No Place Like Home 

Shaker Heights is ready for its close-up. Sort of.

Our esteemed suburb is being thrust into the national spotlight with The Battle of Shaker Heights, a script written by Los Angeles native Erica Beeney that was tapped by HBO's Project Greenlight contest.

Greenlight documents the making of an independent movie -- from script selection to production to its theatrical run. Its first season chronicled the travails of one Pete Jones, whose Stolen Summer was fraught with problems (including disastrous filming flubs and an on-camera firing of a co-producer) and grossed a measly $119,000.

The Battle of Shaker Heights is about a young war reenactor who takes on a high school enemy. But don't expect it to bring glory to the homeland. Beeney, a 28-year-old Ohio State graduate student, has never actually been to Shaker Heights, nor will the $1 million production budget be blown here. Shooting is slated for elsewhere -- presumably, a warmer climate -- which is kind of like shooting Fargo in Miami. In fact, it doesn't appear that the film has anything to do with Shaker Heights, except that Beeney thought it sounded really cool in a movie title.

Hasta la vista, $20 mil

Arnold Schwarzenegger is suing Fred Martin Motor Co. over an ad that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal. The ad featured a thumbprint-sized photo of Schwarzenegger in Terminator garb with a cartoon voice-balloon reading, "Arnold says: Terminate Early at Fred Martin."

Ahnold, who refuses to appear in commercials inside the United States (but for some reason had no qualms about doing Junior and Collateral Damage), wants $20 million for the unauthorized use of his likeness. It's unclear whether Schwarzenegger will seek additional damages for the incredibly unfunny voice-balloon.

Newsflash: It’s winter!

First Punch isn't one to needlessly bray about the inadequacies of The Plain Dealer. That's Roldo's job.

But The PD does have one obvious quirk: Its newsroom is overseen by two Florida guys, Managing Editor Tom O'Hara and Major-Domo Doug Clifton. And if you've ever wondered about the fascination Sun Belt refugees have for Snow Belt winters, the last few weeks have provided plenty to chew on.

Over a one-week period in late January, The PD produced no fewer than a dozen stories revealing that it was, well, cold outside. Space considerations don't allow for lengthy deconstruction, but the initial stories could be summarized in one headline: Jesus, it's cold. Later stories revealed that Jesus, it's still f#%!ing cold!!!

We'll keep you posted as this story develops.

Damn foreigners

No one would think to title Greg Brinda's life story "A Beautiful Mind." But the WKNR sports blabber managed to out-retard even himself recently with a rant against the growing number of Europeans in the NBA.

Wielding an I.Q. that should require a conceal-and-carry permit, Brinda fumed that foreigners are stealing jobs from U.S. ballers. Forget that Europeans often show better fundamentals, attitude, and command of English than their American counterparts. Brinda is outraged that guys with accents are turning the NBA into another NHL.

Yet his babbling did get Punch thinking about ways to beef the NBA's sagging TV ratings. After all, there's nothing like jingoism to boost interest in these with-us-or-against-us times. We're thinking the NBA should scrap its "Love It Live" slogan for something more original, like "Go Back to Your Cabbage and Poverty, Migrant Swine" or "Yao Ming: Eight Feet Of Bad-Ass Commie."

Exploitation doesn’t pay

In an attempt to dispel the notion that St. Vincent-St. Mary exploited its most famous pupil, LeBron James, Headmaster David Rathz said that the school hadn't made any money from its pay-per-view deal with Time Warner, which charged viewers $7.95 a game.

Rathz ain't lying. Pay-per-view turned out to be a loser for school and cable company alike -- and that was before James was suspended.

Time Warner paid a video company $5,000 to produce each telecast. Yet cable subscribers didn't buy in numbers sufficient to cover costs, says spokesman Bill Jasso. That means fewer than 629 homes ordered the games. Worse, Time Warner had to refund customers who bought the first game, as a power outage canceled play. "We went into the hole from the get-go on this," Jasso says.

Dead airtime

Mary Ann, a Cleveland paranormal investigator whose ability to see and speak to the dead was chronicled in Scene ["The Thrill of the Haunt," September 14, 2000], is having visions of the small screen. Or at least an L.A. talent agency is.

Helfgott-Turner Productions has been pitching a show to networks that would feature Mary Ann (she goes by her first name only, to protect her suburban Cleveland alter ego) visiting ghost-ridden homes throughout the country, conversing with specters on-camera, then releasing them to the spirit world. Think of a creepier Crossing Over, only without the tight sweaters.

"They're pushing it as a reality show," says Mary Ann. "Nobody that's been on TV before can get as much information as I can." (Viewers can see for themselves in March, when Mary Ann drives the spirits from a Hudson family's home on Jenny Jones.)

Mary Ann hooked up with Helfgott-Turner during a SoCal ghostbusting sweep last fall. Terms of the contract: not particularly good. Helfgott-Turner owns Mary Ann for 18 months, during which time it's pitching networks and cable outlets with concepts for both TV shows and movies. There are no promises -- and no money, for now.

Three months into the deal, Mary Ann reports that nibbles are few. The Sci Fi channel -- the network that launched John Edward's popular Crossing Over -- has already balked. The rejection's not enough to deter Mary Ann, who views it as a mixed blessing: "I'm not weird enough, I guess."

Really secret testimony

Don't accuse Common Pleas Presiding Judge Richard J. McMonagle of being a Gruttadauria with taxpayers' loot. In search of ways to slice the county's judicial budget, McMonagle recently ordered court reporters to stop attending grand jury proceedings. In doing so, however, he also violated a court rule requiring that testimony be recorded. After another judge pointed this out, McMonagle quickly reversed himself.

Now prosecutors must resubmit every case they presented during the day and a half in question. The mix-up will affect about 150 cases. Says a contrite McMonagle: "I really blew that one . . . Some people are rubbing my nose about that a little bit."

Which just goes to show that if you never try, you don't have to worry about failure.

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