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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What TV Shows would you save or shelve? Murdock under glass. Diller supports former boss. Dick Clark Productions win Golden Globe lawsuit. New Media race for content. Tribeca's best.

James and Rupert Murdoch
Photo: Rupert Murdoch, right, and his son James Murdoch in July 2011. Credit: Sang Tan /  Associated Press

Tell us how you really feel. A much-anticipated report from a British parliamentary committee probing the ethics scandal at News Corp.'s UK newspapers said the media giant's chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, "exhibited willful blindness" and was unfit to lead a company such as the media giant. Murdoch's son, James, who oversaw the unit that housed the British tabloids News of the World and the Sun, was also chastised for showing poor leadership. Other News Corp. executives were accused of misleading Parliament. Now the question is if the report will lead U.S. officials to look closer at whether News Corp.'s actions in Britain ran afoul of U.S. laws. Early analysis on the report from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Guardian.

Murdock acknowledges News Corp Errors. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch sought to move beyond a damaging report from Parliament accusing him of "willful blindness" in failing to properly investigate allegations of phone hacking by one one of his company's London-based tabloids.
Murdoch, in a message to News Corp.'s 50,000 employees Tuesday, said the findings by the Culture, Media and Sport committee were "difficult to read" -- but afforded "an opportunity to reflect upon the mistakes we have made.

"We have done the most difficult part, which has been to take a long, hard and honest look at our past mistakes," Murdoch wrote. "There is no easy way around this, but I am proud to say that we have been working hard to put things right."

The select committee of the House of Commons found that "News of the World" and News International, the company's British publishing division, misled the committee in a 2009 investigation into phone hacking by blaming the actions on a "rogue reporter."  The committee found that the media company continued to downplay the involvement of its employees in phone hacking and engaged in a cover-up, rather than seeking out wrongdoing.

News Corp. issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging the "hard truths" that emerged from the committee's investigation: that it had been "too slow and too defensive; and that some of our employees misled the Select Committee in 2009."

But News Corp. took issue with some comments, which the company labeled "unjustified and highly partisan." This appeared to be a reference to an explosive line in the report that called Murdoch  "not a fit person" to lead a major international company.

Murdoch wrote that the company should have acted more quickly and aggressively to uncover wrongdoing, and he expressed regret for failing to rectify the situation sooner.

News Corp., and Murdoch, sought to underscore the company's efforts to fix the situation. Murdoch noted that an autonomous committee set up by News Corp. has completed a review of conduct at the company's other British publications, The Times and Sunday Times and The Sun, and found no evidence of illegal conduct beyond one incident reported months ago, in which disciplinary action was taken.

News Corp. General Counsel Gerson Zweifach is also creating a system of education and a compliance structure across the company's businesses. News International, the group that controls the company's British publications, also instituted governance reforms.

"The opportunity to emerge from this difficult period a stronger, better company has never been greater," Murdoch wrote. "And I will look to each of you to help me ensure that News Corp.'s next 60 years are more vital and successful than ever."

The Skinny: I have far too many workplace-anxiety dreams. Tuesday's headlines include a blistering report from the British Parliament on News Corp.'s handling of the ethics scandal at its UK newspapers; Dick Clark Productions' victory in the legal fight over TV rights to the Golden Globes; and Charlie Sheen not wanting to be immortalized by a New York City strip club.

Barry Diller stands by old boss Rupert Murdoch
  Photo: Barry Diller. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

Stand by your man. Former News Corp. executive Barry Diller, who was the architect of the Fox network, is standing by his old boss Rupert Murdoch.

In a statement issued in response to Parliament's blistering report challenging Murdoch's fitness to lead the media giant in the wake of the ethics scandal at News Corp.'s British newspapers, Diller said Murdoch is "more fit, morally and otherwise, to lead an organization than the majority of those that do."

Diller, who was chief executive of Fox Inc. from 1985 to 1992 and a News Corp. board member, said in the nearly 10 years he worked for Murdoch that he "never once, not once, in any situation saw anything other than the most honorable behavior in every possible business situation."

Ironically, while Diller is standing by Murdoch as British lawmakers take aim at his media empire, a company Diller backs is being sued by News Corp. Diller is on the board of Aereo, a firm that seeks to transmit broadcast signals through the Internet. Diller's IAC/InterActive Corp. also led Aereo's $20.5-million round of financing.

In March, News Corp.'s Fox, along with CBS, NBC and ABC, filed a suit accusing Aereo of violating copyright laws.

Daily Dose: Dick Clark Productions Chief Executive Mark Shapiro got a colorful critique from U.S. District Judge Howard Matz in his ruling in favor the company in its legal battle with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. over control of the TV rights to the Golden Globes Awards show (see below). Noting in his ruling that former NBC executive Marc Graboff called Shapiro a liar during negotiations for the Globes, Matz said, "Shapiro's negotiation tactics may boost his 'street cred' as a shrewd executive in the gabled world of Hollywood deal-making." When Shapiro testified in the trial, he acknowledged misleading NBC as part of a negotiating strategy.

Golden Globes ruling. A U.S. District Court sided with Dick Clark Productions in its legal battle with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. over who controls the television rights to the Golden Globes Awards show. The HFPA, which owns the Golden Globes, had sued Dick Clark Productions in 2010, claiming that the company did not have the right to sign a long-term renewal with NBC for the show. Dick Clark Productions claimed it did. In the ruling, Judge Howard Matz criticized the HFPA for its "absence of sound, businesslike practices." Coverage from the Los Angeles Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

Chasing the dollars. If there is a shortage of shrimp and champagne at the broadcast network programming presentations to advertisers in New York in two weeks, put the blame on new media. Over the last few weeks, Yahoo, AOL and other digital companies held their first big presentations to woo more advertising money to the Web. "The Internet industry could have only dreamed of a week like this a few short years ago," Yahoo executive vice president Ross Levinsohn said. More on new media's Madison Avenue sales pitch from the Los Angeles Times.

The people speak. Every year, USA Today surveys its readers on what low-rated TV shows should be saved from cancellation. This time around, NBC's "Parks and Recreation" and "Parenthood" led the voting. More interesting was the response to USA Today's question about what hit shows have overstayed their welcome. The winners were CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and Fox's "Glee."

How about the Carlos Estevez room? You've heard of the champagne room in strip clubs? Well, one New York club opened a Charlie Sheen room. Cheetahs named a room after the actor that allows its patrons to, uh, eat sushi off of some of the entertainers. Though Sheen can occasionally laugh at his own high jinks, no one else can. According to the New York Post, Sheen's legal team is trying to shut down the room. What if they give Sheen a lifetime VIP pass? Would that work as a peace offering?

Scene from "Resolution"
Photo: A scene from "Resolution." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival.
Five Films you will want to see from Tribeca Festival. The Tribeca Film Festival wound down Sunday, reaching what organizers said was a 95% attendance rate at its screenings and panels. Of course, what plays to packed houses within the festival bubble won't necessarily bring the crowds in outside it. What movies can you expect will attract some interest long after the last screening has ended? Here's a diverse, but by no means exhaustive, list. Select Tribeca films remain available for view through iTunes.

"The Flat": Tribeca is known for documentaries, and this year was no exception. Receiving some of the best buzz from the festival was Arnon Goldfinger's "The Flat," a nonfiction tale about an Israeli man who begins to uncover some things about his Jewish grandparents after his grandmother dies and he is left cleaning out the Tel Aviv apartment she once shared with her husband. Reviews have been strong, and, without giving anything away, we'll just say it's a story that soon hops countries en route to some surprising discoveries.

"The World Before Her": We're a bit removed from "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Slumdog Millionaire," but a movie that combines elements of both in a story of Indian beauty pageants can only be interesting. The jury agreed too, handing Canadian director Nisha Pahuja its top documentary prize.

"Una Noche": Hey, when your stars defect in an art-imitating-life twist, that always helps. Also of assistance: when you have a well-made and well-regarded movie, as Lucy Mulloy does, telling compellingly of the fictional (but entirely plausible) aspirations of three very different teenagers in a bleak but poetic Havana. The movie still doesn't have U.S. distribution, but with all the attention paid the defectors, don't be surprised if that ends soon, particularly for a company with a Latin focus.

"Resolution": Starting out as a story about a man trying to get his buddy to go to rehab, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorehead's film soon evolves into a tale of secrets and narrative revelations. A smart marketer will call it a thriller, and maybe in the confines of a film festival it is, but many have recognized it for something else: strong storytelling with suspense and emotion.

"Fairhaven": More to come on this one shortly, but suffice it to say that Tom O'Brien's wistful drama about men in their 30s, stuck in and returning to their small New England town, will conjure up the 1990s hit "Beautiful Girls." That's a good thing. Starring Chris Messina, the suddenly omnipresent indie actor, in a movie that could easily have played Sundance to some acclaim.

-- Joe Flint and others

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