LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever. But because of higher ticket prices, actual attendance at North American theaters remained flat after a decade of decline.

With the current domestic box-office tally nearly 1 percent ahead of last year at this time, 2013 could surpass 2012's overall haul of $10.8 billion by more than $100 million, according to box-office tracker Rentrak.

High-profile flops such as "The Lone Ranger," "After Earth," "R.I.P.D." and "Turbo" were offset by mega-hits like "Fast & Furious 6" and "Iron Man 3," which consistently filled theaters last summer.

More recently, Warner Bros.' space epic "Gravity" has earned $254 million domestically, Lionsgate's sci-fi sequel "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" has grossed $378 million and fantasy prequel "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" has brought in $150 million for Warner Bros.

A strong holiday slate is also boosting the year's box-office total. "There has virtually been every kind of genre of film available," said Rentrak box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You have blockbusters like `Hobbit' and esoteric, challenging films like `Nebraska,' `Dallas Buyers Club' and `Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.' All of these films get people to the movies."

But the National Association of Theater Owners projects that the actual number of tickets sold domestically in 2013 will remain about the same as last year's 1.36 billion. That's down from the all-time high of 1.57 billion admissions in 2002.

In 2011, the domestic box-office gross sunk to a 16-year low, dropping 3.5 percent from 2010 to $10.2 billion. But 2012 saw the industry rebound with a $10.8 billion total, thanks to hits like Disney's "The Avengers" and Warner Bros.' Batman finale "The Dark Knight Rises."

Both films screened in 3-D, a profit-boosting perk that saw a huge increase in popularity following 2009's "Avatar." But the public's appetite for the heightened technology has eased, leaving Hollywood to search for other ways to counter audience drain.

Entertainment available on countless portable devices continues to threaten multiplex attendance, as do advanced home theater systems and video-on-demand services offering original premium programming and feature films the same day as their theatrical release.

But Hollywood is fighting back with the premium multiplex experience. Movie attendance may be tepid, but the audience is willing to pay more for theater extras, which keep the bottom line growing, even as admissions remain flat.

"Theaters are offering IMAX, bigger chairs, dine-in options and alcohol," said Don Harris, head of distribution at Paramount. "It's kind of like the difference between staying at a Hilton or a Ritz Carlton. I think what you saw this year was a growth in a segment of the audience that isn't as worried about the price of a movie ticket as they are interested in the out-of-home premium experience. I think you're going to see that going forward."

And with all of the bells and whistles now offered at theaters, movie-going is still one of the least expensive ways to be entertained, compared to concerts, sporting events and live theater," notes Richie Fay, Lionsgate's president of domestic distribution. (So far this year, the average cost of a movie ticket in North America has been $8.05, according to NATO.)

Social media has also helped boost sales, Fay observed, with Twitter and other services providing a powerful marketing tool for studios and a faster way for fans to spread that all-important word of mouth. "People don't have to wait a day for a print story anymore. It's an important part of the growth of the industry."

Studios are hoping to continue that growth in 2014 with such anticipated releases as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again."

"I think the fact that attendance is at least holding its own is impressive, given the number of other media options in the mix," said Rentrak's Dergarabedian. "Going out to the movie theater is clearly as attractive, relevant and viable as ever with audiences."

Although year-end figures for the overseas box office are not yet available, foreign receipts are typically two to three times higher than domestic earnings. So fan-driven hits like "The Hangover Part III," which grossed $112.2 million in North America, are expected to earn more than double their domestic takes overseas.

"With all of its ebbs and flows, ups and downs, the theatrical experience just continues to resonate," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony.


AP Film Writer Jake Coyle in New York contributed to this report.


Follow AP Film Writer Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/SOMEKIND


'Duck Dynasty' verdict analysis: Why A&E backed down

This was over when the Robertson family declared they would not continue on Duck Dynasty without Phil.
That was the checkmate move vs. the family’s opponent and employer A&E, which announced Friday that the reality hit will resume filming with the entire Louisiana family.
As we reported last week, sources close to the situation suggested the show was likely to continue with the family’s patriarch, and that the most probable of the four major outcomes for this battle was that Phil would be back on the show.
The financial motivations are obvious. Duck Dynasty is the A&E’s golden goose duck. It’s cable’s biggest reality show ever (averaging more than 14 million viewers per week). There’s enormous merchandising revenue attached to the brand. As a business, A&E would have a tough time justifying nuking its all-time biggest hit at the peak of its popularity.
But what probably helped turn the tide in the Robertsons’ favor was that the debate wasn’t as clear-cut as the network and many in the media initially assumed. Robertson and his supporters argued that his anti-gay statements were an extension of his passion for the Bible. Once that frame gained a foothold — that this fight is about religion, and the freedom to endorse biblical teachings — A&E was stuck in the awkward position of appearing to advocate against both its own star and orthodox Christianity (ironic, considering A&E Networks garnered such goodwill from Christians for taking a chance on its The Bible mini-series on History this year).
Of course, the Bible doesn’t lend any support to Robertson’s other inflammatory sentiment made during his GQ magazine interview — that blacks were better off during the Civil Rights era. But even Jon Stewart grudgingly came down on Phil Robertson’s side on that, with the Daily Show host admitting he felt “an inclination to support a world where saying ignorant s–t on television doesn’t get you kicked off that medium.”
In battles between networks and cast members, typically the company has most of the leverage. But here the unified Robertson family — financially secure and not desperately needing a paycheck like many reality stars — held stronger cards. The defense of Phil Robertson that best weakened A&E’s decision to suspend him also handed the network its best excuse to back down. In its statement, A&E noted Robertson’s comments “reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs,” echoing Robertson’s defenders. A&E added that it will air PSAs “promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people,” which is the TV industry equivalent of a sinner saying Hail Marys.
Ultimately, once this issue exploded and so sharply divided millions of Americans, two things were destined to remain the same no matter which path A&E chose: The network was going to upset a large number of people, and this fight which turned a sweet family comedy into a religious, cultural and political battleground was never going to conclude with the network’s verdict. No matter how much A&E might want everybody to simply move on, Duck Dynasty cannot return to being a non-controversial show; this issue will stick with A&E and Duck Dynasty for years.

Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas
Hollywood How To!

A&E celebrates Christmas with ‘Duck Dynasty’ super marathon


A&E may have given “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson the heave-ho when they suspended him from future episodes of the show last week, but the network is still welcoming him home for holidays.
The channel is celebrating Christmas with a staggering 25 consecutive episodes of their No. 1 show, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Day and running until the wee hours of Dec. 26.
According to the schedule on A&E’s website, the Robertsons will take over the channel until 4 a.m., and then paid programming —meaning infomercials—will kick in.
And don’t think controversial papa Phil will be left out of the Christmas Day airings. He is a key character in plenty of the episodes scheduled to air, including “Quack-O-Lantern” and “Drag me to Glory.”
For Christmas, A&E is just giving the fans what they want, said Cate Meighan, senior writer for Celeb Dirty Laundry.
“I think, honestly, it’s A&E trying to play both sides of the coin,” she said. “They’ve come out and not supported Phil’s statements… however they’re also looking at the backlash from the fans, and they have a huge amount of backlash from the fans.”
Plus, in the TV world, it all comes down to money, she said. “Duck Dynasty” is the networks top show, and it has reeled it more than 14 million viewers at its peak, which means big advertising bucks for the network.
“It is really a money thing,” Meighan explained. “You’re going to have the same people tuning into ‘Duck Dynasty’ that always have and the same people not watching that always have.”
She said at the end of the day, the series will likely continue if the advertisers continue rush to air ads during the series. If they don’t, the spotlight will likely fade.
“Unfortunately people are secondary,” she said. “At the end of every single thing that we see it’s about the money and the advertising.”
So will the fans tune in on Christmas to celebrate with the Robertson clan?
“I think the same people that watch will find themselves gravitating in after holiday dinner… after 10 Christmas movies you’re [ready to watch something else.]”
Phil Robertson and the series came under fire last week when GQ published graphic comments he made about his condemnation of homosexual sex. He was subsequently suspended from the series indefinitely, and the family has stated they are hesitant to continue with the show if Phil will not be part of it.
Season 5 of “Duck Dynasty” premieres Jan. 15. Phil is slated to appear in several episodes that have already been filmed.
A&E did not respond to FOX411’s request for further comment.

Network quiet amid petitions calling for boycott over 'Duck Dynasty' move

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
(CNN) -- While boycott petitions against "Duck Dynasty" home A&E take off, the network itself is staying quiet.

Since its Wednesday decision to "indefinitely" suspend Phil Robertson, one of the stars of its highly rated reality series, A&E has yet to publicly clarify what the future of the show might be, what they'll do with their block of reruns, or even what it really means to be "indefinitely" suspended.

The network's lack of communication has done nothing to stem the tide of detractors who strongly disagree with its decision to put Robertson on the bench over remarks quoted in GQ magazine, in which he called homosexuality a sin, citing the Bible. A Change.org petition demanding that Robertson be reinstated and the network issue an apology was steadily climbing toward 100,000 signatures Friday.

A separate petition at a website called IStandWithPhil.com makes a similar appeal. Hosted by the online community Faith Driven Consumers, the website helps its members spend their money with companies that fall in line with their spiritual beliefs. The petition on IStandWithPhil.com had surpassed 130,000 signatures by Friday evening.

Those who've signed the IStandWithPhil.com petition are asking for their "views (to) be treated with equality and respect in America's rich rainbow of diversity," and for the "network to immediately reinstate Mr. Robertson to 'Duck Dynasty,' and to formally apologize to him, his family, and the millions of viewers who tune in every week, stand by him, and share his worldview."

"While the LGBT community may be offended by his opposing viewpoint," that webstite continues, "your rash, discriminatory, and unfair treatment toward Mr. Robertson -- a recognized symbol of the faith community -- is a slap in the face to Faith Driven Consumers and everyday Americans alike."

Both websites are urging people not to watch A&E programming in the meantime.

So far, the number of petitioners doesn't compare with the millions that "Duck Dynasty" has drawn to A&E -- its fourth-season premiere in August set a record with 11.8 million watching, and the season finale in October brought in 8.4 million -- but those signatures would give any network exec flop sweat. Especially when the rest of the Robertson family has stoked the fire with a statement that suggests the future of the show might be in jeopardy.

"We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm," the family said in a statement. "We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of 'Duck Dynasty.'"

According to CNN Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, conventional wisdom in the industry holds that this current disagreement between A&E and the family will resolve itself in time, in part because the two sides benefit so much from being in business with the other. A person with close ties to A&E noted that the Robertson family is under contract, thereby reducing the chances that the family will show up on another channel anytime soon.

An A&E executive who spoke to Stelter on condition of anonymity, because the channel was avoiding any new public comments about the controversy, said that conversations with the Robertson family would likely resume after the Christmas holiday.

"Everybody just needs to take a breath," the executive said.

The A&E executive insisted that there has been no second-guessing at the channel about the decision to suspend Phil Robertson.

All of which gives rise to the question: What would happen to A&E were "Duck Dynasty" to go away? This is, after all, the show that helped the network to raise its total viewership 10% this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Stelter can't see the Robertsons or A&E wanting to end the televised hunting-business fun so soon, but if it were to happen, it would undoubtedly be a blow to the network, he said.

"There's just nothing else on the channel that's nearly as popular as new episodes of 'Duck Dynasty,'" Stelter said. "It would be like AMC losing new episodes of 'The Walking Dead' or like Fox losing 'American Idol.' That's why it is very, very unlikely. The show is hugely important for the channel and for the family. Not just Phil, but the whole family," which, Stelter notes, isn't affected by the suspension.

Given that Robertson is "a main character" on the fifth season, which is scheduled to premiere January 15, Stelter believes the increased attention thanks to the uproar might even give "Duck Dynasty" a ratings boost in 2014.

But if something were to happen to the show in the long run, then yes, A&E would certainly need to regroup.

On the other hand, it's not like the network hasn't bounced back before -- and it's never been a one-show network. Over the past 10 years alone, it's transitioned from being the prime place to find a rerun of "Biography" to the home of the Emmy-winning "Intervention," to the site of reality shows like 

"Storage Wars" as well as original programming like "Bates Motel."

In October, A&E unveiled a new branding strategy centered around the tagline "Be Original." The campaign, The Hollywood Reporter noted at the time, was scheduled to debut during -- what else? -- a "Duck Dynasty" special on December 11.

And yet, as industry trade Variety emphasizes, it is not unusual for a network to make a bold move in severing ties with a controversial figure, no matter how popular. MSNBC bid adieu to Alec Baldwinafter the actor fired off another unprintable outburst at a photographer, and the Food Network declined to renew its contract with one of its most well-known personalities, Paula Deen, after she admitted to using the "N" word in the past.

A&E itself previously put another fan-favorite reality star, Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, on hiatus after he used a racial slur.

With its response to the "Duck Dynasty" situation, the network "has been able to establish its progressive corporate values, maintain its relationship with advertisers, and not collapse an entire reality show in the process," Variety TV reporter AJ Marechal observes. "The bullet wasn't entirely dodged, but it at least didn't hit a main artery."

CNN wants to land Leno

By Joe Tacopino
Jay Leno could soon be cracking jokes with Wolf Blitzer, as CNN is among the networks looking to hire him after his decades-long run as host of “The Tonight Show” ends in February.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, several networks are courting Leno, including CNN.
The struggling news network may be trying to corral Leno’s audience. He consistently beats David Letterman in the ratings.
A rep for Leno says the star will not field any offers until his “Tonight” reign officially ends.

DC staff irked as NBC News eyes cuts

By Claire Atkinson

NBC News boss Deborah Turness is spending the last few days of the year eyeing cuts — moves that could include axing some senior on-air talent, The Post has learned.
Turness, brought on in August to shake up the moribund news division — where “Meet the Press” and “Today” had stumbled — is in the midst of a host of end-of -year buyouts and cost reductions, sources said.
The current moves are not the first time Turness has irked journalists under her command.
NBC veterans have complained privately that Turness is not serious enough, sources said.
“Instead of getting better, NBC News has been getting worse,” said one executive. “It’s a mess.”
The grumblings are centered on Turness’ more aggressive tabloid style.
One senior NBC News executive was so outraged by her changes that he went over her head to complain to her superiors that the two simply can’t work together.
NBC News has been accused of checkbook journalism for landing key videos and interviews. The network denied paying for interviews.
NBC News paid to secure footage of a group of skydivers involved in an accident and also gained exclusive rights to access the youngster Hannah Anderson, who was kidnapped by a family friend.
Turness was drafted during the summer with a mandate to drag “Today” out of second place behind ABC.
The move to cut jobs has morale low, sources said.
Particularly distressed by the changes is the DC bureau team, whose duties include providing political coverage to “Nightly News with Brian Williams” and Sunday talk show “Meet The Press.”
Turness has been trying to figure out the future for David Gregory’s “Meet the Press,” with options including bringing in MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” team of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski for a Sunday show, or blowing up the entire franchise and trying something completely different, sources familiar with the situation said.
The jury is still out on what to do as Turness still hasn’t decided, these sources added.
An NBC spokesperson, in a statement on Friday, said, “We offered a handful of voluntary buyouts in the DC bureau back in early November. Discussions are ongoing.”
The spokesperson refused to elaborate.
Turness has drafted a new chief financial officer, Nicolina O’Rorke, and a new public relations chief, Ali Zelenko, and named a new chief global correspondent, Bill Neely.
Neely hails from Furness’ former employer, British news organization ITN.
Turness also tapped Julian March as senior vice president, editorial and innovation. March is another former ITN executive.
While “Today” has been fighting back in the 25- to 50-year-old demographic and not losing every week to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” other shows have waned.
“Meet the Press” finished in third place in its latest week, falling behind “Face the Nation” on CBS and “This Week” on ABC.

Cameron to shoot 3 'Avatar' sequels in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — James Cameron will be returning to New Zealand to film three sequels to ‘‘Avatar,’’ his enormously popular movie about the blue inhabitants of Pandora.
The director made the announcement Monday in the capital Wellington with producer Jon Landau and Prime Minister John Key. The films will be made by Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox.
‘‘Avatar,’’ released in 2009 and shot in New Zealand, won three Academy Awards and is the highest-grossing film in history, with an international box office take of nearly $2.8 billion.
Cameron said he plans to complete principal shooting on the three movies at one time, perhaps over a period of about nine months and beginning in 2015. He said the aim is to release the first sequel in time for Christmas 2016 and the following sequels in late 2017 and late 2018.
‘‘It’s quite a thrill to be officially saying that we’re bringing the Avatar films to New Zealand,’’ he told a news conference. ‘‘We had such a wonderful experience here making the first film.’’
Cameron said work has begun on the writing and design of the movies.
New Zealand’s government has agreed to a 25 percent rebate for the films, meaning it will pick up one-quarter of the tab. The agreement states that Lightstorm and Twentieth Century Fox will spend at least $413 million in New Zealand on the movies.
As is typical with blockbusters, Cameron declined to disclose a budget. But he did say he expects that economies of scale will help the three movies together cost less than $1 billion.
He said that he intends to make the movies in 3D and to shoot at least some sequences at 48 frames per second.
Films are typically shot in 24 frames per second. New Zealand director Peter Jackson shot his trilogy of ‘‘The Hobbit’’ at double that speed in an attempt to make the movies look more realistic and impressive. But the results of the technology have attracted mixed reviews from critics.
Key said the announcement comes with excitement and relief for the New Zealand film industry.
The industry had been facing a lull as work winds down on Jackson’s trilogy.
‘‘It’s a day of great celebration,’’ Key said. ‘‘It’s a great Christmas present for those involved in making world-class movies.’’