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Rebecca Gayheart
Credit: Rebecca Gayheart: Tsuni/ImageDirect

LEGAL BRIEFS Rebecca Gayheart (”Jawbreaker”) has been charged with misdemeanor manslaughter in the death of a 9-year-old boy she hit with her car. Prosecutors declined to seek a more serious felony charge because alcohol and drugs were not a factor. On June 13, Jorge Cruz Jr. was crossing in the middle of a Hollywood street, 160 feet away from the nearest crosswalk, and though other cars had slowed to let him cross, Gayheart swerved to pass them on the left and struck the child. Gayheart paid for Cruz’s hospital and funeral expenses but has denied any civil or criminal responsibility for the accident. The 29-year-old actress faces possible fines, a year in jail, and the loss of her driver’s license….

WINGING IT Wednesday’s quickly cobbled terrorism-themed episode of ”The West Wing” may have earned mixed reviews (read’s take on it here), but the show also drew 25.2 million viewers, the series’ largest audience ever. And only 3 million of those viewers changed the channel afterward, making the episode of ”Law & Order” that followed it one of the highest-rated outings in that series’ history, too.

REEL DEALS Several of Hollywood’s best young-ish directors — ”Traffic”’s Steven Soderbergh, ”Being John Malkovich”’s Spike Jonze, ”Fight Club”’s David Fincher, and ”Election”’s Alexander Payne — are forming their own production company and shopping for a studio to finance it. The directors want full creative control, so they may well go with a smaller studio — USA Films is said to be the front-runner — that will be grateful enough to have a pipeline of films by top directors that they won’t demand the same rights of ownership, control, and royalties that a more powerful studio would. The foursome is asking other directors to join in, notably, Sam Mendes (”American Beauty”), though Mendes doubts he’ll be able to balance such a hands-on Hollywood venture with his commitment to running his London theater company. A group of directors running their own shop is not unprecedented; at the beginning of Hollywood’s last golden age for directors, in the late 1960s, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and Peter Bogdanovich ran their own company at Paramount….

Is Hollywood going overboard in its rush to protect viewer sensitivities by shelving projects whose violent content may remind moviegoers of September 11? A study commissioned by the Hollywood Reporter suggests that, while many viewers think film studios and TV networks would be doing the right thing in curtailing violent content, few viewers actually plan to change their viewing habits. Though more than 60 percent of those surveyed think it’s ”critically important” or ”very important” for network and movie studios to cut back on violent content, 70 percent of those polled don’t plan to change their own viewing choices. Those most concerned with violence in movies and television (the ones who answered ”critically important”) are the people least likely to watch violence in the first place; they’re older consumers who don’t go to the movies often and don’t subscribe to premium cable. Those least concerned with TV and movie violence are the coveted demographic of young, avid moviegoers and cable subscribers. Only 19 percent of filmgoers between 18 and 40 plan to visit the multiplex less often. The poll also says that more than 80 percent of respondents don’t feel guilty about getting back to a normal routine or having fun and don’t feel afraid about going to crowded public places….

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