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Forcing change

The pandemic pushes Hollywood to face the future

The marquee of the Wiltern, a closed theater in Los Angeles Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello

Forcing change

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Hollywood studios to do what much of its audience already has: Turn their attention from the big screen to the small.

Regal Cinemas closed all 542 of its movie theaters across the country a week ago. AMC Theatres, after initially limiting screenings to 50 people, turned off all of its projectors, as well. In response, Universal Pictures is making several of its films scheduled for theatrical release—Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Manavailable for rent on streaming platforms for $19.99 each for 48 hours. Warner Bros. has a similar plan in place. Though viewers have to pay a premium to watch, they can save a small fortune making their own popcorn and snacks.

Shelve or show? Blockbusters generally have a 90-day theatrical run before going digital and make much more money in theaters than through video-on-demand. F9, the ninth film in the $5 billion Fast and Furious franchise, will idle until 2021, Universal has decided. But Trolls World Tour will be the studio’s first “day-and-date” release, available for streaming on April 10, the same day it was scheduled to hit theaters worldwide.

Streaming services with their massive stockpile of programming stand to do well, at least at first, as millions of Americans shelter-in-place on their sofas. Apple, Amazon, Disney, Netflix, and Warner Bros. have all temporarily halted most or all film and television production. But they could take a financial hit a few months from now if theaters reopen and streaming services run out of content to show. If the work stoppage continues for an extended time, though, the lack of new pilots might affect fall TV lineups.

Television networks that primarily feature live sports and events are feeling the pain now. ESPN is scrambling to deal with a near shutout of games. Major League Baseball players likely won’t come out of their dugouts before mid-May, and the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons indefinitely. The sports network is relying on a heavy dose of SportsCenter to fill the time, with documentaries and reruns of classic matchups pinch-hitting, as well. For those who can’t get enough sports history, PBS is streaming Ken Burns’ nine-episode documentary Baseball for free.

CBS is airing reruns of Blue Bloods and other shows to plug the programming holes left by the canceled NCAA men’s basketball tournament. For those viewers who did not plan to fill out March Madness brackets anyway, the Hallmark Channel aired a Christmas movie marathon—Mingle all the Way and 26 other holiday not-quite-classics—this past weekend.

Families under shelter-in-place orders can journey with Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Revelation Media is streaming the animated feature The Pilgrim’s Progress for free. The film had a limited release in theaters last Easter and will be available until April 30.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file)

COVID-19 speeds up the rumor mill

A series of internet videos and social media posts reported last week that police had raided Oprah Winfrey’s home and arrested her for sex trafficking. None of the claims were remotely true: It appears a group of conspiracy theorists manufactured an elaborate hoax.

The fake reports, which included supposed police body camera footage, appear to have started on YouTube and Facebook and gone viral on Twitter. Within hours, Winfrey was the top trending topic on the social media platform. Some accounts even falsely claimed that Tom Hanks faked his COVID-19 infection because he had been implicated in Winfrey’s crimes.

Winfrey took to Twitter in the early hours of the morning to reassure fans: “Just got a phone call that my name is trending. And being trolled for some awful FAKE thing. It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self-distancing with the rest of the world. Stay safe everybody.”

Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter movies, also recently found himself the subject of a hoax naming him as the first celebrity to test positive for the new coronavirus. The group that started the rumor about Radcliffe on March 10 created a fake Twitter account called @BBCNewsTonight and put the BBC logo on the tweet.

Internet hoaxes have been around for as long as, well, the internet, but social media speeds up their dissemination. As people isolate themselves to avoid COVID-19 and spend even more time on social media, hoaxes and false information seem to be proliferating at an even greater rate.

To slow the spread of misinformation, Twitter announced last Wednesday it would crack down on accounts that spread false stories about the coronavirus. Pinterest decided to block all searches for “coronavirus” the week before. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has started a “Coronavirus Rumor Control” site to debunk potentially harmful myths. —Collin Garbarino

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file)

A beautiful choice

A 23-year-old American Idol contestant is inspiring viewers with her timeless voice and the story of how she chose life for her daughter. Amber Fiedler auditioned for the reality singing contest when she was 38 weeks pregnant. When judge Katy Perry asked what she planned to name the baby, Fiedler disclosed her plan to place her for adoption.

“There’s days when I don’t even have $20 in my pocket,” Fiedler said in an interview for the show. “If I’m not ready to be a mom, why would I put her through that, you know?”

Between the time of her initial audition and the competition’s kickoff in Los Angeles, Fiedler gave birth and placed the baby in the arms of her adoptive mother.

“My dream for the baby is that she lives a beautiful and happy life with the life I’ve chosen for her,” she said. —Lynde Langdon

The beat goes on

Speaking of Katy Perry, the singer scored a victory in court last week when a federal judge overturned a copyright infringement verdict against her. Last summer, a jury awarded the Christian rapper Flame $2.78 million, saying Perry’s hit “Dark Horse” copied a beat from Flame’s “Joyful Noise.” Perry and her lawyers argued they had never heard Flame’s music and the similarities between the two songs were a coincidence. U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder agreed: “It is undisputed in this case, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, that the signature elements of the eight-note ostinato in ‘Joyful Noise’ is not a particularly unique or rare combination.” The plaintiff plans to appeal. —L.L.

Saving actual lives

The actors on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy aren’t real doctors, but they use real hospital supplies like gowns, masks, and gloves as props. With production suspended, many of the shows are donating their stash of personal protective equipment to local hospitals, Quartz reported. —L.L.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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