On Tuesday, May 4, former Vice President Al Gore and his business partner, Joel Hyatt, announced that they had purchased the cable TV channel Newsworld International, or NWI, from Vivendi Universal for $70 million. They would, they said, turn it into a television network for viewers in their twenties. Reached for comment, television’s newest mini-media mogul, Mr. Gore told The Observer that his first task was to hire a programming chief, which he hoped would be his next official announcement.
“We have some great candidates, but we’re still interviewing,” he said. “You’re not applying, are you? You’d probably be pretty good at it!”
Mr. Gore sounded really excited to be boss of something again-and to finally be able to talk to the press about his project, after a year of silence on the subject and not a few news stories in the press-including a number of reports in this newspaper. Mr. Gore was also ready to set the record straight: His new TV project was not to be confused with somebody’s idea of a lefty Fox News, despite his having called Mr. Murdoch’s network part and parcel of the Republican party.
“People got confused a little bit and understandably so,” Mr. Gore told The Observer . “Number one, we made a decision not to talk to anybody and that left a vacuum and we understood that that was a risk we were running, but we just stuck to our guns and didn’t talk to anybody. Secondly, the group organizing Air America-“he was speaking of Al Franken’s radio network-“was out there in the same time frame and they are overtly partisan. And I had made comments expressing concerns about the nature of the news media and so forth and I’ve been in politics for 25 years, so it’s not hard to see how people could jump to the wrong conclusion. But they did.”
Then he added: “And our content will speak for itself and we’re not going to be political channel, we’re not going to be a partisan channel.”
Mr. Gore said he and his group, INdTV, Inc., would turn NWI into something that dished out unique, “irreverent” content, and “real life stories” from Generation Y, told in voices they “recognized as their own.”
“We are going to be a fresh, independent voice that is different from anything on television today,” he said. “We are really being overwhelmed with contacts from creative, young people in the industry who have some unbelievably fantastic ideas that they are presenting to us. It’s really fun. And they like the fact that we’re independent and that they can get a hearing for stuff that they really don’t think they’ve been able to present well to the conglomerate types.”
“We’re excited about launching an independent network needed more than ever in a world of conglomerate ownership,” he added, “and we are passionate about trying to democratize access to the dominant medium in America.”
That last line was one Mr. Gore used in a speech to students at the Middle Tennessee State University in late 2003. Mr. Gore’s pronouncements had sounded a little like something Gov. Howard Dean might have said about the Internet. After reports that Dr. Dean might be considering a TV project, might Mr. Gore hire him? “We’re looking at an audience of people in their 20s,” said Mr. Gore. “That’s not a comment on-I just don’t think he’s-he’s a great friend. First, it’s not a political channel, and, second, we’re aiming at people in their 20s. Anybody who can meet both of those tests, we’re open to considering.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Gore’s partner, Mr. Hyatt, had angrily rebuffed all media inquiries while the press attempted to report stories on the acquisition of the channel as its financing seemed to stumble. But Mr. Gore thought it was pretty funny. “Incidentally, Joel Hyatt says to say, Hello,” he chuckled. “No, wait a minute, wait a minute, he’s taking that back-no, I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”
Mr. Gore was pretty excited. He said we could call him anytime.
“We’re now open for business, so we’ll look forward to talking to you,” he said.
House of G’s
If you heard shouts of mazel tov and choruses of “Hava Nagila” emanating from the downtown area, it was because on Tuesday, May 4, the Tribeca Film Festival came of age. Independent studio Lions Gate acquired the North American rights to David Duchovny’s directorial debut, House of D , marking the first time in the festival’s young history that a film had sold before T.F.F.’s customary closing night on Mother’s Day.
Tom Ortenberg, a president at Lion’s Gate, said that the film’s world premiere on Friday, May 7, was a motivating factor in their decision to act so quickly.
“With the world premiere of the film just a couple of days away at Tribeca on Friday night, we believed very strongly that the price would only go up once it premiered,” said Mr. Ortenberg over the phone from his West Coast office. “So, we were anxious to close the deal prior to its showing on Friday.”
The film, which stars Robin Williams,TéaLeoniandMr. Duchovny, centers around a man trying to make sense of his life by revisiting his early 70’s Greenwich Village past.
“It appeared as though David had brilliantly walked the fine line that he needed to in telling this emotional yet poignant coming-of-age story,” Mr. Ortenberg said. “All of us at Lions Gate were big fans of the script.”
Not to detract from the glory of the Tribeca Film Festival’s first sale-after all, their premieres have sold after the closing night of the festival in the past-but Tribeca wasn’t the first time Mr. Ortenberg had heard about the Duchovny film. That distinction belonged to that Other Festival.
Mr. Ortenberg said his interest in the film was first whetted when he saw a 20-minute promotional reel distributed by Creative Artists Agency at the Sundance Film Festival. And he met Mr. Duchovny for the first time in person a couple of weeks ago, where they discussed the possibility of Lions Gate distributing the film over breakfast at Santa Monica’s Cafe Montana-about as far from the citified boîtes of Hudson Street as the Vanity Fair Oscar party is from the T.F.F. street fair.
Regardless, the film’s deal will reflect positively on the quality of the movies seeking distribution at Tribeca. And surely this makes T.F.F.’s co-founder Jane Rosenthal verklempt .
“By film-festival standards, we are still young, and from the outset, we knew this festival would evolve in stages,” Ms. Rosenthal said last week, before the beginning of its third installment. “Since December of 2001, when we first announced the festival, we have defined our success as making an economic impact in lower Manhattan. However, given our focus on the neighborhood, the development of Tribeca as an independent-film marketplace is incredibly exciting …. ”
Bob and Jane: Open for business.
In the Swill of the Night
When Kevin Kline arrived late to the after-party for the April 28 special screening of the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely , the Plaza Athénée dining room-which included Sean Penn, Michael Douglas and producer Irwin Winkler-burst into applause. Mr. Kline, who played the bitter, closeted genius, took a slight bow.
“Who’s Cole Porter?” he would ask hours later with a wan look in his eye. A little swat that suggested the grandiose sweep of Porter’s famed sec humor.
In the film, Mr. Kline injects his portrayal of Mr. Porter with a similar tragic aloofness, which helps to explain why Linda Porter was so instrumental in taking his music beyond the gilded parlors of upper-crust piano parties and out before the general public. Sporting a full mustache and a dapper gray suit that would have caught the immaculately dressed Porter, Mr. Kline finally admitted: “I knew a couple of [Porter’s] shows, but I was not a devotee.”
What attracted him to the character was both the music-he studied music composition in college-and screenwriter Jay Cocks’ un-Hollywood portrayal of the closeted yet promiscuous Mr. Porter, who, after the death of his wife, finally lost his leg to the horse accident which had crippled him earlier in life.
“In the last years of his life, he was in a great deal of pain, on a great deal of drugs and great deal of Scotch and rather bitter,” he said of the film, which is largely staged like a musical. “That’s not a typical Hollywood ending.”
Moreover, it was not your standard Porter ending: Porter never liked to end a show on a ballad.
The film itself has proven a fitting finale to the Cannes Film Festival. But Mr. Kline, who will travel to the South of France with the MGM-distributed film, isn’t looking forward to what he calls nothing more than a press junket.
“I’ve been [to Cannes] before, so, no, I’m not looking forward to it,” he said.
On his way out, Mr. Winkler, who directed the film, stopped to say goodbye to his longtime friend and colleague.
“Did you notice who started the applause?” Mr. Winkler said, laughing to himself.
“Was that you?” Mr. Kline replied, to which Mr. Winkler nodded. Mr. Kline went dusky again: “I didn’t notice.”
“You were too busy taking your bow,” Mr. Winkler quipped.
“It was very Cole Porter–y,” said Mr. Kline.
Foer, a Cause
In the past month and half, writers Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers and Nicole Krauss and director Spike Jonze have sent out letters to 120 authors soliciting them to contribute to a book they are putting together called Future Dictionary of America to raise millions of dollars to defeat President George W. Bush.
“100 percent of the proceeds, which should be quite substantial … will go to groups including MoveOn.org and 21st Century Democrats, P.A.C.’s dedicated to advancing democracy, defeating Bush, and insuring American leadership that better represents American values,” the letter reads.
Writers are supposed to use or invent a word “for something whose existence would make America a better place.”
Writers’ entries should be fewer than 1,000 words long and should create a dictionary “that is both useful and romantic. Hopeful and necessary. Pragmatic and idealistic.”
Added instructions say: “Please use only one space after periods …. Please don’t forward this e-mail. We’re contacting many dozens of people over the next week or so. If too many people send in entries, we’ll get swamped …. Because of campaign finance laws, only American citizens can contribute to this.”
So far, most of the 120 writers have agreed to contribute, including Stephen King, Art Spiegelman, Paul Auster, Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Muldoon. “If you name somebody, they’ve probably said yes,” said Mr. Foer, who spearheaded the project. The book, to be assembled in coordination with Mr. Eggers’publishing house, McSweeney’s, will come with a CD with new music from about a dozen bands. They’ve invited Pearl Jam, Bright Eyes and the Beastie Boys to contribute. So far, he hasn’t publicized the book much, but “word will get out when the time comes.”
He said he’s received only a few refusals.
“People are so enthusiastic,” said Mr. Foer. “It’s been really easy.”
Any Republican authors?
“We haven’t yet had that kind of response, the conservative response, which is interesting in its own right,” he said. “Thus far, we haven’t been able to find a writer on the other side of the proverbial aisle.”
Mr. Foer has high hopes for his dictionary, which he predicts will be published in full by June.
“If you have 120 of America’s best-known writers in different styles and places saying, ‘This is something I want to stand up for,’ I think it will really mean something.”
Before he introduced a reading called “Where’s My Democracy?” for Downtown for Democracy on March 25, Mr. Foer, 27, hadn’t been particularly active.
“I found the reading very energizing,” he said. “I was inspired by how easily it happened and how enthusiastically it was received.”
Mr. Foer was also having issues of his own with the current administration. “The President got me into being politically active,” he said. “Every morning I would work myself up into an angry, depressed foam over The New York Times . ‘Maybe I can affect the process,’ I thought, ‘even in an incredibly strong way.’
“I am being misrepresented,” Mr. Foer huffed, “and that’s not me-and as proven in the last election, it’s not the majority of the country either.”