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Randi Schmelzer

Documentaries, Celebrity Intervention Impact ‘West Memphis 3′ Case

Like everything else about the now-infamous and controversial West Memphis 3 murder case, today’s news that an Arkansas judge granted defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley immediate freedom after serving 18 years in prison – Echols on death row — could be straight out of a movie.

Incredibly, it really was a movie that helped bring an end to years of incarceration — two movies, in fact: the 1996 HBO documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and its follow-up, in 2000, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. Created by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the docs chronicle the West Memphis 3 defendants’ struggle to prove their innocence since May 1993, when they were arrested for allegedly killing three Cub Scouts and dumping the boys’ mutilated bodies in an Arkansas ditch.

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MTV Adds Social Activism to VMAs Mix

Katy Perry and a Moonman in 2010. She's among the nominees for this year's 'Best Video with a Message' award. Photo: PA

MTV‘s annual Video Music Awards — the coveted Moonman presentations — are now in their 28th year, set to air Sunday, August 28. Among the network’s most popular features — and still focused on music videos, of all things — the VMAs have also become a showcase of outrageous celebrity behavior, such as Kanye West’s rude intrusion during Taylor Swift’s speech, and the now-legendary Madonna-Britney kiss. These displays/publicity stunts tend to spur more post-show buzz than the actual award winners.

This year, MTV’s aiming to generate a different sort of post-VMA buzz, one that doesn’t rely on allegedly unplanned bad manners. The network last week announced the addition of a new award category, “Best Video With a Message,” meant to honor artists whose recent music videos featured a positive message or raised awareness of important social issues.

The category’s creation was a no-brainer, according to MTV president Stephen Friedman. “During the past year, we’ve seen a remarkable number of artists use their music to explore deeply personal experiences and issues they were passionate about to create powerful videos that resonated with and inspired millions of fans,” he said.

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DJ’s Tweet Sparks Hollywood Riot

What should have been a low-key documentary premiere turned into a near-riot, sparked by a DJ’s ill-conceived tweet.

Five hundred or so invited moviegoers were expected at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for Wednesday’s red-carpet screening of the Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, a doc about one of the nation’s largest annual techno-dance fests. (It’s a subject with which the city of Los Angeles already has a very controversial history.)

Instead, thousands of uninvited guests descended upon Hollywood Boulevard in response to a Twitter message sent by L.A. club DJ Kaskade, urging his 92,000 followers to gather outside the theater at 6 p.m. for a free concert celebrating a new movie about the rave scene.

“ME+BIG SPEAKERS+MUSIC=BLOCK PARTY!!!” Kaskade tweeted. ”Let’s see if the magic of social networking will work today.”

Seems it was working just fine.

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4 Comic-Con Efforts That Hit the Mark

Now in full swing: Comic-Con International, San Diego’s annual showcase of all things sci-fi-, fantasy-, superhero- and comics-related. Taking place over four packed days (it ends Sunday), it’s a chance for fans to get a first look at new movies, TV shows, video games and knick-knacks — and the chance for marketers to make everything seem essential.

Comic-Con’s grown tremendously since its early days in the ’70s, as have the marketing budgets movie studios allot for the convention. But a recent New York Times article contends that some studios are now re-examining the value of Comic-Con promotions.

According to the article, “studios come seeking buzz.” But if fans aren’t impressed or “hard-core enthusiasm doesn’t spill into the mainstream,” the impact of Comic-Con “can be more negative than positive.”

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L.A. Lawmakers Listen to the Bicycling Minority

Give Angelinos one weekend of potential Carmageddon, and suddenly everyone’s all bike-happy.

Seriously. A new law passed Wednesday by Los Angeles City Council — described as “groundbreaking” by League of American Bicyclists president Andy Clarke — makes it a crime for motorists to verbally or physically harass bicyclists, and the penalties are stiff.

In a 2 million-car city — with a culture built around them — it would seem that 13,000 or so bike commuters and random cycling enthusiasts would practically go unnoticed. And they did — until recently.

It’s not unusual to hear stories of motorists — enraged, spiteful or bored — lashing lame insults at cyclists, or running bike-riders off the road.

But as the number of cyclists in the city continued to increase — along with the number of preventable vehicle-bicycle accidents — so did calls for protection from L.A.’s pro-bike activists. This week in particular, and just a few days after local cycling group Wolfpack Hustle beat a Jet Blue flight in a race from Burbank to Long Beach, lawmakers were listening.

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Emmy Noms Feature a Few Real Surprises

With yesterday’s 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards nominations announcement came the usual frenzied follow-ups: TV critics’ listings of “snubs” and “shockers,” most of which weren’t.

But there were a few eyebrow-raising selections among nominations submitted by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ 15,000+ eligible voters. Maybe not full-out shockers, exactly, but picks that were most definitely surprising. Whether or not they’re any good isn’t the only thing that matters. How they became 2011 Emmy Award contenders has as much to do with pre-nomination campaigns.

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Chris Brown’s Rep Denies Tales of Recent Homophobic Temper Tantrum

Photo: PacificCoastNews.com

At the BET Awards just three weeks ago, it seemed as if Chris Brown had truly found redemption: He won five trophies, thrilled the audience with a tracks-medley from his latest release, F.A.M.E. — his first No.1 album — and thanked fans for sticking with him down the “long road” since his arrest for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna.

It appears, though, the guy’s still got some temper issues.

According to RadarOnline.com — and its sibling publication, Star magazine — a ticked-off Brown berated fellow players in a recent pickup basketball game by shouting anti-gay slurs “when things didn’t go his way during the game.”

“His demeanor was over-the-top,” an alleged eyewitness said.

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U.S. Restaurants Say ‘Vive la Révolution!’

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

It could be connected to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, or the surprise success of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Or maybe it’s just that the French keep insisting their food and wine choices keep them skinny. The reasons why are vague, but U.S. restaurants are convinced diners are hot for everything France, and to prove it they’re celebrating Bastille Day — today — with a flurry of promotions.

“It is kind of funny that we didn’t do a promotion for July 4, but here we are doing it for Bastille Day,” said Brandi Babb, VP for training and franchise relations at pizza chain Zpizza, in Nation’s Restaurant News.

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How at Risk Is Rupert Murdoch’s Reputation?

Rupert Murdoch might like us to believe his decision to abruptly shutter Britain’s best-selling but scandal-plagued News of the World was solely a matter of journalism ethics, “to prevent a situation like this from happening again.” Not in any News Corps.’ newsroom, it won’t.

Rupert Murdoch during his News of the World takeover in the late '60s.

Not to belittle his dedication to high-quality reporting, but it seems Murdoch also had his own interests in mind. Facing the most potentially damaging PR debacle of his six-decade career, Murdoch made the drastic move to contain financial and political fallout (and quell public outrage) before it overtook his global empire.

“It’s like the most radical cancer surgery,” Julia Hobsbawm, a media analyst with the firm Editorial Intelligence, told the Los Angeles Times. ”It is an astonishing moment in British media history.”

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Martha Stewart Webtoons Aim to Endear Next Gen DIYers

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia may never recover its pre-scandal market value, but the popularity of its domestic-diva founder only continues to strengthen. And now she’s got her eye on the next generation of homemakers.

On Friday, AOL Kids launched the debut of Martha and Friends, a Web series starring an animated Martha Stewart imagined as her 10-year-old self: a blonde-haired, “problem-solving, craft-loving generous spirit” who — along with best friends Lily, Kevin, and Hannah, and dogs Francesca and Sharkey — show kids how much fun DIY projects can be.

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