Week in Review: From Kazakhstan to QVC

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And not even a 'Borat' reference: Greek helmer Theo Angelopoulos is still hoping his "Dust of Time" will get a chance to make a splash at Cannes in 2008, but the festival won't get first dibs. That honor will go to the tiny town of Temirtau in Kazakhstan's frozen Karaganda region. About 1,500 of the little steel town's residents worked as extras or in other roles on the shoot. And while Angelopoulos cited numerous problems with what he termed an "extremely difficult" location shoot, he had nothing but praise for the townsfolk, whom he found "agreeable and eager to please." As a tribute to their efforts, the film will unspool for the first time in Temirtau's 150-seat theater.

'Salt' shaker:
Michael Mann and Terry George flirted with it, but it looks like Peter Berg might be the final occupant of the director's chair on Tom Cruise starrer "Edwin A. Salt." Berg and Cruise have met twice recently to discuss the script of Columbia's spy thriller, which the studio wants in front of the cameras this summer.

Standing Pats:
The NFL blinked. Not that they'll admit it, but with subscriber numbers of its nascent NFL Network still less than half of ESPN's and America clamoring to see the New England Patriots take their shot at an unbeaten season, the league has decided its channel won't be the only place you can watch the Patriots take on the New York Giants. Thanks to a novel last-second deal, the game will be telecast on network TV, two networks actually: CBS and NBC. The move will be a boon for NFL Net advertisers, who are expected to see their spots run to an exponentially bigger audience. Unfortunately for the league, the move eliminates key pressure that might have been applied to key holdout cable operators Time Warner and Charter. An NFL Net spokesman called it a "one-time decision," but the move likely sets the stage for the next phase of the ongoing carriage battle.

Still commercialized:
Hard to believe, but fewer than half of DVR users are using the technology to blow past the commercials. A new study by Santa Monica-based (and Nielsen-owned) Palisades Media Group, in fact, shows that viewing habits haven't changed nearly as much as you might think. The study reveals that more than half of primetime shows recorded on DVR were watched within a day of being recorded, and a full three-quarters were watched by the end of the next day.

Pants pressed: With Conan and Jay set to return to the air Jan. 2 sans writers, the only real late-night question mark revolves around the David Letterman-owned "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson." Letterman's Worldwide Pants went into the Christmas holiday still seeking an interim agreement that would allow it to go back into production with its writing staff intact. Worldwide Pants president and CEO Rob Burnett flew to L.A. to meet with the WGA negotiating committee, but thus far the only result has been what the guild termed a "lively exchange of information."

Not so fast:
Goldman Sachs and CanWest Global's joint $2.3 billion bid for Alliance Atlantis may have received regulatory approval from Canadian authorities last week, but don't expect other interested parties to go down without a fight. "Truly alarming" and "needs to be stopped" were just some of the pullquote-worthy sound bites emanating from various unions north of the border. "Canadians do not want their communications and broadcast industries in the hands of foreign ownership," said Peter Murdoch of the Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada, which pledged to appeal the decision.

In all likelihood:
You don't need a particularly clear crystal ball to see a potential QVC-HSN merger in the offing this year. The John Malone- and Barry Diller-owned home shopping nets are exploring a potential deal, but price is the sticking point, with Diller looking for a premium on an asset he expects to keep growing in value in the near future. Bringing the two nets under one roof would create a home shopping juggernaut, with annual revenue of about $10 billion. Analysts peg the cost savings of a merger as "modest" since the companies still would need to run the two networks separately, but the deal remains probable, with an HSN-for-stock swap seen as the most likely scenario, allowing Diller to focus on his Internet assets.
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