Today's News: Our Take


KING KA-CHING!

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King grossed $34.1 million on Wednesday, a record debut for a movie opening mid-week. That bests the previous benchmark set by Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, which brought in $28.5 million in 1999 before word got out that it sucked. read more

GROWTH SPURT

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will unspool June 4 in both IMAX and conventional theaters. read more

MIXED SIGNALS

NBC may be holding off on declaring this season the last for Frasier, but the show's producer, Paramount, sure isn't. Earlier this week, the studio mailed to members of the Television Critics Assoc. (like me!) invitations to a press conference in early January with show execs and cast members "on the occasion of their final season." The invite was accompanied by a sleeping mask adorned with the words "Goodnight, Seattle" — a riff on Frasier's signature radio sign-off. Paramount could not be reached for comment, but an NBC spokesperson maintains that — despite the mounting evidence — a decision about Frasier's future has not been made. In the meantime, I'm going to start the bidding for the sleep mask at $20. Do I hear $25? read more

MARKY MARK'S THE BOSS

HBO has given the green light to a comedy series from rapper-turned-actor-turned-producer Mark Wahlberg. Titled Entourage, the show follows the support staff of a high-profile movie star. Wahlberg serves as one of the show's exec producers. read more

JACKO CHARGED

California prosecutors formally charged Michael Jackson Thursday with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under age 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent (reportedly wine). The allegations — which Jacko's attorney says are being driven by "money and revenge" — involve a now-14-year-old cancer-stricken boy who Jackson allegedly invited to stay with him at his Neverland Ranch. District Attorney Tom Sneddon returned Jackson's passport to allow him to travel to London for the holidays and agreed to delay the arraignment a week to Jan. 16. On a happier note, Michael's sis Janet has been tapped to perform at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show on Feb. 1. read more

The Price Is Right Million Dollar...

The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular I used to watch this show with my grandmother when I spent Christmas break with my grandparents, but I forgot just how surreal it is: the ancient host, the sequin-clad hostesses, the rabid contestants, the insane prizes. But I'll say one thing about tonight's prime-time salute to the members of our armed forces: There's something about a man in uniform — even if he is on a game show largely based on supermarket-shopping knowledge (although I want to know where in the world a bottle of Tylenol costs $9). And while Bob Barker is certainly a TV legend, I just couldn't help hearing Dr. Evil's voice every time Barker told a contestant he was going to have a chance at winning one meel-yon dohl-lars.

Top 10 Quotes from A Christmas Story (other than "You'll shoot your eye out!"): 10. "In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in s read more

Rings Star Makes Merry


The global phenom surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy is enough of a life-altering experience for any young actor to cope with. (Action figures! Video games! Desperate fans!) But Dominic Monaghan — who plays tiny but tough hobbit Merry — says spending almost a year filming the three movies in New Zealand has really changed him as a person.

"I certainly grew up a lot on the movie set," he admits. "I arrived in New Zealand when I was 21. And now, I'm 27, [which] is just a defining point in any man's life. [Especially] to be in New Zealand, where they think completely differently from the English and the Americans, because it is a place hidden away from the rest of the world.

"I can't specifically name one thing that changed about me," Monaghan sighs. "I guess I did a kind of massive overhaul of every facet of my life." read more

SUPERMAN CALLS THE SHOTS

Paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve has signed on to direct an untitled computer-animated feature film about baseball, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The story — slated for release in 2005 — is set in the 1930s and revolves around a father and son and two legendary urban baseball teams. read more

SPANNING THE GLOBES

Cold Mountain is hot on Oscar's heels. Anthony Minghella's acclaimed Civil War epic nabbed a field-best eight nominations, including best picture (drama), best dramatic actress (Nicole Kidman), best dramatic actor (Jude Law), best supporting actress (Renee Zellweger) and best director (Minghella). Lost in Translation and Mystic River were next with five nods apiece. Along with Mountain and Mystic, best dramatic motion picture contenders include The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Master and Commander and Seabiscuit. Nods for best motion picture (comedy) went to Bend it Like Beckham, Big Fish, Finding Nemo, Lost in Translation and Love Actually. Among the surprises, 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson received two best actress nods (one comedy, one drama) for her work in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Winners will be announ read more

RUUUUUUUBEN!

Another American Idol alum has conquered the album charts. This time it's second-season champ Ruben Studdard, whose debut CD, Soulful, bowed at No. 1 with sales of 416,500 copies. Despite the strong start, Studdard failed to best the first-week sales of runner-up Clay Aiken's debut Measure of a Man — which moved 613,000 copies. The Velvet Teddy Bear did, however, top Idol's inaugural winner Kelly Clarkson, whose CD Thankful sold 297,000 copies last May. What does all this mean? Clay is #1, Ruben is #2, Kelly is #3 and Justin is wondering where it all went so wrong. read more

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