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Hollywood & entertainment industry news
Networks' need for hit sitcoms is no laughing matter

There's a backstage drama happening this fall on TV, and it's all about comedy.

The major networks are in a sitcom slump, unable to generate the kind of magic found in shows like "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory."

Of the 21 new comedies last year, just five are set to return this fall. Only 14 of the 82 prime-time comedies unleashed since 2009 are on the air.

The major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — are not giving up as the fall season kicks off this week, rolling out 18 new comedies that will seek to mine laughs from romantic entanglements and family dynamics.

It's not hard to see why. Comedies have long been the ratings and profit drivers of the television industry, cheaper to produce than hourlong dramas and lucrative in syndication long after new episodes have been canceled. Hollywood's production studios bank on them to sustain their businesses. And cable channels rely on sitcom reruns to pad schedules and lure advertisers.

"There is always a desperation for...

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'Maze Runner' easily takes No. 1 at box-office, grossing $32.5-million

Adaptations of young-adult books proved their might again at the box office this weekend as “The Maze Runner” sped past other new movie releases.

Despite somewhat slow sales for its Thursday night and Friday matinee shows, “The Maze Runner” finished strongly to gross an estimated $32.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, solidly meeting expectations.

The Liam Neeson thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” came in second with $13.1 million, followed by the comedy-drama “This Is Where I Leave You,” which took in $11.9 million.

“Sometimes you just have to be patient,” Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox’s head of domestic distribution, said of numbers that built through the weekend for "The Maze Runner."

The studio had cautiously predicted an opening of $20 million to $30 million in the U.S. and Canada. But “The Maze Runner” did so well that Aronson said Sunday that the studio was picking up the film’s sequel, “The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials."

Based on the bestselling thriller by James Dashner, "The...

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TV ratings: CBS football, NBC's 'Biggest Loser' fall in Week 2

CBS' second installment of "Thursday Night Football" was down in the ratings from the big premiere last week, as surely as the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Final viewership totals won't be out until later Friday, but preliminary numbers have Thursday night's 56-14 Atlanta victory at a 3.3 rating among key 18-to-49-year olds, the demographic most desired by advertisers. That's down about 40% from preliminary results of last week's Ravens-Steelers game, according to early numbers from Nielsen.

UPDATE: The Falcons-Buccaneers game on CBS and NFL Network drew 11.8 million viewers combined, down 43% compared with 20.8 million who watched last week's "Thursday Night Football" debut, according to final numbers from Nielsen. The game's 18-49 rating on the two networks was 4.4.

By itself, the CBS telecast drew 9.56 million viewers and a 3.3 rating in the demo, while the NFL Network simulcast brought in 2.28 million total and a 1.1 in 18-49.

Football viewership is often driven...

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Box office: 'Maze Runner' launches to $1.1 million Thursday night

"The Maze Runner," 20th Century Fox's post-apocalyptic teen thriller, opened solidly on Thursday night as it looks to take the top box office spot in its first weekend.

Beginning at 2,200 U.S. locations at 10 p.m., the young adult novel adaptation scored $1.1 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates.

Analysts expect the film to gross about $30 million through Sunday as it attempts to join the "Twilight," "Hunger Games" and "Divergent" franchises in the ranks of successful series about teens struggling in dark fictional worlds.

The studio has projected a more cautious opening of around $20 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Directed by Wes Ball, "Maze Runner" cost about $34 million to make and stars Dylan O'Brien of TV's "Teen Wolf." It has a 62% "fresh" rating on the movie review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.

Meanwhile, Liam Neeson's latest turn as an action hero began with $428,000 from about 1,900 theaters. "A Walk Among the Tombstones" is expected to gross $15...

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Five ways Larry Ellison has made his mark on Hollywood (so far)

Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle Corp., built one of the biggest companies in the technology industry, but his influence hasn't stopped there. He's also, indirectly, a major influence in Hollywood.

Ranked by Forbes as the world's fifth-richest person, Ellison could be described as the real-life version of a billionaire in a superhero movie.

Since founding his software giant in the 1970s, he's drawn attention for his enthusiasm for yachting and Malibu real estate and Hawaiian islands. As for the film industry itself, he's done a cameo and founded a documentary film festival.

Then, of course, there are his two wealthy children, who have become prominent movie producers.

He will remain with Oracle as its executive chairman and chief technology officer, so he's in no way out of the tech game.

But here are five reasons Hollywood has not seen the last of Larry Ellison.

Producer progeny (Part 1)

Daughter Megan Ellison is the founder of Annapurna Pictures, a company that...

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Lionsgate acquires distribution rights for 'The SMOSH Movie'

Nearly 10 years after Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox started their YouTube channel SMOSH, the comedic duo will head to the big screen.

Lionsgate, the studio behind "The Hunger Games" franchise, announced on Thursday that it will distribute the feature-length film, which is co-produced by AwesomenessTV and DEFY Media.

Directed by Alex Winter, the film follows Padilla and Hecox as they leap through a portal onto YouTube. It also features other YouTube stars such as Jenna Marbles, Grace Helbig, Harley Morenstein and Shane Dawson.

"It's really exciting ... and I think that Lionsgate acquiring the movie shows just how far the digital landscape has come," AwesomenessTV President Brian Robbins told the Los Angeles Times.

With a mix of parody videos and humorous series, SMOSH has developed a large fan base, especially among 13-to-17-year-olds. SMOSH currently has more than 30 million combined YouTube subscribers, 19 million social followers and 12 million unique monthly visitors.

A Variety...

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Chinese TV censor's conviction points to 'common' bribery problem

It’s a fact of life in the Chinese media world: If you want to get on the air, you first must pass the censors. But recent events show that getting approved might be as easy as signing a check.

A censor within the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), Li Ning, was convicted Aug. 11 of taking bribes of nearly $49,000 from producers in exchange for helping them get permits for their shows, the Beijing-based newspaper Legal Mirror reported this week. The powerful agency oversees everything from radio programs to film and television broadcasts.  Li had allegedly been taking bribes since he began working as a censor back in 2006. He was reportedly sentenced to 10½ years in prison.

SAPPRFT, which is directly controlled by China’s Cabinet, is intended to maintain Chinese media's squeaky-clean image of morality, political stability and social harmony. But the arcane process of getting certification leaves a wide berth for unscrupulous officials to...

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'Maze Runner' may outrace 'Tombstones,' 'This Is Where I Leave You'

"The Maze Runner," the latest young adult book adaptation to hit the big screen, is expected to speed past other newcomers at the box office this weekend.

The apocalyptic drama is expected to gross as much as $40 million in the United States and Canada in its opening weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

Fox, the studio releasing the film, does not believe the film will open with more than $20 million. However, "The Maze Runner" should still end up ahead of the weekend's two other new releases: the comedy-drama "This Is Where I Leave You" and the Liam Neeson thriller "A Walk Among the Tombstones."

Based on the bestselling young adult thriller by James Dashner, "The Maze Runner" follows Thomas (“Teen Wolf” actor Dylan O’Brien), who is deposited into a community of young men in a post-apocalyptic world. After learning they are trapped in a maze, he joins fellow "runners" to try to escape.

The film, which was directed by Wes Ball and cost about $34...

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Rupert Murdoch explains why Fox dropped Time Warner bid

Rupert Murdoch has shared some of his thoughts on U.S. and British politics, the Scottish referendum for independence -- and why he aborted his company's $80-billion bid this summer for rival Time Warner.

Murdoch was interviewed Thursday morning by Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network, which is owned by the Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox.

Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of Fox, was speaking by phone in London, where he marveled at the large number of construction cranes dotting the skyline.

Cavuto, for his part, identified the media mogul as "my boss."

It didn't appear that rehashing Fox's failed pursuit of Time Warner was high on Cavuto's list of topics. In fact, it was Murdoch who broached the subject during a discussion on whether the U.S. markets are overheated.

“Well, I am also a bit bearish I guess .... That is why I pulled out of the Time Warner deal," said Murdoch.

"It was, to pay the price if that was necessary ... I just felt with all the uncertainties in the world,...

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Gov. Brown signs bill that triples tax credits for films

During a ceremony in Hollywood on Thursday morning, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that will triple annual funding for the state's film tax credit program.

"This is a great day for Hollywood, for California," said Brown, in the courtyard outside the TCL (formerly Grauman's) Chinese Theatre. "We will create thousands and tens of thousands of jobs."

The law will boost funding to $330 million annually over five years, beginning in 2015. That compares with the current level of $100 million per year.

The legislation also will allow more projects to qualify for the subsidies, including large-budget features and TV pilots, and phase out an unpopular lottery used to select applicants. Instead, projects will be selected based on how many crew members they employ.

Yes, it is taxpayers' money," Brown told a crowd of about 200 politicians, entertainment industry workers and union leaders. "But it's taxpayers' money that is going to build jobs for the future."

The legislation was...

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NBC's 'Mysteries of Laura' is helped by 'America's Got Talent' lead-in

A lead-in from the Season 9 finale of NBC's "America's Got Talent" helped "Mysteries of Laura" open strong in what was an overall solid night for the network.

"America's Got Talent," a Nick Cannon-hosted reality show that crowned magician Mat Franco as its winner, earned a rating of 2.3 among the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic, according to Nielsen.

The show was down 8% from last year's season finale, which aired from 9 to 11 p.m. and earned a rating of 2.5. With 11.9 million viewers, the show finished at No. 1 and hit its Wednesday season high.

The network also had a series preview of the new Debra Messing show "Mysteries of Laura." With a rating of 2.1 among the key demo, the show was third most watched in that category.

It benefited from its "America's Got Talent" lead-in, drawing in roughly 10.4 million viewers and finishing No. 2 in overall viewership.

The new series, which follows a NYPD homicide detective trying to balance work with home, retained 91% of the viewership from...

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TV Guide Network to change its name to Pop

TV Guide Network is hoping to burst into new programming by changing its name to Pop.

The cable channel, jointly owned by CBS and Lionsgate, announced Thursday that it will relaunch under its new name in early 2015. The channel's new programming will be geared toward younger, more affluent audiences, said Brad Schwartz, TVGN's president of entertainment and media.

Pop captures “the vibe the network is going for,” Schwartz said.

The 33-year-old TVGN is available in 80 million homes.  But despite its reach, the network has struggled to create an identity since the industry's conversion to digital signals a few years ago, which made the rolling programming guide largely irrelevant.

Even after acquiring rerun rights for popular shows such as HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Showtime's “Weeds,” it has fallen short of luring in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic.  TVGN also has not achieved much success in original programming.

But Schwartz is hoping the network will achieve a "whole new...

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