Review & Preview

Review:

Take That!: As the year came to a close, Walt Disney Co. was faced with having its ABC Family channel (nee Fox Family) zapped from an estimated 6.4 million homes served by EchoStar Communications Corp. on Jan. 1. On Dec. 31, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles granted a temporary restraining order that kept ABC Family on the satellite system. While the battle over ABC Family continues in court on the 10th, EchoStar "took its pound of flesh," according to Disney, as it dropped ESPN Classic. In response, EchoStar accused Disney of taking a "hypocritical" view of consumer interests.

Ailing Patient: Nothing like a big layoff announcement to get Wall Street's attention. Sickly PacifiCare Health Systems Inc., the biggest operator of Medicare health plans, saw its shares zoom last Wednesday after announcing plans to cut 1,300 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce, as part of a restructuring. The Santa Ana-based company also raised its earnings forecast for 2002.



What's That in Euros?: Looking to expand into Europe, Jakks Pacific Inc., the Malibu-based maker of toys, action figures and video games, acquired Kidz Biz Ltd. for an undisclosed price. Kidz Biz has been an exclusive distributor of Jakks' products for the past two years, primarily in England and Ireland. As part of the deal, Kidz Biz's London offices will become Jakks' new European headquarters. Last month, Jakks announced a distribution agreement with Funtastic Ltd. to boost sales in Australia and New Zealand.



Another Billboard Dispute: Just before the new year, a major billboard company called STI/Outdoor angered L.A. city and county officials by putting up more than a dozen signs along area freeways. While the installations were made just hours before new restrictions took effect, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said he would go to court to block the billboards from going up.



Good Time Recession: If these are such bad times, why did the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando have to close its entrance gates three times because it was too crowded during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day? And how could Carlsbad's Legoland California rack up its strongest attendance in the last two weeks of the year? Travel experts speculate that many plans were made prior to Sept. 11 and that the spurt of holiday activity does not necessarily signal an economic turning point.



Greta News: CNN and Fox News Channel continue trading on-air personalities with word that Greta Van Susteren, the former's legal analyst, would switch teams. Van Susteren was given Fox's 10 p.m. EST time slot vacated by Paula Zahn when she made the opposite jump to CNN last summer. Van Susteren had been overshadowed by the more polished Aaron Brown, who has overseen much of the terrorist coverage. Even so, her departure leaves only "Larry King Live" as CNN's only talk show in prime time.

Preview:

Into the Great Unknown: This could be the beginning of a slow and steady recovery or more of the same old recession. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. will try to sort it all out when its chief economist, Jack Kyser, is the guest of the Los Angeles Headquarters Association at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10.



French Talk: Barry Diller's new boss, Vivendi Universal Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier, speaks to a Town Hall gathering that same day. Messier, of course, made headlines last month by orchestrating Vivendi's acquisition of USA Network's entertainment assets and then bringing on Diller to oversee the company's entertainment operations. Noon, Beverly Hilton. Psst: Be sure someone asks whether he's interested in buying NBC.



Do You Believe in Miracles?: The California Employment Development Department releases December jobless figures for the state, and the most obvious question is whether L.A. County can maintain anything close to November's 6.0 percent unemployment level matching California as a whole. Even a slight uptick would be considered encouraging news, since L.A.'s rate typically runs higher than the state.



How Do They Stay Up?: L.A. is not usually considered a skating kind of town, but all that changes this week with the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships at Staples Center that will help determine who gets to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The opening ceremonies take place on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and the competition concludes on Jan. 13.



Politics As Usual: The state Legislature reconvenes after a three-month recess on Monday, Jan. 7. On Tuesday, Gov. Gray Davis delivers his State of the State speech that could provide clues for how he plans to handle a $12 billion to $14 billion budget shortfall. On Thursday, Jan. 10, Assemblyman Herb Wesson, D-Baldwin Hills/Culver City, is expected to to be elected Speaker, replacing Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys.



And the Winner Is...: This week's entrant is the American Music Awards Wednesday night at the Shrine Auditorium.

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