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Phone Sex, Kiss-offs and Showmances 

Hollywood starts new year with a bang

Wednesday, Jan 10 2007
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Hollywood Hand Jobs

I’ve never seen Hollywood so orgasmic as during today’s simultaneous climaxing in Beverly Hills, Burbank and Century City offices over the sexy new iPhone. (Quick, buy stock in Kleenex.) Now, all Steve Jobs needs to do is make a very-limited-edition line so the celebs can come in their Oscar swag bags. That said, what does Jobs’ techno toy mean for the entertainment industry? You feel the horniness in your gut: This is finally the Perfect 10 of new media too-cool-for-the-room platforms that the public has been aching for. This is the perfect call girl that does everything you want: movies, TV, e-mail, tunes, contacts, the works. This will make you crazed enough to switch to AT&T’s Cingular even if the service sucks, just so you can run your fingers up and down that sleek, oxymoronic 3.5-inch widescreen display. And, therefore, this is finally what Hollywood can start to monetize if everyone jumps on its bones early enough, the way Disney’s Bob Iger did in September and Paramount’s Brad Grey did on Tuesday. The debut of Paramount’s School of Rock, Zoolander, Chinatown, the first six Star Trek pics and more than 100 more for purchasing and downloading on the iTunes Store for $9.99 is a shrewd move. After all, Disney was first because of the Pixar connection. But, clearly, Viacom’s Grey doesn’t want to end up like Tom Freston, who was ousted by parent company Viacom geezer-in-charge Sumner Redstone for failing to embrace all aspects of new media. (Freston was fired in September for failing to buy MySpace.)

Every other major studio: What in the world are you waiting for?

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By now, iTunes is the largest online video store in the world, with more than 1.3 million full-length films and 50 million TV episodes sold to date. At December’s UBS Global Media Conference, NBC Universal TV Group’s Jeff Zucker boasted that, while the major networks are losing viewers, his company will end 2006 with as much as $400 million in revenue from its digital operations — and that’s expected to soar to $1 billion by 2009. He explained how: “The week after a new prime-time hit show like Heroes is on NBC, it repeats twice on the Sci-Fi Channel. The next morning, it airs on NBC.com. It plays there free with advertising. Then, it’s available for sell-through on iTunes.”

As for the hardware, just think how Sony and Motorola and Palm have surrendered to Apple. (Not to mention Microsoft, which only recently came out with its own pathetic iPod clone, Zune.) Sure, there’ll always be a business market for Crackberries and Windows-based Treos. But the iPhone will flourish even as iPod sales continue to decline. The two versions, 4 gigabytes for $499 and 8 gigabytes for $599, go on sale in June, as does a new Bluetooth wireless headset in the shape of a slash mark, and a new pair of iPod-like earbuds with integrated microphone.

Hey, even a staunch supporter of Sarbanes-Oxley corporate regulation like me can overlook a little stock-options backdating by Jobs just as long as his toys keep coming, and coming, and coming.

Lipstick Jungle? Or Just a Kiss-Off?

With the sanitized version of HBO’s Sex and the City successfully launched in syndication, the networks are all hot and bothered to develop their own versions in a kind of kiss-off competition. ABC has ordered next-generation Cashmere Mafia from Sex and the City and Melrose Place creator-producer Darren Star with Working Girl writer Kevin Wade. And ABC has picked up Women’s Murder Club, with a logline of “CSI meets Sex and the City” to be directed by Brett Ratner (who changes girlfriends more often than he changes underwear). But the most titillating is NBC’s in-house adaptation — finally, after a false start last year — of Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell’s 2005 book Lipstick Jungle.

To quote one reviewer, Bushnell’s Lipstick Jungle picks up where Sex and the City (adapted from Bushnell’s New York Observer column of the same name) left off: “In the money-soaked, power-hungry, beauty-obsessed jungle that is New York City. This time around, the ladies are a bit older, a lot richer, but not particularly wiser nor more endearing than Bushnell’s earlier heroines.” There are three women this time, all high on “New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women” list: Nico is editor in chief of Bonfire magazine, Wendy is president of Paradour Pictures, and Victory is a fashion designer. There are new boardroom tales, but also the same racy bedroom antics and gender-flipping roles. NBC thinks this show about 40-somethings could be its answer to ABC’s Desperate Housewives, which is plot-impotent this season.

Hopefully, Bushnell’s dollars for the new hourlong comedy will be better than her HBO deal. Everyone thinks she made a mint off Sex and the City, but Bushnell herself has confirmed she cashed out long before the series took off, in the ratings and otherwise. Lore has it that Bushnell sold the rights to Sex and the City producer Star for a mere $60,000 way back in 1996 because she wanted to redecorate her NYC apartment (though her subsequent books and other projects have reportedly earned her millions). Interesting that, at one point, Star tried to buy the TV rights to Lipstick Jungle too, but the deal went south. Now, that’s another kind of kiss-off.

Speaking of kiss-offs, here’s a Hollywood conundrum: How does a highly rated, much-talked-about TV show go from kudos to cancellation in just four seasons? Because it’s on Fox. The network announced that the teen soaper The O.C. will broadcast its final episode on February 22. 

That first season, I thought this 90210 wannabe was very watchable because of breakouts Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson. The second season wasn’t anywhere as good because it focused too much on the oldster parents’ problems. Then it began the exploitative lesbian scenes, and everything went to hell after that. There was even a major series no-no: killing off one of the leads. Mischa Barton may have been a wooden actress, but her character was pivotal to the overall plot. As for that other lead, Ben McKenzie, he never had the acting chops to engage the audience. Think about it: Did the guy ever once show an authentic facial expression? Plus, the bitches and himbos on MTV’s Laguna Beach series — a.k.a. The Real O.C. — made the fictionalized O.C. seem tame.

This year’s ratings have stunk (for its first seven Thursday airings, The O.C. has averaged fewer than 4 million viewers per episode, off from last year’s 5.7 million per episode), but so have the ratings of nearly everything on Fox. Really, I don’t understand why News Corp. doesn’t just shut down everything on Fox except American Idol (because no one’s watching anything else there) and fire all the lame TV suits.

Savage TV

As if the MTV reality series starring Seventeen magazine aspirants verbally abusing one another wasn’t embarrassing enough, the network’s reality show about Rolling Stone magazine that kicked off January 7 promises some actual violence. I’m From Rolling Stone features contestants chosen from a (cess)pool of 2,000 applicants who couldn’t be any more clichéd. One is “self-sabotaging”; another wants to “shed his image as a partier”; still another is “star-struck.” Oh yeah, you definitely want these attributes in a reporter/writer. Do they win extra suck-up points for Stephen Glass–like fabricating?

My prediction? Everyone will sleep with everyone, because that’s what MTV contestants are manipulated into doing these days. And the tough chick who promises to “slap” people for “disrespecting” her gets the gig because all the wimpy mag editors are scared shitless of her. As I’ve written before, Reality TV has turned into Savage TV to get ratings, so only the psychos survive. Yet another reason to hate your mutated MTV.

I didn’t think it was possible for NBC’s The Apprentice, and Donald Trump, to get even more abhorrent. Then the sixth season — this time, based in Los Angeles — opened with each week’s winning team living in luxury in a Beverly Hills mansion, while the losers live in hell in two tents in the backyard, an arrangement suitable only for showmances. But then CBS unveiled details of its 14th season of Survivor set in Fiji. And the new Mark Burnett–conceived hook (the 13th season’s was race-based, remember?) is once again going to cause controversy, though not necessarily with advertisers but surely with viewers. While one team will live the life of luxury, the other team is left with virtually nothing. Uh, doesn’t that defeat the whole point of the show, since the contestants are supposed to live on the edge of civilization and eke out an existence?

This high concept doesn’t make any sense, unless its intent is to cause more animosity between tribes. Which may be, since more challenges will have contestants beating each other up. Suddenly, let’s get physical doesn’t sound so sexy.

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