Fox News Channel Most Watched Cable News Net For 13th Straight Year

MSNBC played a deft round of Hide the Weenie the day before 2014 cable news ratings came out, when it leaked to the LA Times a memo from its president Phil Griffin to staff, in which he navel lint gazed about how “technology is continuing to drive unprecedented changes across the media landscape.” In the memo, Griffin said the cable news nets need to “be taking a hard, honest look at how we need to evolve along with it” — as though technology was the biggest of MSNBC’s problems and the reason it’s winding up the year behind Fox News Channel and CNN.

In a masterful bit of understatement, the LAT noted the release of the memo was an “attempt to get ahead of the bad ratings news” and acknowledged that Griffin did not reveal any specific plans to alter MSNBC’s lineup of left-leaning political talk-show hosts, except a vague promise to “invest more in programming and news coverage beyond the Beltway.”

CNN logoCNN made a similar play last week, when it leaked a memo from chief Jeff Zucker, in which he boasted CNN U.S. had a “terrific year,” though one that was not without its challenges. The network, Zucker said, was ending 2014 in its best shape in many years, journalistically, competitively —  and financially, which might be owing in part to its end-of-year campaign to cut roughly 8% of its staff – about 300 jobs —  as part of parent Time Warner’s strategy to boost stock price.

Fewer people would watch that than MSNBC.
But CNN will close out 2014 with some all-time ratings lows. In primetime, the network has delivered its worst-rated year in total viewers and its second-lowest in the news demo. In total day, CNN clocked its worst-rated year in the news demo. On the bright side, it will wrap 2014 ahead of MSNBC in the news demo; through December 22, MSNBC lost 17% of its primetime news demo viewers, clocking a worst-since-2005 169,000 of them. To put this in perspective, this is roughly the size crowd as that of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, according to a recent photo census (which, unlike MSNBC, represents an increase in number — the largest population for the Porcupine Caribou Herd since the early 1990s).

CNN’s primetime news demo crowd — while bigger than that caribou herd, at 181,000 viewers — represents a 1% slide. Fox News Channel, meanwhile, is way out front with 302,000 primetime news demo viewers and, like the Porcupine Caribou Herd population, FNC’s population grew — by 3%.
As 2014 draws to a close, FNC celebrates its 13th consecutive year as the most-watched cable news network, though it too had its disappointments. In total day, FNC is down 4% in total viewers (1.05 million) and same percent in news demo viewers, though it finished laps ahead of its competition in both metrics.

Fox News Channel logoFNC rings out the year ranked No. 4 among ad-supported basic cable networks in overall primetime audience, behind only ESPN, USA Network and TNT; it also ranks No. 4 in total. CNN and MSNBC are way back in the 20s and 30s.

“We’re going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans,” Griffin said in that memo to staff and LAT.
Speaking of stories that move and inspire Americans – how about missing airplanes? If you’re wondering why CNN stuck like glue to the news about the latest missing airplane last weekend, it quacked like an effort to goose year-end ratings. Back in March, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, CNN enjoyed a big ratings boost with flood-the-zone coverage. Over two weeks, the missing-plane story goosed CNN’s total-day news demo numbers by 102% compared with pre-disappearance.

In that same period of time, MSNBC’s numbers dropped 10%.

Cable News Channels 2014 Total Day Chart update 2

Cable News Channels 2014 Primetime Bar Chart updated

2014 Box Office: Admissions Lowest Since 1995; How The Studios Rank

movie theater aud 2
Despite a fantastic Christmas at the box office, 81 million people didn’t buy movie tickets this year. Not only were this year’s domestic admissions of 1.259 billion off 6% from 2013’s 1.34B, but the number of tickets sold hit their lowest level since 1995 when 1.211B people went to the cinema.  
Calculations are based on this year’s 3Q ticket price average of $8.12 from the National Association of Theater Owners, just a penny off from 2013’s $8.13. The upside is that thanks to Christmas, 2014 crossed $10 billion with a current estimated running cume for January 1-December 28 of $10.22B per Rentrak Theatrical. Some of the major studios are still on holiday with final figures set to be released on January 5.  Here at Deadline we’re weighing 2014 according to the fiscal year of January 1-December 31, and we’ll be providing updates about the year along the way (studios tend to include the first weekend of January in their previous year’s hauls). Through Sunday, six studios have made in excess of $1B – Fox, Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount and Universal – a scenario not unlike 2013. Here we give a rundown of the majors and the mini-majors this year.

Fifty Shades of Grey posterInsiders attribute the down year to lackluster product and the lack of even bigger tentpoles versus ticket prices, which remained level. And that’s not a line: According to Rentrak, 25 major studio titles moved off this year’s release schedule including Universal’s Furious 7  (previously dated July 11), Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (May 30), Focus Features’ Fifty Shades Of Grey (August 1), Disney’s George Clooney starrer Tomorrowland (December 12), the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending (July 18) and Universal’s Minions (December 19) – titles which collectively could have pushed 2014 over last year.  Even Open Road/Worldview Entertainment’s horror film Green Inferno from cult director Eli Roth was pulled from the slow post Labor Day frame (leaving zero new wide titles) — a period when a horror title could have easily generated some green from bored teens.
Nonetheless, distrib chiefs aren’t fretting that they’ve lost moviegoers, particularly the prime young male 18-24 demo to such distractions as videogames and viral videos. More goods news: 2014 is the sixth year in a row to surpass $10B, and this year is running 3% higher than 2011. When broaching the subject about the off year with distribution chiefs, they’d rather take a 5% dip at the domestic B.O. any time. Says Universal distrib chief Nikki Rocco, “You’re gonna have good years and you’re gonna have bad years.”

Michael Wolff: 8 Hollywood Predictions for 2015

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The beautiful thing about predictions for the new year is that nobody predicts a continuing muddle. And yet confusion and untidiness would have been the correct call for the media, particularly television, in 2014 (as well, come to think of it, as most else). Rupert Murdoch threatened to recast the industry with an acquisition of Time Warner, but he retreated. Netflix made a deal with Comcast for faster service and then said it was adamantly and morally opposed to such deals. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg announced that the future of the company was video -- hence media -- but that it too was a utility, hence, very much not media. One of the biggest question marks in Hollywood, the timing of 91-year-old CBS and Viacom owner Sumner Redstone's exit from the business, advanced another year. The television industry entered the year robustly and left it in a streaming haze of a serious advertising and audience decline, existentially. So here are the clarity tentpoles of 2015, a year in which one can reasonably hope the noise clears and the fog lifts:

1. RUPERT "RETIRES" Even with air quotes, this will be a focusing event -- the next Murdoch epoch begins. But such a new status, from chief executive to merely grand eminence (he'll be 84 in March), necessarily depends on someone else named Murdoch becoming CEO -- or, even better, many Murdochs rising. With Murdochian stubbornness, James Murdoch -- rehabilitated, at least in his father's eyes, from the British hacking scandal taint -- will get the top job at 21st Century Fox. To boot, his brother, Lachlan, will become chairman, and his sister Elisabeth will take over Fox's biggest portfolio, its broadcast and cable business. In this scenario, Chase Carey, who now leads Fox, truly would retire. Carey's impulse and function has been to temper his boss' us/them instincts, but the Murdoch children will be hell bent on fulfilling their Murdoch destiny -- the current phase of which is to become the dominant power in the worldwide television business. Time Warner be damned, the Murdochs in 2015 will commence an acquisition spree not seen since their father invented the modern media conglomerate in the 1980s.
2. SUMNER "RETIRES" Redstone is, second only to Murdoch, the father of the modern media business, with his empire of cable and broadcast assets strategically transformed from a wholly ad-supported business to one now more or less evenly divided between ad sales and other fees. For several years now, Redstone's age (he'll be 92 in May) has held Hollywood in a certain will-he or won't-he limbo. With his intentions always unclear (and likely shifting), it's an all-bets-off world when Redstone departs the media veil of tears. Philippe Dauman, the CEO of Viacom and Redstone's longtime lieutenant, in theory holds the power, but all power needs to be solidified. Redstone's family's true ambitions and side deals are an unknown; his daughter, Shari, is an on-again, off-again heir. Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS, is arguably the most successful figure in television with his own daunting power base (and a new deal that takes him through 2019). Strategic preparations among the key principles for a post-Sumner world will break into public view (or at least the rumor mill will work overtime) in 2015. Viacom will advance its hopes to reabsorb CBS, which it once controlled, while CBS, the dominant broadcast business, will try to make a major acquisition to forestall any effort to force a backward fall into Viacom's hands. Meanwhile, the Murdoch family, always partial to back channels, will contemplate a purchase offer that will appeal to the Redstone family.

3. NETFLIX CROSSES OVER Which side is Netflix really on? Is it digital or is it TV? As digital, Netflix is the prime proxy for an ever-more threatening assault on television's business -- it's the link to the great unbundling. Indeed, Netflix now has become one of the pillars of digital's so-far-undelivered 20-year promise to eat TV's lunch. And yet, in every way but its distribution model, Netflix is in the television business. Except that, alas, its margins are so much lower. On similar earnings, HBO's net operating profit in 2013 was $1.8 billion, while Netflix's was a mere $0.62 billion. This is largely because, in its over-the-top assault, it doesn't have cable companies picking up much of the cost of marketing, billing and service. Hence, in a variation of Hobson's choice, Netflix in 2015 will make a cable deal, perhaps even with its high-speed friend and net-neutrality enemy Comcast, to bundle Netflix in its broadband package -- putting itself, foursquare, into the television business.
4. TELEVISION CROSSES OVER The inchoate notion of television everywhere, the nascent streaming services and complicated partnerships (Hulu) will in 2015 be redefined into the third leg of TV distribution. OTT will join broadcast and cable as part of the basic TV distribution model. Indeed, "premium content," that is, the stuff made by professionals, will be as much the sought-after digital media model as user-generated content (a much-derided form in 2015) used to be. A new debate will begin that increasingly will try to distinguish "TV" the business model from "TV" the distribution channel. This is not mere sophistry, but a fundamental measure of growth (the former grows, the latter shrinks) and dominance (i.e., the Murdochs are seeking to dominate "TV" the business model) that will finally determine how powerful a king content really is.
5. AND FACEBOOK WANTS TO BE TELEVISION, TOO A strikingly noticeable News Feed shift will occur at Facebook in 2015: Your friends' irritating children will surface less often and Facebook's deals with "premium content partners" more so. Despite Zuckerberg's wish for Facebook to be a faceless utility, video will hasten its push into show business. Indeed, Facebook will become a content buyer and licensor. Even bet in 2015 on Facebook doing a major exclusive sports deal, a first for a digital platform. And where is Google? Desperate to catch up, it too will suddenly be a premium content buyer.

6. COMCAST DEALS NBCU Let's go out on a limb: "TV" the business model will gang up on Comcast the distribution channel to actually threaten the planned Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. In a compromise with "TV" the business model, Comcast will agree to sell NBCU. The bidders: Google, Amazon and the Murdochs.
7. BOUTIQUE CABLE IS THE FLAVOR OF THE YEAR It started with Time Warner's idea to turn HLN over to Vice and then an even better offer from A&E Networks to provide Vice with one of its lower-performing channels. The fact is that while almost every cable channel used to be profitable, as cable has upped its game and programming costs, that's left the lower-tier of the dial looking considerably lamer. In a world where unbundling could happen, this is troublesome. The solution: Make it someone else's problem. And perhaps it's not a bad solution either. There are many brands in search of channels. Indeed, it may be a way for money-losing big-name websites to luck into a better business model. If Vice finds its niche in cable, BuzzFeed won't be far behind.
8. A NEW NOTION ENTERS THE MEDIA DISCUSSION It's an idea more apocalyptic and transformative than even "digital." It's not just a new competitor, it's a new world -- one as threatening to digital media as to conventional. It is "the end of advertising." Digital has long promised -- and continues to promise -- to undermine television's ad business (once again giddy at this summer's drop in TV advertising numbers). But more exactly, it has undermined the nature of advertising itself. Television, via OTT, is more and more accessible without advertising, while digital CPMs continue to drop almost everywhere (a 30-second pre-roll CPM on YouTube was $9.35 in 2012 and only $7.60 in 2014). What's more, digital has never succeeded in capturing to any meaningful degree big-brand television budgets. All the numbers are going down, so the unthinkable and once unimaginable will become 2015's existential question: What is media without advertising? Indeed.
Hence, a year from now, the TV business will have been redefined, and ever adaptive and more inclusive, there will be, for better or worse, more of it. And despite digital's plans for world conquest, it will still be controlled by TV's largely permanent government, or the next generation of it.

Star David Ryall Died On Christmas Day

Veteran British character actor David Ryall, most recognizable to American audiences as Harry Potter’s Elphias Doge, died on Christmas Day, Variety reports. He was 79.

The news originated with Sherlock writer and actor Mark Gatiss:

Ryall, who started his career on the British stage, has been appearing onscreen for decades, most recognizably  for mainstream U.S. audiences in City of Ember and The Elephant Man.
Having appeared in a number of TV series including The Singing Detective, the U.K.'s House of Cardsi and Midsomer Murders, Ryall's most recent role was as a grandfather who suffers from dementia in the BBC's Outnumbered.

Ryall replaced Peter Cartwright in the role of Elphias Doge in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Pakistani officials furious over ‘Homeland’

By Jamie Schram
Claire Danes is lucky no Emmy voters live in Islamabad.

Pakistani officials are furious with Showtime after watching the fourth season of its hit show “Homeland,” which they say portrays their country as an ugly, ignorant, terror-plagued “hellhole.”

The diplomats took copious notes of every slight while binge-watching all 12 episodes — including the lack of greenery in the depiction of the nation’s capital, Islamabad.

They complained directly to producers of the Emmy-winning drama, but their gripes fell on deaf ears, Pakistani sources said.

“Maligning a country that has been a close partner and ally of the US . . . is a disservice not only to the security interests of the US but also to the people of the US,” Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana told The Post.

One of their beefs is that the show — which stars Danes as CIA Agent Carrie Mathison on assignment in Pakistan — trashed a diplomat’s image of the capital as a bucolic oasis.

“Islamabad is a quiet, picturesque city with beautiful mountains and lush greenery,” one source said. 

“In ‘Homeland,’ it’s portrayed as a grimy hellhole and war zone where shootouts and bombs go off with dead bodies scattered around. Nothing is further from the truth.”
Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison on “Homeland”Photo: Showtime
The cable show’s “Islamabad” scenes were actually filmed in Cape Town, South Africa.
Pakistani diplomats also called out the show’s producers for misrepresenting their language.

“The Pakistani characters portrayed in the show speak English like Americans would,” a source said. 

“Also, when the characters in the show speak Urdu, the accent is far from the local accent.

“And the connotations of some of the Urdu words that are used are out of place.”

The biggest gripe is that the show depicts Pakistan as undemocratic and allied with terrorists.

“Repeated insinuations that an intelligence agency of Pakistan is complicit in protecting the terrorists at the expense of innocent Pakistani civilians is not only absurd but also an insult to the ultimate sacrifices of the thousands of Pakistani security personnel in the war against terrorism,” a source said.

Maligning a country that has been a close partner and ally of the US . . . is a disservice not only to the security interests of the US but also to the people of the US.
 - Nadeem Hotiana

“Our culture embraces Western society. Pakistan believes in the democratic system of voting in our presidents.”
 “Pakistanis never embraced the dictators who, in the past, ruled the country because they took over the presidency through violent means.

“ ‘Homeland’ makes it seem that Pakistan has contempt for Americans and its values and principles. That is not true.”

Season Four wrapped up its final episode last Sunday.

The show’s publicist referred The Post to Showtime representatives, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Hotiana said he just wished the producers had spent more time getting their facts straight.
“A little research would have gone a long way,” he said.

Filed under

Box Office: 'Hobbit' Tops Christmas Bonanza; 'The Interview' Earns Modest $2.8M

The North American box office rebounded in a big way over Christmas weekend, easing fears that the threat levied against theaters over The Interview would curb moviegoing.

Leading the charge was Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Angelina Jolie's World War II drama Unbroken and Rob Marshall's musical Into the Woods.

In its second weekend, The Hobbit once again placed No. 1, grossing $54.5 million for the four-day weekend, including $41.4 million for the three days. The New Line and MGM tentpole has taken in nearly $170 million domestically and a sizeable $573.6 million worldwide, ensuring that it will eventually cross $1 billion.

Unbroken and Into the Woods, both launching Christmas Day, vastly overperformed, grossing $47.3 million and $46.1 million, respectively, to land high up on the list of top holiday openings. To boot, Unbroken marks one of the best showings of all time for a WWII-themed drama, while Disney's Into the Woods marks the biggest launch ever for an adaptation of a Broadway musical after Mamma Mia! ($27.8 million).

Based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling biography, Unbroken stars Jack O'Connell as World War II hero Louis Zamperini. The film, nabbing an A- CinemaScore, follows Zamperini as he's stranded in the ocean after a plane crash and then captured and tortured as a prisoner of war. 

Universal made Unbroken for $65 million. Interestingly, the audience skewed slightly female (52 percent), while 72 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 25.

Universal domestic distribution chief Nikki Rocco gave huge props to Jolie. "I don't like to think of this as a war film. It's much more than that. It's an amazing inspirational story, and that's why it is playing so well in middle America. I put on Fox News last night and Greta Van Susteren was doing a whole segment on Louis," Rocco said.

Thanks to strong interest among all demos, the $50 million Into the Woods continues Disney's winning streak at the box office. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.
"We appealed to everyone. Fifty-one percent of our business came from adults, 38 percent from families and 11 percent from teens. It's very encouraging to see that kind of balance," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.

Into the Woods, receiving a B CinemaScore, earned $31.2 million for the weekend itself, only a hair behind Unbroken ($31.7 million).

Overall, revenue for the weekend was up by as much as 8 percent over last year. That's welcome news for the film business, which has endured a tough year at the box office, at least in North America. And Hollywood is currently grappling with the unprecedented hacking of Sony.

The cyberattack was reportedly waged by those unhappy with The Interview, the controversial R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two bumbling journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

At the eleventh hour, Sony pulled The Interview from its Dec. 25 release after the group behind the hack attack threatened theaters. However, after President Barack Obama criticized Sony for caving, the studio announced Tuesday it would release The Interview in select independent theaters and as a pay-per-view offering on YouTube, Google Play, Xbox and Sony’s own site.

The Interview, placing No. 16, opened to an estimated $2.8 million from 331 theaters for the four-day weekend, fueled in part by flag-waving fans. In its new incarnation, the comedy wasn't destined to be a big grosser in theaters, considering its limited footprint and the fact that it was made available online Wednesday. (It was also quickly pirated.) Pay-per-view numbers weren't immediately available.

"I'm so grateful that the movie found its way into theaters, and I'm thrilled that people actually went out and saw it. The fact that people actually left their houses when they had the option of staying home is amazing," Rogen said in a statement.

Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution, said The Interview's release plan was "certainly unchartered territory."

Among holdovers in the top 10, Shawn Levy's family friendly Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb did brisk business in its second weekend, earning $27.9 million for the four-day weekend to come in No. 4. The threequel has now earned $55.3 million domestically, and was up a resounding 21 percent from last weekend.

Sony's Annie, opening opposite Secret of the Tomb and Hobbit last weekend, placed No. 5 for the four days with a solid $21.2 million for a domestic total of $45.8 million.

The holiday was also kind to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, which became only the second release of 2014 after Guardians of the Galaxy to jump the $300 million mark in North America, finishing Sunday with $306.7 million in domestic ticket sales. The tentpole has now earned $669.7 million globally.

After Unbroken and Into the Woods, the other two new Christmas offerings playing nationwide were Paramount's The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg as a literature professor who has a secret life as a gambler, and Tim Burton's Big Eyes.

Rupert Wyatt directed The Gambler, which opened to an estimated $14 million-plus, in line with expectations. The $25 million drama earned only a C+ CinemaScore, with 81 percent of the audience over the age of 25.

"The Gambler is definitely a movie aimed at adults, and we believe this film will play well into January," said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. "And we are certainly happy to be in business with Mark Wahlberg."

Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, faltered in its four-day debut, grossing $4.4 million. It's true that the drama is playing in far fewer theaters that its competitors (1,307), but it still marks the lowest nationwide opening of Burton's career. The film, from The Weinstein Co., centers on artist Margaret Keane (Adams), whose work was claimed by her then-husband, Walter Keane.

Harvey Weinstein's shop still had plenty to celebrate; awards frontrunner The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as famed English cryptologist Alan Turing, raced into the top 10 as it expanded into 747 theaters, grossing $11 million for an early domestic total of $14.6 million.
"We're ahead of The King's Speech," noted TWC distribution chief Erik Lomis. "I think this film is resonating with many different audiences. You have Benedict fans, you have fans of the genre and it also appeals to tech heads."

Director Clint Eastwood's awards contender American Sniper also did huge business, scoring the biggest opening of all time for a limited Christmas release. The movie, based on the real-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, grossed $850,000 from four theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas (Kyle was from Texas) for a massive screen average of $212,500.

American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle and earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore, broke records at the ArcLight Hollywood and at the Dallas Northpark 15. The movie expands nationwide Jan. 16, the beginning of the lucrative Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The other high-profile new specialty offering was Ava DuVernay's MLK drama, Selma, which opened in 19 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, earning a promising $912,000 for Paramount. The awards contender expands nationwide Jan. 9.

Among other awards contenders, Fox Searchlight's Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, remained in the top 10 as it expanded into a total of 1,285 theaters, earning $5.4 million in its fourth weekend for a cume of $16.4 million.
Dec. 28, 8 a.m. Updated with weekend numbers.

CNN's Don Lemon Named to 'Worst Journalism of 2014' List

by THR Staff
Don Lemon has picked up a dubious honor: ranking in a Columbia Journalism Review fellow's list of the "worst journalism" of 2014.

The anchor has made headlines throughout the year for controversial moments during his tenure as a CNN newsroom anchor.

In a post written by David Uberti, the CJR fellow makes a case for why Lemon deserves to be ranked along with other missteps in journalism over the past year. 

"As one of the most recognizable anchors on CNN, Don Lemon has helped lead the cable network’s coverage of the biggest stories of the year. Live television is exceedingly difficult to produce, of course, but Lemon’s gaffes this year offer a case study in how to choose words wisely — or not," Uberti wrote

Lemon's comment that "Obviously, there's a smell of marijuana" during a Ferguson protest and his remarks during an interview with a Bill Cosby accuser were cited as controversial moments by Uberti. The CNN wasn't alone in the cable news world on the CJR worst list, Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends also made Uberti's list.

Also included on the list was Rolling Stone magazine, which acknowledged serious missteps in its feature report on an alleged University of Virginia campus rape. "The disintegration of the magazine’s visceral campus rape story from Nov. 19 wins this year’s media-fail sweepstakes," Uberti wrote. 

On Dec. 22, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner wrote in a statement that the magazine had asked Columbia Journalism School, which publishes CJR, to review the edit process of the feature. 

Read more The Best Television of 2014

Arizona theaters to show 'The Interview'

TEMPE, Ariz. - It's one of the most talked about movie premieres in years. "The Interview" opened in 300 movie theaters across the country on Christmas day and there were big crowds on hand to check out the controversial comedy.

Sony originally shelved the movie after threats of a 9-11 style attack, but movie executives reversed course earlier this week, agreeing to show the movie in some theaters and stream it online.

Here in the valley the movie is playing at the Harkins Valley Art Theater on Mill Avenue in Tempe, and all of the showings were sold out Christmas day.

There was a long line outside the theater for the first showing of The Interview.

We talked to people who came here, not so much because they were so interested in seeing the movie, or thought it would be good. It was about vindicating their rights as Americans.

"I came down here because we should not have censorship, if you don't release it , it is kind of censoring us and it's a loss for us," said Anna Johnson.

"I just don't think a dictator across the world should dictate what we see when and where that's it," said Tim Fox.

They were all making a statement, and they also wanted to be entertained. After all, we're talking about the movie here. Afterwards, everyone's a critic.

"Um, it is a shooting, bloody film, don't take it seriously, I can see why they were mad, but don't go into it with very high expectations," said Brenda Ventura.

"It is a really funny film, not like real life in North Korea; it is a movie you know," said, "KC."

It's a movie a lot of people are eager to see.

Watching "The Interview" became a trending topic on Twitter on Christmas day. Reviews of the movie were mixed, a lot of people chose to see the film as an act of defiance.

The Tempe Police Department would not give any specific details about patrols in the area but did tell FOX 10 that they were working with theater management to keep movie goers and the community safe during the showings.

Eating Dinner With Martin Scorsese

Entering his eighth decade, Martin Scorsese reflects on his long career.

By Stephen Smith 

"Who’s behind me?” hisses Martin Scorsese with a voice like bologna hitting a hot skillet. 

“I’m Sicilian. We don’t sit with our backs to the door. We never sit with our backs to the door. Who’s behind me? Who’s got my back?”

This is the way you dreamed it would go down, of course. The sit-down: the milk-fed veal, the carmine carafes, the rubber of post-prandial card games abruptly abandoned. The diminutive figure of the maestro bristles across the table from you. As he reacts to the sound of voices from the darkened doorway, a tremor of unease transmits itself through Scorsese’s people, his crew.

The director himself reaches for his piece. You watch in astonishment as the garlanded Hollywood insider fingers the barrel of his… inhaler.

It’s nighttime in New York City, and Scorsese has called a meeting at a favorite low-key joint a block or two from his home. But instead of the spaghetti house straight out of the old country, this is a chintzy suite in a boutique hotel, with its surprising lacunae: the pelmets concealing foxed wainscoting, the MDF boxing and panelling that shuts away eyesore cables.

The filmmaker, 72, is briefly between pictures, the gab and hustle for his most recent outing The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is behind him, and he is generously putting aside some time after standing me up on a previous date. So, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed, which accounts for his self-mocking turn as a goombah foot soldier fussing over the seating arrangements, a figure for whom Scorsese himself is partly responsible, of course – of which more later.

He calls over his shoulder to his assistants lurking by the door, chivvying them to spare me more of his time.

It’s pretty relaxed, as I say, but on the other hand, Martin Scorsese doesn’t really do tranquil. Take his asthma inhaler, which I’m happy to say is not fired in anger all evening. Scorsese has carried this keepsake of his gasping, pigeon-chested childhood into his eighth decade. No cheerleader’s baton could be more eloquent of a certain kind of US adolescence than this staff of suffering.

[Above: talking through a scene with Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976)]

Then there’s his good-natured kvetching over how exactly he takes his tea (“Are you leaving me here with this… bag?” “It’s infusing, Marty”). Most of all, though, there’s the big reveal: one of the most experienced and worldly men ever to occupy the stencilled deckchair of the director – the amanuensis of Goodfellas (1990), the nerveless sherpa of Mean Streets (1973) – is afraid to go out anymore.

I happened to say that the old tramp of Gotham had smartened herself up out of all recognition since the days of classic Scorsese noir Taxi Driver (1976), where the sidewalks were polluted with menace and trash. The zero-tolerance policy of Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD had seen to that many years ago.

“That’s what they tell me but I can’t, I won’t, test it out,” replies Scorsese. “I still feel that I will not go into Central Park. I try not to go below 57th Street now, as best I can. That doesn’t mean anything above 57th Street is safe…”

This was extraordinary: Scorsese casting himself in the unlikely role of little old shut-in, a recluse like Sir Ben Kingsley’s toymaker in his charming period-fantasy Hugo (2011).

“I grew up that way and I have that sense of unease in New York, London, Paris, Rome..” he says, laughing. The string of stylish destinations, like the outposts of a couture empire, filling him with a kind of dread.

Surely not our own dear metrop, though? “Maybe that’s to do with my height,” he admits. “The last time I worked in London, I couldn’t fight my way through the crew! I had to hire a big guy just to get me through the crowd. I’m serious. I’m careful about where I go and what I do. We don’t go out much anymore, it’s a matter of staying uptown if possible. But uptown?” He shrugs. “It  doesn’t matter where you are.”

Taxi Driver: Not since the Keystone Cops swarmed over a speeding paddy wagon in the silent flicks has the unhealthy relationship between man and automobile been documented so affectingly on the big screen. More than this, the film has become a historical epic, a whacked out Gone with the Wind (1939). As the cultural commentator James Wolcott writes in his book, Critical Mass: “It is an invaluable time capsule of Seventies New York on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

[Instructing Margot Robbie and DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)]

“When we were making [Taxi Driver], New York had apparently been written off the books,” Scorsese says. “The city was told to go to hell by the governor, but I didn’t know at the time. For me it was just simply New York. I began to sense it a little when a friend of mine said, ‘Marty, didn’t you notice when you were standing on the corner that there was a wall of garbage behind you?’ I just thought it’s a strike!”

He shrugs again. “In a week or two they’ll figure it out. But the trash was getting pretty highly packed there for a while. I didn’t like 42nd Street at that time,” he says, referring to the steam-belching inferno of the red-light district.

It was quite sleazy?

“Very sleazy. Everybody has great eulogies about the old place but it was horrible,” he says, laughing wheezily. “I mean you could not walk there unless you were into what was going on. And we shot the picture there. I must say it was a frightening experience that night…” This was for a sequence including a cameo by Scorsese, who brought a queasy authenticity to the part of a homicidal cuckold in the back of Robert De Niro’s yellow cab (“You must think I’m pretty sick or something, right? You don’t have to answer, I’m paying for the ride”).

Scorsese is aghast when he overhears his teenage daughter breezily agreeing to meet her friends in the park. “I’m always nervous about that.” It’s only fair to point out that the director’s wife has been in poor health lately, and there’s a problem back at the house. So things could be better, though you’d never know it to look at him: the antic attentiveness behind the spectacles, the flycatcher grin.

It’s funny to hear Scorsese talk like this because a lot of people would see him as – among other things – a kind of poet laureate of the American underbelly over the long span of his career. Surely, if anyone’s confident in that milieu, it’s him, yet he gives the impression that actually the perception of it is scary even for himself.

“Yes it is, it is,” he says with his arms folded. “I’ve never really noticed that much of a change in New York…”

It all goes back to the city’s fons et origo, as Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito so nearly says in Goodfellas (1990), New York’s original sin – the irresistible temptation of the Big Apple. “I grew up at the end, the dregs, of the time of Gangs of New York,” says Scorsese.

This was the epoch of late 19th-century turf warfare between criminal mobs that he brought to the screen in 2002, and which forms part of Scorsese’s foundation myth of the five boroughs. He still remembers a day when neighborhoods were known by their rackets, not just blameless meat-packing or garment-spinning and the like, but less licit pursuits, too. “From the Bowery to Sixth Avenue, you only went there to steal a car.”

Not that the thought would ever have occurred to him or his friends?

Scorsese laughs, claps, and raises two index fingers in the air as if preparing to perform “Chopsticks”.

“No! But I heard about some people. I heard about some things: hubcaps, for instance, and other nefarious goings on. Because there was nobody there! There was nothing, just the trucks in the daytime and nothing at night. There were a few cars, people who were crazy enough to park their cars there. So this was the West Side. The East Side was teeming with Sicilians, Calabrese, Neapolitans and, of course, there was Skid Row with the down-and-outs, and the men and women losing what was left of their lives. It was really tragic.”

[Martin Scorsese with Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets (1973)]

This is a portrait of the artist as a young man, of course – the future auteur who would one day find himself craning for a view past lanky gaffers and grips on a film set in England. The same boy who looked up to the street-corner tough guys with horrified awe.

His unexampled fieldwork in this area over many years needs no further rehearsing for the self-respecting Esquire reader, I take it, but have we seen the last of it? Is there any truth, I ask, in the story that he might get the old crowd back together — De Niro, Pesci — for something called The Irishman?

“Absolutely, yeah. It’s a story based on a gentleman, apparently a famous Sixties’ hitman, who worked with certain people on the east coast and with [trade union boss] Jimmy Hoffa. It’s very strong, I think, very moving.”

Who’s in line to play him?

“Um… De Niro.”

So he’s a mature hitman? I can say that without being rude?

“No, no. Definitely mature.”

The mature De Niro has come in for a certain amount of stick, mostly out of earshot, over his choice of scripts. Some people have been critical of him sending up his glory years – many spent with Scorsese – in movies like Analyze This (1999) and The Family (2013). He’s kind of destroying, I suggest, his reputation?

“I don’t know. Certainly, destroying it is overstating it,” Scorsese says. “I don’t know what his needs are, as an actor, to be able to continually work! Bob’s interesting because he moves a lot, two or three days in one city, this sort of thing. He’s got a wonderful family now.”

And he has restaurants...

“He has restaurants,” Scorsese agrees. “He had a terrible scare. A death scare [De Niro was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003]. And to hell with it, why shouldn’t he work and enjoy himself? I think he needs that energy, and he just keeps going.”

Did The Sopranos rip off Goodfellas? In a loving, homage-y, kind of way?

“Well, it would have been good if I’d gotten a piece of it! It would have been more loving if I’d had some back-end of it!” he says. “I don’t know, I was told that Brad Grey [Sopranos producer] admired it a great deal.”

Scorsese is never less than watchable on the tragicomic subject of the company of men. Think of the jailbirds in Goodfellas fixing their chow, the magnificently dainty Paulie slicing garlic to a thou of an inch as if he was wearing a jeweller’s eyepiece.

The Sicilian’s only serious rival here is early David Mamet. Indeed, in The Wolf of Wall StreetLeonardo DiCaprio’s rallying cry to his fellow junk-bond salesmen (and a few women) — “Does your girlfriend think you’re a fucking worthless loser? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialling” — is a nod to Alec Baldwin’s barnstorming turn in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) as the immaculately coiffed grim reaper from the head office of Mitch and Murray (“Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids”).

One of the more unlikely pieces of casting in the Scorsese oeuvre may well be Jerry Lewis, the director and comedian, who played the hooded-eyed talk show vet Jerry Langford in The King of Comedy (1983). If you haven’t seen it (why not?), De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a man with all the self-awareness of Piers Morgan, and whose dream of his own TV show from sea to shining sea proves equally forlorn.

[In the ring with De Niro playing doomed boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980)]

“You know, they despised the film here [in the US],” Scorsese says. “On New Year’s Eve, I was getting ready to go to a friend’s house and Entertainment Tonight was on – this kind of program had just started back then – and they said, ‘Now for the flop of the year!’” And there it was, The King of Comedy.

The irony of the film’s thumbs-down from this show – the CNN for wannabes – only burnishes its deserved reputation for prescience. Meanwhile, the luster has rather gone off the late Mr Lewis, though Scorsese is nice about him in his book, Scorsese on Scorsese (1989).

“There’s a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Leonardo is off his head and crawling to his Lamborghini to try and open the door. That night on the set I thought, ‘This is wonderful! The way he’s moving his body is just like Jerry. It really is!’ My young daughter, she’s 14, adores Jerry Lewis.’”

There was something a little dark about him, though, wasn’t there?

“Very dark. I think that’s one of the reasons I cast him.”

Something needy, maybe?

“Yes! Very much so, very much so.” The cineaste’s hands churn like the brushes of a carwash. “But I think every great laugh-getter has that neediness. I think comedy comes out of anger, you know, and so we tap into that in the film and he has a wonderful, sarcastic anger, Jerry. And it’s certainly not easy to work with – no great artist is easy to work with – but that’s the job, that’s what you do.”

Who’s been the worst so far?

“Ha, ha. I’ve been very lucky.”

Lewis was the master of televised charity leverage, shedding tears as punctually as a plaster statue in a Palermo procession. But what of the Holy Father himself? Scorsese studied at a seminary and his body of work references Catholicism, explicitly as in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and more subliminally elsewhere.

What does he make of Francis I, the modest priest from Argentina who has brought a humility to the Vatican after revelations of terrible abuse by some within the church? A history buff and an anglophile, Scorsese can’t resist ragging his Brit interviewer on the subject.

“I know that you’re not very fond of the papacy in your country…”

Well, we got rid of that, I respond.

“I know and I think probably rightly so.” Scorsese holds a forefinger aloft as if making a benediction. “In terms of what Henry VIII did, I think he had to.”

Let’s not re-fight that battle.

“No, we’re not going to go back there.”

It still provokes people.

“It does, doesn’t it? But I think, why should he have listened to the Pope? Come on, he had to get the heir and that sort of thing… but look, Francis is certainly sane and heading the way I hoped I would see a Pope behave in my lifetime. I never thought I’d see it!” he says. “I’m a Roman Catholic. I’m very serious about it. My films usually deal with a certain religious subject, there’s no doubt about it. But I think, yeah, there’s more compassion here than condemning. I think this is on the way back for the Pope to be a moral authority again.”

Meanwhile, back here in uptown New York City, the sins of the world continue to throw their exaggerated shadows on the director’s shuttered chateau – 57th Street has become his Sunset Boulevard (1950). Luckily for filmgoers, the Norma Desmond of the talkies still ventures abroad – yes, even as far as midtown, if it can’t be avoided – for the sake of “legwork”, research, and shooting.

And while so much of the “content business” is now going viral, or going directly to Vine, Scorsese persists in making films that last for three hours at a stretch – work of an unmatched grandiosity and brio. Figuratively at least, this pint-sized director can say with Desmond, “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!”

What's your favorite Scorsese?

Originally published on


Sony Pictures hack fuels speculation about studio's possible sale

A paralyzed computer system has hampered the studio's ability to make deals, promote upcoming movie releases and conduct business. Some employees at the Culver City film and television studio still were having trouble accessing their email this weekend.

But, beyond the day-to-day running of a studio, there's a sense in Hollywood that big changes are ahead.

"Major upheaval will occur at Sony," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC's Annenberg School. "This will reset the studio's relationship with Japan."

Emails released on the Internet by hackers show that Sony Corp. Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai had been concerned for months that "The Interview" could be trouble, given that the comedy depicted the fictional, gruesome assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hirai ultimately agreed to the film's release, but analysts say that may not be enough to save the jobs of Sony Pictures' top two executives, Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal. They canceled the Christmas Day release of "The Interview" in the wake of terror threats on cinemas. Theater chains had worried about the safety of moviegoers and the impact on box office receipts over the crucial holiday season.

That decision, however, drew scorn from many — including President Obama — that the studio capitulated to a hollow threat from the North Korean hackers who federal officials say launched the cyberattack. This only added to the controversy surrounding the film.

"The current situation is likely to be a strain on relations with the Japan headquarters," said Jochen Legewie, a crisis advisor and a managing director of the global consultancy CNC Japan.
Sony declined to comment, though it issued a statement Friday condemning the attacks and explaining its position.

North Korea decries U.S. allegations on Sony hack; U.S. turns to ChinaThe studio is a relatively small part of Sony Corp., which has from time to time triggered speculation that the parent company might want to sell it. Sony, with $75 billion in annual revenue, acquired the studio in 1989 for $3.4 billion, lured by the long-term benefits of crafting a wide-ranging entertainment business — one in which music, film and TV projects could serve as the "software" for Sony's television sets.

Its financial performance has been mixed. For its most recent quarter ended Sept. 30, Sony Pictures lost $10 million on revenue of $1.7 billion. The damage from the cyberattack — estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, at least — won't help.

"The hacking scandal has underscored the risks associated with owning a film studio," said Laura Martin, a Needham & Co. senior media analyst.

Martin believes the prospect of future cyberattacks makes it "more likely Japan is going to decide they can't take this level of scrutiny" and could decide it's better off without the headache.
Even so, studios remain prized assets.

Leslie Moonves, the ambitious chief executive of CBS Corp., has long wanted to own a major Hollywood studio. His network is the only one not partnered with a bustling film division. NBC is connected to Universal Pictures, ABC is a unit of Disney and the Fox network is under 21st Century Fox.

CBS declined to comment on possible interest in acquiring Sony. Such a deal, however, would enable CBS to add Sony's vast television holdings. The studio controls a library of syndicated shows, including "Jeopardy," and produces hits such as "The Blacklist" for NBC, "The Goldbergs" for ABC and a forthcoming spin-off to "Breaking Bad" called "Better Call Saul" for AMC.

Wealthy Chinese investors also have made no secret of their interest in buying a Hollywood film studio.

Alibaba Group, China's largest e-commerce company, has been on the hunt to buy a film studio to expand its distribution of films to customers. Chief Executive Jack Ma, who led the company to the largest initial public offering ever this year, met with Hollywood executives in October to scope out potential partners.

Sony hack updates: North Korea's Internet connection goes downBillionaire Wang Jianlin, who owns China's biggest cinema chain, Dalian Wanda Group, said last month that he was interested in a studio deal. He expressed interest in Lions Gate Entertainment, the $4.7-billion studio behind "The Hunger Games" films. He also held discussions about investing in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the independent producer of James Bond films.

The discussions so far have not led to a deal.

Another potential buyer could even be Lions Gate, according to emails that came out in the Sony leak.

Last summer, activist shareholder Daniel Loeb, whose firm Third Point then owned about 7% of Sony, tried to broker a deal between Sony and Lions Gate. Loeb talked with a top Sony USA executive about arranging a meeting with Hirai in Japan, according to emails reviewed by The Times. Third Point declined to comment.

Sony Corp., of course, may have no plans to sell the studio. During a conference with investors in Tokyo last month, Hirai said the company expects to increase revenue at Sony Pictures to $11 billion annually in three years. That is more than a 35% increase over this year.

But if it takes that course, there would be much rebuilding ahead, industry observers say.

The disruption to Sony Pictures' business could lead it to miss out on near-term business opportunities such as closing a deal for a hot new spec script. What's more, a loss of faith by industry operators in the studio's ability to protect its data could hurt efforts to attract top talent, according to entertainment industry analysts.

Relationships with actors who were disparaged in Sony executives' emails could be irreparably damaged. Among those denigrated in leaked messages were Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler and Angelina Jolie. One of those most hurt by the emails was Pascal, who met with civil rights advocate Al Sharpton last week to apologize for her racially insensitive comments about President Obama.

"There are going to be repercussions," said longtime media analyst Harold Vogel. "They are going to lose momentum. This will be a big hit to Sony's earnings performance for quite awhile. It could take at least two years to recover."

As Sony Pictures begins the cleanup in the wake of the cyberattack, it also must press on with prep work for next year's slate of films.

Perhaps the surest bet among its planned releases is "Spectre," the new James Bond film. The Daniel Craig-starring picture, a joint production of Sony and MGM Studios, will premiere Nov. 6, 2015.

Other forthcoming projects include the Robert Zemeckis-directed "The Walk," which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French tightrope walker Philippe Petit; "Chappie," from "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp; and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's "Grimsby."

Sony Pictures hackedSome believe Sony will eventually get back on track as the studio turns to its next slate of films. One thing in its favor, at least with Hollywood's creative community, is its reputation for making edgier films that other studios would pass on.

Times staff writers Joe Bel Bruno and Richard Verrier contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

'Citizenfour' Producers Sued Over Edward Snowden Leaks

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the American people wishes to hold The Weinstein Co., Participant Media and others liable for aiding and abetting Snowden.

The U.S. government still wants to get its hands on Edward Snowden, the former CIA officer who has detailed the extent to which the NSA spies on citizens. Here's a timely question: Would the federal government ever do anything about Citizenfour, the Oscar-contending documentary that features Snowden?

So far, the Barack Obama administration has given the film a pass, but on Friday, one former government official decided that enough was enough.

Horace Edwards, who identifies himself as a retired naval officer and the former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, has filed a lawsuit in Kansas federal court that seeks a constructive trust over monies derived from the distribution of Citizenfour. Edwards, who says he has "Q" security clearance and was the chief executive of the ARCO Pipeline Company, seeks to hold Snowden, director Laura Poitras, The Weinstein Co., Participant Media and others responsible for "obligations owed to the American people" and "misuse purloined information disclosed to foreign enemies."

It's an unusual lawsuit, one that the plaintiff likens to "a derivative action on behalf of the American Public," and is primarily based upon Snowden's agreement with the United States to keep confidentiality.

Represented by attorney Jean Lamfers, Edwards appears to be making the argument that Snowden's security clearance creates a fiduciary duty of loyalty — one that was allegedly breached by Snowden's participation in the production of Citizenfour without allowing prepublication clearance review. As for the producers and distributors, they are said to be "aiding and abetting the theft and misuse of stolen government documents."

The lawsuit seeks a constructive trust to redress the alleged unjust enrichment by the film. A 1980 case that involved a former CIA officer's book went up to the Supreme Court and might have opened the path to such a remedy, though the high court said nothing about orders against private citizens like the filmmaker. Assuming Edwards has standing to pursue the lawsuit — hardly a given — wouldn't that be censorship?

"This relief does not infringe upon First Amendment rights but maintains a reasonable balance between national security and the fundamental Constitutional protections of Freedom of the Press," the lawsuit states. "No censorship occurs and no public access is restrained. Rather, upon information and belief, this lawsuit seeks relief against those who profiteer by pretending to be journalists and whistleblowers but in effect are evading the law and betraying their country."

Edwards is clearly upset by Snowden's actions, calling them "dishonorable and indefensible and not the acts of a legitimate whistleblower," as well as by Hollywood for "omit[ting] from the storyline" perceived acts of foreign espionage, and Poitras for doing things like "hiding [Snowden] in her hotel room while he changes into light disguise, accepting all of the purloined information to use for her personal benefit financially and professionally, filming Defendant Snowden’s meeting with a lawyer in Hong Kong as he tries to seek asylum…"

Participant Media said it had no comment about the lawsuit.