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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cut the Cattle Calls. Paying for March Madness. Larry King cuts ties with CNN. Nicholas Cage predicted to rule the box office. CBS to produce programs for direct to Netflix.

Turner Broadcasting, which along with CBS shares the rights for the annual NCAA college basketball championship tournament, is going to offer its coverage of the event over the Internet at a price of $3.99

March Madness is going over the top. You will have to pay to watch NCAA Tourney Basketball. Turner Broadcasting, which along with CBS shares the rights for the annual NCAA college basketball championship tournament, is going to offer its coverage of the event over the Internet at a price of $3.99.

The 64-team NCAA tournament runs about a month and ends in early April. The championship game often draws more than 20 million viewers.

Previously, people could watch games online for free via the NCAA's website. Games that CBS carries will remain available for free online.

The move by Turner is aimed at consumers who do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV and those who do subscribe but whose distributors have not yet put in place a system to allow customers to watch cable content online.

Of the approximately 100 million cable subscribers in the country, about 77 million have access to a service known as TV Everywhere, which allows them to watch cable content on the Web provided they can verify that they're paying customers. But of those 77 million who can sign up for TV Everywhere-type services, less than half have enrolled.

The low price tag for the games seems aimed more at encouraging distributors to start marketing TV Everywhere more aggressively than to create a new revenue stream for Turner.

"We're honestly not going after cord-cutters," said Matt Hong, Turner's senior vice president of sports.
Still, if a few shell out some money to watch the games online, Turner won't complain.

The Daily Dose: CBS said on its earnings call Wednesday that it is in talks to make a show for Netflix. Although some wondered why CBS would help a potential competitor, the reality is that networks and studios try to produce shows for everyone. The bigger question is whether Netflix will let CBS and other producers sell reruns to their programs once they've been available on Netflix for awhile. If not, Netflix may have to pay a premium to be the exclusive home for a show in perpetuity. Something to keep an eye on.

Pilot System....Fix the system. It's pilot season, which means lots of actors are going on cattle calls trying to land parts in new sitcoms and dramas.

Hollywood is one month into pilot season.

By the end of February, the networks will have culled the scripts they had been developing during the prior half-year and will order a select group of pilots for production. (Final decisions on which of these go to series is made in May.)

But as the chosen scripts are anointed, the television industry becomes all about casting these projects. It is indisputable that a great script that has been miscast will fail and that a mediocre script with a terrific lead or leads may very well succeed.

Yet for all of its importance, the process of casting pilots — for those actors who aren’t among the very small number well known enough to simply be offered a show outright – is, ironically, so strained and grueling that it doesn’t afford actors the opportunity to be cast in the show best suited to them, nor the producers a position of confidence that they have hired the best ensemble available.

Producer Gavin Polone, who pens a column for Vulture, says the process is "so strained and grueling that it doesn’t afford actors the opportunity to be cast in the show best suited to them, nor the producers a position of confidence that they have hired the best ensemble available."

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," the 3-D sequel featuring a demonic motorcycle-riding superhero played by Nicolas Cage, is expected to be the No. 1 film over President's Day weekend

Ghost Rider to burn the competition. Nicolas Cage plays with fire in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," but it's the competition at the box office that will likely get burned this weekend.

The 3-D sequel, featuring a demonic motorcycle-riding superhero played by Cage, is expected to be the No. 1 film over President's Day weekend. According to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, the movie will debut with around $30 million in sales from Friday through Monday.

The tear-jerker "The Vow" and the action film "Safe House," which each opened to over $40 million last weekend, will likely fight for the runner-up position with around $20 million in sales.

Two new films, meanwhile, are projected to trail behind. The romantic comedy-action flick "This Means War," starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, is expected to bring in a so-so $15 million over the four-day holiday. And "The Secret World of Arrietty," an animated film first released in Japan in 2010 and now dubbed with the voices of American actors, will likely start off with about $5 million.

The original "Ghost Rider" opened on the same weekend in 2007 and debuted with $45.4 million, ultimately raking in $115.8 domestically and about that much overseas as well. The film was one of the biggest successes in recent years for Cage, who has appeared in an astounding 14 films since the release of "Ghost Rider." Of those, most were action movies, with the highest-grossing one being the sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which took in about $350 million worldwide in 2007.

While the outdoor advertisements for the 48-year-old actor's latest project spotlight the recognizable Ghost Rider character, his face or name are not prominently featured. The movie was not screened in advance for critics, indicating that Sony Pictures may be nervous about its public reception.

The picture was funded by Sony along with production and financing company Hyde Park Entertainment for about $80 million, said one person close to the project who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. Hyde Park controls international distribution rights. The sequel was made for about $30 million less than the original, and also features new directors in Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who are well known to fanboys for their work on the "Crank" series.

"This Means War" was initially slated to officially open nationwide on Valentine's Day, but last week 20th Century Fox pushed back the release date by three days. In an effort to spread positive word-of-mouth in advance of the film's debut, Fox previewed the picture in approximately 2,500 theaters on Tuesday evening. The picture grossed $1.6 million from one screening only at about 7 p.m.
Fox and co-financier Dune Entertainment spent about $65 million to produce the movie, about two CIA agents both vying for the affections of the same woman. The film is directed by McG, best known for his work on action films such as "Terminator: Salvation." It has been in development at Fox for over a decade, and in recent years attracted the interest of such stars as Bradley Cooper and Sam Worthington.

The film, which has so far received poor critical reviews, is debuting in 17 foreign markets this weekend, including Australia and Russia.

"The Secret World of Arrietty" was co-written by Hayao Miyazaki, the filmmaker behind "Ponyo" and "Spirited Away." Miyazaki enjoys a strong relationship with Pixar Animation Studio's creative guru John Lasseter, who also oversees Disney Animation.

It was Lasseter who helped bring "Arrietty" to the U.S. after the animated film found success overseas in 2010. That year, it became the top-grossing picture in Japan and collected a total of $126 million abroad. Now, the characters in the movie have been updated with the voices of English-speaking actors, including Saoirse Ronan as the lead character, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett.

Larry King and CNN are parting ways
Good night, Larry. Larry King's longest marriage -- the one he's had with CNN for 27 years -- is coming to an end. King, who gave up his daily talk show on the cable news channel in 2010, still had a deal for several prime time specials a year. However, now the two sides are saying they have mutually decided to part ways. That may be CNN's way of being polite. Details from the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.

Rupert is coming! News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch is going to a pay a visit to his Sun tabloid paper just days after several of its staffers were arrested for allegedly paying off police for scoops. According to Bloomberg, staffers at the paper are mad at the mogul for the handling of the matter. One Sun editor, Trevor Kavanagh, said paying for stories “has been standard procedure as long as newspapers have existed. ... There is nothing disreputable about it. And, as far as we know at this point, nothing illegal.” Well, paying a subject of a story is one thing, but paying a government official for information on someone might be a bigger deal.

Last-minute campaigning. Oscar votes are due Tuesday. Normally the push by the studios to drum up support for their movies starts to wind down about now. This year, though, the studios and producers are taking their sales pitch to voters right down to the wire. Variety takes a look at Oscar campaigns.

As if she didn't have enough on her plate. Oprah Winfrey, who gave up her daily talk show to launch a cable network, is considering taking a movie role. The Hollywood Reporter says Winfrey is eyeing a co-starring role in "The Butler," a movie being developed about Eugene Allen, who was a butler in the White House for three decades, serving presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan.

Too soon? Almost a week after he performed on the Grammy Awards, debate is still raging over whether the show should have given Chris Brown such a big platform to the performer who made national news for his 2009 assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna. The Daily Beast looks at the growing backlash against the Grammys for having him on the show.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Sony Pictures is trying to figure out what to do with "Sparkle," Whitney Houston's last film.

-- Joe Flint

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