William Christopher, Father Mulcahy on 'MASH,' dies at 84

William Christopher, an actor known best for his role as Father John Mulcahy on the hit TV show MASH, died on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, according to his family.
William Christopher, an actor known best for his role as Father John Mulcahy on the hit TV show 'MASH,' died on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, according to his family. (AP Photo/Wally Fong/Christopher family)
William Christopher, the actor best known for his role as Father John Mulcahy on the hit TV show "M*A*S*H," died on Saturday, his family confirmed to Eyewitness News.

His son, John Christopher, said the actor died from non-lung small cell carcinoma at his home in Pasadena.

He was 84.

In every office, every corporate executive suite, and every law firm across this great land, the men who had got pantsed and received numerous swirlies at the hands of jocks in high school finally have their chance at redemption against their brawny tormentors.

by Dylan Gwinn
According to a press release from CBS, “The Big Bang Theory,” the brainy sitcom which references pyramids and autotrophs in its theme song, beat out NBC’s Sunday Night Football as the top-rated, live, primetime same day show. For the past five years Sunday Night Football had owned that coveted, top spot.

3 NCIS CBS 18,341 10
5 BULL CBS 16,269 9
Now, there’s a caveat to this. According to The Comeback, “…this data factors in live+3 and live+7 viewings (from later in the week), so given how close it is and how sports are typically watched more live than scripted TV, SNF is probably ahead in live+sameday still. That’s important for advertisers, so it may still pull in more per spot. However, it’s worth mentioning that SNF won the overall crown last year even with live+7 factored in, and TBBT has passed it there now.”
“The Big Bang Theory” has at drawn statistically even with the NFL, if not surpassed it, which represents a clear change from the past half-decade where SNF dominated thoroughly.

Steven Perlberg of The Wall Street Journal wrote about this trend in November, “A pair of CBS programs were the top-viewed shows of 2016, dethroning NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” as the most-watched regularly-scheduled primetime program on television, according to a new report from Nielsen. “The Big Bang Theory” averaged 19.94 million viewers this year, followed by 19.89 million for “NCIS” and 19.28 million for “Sunday Night Football,” which last year topped the list with an average of 23.29 million people tuning in. The report measured live viewing plus seven days of delayed viewing.
“NBC said that “Sunday Night Football” is averaging 20.08 million viewers this year when factoring in live and same day viewing for games through Dec. 12, while the Nielsen report only covered contests through Nov. 6.”
Even if “The Big Bang Theory” wasn’t breathing down SNF’s neck, the fact that one of the NFL’s premier television offerings has lost over three million viewers from last year should cause major concern for the league.

In fairness, it’s not like Sunday Night Football lost to “The Real Housewives of Sheboygan,” or whatever. “The Big Bang Theory” has consistently been one of the most watched shows on television. Given that, the NFL should not feel ashamed by any of this.
However, what the league absolutely should freak out about is the clear loss of their “favored nation” status among viewers. In 2016, the NFL got taught the lesson that they can’t just wheel out a bad product, court anti-American player activists, and expect people to salivate over watching their games.
That’s the lesson, will the jocks learn from it? Well, that’s another question entirely. For now though, it appears the nerds have gotten their revenge.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn

Walt Disney 'Bambi' artist dies at 106

(CNN)Tyrus Wong, best known for his sketches for the Walt Disney animated feature 'Bambi,' died Friday, according to a statement released by The Walt Disney Family Museum.
Wong was 106.
"Legendary Disney artist Tyrus Wong had a gift for evoking incredible feeling in his art with simple, gestural composition," the statement said.
Wong's evocative sketches of deer in a forest captured the attention of Walt Disney and became the basis for the visual style of the feature film "Bambi."
"His work has continued to inspire and influence the leading animators of today," the statement said.
Though working at Disney Studios from only 1938 to 1941, in 2001, he was named a "Disney 
Wong went on to work for Warner Brothers as a concept and story artist for 26 years and retired in 1968.
"Tyrus' lively spirit will be missed," the statement said. "Our condolences are with his family and friends at this time."

2016 Ratings: Fox News Channel is Cable TV’s Most-Watched Network

By A.J. Katz
It’s been a roller coaster year for Fox News. If you have been reading TVNewser at all this year, you know why. But all of the off-camera controversies never negatively impact viewership. In fact, celebrating its 20th year on cable, Fox News finished 2016 as the most-watched basic cable network in prime time and total day, a first for the network.

“As we close out our 20th year, Fox News continues to redefine television news and break ratings records, proving it is indeed the most watched and most trusted television news source in the country,” said co-presidents Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine.

The ratings for 2016 (Nielsen Live + Same Day data):
  • Primetime (Mon-Sun): 2,429,000 Total Viewers / 481,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun): 1,395,000 Total Viewers / 280,000 A25-54
Fox News will also close out 2016 as the 5th most-watched network in prime time in all of TV– only behind the big four broadcast nets: NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX.

Averaging 2.4 million total prime time viewers and 1.4 million total day viewers, FNC earned another milestone with its highest viewership ever in total day for a full year.  The 483,000 prime time demo viewer average is the network’s best since 2010. Additionally, Fox News remained the No. 1 cable news channel in every relevant measurement.

The election was the story of 2016, and Fox News benefited immensely from a ratings standpoint. The final presidential debate of the cycle was a watershed moment for the network. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace was the moderator, and more viewers watched the debate on Fox News than on any other network, broadcast or cable. FNC was also most-watched cable news network for full election night coverage (7 p.m. – 3 a.m.)

Through December 25, 2016, FNC is up +36 percent in total viewers and and up +42 percent in the key A25-54 demo compared with the network’s 2015 prime time performance. The network also delivered year-over-year growth in total day, up +29 percent in total viewers and up +36 percent in the A25-54 demo.

For the year, every hour on Fox News was up double-digits vs. 2015. Several programs in the daily lineup achieved a yearly high, including the network’s prime time programs – The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File and Hannity.

Bill O’Reilly marked 15 consecutive years as the No. 1 show in cable news among total viewers. Through December 13, The Factor is up +18 percent in total viewers and up +19 percent in A25-54 versus 2015.

Despite all of Megyn Kelly’s trials and tribulations this year, The Kelly File achieved its best year since launch, and was also up +18 percent in total viewers and  up+19 percent in A25-54 relative to 2015.

Sean Hannity also had a breakout 2016. His program was up +44 percent in total viewers and up +46 percent in the news demo year-over-year.

James Cameron offers sneak peek at Disney's new Avatar land

In just a few short months, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will open its immersive Pandora themed land after nearly three years of construction, finally bringing visitors face-to-face with the flora and fauna found in James Cameron’s Avatar film series.

Ahead of the area’s planned summer 2017 debut, Disney has released a new preview video featuring the Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind the 2009 blockbuster that inspired the 12-acre Animal Kingdom addition and a sneak peek at on-ride footage from two new rides currently under construction at the Orlando theme park.

“I don’t know if I can even express how it feels to see something that I imagined in 1995 suddenly made physically made real,” Cameron says in the vide while shots of Pandora‘s lifelike plant structures — including bioluminescent flowers that can send waves and pulses “linked to every glowing plant” in the land — flash onscreen. “They’re using the absolute cutting-edge technology, stuff that’s never been applied before." 

Joe Rohde, a senior VP with Disney Imagineering, detailed the “beautiful, lyrical” voyage riders will take through the world of Pandora on the Na’vi River Journey, a boat ride that will send guests into the depths of the planet’s neon-colored forests filled with audio-animatronic figures.

“Virtually everything in the world is a custom-designed, complex, programmed piece of show equipment. Hundreds of plants, entire ride systems,” he explains over POV scenes from one of Journey‘s boats. Cameron adds: “There’s something pretty amazing at the end of that river ride that you’ve never seen anything like in your life.”

The ride system for Pandora‘s premier attraction, Avatar: Flight of Passage, has remained largely under wraps until now. Disney’s teaser video shows off the simulator’s massive, three-level interior, which will reportedly see riders boarding vehicles modeled after the bodies of Banshees, the fictional flying creatures that appear in the Avatar films.

“You’re going to plunge, you’re going to dive, you’re going to see the world flying through it,” Cameron says of the land’s thrilling addition, which film producer Jon Landau says will allow families to “connect with a Banshee” as they “fly over the landscape of Pandora.”

The $500 million investment replaces the park’s former Camp Minnie-Mickey area, built on land previously designated to house Beastly Kingdom, a never-built section revolving around mythical creatures.

Cameron’s first Avatar film, about a band of humans attempting to colonize the world of Pandora despite fierce opposition from the planet’s humanoid residents, remained the highest-grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. A sequel, Avatar 2is slated for a late 2018 release, while three subsequent sequels are set for respective bows in 2020, 2022, and 2023.

A touring interactive attraction also based on Cameron’s fantastical environments, Avatar: Discover Pandora, also launched on Dec. 7.

Catch a glimpse of Disney’s Pandora: The World of Avatar above.

Debbie Reynolds, Mother of Carrie Fisher and Star of 'Singin' in the Rain,' Dies at 84

Photofest Debbie Reynolds

The actress received an Oscar nom for 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' and lost her husband to Elizabeth Taylor. Her daughter died one day earlier.

by Mike Barnes
 Debbie Reynolds, the vivacious actress, dancer and pop star who wowed ’em in the musicals Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, died Wednesday, one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, passed away, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. She was 84. 

"She's with Carrie," said Reynolds' son, Todd. 

Reynolds died Wednesday night after being hospitalized for a medical emergency. On Tuesday, her daughter, the Star Wars actress, author and screenwriter, died of complications from a heart attack she had suffered four days earlier while on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

Years earlier, Reynolds suffered heartbreak of another kind when her husband and Carrie's father, pop singer Eddie Fisher, left her to be with actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Reynolds was given the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2015 by the Academy for her charitiable life's work. She also had a No. 1 single with the sentimental ballad “Tammy,” toplined her own NBC sitcom for a season and was an energetic touring performer on stages and in showrooms for decades. 

Reynolds became a sensation after starring with legendary hoofers Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the immortal MGM musical Singin’ in the Rain (1952), directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen. With the stars portraying performers caught up in the transition from silent films to talkies, the movie was voted the No. 1 musical of all time by the American Film Institute.

Reynolds received her only Oscar nomination for playing the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), based on the Broadway musical and fictionalized account of the life of a woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic. But Reynolds lost out to Julie Andrews in her debut film, Mary Poppins.

In between those two films, Reynolds was very much a headliner on the Hollywood gossip pages when her husband fell in love with Taylor following the death of Taylor’s husband, Around the World in 80 Days producer Michael Todd, in a March 1958 plane crash. Fisher was Todd’s best man when he married Taylor, and Reynolds had been a bridesmaid.

In 2010, Reynolds recalled how she found out her husband was cheating on her — lonely at home while Fisher was away on tour, she called Taylor at home to chat. To her surprise, Fisher answered the phone.

“Suddenly, a lot of things clicked into place,” she told the Daily Mail of London. “I could hear her voice asking him who was calling — they were obviously in bed together. I yelled at him, ‘Roll over darling, and let me speak to Elizabeth.’ ”

In her 2008 autobiography Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher described her parents’ breakup, which started when her dad “flew to Elizabeth’s side, making his way slowly to her front.

“He first dried her eyes with his handkerchief, then he consoled her with flowers, and he ultimately consoled her with his penis,” Fisher wrote. “This made marriage to my mother awkward.”

The Reynolds-Fisher divorce became final on May 12, 1959 — Carrie was 2 at the time — and Taylor and Fisher were wed less than four hours later. Taylor would go on to divorce Fisher in 1964 after she fell for Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra (1963).

Reynolds did not talk to Taylor for seven years until she boarded the Queen Elizabeth with her second husband, shoe manufacturer Harry Karl, and discovered that Taylor also was on the ship. Reynolds sent her a note, and the two had dinner and “a lot of laughs.”

She divorced Karl in 1973. Reynolds also was married from 1984-96 to real estate developer Richard Hamlett.

In January 2015, she was the recipient of the Life Achievement Award at the SAG Awards. “In [Molly Brown] I got to sing a wonderful song called, ‘I Ain’t Down Yet.’ … Well, I ain’t."

However, Reynolds recently had been saddled with health problems and was unable to attend the Governors Awards in November 2015 to accept her Hersholdt award on stage. 

Mary Frances Reynolds was born April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas. At age 7, her family moved to Burbank, and at age 16, the 5-foot-2 former Girl Scout was signed to a contract at Warner Bros.

After appearing in bit roles in such films as June Bride (1948) and The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950), Reynolds attracted the attention of MGM. The studio gave the fresh-faced teenager a small but significant part as singer Helen Kane (“I Wanna Be Loved by You”) in the Fred Astaire starrer Three Little Words (1950), then signed her to a seven-year contract.

In her next film, Two Weeks With Love (1950), Reynolds scored a hit song with a remake of “Aba Daba Honeymoon,” a duet with Carleton Carpenter that made it to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart.

After the success of Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds spent the rest of a busy decade starring as good-natured girls in such musicals and light-hearted comedies as The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953) opposite Bobby Van; Donen’s Give a Girl a Break (1953); Susan Slept Here (1954) with Dick Powell; Athena (1954) and Hit the Deck (1955), both alongside Jane Powell; The Tender Trap (1955) with Frank Sinatra; Bundle of Joy (1956), with Fisher at the height of their relationship; The Catered Affair (1956), as the daughter of Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine; Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), playing a backwoods innocent opposite Leslie Nielsen; and The Gazebo and It Started With a Kiss, two 1959 films in which she was coupled with Glenn Ford.

In the 1960s, Reynolds made notable appearances in the epic How the West Was Won (1962), My Six Loves (1963) opposite Cliff Robertson, The Singing Nun (1966) and Divorce American Style with Dick Van Dyke.

The actress embarked on The Debbie Reynolds Show for the start of the 1969-70 TV season but quit the sitcom after getting into a fight with NBC over cigarette commercials. She surrendered her 50 percent interest in the show and later called the move the “stupidest mistake of my entire career.”

The series, produced by I Love Lucy’s Jess Oppenheimer, had Reynolds playing the wife of a 
sportswriter (Don Chastain). It lasted 26 episodes.

In 1981, she welcomed visitors to Hawaii for the short-lived ABC series Aloha Paradise. Her other TV appearances included episodes of Madame’s Place, Alice, The Love Boat, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Wings, Roseanne, Rugrats and Will & Grace (as Debra Messing’s entertainer mother).

In 1996, Reynolds received a Golden Globe nomination for playing Albert Brooks’ mom in Mother (1996). In 2013, she appeared as another mother, that of Liberace (Michael Douglas), in Steven Soderbergh’s HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra.

Her recording of “Tammy” spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1957 and was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song (Reynolds performed it during the 1958 Oscar ceremony.) The tune gave Reynolds the distinction of being the only woman to have a No. 1 record in the span between July 28, 1956, and Dec. 1, 1958.

Reynolds also scored top 25 Billboard hits with “A Very Special Love” in 1958 and “Am I That Easy to Forget” in 1960.

On stage, Reynolds earned a Tony Award nomination for the 1973 revival of Irene and in the early 1980s replaced Lauren Bacall as the lead in the musical version of Woman of the Year. In 1989, she began a national tour with a production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Through the years, she was a constant presence in Las Vegas.

Reynolds amassed a huge collection of movie memorabilia during her career and auctioned off some of it in June 2011. Items included the white dress Marilyn Monroe wore over a subway grate in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch (the winning bid was $4.6 million); a pair of Judy Garland’s red slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939); a Harpo Marx hat and wig; and costumes from Ben-Hur (1959) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

“I still have a lot of my things, but I decided to become rich,” she said at the time.

She put more items — like a hat that Vivien Leigh donned in Gone With the Wind (1939) and Gregory Peck’s military jacket from MacArthur (1977) — up for sale in May 2014.

Her son Todd is also from her marriage to Eddie Fisher. Survivors also include her granddaughter Billie Lourd.

Ryan Parker contibuted to this report.

HGTV Will Never Upset You: How the Network Beat CNN in 2016

Drew and Jonathan Scott of HGTV’s Property BrothersPhotographer: Zack Arias/Used Film Studios via ScrippsNetworks

-Scripps channel is third-most-watched behind ESPN, Fox News

-Without news, sports or A-listers, HGTV thrives on repetition 

by Gerry Smith
Nikki Justice doesn’t seem like she’d be a big fan of HGTV’s show “Property Brothers.” A first-year astronomy and physics major at Ohio State University, she’s never owned a home, let alone flipped one. But her parents watched regularly, and now Justice tunes in several hours a week to watch one home transformation after another.

“A lot of the news these days is really stressful,” she said. “HGTV is not something that’s going to 
hurt me. I watch it and dream of what I want for my future house.”

So does Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who recently said that he prefers HGTV to ESPN. Taylor Swift shared on Instagram her affection for HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” And Hillary Clinton said she likes “Love It or List It” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” calling them “relaxing, entertaining and informative.”

The escapist appeal of looking at other people’s beautiful homes turned Home & Garden Television into the third most-watched cable network in 2016, ahead of CNN and behind only Fox News and ESPN. Riding HGTV’s reality shows, parent company Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. has seen its shares rise more than 30 percent this year, outperforming bigger rivals like Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc.

HGTV’s formula is relentlessly consistent: a shabby house gets a makeover, and a happy couple moves in. A variation on the theme -- house-flipping for fun and profit -- works too. The network has aired 23 different flipping shows over the past few years. Today “Flip or Flop” and “Masters of Flip” run in prime time.

In the cable industry, though, success is relative. Like other networks, HGTV has lost nearly 4 million subscribers in the past two years, though ESPN lost about 6 million in that time. In a note last month titled “As Good As It Gets?” Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC, predicted viewership at HGTV has peaked and advised clients to sell Scripps shares. “I just worry that ratings at cable networks are volatile,” he said in an interview.

‘Real America’

Since the mid-1990s, HGTV has made its home in a low-slung building about 15 minutes outside of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. Like HGTV itself, the offices feature some homespun touches. The walls of Scripps Chief Executive Officer Ken Lowe’s office feature framed press clippings from the local newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel. Nearby, a 96-square-foot tiny house -- a feature of several HGTV shows -- has been decorated to look like a gingerbread house.

The last year has been vindicating for Lowe. When he started HGTV in 1994, few people thought anyone would watch his network “about grass growing and paint drying,” he says. For a while, Time Warner Cable wouldn’t even carry the channel in New York City, because, he was told, the metropolitan audience wasn’t interested.

Lowe shrugged it off. Walking the aisles of Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. stores around the country, he had identified an audience that was passionate about their houses.

“If you watch a lot of our competitors, it’s about bling-y expensive real estate in New York or crazy flipping in L.A.,” said Scripps chief programming officer Kathleen Finch. “For the most part, our viewers live in suburban houses with yards. We embrace the real America.”

So do advertisers. The average HGTV viewer is a college-educated, suburban woman with household income of $83,600 a year and an interest in home improvement -- catnip to advertisers like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Wayfair Inc., an e-commerce company that sells housewares, is one of the channel’s biggest advertisers, with product integration, commercial time and on-air graphics that urge viewers to “shop this look” on the company’s website.

HGTV’s ad rates are about twice what other cable networks command, said Nancy Go, Wayfair’s vice president of brand marketing. But she says it’s worth it: Wayfair’s web traffic doubles when it airs commercials on the network.

Even New Yorkers have come around. While much of HGTV’s audience is in the Southeast, apartment-dwelling New Yorkers still watch in numbers equal to the network’s national average.

Low-Cost Shows

Finch is the gatekeeper of HGTV’s aesthetic. A former CBS News producer, she sees her job as a form of journalism, aiming to entertain and inform viewers. After 17 years with Scripps, she preaches the value of consistency. “We super-serve our viewer what she likes, and we give her more and more of it,” said Finch.

Among the most popular shows, she aims for a new episode every week and stretches the network’s franchises and talent. Two of HGTV’s biggest stars are Drew and Jonathan Scott, handsome twins from Vancouver who buy and renovate fixer-uppers, and the network makes sure they’re rarely idle. 

While one Scott might be filming part of “Property Brothers,” the other might be elsewhere to shoot part of another show, “Buying and Selling.”

Without high-paid celebrities in scripted series, costs are low. HGTV makes 900 hours of original programming a year on a budget of about $400 million, according to SNL Kagan. Netflix, in contrast, spent at least $500 million on 600 hours of original shows in 2016.

The network hasn’t really experimented in a decade. An astrology-themed decorating show called 
“What’s Your Sign? Design” only lasted from 2006 to 2008, and executives realized they needed to focus on what viewers already liked: houses.

“We’re not going to surprise you,” Lowe said. “We’re not going to throw you a curve ball. It’s not easy to create content that people are passionate about and somewhat addicted to that is somewhat repetitive.”

No Swearing!
The success of HGTV is linked to the housing market, and the recovery, now in its fifth year, has moderated. Rising mortgage rates may make it harder for people to buy new homes. Disappointing third-quarter results from Lowe’s have stoked fears that Americans are cutting back on home spending, and analysts have warned that homeowners may see the cost of construction rise if immigration policies tighten under a Trump administration.

Scripps’ pricing power within the industry is also under new pressure. Two major mergers -- AT&T-DirecTV and Charter-Time Warner Cable -- have shifted the balance of power in favor of pay-TV distributors, making it harder for Scripps to negotiate higher rates for its channels. The company charges just 23 cents per subscriber for HGTV, 3 percent of the estimated $7.21 charged by ESPN.

On the other hand, Scripps executives say their small portfolio is a strength. The company’s three main networks, HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel, are included in all of the new “skinny bundles,” low-cost online services like Sling TV and DirecTV Now that offer just a few channels.

Meanwhile, HGTV is expanding internationally, with new versions in Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, the Middle East, North Africa and, coming in January, Poland. The network is also aiming for millennials, producing short-form videos for Snapchat and Facebook. As 20-somethings start buying their first homes, the network’s reach among young people is growing.

The key, Scripps executives agree, is a refusal to upset HGTV’s audience. There’s no profanity, and on-air conflicts are confined to paint colors or tile choices. Instead of making the network feel trivial, its fans say, the relentlessly pleasant programming is a comfort, especially in hard times.

That’s surprised even Lowe. He pulled the channel off the air after the Sept. 11 attacks because he felt it wasn’t appropriate to show lighthearted fare after so many people died. He replaced the signal a few days later after fans e-mailed and wrote to say they wanted to watch -- they needed something to help them forget.

Carrie Fisher, 'Star Wars'' Princess Leia, dies at 60

Carrie Fisher's last film will not be compromised as a result of her death ... TMZ has learned.
An official from Lucasfilm tells us Carrie was "absolutely wrapped" for "Star Wars: Episode VIII."
The official added it's too early to tell how Carrie's passing will impact future installments of the franchise.

Fisher plays General Leia Organa in 'VIII.' The movie's official Twitter account said they wrapped back in July.

Her death was confirmed in a statement issued by the publicist for Billie Lourd, Fisher's daughter.
"It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning," Simon Halls said.
Fisher's death came four days after she suffered a cardiac event on a flight from London to Los Angeles, according to a source familiar with the situation. 

'The family business'

The actress and advocate, who got her start in Hollywood as a seductive teen in the 1975 film "Shampoo," was the daughter of screen legend Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher.
But her biggest break as an actress came just a few years after she dropped out of high school to appear alongside her mother on Broadway.
She beat out the likes of Jodie Foster and Amy Irving for the part of Leia in George Lucas' original 1977 "Star Wars." Her tough-as-nails princess was strong and independent -- and the role positioned Fisher in the decades that followed as something of a feminist icon.
The film became a blockbuster -- Box Office Mojo ranks it as the second highest-grossing movie of all time after adjusting for inflation, behind "Gone With the Wind" -- and turned Fisher into an overnight star.
"I was trained in celebrity, so I did the only thing I knew," Fisher once told Rolling Stone. "I went into the family business."
Fisher went on to appear in 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" and 1983's "Return of the Jedi." She drew almost as much attention for Leia's hair and wardrobe as she did for her performances in the movies. Her character wore her brown hair in two enormous swirly buns over her ears, and donned a revealing metal bikini as Jabba the Hutt's captive in "Return of the Jedi." 

Celebrity tributes

Tributes poured out Tuesday from her fellow members of the "Star Wars" universe.
"Carrie was one-of-a-kind...brilliant, original," co-star Harrison Ford said in a statement. " Funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life, bravely...My thoughts are with her daughter Billie, her mother Debbie, her brother Todd, and her many friends. We will all miss her."
Skywalker Ranch spokeswoman Connie Wethington issued this statement from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas: "Carrie and I have been friends most of our adult lives. She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colorful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess - feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think."
Co-star Mark Hamill tweeted: "No words #Devastated." 
"I'm deeply saddened at the news of Carrie's passing. She was a dear friend, whom I greatly respected and admired. The force is dark today!" tweeted another co-star, Billy Dee Williams.
Actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" movies, said, "There are no words for this loss. Carrie was the brightest light in every room she entered. I will miss her dearly."

'Hurt my feelings'

Fisher became a star alongside Hamill and onscreen love interest Ford, with whom she eventually revealed she'd been romantically involved for a brief time while filming the first "Star Wars" movie.
Her sudden fame overwhelmed her at times.
"Forty-three years ago, George Lucas ruined my life," she wrote in her book, "Wishful Drinking." 
"And I mean that in the nicest possible way."
Fisher wrote about not loving the exposure that came with success -- or Leia's characteristic hairstyle, which she called "idiotic."
"I weighed about 105 at the time, but to be fair, I carried about fifty of those pounds in my face! So you know what a good idea would be? Give me a hairstyle that further widens my already wide face," she wrote with trademark sarcasm.
After "Star Wars" Fisher had memorable supporting roles as a vengeful ex in "The Blues Brothers" and as a supportive pal to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally." Meryl Streep played a Fisher-like character in "Postcards From the Edge," based on Fisher's own semi-autobiographical novel about life as a recovering addict.
She published multiple books, including a memoir, "The Princess Diarist." Fisher also was known around Hollywood as a script doctor, having worked on such films as "The Wedding Singer" and "Sister Act."
Nearly four decades after the first "Star Wars," the actress reprised her most iconic role in 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." She also was digitally recreated to appear briefly as a young Leia in the current "Star Wars" spinoff, "Rogue One."
Fisher fired back at fans who mocked her for having aged since her last appearance in a "Star Wars" movie, tweeting, "Please stop debating about whether OR not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings."
Most recently, Fisher was in London filming the latest season of Amazon's "Catastrophe" and promoting "The Princess Diarist."

Talked about struggles

Fisher spoke openly about her struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder. She also was an advocate for mental health awareness and treatment.
"There are a couple of reasons why I take comfort in being able to put all this in my own vernacular and present it to you," she wrote in "Wishful Drinking," after detailing her diagnosis and an overdose incident. "For one thing, because then I'm not completely alone with it. And for another, it gives me a sense of being in control of the craziness."
She also spoke knowingly about the life of a celebrity. In a 2009 interview with CNN, Fisher said she was reluctant to enter the entertainment business because she saw what it did to her parents.
"Their bright, white, hot star of celebrity was slowly dimming and fading and cooling. It scared me. I saw what it did to them. It hurt them," she said.
People mistake celebrity for acceptance or love and believe they can maintain some "fantastic level" of fame forever, but that isn't the case, she said. Seeing what the effect that reality had on her parents led her to believe that "celebrity is just obscurity biding its time," Fisher told CNN.

Family says thanks

Fisher is survived by her daughter, "Scream Queens" actress Billie Lourd, whose father is talent agent Brian Lourd. Her mother, brother Todd Fisher, and half-sisters Tricia Leigh Fisher and Joely Fisher also survive her.
Fisher was married to singer-songwriter Paul Simon for less than a year from 1983-84.
Fisher's representative, Nicole Perez-Krueger, issued this statement from Billie Lourd: "She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers."
Debbie Reynolds posted on Facebook: "Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop. Love Carries Mother"
Fisher's death is the latest devastating loss to the Hollywood community, which has seen a number of legends pass away in 2016.
She was, you could say, a force.

Secular Hollywood Quietly Courts the Faithful

The Rev. Roderick Dwayne Belin, a senior A.M.E. Church leader, stood before a gathering of more than 1,000 pastors in a drafty Marriott ballroom in Naperville, Ill., this month and extolled the virtues of a Hollywood movie.

“Imagine this clip playing to your congregation, perhaps tied to a theological discussion about our sacred lives and our secular lives and how there is really no division,” he said, before showing the trailer for “Hidden Figures,” which 20th Century Fox will release in theaters nationwide on Jan. 6.

The film has no obvious religious message. Rather, it is a feel-good drama about unsung black heroines in the NASA space race of the 1960s. But Fox — working with a little-known firm called Wit PR, which pitches movies to churches — sought out Mr. Belin to help sell “Hidden Figures” as an aspirational story about women who have faith in themselves. He became a proponent after a visit to the movie’s set in Atlanta, where Wit PR invited seven influential pastors to watch filming and hang out with stars like Kevin Costner and Taraji P. Henson, who spoke of her own struggles to succeed in Hollywood.

“I came away really interested in using film to explore faith,” Mr. Belin said.

On the surface, Hollywood is a land of loose morals, where materialism rules, sex and drugs are celebrated on screen (and off), and power players can have a distant relationship with the truth. But movie studios and their partners have quietly — very quietly, sometimes to the degree of a black ops endeavor — been building deep connections to Christian filmgoers who dwell elsewhere on the spectrum of politics and social values. In doing so, they have tapped churches, military groups, right-leaning bloggers and, particularly, a fraternity of marketing specialists who cut their teeth on overtly religious movies but now put their influence behind mainstream works like “Frozen,” “The Conjuring,” “Sully” and “Hidden Figures.”

The marketers are writing bullet points for sermons, providing footage for television screens mounted in sanctuaries and proposing Sunday school lesson plans. In some cases, studios are even flying actors, costume designers and producers to megachurch discussion groups.

Hollywood’s awareness of its need to pay better attention to flyover-state audiences has grown even more urgent of late, as ultraliberal movie executives, shocked to see a celebrity-encircled Hillary Clinton lose the presidential election to Donald J. Trump, have realized the degree to which they are out of touch with a vast pool of Americans. Tens of millions of voters did not care what stars had to say in support of Mrs. Clinton.

Are those voters also ignoring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep when they promote movies? Would they listen if it were a church leader telling them to buy a ticket instead?

Film companies can no longer afford to take any audience for granted. Despite a growing population, North America’s moviegoing has been more or less flat — not exactly what investors want to hear. 

Last year, 1.32 billion tickets were sold, up from the year before but down from the 10-year high of 1.42 billion in 2009, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. More troubling, cheaper and more convenient in-home entertainment options are threatening the grip that multiplexes have long had on young adults; the number of frequent moviegoers ages 12 to 24 has fallen for three consecutive years.

Hollywood is under pressure to reverse that trend. Churches may seem like an unusual path toward young people, but 41 percent of millennials engage in some form of daily prayer, according to a 2010 Pew Research paper. To reach them, many ministers have built vast social media networks. The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, a megachurch pastor in Baltimore, has 250,000 followers on Twitter. (His church also has a smartphone app.)

Studios used to sell movies by bombarding television networks with advertising on the eve of release. That tactic is still used for summer blockbusters, but it is expensive and increasingly ineffective in the DVR age. As a result, studios are aggressively trying to plumb niche markets that can be reached through word of mouth.

“Someone like Jamal Bryant, because he has such a prodigious network online, becomes a pipeline to other youth pastors,” said the Rev. Marshall Mitchell, a pastor in Jenkintown, Pa., and a founder of Wit PR.

In the coming weeks, Mr. Bryant plans to bring up to 300 parishioners to a Wit PR-organized screening of “Hidden Figures” in Northwest Baltimore. Afterward, Mr. Bryant intends to lead a discussion connecting the plot to a theological message.

“Most studios, to be honest, have no idea how to market to us,” Mr. Bryant said. “They’re still doing the Sammy Davis Jr. tap dance: ‘Look at me! Aren’t you impressed?’ Well, no, not really. But if you bring us into the tent, we are often excited to spread the word.”

People of faith and their sheer numbers — by some estimates, the United States has roughly 90 million evangelicals — are not a new discovery in Hollywood. Moviedom’s leading Christian consultancy, Grace Hill Media, was founded in 2000 by a former publicist for Warner Bros. 

Studios woke up to the power of the market in 2004, when Mel Gibson’s $30 million “The Passion of the Christ” came out of nowhere to sell $612 million in tickets worldwide. Sony Pictures has for years found success with low-budget religious films like “Soul Surfer” and “Miracles From Heaven.”

What is new is the aggression and sophistication.

Even in the wake of several flops — among them this summer’s “Ben-Hur,” which cost at least $150 million to make and market and collected $94 million — studios are working on at least a dozen movies in this arena, including “The Star,” an animated film about the animal heroes of the first Christmas. Last month, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced the introduction of Light TV, a faith and family broadcast network. Other media companies are considering the creation of faith-based streaming services, essentially Netflix for the pious.

At the same time, consultants are refining their efforts. Kevin Goetz, the chief executive of the movie research company Screen Engine/ASI, recently initiated a proprietary Faith Tracker that monitors moviegoing in a sample of 800 people — evangelical, traditional Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon and those whom he calls “spiritual but not necessarily religious.” It’s a tool designed to help studios understand whether their faith-based advertising and publicity efforts are connecting with the target audience before a film’s release.

An even bolder Screen Engine/ASI initiative involves a 1,000-member “influencer” service made up of movie-attuned pastors. Some of those will be invited to view unfinished films online, to offer feedback that may help filmmakers shape them and marketers sell them.

And film studios, desperate to assemble large crowds on opening weekends, have newly realized that religious Americans, if approached on their own terms, can be captured for movies that would, at first glance, seem to be an unusual fit.

Marshall Mitchell, left, and Corby Pons are partners in Wit PR, which pitches movies to churches. Credit Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Mr. Mitchell and his Wit PR partner, Corby Pons, have recently been hired to use their clergy connections to tout “The Magnificent Seven,” a Sony remake of the classic Western; “Sully,” the Warner Bros. hit about the 2009 emergency landing of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River; and “Rules Don’t Apply,” a period romance directed by Warren Beatty.

Last year, Wit even worked to connect an essentially profane tale, “Room,” about a woman held prisoner as a sex slave, with Scripture. “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” reads a discussion guide, prepared by the firm, quoting Psalm 13:1-2.

“If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss the times in your life where you have felt abandoned by God,” suggests the guide, alongside a photo of the film’s star, Brie Larson.

With the exception of crude comedies, the majority of studio offerings — even certain R-rated horror movies — have qualities that can resonate with faith audiences, Mr. Pons said. But the merits have to be called out. Otherwise, Christian audiences may take one look at mainstream marketing materials and decide that a film is not for them.

For instance, Fox broadly positioned “The Revenant” as bloody revenge thriller, but Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Pons emphasized themes of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man and honor versus greed. 

The R-rated movie collected $533 million worldwide for Fox.

“It’s amazing watching people in Hollywood discover there is interest in their content they never knew existed,” Mr. Pons said. “On the faith side, some people are surprised to learn that, hey, there is good content coming from studios. Hollywood isn’t always the enemy.”

Movie executives tend to view the Christian audience as monolithic. It is not, of course. That may be why “Noah” sold fewer tickets in 2014 than Paramount had hoped. The studio figured the big-budget movie about the biblical figure would attract religious viewers en masse, but “Noah” landed poorly with more literal interpreters of Scripture, who objected to the film’s depiction of fallen angels as “Transformers”-style rock monsters.

The increasing number of consultants arriving in Hollywood to help forestall such problems — for fees starting at about $300,000 per film and going up to $3 million — is also leading to gridlock at church offices. Some megachurch pastors, for instance, complain that they are being inundated with film-related requests.

“Nobody wants to feel used, and sometimes the movie business acts like people of faith are there to be turned on and off as the marketers see fit,” said DeVon Franklin, an ordained minister, an author and a producer of films like “Miracles From Heaven.”

Undoubtedly aware of that perception, studios try to keep a tight lid on their efforts, sometimes even insisting that no faith outreach is happening on behalf of a film, when there is actually a coordinated effort. Studios live in equal fear that obvious appeals to religious audiences will alienate more secular ticket buyers. Almost all studio executives contacted for this article rejected repeated interview requests, citing policies not to publicly discuss marketing strategies of any kind.

But the basic rules in selling a film are the same, said Jonathan Bock, the founder of Grace Hill, which has quietly marketed movies to spiritually minded people, including “Man of Steel.” “What religious people want most when they go to the movies, like people who aren’t religious, is to be entertained,” he said.

For decades, religious audiences had little tolerance for many of the movies produced by Hollywood. By the 1990s, when films like Quentin Tarantino’s violent “Pulp Fiction” entered the mainstream, the culture gap seemed unbridgeable.

But a pronounced swing toward family fare, helped by a growing overseas appetite for animation and PG- or PG-13-rated superhero fantasies, opened the door to new connections between Hollywood and faith audiences. If “The Passion of the Christ” showed that a mass audience existed for overt religious stories on screen, “The Blind Side,” a 2009 family sports drama about a young black man taken in by a white family, showed the promise of less obvious storytelling.

The $29 million film took off at the box office (ultimately selling $309 million in tickets). Mr. Bock and Grace Hill circulated film clips and sermon outlines to 22,000 pastors, some of whom preached its story of personal determination and racial conciliation. One suggested “sermon starter” involved a scene where the lead character, played by Sandra Bullock, abruptly persuades her husband to stop their car and offer a young man a ride.

“Has God ever nudged your heart?” the notes read.

Mr. Bock, who is Presbyterian, is credited with being the first Hollywood marketer to realize that churches had started to install enormous screens to use during their services, sometimes just to display hymn lyrics. More recently, $35,000 video walls have become more common in sanctuaries. 

“It makes church feel more contemporary,” Mr. Bock said, adding that ministers are becoming adept at “building vibrant social media communities that expand their reach far beyond Sunday morning.”

Sony’s faith-based unit, Affirm Films, has lately been working to tap Christian audiences overseas, an area that studios have largely ignored. “There are pockets of evangelical Protestants around the world, but it takes a lot of preplanning,” said Rich Peluso, a Sony executive vice president. “You have to develop a relationship with them.” In some cases, Sony has bypassed film distributors and made release deals for dramas like the prayer-focused “War Room” with Christian media companies in countries including Italy and Australia.

“People are sometimes surprised to find me, a conservative Christian guy, working in Hollywood,” Mr. Peluso said. “There are a lot of us, actually. More than people think.”

“Hidden Figures,” produced by Chernin Entertainment and Levantine Films for about $25 million, after accounting for tax credits, has been marketed with all of the usual Hollywood bells and whistles.

A trailer came out in August. In September, Fox staged a publicity stunt at the Toronto International Film Festival, showing 20 minutes of the film followed by a free concert by Pharrell Williams, who contributed to the score. Another trailer followed. Ads popped up on TV, billboards, bus shelters, websites. Fox, which is releasing the film in 15 cities on Christmas Day, also lined up a partnership with Pepsi and has backed the film with a robust Oscar campaign.

So why also employ Wit?

Elizabeth Gabler, the president of Fox 2000, the studio division behind “Hidden Figures,” said in a statement, “Corby and Marshall help to locate these important faith audiences and leaders who are hungry for aspirational content without feeling like they are going to church.”

Mr. Mitchell, 46, and Mr. Pons, 39, went to work early last year, reading the “Hidden Figures” script, written by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder (and based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book). They decided that this film, because it was not overtly religious, needed to be “poured with Dixie cups instead of buckets,” as Mr. Pons put it. Translation: Spread the word by facilitating discussion rather than hammering home a message through blanket ads in Christian publications.

“We see this as a healing movie,” Mr. Mitchell said. “At a moment when so many people — right and left, black and white — are arguing over what America is or what America isn’t, here is a chance to come together in a theater and look up, to space quite literally in this case, but metaphorically too.”

Wit PR operates with one foot inside Hollywood and one foot out. Mr. Pons, lanky and self-deprecating, lives in Los Angeles with his wife and is the five-person company’s primary contact with studios. He works from a home office. Prone to folksy sayings that charm the slick Hollywood crowd — “your cheese done slid off your cracker” is a frequent one and means “you’re out of your mind” — Mr. Pons grew up in the rural North Carolina hills, where his parents run the Christian Training Center International.

Mr. Mitchell, quick-witted and single, operates from an office near the historic Salem Baptist Church in Jenkintown, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb; he has served as the church’s pastor since 2012. He sometimes speaks with the fiery conviction of a preacher but has a secular background. His résumé includes a stint as a senior enrollment and operations official at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

The two men met in Washington. Mr. Mitchell, already at Wilberforce, had served as chief of staff to the Rev. Floyd Flake, then a New York congressman and now senior pastor at a Queens megachurch. 

Mr. Pons was a young aide to a North Carolina congressman, helping him to scrutinize public relations efforts around the Iraq war, work that ended up as part of a Rolling Stone exposé.

In 2008, along with a third friend, they formed a publicity company called Different Drummer. Mr. Pons and Mr. Mitchell split from that firm in 2014 and founded Wit PR, picking a name that is meant to convey smarts but also stands for “whatever it takes.”

That kind of gumption was recently on display on a Wit PR conference call. The principals were going through a list of “activations” planned for “Hidden Figures.” Mr. Mitchell announced that he had just arranged with two Christian sororities to bring students and alumnae together for “Hidden Figures” screenings and discussions on opening weekend.

“Through those faith relationships, we’re going to end up selling at least 1,000 tickets,” he said. 

“Delivering a measurable result like that is the goal.”

Michael Cieply contributed reporting.