Following the phone-hacking scandal that led to several humiliating headlines in the past year for News Corp. (NWS), bad timing has now led to a minor stumble for the Rupert Murdoch empire. The $60 million Fox movie 'Neighborhood Watch' is accelerating the switch up for its initial marketing campaign in response to a news event that has horrified -- and polarized -- the nation.
Slated for a July release, 'Neighborhood Watch' is a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Billy Crudup as a quartet of volunteer watchmen who engage in hilarious hijinks as they cruise their suburban neighborhood seeking out troublemakers. Along the way they uncover a conspiracy that involves aliens. But they also take time to nab such "dangerous" figures as adolescent boys involved in egg-throwing incidents.The initial teaser trailer includes a bit in which the watchmen furiously grill the young egg bandit. (Watch it here.) Therein lay the comedy -- and the timing snafu.
Tragedy in Florida
In the past month, the U.S. has been riveted by the story of George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman who, on Feb. 26, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked through a gated community — unarmed — in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, and no arrests have been made (a grand jury is set to convene on the case on April 10), but much focus (and protest) has surrounded the fact that a young African-American man reportedly armed with nothing but skittles and iced tea died at the hands of what some are calling -- at the very least -- an overzealous watchman. One doesn't have to look far to see the parallels between this real-life tragedy and the comedy highlighted in the teaser trailer for 'Neighborhood Watch' (which also includes a shot of Jonah Hill pointing his fingers like a gun through a moving car's window).
As of now, Fox is pulling the teaser trailer and poster (which featured a street sign riddled with bullet holes) from all Florida theaters. According to a Fox spokesperson, "We are very sensitive to the Trayvon Martin case, but our film is a broad alien invasion comedy and bears absolutely no relation to the tragic events in Florida. The movie, which is not scheduled for release for several months, was made and these initial marketing materials were released before this incident ever came to light. The teaser materials were part of an early phase of our marketing and were never planned for longterm use. Above all else, our thoughts go out to the families touched by this terrible event."
This doesn't mark the first time real-life events have gotten in the way of art. Just last year, Warner Brothers (TWX) was forced to pull its Clint Eastwood-directed flick 'Hereafter,' which featured a graphic tsunami scene, out of Japanese theaters following the March 14 earthquake and tsunami. And Fox itself was forced to delay the release of 'Phone Booth' in 2002; the Colin Farrell vehicle was a sniper movie set to debut just after a Washington-area sniper shot and killed 11 people. Even the weather channel once found itself in a rough situation after filming an episode of its popular program, 'It Could Happen Tomorrow,' about the event of a major hurricane in New Orleans — before Katrina actually hit. They were forced to shelve the episode, which finally aired in an updated state six months after it was originally slated.
Good Deal for Investors
Either way, scandal-plagued News Corp. has still been a good deal for investors so far this year. As we noted here, the stock has had a significant rise since Rupert Murdoch received a pie in the face in July 2011. Since the "pie low" of $15.40 noted by CNBC's Jim Cramer, NWS has risen to 20.25 as of market close on March 27 — a return of close to 33 percent.
- Jonah Hill
- Rupert Murdoch