Entertainment News 1-26-10
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NFL Wants to Go Steady--With Reebok
By Dave Zirin & Jeremiah Tittle
January 21, 2010
Call it the Super Bowl for lawyers and the reckoning for football fans. On January 13 the owners of all thirty-two NFL teams asked the Supreme Court to shield them from anti-trust laws. Their argument is that the league does not comprise, despite all evidence, thirty-two individual competing units but is made up of one "single entity."
This might seem bizarre on the face of it. After all, the 49ers and Cowboys don't meet on the field to sing "Kumbaya," and players don't rotate from team to team. But the NFL has won in court every step of the way, and the outcome of this case could provoke a labor lockout or strike that would shut down the most popular sport in the country.
The legal saga started in 2000, when Reebok signed an exclusive contract to slap the NFL logo on its caps and jerseys for every team in the league. Illinois-based hat manufacturer American Needle was, in turn, left out in the cold, no longer allowed to strike deals with individual teams; so it therefore sued the NFL, claiming that by brokering this deal with Reebok, the NFL had violated the Sherman Act.
To the NFL, it was like discovering penicillin. This small merchandiser had been growing like a pestering fungus until that Aha! moment hit, and the league's legal team realized the opportunity before it: a chance to knock out competition among apparel providers.
While the NFL repeatedly won the case in the lower courts, American Needle appealed to the Supreme Court for a hearing. The Court first reached out to the Obama administration to weigh in on the matter. Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the justices, "This case would be a particularly unsuitable vehicle to consider the broad rule that the NFL seeks." Heedless of Kagan's warning, the Supreme Court took the case, and with the NFL's support, American Needle's wish was granted. Now the "single entity" argument will be tested at the highest level, and, like the MLB All Star Game, this time it counts.
To anyone who pays attention to the billion-dollar catfight between Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, each year, in which a new owner is crowned at the unveiling of the franchise value rankings, the idea that the NFL is one company and not thirty-two competing businesses is just absurd. They are called franchises for a reason. Each franchise makes individual business decisions about how to market its product against opposing franchises wearing different-colored uniforms.
However, the NFL insists that even though it is made up of individual teams with individual profits and losses, it is still that "single entity." As the sports experts at Forbes wrote, "From a business standpoint, the NFL, like any sports league, has always predominantly acted as a single entity. Teams compete on the field, which does mean bidding on players and coaches. But from a business standpoint, they're partners above all else." Forbes, "the capitalist's bible," turns collectivist. Why?
It's simple. The NFL's collective bargaining agreement expires in March 2011. There will be no salary cap or salary floor in the league if a new deal isn't reached by March 5, 2010. If the Supreme Court rules that the NFL is a single entity, that changes the way the league negotiates--or doesn't negotiate--with the players. Teams could slash payroll, violate labor law, and the NFL Players Association would have no recourse. Lockout, here we come.
DeMaurice Smith, NFL Players Association executive director, has told ESPN that he has called upon his players to save 25 percent of their salaries over the next two years: because of uncertainty around salary caps and floors, "I look at the way in which it looks like we're moving to this lockout, and first and foremost, we have to be in a position where our young men are in a position to be able to take care of themselves and their families."
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees took a break from preparing his team's Super Bowl run last week to deliver some Supreme Court testimony. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Brees warned that "if the Supreme Court agrees with the NFL's argument that the teams act as a single entity rather than as 32 separate, vigorously competitive and extremely profitable entities, the absence of antitrust scrutiny would enable the owners to exert total control over this multibillion-dollar business."
Serving on the Executive Committee of the Players Association, Brees understands that the players' collective future hangs in the balance. The owners are looking to knock labor rights back into the Stone Age, or at least back to 1993, before Freeman McNeil, football's Curt Flood, left a mammoth footprint on the game by fighting for and winning his rights as a free agent. The players sink or swim with the final decision to be delivered this summer.
It would be even worse for fans, and not only because the Sunday entertainment would go the way of Lost.
If owners were emancipated from anti-trust laws, collusion would be the law of the land. After all, they aren't thirty-two competing entities but one solid corporation. They then could do more than slash payroll. They could raise ticket prices through the roof, and charge $100 for a stocking cap. The NFL-Reebok deal struck a decade ago illustrates quite clearly how the costs of doing business this way are passed on to fans, as "official hats," Brees notes, "cost $10 more than before the exclusive arrangement."
Owners could move clubs on a whim, and be protected legally from violating any individual agreements with individual municipalities. After all, they would be acting in the interest of their "one entity."
In other words, think about everything you despise about the NFL experience: disloyal franchises, overpriced merchandize, unbridled greed, and give it an injection of a Mark McGwire cocktail. The NFL already acts like it has diplomatic immunity. It feeds at the public trough for stadium construction, charges a fortune for tickets, parking, souvenirs and--most tragically--beer, and accepts public input about as well as the CIA does. It is also about as transparent. In addition, if we've learned nothing else from the scandals in banking and on Wall Street, the last thing big business needs in this country is more legal protection and less transparency. We all--fans and players alike--have every right to fear what further legal protection would mean for the future of fandom, no matter what they say at Forbes.
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'Hope for Haiti' raises $58 million and counting
January 23, 2010
Amount is record for donations to disaster relief telethon
Album of performances topped charts in 18 countries
Public may continue to donate for six months
Celebrities answered phones, performed music
Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Friday night's star-studded "Hope for Haiti" telethon has raised a record-breaking $58 million, with more donations continuing to pour in from around the world, the benefit's organizers announced Saturday.
The preliminary figure is a record for donations made by the public through a disaster relief telethon, according to a news release from telethon organizers.
Additionally, the "Hope for Haiti Now" album, a compilation of the night's musical performances made available on Apple's iTunes, was the No. 1 album in 18 countries Saturday. Sales figures for iTunes are still being calculated, and the preliminary figure of $58 million does not include donations from corporations or large private donors.
People will be able to make donations to "Hope for Haiti" via phone, Web, text messaging and regular mail for the next six months, according to the news release.
A moving performance by Alicia Keys opened Friday night's telethon, and actor George Clooney, serving as the Los Angeles host for the event, made the first appeal for donations to raise money for relief efforts after last week's devastating earthquake.
"The Haitian people need our help," Clooney said. "They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that we still care."
The show was one of the most widely distributed prime-time televised benefits in history, appearing simultaneously on more than 25 networks -- including CNN, where Anderson Cooper reported live from Haiti during the event.
More than 100 actors, musicians and other celebrities answered phones in New York and Los Angeles after professional operators first talked to donors.
"Thank you so much for your donation," actress Reese Witherspoon told one caller. "You can't imagine how much love and great, wonderful energy is here today. People are doing everything they can to make a difference in these people's lives."
Several other calls were aired live, including with Julia Roberts, Steven Spielberg, Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder.
Swift and Wonder were among the evening's musical performers. Others included Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Shakira, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Coldplay, Christina Aguilera, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Jennifer Hudson, Madonna, Dave Matthews and Neil Young.
Other celebrities appearing on the telethon included Jon Stewart, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Ben Stiller, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington.
Proceeds from the telethon will benefit Oxfam America, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, UNICEF, the U.N. World Food Programme, Yele Haiti Foundation and the Clinton Bush Haiti Foundation.
CNN's Alan Duke contributed to this report.
Friday, Jan 22, 2010
Heidi Montag: The monster we created
She's a hot mess in a triple-D cup, a cosmetically enhanced nightmare -- and a celebrity for our time
By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Though America will never lack for celebrities who parlay our loathing of them into their bread and butter, no one seems to bask better in the spotlight of distaste these days than Heidi Montag.
The spoiled, bitchy and bottomlessly vapid MTV reality star with the tragically self-promoting husband, Heidi Montag is also a monster of our own creation: a woman who seems to exist solely to make the rest of us feel better about our relative depth of character -- and who, apparently, thrives on the negative attention.
Earlier this month, she released an unsurprisingly lackluster album with the poetically appropriate name "Superficial" and started filming a new season of her heavily scripted series "The Hills," all to the yawns of millions. Perhaps fearing that the dawn of a new decade might signal an end to our fascination with watching shallow people do questionable things, the 23-year-old then took to the cover of People magazine last week to show off her multiple cosmetic procedures -- including a horrifying 10 in one day: a brow minilift, nose-job revision, fat injections in cheeks and lips, chin reduction, neck liposuction, ear pinning, breast augmentation revision, liposuction, buttocks augmentation and a little Botox thrown in. In a grand gesture of stating the obvious, she confessed that the reason she put herself through enough work to look like she'd gone through a car window was that she's "beyond obsessed" with self-improvement. Then, just in case that didn't get our attention, the sculpted, pneumatically hootered blonde appeared on "Good Morning America" to tell us, in her Tin-Man-before-the oil-can-stiff-faced way, that "My main message is that 'beauty is really within.'"
Congratulations, Heidi, you clueless, narcissistic, Playboy-posing, Jesus-invoking coauthor of a book about being famous for being famous plastic surgery junkie! You're everything wrong with everything in the world! You win!
For her candor and rather shameless fame-grubbing Montag has been near universally vilified. After her story appeared on People, the commenters eagerly panned her new look with unkind comparisons to Joan Rivers. The sentiments ran along similar lines at ABC after the "GMA" appearance, where the adjectives "talking corpse" and "plastic zombie" were bandied about. (Unafraid as ever to be completely tone deaf, the impressively endowed Meghan McCain used her Daily Beast column this week to decry the "boob police" who allegedly "hailed" and "celebrated" Montag for "showing off her new purchases.") Dr. Drew Pinsky, no stranger to publicity-seeking himself, meanwhile quickly diagnosed Montag as a "female cross dresser" who "clearly has some significant emotional issues." In short, lady, you're a hot mess in a triple-D cup.
But there's something almost masochistically unsatisfying about hating on Heidi. Maybe it's just so damn easy, it feels like it's giving the fame monster exactly what she wants. That, of course, has been the perverse quid pro quo pleasure of reality television all along -- its stars get the illusion of true fame, and viewers get the effortless joy of feeling superior to them for their craven pursuit of it.
Heidis don't grow in labs -- they just look like they do. They take root in a culture where looking like a manga avatar spun through a porn movie is not only attainable, it's not even that unusual. Did you watch the Golden Globes earlier this week? It looked like an episode of "Sailor Moon."
Appearing on "Access Hollywood" a few days ago, Montag said, "I wasn't happy with the way I looked On blogs and after shows, people would circle my chin and say I had Jay Leno Chin. " She's right, they did. They also reviled her as "ugly" every step of the way, too.
So what did she do about it? Did she go quietly to live on a farm or help the homeless or learn a useful trade? No, she fixed it by spending enough money to bail out the American auto industry. And then we criticized her for that too. Gotcha! You want so badly to be famous? OK, but just don't get old or gain weight or go outside looking like an un-Photoshopped version of yourself, bitch! And if you try to, as Heidi put it, "upgrade," we will despise you for being a big fake, judging you from exactly the same glass house from which we called you ugly. Well played, humanity.
Heidi Montag is a woman whose most evident skill is getting attention, one who has gleaned that if she needs to turn herself into a blow-up doll and open herself up to some class-A excoriation to get it, she's still game. The most apt word I can come up with regarding that is just "sad." Sad for someone so desperately eager to "be the best me, in and out," sad for a celebrity cottage industry so equally eager to tear individuals down. Because as long as there are people who measure their own self-regard in relation to their disdain for others, Heidi Montag will never be out of work. And there's something awful enough about watching an enviably pretty young woman surgically transform into a matronly Barbie doll without piling on. That's why I can't be bothered hating her. I couldn't do a better job than a whole lot of people -- including, it seems, Heidi Montag herself -- are already doing for her.
Burger King plans beer-selling Whopper Bar in South Beach
Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Gimme a Whopper, fries and a beer.
Those words are no longer wishful thinking. Friday, Burger King (BKC) will unveil plans to sell beer and burgers at a Whopper Bar a new BK concept to compete with casual dining restaurants in Miami Beach's tourist-heavy South Beach. The South Beach Whopper Bar is scheduled to open in mid-February.
Don't look for beer at conventional Burger Kings. That's not in the plans. But more Whopper Bars which offer an assortment of burgers, toppings and beer could be on tap in tourist hot spots such as New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, says Chuck Fallon, president of Burger King North America.
A brewski at the new Whopper Bar served in special aluminum bottles to keep them extra cold fetches $4.25. Or, order beer as part of a Whopper combo and your bill will be $7.99 roughly $2 more than the same combo meal with a fountain drink.
The unusual move comes as the restaurant industry is reeling. Restaurant operators reported lower same-store sales in November, compared with a year earlier, for the 18th-consecutive month, the National Restaurant Association reports. Nearly 65% of operators reported a same-store sales decline in November. December results were unavailable.
Burger King's Whopper Bar isn't the first fast-food chain to test alcoholic beverages domestically. Last year in Seattle, Starbucks opened "15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, inspired by Starbucks." Beyond coffee and tea, it sells regional beers and wines.
By trying to wedge into the fast-casual dining arena with Whopper Bar, Burger King is chasing the 30-and-under crowd, which is the industry's future growth, says Bradford Hudson, marketing professor at Boston University. But the move is very tricky, he says, because "Burger King means fast food."
But Linda Lipsky, a restaurant consultant, says the move makes sense. "The Burger King customer is aging, so they're just trying to grow up with the customer."
The restaurant will initially sell Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors beers. "You can have America's favorite beers with America's favorite burger," Fallon says. More will eventually be added, he says.
But Lipsky says the chain will be challenged to train staff to legally sell and serve alcohol. "You can be an easy mark if you're not used to selling alcohol," she says.
Burger Kings in Germany and Whopper Bars in Singapore and Venezuela sell beer. But this will be the first BK brand in the USA to sell beer. (A Whopper Bar in Universal City does not sell beer.) "We're in the midst of understanding how much beer will be a part of the (sales pitch)," Fallon says.
The restaurant also will offer delivery of all items except beer.
Sugar Makes A Comeback
Jan 17, 2010
Are you one of those soda purists who curse the day when their favorite beverage switched from heavenly sugar to that sorry substitute the evil high-fructose corn syrup? Do you find yourself scanning each new store you enter to see if maybe, just maybe, they carry Coca-Cola in the tall glass bottles, the ones manufactured in Mexico that still contain sucrose?
Realizing that a sizable portion of the soda-buying public yearns for a return to sugar in their soft drinks, the folks over at Pepsi went all retro on us, introducing "Throwback" versions of both Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Packaged in cans that look just like the ones you remember from yesteryear, these products are available for a limited time until February 22, according to the company website.
At Retroland, we want to know how you feel about the return of these sucrose-laden soft drinks. Have you tried them, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts on these retro-sodas with all of us at Retroland. Meanwhile, some of us will be anxiously waiting to see if Coke jumps on the bandwagon, so that one needn't travel too far to, once again, experience "The Real Thing."
Conan O'Brien ends final NBC's 'Tonight Show' with over 7 million viewers - now he can be edgy again
Sunday, January 24th 2010
In the last two weeks we've seen Conan O'Brien become himself again.
We saw him stand up to his bosses and win - sort of.
We also saw the guy be funny in ways he wasn't for most of the seven months he hosted "The Tonight Show."
Now that he's free from NBC, he's got to use that same intestinal fortitude - and comic genius - to create his next opportunity.
Armed with a load of cash, and the benefit of time, O'Brien needs to get back to what made him desirable in the first place - edgy comedy targeted at a younger audience.
Not the kind of stuff he did for most of his seven-month run on "Tonight," but what he did for nearly 17 years on NBC's "Late Night."
O'Brien was different at 11:35 p.m. than he was an hour later, and that's a downside to broadcast TV.
"That's the problem you always face," says analyst Bill Carroll of the Katz Media Group. "We want you for who you are and now we make you who we want you to be."
Reaching a mass audience means softening the edges, a bit, which O'Brien did.
"Every comedian dreams of hosting the 'Tonight Show' and, for seven months, I got to," O'Brien said near the end of his last show Friday night. "I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second."
Viewers, however, may argue that what they saw was somehow different, at least up until the end, when all bets were off - and O'Brien's ratings soared.
And his final show didn't disappoint. It attracted more than 7 million viewers, according to preliminary numbers released by Nielsen, clobbering David Letterman's 2.8 million viewers and Jimmy Kimmel's 1.4 million.
Part of O'Brien's exit talks with NBC centered on who gets the "intellectual property" rights to stuff he and his team created in his run there. One most often mentioned was the Masturbating Bear, a guy in a bear costume who, well, enough said.
The bear was a huge hit with O'Brien's "Late Night" crowd, yet, wasn't used on "Tonight" for the first time until Wednesday, when, frankly, it was too late.
The point is that while he's losing the bear in the $45 million divorce with NBC, O'Brien has a chance to get something bigger back - his sense of humor.
"The networks never really counter-program in late-night," Brad Adgate, a senior vice president at Horizon Media said of O'Brien's options now that he left NBC. "I would offer his 'Late Show' [the next time]. To do something that's exactly what Leno and Letterman are offering, I don't know if that's what viewers want."
Fox officials have said they're interested in O'Brien. And Fox, no doubt, can provide marketing muscle and reach. Anyone doubting that should look at the way Fox promotes "American Idol" to the point that you half-expect Simon Cowell to anchor the news alongside Ernie Anastos.
Going the broadcast route might provide the most money, and audience reach, but that could be a mistake.
O'Brien would be better off going to a cable network where he could push the boundaries of content and further unleash his creative spirit in ways broadcast networks could never provide.
O'Brien appropriately ended his last "Tonight Show" with an all-star rendition of "Freebird," a song that includes the line, "Cause I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change."
He had changed on "Tonight." And, in many ways, though he was leaving, in the end it was good to see an old friend emerge in O'Brien - the same one we'd like to see back in the fall.