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  When I got the announcement for the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival, I had to laugh. The photo/logo for the event was a swarm of photographers shooting a beerbelly fellow on the red carpet, who was wearing nothing more than raggedy cutoff shorts. Yep, sometimes it's okay to laugh at something short!
  That's the whole point of the Comedy Shorts festival, which is celebrating its third year. And let's face it, we really need some good belly laughs nowadays.
  LACSFF is touted as the largest comedy film festival in the U.S., introducing the freshest comedy talent in the industry. The four day celebration of comedic short films and the people who make them is being held from April 7 to 10. Screenings at the Downtown Independent Theater, 251 S. Main Street, L.A.
  The festival director Jeannie Roshar says, "Some films have the power to change the world. Our films have the power to change your mood. And then once you're in a better mood, go for it on the 'world changing thing.'" I like her attitude!
  I also like the enthusiasm of the festival's co-founder and artistic director Gary Anthony Williams who says, "We've scoured the solar systems for the funniest short films ever seen-- and not seen. And we've strategically crammed them into a jam-packed 4-day weekend of unforgiving stupid-funnility. This is science, folks. Funny science." You've gotta love it!
  Among the shenanigans they'll be offering include kicking off with an opening night screening of celebrity shorts, starring the talent of Michael Cera, Kids in the Hall's Scott Thompson, Rex Lee from Entourage, and Tim Daly, along with new shorts from FunnyorDie.com. The competitive line-up features 85 short films from around the world. Filmmakers compete for more than $25,000 in cash and prizes. There are also lots of cocktail receptions and parties.
  For the events and screening schedule go to www.lacomedyshorts.com and go and support your fellow "short" filmmakers-- or go and steal a few ideas and think about entering the festival next year-- or go and just have some laughs. Lord knows we need 'em.
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   There's a new movie "remake" that's being showcased by Universal Studios. To be honest, it's not really a feature film, it's actually a video. And it's not being released in the theaters, it's being shown on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood-- one of my favorite places in the world.
   Jimmy Fallon is the "star" of the new video, which will take visitors behind the scenes of the movie and television industry's biggest hits. Fallon, the host of NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon becomes the ride's "virtual Studio Tour Guide."  Jimmy will be seen introducing a series of videos that will be seen on the High Definition monitors on each studio tram. As always, there will also be "live" narration from the professional Universal tour guides.
   Fallon says, "We really had fun with filming my role. We brought some writers out from our show and added some jokes, more play with the Studio Tour guides, the tram drivers, and we added a song or two."
   Fallon adds, "The tour itself is a classic, a really great experience. For anyone with any interest in show business, it's all there-- the glamour, the glitz, all the hard work that goes into making a movie or a TV show can be experienced on the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour. I'm very happy to be part of it."

   The new remake of the Studio Tour video with Fallon is just the latest in the enhancements to Universal Studios Hollywood. Last year the "King Kong 360 3-D" experience created by producer-director Peter Jackson was unveiled. Plus, last year Steven Speilberg was on hand for the re-opening of the newly rebuilt New York Street backlot, which gives guests on the studio tour a front row look at moviemaking.
   It's all part of the Hollywood magic I continue to enjoy everytime I visit the studio. For me, this stuff never gets old.
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   The Hollywood Arts Council held their 25th annual Charlie Awards at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. A wax figure of Charlie Chaplin, for whom the showbiz awards were named, was on display, along with an incredible life-like statue of Larry King, brought in by Madame Tussauds Wax Museum just for the event. The real Larry King was there to be honored with the Council's Media Arts Award for his broadcasting career and long-running CNN interview show.
   Committed to showing off the best of Hollywood, the Charlie Awards honor individuals and companies for their significant contributions to the arts and to the community. President of the Hollywood Arts Council Nyla Arslanian said the organization believes that the arts revitalize people as well as communities. And the council has sponsored the Project S.O.A.R. after-school art programs, as well as the annual Children's Festival of the Arts in August.
   A lot of good people and good companies were recognized at the event, including the president of Hudson Pacific Properties, Howard Stern, who received the Hollywood Arts Award for their development of Sunset Gower Studios. Hudson Pacific's Christopher Barton was also there, along with Terri Melkonian, v.p. sales and marketing for Sunset Gower/ Sunset Bronson Studios. Actress Connie Stevens made the presentation and had some wonderful memories of the former Columbia Studios lot.
 Other honors handed out were the Theatre Arts Award to the Celebration Theatre; Architectural Arts to the LaBelle at Hollywood Tower; Community Arts to the Nine O'Clock Players/Assistance League of Southern California; and the Entertainment Arts Award to Hollywood's Starline Tours.

   The event's emcee was KABC Channel 7's "Entertainment Guru" George Pennacchio, and Hollywood Arts Council trustee Oscar Arslanian, publisher of "Discover Hollywood Magazine," produced this year's Charlie Awards celebration. It was great to see Hollywood at its best and all the folks who make it proud.
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   It's easy to like the folks at the Hallmark Channel. They've been producing a lot of great ratings-grabbing family-friendly original movies that have made the cable network grow by leaps and bounds. And I see those productions as providing much-needed jobs in our industry. Because these days, every little bit helps.
   The broadcast networks got out of the original movie business a long time ago,  and so it seems Hallmark is filling the void in a big way.
  Recently there have been big announcements from Hallmark Channels, with the emphasis on their original productions (mostly shot in the U.S.). The Hallmark Channel and spin-off Hallmark Movie Channel, intends to reposition itself under the umbrella title Crown Media Networks. This year, Crown Media will present a whopping 25 Hallmark Channel original movies, mostly holiday-themed, which has worked very well for the network.
   In addition there are eight Hallmark Movie Channel original premiere movies scheduled; a new 13-episode unscripted lifestyle series called The Spirit Table, hosted by Maya Angelou; and original Hallmark Channel animated special, Jingle All the Way, a half-hour show featuring a Hallmark cards character Jingle the Husky Pup.
   Martha Stewart shows will be back, with 160 hours of original programming including two one-hour primetime interview specials. Plus the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade will air again on Hallmark. And Hallmark Channel Home's lifestyle block will feature original series Emeril's Table, hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
   There's no indication that Hallmark will get into the scripted series business for their regular schedule. But their ratings are solid without that right now. The Hallmark Movie Channel, a Nielsen-rated network, is now in 40 million homes, and projected to pass the 50 million subscriber mark by the end of next year. Continued success obviously means more crews working on Hallmark movies. Thank you.

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 "A Night at Sardi's" is an event that has Hollywood and Broadway talent come together, and we just attended the 19th annual awards and fundraiser benefiting the Alzheimer's Association. A lot of incredible talent was there presenting and performing, but the biggest star of the night didn't sing or dance. Robert A. Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, was honored with the Abe Burrows Entertainment Award. And it was great to see such a giant in the industry get the spotlight for being such a wonderful person.
 Laurie Burrows Grad created this annual event to honor her father, the late playwright-director Abe Burrows, who was a victim of Alzheimer's. Iger was recognized for his extraordinary commitment to the mission of the Alzheimer's. Laurie said, "He is a long-standing supporter of 'A Night at Sardi's' serving as an Honorary Dinner Co-Chair for the past few years."

  The award was particularly meaningful for Iger, who revealed that his mother has Alzheimer's. He respectfully gave credit to both his parents saying everything he has achieved, "I owe to them, because it all started with their love and support." What Iger has achieved is being the steward of the world's largest media company and some of the most beloved brands around the globe.

 On hand to support the cause and enjoy the entertaining evening were industry notables Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, and Judd Apatow with wife Leslie Mann. Performing great Cole Porter tunes throughout the night were David Hyde Pierce (a long-time Alzheimer's advocate), SAG president Ken Howard, Wendie Malick, Vanessa Williams, Scott Bakula, Nick Jonas, Betty White, and many more, along with Seth Rogen who did a fine job with his hosting duties. They made "A Night at Sardi's" a night to remember.
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   Lucy Walker's film Waste Land was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and Independent Lens will air it April 19 on PBS.
   It is just one of her many impressive productions (Devil's Playground, Blindsight), so it was interesting to hear Walker's response when asked-- Which is the best investment a filmmaker can make-- Grad School for Film, or make a film? She says, "I was super-lucky, as I had scholarships to help pay for most of my going to NYU Grad Film school. And also I had a lot to learn as I had never made a film before, and also I got a visa to come to NYC, so for me film school was a dream package."
   But she acknowledges that "It is awfully expensive, and if I'd been in a different position I wouldn't have been able to go to NYU. I just advised a friend to leave film school and spend the money on a project. It can be a lot of debt to build up and head into an uncertain industry."
  Then again, she says what's great about film school is that you "learn a lot, meet a great group of peers, and it really forces you to concentrate on making your projects. If I hadn't been at film school, it would have been so much harder for me to actually finish my short films, concentrate on my own projects, not work for other people, all that." So she says it's really a personal case-by-case question for every individual.
   Waste Land follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who travels to his native Rio de Janiero to create portraits of the local trash pickers out of the garbage they collect at the world's largest landfill. Walker had another film out last year called Countdown to Zero, about nuclear weapons, which she calls "the most urgent and important subject. And very scary."
   Walker calls working in the documentary film business an interesting journey, and refers to the last 15 years of non fiction films the "golden age of documentaries."
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   There were some great moments at the 48th annual ICG Publicists Awards. Certainly a highlight was when Arnold Schwarzenegger (action star/former California govenor) showed up to pay tribute to Sylvester Stallone. Sly got a Lifetime Achievement Award, and took the time to thank the publicity professionals in attendance for working hard and making him look better than he deserves.
  Stallone, mega-star, producer, director, and writer, has had an enduring career, with 35 movies that have grossed over $2 billion. Most famous for the Rocky and Rambo series of films, last year he had the blockbuster The Expendables, and is currently in preproduction for the sequel. A remarkable fact is that Stallone has had a number-one boxoffice movie in every decade for the past fifty years.
   In the room full of publicists, who have seen stars come and go, everyone was in agreement that Stallone's Lifetime Achievement honor was well deserved.
   Among the other well deserved awards handed out at the luncheon ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, was to Henri Bollinger, the longtime Publicists Guild chairman. He was feted for the work he has done for the Publicists organization for more than three decades. Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild which represents the publicists, presented the award to Bollinger, who was genuinely surprised.
   Matt Damon showed up in his pajamas, saying he had been up all night working, and presented the Les Mason Award for achievement to Viewpoint agency chief Jennifer Allen.
   The Bob Yeager Award honoring a PR person for outstanding community service went to Rosalind Jarret, SAG's publicity dynamo.
   The publicity campaigns for The Social Network and the Warner Bros. TV/CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Awards. For excellence in Unit Still Photography, Stephen Vaughan got an award for movies, and Danny Feld for TV.
   Among the notable veteran publicists enjoying the event was the always-promoting Julian Meyers, 93, and A.C. Lyles, 92, the longtime Paramount Studios "can-do" fellow. The ICG Publicists directory was dedicated to Murray Weissman, 84, still running great campaigns for awards season.
   It was great to see the good P.R. folks behind the scenes finally get some recognition.
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 Making films for foreign markets is complicated. That's what the legendary filmmaker Roger Corman told Frank Barron when they got together for a chat about the business, and I was there to listen to the two Hollywood veterans.
 Corman said the international film business can be profitable with their various tax incentives. But there are strict rules. And the filmmakers have to consider where in the world they will be selling the film. Certain countries don't allow nudity. Others don't allow excess violence, or certain weapons being shown. All of that and many more factors, that have nothing to do with the storytelling, come into play during the production and editing process, if you want to sell to foreign markets.
 As for filming across America, the tax incentives and credits have been helpful, but Corman believes politicians can make a bigger difference in keeping film companies in the U.S.
 Years ago, Corman went to Washington to speak to legislators. Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience. He said, "I don't think the people in Washington are really aware of the immense economic importance of Hollywood productions."
 Corman made a great point comparing the aircraft industry to the motion picture production industry. I'm sure he had research to back his statement when he said, "After the aircraft industry, motion picutres and television are the Number One export dollar earners for the U.S. And the aircraft industry is essentially subsidized by the government. So essentially, we are the Number One industry. But it means nothing to them (government)."
 He said, "As a producer I am obviously concerned about budgets and runaway productions, but all things economic are important. I am reacting to the economic reality."
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   Toy Story 3 won an Oscar for best Animated feature, and among the folks director Lee Unkrich thanked was executive producer John Lasseter, who is the creative force at Pixar.
   Just a few days before, at the ICG's 48th annual Publicists Awards, Lasseter received a very special honor as the Motion Picture Showman of the Year.    Actress Bonnie Hunt (who voiced a character in Pixar's Cars, and its upcoming June sequel) presented the award to Lasseter, who is the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Annimation Studios, as well as the principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering.
  Hunt said, "This year, we honor a two-time Academy Award-winning director who is a pioneer in the modern digital era of feature film animation." She added that it must be a relief for the publicists who work with Lasseter on his movies "to know that you are publicizing something you can really be proud of." Lasseter later noted with appreciation to the publicity professionals that many times when he's been jet-lagged on international promotional junkets that the publicists have "saved my butt."
   Lasseter spoke about his goal of making movies that kids and their parents can enjoy together, "Not just the first time you see it, but watching the movie over and over, for the 100th time."
   Lasseter has done that very well with his Pixar films from the Toy Story franchise, to Cars, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, The Princess and the Frog, and last year's Oscar-nominated Up. All incredible breakthroughs in high-tech animation.
  But when I asked him about the great technology he has developed to helped him with his storytelling, the nice guy in the Hawaiian-shirt smiled and corrected me. "No, you've got that backwards. For me it's always the story that drives the technology. It's the story and the characters that give the movies a heart," Lasseter told me.
   That's so true, and very obvious when I think back to why I laughed and cried during his movies. No wonder Lasseter keeps getting awards. What a pleasure it was to chat with him.
  

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    It's Oscar time for Aaron Sorkin, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network. It's the story of an unpopular Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg), who creates the "friend" friendly social network Facebook.

   For me it's funny to think that one of the most popular guys in Hollywood, Sorkin, could really capture the loneliness of the movie's main character.

   I've caught up with super-nice Sorkin at several events over the years, and its always like he's the honey-pot that all the bees buzz around at a party. That's probably because he's a great observer of human nature, and has great stories to tell. Many wind up on film or TV to much acclaim.

   This isn't Sorkin's first Oscar rodeo. The film adaptation of his play A Few Good Men had Academy Award nominations. And the producer-writer has won a trophy case load of Emmys for The West Wing.

   Both of those productions often utilized conflicting narratives, much like The Social Network does, to tell the different versions of how Facebook came about.

   It is a complicated way of doing a screenplay, but Sorkin says he thought it would be exciting to dramatize all of the conflicting stories from the point of view of the different characters, rather than doing a conventional biopic.

   Sorkin says he had many extensive conversations with the people involved at the start of Facebook "and everyone's perception of the events was different." The disagreements are what drive this story.
   What is Sorkin's writing technique? He reveals that anytime he's writing an antagonist, he wants to write the character "as if he's making his case to God as to why he should be allowed into heaven."
   Sorkin's characters are always very verbal, and The Social Network is a great example of that. He says he's envious of writers who are able to tell stories through the pictures they are describing, but he finds that difficult. "I write people talking in rooms. The challenge with this movie was the characters are much younger than I usually write about." So he needed to get into a language with a youthful rhythm.
   Oscar nominated director David Fincher is "a great visual director," Sorkin praises, "and embraced all the language and added a haunting visual style." For The Social Network that turned out to be an Oscar-worthy marriage of the material and visual direction.
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   The Fighter has been nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for David O. Russell, Supporting Actor for Christian Bale, and nods to Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, both up for Supporting Actress. But none for the tenacious actor  who was the force behind getting this passion-project made-- Mark Wahlberg.
   The star of The Fighter, Wahlberg has been saying in interviews that his prize is seeing the movie get made after more than six years shepherding the project. But he might take home an Oscar, with fellow producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, if it wins Best Picture.
   The true drama is about boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, whose struggle in the ring is matched by the battles with his family as he pursues a title fight. It takes place on the outskirts of Boston, on the working class mean streets where both Ward and Wahlberg grew up.
   Filmed on actual locations in Lowell, Massachusetts, boxing scenes were shot at Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. And Ward's actual training facilities were used, Ramalho West End Gym. Also lending authenticity to the look of the film, they used cameras from the era.
   Director Russell had worked with Wahlberg on two other movies, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, which was helpful during the filming process. Russell reported, "There's nothing better than having a collaborator that you have a great shorthand with, and he's shepherding the project along. "

   Russell said Mark inhabited Micky. He moved like him, dressed like him, and got his style of fighting down perfectly. Wahlberg trained for more than four years to get in shape so the fight scenes would be real. No stunt double was used in the ring.
   The reason the former '90s rapper know as Marky Mark really understood the role and fought so hard for the film was that it reflected his own struggles growing up. Wahlberg has since gone on to produce quality film and TV projects (he's executive producer of HBO's Entourage and Boardwalk Empire).
   The Fighter has also been nominated for Writing, Original Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, with Story by Keith Dorrington, Tamasy, and Johnson. Also nominated is Pamela Martin for Film Editing.
   The Fighter is up against heavy favorites, The King's Speech and The Social Network, for Best Picture. But it's a movie that doesn't shy away from a good fight.
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   Very few documentaries find an appreciative audience, let alone get Oscar recognition. But Restrepo, nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Feature category, is special. It is the outstanding National Geographic-backed look at the war in Afghanistan from filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, who were embedded with a military unit. From that point of view, it gives us a look at the reality on the frontlines we otherwise could never imagine. I applaud the filmmakers for the eye-opening experience, and for showing how ordinary men become heroes.
   Last year it was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance. Deserving of the acclaim were award-winning photojournalist Hetherington and journalist/author Junger, who chronicled the deployment of U.S. troops at one of the most dangerous outposts in Afghanistan. When the film was released in theaters last summer, it was hailed by critics. Then it aired on the National Geographic channel in November 2010.
   It is a really important film, and credit goes to Hetherington who has reported on conflicts for more than ten years. Junger is the best-selling author of "War" and "The Perfect Storm," who has previously reported from Afghanistan for National Geo for Into the Forbidden Zone.
   I always thought that the government tries to keep journalists/filmmakers out of war zones. But Junger told me there's actually thousands of journalists, like him and Tim, who have been embedded with frontline units. He said, "The current embed system is a program that started in 2003. And the military provides an amazing amount of access to those units. Tim and I really felt very fortunate to be able to do the job that we did."
   Hetherington explained what they did was different from most other journalists. "We spent much more time. I have friends who are reporters who do tours of duty, so to speak, that are about three weeks at the most with their combat unit. We spent ten months in total. So the length of time gave the intimacy that you feel in the piece."
   Junger said it's important to tell a story like Restrepo, named after a fallen soldier. "It makes my life feel meaningful."
   Even if it doesn't get an Oscar, the documentary is already a winner, because the troops who have seen it have said that they appreciate having their story told from their POV.
   The meaning of the film for Hetherington was "I just think it's important to build bridges between communities in the world. We all share this world, and we need to know what is happening in Afghanistan. We need to understand the lives of these young men that we send over there to fight on our behalf. And I think that telling these stories is important." Amen.
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   Jeff Bridges is making the rounds at Oscar time, praising the Coen brothers, who directed him in True Grit which got him another Oscar nomination. Joel and Ethan Coen got Oscar nominations too, for Directing and Adapted Screenplay for True Grit.
  Bridges has a special place in his heart for the Coen brothers, who gave him one of his most iconic roles as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
    But if you look over Bridges incredible body of work you'll see that he has really embraced first time directors, and he is quick to praise them too. That's no surprise considering first time director Scott Cooper was at the helm of Crazy Heart, for which Bridges captured his first Best Actor Oscar last year.
   At a recent PBS' American Masters session, Bridges chatted with me about his newbie directors, and what they mean to him.
   "I've had great luck with first time guys. If you look at my filmography, it's just riddled with wonderful first time directors, from Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), Bob Benton (Bad Company), Steve Kloves, who did The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Scott Cooper too."
   But you have to wonder at this stage of the veteran actor's career-- just how much direction does he need?
   "Probably not much," Bridges admitted to me, "but I like it. I really look to directors to move me past my own conceptions, you know, to help me transcend myself. I don't want to be playing myself in every role. So when I get a different guy's thoughts on it, it really helps."
   Bridges said he lets the first time directors know "He's the man. And I'm going to do my best to give him all my stuff. And they can cut it up and make a collage out of all my stuff, and move it around and paste it. And that's the way movies are made."
    Knowing that, Bridges has a lot of respect for the director's position "as the main collage artist. He's going to cut all my stuff up. So I want to make sure that I give him what he is going to need in that editing process."
   So Bridges said, "I particularly love working with first time guys who are just coming into it and they don't know what they can't do. They're fresh. And it's a wonderful thing to be part of that as an actor."
   Bridges reminded that "Orson Wells did Citizen Kane as his first, and we haven't done much better than that."
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   The Oscar-nominated director of The King's Speech, Tom Hooper has already won the Directors Guild Award for the movie, which gives him an edge in the Oscar race. But prior to all the award announcements we talked with him about creating the impressive production.
   It's a little picture about a personal struggle, yet its appeal has been huge. The story is about Great Britian's King George VI (played by Colin Firth) and his struggle to overcome his stuttering problem with the help of an eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
   Hooper loved the story, and said there was no resistance from the royal family. And he revealed the greatest gift that helped him direct the movie was a diary.
   He explained, "Just nine weeks before the shoot, we discovered that Lionel Logue had kept a hand-written diary, which his grandson let me see, and I learned so much. So we set about rewriting the script based on this firsthand account of the relationship between the king and Lionel."
   Hooper admitted that changes in the script incorporated some of "the best and funniest lines, which are taken directly from the diary."
   Hooper is proud of the movie's buzz for awards season, and highly praises to his cinematographer and production designer for the period drama's visual style.
   He filmed at locations in London, although Lanchaster House was used for interiors of Buckingham Palace. Plus Ely Cathedral was a stand in for Westminster Abbey.
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   As we wrap up January, I'm looking back on some of the highlights of the Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association. It's been a treat to be a member of the TCA for about 25 years, and I think I've heard it all, good and bad, from the network suits and producers.
   Over the years I've found that it is very rare to hear top network executives acknowledging that the creative, hands-on, show-running producers know more about the programs then they do. Usually the suits like to tinker with things, even when everything is going well.
   Well, that's why it was so refreshing to listen to ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee at his TCA session.
   Lee said, "My real ambition is to make the ABC studio and the ABC network a real show-runner culture. I think we did a lot of development with very established, great show-runners, and we're also looking to find those new voices that could really redefine television into the future. That combination between a potent brand and empowered show-runners can really give us a chance to succeed going forward."
   ABC is developing shows and its schedule from a position of strength thanks to its mega hit Dancing with the Stars. And the network can be proud of reviving the sitcom genre with its sophomore comedies Modern Family and The Middle, and Cougar Town, all of which got early renewals, along with Castle, Grey's Anatomy, and Private Practice, for the 2011-12 season.
   "You're going to see us pick up comedies and dramas and a combination of procedurals and serialized risk taking shows on different sides," Lee explained.
   He added, "The ABC brand, as I see it, really combines smart with heart, and that is a really unusual combination. We don't always live up to it. But at its very best, we really make culturally defining, smart, big tent, inspirational television. And that's how I see this brand and this network going forward into the future." A good example of that was the phenomenal Lost series, which wrapped its run last season with great fanfare.
   Kudos for Lee and ABC for trusting the creative forces in our industry.
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   A couple of years ago, the network executives discovered a new word. It was "repurposing." It was used to describe the networks taking their shows and using them elsewhere, for ratings and profit, of course. The shows usually showed up on various media platforms and electronic devices.
   Well now there's been a clever "repurposing" of three ratings-powerhouse TV shows, but sans the high-tech.   The enormous talents that have gone into making Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, as well as American Idol, have pooled their skills to present "Ballroom With A Twist." It is a stage production that just premiered at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. And it is a high-energy musical showcase filled with dazzling dancing.
   It was conceived and choreographed by Louis van Amstel, the Dancing With The Stars pro, who acts as host, along with rotating celebrity co-hosts such as Jane Seymour and Niecy Nash.
   From a production point of view, the show is ground-breaking, taking the top performers from the TV competitions and showcasing them. Basically, bringing the essence of the hit shows directly to the people live on stage, so it becomes a personal experience for the audience. Stunning costumes, music, staging, and lighting are also part of the impressive production package.
   In addition, "Ballroom With A Twist" boasts an ensemble that includes dancers from High School Musical The Movie and Dance Your Ass Off. Providing live vocals are American Idol finalists David Hernandez and Gina Glocksen. The featured dancers are Edyta Sliwinska, Alec Mazo, Jonathan Roberts, and Anna Trebunskaya from DWTS; and Randi Lynn Evans, Gev Manoukian, and Jonathan Platero from SYTYCD.
    The creative force behind the show is van Amstel, who directed, produced, choreographed, and performed the Broadway show "Latin Fusion." And it looks like "Ballroom With A Twist" would also be comfortable with a "repurposing" on Broadway.
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   Having a fondness for the Old West, it was great to see another western on the Hallmark Channel's schedule. Goodnight for Justice is an original movie that does justice to the old fashion western genre. It follows Judge John Goodnight who rides around dispensing "justice with a conscience" in the Old West.

   The character was created by star Luke Perry, who is also the executive producer of the film. Perry's friend from their 90210 days, Jason Priestley directed the production on location in Vancouver and other B.C. locations.

   At a Hallmark event Priestley told me, "The film was shot in British Columbia, where I'm from. It shot very quickly because of the shorthand of working with people I know. That's very beneficial when you have a short time frame."

   There is a shootout scene that Priestley admitted was a homage to the classic western High Noon. And he explained it was "one of the films that I watched to actually take a lot of the visual cues for this." Yep, if you're going to steal a shot-- steal it from the best-- then call it a "homage!"

   Perry said he enjoys finding "moments like that, which is one of the great things about doing westerns. In this film, you'll see little touches, like a sign in town that says 'A. Devine Dry Goods,' referring to one of my favorite western character actors Andy Devine. I got to paint stuff like that on the buildings. I love doing that."

   Perry added that he's been in talks with the folks at Hallmark about turning his Goodnight character into a movie franchise. "I've got stories in mind, and now it's just a matter of scheduling."

   So we can look forward to another western hitting the trail, and more horse wranglers getting work.
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   NBC Universal Networks had some fine presentations at the recent 2011 winter press tour for the Television Critics Association, held at Pasadena's Langham Hotel. The gathering showcased programs from NBC, Syfy, Oxygen, Mun2, USA, and Bravo Networks.
   The interview sessions with the TV executives, producers, and stars became a parade of dramas, comedies, voyeuristic reality shows, and a continuation of the trend for assorted talent competitions.
   Giving an overview of the Bravo Channel, Frances Berwick president of Bravo Media, boasted that they were coming off of their fifth consecutive best-year-ever across all platforms, which is what the television industry is looking for these days. Bravo was ranked a lucky 13 among networks in primetime among all cable entertainment outlets in the coveted adult 18 to 49 demographic, and rated fifth among women 18-34.
   "Bravo continues to expand the hours of original programming, bringing viewers even more outsized hits that embrace pop culture and showcase big name talent," says Berwick. "We are known for evolving projects into cultural touchstones and we look forward to continuing that with our upcoming slate of creative new series."
   Among the latest series confirmed to premiere are the talent competition Platinum Hit with Jewel and Kara DioGuardi; Rocco's Dinner Party with Rocco DiSpirito; Million Dollar Decorators, and Pregnant in Heels.   The returning series, also mostly of the voyeuristic reality show genre that has made Bravo into a success story, include The Real Housewives franchise from New York and Orange County; The Rachel Zoe Project; Flipping Out; The Millionaire Matchmaker-- now called Bethenny Ever After; and the ninth season of Top Chef. Plus Kathy Griffin will be back with new specials.
   The reality series do help the production community by employing crews, writers, and other talent, and they need equipment and production facilities. That's part of the reality of the reality shows grabbing up the space on the airwaves.
   However, a well-crafted drama and a great situation comedy would be more my cup of tea.
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   Oprah Winfrey is an unparalleled media mogul. More importantly, she is a sincere and gracious lady who not only deserves all the success she has, she really enjoys it. That's pretty important when you put so much effort into creating a media empire.
   I enjoyed the chance to talk with Oprah less than a week after she launched OWN, the new Oprah Winfrey Network. At the winter press tour for the Television Critics Association at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, she was telling everyone how proud she is to be the 'OW' in 'OWN.' It has exceeded her expectations already, with ratings and advertising. And there are remarkable reports that the network will turn a profit its first year. That would be a miracle in broadcasting these days. But if anyone can do it, Oprah can.
   OWN is a joint venture between Winfrey's Harpo, Inc. and Discovery Communications. It is a multi-platform media company designed to entertain, inform, and inspire people to live their best lives. OWN debuted on January 1, 2011, in approximately 85 million homes. The venture also includes the award-winning digital platform Oprah.com. 
   The secret to OWN's success is in the programing that Oprah wants to present. The new cable channel is packed with lifestyle, educational, and inspiring shows. A total of 22 original series have been announced. It is a mix of original programs, strips, specials, original documentaries, and acquired movies. 
   "The whole network is about encouraging people to live with an open heart. It's about opening yourself to all that is possible," she says.
   What isn't possible is a vacation for Oprah in the near future. Oprah told me that she was under the illusion that she could have a network, and build it, and travel the world, and check in every now and then. She jokes that she now knows the reality of having a network with her name on it, and the time it takes to do it right. That's okay, Oprah says she's enjoying the "absolutely extraordinary journey. I can sit in this place with my name on a network."
   Oprah has a right to be proud and enjoy her success.
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   A popular premium cable destination with great shows featuring impressive production values, major stars, and an industry buzz. It's not HBO, its the Starz network.
   It's easy to understandy why the description of the network sound so much like HBO when you see who is at the helm. Chris Albrecht is president and CEO of Starz, LLC. Among his duties, he's responsible for generating growth for Starz Entertainment, Starz Media and Overture Films. Also Albrecht spent more than 20 years at HBO, with seven years as president of original programming before he became chairman and CEO up until 2007.  His golden years there ushered in acclaimed series such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Band of Brothers, and the list goes on, and on.
   And now Albrecht has brought that push for excellence to shows for Starz. Already the Spartacus series, filmed in New Zealand, has had an impact on the television landscape. Upcoming series are Camelot, filmed in Ireland, and Torchwood film in Los Angels and Wales. I got a sneek peek at them, and they are awesome.
   I asked Albrecht about putting his mark on the network, and he told me, "I think that in the collaborative world of film entertainment, what is the most important thing is to put together a team and an opportunity that invites talented people to want to bring their work. Then you try to help give them the necessary resources, and the support, and sometimes the guidance that they require to help realize those visions."
   That's leadership that pays dividends.
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