Hollywood Heavies Subpoenaed

Yes, it was easy to forget that the court case against Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano still existed, given how many, many times the trial has been postponed. (Three in all …) But now it looks like the trial, which starts February 27, isn't going to disappoint. I broke the news on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com that big names from past and present in the entertainment biz have been subpoenaed to be possible witnesses for the government when the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles finally prosecutes The Pelican and his co-defendants. (Bigtime show-biz lawyer Terry Christensen who's, surprisingly, going to be represented by his bigtime legal partner Patty Glaser, will now be tried seperately.) Now, remember, these possible witnesses aren't targets in this case, and they may not even be asked to testify.

But I can't wait to hear from Paramount chief Brad Grey, Universal president/COO Ron Meyer, superlawyer Bert Fields (and seven partners from his Greenberg Glusker law firm), show-biz billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, and CAA partners Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane. Also, producers Chuck Roven, Steve Bing, Bo Zenga, and Mr. Reality TV, Mark Burnett; director John McTiernan (who has already been sentenced to four months in prison for perjury related to the investigation); actors Sylvester Stallone, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Keith Carradine, Kevin Nealon and Andrew Stevens; and retired show-biz journalists Anita Busch and Bernie Weinraub. Perhaps most intriguing of all is former CAA co-founder and fired Disney president Michael Ovitz.

The High-Def Format War Is Won

The big news for Hollywood came out of Tokyo this week when Toshiba announced that it will no longer develop, manufacture and market HD DVD players and recorders as early as March. From now on, the more expensive Blu-ray format, developed by Sony, will become the hardware and the entertainment industry's software, high-def standard. Jeez, someone in the Blu-ray camp owes Warner Bros. bigtime, since that proved to be the deciding battle in the format war. Also, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, which joined Best Buy and Netflix in choosing Blu-ray and phasing out HD DVD by June.

So now, Sir Howie Stringer keeps his job as head of Sony. Of course, it'd be a good time for him to step down and retire. Because this is, after all, just a Pyrrhic victory, since the Blu-ray player market will never take off, what with electronic sell-through just a few years away from becoming mainstream. (Think laserdisc …) I also smell a class-action lawsuit by some crafty lawyers filed on behalf of all those poor saps who bought $99 Toshiba HD DVD players at Christmas and now are stuck with the 2008 version of Sony's old Betamax machines after Toshiba's full and unconditional surrender.

With every other studio in the Blu-ray camp, that means, in the short run, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are screwed. True, Paramount pocketed a hefty $50 mil and DreamWorks Animation $100 mil from the HD DVD side for promotional consideration for choosing the loser format last year. Universal, which for years has been exclusively HD DVD, will immediately start to release new and catalog titles on Blu-ray. That should also include all the studio stuff by Steven Spielberg, who has been in a standoff with Universal and Paramount (which owns DreamWorks) because he would allow his movies to be released only in Blu-ray. That's why, last fall, Sony came out with Close Encounters of the Third Kind on Blu-ray, the first of Spielberg's pictures in either high-def format. Such are the spoils of victory.

Editors Come and Go at L.A. Times

When Los Angeles Times editor Jim O'Shea was fired, my reaction was simply that another one bites the dust. And when Innovation editor Russ Stanton was promoted into the top job, my reaction was essentially, Why do I even need to learn his name, because there'll just be another one along in 2009? That's what happens when a newspaper is in such turmoil that it has had four different editors and two different owners at the helm since 2005.

But Stanton moved quickly to put his personal stamp on the place. I broke the news on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com that the L.A. Times' managing editor for features, culture and entertainment, John Montorio, was headed for the chopping block. After all, he's wildly unpopular inside the paper because of his penchant for secrecy, closed doors, rarely talking to the reporters who work for him, and overall arrogance. One tipster told me Montorio was axed because he butted heads with Stanton, who oversaw the digital news report and integrated the LAT newsroom with the Web operation. According to my source, “The new editor walked in and said he didn't like him.” In a memo sent to his staff, Montorio didn't even try to hide the fact that he was fired.

Montorio had just been promoted into his latest job in July. He'd spent 15 years at The New York Times and helped launch many of that paper's signature features sections, including The City and Sunday Styles, before joining the LAT in 2001 at the behest of his longtime pal Dean Baquet. Montorio tried to make the LAT feature sections into clones of the NYT's, but the LAT couldn't draw the necessary advertising. He oversaw several overhauls of the LAT magazine that also flopped. Most recently, Montorio launched Image, a fashion-and-style section. But the LAT movie and TV coverage, which on a good day is still bland and dull, has suffered greatly under Montorio's oversight.

He was also was responsible for abruptly axing Al Martinez's Calendar column and pushing him to take a buyout, thus sparking one of the biggest stinks in the newspaper's recent history. The reader outcry was so intense that the paper had to apologize and bring Martinez back more prominently in the California section. Montorio also made news when he killed a column by LAT Hollywood columnist Patrick Goldstein, one of the paper's most popular and well-read writers. Goldstein almost left the paper for another job as a result, until Montorio backed off and declared a truce.

Still another contretemps occurred last year when the LAT was embarrassed over its Pulitzer nominations for the criticism category. Montorio submitted music critic Ann Powers, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne and media writer Tim Rutten. But two LAT critics whom Montorio overlooked, art critic Christopher Knight and classical-music critic Mark Swed, nominated themselves and then made it into the finals.

Stories about Montorio and his morale-killing ways are rife — how he keeps his door continuously closed and his office all but off-limits to the staff. Or refuses to speak face-to-face with his reporters and does everything by impersonal e-mail. Or maintains an insufferable “I see you, but I don't have to talk to you” attitude toward everyone who reports to him, with the exception of a few pet editors. Good riddance.

Carson Daly Hosed by NBC

Remember how the talent-challenged Carson Daly took all that abuse for going back to work as the host of Last Call during the writers strike? Well, I reported on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com that NBC has thanked him by cutting his show's budget and firing most of his writers. “This is obviously an NBC decision, and it's not his decision,” a source close to Daly complained to me. Specifically, the network confirmed for me that this week, it fired nine Last Call employees, including three of the four writers whose contracts ran out during the strike. (The one scribe kept on still has four weeks remaining on his pact. The other six employees trimmed worked in other departments.) NBC sources insist that the Last Call budget cuts would have been made regardless of the WGA labor action. This, after the network threatened to cancel the 5-year-old show altogether unless Carson went back to work. Which just goes to show that in Hollywood, no “good” deed goes unpunished. Daly still has two years more to go on his contract, and his New Year's Eve special delivered its best-yet ratings — but karma can be a bitch.

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