I have just learned that Jennifer Lopez is having second thoughts about accepting a starring role in the upcoming motion picture version of the TV series Dallas — so much so that she just changed talent agencies. The rumor spread around Hollywood Friday that J-Lo was leaving ICM and hiring the William Morris Agency. Now I’ve found out why: the actress and her managers at The Firm believe that her appearing in the remake of the oldie-but-goodie primetime soap is a “bad move’ for her acting career. It’ll be interesting to see if J-Lo tries to un-entangle herself from the project, which is still in pre-production. Latest reports had Lopez accepting the juicy role of Sue-Ellen and John Travolta playing her husband JR. Lopez will be repped by WMA in all areas, including her music career. J-Lo has a recent history of changing talent agencies (and managers) as often as she changes outfits. (This was her third time at ICM; she’s been at Endeavor and CAA, too.) She’s the second major Hollywood actress in a week to leave an agency: as I reported the other day, Exclusive: Angelina Jolie Fires CAA!
So CBS thinks Reba McEntire is good enough to host the Academy of Country Music Awards live on May 23rd. (It’s her 8th time.) But CBS’ Les Moonves doesn’t think the 51-year-old actress-singer’s show Reba is good enough for his new CW netlet — even though it’s the highest-rated sitcom on the WB. (Background, see my Finke/LA Weekly: Moonves Kidnaps CW.) I’m told the show’s producer, 20th Century Fox TV was shocked to hear the CW doesn’t want the sitcom. That’s because, last year, Reba was picked up by the WB for two years. When news broke about the WB/UPN merging to form CW, Reba‘s executive producers informed the cast and crew that Moonves had sent word that he expected the new netlet would honor that deal. So the series’ shooting ended on March 14th with everyone expecting to be back in the fall.
But I’m told that, in mid-April, the CW execs told 20th they wanted out of the deal — the reason being that the show doesn’t attract “the desired demographic” the new network wants tuning in. (Translation: no to Country-Western yahoos.) 20th said no way, and that is where things now stand. It’s my understanding that, because of the old pick-up deal, it could cost the CW lotsa loot to make the show go away. Some believe this might just be a negotiation ploy to lower the license fee and other costs. But I seriously doubt it. Officially, the show is not canceled yet. But the cast is devastated, and the crew have been told to grab any other work that’s offered. I’ve also learned from some Reba insiders that the show’s season …
No one has been following the really sad Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times saga more closely, and more accurately, than Kevin Roderick at LAobserved.com. In a nutshell, the paper determined that Hiltzik violated its ethics rules, and stripped him of both his blog and his Golden State column. I just have this bit of news to add: I’m told that when the Pulitzer prizewinning Hiltzik returns to the LAT after his suspension without pay, he will be reassigned to “sports investigations.” I wish him well on his new beat (and I’m openly jealous, too, because that’s an area I’ve always wanted to explore). But is the LAT aware that there are even more opinionated, not to mention hostile, sports fans out there than political pundits? I have one piece of advice for Hiltzik when the nabobs natter: chill.
So tomorrow The New York Times‘ Pellicano probers focus on Universal Studios prez/COO Ron Meyer in their latest article. Not any wrongdoing by him, mind you, just his friendship and visits in prison with Anthony Pellicano. I’m not sure if the paper is trying to infer guilt by association, or to imply Meyer has something to hide, or to merely write something about the Pellicano case even if this angle hardly warrants a story worthy of the front page of the Business section. The only juicy stuff is about Ovitz, Pellicano and Meyer, but to be interested in that you’d have to know (and care) about the background of Meyer’s and Ovitz’s ruptured friendship. In any case, it’s an awfully long article for mostly old news (some of which was already reported by the Los Angeles Times. Yes, the LAT!). I’m told the NYT only did the piece after last week’s release of the Vanity Fair article and my posting here that Meyer was the unnamed “studio president” who donated to Pellicano’s kids when almost everyone else in Hollywood backed away from the fund-raising effort after allegations about the P.I.’s wiretapping hit the headlines. (“Studio Prez” Unnamed by VF/Pellicano Is Ron Meyer). I’ve learned Meyer was pissed that the paper was writing about him. That’s also clear from Ron’s angry quotes. ”Meyer bridled at being asked by reporters about his relationship with Pellicano. ‘I’m offended …
Two major Hollywood movies that help kick-off the summer silliness are shaping up as referenda more than recreation. That’s because the opening box office numbers for Mission Impossible 3 will gauge Tom Cruise’s viability given all that bad press he’s getting (most of it his doing). Meanwhile, today, the Vatican continued its anti-Da Vinci Code vendetta when a crony of Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to boycott the film. There’s always been an imbecilic debate in Hollywood whether bad pre-release buzz can harm a movie’s financial prospects. But that focused on the content or cost or production of the movie. Now we have a dilemma where outside agitation may negatively impact what is widely touted as two pretty good films. Which begs the question: Can MI3 and Da Vinci Code withstand Cruise cooling or Vatican heat?
The latest Vatican kvetch came from Archbishop Angelo Amato, the No. 2 in the Vatican doctrinal office. Addressing a Catholic conference in Rome, he called the book “stridently anti-Christian .. full of calumnies, offences and historical and theological errors regarding Jesus, the Gospels and the Church” and added: “I hope that you all will boycott the film.” The movie, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival next week and goes wide May 19th, is of course based on the megaseller which has blown out over 40 million copies. Despite the Vatican’s best efforts, Catholics clearly inhaled the book along with everybody else, so it stands to reason that they’ll take in the movie, too. Amato, according to Reuters, attributed the book’s popularity to ”the extreme cultural poverty on the …
There’s growing fallout from Vanity Fair‘s upcoming June issue article, and it’s not good for the mag. Given what I reported yesterday about Pellicano’s ex-wife challenging facts and quotes attributed to her (Kat Pellicano vs Vanity Fair), and today’s Variety story of denials by reps for Brad Grey, Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, the late Chris Farley and HBO (Names Take Aim at Pellicano Article), the obvious question right now is: Where were Vanity Fair’s celebrated fact-checkers?
Today, Daily Variety‘s Gabriel Snyder gathers denials from hither and yon. A Paramount statement says: “Specific allegations and statements made by unnamed sources about Brad Grey in Vanity Fair‘s piece on Anthony Pellicano are total fabrications.” Cindy Guagenti, who flacks Pitt and Sandler, gives Daily Variety this statement, “Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler and the late Chris Farley have never once engaged the services of Anthony Pellicano, either directly or through a representative.” Guagenti adds that none of the three thesps were contacted by the magazine before the story was published. And Brillstein-Grey’s Mark Gurvitz, who manages the Farley estate, tells Daily Variety, “He’s never once been involved with Anthony Pellicano in any way whatsoever.” Even HBO released a statement saying the timing was off by two years when the magazine reported that Grey had considered replacing …
I have just learned that Angelina Jolie has fired her talent agency CAA after 13 months there. This is a huge loss, the biggest in quite some time for that agency which has a history of keeping its marquee clients in the fold. Oscar-winner Jolie right now is inarguably the top actress in the world in terms of salary, talent and heat. And she’s just made the cover of People as “World’s Most Beautiful” (and stares out from newsstands every week). All CAA would confirm to me this afternoon was that “she is no longer a client.” CAA also told me that Brad Pitt is still a client. Before Angelina went to CAA in March 2005, Jolie was represented by just her manager at Media Talent Group. When she and MTG decided she needed an agent, she met with every major agency in town, then chose CAA. Presently, the very pregnant actress has been relaxing in Namibia with Brad Pitt and her two children.
Here’s my April 5, 2006 column: The Vulture’s Are Circling: CAA picks off NFL meat
Kat Pellicano, Anthony’s ex-wife who spent nearly 20 years together with the imprisoned P.I. and is the mother of his four children, has given me this exclusive statement to release today about the upcoming Vanity Fair June issue article Inside Hollywood’s Big Wiretap Scandal (VF‘s response is lower down…): “I did not give my permission ever to be quoted in the Vanity Fair article. In my opinion, John Connolly acted unethically when he reported the story. All the quotes and information supposedly attributed to me are erroneous. How dare he drag my children into this. Those events he describes involving my children never happened. I did agree to be photographed by Vanity Fair. But I never agreed to contribute to the article.”
The information in the VF article which she maintains is erroneous includes: that Anthony Pellicano ever began to think and act like Don Corleone, the fictional Godfather; that Pellicano’s son Luca was ever in his father’s office known as the “War Room”; that her eldest daughter ever used the word “asshole” to describe the P.I.; and that Pellicano ever wanted to convert to Judaism because “most of the lawyers in Los Angeles are Jewish.” About the latter, she maintains that the article misconstrued Pellicano’s motive. She says he wanted to do it because, since he was raised Catholic and she was raised Baptist (she maintains that she’s never been an atheist as VF claims), he felt their kids …
I know what you’re thinking: that Tom Hanks probably had his publicist or a Nobel Prize winner pen today’s literate ode in The New York Times to his makeup artist of 19 years Dan Striepeke on the eve of his retirement. Probably 99% of the time you’d be right about actors who byline something in a newspaper, but this time you’re wrong. I’m told by NYT sources that Hanks did indeed write it himself. In addition to being a great actor, great family man, and great guy, he’s also a really good writer, according to people close to him. Now you have my permission to hate Hanks because he’s so much better than all of us. And also for the fact that his new movie, the Da Vinci Code, is tracking huge, according to the numbers which Sony Pictures just received. (Like, duh.) Meanwhile, I’m told Hanks’ agency CAA congratulated the studio on the great tracking early this AM, prompting Sony to ponder, How the hell did CAA know it the same time as we knew it. No doubt, that will be the subject of a sequel.
Vanity Fair informed me this morning, in response to my questions on another matter, that last week the magazine’s contributing editor John Connolly “heard from the U.S. Attorney’s office who told him that they were obligated to inform him that Anthony Pellicano had threatened his safety.” Connolly has written several articles about the Pellicano scandal for the magazine, including this one for the upcoming June issue, Inside Hollywood’s Big Wiretap Scandal, and just contracted to do a book for Atria, an imprint at Simon & Schuster.
By my count, this is the third alleged Pellicano-connected threat against a journalist, the second against a Vanity Fair writer, and the first against a New York-based reporter.
I’m told that Connolly is taking this alleged threat “very seriously.” In response to my query, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said “we do not comment on private communications that come from or come into the office.”
In 2005, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged Pellicano, already in prison on federal weapons and explosives counts, with conspiracy to threaten then LA Times contract writer Anita Busch. The man he allegedly hired to do the dirty work, Alexander Proctor, already had been charged with one count of making criminal threats against Busch in a case filed in 2003. (Still unclear is who hired Pellicano.) At the time, Busch was working on a story about actor Steven Seagal’s alleged ties to the mob. On June 10, 2002, police were called to …
I’ve just learned the name of the “studio president” not identified by Vanity Fair who contributed money to an effort to raise $$$ for Pellicano’s kids when Pellicano was arrested in November 2002 — even after word of the P.I.’s wiretapping got out. He is Universal Studios President/COO Ron Meyer.
Also, I’m told the “producer” not identified by VF who also contributed is Madonna’s one-time manager Freddie DeMann.
VF reports that attorney Bert Fields spearheaded the fund-raising. But I’ve learned Meyer was that president of a major studio who told VF he gave testimony before the grand jury and recalled that Fields told him, “Anthony has no money, and he’s not going to be able to take care of his kids. A group of us should pitch in and do something for him.” It also was Meyer who tells Vanity Fair that he and Pellicano subsequently spoke, “[and] he gave me a list of people to call.” VF reports that the list numbered 20 to 30 people, and was a Who’s Who of Hollywood power players, including Michael Ovitz and Jerry Bruckheimer. Several of them promised to contribute, but as word of the wiretapping probe spread, the magazine reports that all but the studio prez — whom I’m identifying as Meyer – and a producer — whom I’m identifying as DeMann –dropped out. If you’re keeping a scorecard, you’ll remember that Meyer also visited Pellicano in prison.
My latest column is headlined Screwing The TV Viewers: The CW network is the bastard child of The WB and UPN. To tease you, here’s some of my scoop: How Les Moonves kidnapped The CW, won a negotiating advantage over Warner Bros. and seized sole custody of the netlet for business decisions and programming. Also, see this update: EXCLUSIVE: Moonves Manhandles “Reba”
“Sure, all those press releases back in January claimed CBS and Warner Bros. were supposed to be equal partners parenting the new bastard child of The WB and UPN networks. That’s how The CW got its lame name — ‘C’ for CBS, which owns UPN, ‘W’ for Warner Bros. What no one dared mention was how right from the beginning Moonves out-maneuvered Barry Meyer, the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, and Bruce Rosenblum, the president of the Warner Bros. Television Group. The Warners duo had been warned over and over to build in every safety clause they could think of to prevent the 50-50 partnership from becoming the ‘Les Network’ instead of the ‘Can’t Win Network,’ as wags now refer to it. Instead, they rolled over. ‘The deal should have been pretty straightforward. After all, no money changed hands. But Moonves was more aggressive. On tiebreaker issues, Barry and Bruce were folding …
My latest column is headlined Screwing The TV Viewers: The CW network is the bastard child of The WB and UPN. Here’s what I say about CW programming:
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of moviegoers can’t discern any difference in product after Universal Studios was sold to NBC, MGM/UA gobbled up by Sony, and Pixar bought out by Disney. But viewers of The CW won’t get to see UPN’s two separate nights of African-American-oriented programming (because that’s been halved) or The WB’s many family-friendly prime-time shows (because they’ve been axed). So two underserved network audiences who embraced the netlet duo will soon be served even less. That’s horrendous since it comes at a time when black, Latino, Asian and other minority faces are as rare on network TV as smart sitcoms.
Also dispiriting is the way that The CW cherry-picked the two netlets’ affiliates in major and minor TV markets around the country. That leaves those orphaned WB and UPN stations to subsist on syndicated shows, which are programming’s nutritional equivalent of pork rinds. When I pointed out how much worse the network landscape will be for viewers because of the above, one of the executives involved in the deal demonstrated that special sang-froid network suits reserve for any discussion about the airwaves being a vehicle …
My latest column is headlined Screwing The TV Viewers: The CW network is the bastard child of The WB and UPN. Here’s what I say about TV execs:
“Everyone loves Les. Fortune just sucked up to him. The New York Times Magazine recently smooched his ass. And Bill Carter’s new book, Desperate Networks, should be sharing royalties with the CBS president/CEO because it’s told entirely from his sexed-up point of view. Indeed, few media groups are more doting and docile when it comes to The Powers That Be than television critics and reporters (except for, perhaps, the White House press corps). The reason their reportorial foreplay with Moonves has reached orgasmic proportions right now is that the other network men in their lives are so obviously impotent. NBC hustler Jeff Zucker keeps blaming his own prime-time fuck-ups on his entertainment eunuch Kevin Reilly. Disney pimp Bob Iger can’t escape his biggest mistake: losing his hard-on for Susan Lyne, the ABC Entertainment programmer responsible for Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, and replacing her with Stephen McPherson, who hated Lost. The Fox guys deserve only sloppy seconds in terms of coverage — which leaves the TV press lusting after Les instead of mooning Moonves under headlines that tell the naked, and awful, truth about him. Here’s mine: ‘Moonves Kidnaps Netlet and Harms Underserved Network Audiences.’”
My previous column on Moonves from February 5, 2004: …
So everyone and their mother wants to do a profile on the Pellicano prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Saunders. But I’m told he won’t even cooperate with the legal paper Daily Journal, and they profile judges, for chrissakes. I’ve also learned he doesn’t even have an official bio ready. And I can’t find an online photo of him to feature here. It’s really astounding how this guy who has got Hollywood by the balls right now has avoided any personal publicity. (That rarely happens in this town.) Speaking of the Daily Journal, which unfortunately requires major moolah to subscribe to even online, staff writer John Hanusz has a not-very-surprising but seriously earnest story that the Justice Department and the FBI are pissed about those leaked memos quoted in two New York Times stories. Those memos were about interviews given the FBI by L.A. grocery (and soon to be newspaper?) billionaire Ron Burkle, Paramount Pictures boss Brad Grey, and Hollywood bad boy Michael Ovitz. Saunders notified the U.S. District Court judge in the Pellicano case, Dale S. Fischer, that her order to keep the memos confidential was violated — get this!– a week after those same memos were turned over to defense attorneys. Pellicano’s lawyer Steven Gruel strenuously denies he was the leaker. Well, we already know from Washington D.C. news of late that the DOJ doesn’t tolerate leaks to the press these days (as long as it’s not the White House doing the leaking, eh?) Oh yeah, subpoenas are definitely in the futures of NYT‘s Pellicano probers David Halbfinger and Allison …
I woke up at 6:30 AM to find an advance copy of the latest Vanity Fair Pellicano article in my email. It’s juicy! So I began posting about it right away to give you a sneak peek. By special correspondent Bryan Burrough and contributing editor John Connolly in the June issue of Vanity Fair, it hits newsstands in NY and LA on May 3. Here are the highlights:
VF: Brad Grey Used Pellicano for Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, and the late Chris Farley
VF: Pellicano Almost Became Jew for Bert Fields
VF: Ovitz Was Pellicano’s Most VIP Client
VF: Brad Grey Wanted to Replace Sopranos with “Pellicanos” When Gandolfini Walked
VF: H’wood Raised $$$ for Pellicano’s Kids
VF: Pellicano’s Wiretap War Room: “We Could Do Anything We Wanted To You”
VF: “310″ Easiest Wiretap for Pellicano…
In a series of interviews with Vanity Fair, Tarita Virtue, Pellicano’s former executive vice president, describes in detail what has been called “the secret heart of Pellicano’s business,” a small, locked office that held his elaborate wiretapping set-up that he referred to as the “War Room.” Virtue says that only she, Pellicano, and Kevin Kachikian—a computer programmer who created software to intercept telephone calls—had access to the room, whose only furnishings were five Macintosh computers lined up and a row of filing cabinets. Pellicano and Virtue alone had codes to use the Macs.
Kachikian’s software, which included a program called “Telesleuth,” could graph a recording’s volume, Virtue says, so Pellicano could go directly to a conversation in which a voice was raised—oftentimes the signal that something emotional was being discussed.
Wiretapping gave Pellicano ready access to a trove of personal info, including credit-card numbers and secret passwords. “We had anything we wanted,” says a former employee. “We could do anything we wanted to you.”
To cover up his own indiscretions, Pellicano re-doubled his security systems to safeguard the War Room. There were security cameras throughout the office, and internal doors could be opened only with pass codes.
According to Vanity Fair, Pellicano’s wiretapping apparatus had been described in detail for the F.B.I. nearly a year before the incident in which he harassed reporter Anita Busch. According to several sources, Sarit Shafrir had been in cahoots with men who used Pellicano, and she had personally heard some of the wiretaps. When the men allegedly …
Pellicano feared he might lose his business after he received $2 million from Michael Jackson (as well as a Mercedes) for spearheading his defense against that molestation charge in the early 90s. After Pellicano reported only $1 million of the payment to the I.R.S. as a loan, he received a notice from the government. An employee tells Vanity Fair: “I remember one morning when he opened his mail with the letter from the I.R.S., he jumped on his desk and started screaming, ‘Abandon ship! Abandon ship! We’re out of business!’ Women were crying and screaming in the office. Fortunately, Rich DiSabatino was in the office and pulled him aside and calmed him down. I understand it took him a few years to pay off the I.R.S.”
Vanity Fair reports that Pellicano’s operation had one drawback: the Macs could receive wiretap recordings only from their own 310 area code. To tap phones in the 323, 213, 626, and 818 area codes, Pellicano had to rent an apartment in each area code where he could stash a Macintosh and a detachable hard drive. When one of these computers was used, Pellicano would switch out the hard drive every few days, bring it to his office, and download the recordings.