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Dark Knight, Late-Night Wars and More: What a Bunch of Jokers:

No Dark Knight for You!

Major and even minor Hollywood moguls hate to see a new movie in a public theater, much less buy a ticket to see it. Instead, they have their studios build them fancy private screening rooms and then borrow prints from each other to see the latest releases. Well, not The Dark Knight’s opening weekend. Because I’m told that Warner Bros. COO Alan Horn was so inundated with requests that the studio ran out of prints. “We had more prints in Bel Air on Saturday night than Cleveland,” one WB exec snarked at me. Every mogul who was turned down took no for an answer. But not Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who dispatched his underling, the boss at Paramount, to snag Batman. “Brad Grey e-mailed Alan and asked if he could intercede and get a print for Sumner, which Alan did,” an insider told me.

I suspect someone waylaid a print headed for Podunk and it wound up in Redstone’s Beverly Park screening room.

Fans scooped up 15 to 20 tickets per second on July 18. In all, at least 10 major box-office records went down. But here’s the really interesting stat: In a Fandango poll, 64 percent of Dark Knight moviegoers said they plan to see the movie again, and 62 percent said Heath Ledger’s performance is the reason. I call on Warner Bros. to donate some profits to drug-addiction prevention.

 

Late-Night Wars Over Before They’ve Begun

NBC finally announced the stop-and-start dates for hosting duties on The Tonight Show in 2009: Jay Leno ends May 29, and Conan O’Brien starts June 1. Meanwhile, Jay pulled a Jimmy at the Television Critics Association semiannual gangbang. As Kimmel did at ABC’s presentation last week, Leno showed up in costume — bald cap, goatee to hide that big chin, black glasses — and sneaked into the back of the room. Then Leno began annoying the NBC bosses with questions like whether he will be paid for the whole year even if he only works six months. (The answer was yes.)

The bit was Leno’s idea, just days after he told USA Today he was “done” with NBC. (Needless to say, the dumb-ass paper buried the news in the middle of its article on Leno’s car collection.)

Leno has been dropping hint after hint that he’s heading to another network. This month, Leno held up a TV Week cover with a picture of himself and a cutline that said, “Host of The Tonight Show on ABC.” Leno looked into the camera and smirked, “It’s like a headline from the future.”

I’ve always thought that Leno and ABC were a logical fit. His stultifying mainstream appeal makes sense for ABC, which encourages the opposite of edgy programming. Leno wants to go head-to-head with O’Brien and Letterman. So Nightline would be history.

Fine with Disney CEO Bob Iger, who’s been trying to kill the late-night news show since 2002, when he tried to lure David Letterman, and again in 2004, when he sought to steal O’Brien. That was when NBC mental-midget Jeff Zucker promised to make O’Brien host of The Tonight Show in 2009 and jettison Leno. Given that Leno is still the late-night ratings leader, Iger is circling.

“I can’t believe they’re going to let this guy go at the top of his game,” said ABC Entertainment topper Steve McPherson at the TCA briefing on July 16. I say it’s clear that Leno is ABC-bound and on the air there by January 2010. I also hear from sources that Kimmel is “okay” with having his time slot moved. Meanwhile, how alarming for NBC that Late Late Show’s Craig Ferguson has caught up with O’Brien ratings-wise.

And let’s not forget that Late Show With David Letterman is still the king of quality. The show picked up five Emmy nods this time around, while Leno was blanked. Oh, but Leno himself received an accolade — a “Special Class Program — Short-Format Nonfiction Programs” Emmy nod for Leno Leno’s Garage at Jaylenosgarage.com. How embarrassing.

At the Movies: The Nepotism Bens

It’s not really a surprise that Disney-ABC Domestic Television finally decided to take At the Movies “in a new direction.” After the old Siskel & Ebert show, it became Ebert & Roeper. But today, even amateur bloggers consider themselves qualified film critics, while the quality film reviewers find their print forums disappearing.

It’s also been a while since a “thumbs up” meant anything, since studios can buy Web raves with a bribe or two. Roger Ebert has fought various health challenges, Richard Roeper plans to co-host another review show and the next incarnation will definitely suck.

That retooled show premieres September 6, with co-hosts Ben & Ben — a Generation Why duo that only got the gig due to nepotism. Ben Lyons is the nobody son of Jeffrey Lyons, the film-critic world’s biggest hack and quote-whore with zero credibility, while Ben Mankiewicz is the slacker host of Turner Classic Movies, whose only claim to fame is that he’s a watered-down member of the famous film family. Now, there’s a working definition of the death of film criticism for you.

Iron Man Director Lobbies Governator

Jon Favreau organized a meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger to talk about the problem of runaway production. During the July 19 lunch at Caffe Roma in Beverly Hills, the California Governator pledged to reach across the aisle and push for tax-break legislation, starting this week in Sacramento.

Will it happen? Who knows, considering that Schwarzenegger up to now has been more talk than action? He most recently railed against runaway production at a news conference on May 9 — but that was scheduled only after he received heat during another podium moment (for fire prevention), from reporters asking about Ugly Betty leaving Los Angeles for New York to take advantage of an Albany-passed package of tax rebates.

Saturday’s meeting was pushed by Favreau, whose motivation is personal. The family man has a clause in his contracts saying his shoots must stick close to home. Favreau deserves kudos for wanting to leverage his newfound clout as Iron Man’s director for the greater good of the Hollywood community, which needs jobs.

Marvel, of course, only cares about the bottom line. I’ve learned that Marvel Studios intends to keep $600 million in productions in the Los Angeles area if the state makes it worth its while — Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and Avengers. “They’re willing to make a commitment to keep all four productions here in town,” Favreau told me.

Unlike about 40 other states, California does not offer a tax-credit program to lure filmmakers. But during lunch, Schwarzenegger explained that the problem isn’t him: It’s the state Legislature looking at a $15 billion-plus budget shortfall.

Still, as a former actor and producer, Schwarzenegger bears the brunt of the blame. He should have done something about runaway production his first year in office, but he squandered that political capital by calling the Democratic legislature a bunch of girlie men. Now he’s a fifth-year governor with little clout and less money. It’s high time for Schwarzenegger to put the money where his mouth is and get this done for Hollywood. And no one’s better suited for ass-kickin’ than Iron Man if Ah-nold doesn’t.

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