News for 12/11/2006

Columbia Picks Up Will Smith's Wife

Source: Variety

Columbia Pictures has acquired comic pitch My Wife Hates Your Wife, with Gina Wendkos ("The Princess Diaries" films, Coyote Ugly) to script and Overbrook Entertainment partners Will Smith and James Lassiter producing, says Variety.

Wendkos is writing with Smith in mind, though the actor won't make a decision until the screenplay is completed.

The story revolves around two couples who do everything together until the ladies feud and the guys must sneak around to continue their now-illicit friendship.

Once Smith completes starring in Warner Bros.' I Am Legend, he'll star in the Peter Berg-directed Tonight, He Comes for Columbia. He's next in theaters in The Pursuit of Happyness on December 15.

Weekend Boxoffice

`Apocalypto' top grosser: $15 million

Mel Gibson's Mayan epic "Apocalypto" debuted as the top weekend movie with $15 million, overcoming its extreme violence and the bad publicity from Gibson's drunken-driving arrest and anti-Semitic rant last summer.

The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Media By Numbers LLC are:

1. "Apocalypto," Disney, $15,005,604, 2,465 locations, $6,087 average, $15,005,604, one week.

2. "Happy Feet," Warner Bros., $12,904,413, 3,650 locations, $3,535 average, $137,932,841, four weeks.

3. "The Holiday," Sony, $12,778,913, 2,610 locations, $4,896 average, $12,778,913, one week.

4. "Casino Royale," Sony, $8,926,207, 3,161 locations, $2,824 average, $129,020,082, four weeks.

5. "Blood Diamond," Warner Bros., $8,648,324, 1,910 locations, $4,528 average, $8,648,324, one week.

6. "Deja Vu," Disney, $6,019,672, 2,742 locations, $2,195 average, $52,995,929, three weeks.

7. "Unaccompanied Minors," Warner Bros., $5,815,474, 2,775 locations, $2,096 average, $5,815,474, one week.

8. "The Nativity Story," New Line, $5,713,854, 3,083 locations, $1,853 average, $15,907,450, two weeks.

9. "Deck the Halls," Fox, $3,993,188, 2,766 locations, $1,444 average, $30,144,903, three weeks.

10. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," Disney, $3,254,729, 2,226 locations, $1,462 average, $77,184,019, six weeks.

11. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," Fox, $2,571,596, 1,594 locations, $1,613 average, $120,266,165, six weeks.

12. "Stranger Than Fiction," Sony, $1,425,717, 1,266 locations, $1,126 average, $39,130,729, five weeks.

13. "Turistas," Fox Atomic, $1,418,457, 1,572 locations, $902 average, $5,958,487, two weeks.

14. "The Queen," Miramax, $875,874, 628 locations, $1,395 average, $24,547,384, 11 weeks.

15. "Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj," MGM, $871,780, 1,979 locations, $441 average, $3,833,762, two weeks.

16. "Flushed Away," Paramount, $835,368, 1,048 locations, $797 average, $61,214,583, six weeks.

17. "Bobby," MGM, $568,805, 804 locations, $707 average, $10,453,287, four weeks.

18. "The Fountain," Warner Bros., $501,489, 636 locations, $789 average, $9,390,119, three weeks.

19. "Babel," Paramount Vantage, $456,581, 373 locations, $1,224 average, $17,605,771, seven weeks.

20. "The Departed," Warner Bros., $438,302, 355 locations, $1,235 average, $118,740,373, 10 weeks.

News for 12/8/2006

Spike Lee Joins 'Riots' Squad

Ridley will write drama for Universal

Director Spike Lee and screenwriter John Ridley will team up on "L.A. Riots," a drama about -- get this -- the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

According to Variety, the project is in the works at Universal and Imagine Entertainment, where Lee is also developing a sequel to his spring hit "Inside Man."

The April 1992 riots were sparked by the acquittal of four LAPD officers responsible for the videotaped beating of Rodney King. The riots claimed 55 lives and generated roughly $1 billion in damages.

It's unclear what narrative Lee and Ridley ("Three Kings") will weave around the riots, though the director previously worked incendiary riot footage into the credits of "Malcolm X."

Lee followed "Inside Man" with the acclaimed HBO doc "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." He has circles a variety of projects, including "Selling Time," as his next feature, though "L.A. Riots" may now move to the front of his queue with a possible 2007 production start.

Tyler Perry Pics Stay at Lionsgate

Source: Lionsgate

Lionsgate has renewed its commitment to its Tyler Perry franchise, acquiring the rights to the writer/director/actor/producer's next two films, Why Did I Get Married and A Jazz Man's Blues. These films will mark the fourth and fifth motion pictures in Lionsgate's Tyler Perry franchise. Yet another milestone in Perry's extraordinary career will take place on February 3, 2007, when the gala world premiere of his new film, Daddy's Little Girls, takes place at the newly launched Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. The announcement was made by Lionsgate President of Film Production Michael Paseornek. Perry is represented by the William Morris Agency and Ziffren Brittenham.

Said Paseornek, "We're very proud to continue our association with Tyler Perry, one of the most unique, dynamic and successful talents at work today. Tyler has achieved so much in such a short period of time, and we look forward to celebrating yet more successes with him."

Said Perry, "Lionsgate is my family, the home for all my movies and videos. And they've given me exactly what you want in a home: a supportive environment and the room to grow."

Perry's latest achievement is the historic launch of a 60,000 square foot, full service Atlanta-based production and editing facility called Tyler Perry Studios (TPS). On February 3, 2007, the studio will host the gala world premiere of Daddy's Little Girls, which opens nationwide on February 14, 2007. TPS marks the first time that an independent studio of this size has opened in the state of Georgia. The state-of the art facility currently houses three sound stages, as well as a 300 seat screening room and theater, and plans for a post production facility are in the works. Perry shot Daddy's Little Girls at the studio, and the first ten episodes of his new sitcom "House of Payne," which is being syndicated by Lionsgate's recently-acquired Debmar-Mercury syndication company.

The opening of TPS caps a watershed year for Perry, which included the release of his second #1 film, Madea's Family Reunion, the follow-up to 2005's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Madea's Family Reunion, which marked Perry's directorial debut, held the top box office spot for two weeks and went on to gross over $63 million domestically. In April, Perry's first book, "Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Life and Love," debuted at #1 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list and remained in the Top 10 for twelve weeks. Perry also conquered television as he created his first series, writing, producing and directing ten episodes of the first-run syndicated sitcom "House of Payne." A tremendous success when it premiered in ten major markets this summer, "House of Payne" will debut in national syndication in the fall of 2007 with 100 episodes already ordered by TBS and Fox.

For Why Did I Get Married, Perry adapts his sensational stage play about love, faith, and the joys -- and trials -- of matrimony. When a sexy young temptress threatens an already troubled marriage, a close-knit family rallies to examine their own marriages. In the process, they rediscover the precious reason why the one they have is the one they want forever.

A Jazz Man's Blues is set in the post-World War II South, where a young black jazz singer leaves his rural town in search of fame. During his absence, it's discovered that he had an affair with a local married woman. But all is not as it seems: the woman is actually his former lover and a light skinned black who has been passing as white. Her racist husband has no idea about her color or her past, and organizes the local Klan chapter to hunt down the jazz singer. Now a successful performer in Chicago, the jazz singer finds himself drawn back South to help save his mother's ailing nightclub and face his accusers.

'Dreamgirls,' 'Idol' Star Inks Record Deal

Hudson will enter the recording studio next year

Jennifer Hudson's peculiar journey from reality show reject to Oscar favorite has now led her to a recording deal with Arista Records.

Arista will get Hudson into a studio sometime next year to begin recording her debut album, by which time she may have made one of the most unusual transformations in recent entertainment memory.

Hudson is probably still best remembered from the 2004 season of "American Idol." Part of the diva trio that included Latoya London and eventual winner Fantasia Barrino, Hudson made a surprisingly early departure from the "Idol" field, a departure that spurred accusations of racism in the voting process from Sir Elton John of all people.

She resurfaces this winter in the key role of Effie in "Dreamgirls." Hudson topped roughly 800 contenders for the role, including Fantasia, and the Oscar buzz for her show-stopping performance is deafening. The film opens wide on Christmas Day, but Arista wanted to have Hudson under contract before that time.

"Jennifer is a vocal wonder, a tremendously gifted artist," says Clive Davis, Arista founder and BMG U.S. Chairman. "Her extraordinary voice gives her a signature sound and distinguishes her from every singer on the horizon today. Jennifer is a very exciting new addition to the Arista family."

Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Chicago, adds, "Clive Davis is a legend and I feel more than honored to be associated with him. Because of his vision and hands on approach, Arista already feels like home. I can't wait for us all to make beautiful music together."

'Beverly Hills Cop 4' Seems Necessary to Murphy

But does anybody else agree?

Generating Oscar buzz for "Dreamgirls," Eddie Murphy has decided that the perfect way to cap his new critical comeback is with a fourth "Beverly Hills Cop" movie.

This could be the most exciting sequel news since Sylvester Stallone decided to do a sixth "Rocky" film and perhaps the most exciting news ever for Judge Reinhold fans.

According to Variety, Murphy and producer Lorenzo de Bonaventura are eager to resurrect wisecracking detective Axel Foley for Paramount. The property is currently out to writers with original ideas for things to do with a fish-out-of-water cop.

While the first two "Beverly Hills Cop" films, released in 1984 and 1987, made more than $600 million worldwide, the third entry, released to critical disgust in 1994, limped to slightly more than $40 million domestically.

The trade paper reports that Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the first two films with the late Don Simpson, won't be involved with the fourth film.

In addition to the upcoming "Dreamgirls," Murphy as "Norbit" and a third "Shrek" film on tap.

The CW Orders More 'Game,' 'Heaven'

Although the CW recently bid adieu to its new drama "Runaway," two other shows will get their full run for the season.

The fledling network has picked up the back nine episodes of the freshman comedy "The Game" as well as giving a full season order for the long-lived family drama "7th Heaven."

"The Game," a sitcom about a woman (Tia Mowry) adjusting to life as a pro football player's live-in girlfriend (Tia Mowry) while juggling her med school studies, has performed well in the post-"Girlfriends" slot, retaining 95 percent of women 18-34. The show also stars Coby Bell, Pooch Hall, Hosea Chanchez, Brittany Daniel and Wendy Raquel Robinson. "The Game" is part of the Monday night comedy line-up that also includes "Everybody Hates Chris" and "All of Us."

"The Game" is only one of the two new shows that debuted on the CW this fall. "Runaway," a drama about a family on the lam, only lasted three episodes before getting pulled.

"7th Heaven" marks its 11th season on television and stars Stephen Collins, Catherine Hickes, Beverly Mitchell and George Stults. This season also adds Tyler Hoechlin and Haylie Duff as regulars.

News for 11/29/2006

Smiths Bring Laughs to the CW, ABC

Comedies about divorcees and challenging marriages

"All of Us" executive producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith intend to bring two other comedies to the small screen.

The celebrity couple has set up comedy projects at the CW and ABC, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

At the fledgling CW, the project conceived by Pinkett Smith will center on a group of divorced mothers living in the same apartment complex, told from the point of a view of a security guard. The stories will revolve around the women's romances coupled with the responsiblities of being mothers.

"It's about making lunch and making love," says writer Randi Mayem Singer, the creator of "Jack & Jill." "Single moms are nothing new, but it was the idea to set it in one of these communities that made it cohesive to me. The [apartment] development will be a character in the show in the way that New York City was a character in 'Sex and the City.'"

Both this project and the one at ABC have received script commitments.

Over on ABC, the comedy project centers on the odd-couple pairing of a conservative, upper-class black man married to a liberal, lower-middle-class Jewish woman. Their lives are further complicated by their rambunctious twins and their respective mothers-in-law who move in with them.

"All of Us" co-creator Betsy Borns will write the untitled project.

Smith next stars with his son Jaden in "The Pursuit of Happyness," which opens nationwide on Friday, Dec. 15. Pinkett Smith's 9/11 drama "Reign O'er Me" will hit theaters in spring 2007.

"Nine" deep-sixed at ABC

By Nellie Andreeva
The Hollywood Reporter

Fox has reduced the order for sophomore comedy "The Loop" by three episodes, while ABC has taken "The Nine" off the schedule.

After a soft start in the spring, "The Loop" received a surprising second-season pickup in May. Bret Harrison stars as the youngest executive at the corporate headquarters of a major airline who is the first of his friends to get a real job.

Sources point to Fox's limited shelf space as a major reason for the cut order. Fox has two more series -- the drama "Drive" and the comedy "The Winner" -- on tap for midseason, with David E. Kelley's untitled wedding project also targeted for launch later this season.

The low-rated freshman drama "The Nine" -- about the aftermath of a botched robbery and hostage situation -- has been taken off the schedule, effective immediately.

Seven episodes of "The Nine's" 13-episode order have aired. On Wednesday, the final night of the November sweep, ABC will air a special "20/20" in the low-rated serialized drama's 10 p.m. slot.

According to the network, the remaining six episodes of "Nine," will return later in the season. The decision mirrors ABC's move this month to bench the new drama "Six Degrees."

In its most recent airing, "Nine" averaged a minuscule 4.1 million viewers.

Weekend Boxoffice

Penguins romp over Bond at box office

AP Movie Writer

A dancing penguin was king of the Thanksgiving birds among movie-goers. The animated penguin romp "Happy Feet" remained the No. 1 movie with $37.9 million in ticket sales from Friday to Sunday, while the James Bond adventure "Casino Royale" stayed in second place with $31 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Over the Wednesday-to-Sunday holiday period, "Happy Feet," from Warner Bros., took in $51.5 million while Sony's "Casino Royale" did $45.1 million.

Disney's thriller "Deja Vu," starring Denzel Washington as a police officer bouncing back in time to try to prevent a deadly ferry explosion, led new movies with $20.8 million for the weekend and $29 million since opening Wednesday.

The 20th Century Fox comedy "Deck the Halls," with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito as neighbors feuding over excessive Christmas lights, debuted at No. 4 with a $12 million weekend and $16.9 million since it premiered Wednesday.

It was a sturdy but unremarkable holiday weekend overall, with the top 12 movies taking in $208.1 million from Wednesday to Sunday, down 3.4 percent from last year, when "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" took in $81 million to lead Hollywood to its second-best Thanksgiving ever. The best Thanksgiving period was in 2000, when the top 12 films grossed $232.1 million.

A flurry of movies debuted or expanded from limited release, led by writer-director Emilio Estevez's "Bobby," weaving together the stories of 22 characters gathered at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

"Bobby," from MGM and the Weinstein Co., came in at No. 9 over the weekend with $4.9 million.

Warner Bros. debuted director Darren Aronofsky's fantasy "The Fountain," starring "Happy Feet" co-star Hugh Jackman as a man who lives a 1,000-year adventure. "The Fountain" had a $3.7 million weekend to finish at No. 10.

New Line's "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny," with Jack Black and musical partner Kyle Gass in a spoof of how their folk-rock duo came to be, opened at No. 11 with $3.3 million over the weekend.

Christopher Guest's Hollywood satire "For Your Consideration" pulled in $2 million in its first weekend of wide release.

Debuting in limited release, Fox Searchlight's "The History Boys" took in a solid $100,721 in just seven theaters. Adapted from the Tony-winning stage play about British teens angling for acceptance to Oxford and Cambridge, the film gradually expands to nationwide release through Dec. 22.

While "Happy Feet" started out mainly a family film, good reviews and word-of-mouth pulled in more adults without children, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros.

Along with ravishing computer-animated visuals, the adult appeal of "Happy Feet" includes a positive environmental statement and wall-to-wall pop tunes reinterpreted by its vocal cast, led by Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Jackman and Robin Williams.

"I think it's just a good message, and it's just well made. And we all like the music," Fellman said. "Happy Feet" raised its 10-day total to $100.1 million.

With a 10-day domestic total of $94.2 million and a worldwide haul of $224 million, "Casino Royale" is on course to pass 2002's "Die Another Day ($161 million domestically and $432 million worldwide) to become the top-grossing Bond flick, said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Happy Feet," $37.9 million.
2. "Casino Royale," $31 million.
3. "Deja Vu," $20.8 million.
4. "Deck the Halls," $12 million.
5. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," $10.4 million.
6. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," $10 million.
7. "Stranger Than Fiction," $6 million.
8. "Flushed Away," $5.8 million.
9. "Bobby," $4.9 million.
10. "The Fountain," $3.7 million.

News for 11/22/2006

Weekend Boxoffice

Penguins narrowly beat Bond at box office

By Nicole Sperling

The dancing penguins beat out the new James Bond at the North American box office last weekend, though by a slimmer margin than originally estimated Sunday.

According to final figures issued Monday, Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet" earned $41.5 million for the three days beginning November 17, just ahead of Sony Pictures' "Casino Royale" with $40.8 million. The margin Sunday was $1.7 million. The weekend's other new wide release, the comedy "Let's Go to Prison," bowed at No. 11 with $2.2 million.

The films, despite their solid boxoffice numbers, were unable to top last year's numbers at this time, when "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" opened to $102 million and "Walk the Line" opened in No. 2 with $22.3 million. In fact, at $145.8 million, the total box office this weekend was down a steep 19% from last year's $180.5 million.

Both of the top-ranked films scored extremely well with audiences. "Feet," from director George Miller, earned an overall "A-minus" according to exit pollster Cinemascore. The PG film set in Anarctica's world of the Emperor penguins attracted 60% women, mostly mothers attending the film with their children. In fact, 56% of the audience was under 25, reaffirming that Warner Bros. hit its target audience solidly.

Sony's "Casino," which also earned an "A-minus" from Cinemascore, generated most of its audience from the over-25 crowd. The film, from director Martin Campbell, may be the best-reviewed Bond film ever. It's now the second-highest opener for Bond, behind 2002's "Die Another Day." Males made up 59% of the audience.

"Let's Go to Prison" from director Bob Odenkirk didn't generate much positive response from audiences or critics. Starring Will Arnett and Dax Shepard, the R-rated comedy earned a "C-plus" with audiences. Attended primarily by males, the film was best received by the under-25 crowd, though they still only rated it a "c-plus."

"Borat," the champ for the previous two weekends, fell 48% during its third round. The R-rated comedy from Fox earned $14.6 million, taking its total to $90.7 million.

"Feet" took the wind out of the family film holdovers in the marketplace. "Santa Clause 3" fell 51% to $8.3 million, while "Flushed Away" slid 60% to $6.6 million.

In limited release, Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation" debuted on 321 screens to a weak $410,804. Christopher Guest's improv-heavy comedy "For Your Consideration" had better luck, earning $372,012 from 23 screens.

"Bobby" opened strongly on two screens in New York and Los Angeles. Directed by Emilio Estevez, the film grossed $69,039.

Black actresses get a different casting call

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Talk to creative directors at ad agencies, and they'll tell you that when casting a role -- like the Meijer ad with the overweight black woman training for shopping on a treadmill -- race plays little or no part.

They're just looking, they insist, for the most memorable performance.

Yet stereotypes, experts suggest, mostly work at the subconscious level, both for the creator and audience.

Doubt that black actresses are routinely cast in ways different from white actresses?

Consider the following research from "The Black Image in the White Mind" (University of Chicago Press, 2000) by Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki.

Analyzing how women were portrayed in the 25 top-grossing 1996 films, their study found:

Black women characters used profanity 89 percent of the time -- white women just 17 percent.

African-American women were violent 56 percent of the time -- white women 11 percent.

Black women were restrained 55 percent of the time -- white women 6 percent.

Entman, a professor at George Washington University, cites the example of Regina King's role in the 1996 film, "Jerry Maguire."

The character, he says, has an MBA and is married to a millionaire football star -- yet still speaks like a woman of the streets.

"She's using language," he says, "that a white millionaire woman would almost never be shown using."

The subliminal message, Entman suggests, is that "even an MBA isn't enough to round those edges off -- of not being quite civilized."

News for 11/15/2006

Weekend Boxoffice

"Borat" still big at worldwide box office

By Dean Goodman

"Borat" led the worldwide box office for a second weekend, thanks to a boost in the number of North American theaters playing the comedy phenomenon.

The "mockumentary" about a Jew-fearing Kazakh TV reporter's eventful U.S. road trip, earned $29 million across the United States and Canada in the three days beginning November 10, and $15 million from 20 foreign territories, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday.

The film's star, English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, found himself in the unusual position of outranking three Hollywood mega-stars, Will Ferrell, Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt.

Ferrell's offbeat comedy "Stranger Than Fiction" opened at No. 4 with a respectable $14.1 million, while Crowe's new romantic comedy "A Good Year" bombed at No. 10 with $3.8 million. Pitt's ensemble drama "Babel" jumped 14 places to No. 6 with $5.7 million in its first weekend of wide release.

A week after stunning Hollywood pundits with a $26 million opening from just 837 theaters across North America, "Borat" expanded to about 2,566 locations in its second round. That was Fox's original intention for the first weekend, but poor pre-release surveys forced it to downscale its plan.

In the end, "Borat" did break out beyond twentysomethings and movie critics, and the film's hefty second-weekend numbers confirm that it has become a must-see event.

Directed guerrilla-style by Larry Charles, a former "Seinfeld" writer/producer, the film cost about $18 million to make. Fox is a unit of News Corp.

The No. 2 and No. 3 films were unchanged from last week. The Walt Disney Co. Christmas comedy "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" earned $16.9 million, followed by the DreamWorks Animation SKG-produced "Flushed Away" with $16.7 million. Their respective totals rose to $41 million and $39.9 million.


The unforeseen mainstream success of "Borat" and the surprisingly strong hold of the two family movies put a dampener on the opening for "Stranger than Fiction," in which Ferrell plays an everyday man tormented by an inner voice created by a novelist (Emma Thompson).

"Fourth is never what you plan," said Jeff Blake, chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution at Columbia Pictures. Still, he said the opening was within expectations, and exit surveys were bullish.

The movie, which cost less than $30 million to make, was directed by Marc Forster, the Swiss filmmaker behind "Finding Neverland." Columbia is a unit of Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news).

Crowe's "A Good Year," which already tanked in Britain, played primarily to older moviegoers, a crowd sensitive to movie reviews -- which, in this case, were dire.

The Fox release, directed by Ridley Scott, revolves around a frazzled British financial trader (Crowe) who savors the simpler life in France after he inherits a vineyard. The film is based on the novel written by Peter Mayle.

"Babel," released by Paramount Vantage, the arthouse arm of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures, has earned $7.5 million after three weekends. It expanded this weekend to 1,251 theaters, up from 55 last weekend. A spokesman said he was happy with the film's performance.

Also new was the horror "The Return," starring scream queen Sarah Michelle Gellar, which opened at No. 8 with $4.8 million, a figure termed "very disappointing" by a spokesman for its distributor, Rogue Pictures. Gellar's core audience of suburban girls showed up, and the Latino contingent was also heavy because of the spiritual content, he noted. Rogue is the genre unit of Focus Features, which is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal Inc.

CBS Will Split 'Jericho' Season

'King of Queens' will return in December in its place

CBS announced on Wednesday (Nov. 8) that "Jericho" will follow in the footsteps of shows like "Lost" and "Prison Break," splitting its season into two repeat-free segments.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, "Jericho" will have what is being described as a "fall season finale," which will conclude with a cliffhanger of some sort. CBS won't repeat the freshman drama and will instead bring the show back in February with all new episodes running for the remainder of the season.

The network says that the "Jericho" return will be preceded by a recap episode on Feb. 14. The all-new episode on Feb. 21 will flash back to the day before the mysterious nuclear attack that launched the show.

CBS doesn't play to entirely abandon "Jericho" during its 10-week absence. The network revealed that episodes will continue to stream on its Innertube platform, where it has been CBS' most streamed show. The show's website will also integrate new original content

In the place of "Jericho," which has averaged a solid 11.08 million viewers this season, CBS will bring back the comedy "The King of Queens" on Dec. 6 with back-to-back new episodes. Two more new "King" episode will air the following Wednesday as well, with single episodes airing at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 20 and Dec. 27. The network says that another seven new "King of Queens" episodes will air at some point in 2007, but failed to clarify, saying only that additional programming announcements will come at a later time.

Willis and Jackson in Black Water Transit

Source: Production Weekly

Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are set to star in Black Water Transit, reports Production Weekly.

Based on the Carsten Stroud novel, the Samuel Bayer-directed action thriller follows the divergent agendas of crooks, cops and lawyers as they clash over a shipment of illegal firearms, mafia ties and a double homicide.

In the film, written by Doug Richardson, Willis plays Earl Pike, a criminal who tries to get his family's illegal gun collection to a safe haven.

Black Water Transit is targeted to go into production February 12 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

News for 11/12/2006

Other Shoe Drops for 'Kidnapped'

NBC pulls ailing drama; remaining episodes will air online

The writing was on the wall for "Kidnapped" when NBC moved the underperforming drama from Wednesday to Saturday nights. Now even the wall is gone.

The network has pulled "Kidnapped" from its schedule for good, adding to the trail of failed serialized dramas in the 2006-07 season. NBC does, however, plan to air the remaining eight episodes of the show online at

Despite a big-name cast that includes Timothy Hutton, Jeremy Sisto, Dana Delany and Delroy Lindo, and reasonably positive reviews, audiences didn't go for the show, one of a glut of new serialized dramas on network TV this fall. Of the new crop, only NBC's "Heroes" has really broken out. CBS' "Jericho" is also doing reasonably well, as are a couple of more character-based shows, ABC's "Ugly Betty" and "Brothers & Sisters."

After "Kidnapped" averaged under 7 million viewers per week in its original timeslot, NBC first said it would cap the season at 13 episodes to give the show's writers a chance to resolve the story. It then shipped the drama to Saturdays, where its overall audience dropped to about 4 million, with similarly anemic numbers among adults 18-49.

With its exit, "Kidnapped" joins CBS' "Smith" and The CW's "Runaway" -- two other serialized dramas -- in the 2006-07 cancelled-show pile. NBC's comedy "Twenty Good Years" will also leave the air in a couple of weeks, though its producer, Warner Bros. TV, says the show is still in production.

Repeats of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" will fill the 9 p.m. Saturday spot for at least the next three weeks. There's no word yet on when the remaining "Kidnapped" episodes will appear online.

Inside Man Sequel in the Works

Source: Variety

Spike Lee and Brian Grazer are developing a sequel to Inside Man for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, reports Variety.

Lee is still in negotiations on a helming deal for the project, but he's already working with the original's writer, Russell Gewirtz, on a script.

For now, the pair are keeping their sequel concept under wraps, including whether it would involve the return of the original's main characters, played by Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster.

The bank heist thriller became the biggest-grossing film in Lee's helming career, earning $184 million at the worldwide box office earlier this year.

Keeping it unreal

Black British films today are expected to be 'authentic' - in other words, gritty, violent and humourless. But there's another truth, and it's time we saw it on screen, says Ken Williams

Ken Williams

Friday September 29, 2006


What is "authentic" in a movie? I've written a film set in London's urban music scene, and as Life & Lyrics went through development and shooting it was often suggested to me that the movie was not authentic enough. Why? Because there wasn't enough gunplay, and because the characters did not inhabit rat-infested environments. Of course, it's always a good thing for a film to feel physically or emotionally authentic, but whose authenticity should it be? Why is it that people who have a particular idea about what black British films should be use the word "authentic" to refer to their idea, as if it were a universally understood standard? Why does this reference to authenticity crop up so frequently in discussions of black films?

It made me wonder what it means to be authentic. Who is to say what is "authentic" and what is not? Is it a reference to a type of social realism? Is Bullet Boy, for instance, seen as authentic only because it depicts the problems of gun crime faced by residents of east London? Is that all film audiences want to see - our youth, caught in a spiral of hopelessness, slaughtering each other? I think Bullet Boy is a great film, but what about the other stories in east London that do not revolve solely around guns? What about the stories of hope and the potential of our black youth? Are they not worth filming because some might question their "authenticity"?

The question needs to be asked: are the words "authentic" or "authenticity" in regards to black film or culture simply bywords for mad, bad and dangerous to know? Isn't that what sells to the white middle class, the largest consumers of hip-hop both here and in the US? These people, we are led to believe, are mainly interested in seeing the grittiness of black urban lives in dark, foreboding and dangerous inner city areas. If a film about young black people is to be marketable, its characters need to be gun-toting, crack-shooting maniacs ready to kill at the slightest provocation. They need to be savage, strong, exotic, too dangerous and unpredictable for any long-term prospects but exciting enough for a brief dalliance.

The problem is that this interpretation of authenticity is completely uninterested in seeing the pride our youth take in themselves. It is not interested in seeing the colour and vibrancy of black youth culture or the strength of character, humour and humanity that runs through the lives of these communities. For the "authenticity" addict none of that is "real", and what is authentic to those of us who come from these communities seems to be irrelevant.

This fetishisation of a small element of society will probably take years to shake off. In the meantime, our communities will suffer the results of the stereotypes it creates in the form of the criminalisation of our youth, over-policing of our streets and disproportionate sentencing of our offenders. The band Funkadelic has a tune called America Eats Its Young. That sentiment could be applied to the UK where, unfortunately, young black men seem to be on the menu. Our musicians are forced to perpetuate an image created to sell records, because that is the only way they can be seen as "authentic".

In fact, the use of the term "authentic" or "authenticity" when referring to black stories is a means of trapping black British film within the confines of social realism - and a very narrow definition of social realism at that. I'm not against social realism. Some of my best friends are social realists. But are we being told, surreptitiously, that every film about black communities has to be socially realist when not every film involving white communities does? Does that mean we will never see a British film in which the lead character can be black without it being directly relevant to the plot? Are we fighting a losing battle to hope that in the near future we can go to the cinema to see a British horror movie or romantic comedy with black leads?

There are countless stories to be told about our communities and not all of them need to be firmly rooted in social realism to claim authenticity. Some, like Life & Lyrics, might touch on issues affecting the community, such as gun crime, without making them the central theme of the story. I believe black writers and filmmakers should be allowed to tell their stories without having their reality questioned. If I want to write a film about the lighter side and the vibrancy of my community, who is to say I can't?

The majority of black viewers, like viewers from other communities, simply expect a film to entertain them for a couple of hours. If there happen to be black people or stories they can relate to - or, more importantly, want to relate to - then that is a bonus. But I also suspect many black youths growing up in Britain would enjoy seeing a depiction of themselves that does not buy into the scenarios insisted upon by the "authenticity" addicts. And it is that group of viewers, along with youths from every section of society, I wrote Life & Lyrics for: young people, regardless of ethnicity, who want to look at the screen and see youths who are not doomed to a life of crime, failure and premature death. Will they like it? Who knows - we'll have to wait and see.

Is a film like Life & Lyrics authentic? It depends on your viewpoint. If, like me, you grew up among those who were often depicted as hopelessly lost in a cycle of guns, drugs and violence, knowing this is not the whole picture then yes, the film is authentic. If, however, you believe that a culture of guns and violence is the only thing flourishing in our inner-city areas, then for you the film may not be authentic. You'll need to go elsewhere for your fix.

Freeman a "Wanted" man for killer thriller

By Borys Kit
The Hollywood Reporter

Morgan Freeman is in final negotiations to star opposite James McAvoy in the sci-fi actioner "Wanted,"

The Universal Pictures project, based on a Top Cow comic book miniseries, follows a put-upon man (McAvoy) who discovers that his long-lost father is an assassin. After his dad is murdered, the son is recruited into a covert organization of killers and trained to follow in his father's footsteps. Freeman will play Sloan, the lead assassin who trains McAvoy.

The movie will mark the English-language directing debut of Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov.

Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby." He recently wrapped "Evan Almighty" and next appears in "10 Items or Less." McAvoy is in theaters with "The Last King of Scotland."

News for 11/6/2006

Weekend Boxoffice

'Borat' makes glorious earnings in debut

AP Movie Writer

Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh alter-ego Borat made glorious returns at the box office, surprising Hollywood with a No. 1 debut.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," 20th Century Fox's big-screen incarnation of Cohen's Kazakh journalist from "Da Ali G Show," took in $26.4 million during its opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"This picture was playing to full houses," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution at 20th Century Fox. "The planets aligned, the moons aligned, the stars aligned, and everything came together perfectly for us on this weekend."

Box-office analysts had expected Disney's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," with Tim Allen returning as St. Nicholas, to win the weekend. It was No. 2 with $20 million, followed by the Paramount-DreamWorks animated comedy "Flushed Away" in third place with $19.1 million.

With great Internet buzz and a built-in following from "Da Ali G Show," "Borat" succeeded where another cyber-sensation, "Snakes on a Plane," failed. "Snakes" opened last summer to modest crowds despite months of Internet hoopla.

The raucous, raunchy "Borat" follows the adventures of British comedian Cohen's TV journalist from Kazakhstan in a blend of fiction and improvised comic encounters as he travels the United States, meets and mocks Americans and reports back to his home country.

"It is what you go to the theater for," said Hutch Parker, the studio's head of production. "You get that infectious, outrageous, interactive experience. There are people yelling at the screen, there are cheers."

"Borat" played in only 837 theaters, fewer than one-fourth the count for "The Santa Clause 3" and "Flushed Away." Averaging a whopping $31,511 a theater, "Borat" easily outdistanced "The Santa Clause 3," which averaged $5,784 in 3,458 cinemas and "Flushed Away," which averaged $5,152 in 3,707 theaters.

Fox plans to expand "Borat" to as many as 2,500 theaters this Friday.

"The Santa Clause 3" pits Allen's St. Nick against Jack Frost (Martin Short) as they battle for control of Christmas. "Flushed Away" features the voices of Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet in the story of a pampered pet mouse forced to make his way among sewer rats.

The two movies split the family audience, but their opening weekends were solid starts for the holiday season. Disney and Paramount expect their movies to hang tough through year's end, even with the Warner Bros. animated penguin tale "Happy Feet" coming just before Thanksgiving.

"The Thanksgiving holiday is going to be just rocking," said Disney head of distribution Chuck Viane.

The previous weekend's top movie, Lionsgate's horror sequel "Saw III," held up solidly at No. 4 with $15.5 million, raising its 10-day total to $60.1 million.

However, the strong crop of new movies and holdovers did not quite stack up to the same weekend a year ago, when "Chicken Little" opened at No. 1 with $40 million and "Jarhead" debuted at No. 2 with $27.7 million. This weekend's top 12 movies took in $116.2 million, down 3 percent from the same period last year.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," $26.4 million.
2. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," $20 million.
3. "Flushed Away," $19.1 million.
4. "Saw III," $15.5 million.
5. "The Departed," $8 million.
6. "The Prestige," $7.8 million.
7. "Flags of Our Fathers," $4.5 million.
8. "Man of the Year," $3.8 million.
9. "Open Season," $3.1 million.
10. "The Queen," $3 million.

Underwood Seeks 'Treatment' at HBO

Wiest, George also join half-hour series

LOS ANGELES -- Blair Underwood and Melissa George have made appointments with HBO's half-hour drama project "In Treatment."

The project, based on an Israeli series of the same name, stars Gabriel Byrne ("The Usual Suspects") as a therapist who's great with patients but a wreck with his own shrink. George and Underwood will each play patients of Byrne's, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Additionally, Dianne Wiest ("Law & Order," "Bullets Over Broadway") has signed on to play Byrne's mentor, with whom he schedules a therapy session years after dropping her.

"In Treatment," which is executive produced by Mark Wahlberg ("Entourage"), among others, has a five-episode order from HBO -- but not a commitment from the network to put those episodes on the air. Instead, the premium-cable channel is treating the episodes as an extended pilot.

Underwood, a former "L.A. Law" regular, starred in the Tyler Perry movie "Madea's Family Reunion" earlier this year. His recent small-screen credits include a recurring part on "Sex and the City," NBC's short-lived "LAX" and a guest appearance on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" earlier this season.

George is best known in this country for her stint as the villainous Lauren Reed on "Alias." She also appeared in last year's "Amityville Horror" remake and "Derailed," and is currently working on the horror film "30 Days of Night," due for release next year.

Anthony Mackie to Play Jesse Owens

Source: Variety

Anthony Mackie has been set to play Olympic track-and-field legend Jesse Owens in a biopic to shoot next summer, reports Variety. Mike Jefferies and Matt Barrelle are producing for Milkshake Films, the company behind the soccer trilogy "Goal!"

The script by James L. White (Ray) follows Owens as he rose to international stardom at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Adolf Hitler watched him win four gold medals.

Danny Stepper will co-produce the movie, targeted for a summer 2008 release.

Samuel L. Jackson is The Cleaner

Source: Production Weekly

Production Weekly says that Samuel L. Jackson is set to play the lead in The Cleaner, a thriller written by Matthew Aldrich.

The project centers on Jackson's character Tom, an extremely hygienic man who uses this urge in his professional life as a crime scene cleaner. When he somehow becomes involved in a job he later finds out was a covered up murder, he gets tied in to a web of deception, that unearth his own family's long buried pain and secrets.

Seven weeks of filming begins January taking in locations around Shreveport, Louisiana.

Thomas Carter to Direct Robert Redford

Source: Production Weekly

Thomas Carter (Coach Carter) is set to helm an untitled feature about Jackie Robinson, written by Ali co-writers Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele.

Production Weekly says Robert Redford is set to play Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey in the feature that chronicles the breaking of baseball's color barrier. The story will track Robinson's upbringing in Southern California and center on the relationship between Robinson and Rickey.

Filming is expected to start in March.

News for 10/17/2006

Weekend Boxoffice

'Grudge 2' scares up $22M at box office

AP Movie Writer

Early Halloween spirit gripped movie audiences as the fright flick "The Grudge 2" debuted at No. 1, taking in $22 million during its first weekend.

Sony's horror sequel bumped the previous weekend's top film, the Warner Bros. release "The Departed," to second place. "The Departed," a mob epic from Martin Scorsese, took in $18.7 million, lifting its 10-day total to $56.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Universal's "Man of the Year," with Robin Williams as a political comic who's elected president, opened at No. 3 with $12.55 million.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred in the 2004 hit "The Grudge," returns for a cameo in the sequel, which features Amber Tamblyn as her sister, haunted by the same angry spirits introduced in the first movie.

"The Grudge 2" was not screened for critics beforehand, and those who did review it on opening day generally trashed the movie. Fright flicks tend to have a built-in audience of horror fans who show up opening weekend regardless of reviews.

"These movies are not critics' darlings. They rarely are," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "But audiences love horror. We've said it time and again, this is maybe the most consistently performing genre in the marketplace, especially right before Halloween."

With a strong hold from its opening weekend, "The Departed" is on its way to becoming Scorsese's biggest hit. The film is expected to surpass the $102.6 million gross of his 2004 drama "The Aviator," said Dan Fellman head of distribution for Warner Bros.

Two other new movies debuted in the top 10. The 20th Century Fox action thriller "The Marine," starring pro wrestler John Cena, was No. 6 with $7 million. "One Night With the King," Gener8xion Entertainment's saga of the biblical story of Esther, came in at No. 9 with $4.3 million.

The overall box office soared, with the top 12 movies taking in $100.8 million, up 41 percent from the same weekend last year, when "The Fog" debuted at No. 1 with $11.8 million.

In narrower release, Warner Independent's Truman Capote tale "Infamous" opened weakly with $435,000 in 179 theaters. The film averaged just $2,430 a cinema, compared to an average of $6,851 in 3,211 theaters for "The Grudge 2."

The movie, starring British actor Toby Jones as Capote on his quest to write the true-crime classic "In Cold Blood," received good reviews but was lost in the wake of last year's acclaimed "Capote," which covered the same period in the author's life and earned the best-actor Academy Award for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

"Unfortunately, the audience couldn't differentiate between the two," said Steven Friedlander, head of distribution for Warner Independent. "We're hoping if this one doesn't pick up theatrically, it can find a really solid video life so people can compare the two films."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Grudge 2," $22 million.
2. "The Departed," $18.7 million.
3. "Man of the Year," $12.55 million.
4. "Open Season," $11 million.
5. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," $7.75 million.
6. "The Marine," $7 million.
7. "The Guardian," $5.85 million.
8. "Employee of the Month," $5.6 million.
9. "One Night With the King," $4.3 million.
10. "Jackass Number Two," $3.3 million.

Terrence Howard Set for Iron Man

Source: Variety

Terrence Howard is set to join Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, reports Variety.

The Jon Favreau-directed film is the first to be financed through an arrangement that Marvel Studios formed with Merrill Lynch. Paramount Pictures releases the film May 2, 2008.

Howard will play Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes, the confidante of Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark. Rhodes, a high ranking military officer and aviator, steers the team that develops the robotic suit that allows the sickly Stark to fly around and battle bad guys.

In the comic, Rhodes' character gets his own armored suit and evolves into an occasionally antagonistic character called War Machine. That development seems likely to be saved for the sequel, though, as Iron Man will battle villain the Mandarin when shooting begins in February in L.A.

"The suit is purely an innovative creation, so this is Marvel meets Tom Clancy technology," Marvel Studios production president Kevin Feige said. "Having the best actors for the key roles allows them to inhabit the hyperkinetic reality of this world."

Will Smith Brings Drama to CBS

CDC-set medical pilot will be produced by Smith and Pinkett Smith

"Smith," the series, may be dead, but that doesn't mean CBS can't seek out a new show from Smith, Will.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS has given a put pilot commitment to a medical drama from Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The show, set at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be produced through Smith's Overbrook Entertainment shingle and CBS Paramount Network TV.

Smith and Pinkett Smith came up with the initial premise and will produce the series along with Jan Nash and Jennifer Levin ("Without a Trace"). Naturally, the show will revolve around a group of CDC docs who fight all manner of terrifying infectious diseases.

The first series effort for Overbrook was "All of Us," which recently moved from UPN to The CW for its fourth season.

News for 10/8/2006

Jeffrey Wright to Die Hard?

Source: is reporting that Jeffrey Wright (upcoming Casino Royale, Syriana) has been cast as the villain in 20th Century Fox's Live Free or Die Hard, currently filming in Baltimore.

The fourth film of the action franchise will feature John McClane (Bruce Willis) attempting to stop a techno-terrorist from shutting down the nation's computer systems on the Fourth of July. The story takes place around Washington, D.C.

Justin Long and Maggie Q co-star in the Len Wiseman-directed film, hitting theaters on June 29.

Howard and Brewer Reunite on Pride Biopic

Source: Variety

Hustle & Flow duo Terrence Howard and director Craig Brewer are reuniting at Paramount Pictures on a biopic of singer Charley Pride, reports Variety.

As Joaquin Phoenix did in Walk the Line, Howard will sing the country icon's songs and play guitar in the drama.

The film will showcase Pride's relationship with Rozene, whom he met when he was playing for the Memphis Red Sox. While Pride racked up 36 No. 1 hits, Rozene's financial acumen and real estate investments made them fantastically wealthy.

'Girlfriends' feels left out of the clique

The long-running show has a new time slot and a new network. But its creator wishes the CW would tout it more.

By Greg Braxton
Times Staff Writer

When it comes to on- and off-screen drama, it's hard to beat the comedy "Girlfriends."

As "Girlfriends" launches its seventh season at 8 p.m. on Sunday, its creator is biting the hand that programs the show — the new CW network — saying she's not feeling the love. The network denies the charge, saying it has much love. One of its core stars dropped out unexpectedly at the end of last season and has turned down pleas to make a farewell appearance. And the first episode of the season begins not with a joke but with one of the girlfriends jogging through the ruin and recovery of Hurricane Katrina-torn New Orleans.

The furor helps mark a milestone season for "Girlfriends," whose producers include Kelsey Grammer. The comedy is one of the longest-running series featuring a predominantly black cast since "The Cosby Show," surpassing the runs of ABC's "My Wife and Kids," Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show," and even NBC's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." "Girlfriends" is also the most veteran UPN series to survive the WB and UPN merger that led to the CW.

Moving from the 9 p.m. Monday time slot it previously occupied, "Girlfriends" is the anchor of the CW's Sunday lineup of African American shows that includes "Everybody Hates Chris" and "All of Us," while also serving as the springboard lead-in for its spinoff, "The Game," which premieres Sunday.

On the eve of the new era, Mara Brock Akil, the key creative force behind "Girlfriends" and "The Game," calls this season "an exciting challenge."

But she is troubled that "Girlfriends" was not included in the CW's "Free to Be …" billboard and bus-placard campaign hyping its programming. The push focused on "America's Next Top Model," "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars," while also giving a boost to "Smallville," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Supernatural," which have not been on the air as long as "Girlfriends."

Akil said she was concerned when she first heard that the show "was moving from the Monday night slot where we've worked so hard to build an audience…. I know [CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff's] financial purse is tight, but to move us without a billboard around town when we're going into our seventh season doesn't make me happy. Will our fans know we're on, or when?"

She said that "Girlfriends" "has never had a billboard, even though more times than not we've been the No. 1 show in black households." She continued: "That's not right. If I meet this challenge, even though our numbers may be small, I will consider them double what they are, because we would have done it without marketing support. I know it's the reality of the business, but I don't like it."

Responding to Akil's comments, a network spokesman said, "When you're launching a new network, there are countless marketing priorities, including an overall branding campaign, which featured every show on the CW. 'Girlfriends' is one of those shows, and we are very proud that it's anchoring our new Sunday night as the most-watched program on television by African Americans since it premiered in 2000."

And in an interview earlier this week, Ostroff called the series an integral part of the CW's strategy to attract female viewers. "When 'Girlfriends' was on UPN, it was still going strong," she said. "It's very important for us — it helps to bring in women. The show is so smart, and shows women in a realistic vein."

Making the transition even tougher for Akil is the unexpected departure of one of the series' main cast members, Jill Marie Jones, which caught Akil and the rest of the cast off-guard.

Jones' character, real estate agent Toni, was embroiled in several heavy-duty story arcs last season, which included a bitter divorce and custody battle, and a falling out with her best friend, restaurant owner Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross).

The departure of Jones and her refusal to make a farewell appearance still has Akil shaken. She said: "I would love for her to come back, but Jill doesn't want to return. I don't know 100% why she made this decision. She didn't tell me. All she said when we talked was that she felt it was time for her to move on. The door is not closed. We've asked her to come back and have offered different ways for her to return. But I completely wish her well. There's no drama involved."

Jones declined to comment. "There really is nothing to say," said the actress' publicist, Nicole Nassar.

"Girlfriends" will now deal with Toni's loss through Joan's struggles, said Akil. "We're going to show what it's like to lose a best friend and not have that last conversation to say goodbye."

That loss will be linked thematically to Joan's visit to New Orleans, where she went after her falling out with Toni and her other friends. The season opens with Joan jogging from the French Quarter to the 9th Ward, and was filmed guerrilla-style with a local crew.

Ross said: "The scene really opens the devastation that has been in Joan's life. We've always straddled the line between comedy and drama, and showing real life is what keeps our show fresh."

Akil said she knew it was risky to start the new beginning of "Girlfriends" with the sequence: "It's a little out of character with the show — it's not the conventional thing to do, especially when the story is not about New Orleans. This was our way to reach outside the box, and pay tribute to New Orleans at the same time. It's our way of saying we don't want people to forget what happened there. We can't delve into it like an hour drama. But I'm proud of the way we did it."

Braugher, Garrett Join 'Fantastic Four' Sequel

She'll play Frankie Raye, which is cool for Marvel fans, but nobody else

Beau Garrett and Emmy winner Andre Braugher have been added to the cast of the 20th Century Fox and Marvel sequel "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer."

The two new additions will join the central quartet from the first film -- Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis -- in the sequel, which is already shooting in Vancouver.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Braugher will play a general entrusted with capturing the Silver Surfer, as the beloved character makes his big screen debut.

Garrett, meanwhile, will play scientist Frankie Raye. Marvel fans will recall that in addition to being a love interest to Johnny Storm/Human Torch, Raye had pyrotechnic powers of her own thanks to a lab accident as a child. Raye becomes Nova who, among other things, serves as a herald to Galactus.

Viewers may recognize Garrett from a stint on "Entourage," but probably not. She'll next be seen in Fox Atomic's "Turistas."

FX's "Thief" recently earned Braugher his second Emmy, following a 1998 win for "Homicide: Life on the Street." His recent feature credits include "Poseidon."

News for 9/27/2006

Lenoir Boards Rush Hour 3 Cast

Source: Variety

Noemie Lenoir has joined the previously-added Max von Sydow and Hiroyuki Sanada in director Brett Ratner's Rush Hour 3, featuring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

The four-month shoot is set to start Sunday in Paris, where Tucker's and Chan's characters will battle a wing of a Chinese organized crime family. In a rare appearance in a comedy, von Sydow will portray the head of the World Criminal Court, while French actress Lenoir will be the love interest for Tucker's character.

New Line has set an Aug. 10 release date. The original Rush Hour launched in September 1998, and Rush Hour 2 opened in August 2001; the duo combined for nearly $600 million in worldwide grosses.

Weekend Boxoffice

Box office champ "Jackass" beats forecast

By Nicole Sperling
The Hollywood Reporter

"Jackass Number Two" outgrossed them all this past weekend, pulling in a massive $29 million and proving once again that young males often dictate box office performance, according to final data issued Monday.

The three-day number for the MTV Films/Paramount Pictures comedy was almost $1 million higher than the estimated figure released Sunday morning. "Jet Li's Fearless" opened at No. 2 with $10.59 million, in line with the Sunday estimate.

The other two wide releases didn't fare nearly as well. MGM's World War One aerial drama "Flyboys" was grounded at No. 4, grossing $6 million over the three-day frame, while Sony Pictures' political drama "All the King's Men" was struck down by the critics, reaping only $3.67 million at No. 7.

Overall, the box office remained down for a third weekend in a row. Ticket sales reached $98.6 million, a 1.3% decrease compared with the $99.8 million racked up for the same frame last year when "Flightplan" opened at No. 1 with $25 million and "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" grossed $19 million in its second weekend in release.

The "Jackass" sequel outgrossed the 2002 original by more than $6 million. It was also able to earn back its production costs its first day in release. Directed by Jeff Tremaine, the film reunites the infamous Jackass crew of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius and others.

The R-rated prank fest drew in positive results from audiences. According to exit pollster CinemaScore, the film received a B+ rating overall, with men making up 66% of the audience, the majority of whom were under 25.

Focus Features bowed Rogue Pictures' "Jet Li's Fearless" in 1,808 theaters. What has been billed as Li's last action role, "Fearless" stars the Chinese martial arts champion as true-life legend Huo Yuanjia. The film bowed well within expectations.

"Flyboys," from "Independence Day" producer Dean Devlin's Electric Entertainment, received a B+ in CinemaScore polling, with 89% of audiences giving it a favorable rating. The film attracted mostly males over 25 who were interested in the movie for its subject matter: young Americans who volunteered for the French military before the U.S. entered the Great War.

"All the King's Men" wasn't received nearly as favorably. Despite an all-star cast including Sean Penn and Jude Law, director Steven Zaillian's remake of the 1949 Oscar-winning film came in way below expectations.

The previous weekend's champ, Sony Pictures' "Gridiron Gang," slipped to No. 3 with $9.46 million, a modest drop of only 34%, while 20th Century Fox's "Everyone's Hero" also held up well in its second weekend -- off two to No. 5 with $4.69 million, down just 23%. By contrast, Universal Pictures' "The Black Dahlia" tumbled 56% (No. 6, $4.45 million), and Paramount's "The Last Kiss" 46% (No. 12, $2.51 million).

In limited release, Warner Independent Pictures had an incredibly strong debut with Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep." The fantastical romance grossed $347,925 on 14 screens for an astounding average of $24,852.

Sony Classics opened "American Hardcore" on one screen in New York to $18,102. The documentary about the hard-core punk rock scene will expand to Los Angeles next weekend.

News for 9/20/2006

Robert Earl Jones, 96, Broadway Actor, Dies

By Margalit Fox
The New York Times

Robert Earl Jones, a stage and screen actor and the father of the actor James Earl Jones, died on Sept. 7 in Englewood, N.J. He was 96 and a longtime resident of Manhattan.

Mr. Jones died of natural causes, according to Dale Olson, a spokesman for the family.

The senior Mr. Jones made his Broadway debut in 1945 in “The Hasty Heart.” Among his other Broadway credits are “Caesar and Cleopatra” (1949); “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1975); “Mule Bone” (1991); and the role of Creon in “The Gospel at Colonus,” a musical adaptation of the Oedipus cycle, in 1988.

Mr. Jones’s best-known film role was as Luther Coleman, the confidence man who is Robert Redford’s mentor in “The Sting” (1973). His other films include “Cockfighter” (1974), “The Cotton Club” (1984) and “Witness” (1985).

Robert Earl Jones was born on Feb. 3, 1910, in Senatobia, Miss. As a young man, he married Ruth Connolly, but they separated before James Earl was born in 1931. The couple later divorced, and the elder Mr. Jones did not come to know his son until the mid-1950’s.

In the 1930’s, Robert Earl Jones worked as a prizefighter under the name Battling Bill Stovall and became a sparring partner of Joe Louis. Moving to New York, he took a job with the Works Progress Administration and later found his way into acting.

Blacklisted for his political associations during the 1950’s, the elder Mr. Jones worked as a floor finisher and studied at the American Theater Wing in New York. He appeared with his son in several Off Broadway productions, including “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” (1962).

Mr. Jones’s second marriage, to Jumelle P. Jones, ended in divorce. In addition to his son James, of Manhattan, he is survived by another son, Matthew Earl Jones, of Chandler, Ariz., and a grandchild.

Brady Thankfully Doesn't Hate 'Chris'

Actor visits Chris Rock's neighborhood

Guess who's coming to dinner? Hint: It's not Sidney Poitier.

"Celebrity Duets" host Wayne Brady will visit The CW for the Thanksgiving episode of "Everybody Hates Chris."

The episode, entitled "Everybody Hates Thanksgiving," features our favorite song-and-dance man playing young Chris' (Tyler James Williams) Uncle Louis, Julius' (Terry Crews) successful brother who drops in for Turkey Day. The episode will air Sunday, Nov. 19.

The sitcom is inspired by comedian Chris Rock's childhood experiences about growing up as the oldest of three kids in a Brooklyn neighborhood. The show makes its season premiere in its new timeslot on Sunday, Oct. 1, kicking off The CW's night of comedies.

Brady, 34, currently emcees the FOX's reality show "Celebrity Duets," which pairs stars such as Lucy Lawless with the likes of Smokey Robinson. Brady's TV resume includes winning Emmys for hosting his own self-titled talk show, showing off his improv skills on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and making guest appearances on "The Drew Carey Show," "Kevin Hill" and "Chappelle's Show."

New Line Keeps Jackson in the Fold

Apparently executives still like saying the words "snakes on a plane"

"Snakes on a Plane" didn't make as much money as New Line might have hoped, but the studio doesn't want to lose touch with Samuel L. Jackson.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, New Line has given Jackson's new film production shingle a first-look deal. The two-year pact will kick off as Jackson hires a staff for the untitled company, which will have its offices in Los Angeles.

The trade papers says that New Line first broached the production deal after the release of the exhaustively buzzed "Snakes," which has only taken in $33.4 million domestically.

Jackson is no stranger to production duties, earning producer or executive producer credits on films including "Eve's Bayou" and "Formula 51," as well as Spike TV's upcoming animated "Afro Samurai."

Since Jackson never rests, the Oscar nominated actor has lined up a slew of upcoming in-front-of-the-camera projects led by "Home of the Brave," "Resurrecting the Champ," "1408," "Black Snake Moan" and "Jumper."

LL Cool J Is 'The Man'

Rapper-actor signs for pilot from 'CSI' creator

"CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker is branching out from the three-headed crime franchise with a new pilot for CBS.

Zuiker is writing a pilot called "The Man" for CBS that will star rapper-actor LL Cool J as an undercover cop who divides his time between work and looking after three adopted kids, each of whom has some heavy baggage. The project has a tentative pilot commitment from the network and sister studio CBS Paramount Network TV.

The show derives its title from the lead character's cover, an all-purpose fixer who can get anything you want. "He's the only honest man on the wrong side of the law," Zuiker tells The Hollywood Reporter.

LL Cool J signed a talent deal with CBS earlier this year, and the network's head of entertainment, Nina Tassler, asked Zuiker if he'd be interested in developing a project for the actor. Zuiker, who says he's a long-time fan, quickly came up with the concept for "The Man," and he describes working with LL as a "childhood dream come true."

"The Man" will be the first show Zuiker has developed since launching the "CSI" franchise, which has helped turn CBS into the most-watched network on TV. The original series begins its seventh season this week, while "CSI: Miami" starts its fifth and "CSI: NY" its third.

LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith) most recently appeared onscreen in "The Last Holiday." Other recent acting credits include "S.W.A.T.," "Mindhunters" and a guest appearance on "House." His most recent album, "Todd Smith," was released earlier this year.