HOLLYWOOD ECONOMY DOWN
Hollywood woke up to a cold shower Friday morning, in the form of two stories on the Los Angeles Times business page spelling out how bad business is for the entertainment industry.
The paper reported that employment in movie, TV and video production in Los Angeles is at a four-year low, largely because "industry jitters following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have exacerbated an already strange economic year for Hollywood."
Production cutbacks and delays by major studios are having an adverse effect throughout the industry, now resulting in layoffs at smaller companies that provide a wide range of services and equipment to the movie and TV industry.
Gabe Videla, president of Special Effects Unlimited, told the paper many in the industry were expecting production to pick up in September -- following a slowdown caused by last year's commercials strike by actors and this year's decision by studios to stockpile product going into contract talks with actors and writers.
"And then all of the sudden the World Trade Center happened," said Videla, "and we got hit below the knees."
According to employment statistics provided by the State of California, September turned out to be Hollywood's slowest month since June 1997.
At the same time, Sony Pictures Entertainment has confirmed that it will close up shop on its TV network production division and lay off about 20 percent of the people who work at its domestic TV operation.
The Times called the decision one of a series of cost-cutting moves by major TV production companies, intended to reduce overhead as advertising revenues continue to dwindle and programming costs continue to rise.
Sony said it will continue to produce the shows it is already making, including "The King of Queens" and "Dawson's Creek."
MAYBE THEY SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING?
Producers of "Crossing Over with John Edward" have decided not to go forward with previously announced plans to air a series of shows during the November sweeps in which the TV psychic tries to communicate with people who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The show, produced by Studios USA, airs on the Sci Fi Channel and in syndication in markets throughout the country.
Edward had already taped some conversations with survivors of people who died at the World Trade Center, and an executive of Studios USA told Broadcasting & Cable magazine this week that the shows would "be done tastefully ... and won't be exploitative."
The executive said it was not Edward's idea to try to communicate with the souls of terror victims -- it was first suggested by relatives of the victims.
But Jim Benson -- a spokesman for Studios USA -- said the programming executive's comment had been premature. Benson told Daily Variety that producers have decided the subject matter is too touchy to show on TV.
"None of those episodes will be aired," said Benson. "We had considered it, but it's too good of a show to take a chance in offending any audience, and we decided against it."
Producers issued a statement saying the show has been "inundated with calls and pleas for readings from grieving families of the World Trade Center victims looking for comfort and closure." The statement said "many of these reading have been done privately and will continue to be done privately."
A-LIST STAR SPEAKS UP FOR UNKNOWN ACTORS IN UNION TIFF
George Clooney is speaking up on behalf of three actors who were kicked out of the Screen Actors Guild for violating the union's "Rule One" by auditioning for or working on struck commercials during the guild's six-month commercials strike last year.
The union expelled Southern California area members Gerry Donato and Mario Barbieri Cecchini and New York area member Robert Kalomeer. According to various published reports, Clooney has told officers of his union that the punishment does not fit the crime.
Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods were fined $100,000 each for what Clooney argues is essentially the same offense. Shaquille O'Neal was busted for a similar offense, but his case never went before a SAG trial boards.
Clooney reportedly offered to pay fines for the three no-name actors and urged SAG to reconsider their expulsion.
Union spokesman Greg Krizman denied that SAG enforces its rules differently, according to the celebrity of the accused.
"Our membership has been firm in its resolve to provide member benefits only to those performers who stood in solidarity with the guild during the strike," said SAG spokesman Greg Krizman.
Krizman told UPI the termination of the three actors' membership is final, and that he is not aware of any provision that would allow the actors to join the union again at some future date.
HONORS FOR NBC ENTERTAINMENT CHIEF
The Alliance for Children's Rights will present its National Champion for Children Award to NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker at a dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., Monday night.
The Alliance for Children's Rights is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to children living in poverty. Zucker joins a list of honorees that includes Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow and UPN Television president-CEO Dean Valentine.
'SMALLVILLE' TAKES OFF
Pleased with its acceptance in the marketplace in two weeks on the air, the WB has ordered nine more episodes of "Smallville" -- the new series that focuses on the life of Superman as a teenager.
That means 22 episodes will be produced.
"Smallville" has averaged 7.8 million viewers in its first two weeks on the WB.
Putting a new twist on Man of Steel's traditional image, the show has Clark Kent in civilian clothes -- no cape, no tights -- as he struggles simultaneously with the nature of his own true identity and his passage from boyhood to manhood. This version of Clark (Kal-El) has super strength, but he does not fly.
The Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced grants totaling $250,000 to 14 U.S. film festivals next year.
Four festivals will receive $30,000 each -- the Chicago International Children's Film Festival; the Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu; the Mill Valley, Calif., Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.
Two festivals will receive $20,000 -- the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Asian Film Festival.
Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival will receive $15,000 each. Six festivals -- including the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York and the Washington, D.C., Jewish Film Festival -- will receive $10,000 each.
MCDOWELL'S RETURN ENGAGEMENT
Malcolm McDowell will do double duty at this year's Ojai Film Festival in Ojai, Calif. -- helping to kick off the event's second year and appearing in two movies being screened at the festival, scheduled to run Nov. 8-12.
The festival will screen the 1991 Russian film, "Tsareubijtsa" ("The Assassin of the Tsar"), the story of a patient in a modern day mental institution who believes he assassinated Tsar Alexander in 1881 and Tsar Nicolas II in 1918.
McDowell will also appear onscreen at Ojai in "Gangster No. 1." The account of the life and times of a ruthless English gangster is a competing entry at the festival.
McDowell -- who starred in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971 -- appeared in July at an Ojai Film Festival benefit screening of "Kubrick: A Life in Pictures."