The specialty side is relatively quiet in terms of new openers.
Contest for No. 1 is likely to be close between "Bee" and "Gangster," paralleling the race last November between Warner Bros. penguin toon "Happy Feet" and James Bond installment "Casino Royale." Opening to $41.5 million over the Nov. 17-19 frame, "Happy Feet" narrowly beat "Casino Royale," which debuted at $40.8 million.
Tracking is strong for both films, with some even giving an edge to "American Gangster" even though the PG-rated "Bee Movie" is a family title.
Both Universal and Paramount, which distributes all DreamWorks Animation titles, are trying to manage expectations.
The fall corridor has been a lucrative one for toons, although Par is stressing that the "Bee Movie" perf is expected to be more in line with that of "Happy Feet" than with that of Pixar's "The Incredibles," which debuted at $70.5 million in November 2004; Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," which opened to $62.5 million in November 2001; or DreamWorks Animation's "Shark Tale," which opened to $47.6 million in October 2004. "Chicken Little" debuted at $40 million in November 2005.
WRITERS STRIKE COULD BE ANNOUNCED ANYTIME
From talent agencies to Wall Street, the dread felt by Hollywood's film and TV industry spread Thursday as WGA leaders in Los Angeles prepped for a strike and took their plans to the membership in a late-night emergency meeting.
The WGA West and WGA East have respective board and council meetings set for Friday. A strike could be announced at any time, following the expiration of the WGA's contract with Hollywood studios on Wednesday.
"I'm definitely worried about it," Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield said about a possible strike. Most analysts were reluctant to attach a dollar figure to the toll a prolonged strike would take, but several suggested that a protracted work stoppage could cost entertainment companies more than the estimated $500 million lost in the 22-week writers strike in 1988.
Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen on Thursday noted that during the '88 strike -- and even ahead of it -- media and entertainment stocks underperformed the S&P 500 index. But while shares rebounded after the work stoppage back then, Cohen predicted that upcoming labor talks with the two other major Hollywood guilds, SAG and DGA, could keep a lid on industry stocks this time around.
"The WGA could also set the tone for upcoming discussions with the SAG and DGA," the analyst said.
Meanwhile, Hollywood talent agencies with big lit departments are busily buffering their bottom lines from the impact of a writers strike. The moves are all designed to do one thing: cut costs.
"Our clients are going to be hit hard by any WGA work stoppage," one agency insider said. "So these are steps we simply have to take."
IMUS RETURNING TO AIRWAVES IN N.Y.
Don Imus has been hired by Citadel Broadcasting to host his own nationally syndicated radio program, confirming rumors that the shock-jock's exile from the airwaves was near over.
Imus, along with his longtime newsman Charles McCord, will debut Dec. 3 on WABC-AM in New York. ABC Radio Network, which Citadel has purchased from the Walt Disney Co., will handle syndication.
Citadel announced the new Imus show at the WABC Web site on Thursday and didn't respond to repeated requests for further comment.
"Don's unique brand of humor, knowledge of the issues and ability to attract big-name guests is unparalleled," said WABC general manager Steve Borneman. "He is rested, fired up and ready to do great radio."
The former "Imus in the Morning" program was famously canceled in April after Imus, while on air, called members of the Rutgers Universtiy women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
The furor that ensued prompted such prominent former guests of the show as Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama to publicly chastise the shock jock. Under intense scrutiny for a week, CBS dropped the show. A day earlier, MSNBC canceled Imus' television talk show.
Bernard McGuirk, who produced "Imus in the Morning" and was fired along with Imus, was not mentioned in the Citadel announcement posted on the Web site Thursday.
The new Imus show will air from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on WABC in New York and will replace a show hosted by Curtis Silwa and Ron Kuby.