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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Violence on Television / Film. Voice Over Documentary. Spanish-language pic 'Instructions Not Included' posts strong debut. 'Butler' tops One Direction. CBS and Time Warner make peace (NFL). Record Summer / Record Floops.

"The Butler"
"The Butler" stayed in first place at the box office over the weekend. Above, Forest Whitaker, right, in the title role, in a scene with Robin Williams. (Weinstein Co.)

After the coffee. Before acting surprised at the welcome-back party awaiting me in the office.

The Skinny: It was so nice of CBS and Time Warner Cableto wait until I was back in town to resolve their distribution dispute. Too bad they had to ruin the last day of my vacation. Did you miss me? I was in a world with no Twitter or emails and it was great. I highly recommend getting off the grid! Also, a big thank you to Ryan Faughnder for filling in. Monday's headlines include CBS and Time Warner Cable's peace treaty, the Labor Day box office report. If you are a good person and ask nicely,send me a note and I'll add you to the Morning Fix email alert list. 

Lighting up: The tobacco company Reynolds American is making commercials for TV again, but only for its electronic cigarettes. Blu eCigs are getting into the ad game too, which leaves the question, who's going to be the Joe Camel of e-cigarettes? The New York Times rolls up the issues.  

Daily Dose: I spent my vacation at Canyon Ranch in Arizona. While I made a point not to watch too much TV, I did notice that the cable package the resort has from Comcast carries ESPN2 but not ESPN. That's sort of like having Diet Coke but not Coke. Although the biggest cable sports channel in the country was not available there, Comcast's Golf Channel was part of the package. Maybe if I'd watched it, my golf lesson would have gone better. ESPN, Twitter and Verizon wireless are teaming up to bring even more college football to social media by embedding highlight videos into tweets from the sports broadcasters' college football accounts. The highlights will include eight-second Verizon Wireless ads. 

What lessons are to be learned from the month-long blackout of the CBS network on Time Warner Cable that ended Monday, and what precedent did it set for the industry? Shalini Ramachandran explains on the News Hub. 

We have a deal. While we were trying to enjoy Labor Day weekend, CBS and Time Warner Cable were laboring at nailing down a new distribution deal. The companies finally came to terms on a retransmission consent agreement and the signals of CBS-owned media properties returned to Time Warner Cable subscribers just in time for the start of the fall television season and, more importantly, the NFL regular season. CBS was able to negotiate a significant increase in fees that Time Warner Cable pays to carry CBS' local TV stations. The deal runs just less than five years. Coverage from the Los Angeles TimesWall Street JournalBloomberg and Reuters.

Mackenzie Lintz of "Under the Dome"
Mackenzie Lintz plays Norrie in CBS' "Under the Dome." (Brownie Harris / CBS)

'Under the Dome' tops Monday, 'Ninja Warrior' rises.

There are only two episodes to go in the first season of CBS' "Under the Dome," which brought in 10.71 million viewers and a rating of 2.6 in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic Monday night, according to early numbers from Nielsen. 
The season's 11th episode, which opened with the kids trying to figure out the mysteries of the mini dome that now has a Monarch butterfly inside it, increased its key demo rating 4% from last week. "Under the Dome" drew the most total viewers and was the highest-rated show in the 18-49 and 25-54 demographics. 
Meanwhile, CBS and Time Warner Cable have finally ended their month-long dispute that blacked out CBS-owned stations for more than 3 million customers in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.
NBC's two-hour "American Ninja Warrior" telecast drew an average of 5.51 million viewers and increased its rating in the 18-49 demo by 6%, to a 1.8. "Siberia" followed with 1.9 million viewers and a rating of 0.7, up 17% compared with last week.
Sandwiched between reruns of "Shark Tank" and "Castle,"ABC's "Mistresses," based on the British series of the same name," grew its audience to 4.1 million and increased its rating among 18-to-49-year-olds by 30%, to a 1.3. 
Fox was showing reruns. 

Peter Mountain/Walt Disney Pictures
The Lone Ranger,” with Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, was the summer’s top bomb. Disney expects a write-down of $160 million to $190 million on the film.

"The Butler" did it ... again. "The Butler" cleaned up at the box office over the Labor Day weekend, beating back a challenge from "One Direction: This is Us." A quick word for the uninitiated. One Direction, a U.K. pop boy band that was formed on the reality show "The X Factor," are unfathomably popular with young girls. 1D recently played a show in L.A. that produced some amusing photos of concert-goers' dadsSince Labor Day weekend is considered the end of the summer movie season, there are lots of recaps analyzing the hits and misses of the past three months. Too many movies? Taking the audience for granted? Underestimating the strength of films made for those who can read?  Most agree that in domestic opening box office the greatest disappoint was the Lone Ranger, but there were many others, yet box office is up for the summer! Here are takes from the Los Angeles TimesWall Street Journal and New York Times.

The Spanish-language film "Instructions Not Included" got off to a great start at the box office
Eugenio Derbez and Loreto Peralta star in a scene from "Instructions Not Included," which did fantastic business at the box office this weekend. (Pantelion Films)

Spanish Language films find a place in American theaters.
It’s no secret that Latinos are some of the most loyal moviegoers in the U.S. Last year, they accounted for 25% of all film tickets sold, according to the Nielsen Co.
And yet in recent years, films aimed at Spanish-speaking audiences have failed to catch on with the demographic. Since being formed in 2010, Pantelion Films -- a joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s Televisa -- has released almost a dozen films meant for Latino moviegoers, but only one grossed over $5 million.
Until this weekend.
A critically acclaimed film in Spanish has won the hearts of theater goers.
Over the Labor Day holiday, Pantelion debuted the comedy “Instructions Not Included” in 347 cinemas and saw stellar results. During its first four days in theaters, the distributor said the film collected $10 million, good enough for fifth place at the long weekend box office. The film’s debut also easily topped Pantelion’s prior biggest success, Will Ferrell’s “Casa de mi Padre,” which made $5.9 million during its entire 2012 run.
“Instructions Not Included” stars Mexican star Eugenio Derbez as a playboy who has to shape up after an ex-girlfriend leaves a baby on his doorstep. Those who saw the picture this weekend loved it, assigning the film a perfect average grade of A-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Paul Presburger, chief executive of Pantelion, said he believed the popularity of Derbez -- who also directed and co-wrote the film -- was the main reason moviegoers flocked to the multiplex this weekend.
“This is the biggest star you’ve never heard of,” Presburger said. “He’s beloved in Mexico, but also beloved here with the Latino audience. People say he’s like Jim Carrey because he’s a physical actor.”
Derbez, 50, is currently working on a Mexican version of “Saturday Night Live,” and for a decade starred on the Mexican sitcom “La familia P. Luche,” which was syndicated on Univision.
Next weekend, Pantelion will expand “Instructions Not Included” to roughly 500 locations

Poor guy: Rupert Murdoch's annual compensation dropped 3.7% to $28.9 million last fiscal year. The mogul, who just closed his purchase of Moraga Vineyards for $28.8 million, made $30 million in the previous year and $33.3 million the year before that. More from Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter.

Drama behind the scenes of revived soaps
During the revival of canceled ABC soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life To Live,” entertainment company Prospect Park had to find financing, battle labor unions, trade legal salvos with Walt Disney Co., and fight zealous soap opera fans who were supposed to be ardent supporters. Above, crew members for the online version of "All My Children" Brian Lydell (music director), left, Michael Allen (sound mixer) and Ginger Smith (executive producer) at their office in Sanford, Conn., last week. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Too much drama. Reinventing the long-running ABC soap operas "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" for the Internet has been a roller coaster. Union issues, fans that might be a wee bit too passionate and even legal fights with ABC are just some of the hurdles that Prospect Park, the company behind the effort, has faced. The Los Angeles Times goes behind the scenes to get the lowdown on what's worked and what hasn't with moving the two soaps to the web.

Homeland premiere leak


Security breach. The first episode for the new season of Showtime's CIA drama "Homeland" has leaked online. According to Variety, the episode was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in the last few days. The story goes on to say the "circulating copy resembles the screener handed to critics at July’s Television Critics Assn. event in Los Angeles." Well, if anyone's wondering I still have my copy and it hasn't even been watched yet, so don't look at me! 

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group
    Telecommunications company
  • Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. is an American telecommunications company that operates the largest number of local television stations in the United States. Wikipedia
    Stock priceSBGI (NASDAQ)$24.36+0.44 (+1.84%)
    Sep 3, 2:22 PM EDT - Disclaimer

  • The boys from Baltimore. Sinclair Broadcast Group may be the biggest media company that no one outside the industry has heard of. The Baltimore-based broadcaster -- run by David Smith whose family founded the company -- owns or operates more than 100 television stations. Smith, known for his highly conservative views, is a tough negotiator who has caught the attention of many media watchdogs. More on Sinclair from the Washington Post. And just to date myself, I've been covering those guys since they owned a handful of TV stations.

    Harry Connick Jr. Jennifer Lopez Keith Urban - H 2013

    While I was out. I did my best not to pay attention to media while on vacation so I missed this Hollywood Reporter story on Harry Connick Jr. joining the Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban as a judge on Fox's "American Idol." Nothing against Connick but I'm not sure he screams young viewers.

    Economist cover Assad

    Tell us what you really think: Through all the media coverage of the to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb Syria coverage, one of the most striking headlines appeared on the cover of the Economist, revealed yesterday. The cover features a photo of Bashar Assad with the words "Hit him hard." Really subtle, right?  

    Hillary Clinton
    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the American Bar Assn. annual meeting last month. (Eric Risberg, Associated Press / September 3, 2013)

    Inside the Los Angeles Times: NBC's plan for a movie about Hillary Clinton has no shortage of critics. Mary McNamara on Al Jazeera America.

    Joie Chen
    Joie Chen is host of “America Tonight” on Al Jazeera America. (Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images / August 16, 2013)

    Michael C. Hall, rear, as Dexter Morgan in "Dexter."

    Acceptable level of TV violence is ever shifting


    To any viewer who thinks "Sons of Anarchy" is too violent, consider the bright side: At least the castration scene got … um … deleted.
    Kurt Sutter, creator of the drama about a California motorcycle gang, presented the idea of showing a character getting the unkindest cut early in the run of the show, now FX's highest-rated. But he backed off after the network's chief objected.
    "I have no filters," Sutter said with a laugh. "I just assume everyone feels the way I do about things."

    In the wake of December's Connecticut school shootings, TV violence has moved back into the policy debate. The head of the National Rifle Assn. controversially attacked the entertainment industry — including music videos and video games — for portraying "murder as a way of life."
    The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the broadcast networks, has rules meant to curb language and sex on TV, but despite the persistent debate over real-life violence, it has no specific prohibitions on media violence. So the networks attempt to govern themselves through so-called standards and practices departments that read every script and watch every episode on the lookout for violence as well as sex and language deemed excessive. The departments typically have around 10 full-time staffers, many of whom are lawyers or have legal training.
    Networks have long preferred to keep the process shrouded in mystery, perhaps to avoid laying down public precedents that could then be challenged. None of the four major broadcasters would allow a standards and practices official to talk on the record for this article, although some executives did not want to speak on the record.
    While some show runners complain that the rules are arbitrary and amorphous, some critics argue that the "S and P" units aren't doing their jobs at all. Some of the most popular series on TV right now are also among the most violent, including AMC's "The Walking Dead," Showtime's"Dexter," CBS' "Criminal Minds" and Fox's new hit "The Following." ABC's terrorism thriller "Scandal" recently drew criticism with a lengthy torture scene. Network chiefs were put on the defensive last month as reporters asked about the many serial-killer shows slashing their way through prime time, including an upcoming NBC drama based on fictional murderer Hannibal Lecter.
    Some networks seem to be more permissive than others. A recent study by the Parents Television Council, a lobbying group and frequent entertainment-industry critic, examined prime-time programming on all five broadcast networks for two weeks this year. Heavily dependent on crime hits such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "NCIS," CBS was deemed the most violent network, with 33 scenes with violent gunplay during the period. It was trailed by ABC (14), Fox (nine) and NBC (four). CW had no violent scenes during the period. The study did not look at FX and other cable networks, which are not regulated by the FCC and where the standards tend to be much more permissive.
    "If you were to ask the average viewer on the street, I think they would be surprised to hear that networks still have standards and practices departments at all," said Melissa Henson, the group's director of communications and public education. "They have this reputation of coming down all the time, but they really don't do much" to stem violence on TV.
    But networks say they rely on viewers to tell them where the boundaries are — and in any case, no definitive evidence proves that violent depictions cause real-life violence. (Some studies, however, have suggested that TV violence can desensitize certain viewers, especially young children.)
    "I don't think you can make the leap of shows about serial killers causing the violence that we have in our country," NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt recently said, in the kind of demurral typical in the industry. TV veterans like to point out that onstage violence far predates the invention of their medium.
    Network executives say they are constantly weighing how much violence they can show — despite what some skeptics might think. That is especially true when a mass shooting such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary casts an unwelcome spotlight on the subject. "This has come up repeatedly, usually once a decade or so," said Tim Brooks, a TV historian and former research executive for Lifetime and USA cable networks.
    But producers complain that the rules are always changing so it's often hard to know where the boundaries are. "For me the frustration is that it's so arbitrary, and it changes from season to season," Sutter said.
    Still, there are some lines. Neal Baer, the former show runner of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU," said CBS has a prohibition against showing a bullet entering the human body, although showing the aftermath of a shooting is fine. (CBS declined to comment.) NBC's Hannibal Lecter series will reportedly follow a similar path: Lots of bodies, but not many killings shown.
    CBS will air Baer's next show, "Under the Dome," an adaptation of the sci-fi novel by Stephen Kingabout the social breakdown of a small town cut off from the outside world. The Sandy Hook shootings have made him think hard about how violence will be depicted, but Baer said he hasn't changed anything because of the tragedy. "We're thinking about the social ramifications and how do we present that in a compelling way," he said.

    Brooks said the networks' S and P offices have wielded power since the early 1960s, after a public uproar over the now-forgotten series "Bus Stop." Critics were outraged that the pop idol Fabianplayed a psychopathic serial killer, arguing that it presented the wrong image to teenagers. Congress responded with the "'Bus Stop' hearings" designed to stem TV violence. Spooked, the networks decided to regulate themselves and began pulling back on the gritty stuff.
    But as any viewer today knows, violence has come back bigger than ever, especially as cable programming has exploded over the past decade. The antihero of "Dexter" dreams up ever-more-chilling ways to dispatch his bad-guy victims. Zombies munch on human flesh in "Walking Dead." Even on CBS — the most-watched network and also the oldest-skewing — the "CSI" franchise is built around the up-close autopsies of crime victims.

    Glenn (Steven Yeun), left, and Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) in "The Walking Dead."

    Although viewers sometimes complain about violence, they tend to get more irked by raw language or sexuality. Often they rationalize violence as long as it's familiar to a genre, such as horror, or has a moralistic message attached. Brooks recalls a focus group 20 years ago when he worked for USA Network. Some parents talked about how much they liked the show "Walker, Texas Ranger," which featured Chuck Norris as a crime fighter who took out the bad guys with martial-arts moves.
    When the moderator pointed out that research had determined "Walker" was one of the most violent shows on TV, the room fell silent. Then one woman piped up and said that might be true, but it was OK because Norris played a good guy who helped people in trouble.
    Sutter said that principle applies even on "Sons of Anarchy," where the boundaries between good and evil are much murkier than on "Walker."Still, he is astonished by what he sees as hypocrisy over on-screen violence.
    "I'm amazed sometimes at the level of violence we get away with on my show," he said. "Yeah, it's OK to watch a girl burn to death, but God forbid I show a piece of her nipple. The sex boundaries are much more delineated and adhered to than the violence."

    "I Know That Voice"
    The documentary "I Know That Voice" is expected to be released on video-on-demand services in December.

    The world of voice-over artists is having an indie film moment.
    Following on the heels of Lake Bell's recently released narrative film "In a World...," which centers on the competitive business of movie trailer voice-over work, comes the documentary "I Know That Voice."
    The project, executive produced by John DiMaggio -- the voice of Bender on the animated television series "Futurama" -- features more than 150 voice-over actors in an exploration of their craft and business.

    DiMaggio and fellow producer Tommy Reid said that the film, which was previewed at July's Comic-Con and the subject of a panel there, will use a unique distribution model to reach audiences. 
    Though the arrangement has not been finalized and negotiations are ongoing, the independent documentary is expected to premiere in December via the video-on-demand platforms of cable providersComcast Corp.Cox Communications andTime Warner Cable Inc., the producers said.
    "I Know That Voice," which is being distributed by digital distribution company GoDigital, would be available exclusively on those VOD services free of charge for about a month.
    After that run, the film would become available for purchase on other VOD services -- such as iTunes, Hulu and AmazonInstant Video -- starting sometime in January.
    DiMaggio said the unique structure would allow the project to reach a wide audience, while benefiting from the marketing muscle he said the cable providers have pledged to provide.
    "Our key audience is very tech savvy, so it is a huge plus for us," said DiMaggio, who financed the film for less than $500,000. On Friday, he previewed the documentary at the fantasy convention Dragon Con in Atlanta. "Nerd plus nerd equals super nerd."
    Logan Mulvey, chief executive of Los Angeles-based GoDigital, said the distribution arrangement would be unique because the cable providers haven't previously offered such a film free to subscribers in advance of a pay-VOD rollout. 
    "They are looking to grow their services and give customers something different," he said.
    Among the well-known voice-over actors featured in "I Know That Voice" are Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson on "The Simpsons," and Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants in the TV show of the same name.
    "John and I have been big fans of the digital distribution model," Reid said. "Everyone is watching stuff on their iPads and smartphones today, so we wanted to get it out there."
    Reid and DiMaggio said that Bell's "In a World..." would help their project find an audience.
    "In a World...," written, starring, directed and produced by Bell, was released Aug. 9 by Roadside Attractions. The picture, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, has grossed about $733,000.
    "People are talking about voice-over a lot now," DiMaggio said. "The more people talk about voice-over, the better."
    Representatives of Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment. 

    Follow me on Twitter so you'll know how much you miss me when I'm on vacation! @JBFlint.

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