Review & Preview

Househunters: Did someone forget to tell L.A. homebuyers that the august National Bureau of Economic Research has concluded that a recession is underway? In the midst of anthrax scares, terrorist alerts and now the recession, 9,411 homes in L.A. County were sold in October, a 5.3 percent increase from a year earlier. Orange and San Diego counties saw declines of 5.6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively. Plus, L.A. prices shot up 11.8 percent, to a median price of $227,000.

Never mind: Forget about those reports warning of a meltdown in commercial real estate transactions that were in the works on Sept. 11. Didn't happen, according to a survey by CB Richard Ellis Inc. The survey found that of 500 sales in escrow nationwide, 12 percent were canceled and 5 percent were renegotiated as of Oct. 18. Hotel sales had the highest cancellation rate.

Old times: The week's biggest TV story was the stupendous ratings for a CBS special that featured clips and anecdotes from the old "Carol Burnett Show." The special attracted 30 million viewers, making it the fourth-highest-rated show this season, just below the final game of the World Series and two "Friends" episodes. TV pundits labeled it as evidence of viewers' interest in returning to less-troubled times (though the show aired in the 1970s, not exactly a time of peace and harmony).

In need of lifeline: In what could be the beginning of an embarrassing exit strategy, ABC hinted that "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" might be dropped from next fall's schedule. The show, which single-handedly brought the network back from ratings oblivion, has lost more than half its audience since the 1999-2000 season.

Bill due: All that beefed-up security after Sept. 11 comes at a price for the city of Los Angeles $11 million, to be precise, much of it on police overtime. Along with the increase in costs comes a drop-off in revenue because the traffic control folks have been dealing with the mess at LAX instead of writing tickets. Not helping is the closing of city parking lots at the Civic Center.

School's In: It looks Los Angeles Unified School District will finally get the famous Ambassador Hotel property. One day after Federal Bankruptcy Judge Samuel L. Buford ordered the owners of the Ambassador to negotiate with developer Alan Casden, the deal fell apart and Buford approved the sale to the district. Casden, who was believed to have offered $115 million for the property or about $15 million more than the district wanted to develop housing on the site.

Food Fight: As expected, the Santa Monica City Council approved a 45-day moratorium for restaurant-to-retail conversions along Third Street Promenade. While the moratorium is in place, a task force will consider ways to hold onto eateries from along the popular shopping district.

Economic Outlook: We're in the middle of economic forecast season and UCLA's Anderson School, whose track record is better than many, weighs in on the prospects for 2002. Of special interest at the Dec. 5 conference will be the ruminations of Ed Leamer, who was among the first economists to predict that the United States was entering a recession well before Sept. 11. In the last week or two, a few economists have ventured to predict that the recession is turning out to be shorter than expected, so Leamer's comments about 2002 will no doubt add to the debate.

Take 3: Stand by for yet another session this week between Hollywood producers and executives and middle-level White House types on how to better depict the American image abroad or something like that. This will be the third post-Sept. 11 meeting and so far they're talking about wartime trailers, USO tours and distribution of movies to the troops.

Blame Canada: As promised, the Film & Television Action Committee this week will file a petition with the Commerce Department charging that Canadian film subsidies are illegal and warrant countervailing tariffs. The tariffs would cancel out subsidies by imposing fines on U.S. producers who take advantage of the discounts. Trade officials will have 20 days to mull the petition to decide whether to approve a full-fledged investigation. Although FTAC has the support of the Screen Actors Guild and other local unions, the drive to obtain countervailing tariffs in considered a long shot.

Deflated Macs: First came the drop in gasoline prices now it's fast food. Starting next week, McDonald's plans to lower its Big Mac prices to 99 cents, a 57 percent drop from what the twin-patty normally goes for. And beginning Jan. 4, the chain will offer 20 items for 99 cents or less. The price-cutting, which reflects the chain's worrisome sales trends, could spark an all-out fast-food discounting war in Southern California.

Dynamic Duo: What do TV producer Dick Wolf ("Law & Order") and trial attorney David Boies have in common? Both will receive Focus on Law & Justice awards from the Beverly Hills Bar Association Wednesday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. So far, it's been a better year for Wolf, whose "Law & Order" remains atop the national ratings than Boies, who represented Al Gore in the Florida recount battle last year and the U.S. Department of Justice in its antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

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