Friday, January 18, 2019

News Briefs

Displaying 31 - 40 of 3373
  • Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019
"Bird Box" Draws Viewership Of 45M Netflix Subscribers In 1st Week
Sandra Bullock appears in a scene from the film, "Bird Box." Netflix lifted the usually tightly sealed lid on its viewership numbers in a recent tweet that disclosed 45 million subscriber accounts had watched the thriller, “Bird Box,” during its first seven days on the service. (Merrick Morton/Netflix via AP, File)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

Netflix said 45 million subscriber accounts worldwide watched the Sandra Bullock thriller "Bird Box" during its first seven days on the service, the biggest first-week success of any movie made for the company's nearly 12-year-old streaming service.

Netflix, which typically refuses to provide viewership numbers, made the rare disclosure in a recent tweet as movie producers, writers, actors and investors continue to size up a company that has already reshaped the way the world watches video.

The first-week audience means nearly one-third of Netflix's 137 million subscribers watched the film from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27 — a holiday-season stretch when many people aren't working and have more free time. Had 45 million people actually gone to the theater to watch "Bird Box," it would have translated into about $400 million in box-office revenue, based on the current average price of a ticket.

But people were watching the movie on a service for which they already had paid and had the luxury of doing so without leaving their homes. That makes watching "Bird Box" more comparable to watching a television program, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

By that yardstick, the viewership for "Bird Box" is less impressive. For instance, the Super Bowl typically attracts 100 million to 110 million viewers in the U.S. alone. The annual telecast of the Academy Awards has drawn a U.S. audience of 26 million to 40 million in recent years. And those totals are for a single day.

Television viewership and theatrical box-office numbers also are calculated by third-party firms, unlike the "Bird Box" figure released by Netflix. The Los Gatos, California, company has steadfastly refused to divulge its viewership because it regards the data as a competitive advantage in deciding what kind of programming will attract subscribers. All Netflix will say about its "Bird Box" number is that it counted only accounts that watched at least 70 percent of the film.

  • Monday, Dec. 31, 2018
Judge denies Kevin Spacey's request to skip court appearance
In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Kevin Spacey participates in the speaker series in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
BOSTON (AP) -- 

A Massachusetts judge has denied Kevin Spacey's request to skip his appearance in court on accusations that he groped a young man.

The decision by Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas Barrett on Monday means Spacey will have to attend his Jan. 7 arraignment.

Spacey had argued he should be excused from appearing because his presence would "amplify the negative publicity already generated in connection with this case." He's pleading not guilty.

The 59-year-old Oscar-winning actor is accused of groping the 18-year-old man in a Nantucket restaurant in 2016. He is charged with felony indecent assault and battery.

Spacey's lawyer, Juliane Balliro, said in the documents that his presence in court would only "heighten prejudicial media interest in the case" and increase the risk of contaminating the jury pool.

  • Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018
Lopsided games, schedule drag down CFP television ratings
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) leaves the field at the end during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama defeated Oklahoma 45-34. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

Television ratings for the College Football Playoff on ESPN dropped from last season, dragged down by lopsided games and not being played on New Year's Day.

ESPN says Alabama's 45-34 victory against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night drew a 10.4 overnight rating, peaking at 11.8 early in the first quarter when the Crimson Tide jumped out to a 14-point lead. Alabama eventually led 28-0.

The network says Clemson's 30-3 victory against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl earlier Saturday drew a 10.3 rating, peaking at 11.2 when the Tigers scored with 2 second left in the first half to make it 23-3.

Last season, when the semifinals were played on New Year's Day and Georgia and Oklahoma went to overtime in the Rose Bowl, the games averaged a 13.9 overnight rating.

The best television ratings for the College Football Playoff came in the first year, when Florida State and Oregon played in the Rose Bowl and Alabama and Ohio State played in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015, and both games were competitive into the second half. ESPN drew record audiences of more than 28 million viewers and an average rating of about 15.

This year's semifinals topped only the second year of the playoffs, when the semifinals were held in the Cotton and Orange bowls on Dec. 31, 2015, a Thursday. Compared with that season, the first game of the semifinal doubleheader was up 5 percent and the second game was up 4 percent.

  • Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018
Longtime British comedy star June Whitfield dies at 93
Nov. 16, 2017 file photo of Dame June Whitfield after she was made a dame. British actress and comedic star June Whitfield, whose long career included memorable roles in TV series “Absolutely Fabulous” and “Terry and June,” has died. She was 93. (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA via AP, File)
LONDON (AP) -- 

British actress and comedic star June Whitfield, whose long career included memorable roles in TV series "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Terry and June," has died. She was 93.

Her agent said that she died Friday night.

Whitfield enjoyed a career spanning decades, appearing on some of Britain's most popular TV shows and earning generations of fans drawn by her wide range and impeccable timing.

She was prominent in the "Carry On" series and the sitcom "Terry and June" with Terry Scott in the '80s before playing a vital role in "Absolutely Fabulous."

Her time on "Ab Fab" playing the slightly odd mother of Jennifer Saunders' boozy character Edina introduced Whitfield to fans who hadn't been born when she started on radio decades earlier.

Fellow "Ab Fab" stars Saunders and Joanna Lumley praised Whitfield for the warmth and wit she brought to the hugely popular show.

"I will always be grateful that she agreed to be in Ab Fab and even more grateful that she became a dear friend," Saunders said in a statement. "She lived and worked with an extraordinary grace."

Lumley said she was "heartbroken to lose such a darling friend."

Whitfield's father was a telephone company executive and her mother an amateur actress. She once told The Telegraph newspaper she knew very early in life she wanted to be a performer.

"There was never one moment when I decided," she said. "I went to dancing classes and elocution classes and the appeal was simply that I loved it all."

She trained at London's renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and started her career in radio comedy in the 1950s, moving into TV as the new medium eclipsed radio.

She received dozens of honors, including being made a "Dame," the female equivalent of a knighthood. She received the honor from Prince Charles in a Buckingham Palace ceremony in 2017.

Her husband Tim Aitchison died in 2001. She is survived by their daughter, the actress Suzy Aitchison.

  • Friday, Dec. 28, 2018
Kevin Spacey asks to skip Massachusetts court appearance
In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Kevin Spacey participates in the speaker series in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
BOSTON (AP) -- 

Lawyers for Kevin Spacey are asking a judge to allow the actor to skip his arraignment on sexual assault charges in a Massachusetts courthouse next month.

The Boston Globe reports that Spacey's attorneys have filed a motion asking to excuse his presence at a Jan. 7 hearing in Nantucket District Court. The reason wasn't disclosed.

Prosecutors asked the judge to deny the motion. The judge did not immediately rule.

Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Michael Giardino wrote that Spacey's appearance is required under state rules for criminal case procedure.

The 59-year-old Oscar winner is charged with felony indecent assault and battery.

Prosecutors say he groped an 18-year-old man in a Nantucket restaurant in 2016.

Spacey's attorneys have not spoken publicly about the case but in a court hearing questioned the evidence.

  • Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018
Franklin attorney: $3 million in back taxes paid to IRS
In this July 27, 2010 photo, Aretha Franklin performs at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
DETROIT (AP) -- 

An attorney says the late Queen of Soul's estate has paid at least $3 million in back taxes to the IRS since Aretha Franklin's death last August in Detroit.

David Bennett, who represents Franklin's estate, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the estate is being audited by the IRS, which he says filed a claim this month in a county probate court north of Detroit.

TMZ reported earlier Thursday that legal documents it obtained showed the IRS claimed Franklin owes more than $6.3 million in back taxes from 2012 to 2018 and $1.5 million in penalties.

Bennett says all of Franklin's returns have been filed. He adds that the IRS is questioning the filed returns and that Franklin's estate is disputing what the IRS claims "was income."

Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in August. She was 76.

  • Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018
Stitch LA's Weston Cadwell Cuts "The Panama Papers"
Editor Weston Cadwell (l) and director Alex Winter
LOS ANGELES -- 

Weston Cadwell, who’s with Stitch LA, has cut his first feature, The Panama Papers,  a documentary about the unprecedented coordination of journalists from around the world, working in secret to expose the largest data leak in history.  This was a global corruption scandal involving fraudulent power brokers, the uber rich, elected officials, dictators, cartel bosses, athletes and celebrities who had used the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca to hide their money. The story cracked open a hidden network of tax evasion, fraud, cronyism, bribing government officials, rigging elections, and murder.

Stitch became involved in the Alex Winter-directed film through Dan Swietlik, owner and editor of Stitch LA, who worked with Winter on the feature documentary, Deep Web (2015).

Weston commented on how he landed the job: “Alex had a short film project, Relatively Free. In 2016 he came to Dan, and I worked on the film as a second editor. Alex and I worked closely together in the edit bay, I really got to know him and how he works and think we collaborate really well. I cut a short film with him a year later, Trump Lobby (2017), and then Alex came to us with the feature film and requested me as the sole editor. This would be my first feature film, so I was nervous to take it on but was honored to have the opportunity.”

This film was quite an undertaking as there was a huge amount of archive footage to get through, including news snippets, sound bites, conferences, speeches, not just contained to The Panama Papers themselves but to income inequality, shell companies, tax loopholes and the like. There were a lot of topics and themes to cover and Cadwell had to be fully educated and immersed in these fields. 

Given the amount of footage in the project, the role of the editor, and his relationship with the director, was of particular importance.  Winter shared,  “Really, a doc is made mostly by me and the editor, so, I was working very closely with Wes.  This was an extremely complicated story, with many disparate elements and characters to weave together and he did an incredible job, not only helping to make the film comprehensible but also emotional and dramatic.”

Cadwell added, “One of the challenges was just figuring out how we wanted to tell the story, there were a lot of moving parts to the journalists investigation, so we wanted to keep it simple and linear so the viewer could easily follow. I found it interesting that we kept our project secret the same way the journalists had to keep their investigation secret for a whole year while they uncovered everything”.

The film premiered internationally at the IDFA film festival last month and is streaming in the U.S. on EPIX.

  • Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018
Arizona man finds magic moments in TV show on uncle Houdini
This October 2018 photo provided by the Science Channel shows George Hardeen, the great-nephew of magician Harry Houdini, at the Magic's Theater & Museum in Austin, Texas. At 66, Hardeen is delving into the history of his great-uncle in a journey that is the heart of a new series, "Houdini's Last Secrets," set to begin airing Jan. 6, 2019, on the Science Channel. (Science Channel via AP)
PHOENIX (AP) -- 

Growing up, George Hardeen never thought too much about being related to arguably the most famous magician of all time, whose name is synonymous with great escape.

But at 66, the Arizona man is delving into the history of his great-uncle Harry Houdini in a journey at the heart of a new series on the Science Channel.

"We spoke to many collectors and historians. These guys live Houdini all the time," Hardeen said. "They know more about Houdini than I will ever be able to."

"Houdini's Last Secrets," which begins airing Jan. 6, follows Hardeen as he and escape artist Lee Terbosic explore the engineering behind some of Houdini's most legendary feats.

The Hungarian-born illusionist, who came to the U.S. as a child, generated headlines in the early 1900s for escaping from handcuffs, straitjackets and even a milk can.

Each of the four episodes focuses on a different stunt, including being buried alive and the water torture cell, in which Houdini was lowered upside down into a water tank with his feet locked in stocks. A stunt builder constructs the props, and Terbosic re-enacts the stunts.

"No one knows how Houdini did the tricks. So, we pondered it and came up with our own methodology so that Lee could perform the trick," Hardeen said.

Wyatt Channell, a Science Channel executive producer, said Houdini knew how to create a persona and hold people's interest but the program tries to look at him from a different perspective.

"Everybody thinks of him as an escape artist, illusionist and magician. But there was a ton of engineering behind what he was doing," Channell said.

The production company approached Hardeen about a year ago.

"I think, in many ways, the show is George's journey," Channell said. "George is really the one, as the everyman, asking the questions we all are wondering: How Houdini did these things."

It also touches on other questions, such as whether Houdini could have been recruited to be a spy. For that, Hardeen interviewed John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA and a lifelong magician and Houdini fan.

Hardeen's grandfather Theo Hardeen was Houdini's younger brother and an illusionist in his own right. George Hardeen's father didn't tell his son about his magical lineage until he was about 10.

"My sister found a piece of mail that came addressed to my dad, Harry Houdini Hardeen. He always went by Harry H. Hardeen," George Hardeen said. "That's when he basically told us."

The show has helped Hardeen learn more about the man behind the magician.

Houdini, who died on Halloween 1926 at 52, and other family members had an incredible work ethic and aimed to be the best, Hardeen said. Houdini ran 10 miles (16 kilometers) a day to keep his body in peak shape but also was a hoarder with a compulsive side, he said.

"It jibes with stuff my dad told me," said Hardeen, a communication consultant for an Arizona utility.

The show brought him to the House of Houdini, a museum in his ancestral home of Budapest, Hungary, where he hopes to take his three children.

His youngest daughter, Shonie Hardeen, said she would love that opportunity. The 24-year-old from the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff said the show has increased her interest in her dad's family and Houdini.

"Some people are from somewhere in Europe, and they can't pinpoint it," Shonie Hardeen said. "I guess it's easier for my family to figure out stuff because he's been written about for so long."

  • Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018
Bad headlines for Trump also means ratings slump for Hannity
In this July 26, 2018, file photo, Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity talks during an interview at a taping of his show in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

The drumbeat of bad news for President Donald Trump hasn't been good for his most prominent backer in the media.

While Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity will end 2018 as cable news' most popular personality for the second year in a row, he's been slumping in the ratings since the midterm elections and ominous stories related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the president.

His show averaged 2.76 million viewers since the election through Dec. 17, down 19 percent compared to the previous month, the Nielsen company said. Among the 25-to-54-year-old demo most coveted by advertisers, he's down 30 percent. Competitors Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Chris Cuomo on CNN are up in each measurement.

Maddow has been beating Hannity outright in December, a turnaround from October. During that month, when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation drama dominated the news, Hannity's audience routinely exceeded Maddow's by about a million people each night, Nielsen said.

"I think it's a reflection of the mood of his audience," said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University's communications school and a longtime NBC executive. "They can't be happy with what is coming out of Washington every day."

Hannity has been associated with Trump perhaps more than any other media figure. He was scolded by Fox for being called onstage by the president and speaking during a Trump rally shortly before midterm election. The Pew Research Center found in a 2014 survey that 83 percent of Hannity's viewers identified themselves as conservative.

With bad news piling up for Trump, Hannity frequently spends time criticizing ideological opponents in the media for the types of stories they emphasize, and discusses misdeeds by previous Democratic administrations.

"Even hard-core Trump fans are starting to put Hillary Clinton in their rear-view mirrors and say, 'it's been two years,'" Lukasiewicz said.

In a joint statement, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace touted the network's top status among all basic cable networks.

There's precedent for a news-related slump. Maddow's ratings sank sharply just after the 2016 election, as fans distressed by Trump's win took a timeout from the news. Her ratings steadily improved as her show became a destination for Trump opponents.

Ken LaCorte, a former Fox News executive who spent 20 years at the network, cautioned against reading too much into a few weeks of ratings. Pulling back for a broader view, Hannity's show will be the most popular on cable news for the second year in a row, with an average of 3.3 million viewers that is up 17 percent over 2017, according to Nielsen.

It's certainly possible that Republicans have been less interested in the news lately, said LaCorte, who is launching a news web site, LaCortenews.com, next month .

"It's probably more interesting to hear about the party you support taking over the House of Representatives because there are more interesting things to discuss," he said.

Hannity also has company. Fox's prime-time schedule as a whole, which also includes Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, has been down 20 percent since the election, Nielsen said.

Even with Fox's recent slump, the Trump administration continues to be glory days for cable news. Fox News Channel is the top-rated network for all of basic cable for the third year in a row, topping ESPN, and will finish with the highest-rated prime-time schedule in its history. That comes despite losing Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly from its lineup over the past two years.

MSNBC is third overall in basic cable, and is also on pace to finish with the biggest audience in its history, Nielsen said. CNN will finish 11th, and is likely to finish with its third-best year ever.

  • Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018
Joe Pusateri named GEICO's VP of marketing
GEICO VP of marketing Joe Pusateri (Photo: Business Wire)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 

The GEICO board of directors has promoted Joe Pusateri to VP of marketing.

He previously served as an assistant vice president in marketing; in that role, which he assumed last year, he oversaw analytics, direct mail, in-house creative and the advertising for the GEICO Insurance Agency (GIA), which offers homeowners, term life and other types of coverages. In addition, Pusateri headed GEICO’s retention marketing division.

Pusateri began his GEICO career in 2003 as a planning and research analyst in the controllers department. After working his way through the analyst ranks, he became a planning manager in the marketing department in 2007. He was promoted to planning and research manager a year later and to senior manager in 2010, with additional responsibilities for motorcycle, RV and boat advertising.

In 2013, Pusateri’s duties expanded to include responsibilities for military marketing and GIA programs. He was promoted to marketing director in 2014, a title he held until his election to assistant VP in 2017.

Pusateri has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Penn State.

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