Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Few Tremors in Oprahland

LOS ANGELES — Oprah Winfrey is still the queen of all media, but her crown is beginning to look a bit tarnished.

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Left, Kevin Wolf/Associated Press; Right, top and bottom, George Burns/Harpo Productions

Oprah Winfrey, doyenne of daytime talk, has had a few lulls recently in her various media enterprises.

George Burns/Harpo Productions

Ms. Winfrey’s public support of Senator Barack Obama for president may have cost her support from white women backing Senator Hillary Clinton.

The average audience for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has fallen nearly 7 percent this year, according to Nielsen Media Research — its third straight year of decline. “Oprah’s Big Give,” an ABC philanthropic reality show, beat every program on television except “American Idol” in its premiere week this winter, but steadily lost nearly one-third of its audience during the rest of its eight-week run, according to Nielsen.

The circulation of O, The Oprah Magazine, has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last three years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the magazine is now seeking a new editor in chief after the announced retirement of its longtime steward, Amy Gross.

And while Ms. Winfrey still displays a Midas touch when it comes to the endorsement of books and products, some of her latest picks have attracted criticism from longtime fans as she has strayed into new-age spiritualism and, perhaps more dangerously, politics. Her endorsement of the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama appears to have alienated some of the middle-aged white women who make up the bulk of her television audience, many of whom support Senator Hillary Clinton.

“Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” rarely criticized by her ardent supporters, said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass communication at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Age of Oprah,” a new book on Ms. Winfrey’s cultural influence.

Since the endorsement, however, angry criticism of her political stance became a regular feature of the message boards on Oprah.com, Ms. Peck said. “There are a lot of her fans who are not Democrats or who support Hillary Clinton who feel betrayed,” she added.

The weaker ratings come as Ms. Winfrey is embarking on what is perhaps her biggest project yet: the start-up of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, a cable channel being created jointly with Discovery Communications. Its programming, though it will not include “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which is under contract with current stations through 2010, will entirely reflect Ms. Winfrey’s vision of what she calls empowering programming.

Tim Bennett, the president of Harpo Productions, Ms. Winfrey’s primary business venture, said in an interview that all aspects of her business are thriving and disputed the idea that her political endorsement had caused problems. The audience for her daytime talk show, he noted, remains roughly one-third larger than the next most popular competitor, “Dr. Phil,” featuring Dr. Phil McGraw, who was introduced to the talk-show world by Ms. Winfrey herself.

Any drop in her television ratings can be traced to general weakness in the overall television audience, Mr. Bennett said. Her political endorsement, which has never been highlighted on her syndicated talk show, has not generated any negative feedback from the stations that broadcast the program, he added.

“Those stations pay us a lot of money for that show, and if they felt she was doing anything that was diminishing the mother lode, we would get a call saying, ‘Enough,’ ” Mr. Bennett said. “We didn’t hear one iota of feedback.”

Ms. Winfrey was in South Africa last week and was unavailable for comment, her company said. She was there interviewing candidates to oversee the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a school she built and sponsors there. That school itself generated negative publicity for Ms. Winfrey last year, when a dorm matron at the school was accused of abusing six students over four months. A trial of the former employee, who has denied the abuse charges, is scheduled to start in July.

Mr. Bennett also disputes the idea that Ms. Winfrey might be suffering from overexposure, even though she has recently expanded her empire with a satellite radio show, a network-television Oscar special, and a deal with Discovery Communications to start her new cable station.

“I’ve never witnessed someone more in touch with the audience she serves,” he said. “She paces herself very well.”

Both Mr. Bennett and Stephen McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment, said that a second season of “Oprah’s Big Give” would have been a shoo-in for ABC’s prime-time lineup.

“We loved that show and absolutely would have loved to bring it back,” Mr. McPherson said, addressing reporters this month at the announcement of ABC’s fall schedule. “But it was something she didn’t want to do.”

The first episode of “Oprah’s Big Give” attracted 15.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, second that week only to “American Idol,” which drew about 27 million. But it averaged only 11.1 million viewers over eight weeks and finished the season 32nd in total audience among all prime-time programs.

Ms. Winfrey’s daytime audience has also declined, to about 7.3 million this year from 7.8 million a year ago and a peak of nearly 9 million in the 2004-2005 season. (Those Nielsen figures include viewers who record the show and watch it within seven days.)

Robert Madden, a senior executive vice president at CBS Television Distribution, which oversees the syndication of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” said he is unworried by that decline.

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Does music belong in humor?: 15 novelty singles from prominent funnymen

More: Inventory, Feature, Music

1. Rodney Dangerfield, "Rappin' Rodney"

Maybe there's a good reason Rodney Dangerfield never got any respect: He's a horrible rapper. In fact, it's a stretch to even classify the self-deprecating comedian's performance on the title track to 1983's Rappin' Rodney as "rapping": Dangerfield merely rattles off his self-deprecating one-liners, as fly girls chant "No respect! No respect!" between the setup and punchline over a funky, unrelated beat. It's the epitome of a novelty song: It coasts on a dated gag, but it wears thin even during the initial listen. Fortunately, there's a video he made for a network special, which amplifies the song's amateurish cluelessness, but at least weaves the "song" into a puzzling courtroom setting, and includes Father Guido Sarducci nibbling on Dangerfield's last meal.

2. Billy Crystal, "You Look Mahvelous"

Billy Crystal's inside-showbiz parody of Fernando Lamas as a smooth-talking, name-dropping Hollywood fixture was always a queer bird, better suited to the SCTV brand of celebrity parody than the edgier Saturday Night Live aesthetic. But the character's catchphrase soon found a fan in every water-cooler comedian, making a spin-off inevitable; while we were spared the horrors of Fernando: The Motion Picture, the '80s lounge-corn of the single was ubiquitous during a few months of 1985. It cracked the Billboard Hot 100, and even made it to #28 on the dance chart. This says less about Crystal's comic talents than it does about the quality of cocaine available back then.

3. Dennis Leary, "Asshole"

For about five seconds, it looked like Denis Leary was going to become the dirty version of "Weird Al" Yankovic. "Asshole" made a huge impact, ironically, with a censored version that robbed it of most of its bite. Leary raves for four minutes over a spare acoustic guitar riff until, finally, someone—his own conscience? The voice of his fans?—asks him to quit pontificating and get on with the song. Before long, the question of whether he was kidding was answered, and America realized that he really was an asshole. After that, he gave up comedy to become an actor, where being an asshole is less of a hindrance.

4. Sam Kinison, "Wild Thing"

Given his prodigious alcohol and drug intake, it's possible that Sam Kinison really believed he was a rock star when he recorded a novelty cover of The Troggs' classic "Wild Thing" in 1988. Kinison recruited a bevy of actual rock stars for the video, including Tommy Lee, Slash, Billy Idol, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, some dudes from Ratt, Frank Zappa's kid, and one of the non-Bon Jovi members of Bon Jovi. He also jammed out on a Stratocaster emblazoned with his own screamy face. And to Kinison's credit, he totally rocks harder than Faster Pussycat. But Faster Pussycat is also more (unintentionally) hilarious, so Kinison's comedy-rock move must be declared a draw.

5. Steve Martin, "King Tut"

The novelty song "King Tut" already had a pretty good premise: a nation obsessed with, of all things, a traveling exhibit of the Egyptian king's tomb artifacts. In 1978, Steve Martin added an extra level of humor by claiming his song was educational, then adding ridiculous lyrics like "How'd you get so funky? Did you do the monkey?" and even referring to the mummy as "my favorite honky." The single reached #17 in 1978.

6. Robert Klein, "Let's Not Make Love"

For the title track of his 1990 album, Robert Klein created what he called "a love song for the '90s." It's an unlikely anthem celebrating the joys of abstinence in an era where widespread anxiety over AIDS, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies combined to make sex seem scarier than sexual, delivered with Klein's sardonic humor. Klein reached deep into his Rolodex to line up cameos from famous friends like Bob Costas and Geraldo Rivera in the accompanying—and curiously absent from YouTube—music video. Not making love with Geraldo Rivera—now there's a notion we can all get behind.


7. Neil Hamburger, "Seven Elevens"

Neil Hamburger has made a career out of making fun of stand-up comedians, delivering the worst jokes possible with enough ridiculous panache to provide laughs. (If you're in the right mood, anyway.) One of Hamburger's earliest routines, about how all 7-Eleven stores are exactly the same ("It doesn't matter where you go!"), followed the ridiculous comedian-makes-novelty-song path. Hamburger even made a video for it, with cheap shaky-cam and bad effects. So bad it's still bad, but funny.

8. Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, "I Keed, I Keed"

Like Neil Hamburger, Robert Smigel's Triumph The Insult Comic Dog adds a thick, protective layer of irony to the cash-in novelty-song genre by being an over-the-top parody of crass hackitude. Triumph's Come Poop With Me album is a Borscht-scented homage to a long-ago era where Don Rickles was king and the Rat Pack ruled the Vegas strip. But it goes contemporary for the slick radio single "I Keed, I Keed," a straight-up dis track where Triumph insults Britney Spears, Fred Durst, and Philip Glass (the lattermost for being an "atonal ass.") Grammy voters were amused: The album was nominated for Best Comedy Album in 2003, though Triumph's rapping career wisely seems to have ended pretty much where it began.

9. Chris Rock, "No Sex In The Champagne Room"

In his parody of that staple of late-'90s graduations, the Baz Luhrmann-produced spoken-word hit "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," Chris Rock offers his own aphorisms to "the GED class of 1999." While Rock's advice is obviously more funny than functional (between silly—and dated—digs at Ol' Dirty Bastard and Coolio, he states plain truths like "No one goes to Hooters for the wings" and drops non sequiturs such as "Cornbread—ain't nothin' wrong with that!"), Rock does manage to impart a few welcome words of wisdom. For young black men, Rock makes a reasoned case for "letting it slide" when somebody steps on their feet. ("Why spend the next 20 years in jail because someone smudged your Puma?") For guys in general, he has all kinds of useful insights—chief among them the titular tip that "No matter what a stripper says, there is no sex in the champagne room," a lesson most dudes learn the hard way. Much like "Everybody's Free," "No Sex" barely counts as a "song" outside of its hot-and-heavy hook, courtesy of the late Gerald Levert. Still, it managed to become one of the most-played tracks of 1999, ensuring that an entire generation now knows that if a girl has a pierced tongue, she'll probably suck your dick.

10. Cheech and Chong, "Basketball Jones"

This somewhat unlikely single from the duo's 1973 album Los Cochinos parodies Brighter Side Of Darkness' 1972 song "Love Jones." Cheech narrates Tyrone Shoelace's overwhelming love of basketball over a slow groove, provided by an all-star cast of musicians including George Harrison, Carole King, and Billy Preston. "I need someone to set a pick for me at the free-throw line of life," Tyrone pleads. "Bill Russell, sing along with us. Chick Hearn, sing along with us. Chris Schenkel, don't sing nothin'." An animated video for the song produced in 1974 mesmerizes Peter Sellers during a limo ride in Being There, and the snippet of the song included in Robert Altman's California Split prompted one of the music-rights disputes that held up the movie's home-video release for years.

11. Bob and Doug McKenzie, "Take Off"

Because top-40 radio thrived on variety in the era before niche programming, novelty songs were apt to shoot up the charts. Certainly the phenomenon helped "Take Off," an energetic number derived from Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas' SCTV spoof "Great White North." Geddy Lee ("Ten bucks is 10 bucks") warbles the sketch's Canadian catchphrases while brothers Bob and Doug argue about who's responsible for the drum solo. The single reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982, and probably sold a few Rush albums to unsuspecting frat boys along the way. "Take Off" wasn't the McKenzie brothers' only hit, either; their "Five golden toques!" version of "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" remains a seasonal favorite.

12. Peter Sellers, "A Hard Day's Night"

Novelty songs by prominent funnymen don't come much stranger or more convoluted than Peter Sellers' oddball take on "Hard Day's Night." Ever the chameleon, Sellers talk-sings the song in the manner of Laurence Olivier's Richard III, dramatizing the words in a manner that's part Royal Shakespeare Company, part "Rocket Man"-era William Shatner. The result is more funny-strange than funny-ha-ha, but that didn't keep a Beatles-crazed British public from inexplicably catapulting the song into the top 10.

13. Adam Sandler, "Hanukkah Song"

Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song" transformed a favorite pastime of Jews throughout the ages—guessing which celebrities are or aren't Jewish—into the most beloved Hanukkah song this side of "I Have A Little Dreidel." For a novelty song, Sandler's tune has proven shockingly resilient and venerable. Sandler sang it on Saturday Night Live, included it on his 1994 album What The Hell Happened To Me?, then followed it up with two sequels, at least one of which featured professional Sandler sidekick Rob Schneider, a gentleman whom Sandler will gladly tell you, is, in fact, half-Jewish.

14. Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones, "Hikky Burr"

Like most comedians, Bill Cosby seems to love the sound of his own voice. Still, as far as novelty songs by comedians go, "Hikky Burr" is both on the line of what qualifies and actually pretty fun. Super-producer Quincy Jones provided the music for The Bill Cosby Show (not The Cosby Show, we're talking 1969 here), and naturally filled it with loose-limbed soul-jazz. During one session, Cos stepped in to freestyle some goofiness, and his verbal tics provide plenty of sing-along fun. For points with the younger generation, it was even remixed by Mix Master Mike.

15. Eddie Murphy, "Boogie In Your Butt"

Eddie Murphy had a semi-legitimate pop hit in 1985 with "Party All The Time," a generic R&B nugget written by Rick James. But earlier in his career, Murphy dropped a ridiculous musical bonus cut onto an album: "Boogie In Your Butt" basically lists a bunch of things you should put in your butt (some fleas, a tin can, a tiny man, a TV, a mink coat, a moat), followed by a Murphy character wondering aloud why people would want to put things in their butt. (They must be getting paid.) It's pretty bad, but catchy nonetheless.

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Weekly Ketchup: Flash Gordon, Highlander Remakes Announced


With Iron Man showing that a movie can prominently feature a man being propelled into the heavens on a rocket, and make a bajillion dollars, it's apparently okay again to show a man inside a rocket being propelled into the heavens as well. As the winners of a studio bidding war, Sony Pictures announced this week their plans to revive Flash Gordon as a feature film franchise, bringing back the football star who travels to the planet Mongo, and helps a variety of exotic races fight against the evil Ming the Merciless. Flash Gordon started off in the 1930s as the star of comic strips and a series of extremely popular serials (basically a movie broken up into parts, shown before other movies back then), and was then being remade as a flamboyantly campy Queen-soundtrack-driven adventure (and box office flop) in 1980.

This time around, Breck Eisner (director of Sahara; and son of Disney's famous former boss), who is also remaking The Creature from the Black Lagoon and George A. Romero's The Crazies, has been given the enviable challenge of bringing Flash's fantastic adventures to life. I'm not terribly excited by just how rampant the current remake trend is becoming, but Flash Gordon is definitely a pretty awesome candidate, I think. More interesting than Flash himself, I think, is the prospect of seeing Ming the Merciless return as a movie icon. Absence from popular culture for 25+ years has hurt his legacy a bit, but Ming easily deserves a place on any top 10 list of the most classic movie villains ever. "Pathetic Earthlings!"


Hollywood's junkie-like addiction to raiding its back catalogue for remake material continues this week with a really great fantasy sword-and-sorcery adventure which inspired several sequels, and more than one TV show: Highlander. In the original, Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert starred as immortals locked in a centuries-long struggle against others of their kind who seek to kill them off. This time around, the project's new producers are promising a more "romantic" Highlander that will stress Connor MacLeod's love for a non-immortal woman, with a script to be written by the writers of Iron Man (Art Marcum and Matt Holloway). This project, then, proposes the question I bet you didn't think you'd have to ask yourself today: who is the 21st century equivalent of Christopher Lambert?


Discussing candidates for remakes, the studio chiefs at MGM revealed this week that they have their eyes on Robocop (which we already knew about a few weeks back) and from a somewhat similar 1980s-centric political vein, Red Dawn. Yes, the Patrick Swayze-starring movie about high school kids who take to the hills during a Russian/Cuban invasion of the United States, becoming rather successful guerrila rebel fighters. Directed by John Milius (the Conan movies, and writer of Apocalypse Now), Red Dawn is a movie that people either passionately LOVE, or find rather hilariously bad, I think. I'm actually in the first camp, but I'm also a big fan of "alternative history", so my mind goes all kind of theorizing at any movie that depicts a different path like Red Dawn does (so, yes, I'm that one person who actually saw White Man's Burden). The big question for this remake has got to be who they would paint as the big bad invaders this time? Theoretically, I guess it *could* be Russia and Cuba again, but you've got to think that "they" would probably either go for an Asian threat (China or Korea?), or probably the most predictable choice, post 9/11, and some sort of Middle Eastern and/or Islamic threat. The logic-challenging problem there though is... can "terrorists" credibly be portrayed as an invading force?


DreamWorks has hired screenwriter David Franzoni (Amistad, King Arthur) to bring his history-friendly talents to bear on Blackbeard, about the real-life early 18th century English pirate, Edward Teach. This isn't the first time a historical pirate's life story has been considered in recent post-PotC years; projects about Captain Kidd and the pirates of Tripoli are now gathering plenty of dust somewhere in development desks. Blackbeard probably has an edge, however, as he was particularly flamboyant (adorning his beard with rope and lit matches!), and probably contributed a great deal to the things we stereotypically think of as being part of pirate lore. I say "probably" because I'm (honestly) not really that into the pirate genre, and I'm sort of just basing this on what I know of (gasp) actual maritime history and stuff I found on Wikipedia. Apparently, though, for people who are really into the whole pirate thing, Blackbeard's a big deal, so... here they go. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, and all... that.


Columbia Pictures has hired Danish documentary filmmaker Asger Leth to make his dramatic debut with Olympia, a romance-heavy ancient war movie set during the original Olympics, as war wages between Greek rival city-states Athens and Sparta, from a script by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot). Given the average speed that film development and production usually goes, I've got to think that Sony's target here is probably sometime in 2011 or 2012, so that the movie can properly tie into the 2012 games in London? They're probably also inspired by the success of 300, of course. Before that movie, who knew moviegoers would love Spartans so?


With 15 years now passed since the tragic events there, the government siege of David Koresh's Branch Dividian compound outside Waco, Texas is now becoming the subject of a feature film, to be directed by Rupert Wainwright (Stigmata, the remake of The Fog). I'm sure this project has probably been in the works for years (considering that one of the co-producers is the director of the 1997 documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement), but it's always interesting to me when projects like this are announced just as something similar is going on in the world (in this case, the Texas raid of that polygamist compound). Who knows what bizarre movie project would be revealed as having been in the works for a while, if any given random thing made the news?


Little-known British actor Ben Barnes, currently starring as Prince Caspian in the latest Narnia movie, has been cast as the lead in a new feature film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as a man who keeps a magical painting upon which all of his aging goes, keeping his real body perpetually awesome looking. Oliver Parker, who also directed the most recent movie versions of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, is aiming to start filming in July, on this project which will delve into "dark horror", as it analyzes the subject of fame, and what one will do to keep up appearances.


Frequently inspiring movies loosely based on it, William Shakespeare's King Lear is apparently due for another proper film adaptation, with Sir Anthony Hopkins (Lear), Gwyneth Paltrow (Regan) and Kiera Knightley (Cordelia) being announced this week as having been cast as 3/4 of the play's lead characters. King Lear, which tells the bloody tale of what happens when the elderly King of England's three daughters fight amongst themselves over who will benefit when their father dies. Although the director hasn't been announced yet, this British production reportedly has a budget of $35 million, which will be used to include "epic" battle scenes to support the Bard's notoriously grim and cruel dialogue. I'm maybe a bit surprised this isn't being announced as Kenneth Branagh's next Shakespeare production, but perhaps he is just waiting until he can properly age into the role.


In addition to their various projects that star members of The Avengers, Marvel Studios announced this week plans to produce a feature film adapation of Runaways, a 2004 series created by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, and part of the Lost writing team), about a group of fugitive teenagers whose parents are super-villains, and who must come to terms with their own super-powers, and place in the world. The great thing about Runaways was that it managed to be a creative idea at a time in an industry where most of the original stuff seemed to have already been done, and most writers have a tendency to "pay homage" to other titles far, far too often. Brian K. Vaughan will adapt his own screenplay, and there is no word yet about a director, etc., so this project will probably not be added to Marvel's actual production calendar until after the Avengers projects (possibly aiming for 2012 or so?).


In other prison movie news, the Warner Bros project called Super Max, which will star DC Comics' Green Arrow, received a script review at Latino Review this week, which revealed something we had not previously known, which is what DC super-villains will be joining archer Oliver Queen in the big house. I've been a fairly consistent reader of various DC Comics titles over the years, and even I have to say, that I am only familiar with about half of the villains, so writer Justin Marks definitely felt comfortable not being forced to only use villains with "marquee" value (although a few of those, which I won't spoil here, are definitely included as cameo appearances).

Among those that comics fans might know (versus having to look up on Wikipedia) are The Calculator (prominent in the excellent Identity Crisis storyline), Blockbuster (one of Nightwing's main baddies), Tattooed Man (a Green Lantern foe) and Pied Piper, a member of the Flash's Rogues' Gallery. I think I'm seeing a trend, actually, as it appears that each of these villains correllates to a different prominent DC superhero. There's obviously some overlap, but I definitely think that might be intended, which is sort of cool. Meanwhile, in the years it takes this movie to get made, you can join me in trying to learn exactly who such obscure DC villains as Cascade, Multiplex and Shock Trauma are. As a footnote, let me say I'm totally behind the idea of superhero movies being more about an actual story than having to be "about" whatever hero or heroes star in the story, which Super Max seems to be a perfect example of. Green Arrow is a character in the story, rather than the subject of the story.

In other prison movie news, director Frank Darabont (The Mist), whose most popular movies include The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, announced this week plans to return to jail with Law Abiding Citizen, although this time, he won't have the benefit of source material written by Stephen King. From a script by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium), the film tells the story of a criminal mastermind who is able to control an entire city from the comfort of his prison cell, with Gerard Butler having already signed on to play the district attorney attempting to bring him down.

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It is with the utmost pride and pleasure that we declare the start of our new series, Red vs Blue:Reconstruction. The Sponsors are watching the extended cut of the episode right now in the forum, and the final cut will be available here just as soon as the data gods bestow their favors upon us. (UPDATE: It's up now. Look up!) That means we're encoding and uploading. We plan to release RvB:re on Mondays all throughout the Summer, so please stay tuned.

We are also adding another regular feature to the site on Fridays -- Dev Day. Each week, Gus, Ben and Nathan will be bringing you new features to the community site. The first taste can be seen in the commments of this post. You can expect steady steps forward, rather than the major overhauls you have seen in the past. It's a summer of Reconstruction in every sense. Please, pardon our dust.
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It's No Aston Martin for Secret Agent Maxwell Smart

NEW YORK — Unlike some of this year's movie superheroes, Maxwell Smart will not be found behind the wheel of an Audi R8, a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 or an Aston Martin DBS. Instead, the modest and fuel-efficient Vespa LX 150 will be the klutzy secret agent's personal transportation in the Warner Bros. film Get Smart.

As you might expect, the promotional efforts for the movie are ramping up. Vespa has teamed with Warner Bros. and restaurant chain Subway in an effort that bundles an online instant-win game and sweepstakes. The grand prizes are 10 Vespas, free food and gear. Vespa said it is offering a free $5 Subway card with a test-drive or product demonstration at its dealerships. More information can be found at VespaUSA.com or SubwayFreshBuzz.com.

Vespa has a long relationship with Get Smart, back when it was a TV show. The Vespa-Alpha was developed by Alpha-Wallis in 1967 for Maxwell Smart, the main character in the TV series Get Smart. The vehicle was not only roadworthy, it could fly and even be used under water.

The Get Smart movie debuts June 20 and stars Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

The Vespa is an excellent foil to Carell's role as something of a bumbling antihero. In contrast, Robert Downey Jr.'s character in the blockbuster movie Iron Man drives an Audi R8. The new Batman movie will feature the superhero behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, while the Aston Martin DBS plays a major supporting role in the new James Bond movie.

What this means to you: With gas prices what they are, the Vespa suddenly might seem like one of the hippest vehicles on the road, even without the influence of Maxwell Smart. — Anita Lienert, Correspondent

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Don't you dare, David! Posh keeps a close eye on Becks as he tries not to ogle basketball cheerleaders again

It looks as though Victoria Beckham has had enough of husband David’s court-side ogling of the cheerleaders at LA Lakers basketball games.

The LA Galaxy player has been spending a good amount of his free time at the Staples Centre in LA, and has been snapped a few times with his eyes on round bouncy things- and we’re not talking the basketballs.

The front row seats which are just a few feet from the court are hot tickets for celebrities and basket ball fans alike and now Victoria,34 knows why.

Victoria keeps her husband David Beckham in check as he admires the scantilly clad cheerleaders at an LA Lakers game

David sneaks a quick peak at the blonde beauty when wife Victoria is distracted

David keeps his attention on Victoria as the blond cheerleader shakes her behind in front of him

So this time around- despite her obvious disinterest in the game- the former Spice Girl wasn't taking any chances and decided to join David at the match to keep her husbands gaze away from the scantily clad cheerleaders.

But the hot-pant wearing, mid rift showing cheerleaders strutted their stuff in front of the Beckhams as they entertained the crowd.

And as hard as David, 33 tried to keep his gaze firmly fixed on the match his eyes wandered a few times to the disapproval of Victoria who gave him a few menacing looks.

Even Victoria Beckham couldn't help taking a glimpse of the well toned blonde

Victoria looks unimpressed and David keeps his eyes firmly shut as the line of cheerleaders walk past them

Posh -who is know for her glum looks- couldn’t hide her annoyance at the line women with their meagre attire who seemed set on standing in front of her husband to perform their dance routine.

And although she kept David in check on several occasions even she couldn't help taking glimpse at the well toned cheerleaders.

In one instance it almost looked like Posh wanted her Spice days back as she admired the tanned body of one of blonde dancers.

There there: David gives Victoria a gentle pat on the back

David even tried to shut his eyes a few times in an attempt to block out the sexy ladies dancing just a few feet from where he was sitting.

Luckily for Victoria, David only had eyes for her and even gave his wife a few reassuring pats on the back.

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Director Sydney Pollack dies of cancer

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack, who achieved commercial and critical success with the gender-bending comedy "Tootsie" and the period drama "Out of Africa, has died. He was 73.


Sydney Pollack's notable films include "Out of Africa," "Tootsie" and "The Way We Were."

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Pollack died of cancer Monday afternoon at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, said agent Leslee Dart. He had been diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, said Dart.

Pollack, who often appeared on the screen himself, worked with and gained the respect of Hollywood's best actors in a long career that reached prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act," actor George Clooney said in a statement issued by his publicist. Video Watch how Pollack's career spanned decades »

"He'll be missed terribly," Clooney said.

Last fall, Pollack played Marty Bach opposite Clooney in "Michael Clayton," a drama that examines the life of a fixer for lawyers. The film, which Pollack co-produced, received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best actor nod for Clooney.

Pollack was no stranger to the Academy Awards. In 1986, "Out of Africa" a romantic epic of a woman's passion set against the landscape of colonial Kenya, captured seven Oscars, including best director.

Over the years, several of his other films, including "Tootsie" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" got several nominations, including best director nods.

Pollack's last screen appearance was in "Made of Honor," a romantic comedy currently in theaters, where he played the oft-married father of star Patrick Dempsey's character.

In recent years, Pollack produced many independent films with filmmaker Anthony Minghella and the production company Mirage Enterprises.

The Lafayette, Indiana, native was born to first-generation Russian-Americans.

In high school, he fell in love with theater, a passion that prompted him to forgo college and move to New York and enroll in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater.

"We started together in New York and he always excelled at everything he set out to do, his friendships and his humanity as much as his talents," Martin Landau, a longtime close friend of Pollack's and an associate from the Actor's Studio, said through spokesman Dick Guttman.

Studying under Sanford Meisner, Pollack spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theater, eventually becoming Meisner's assistant.

After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned his eye to directing.

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.

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