Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Aug. 8, 2002 at 4:15 PM   |   0 comments

PRESSURE ON EISNER?

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, two powerful members of The Walt Disney Co. board are putting pressure on Disney CEO Michael Eisner to turn the company's fortunes around.

Disney's stock fell to an 80-year low Wednesday, following a downbeat earnings forecast last week and speculation that the company's credit rating might be downgraded. The Times reported that "key directors are increasingly impatient" with the company's performance under Eisner -- who turned the company into a media giant after taking over the top job in 1984.

Citing sources, the paper said two board members -- including Roy Disney, a nephew of the late Walt Disney -- are pressuring Eisner to lift the stock price and to be more aggressive about turning around the company's ABC TV network.

Jeffrey Logsdon, an analyst with investment banking firm Gerard Klauer Mattison, told the Times the board is now less likely to be "as passive as they have been historically." But Disney director Ray Watson told the paper the board as a whole supports Eisner.

"We have no interest in going out and bringing an unknown into this company and this difficult industry when we believe we already have the best CEO in the business," said Watson. "All companies are under a lot of pressure right now. His pressure is of his own volition, and the board is supporting him."


TAX BREAK FOR HOLLYWOOD

The California State Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill intended to fight runaway production by providing an estimated $650 million in tax credits to producers over five years.

The measure -- which will be heard next by the Senate Appropriations Committee -- applies to productions with budgets under $10 million. The wage-based tax credits would offer a 15 percent tax credit on the first $25,000 paid to each employee.

Opponents say the state cannot afford to extend a tax break to filmmakers, at a time when lawmakers are considering spending cuts and tax increases to close a $23.6-billion budget shortfall. Supporters say the tax break will pay for itself by helping to prevent movie and TV producers from exploiting favorable economic terms in Canada and other countries that have attracted entertainment industry jobs.

According to state analysts, runaway production has cost the state an estimated $650 million in lost revenue over five years. But the analysts also said that the tax credit may not have much of an impact on producers' decisions about where to film.

"The problem of runaway production is real," said analysts in a report on the legislation. "The proposed credit, much of which would go to producers who have no intention of leaving California, seems a blunt instrument to use in this battle."


BURIAL SUIT

A screenwriter has filed suit in Los Angeles accusing Time Warner Entertainment of stealing her original idea and turning it into the hit HBO series "Six Feet Under."

Gwen O'Donnell claims in the suit that she wrote "The Funk Parlor" in 1997 and registered it with the Writers Guild of America in 1998. According to court papers, the former head of original programming for HBO, Chris Albrecht, had access to O'Donnell's screenplay in 1999 -- several months before he invited Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball ("American Beauty") to create a show about a family that operates a funeral parlor out of its home.

The complaint said the family business setting is one of several similarities between "The Funk Parlor" and "Six Feet Under."

It said that both projects open with the untimely death of the head of the family, whose sons inherit the business. The younger brother in both families is gay, according to the suit, and both families feature a troubled younger sister with an attitude.

The suit seeks damages of more than $30 million for O'Donnell and the independent company that made a movie from her script.

"Six Feet Under" -- which has become one of HBO's signature original series hits -- led the rest of the field this year with 23 Emmy nominations, including one for best drama series.


STARS COME OUT FOR EMMYS

Producers have announced that Martin Sheen ("The West Wing"), Bernie Mac ("The Bernie Mac Show") and Jill Hennessy ("Crossing Jordan") will serve as presenters at the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 22.

Sheen -- who won an Emmy in 1994 for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series ("Murphy Brown") -- has been nominated for outstanding lead actor in a drama series in each of "The West Wing's" three seasons on the air.

Mac is nominated for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for freshman Fox series "The Bernie Mac Show." The show has also won a Peabody Award and two Television Critics Association Awards -- for outstanding achievement in comedy and an individual achievement in comedy award for Mac.

Conan O'Brien will host the Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, which will be televised live over NBC.


ACTORS MOVE UP AWARDS DATE

The Screen Actors Guild has announced that its 10th Annual SAG Awards will be presented on Feb. 8, 2004 -- one month earlier than the union has typically held the ceremony.

The move follows a decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to move up the date for the Academy Awards in 2004, from the end of March to the end of February.

The 9th Annual SAG Awards are scheduled for March 9, 2003.


ANOTHER SLICE OF 'PIE'

Plans are moving forward for "American Pie 3" -- a second sequel to the teen comedy that became one of the biggest box-office hits of 1999, and was followed by the even more successful "American Pie 2" last year.

Stars Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eugene Levy and Seann William Scott are onboard to reprise their roles from the first two "Pie" movies.


'LAMBS' REUNION

According to a report in Daily Variety, Paramount Pictures and producer Scott Rudin ("Iris," "Changing Lanes") have a deal with screenwriter Richard Price ("Ransom," "Clockers," "Sea of Love") to write something original for a project that would reunite Jodie Foster with director Jonathan Demme.

Foster and Demme both won Oscars for the 1991 best picture-winner "The Silence of the Lambs." Rudin has worked with Foster before, producing her feature directing debut "Little Man Tate" (1991).


DEMI'S BACK

Demi Moore ("Indecent Proposal," "A Few Good Men") has reportedly agreed to appear briefly in "Charlie's Angels: Halo" -- the sequel to the 2000 hit action-comedy starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.

Moore would play a former member of Charlie's elite team of angels, who has become an outlaw.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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