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Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   May 22, 2003 at 2:26 PM   |   Comments

IT'S RUBEN!

Viewers idolized Ruben Studdard on the "American Idol" finale Wednesday night -- but just barely.

The 25-year-old singer from Birmingham, Ala., managed a slim victory over Clay Aiken -- winning a viewer phone-in poll by just more than .05 percent. Viewers heard "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest say the margin was 1,300 votes -- but CNN reported Thursday morning that Seacrest had misspoken and the actual margin was more like 130,000 votes.

That's still a hair's breadth, considering that more than 24 million votes came in on dedicated phone lines.

There might have been more votes cast, but some viewers complained they couldn't get through.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that some West Coast fans said they were told by operators that the lines had been disconnected. Fox executives told the paper that phone lines are often busy, but voters could have gotten through eventually if they were persistent.


AD BUSINESS IS PICKING UP FOR TV NETS

Network TV continues to rebound from an ad revenue slump, with heavier than expected advance sales for the 2003-04 season, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Reporting on the upfront ad sales market currently under way in New York, the paper said the networks seem headed for upfront sales in the neighborhood of $9 billion -- which would easily break last year's record upfront total of $8.1 billion.

Advertisers get substantial price advantages for buying commercial time during the annual May upfronts -- when the networks announce their prime time schedules for the upcoming fall season.


MORE MONEY FOR 'MATRIX'

"The Matrix Reloaded" has another box-office record -- the biggest first-week gross, with $151.9 million in its first six days in release.

The previous record was $151.6 million, set last year by "Spider-Man." The sequel to the 1999 hit "The Matrix" also reached $150 million faster than any other movie.

The Keanu Reeves-Laurence Fishburne sci-fi action picture set a record for the best 4-day gross when it took in $134.3 million last Thursday through Sunday. Its Friday-Sunday gross -- $91.8 million -- was the best for an R-rated movie and the second best ever overall, after "Spider-Man's" $114.8 million.


PRESSURING CBS ON 'HILLBILLIES'

Protesters gathered outside a Viacom stockholders meeting in Manhattan Wednesday to urge CBS to drop plans for "The Real Beverly Hillbillies."

The Washington Post reported that a dozen members of the United Mine Workers of America -- including union president Cecil Roberts -- objected to the idea that CBS would go on what Roberts called "a hick hunt for a bunch of Li'l Abners."

The notion of taking a family from the backwoods of Appalachia and plunking them down in the relatively luxurious Beverly Hills made for a smash hit in the 1960s when it was done as a fictional comedy. Roberts told the Post it would be unseemly to do that to a real-life family.

"In Beverly Hills, they have real jewelry and fake people," he said. "In West Virginia, we have fake jewelry but real people."

Roberts said he encountered Viacom boss Mel Karmazin at one point during the demonstration, and found him to be "very personable." He said he gave Karmazin a better idea then "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" for a reality TV show.

"I call it 'Executive Survival,'" he said. "We'll take someone like him and put him in a 30-inch coal shaft and see how he works down there. I told him I'll watch it every night. I guaranteed that."


MILESTONE FOR RAY CHARLES

Legendary singer Ray Charles will perform his 10,000th concert Friday night at Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Charles -- a 12-time Grammy winner -- has been a hit maker since 1957. His hits include such classics as "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Crying Time," "Hit the Road Jack" and "What'd I Say?"

The Los Angeles concert is one of some 200 stops on his current international tour.

Charles is one of the most decorated singers in music history -- with a Kennedy Center Honor, a National Medal of the Arts and five honorary doctorate degrees to go with the Grammys. He was among the earliest inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His most recent honorary doctorate came this year from Dillard College in New Orleans, where actor Jamie Foxx is currently on location shooting "Unchain My Heart," a feature film based on Charles' life story.


TAKING ANOTHER BITE OF 'CHOCOLATE'

Tim Burton is in talks to direct a new screen version of Roald Dahl's children's classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Daily Variety reported.

The paper said the Dahl estate has regarded Burton as its first choice to direct the project. The estate had been reluctant to approve a second movie adaptation of the book, said Variety, because it didn't like the 1971 version -- "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," starring Gene Wilder.

Burton is in the final stages of directing "Big Fish" -- starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup and Jessica Lange. It's the story of a many who sets out to know his dying father better by reliving stories the old man told him about his life.

Burton's next project -- as a producer -- is "The Corpse Bride," a stop-motion animation feature based on an Eastern European folk tale about a man who inadvertently weds a corpse.


BY POPULAR DEMAND?

NBC will rebroadcast "Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart," the top-rated TV movie of the 2002-03 season to date.

The movie, starring Cybill Shepherd as the controversial domestic diva, will get an encore presentation May 31.

"Martha Inc." -- based on the best-selling unauthorized biography by Christopher Byron -- was directed by Jason Ensler ("Behind the Camera: The Unofficial Story of Three's Company").

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