if the studios are willing to open their wallets.
   NATO President John Fithian hopes the studios will go along with the proposal saying, "We want to do as much as we can to be responsible with a voluntary system -- and keep it voluntary. We don't want a government mandated ratings system."


UNIVERSAL TO BE A FRENCH COMPANY?

   French pay-TV group Canal Plus will unveil its strategy, financial objectives and management teams in its new role as parent of Universal Studios in mid-December assuming shareholders in Canal Plus, Vivendi and Seagram Co. approve the $34 billion merger. Canal Plus executives have been working intensely to hammer out the Canal-Universal's future direction once the merger is effective.
   But if former Canal Plus chairman Andre Rousselet gets his way, there wont be a merger. He believes the merger is a "betrayal" of Canal Plus’ subscribers, especially if the company's client list is used to market other Vivendi Universal services. Rousselet demanded French regulators block the deal and urged employees to voice their opposition before the merger is finalized. But Rousselet was ousted from Canal Plus in 1994 and has little influence in the business any more. It's expected shareholders in the respective companies will approve the merger despite Rousselet's opposition, since France's broadcasting watchdog, the Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel, has already given its final approval to the terms of the merger.


VIACOM'S BET BUYOUT WAS $$$ MOTIVATED

   Startup ethnic cable networks and dot com companies are seeing Viacom's $3 billion acquisition of Black Entertainment Television as a validation of the black niche market , but their exhuberance may be misguided.
   For those who need to know, Viacom actually bought the strapped cable company at a bargain for stock and debt relief, hoping to turn a profit by improving programming and uping advertising rates, which Viacom feels BET was undercharging for. It was a straight dollars and cents move for Viacom, but if their plans work out, it may indeed signal a revenue increase for all black companies who depend on advertising dollars.
   Currently, black companies are only paid about half the rate they should receive for full run and spot advertising. Viacom says this is unjust and they plan to correct the issue with newly acquired BET.


VIACOM TO INCREASE BET AD RATES

   Viacom Inc. recently bought up Black Entertainment Television in a $3 billion stock and debt deal. Now, Viacom plans to raise BET’s advertising rates, explaining that the advertising community currently pays black media as much as 50% less than it pays other media, in both CPMs and spot advertising. The move is an attempt to increase Viacom/BET revenues and simultaneously level the advertising playing field.



ONE-TWO PUNCH A HOLLYWOOD KNOCKOUT

   A strike by both actors and writers next year could literally knock the stuffing out of Hollywood movie making and cost the L.A. economy as much as $2 billion a month, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The Writers Guild of America's film and television contract expires May 1, and the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists' film and TV pact expires July 1.
   Economist Jack Kyser said the Los Angeles economy is currently at $342 billion a year and the estimated losses would include direct losses of salaries and benefits, soundstage rental fees and payments to vendors and indirect losses in home and car sales and other items that striking industry workers won't be able to afford because of lost wages.
   Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers president Nick Counter believes that the cost of a dual strike to the local economy could be even higher than Kyser's estimates.


SAG LACKS CLARITY OF MISSION

   The Screen Actors Guild commissioned the Towers Perrin management consulting firm to conduct an examination of the organization, but the results may not be what SAG wanted to hear. According to Towers Perrin, SAG is a "schizophrenic organization" that lacks a "clear mission and strategic direction."
   The report recommends a serious overhaul of the guild's operations and the creation of a "new structure." The report reveals that SAG elected officials are often at odds with guild staff on a wide range of issues. "There is no consensus regarding SAG's mission, which is essential for establishing a shared consensus about SAG's goals," the report said. The report also revealed that, "SAG lacks a clear, shared mission and strategy which is the foundation of an effective organization." The report bottom-lined the problems by saying SAG lacks "a road map for staff, officers and the board to follow."


LONDON'S WARNER WEST END OPENS

   Warner Village Cinemas, a U.K. joint venture of Warner Bros. and Australia's Village Roadshow, recently opened the doors to its £1.5 million ($2 million) revamped and refurbished British flagship multi-screen theater, The Warner West End. The new theater will host releases from Warner Bros.' in the United Kingdom, including the upcoming "Harry Potter" and the "Sorcerer's Stone." It will also host London premieres for other studios in the U.K., competing with theater chain Odeon Cinemas, whose own flagship movie house is just down the street.


LION CHANGES DEN

   After 10 years in Santa Monica, MGM has confirmed that it is in advanced negotiations to move its headquarters to Century City, California in 2003. The studio plans to move into a new, 34-story office complex, scheduled for completion about the same time.
   MGM will be Constellation Place 's anchor tenant, occupying 75 percent of one of its towers. The studio will also get top signage space to show off its Leo the lion logo, a perk it didn't enjoy in its six-building office complex in Santa Monica.


OSSIE DAVIS AND RUBY DEE RECEIVE SAG AWARD

   World renowned actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have been selected to receive the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award.
   Married for 52 years (yes, 52 years!) the couple will receive the honor at the TNT live telecast of the 7th Annual SAG Awards on March 11, 2001.
   "For more than half a century, together and individually, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have enriched and transformed American life as brilliant actors, writers, directors, producers and passionate advocates for social justice, human dignity and creative excellence. Screen Actors Guild is proud to honor Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's acclaimed body of work, their philanthropic encouragement of performing artists, and their courage to live their convictions. We are equally honored by their acceptance of this award," said William Daniels, President, SAG.
   The dynamic duo met on the Broadway set of "Jeb" in 1946 and married two years later in 1948. Since then, Davis and Dee have accrued an astonishing list of stage, television and film credits, ranging from their 1950 film debut in "No Way Out" with Sidney Poitier, to Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever."


NATALIE WORRIED FOR WHITNEY

   After learning about Whitney Houston's recent bust on marijuana charges, diva Natalie Cole, who overcame her own drug problems, added her own concerns to those already expressed by Houston's family about her continued drug use. Cole says she fears Houston is heading down the same path that almost ruined her own life. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Cole said she thinks people may be trying to protect Houston instead of saving her. "I guess it's going to take a small miracle to be able to cut through some of this stuff," Cole said.