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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
September 12

Entertainment News September 12 - TOP 3 Stories for Wednesday

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POLANSKI PULLS OUT OF $100 MILLION FILM

Director Roman Polanski has pulled out of the $100 million "Pompeii," and preparations on the big-budget epic have been indefinitely halted, due to fears that the looming actors strike could derail the project, producer Robert Benmussa said Tuesday.

Benmussa, producer Alain Sarde and Summit Intl., which is repping worldwide sales, noted in a statement that production requires principal photography to take place during the summer in Europe, which could cause lensing to be delayed into the fall.

Current contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America both expire June 30.

Benmussa said: "Polanski has asked for his liberty, and we've given it to him."

If the union dispute is resolved between now and next February, Polanski could return, Benmussa said, but he added: "I've very little hope of that."

Polanski has not pulled out so that he could take on an alternative project. The director had been "working nonstop on the project for the past 18 months," Benmussa said.

The decision to put "Pompeii" on ice was taken "in the past 48 hours," the producer asserted. "We've been meeting agents and they've all said they can't commit beyond June 30, 2008 because of the strike. Unfortunately, we are scheduled to shoot in Southern Italy in August 2008."

The producer went on: "The weather is an actor in this film, because the catastrophe happened Aug. 26, during the sweltering heat of summer, when water supplies had run out. It is a part of the story."

Other southern settings for the five month shoot were considered but ruled out.

"This isn't a TV film where sand dunes in Morocco are made to pass for some other part of the world. It's a question of credibility," Benmussa said.

"Millions" have already been spent since the film went into preparation in March, the producer said, and France's Pathe, Germany's Constantin and RAI Cinema in Italy are among some 35 distributors from around the world who have pre-bought the pic, on the strength of Polanski's association as helmer, as much as the subject matter.

NORTON, PITT RETEAM FOR STATE OF PLAY

Edward Norton is getting back in the ring with his "Fight Club" partner Brad Pitt.

Duo will star in "State of Play," Universal Pictures' adaptation of the British miniseries. Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") is directing the Matthew Michael Carnahan script.

Norton will play a congressman whose speedy political rise is threatened by an investigation into the death of his mistress. Pitt plays a politico-turned-journalist whose relationship with the solon is compromised when he oversees his newspaper's investigation into the murder and develops a relationship with the pol's estranged wife.

The project has been a high priority for U since the studio won an auction for rights to the six-hour mini written by Paul Abbott. Though Pitt has long been attached, he had been courted for other pics while Tony Gilroy worked on a rewrite. Pitt recently committed after that script was turned in, and the project is on track for a November start.

Andrew Hauptman will produce with Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. Abbott is exec producer.

Norton will begin shooting "State of Play" days after he wraps "The Incredible Hulk" for Marvel Studios, with Universal releasing the Louis Leterrier-directed superhero film on June 13.

MTV.COM PULLS IN RECORD NUMBERS

Rubberneckers to Britney Spears VMA performance Sunday night helped account for a record amount of traffic to the net's site, MTV said Tuesday.

MTV.com drew 4.7 million unique visitors by Monday afternoon, which the net said was the most traffic it had ever received in a day.

That number, which is 140% higher than last year's tally for the day after the VMAs, was driven by the hoopla around the Spears' lip-sync. The site made all perfs available on-demand, and touted Spears' with a promo line at the top that read "From Britney's much-talked-about return... watch the performances, and the performances only, that rocked this year's show."

Earlier the net had revealed that ratings were up 23% in the 12-34 demo and were up a similar percentage among total viewers, which clocked in at 7.1 million.

Pre-show ratings also jumped 72% in the 12-34 demo.

Though the fireworks were relatively few compared with previous years' programs, the combination of a live telecast, a Vegas setting and the Spears effect suggested there was life in the franchise even as it entered its 25th year—and offered a template for how to keep it relevant.

But the net was coy Tuesday about what this would mean for next year's airing.

Another youth-oriented Viacom launch also fared well over the weekend.

The pilot for "iCarly," the Nickelodeon new-media hybrid show that seeks to break out "Drake & Josh" thesp Miranda Cosgrove as a star vehicle, drew 3.5 million viewers in its Saturday night bow, and an additional 3.9 million on a Sunday morning reair.

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