updated 2/28/2005 8:51:21 AM ET 2005-02-28T13:51:21

Guest: Kevin Badger, Cheryl Felicia Rhoads, Lee Daniels, Michael Medved, John Bartunek, Jack Valenti, Laura Ingraham

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, it‘s all about the Oscars.  How did Hollywood get so out of touch with real America?

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, no passport required and only common sense allowed. 

The big movies at the Oscars are about mercy killings, drug addiction, and mental illness and abortionists.  Is America really this bleak or are the Hollywood elites just clueless? 

And “The Passion of the Christ” took America by storm last year, gaining both critical and box office success.  But it‘s been virtually ignored by the academy.  Are the academy voters anti-religion? 

And you‘re not going to believe how much money celebrities get just for being nominated, even if they‘re big fat losers. 

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome to the show.

You know, Sunday night, we‘re all going to be sitting down in front of our TV sets with popcorn to watch the Academy Awards.  But many Hollywood stars that we‘re going to be watching are out of touch politically.  They always seem to back the most liberal of political candidates, seem to bash American foreign policy overseas, and they‘re also out of touch culturally, always thumbing their nose at values that millions of Americans share. 

This year, of course, like we said, there are movies that are all about abortionists, mercy killers, and other problems—other people with problems.  You know, they‘re also out of touch with religion.  More often than not, they seem to show contempt for true believers and not just true believers of Christianity, but true believers who are orthodox Jews, earnest Catholics, and people of all faiths. 

So, is Hollywood out of touch with middle America?  Well, earlier today, Bill Maher said this about Hollywood—quote—“Hollywood isn‘t your cesspool, America.  It‘s your mirror.  We made all those movies with smirking sex and the mindless violence and the superheroes beating the heck out of zombies because that‘s what you want.”

And Bill Maher goes on to say: “Hollywood is nothing more than a restaurant that takes your order for entertainment.  You like pornography, we‘ll make it, and we do, a lot of it.  And it‘s not just the people in the blue states who have made it a $13-billion-a-year industry.”

With me to talk about how much Hollywood is out of touch with America is radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.  She is the author of “Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the U.N. are Subverting America.”

Well, Laura, Bill Maher came out swinging earlier today.  He said people like me have it wrong.  Hollywood is not out of touch with America.  In fact, Hollywood is very, very tuned in to what America wants.  What do you say? 

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I think it‘s useful to look at this, Joe, to some extent from a purely financial standpoint and when you look at the great success of “The Passion of the Christ”—and I‘m not here to say everything in Hollywood is bad.  I think there are a lot of great films being made.  There‘s a lot of talent in Hollywood. 

But when you see the great success of “The Passion” and you see it made about $400 million now in box office and you begin to understand that there are probably about 150 million Christians in America today, and a good percentage of those people for whatever reason feel like they‘re not being served all that well by Hollywood.

And so, from a purely financial standpoint, one would think that Hollywood would see the success of “The Passion” and say, huh, maybe there is something to this.  Maybe, instead of casting Brad Pitt in “Troy,” imagine if Brad Pitt, let‘s say, played Goliath or do a David and Goliath story.  Maybe that would work, or maybe do a film about the life of Saint John or some of the great stories of the saints. 

And, instead, Hollywood doesn‘t learn from the success of “The Passion.”  And Hollywood instead largely just dismisses “The Passion,” ignores “The Passion.” A lot of people in the academy didn‘t even see “The Passion” and they want to I think close their eyes to it as something that they have to kind of tolerate.  It‘s kind of icky.  It‘s not that artistic of a film.  That‘s what they‘ll say. 

But the point is, there‘s a good segment of our society that really feels like Hollywood, it might be creative and there‘s some talent and a lot of talented people, but for whatever reason, Hollywood values and sort of the heartland values of this country all too often seem opposed. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Laura, let‘s play for you a clip of what Bill Maher said on our show.  And, again, this is the same Bill Maher.  He‘s been very nice to me every time I‘ve been on his show.  He‘s actually defended me against liberals attacking me.  But he came on the show last week and he said something that‘s outraged a lot of Americans.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  is unenlightened because of religion.  I do believe that.  I think that religion stops people from thinking.  I think it justifies crazies.  I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative.  I think religion is a neurological disorder. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  A neurological disorder.  And, again, this is the same man who wrote this morning that Hollywood is synched up with middle America.  And I don‘t think this is just Bill Maher who believes this.  From a lot of Hollywood people I‘ve talked to through the years, I think a lot of people out there believe it. 

INGRAHAM:  Well, I think that it‘s interesting Bill Maher, who, again, has a lot of talent.  He can be a very funny guy and he can be a very smart guy.

But Bill Maher spends a lot of time on his own HBO show talking about the problems in hate radio.  He talks about hate radio in the United States and how hate radio, meaning I guess the kind of shows that you and I do, hate radio inspires bad behavior and even talked about the Matthew Shepard killing on Friday‘s show, last Friday‘s show. 

And I‘m thinking, well, what is what he says about Christianity and people of faith?  Is that hate television?  Or misogynist lyrics in some rap music, is that hate music?  Are films that portray our military and Catholic priests consistently as deranged, psychotic, fringe, freaky individuals, are those hate movies?  No.  That‘s acceptable in the artistic, more liberal-oriented community. 

And I think, Joe, again, a lot of people in this country are just left scratching their heads going, wait a second.  Does Hollywood not want to be in the business of making money?  There is a huge audience out there for films that inspire us, that make us believe in courage and bravery, films like “Braveheart” or “We Were Soldiers,” “The Passion,” films that tell great stories and have great narrative.

And Hollywood is capable of it.  And, occasionally, they will actually make a film like that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Let me also—I want to play for you what Bill Maher had to say about the last time he was on our show.  Take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I believe what I believe because of 41 years here on this Earth.  And, again, I respect you not believing in God. 

MAHER:  But, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t think that‘s a neurological defect on your part. 

MAHER:  First of all, I never said I didn‘t—I never said I didn‘t believe in God.  I said I don‘t believe in religion. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK. 

MAHER:  Religion is...

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s say Jesus Christ. 

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  Excuse me.  Religion is a bureaucracy between man and God. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And Laura, again, I play this.  This is not about Bill Maher. 

INGRAHAM:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  This is about a bigger picture in Hollywood, where, again, they don‘t seem to have contempt so much for religion.  They just have contempt for people that are true believers, Orthodox Jews, earnest Catholics, evangelical Christians.  If you‘re lukewarm, you‘re fine.  But if you actually believe in God, heaven and hell, then Hollywood thinks you‘re crazy.  And it shows up in the movies. 

INGRAHAM:  Well, I think it does, unfortunately. 

I mean, there used to be a time where we had movies about Saint  Bernadette.  We had “The Bells of Saint Mary‘s.”  We had major film stars like Ingrid Bergman playing nuns in our films.  And you know something?  Ingrid Bergman didn‘t play a crazy, deranged nun.  She was an amazing woman in this film.

And, again, what Hollywood doesn‘t seem to understand is that they have their right to have their view, but there‘s a whole segment of society that doesn‘t go the movies anymore, that feels like the movies are...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me give you another example really quickly.  Like Joan of Arc. 

INGRAHAM:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I wanted to see the new movie about Joan of Arc, because she‘s always been a hero, a historical hero. 

INGRAHAM:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  By the end of the movie, I was like, geez, Joan of Arc, was she crazy? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They painted her as this deranged freak that heard voices. 

INGRAHAM:  Well, again, there seems to be this great desire on the part of so many Hollywood filmmakers to make the fringe and the—not prevailing wisdom, but the fringe wisdom seem like that‘s the cool wisdom.

And the people who are kind of more traditional or kind of have a strong faith and believe in more traditional values, they‘re kind of antiquated, outdated, and kind of silly, naive.  And this debate, Joe, is mimicked in politics.  It‘s mimicked in our universities.  It‘s not just the story of Hollywood.

This is so many of the elites in so many different spheres of our life not understanding, I think, the soul and the heart of so many of the people in this country.  And, again, why not serve your audience?  You can serve the people who disagree with the heartland, but why not serve the heartland in more films, because when you do, you make a lot of money. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me show you a recent poll from Fox News Channel regarding Hollywood.  I don‘t think it will surprise you too much; 81 percent of conservatives say Hollywood is out of touch with America; 74 percent of moderates agree with that, as do 58 percent of liberals, 58 percent.

INGRAHAM:  Wow. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Actually, it says 58 percent say Hollywood isn‘t out of touch with middle America. 

INGRAHAM:  Yes. 

Well, I think—look, I had Richard Walter, who is a screenwriting professor at UCLA Film School, on my show today.  And even Richard Walter, who, believe me, is no conservative, said Hollywood caricatures evangelicals, Catholics, and sometimes the military. And this is happening all too often. 

And so what happens when you make the “Band of Brothers” or what happens when you make “Saving Private Ryan” or “We Were Soldiers” or “Braveheart,” films that celebrate courage and honor and honesty and conviction, and real conviction, not phony conviction?  Those films end up moving people and moving audiences in a way that transcends kind of the cartoonish nature of so much of Hollywood. 

I mean, Joe, you‘ve said this before, and you‘re absolutely right, that Hollywood today is so much about group think and conformity, conformity when it comes to genres of movies.  If they all decide, well, let‘s remake cartoon series, they‘re going to make “Josie and the Pussycats.”  Then they‘re going to make “Fat Albert.”

Then they‘ll do ‘60s television shows like “Bewitched or “The Adams Family.”  And that‘s how they all think.  And instead of thinking outside the box, which they always tell us they do, these so-called smart people keep doing the same types of movies over and over again.  And I‘ve got to tell you, the people who think outside the box—and I keep going back to Mel Gibson—you think outside the box and you inspire people or tackle something from a different perspective or even sometimes a traditional perspective and you can really get yourself an amazing audience.  Isn‘t that what Hollywood wants, is a big audience? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  You talk about going outside of the box, thinking outside of the box, spending $20 million on a film in Aramaic.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.  I mean....

SCARBOROUGH:  Over $700 million.  The guy was rewarded. 

Hey, Laura, if you can, stay with us for a minute. 

INGRAHAM:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to be right back, talking more with Laura. 

And also coming up, “The Passion of the Christ” did take middle America by storm, but not Hollywood.  It‘s been virtually ignored by the Oscars, despite the fact it‘s grossed over $700 million.  So, does that prove Hollywood is anti-religious? 

And later, why is “The Washington Post” paying so much attention to what Condoleezza Rice is wearing? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Up next, “The Passion of the Christ” was a hit across America, but it‘s been virtually ignored by this year‘s Academy Awards.  Is Hollywood anti-religion?

That‘s up next when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Mel Gibson‘s “Passion of the Christ” did take America by storm.  It was one of the most spell-binding, thought-provoking movies of the year, racking up both critical and box office success, finishing as the third highest grossing picture of 2004.  But you wouldn‘t know it if you watch this weekend‘s Academy Awards.  It‘s been virtually ignored. 

With me now to talk about “The Passion” is Father John Bartunek.  He

was on the set during the filming.  He is also the author of “Inside the

Passion: An Insider‘s Look at the Making of the Passion of the Christ”

Thank you for being with us, Father. 

FATHER JOHN BARTUNEK, AUTHOR, “INSIDE THE PASSION”:  Thank you for having me.

SCARBOROUGH:  I want to begin by asking you, was Mel Gibson prepared and were you prepared by the type of hatred that would accompany the opening of this movie? 

BARTUNEK:  Well, I think he expected that there would be criticism, and it started early, while the filming was still going on and they were still in Italy.  When we were still there, things started happening.  And it was no surprise. 

What might have been a little surprising, however, was the intensity with which, you know, how hot it really got. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Did Mel expect this to possibly be a career-ending movie?  He knew he was going to upset a lot of people in Hollywood.  He knew especially when he went outside of Hollywood and made this film that he would be—open himself up to even more criticism.  But did he think there was a possibility this movie could fail and his career in Hollywood would be over? 

BARTUNEK:  Well, he did say in a few interviews early on the this might be a career-killing project.  But you have got to hand it to him, because he believed that it was an important project.  And as an artist and a man of faith, he wanted to tell this story.  And he thought he could tell it well, and he did.  And he followed through with it.  And that in itself shows a lot of courage, I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  As somebody that was behind the scenes, that saw this from the very beginning, can you tell us, what was it about “The Passion of the Christ,” what was it about Mel Gibson that made so many people, whether it‘s Frank Rich at “The New York Times” or whether it was reviewers in Hollywood, what was it that made these people so angry?  It seemed to be a visceral hatred directed towards Mel Gibson and this movie.  Why? 

BARTUNEK:  Because religion and faith and especially Jesus Christ are tough topics.  They touch the heart.  They threaten people. 

You know, when you talk about religion, when you talk about faith, it‘s a challenge to our comfort zones.  The culture—and that came out in the film.  Here is the savior of the world, from the point of view of Christians, and it‘s the most uncomfortable movie you‘re going to see.  He suffers.  He suffers.  He expresses his love by suffering, by sacrifice and that‘s the kind of—that‘s what religion is about.  It‘s about coming out of oneself and taking a journey beyond one‘s comfort zone.

And that‘s why I think, when we talk about kind of Hollywood vs.  religion and religion vs. Hollywood, we have to be careful.  Religion is a difficult subject.  And people‘s faith and people‘s search for meaning is something very serious. 

And Hollywood has made some fabulous films.  We can‘t forget that Hollywood created “The Passion of the Christ.”  Mel Gibson is a huge Hollywood persona and he made “The Passion of the Christ.”  But I think the anger came from the fact that these issues go so deep.  And, for a lot of people, they‘re very difficult to face. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much, Father John Bartunek.  We greatly appreciate you being with us.

Now, Mel Gibson said that, when it comes to “The Passion of the Christ,” you find it has a lot of enemies.  He also said that Hollywood critics didn‘t have a problem with him.  Their problem was with the Gospel. 

So, is Tinseltown afraid of religion?  Has it become a cesspool of secular ideas? 

And back with me to talk about this and much, we‘ve got radio talk show host Laura Ingraham and also Jack Valenti.  He of course is a former president of the Motion Picture Association of America. 

Laura, respond to what the father said.  Is that really—is Hollywood anti-religion?  Do they hate “The Passion” because of the reason that Mel Gibson said they hate “The Passion,” because the Gospels make them uncomfortable? 

INGRAHAM:  Well, I think that—I think that Father Bartunek hit it pretty accurately when he said that, look, to some extent, these truths which Christians hold to be truth make people uncomfortable, because our tendencies as humans, because we‘re all—you know, we all are sinners, we all make mistakes—difficult to confront these truths sometimes. 

But when you look at some of the great films made throughout Hollywood‘s history, “Ben-Hur” is still making money.  “The Ten Commandments” all of these years later is still making money in DVD and DVD rentals.  And I would imagine that “The Passion” is going to be one of those movies.  It‘s going to be a movie that you‘re just going to have to see at some point in your adult life.

And it‘s goings to continue to have an impact long beyond this debate over these Oscars.  And I think, to some extent, it will really transcend the current sort of aggressive secularism of Hollywood and go beyond it, because the people really have spoken.  And that‘s—I think that‘s a very positive message, which I think, again, if Hollywood wants to make a lot of money—and they want to make a lot of money, I would imagine—their shareholders want them to—then they should learn the lesson of this film and probably follow on.

And there are lots of great stories out there that should be told about our history and certainly Christian history and the Jewish, the great Jewish Old Testament stories, the same thing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jack Valenti, few people in America know Hollywood as well as you, in the world, know Hollywood as well as you.  Do you think that Hollywood has a so-called God problem? 

JACK VALENTI, FORMER MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: 

Mr. Congressman, I certainly don‘t. 

I‘ve been part of Hollywood for 39 years and I‘m still counting.  And the Hollywood that you and Laura have been talking about, though, is interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  It died a long time ago. 

(LAUGHTER)

VALENTI:  Today Hollywood is no longer a monolith.  It‘s a series of little fiefdoms.  They‘re the seven major studios.  They‘re the mini-majors.  They‘re the independent film distributors.  They‘re the lawyers.  They‘re the agents.  They‘re the publicists.  They‘re the actors, directors and the writers, and then thousands of people, men and women, who work on the sets, the craftsmen, artisans constructing the sets, handling the lights.

And these are people who resemble most of America.  They have got mouths to feed, mortgages to pay, children to go to school.  They go to church.  Hollywood is not a monolith, not at all. 

(CROSSTALK)

VALENTI:  And the kind of Hollywood you‘re talking about is in the path.  And the past is always more pleasant, because it isn‘t here.  So, I don‘t—I don‘t understand what you and Laura have been talking about. 

And Laura is a brilliant lawyer and she is a former Supreme Court law clerk.  And I‘m greatly admiring of her. 

(LAUGHTER)

VALENTI:  But you‘re wrong, Laura. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  But, Jack, Jack, I think what you probably missed is, I‘m a great fan of the cinema and I‘m a great fan of so many of the actors and actresses that are very left politically.  I think they‘re extremely talented. 

What my point is, is that I think some of the past might not be such a bad thing for today.  I mean, when you have great films about great saints and the lives of some of our most important historical figures and you don‘t portray them as sort of deranged, freaky people—the last time that a Catholic priest in a film was portrayed in a positive light, can you name the last time, Jack? 

VALENTI:  Well, let me tell you, Laura, anybody can make a film. 

INGRAHAM:  Can you? 

VALENTI:  Of the 700 films that were made last year, 200 are made by the major studios; 500 are made outside. 

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  Right.  Exactly.  So why isn‘t it a monolith, then?  If so many of the people of this country, Jack—and I would agree with you.  There are so many talented people from all walks of life who are background people in the film, but why does such a large segment of our society in poll after poll say that Hollywood does not connect with their values and their views?  Why is that?  Poll after poll. 

VALENTI:  Now, if you‘ll let me do this, I‘ll be glad to respond to you. 

I think that most people love Hollywood, because they love the films.  They go in ever-ending numbers.  And Hollywood, by the way, is one of the largest producers of international revenue for the U.S. economy.  Our films are patronized and enjoyed by people of every country, creed, and culture.

And I think that what Hollywood does is very, very nourishing to the American economy and its culture.  Now, when you make 700 films, not all of them are going to be good.  Not every member of Congress, as Joe will tell you, is a first-class public servant.

But for the most part, they are.  And the same thing goes with Hollywood.  And, by the way, as far as liberal Hollywood is concerned, I this morning went to a breakfast honoring the Republican speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, and most of Hollywood‘s so-called royalty was there. 

And if the liberal Hollywood was there, the speaker of the House was not aware of it.  And he was delighted to have all those people there. 

INGRAHAM:  Right, and...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Laura, I‘ll give you the last 15 seconds. 

INGRAHAM:  Well, I just—I mean, again, name three conservative Hollywood directors, prominent directors in the industry.  Name them. 

VALENTI:  Well, I don‘t know what conservative—I don‘t know what you call me, but I don‘t know whether...

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  Well, you‘re not a director.

I‘m just—there is ideological conformity and, unfortunately, creative conformity.  When there are so many smart people, they should be smart enough to know that they‘re missing a whole segment of society that is just not going to the movies anymore. 

(CROSSTALK)

VALENTI:  Laura, I want you to put a period at the end of a paragraph and let me come in now. 

The answer is that I‘m part of Hollywood.  I was a combat pilot in war.  I almost died for my country.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  We need more of you. 

VALENTI:  Well, just a second.

INGRAHAM:  We need more of you. 

VALENTI:  There are a lot of people in Hollywood like that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

VALENTI:  And I must tell you that I believe that the greatest thing we have going for us in this country is that we have a way of reaching out to the rest of the world, who may burn the American flag, but they like Hollywood movies. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Jack Valenti, we‘re going to have to leave it there.  Thank you so much for being with us. 

And, Laura Ingraham, as always, we greatly appreciate you being here, also. 

Now, coming up next, the big movies at the Oscars this year are all about drug addiction, mercy killing, mental illness, and other problematic situations, which we‘ll tell you about in a little bit.  Are things really that bleak in America? 

And then Sharon Stone is in desperate need of publicity.  And I‘ve got issues with what she‘s doing to get it.

That‘s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The big movies at the Oscars this year are about drug addiction, mercy killing and mental illness.  Why is Hollywood painting such a bleak picture of America?  That‘s coming up in a second.

But, first, here is the latest news that your family needs to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, you could say that the theme this year‘s Academy Awards is that downbeat movies dominate.  Just take a look at the subject matter of some of the Oscar-nominated films.

You‘ve got “Million Dollar Baby,” a boxing film with a back-story about euthanasia, “Sideways,” which is coming under fire in some quarters for what many believe is a casual approach to its main character‘ alcohol abuse.  We‘ve also got “Vera Drake,” a small film about a cheery housewife leading a secret life as a back-alley abortionist in 1950s London. 

And, to me, it seems Hollywood is going out of its way to make movies that portray values that run counter to the feelings of many people in middle America.  Are Oscar voters really that out of step with the movie-going public? 

With me to talk about that is MSNBC‘s entertainment editor, Dana Kennedy. 

And, Dana, so this is where it all ends.  We talk about “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  We talk about “The Passion.”  And now finally it‘s talk about the Oscars from this crazy, crazy years.  Tell me, should we expect any surprises on Sunday night? 

DANA KENNEDY, NBC ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR:  I think the big surprise and the big entertainment of the night will be the host, Chris Rock, who is a real departure for the academy.  He‘s really the anti-Billy Crystal.  He‘s very controversial.

And I think he‘s going to be more interesting than the awards themselves, Joe.  The Oscars are really in trouble.  Last year, 43.5 million people watched the broadcast.  That‘s less than half from 1998, the year “Titanic” swept and won best picture.  There is no “Titanic” this year.  And the way I see these downbeat movies that you describe—and believe me, they sound so depressing as you describe them—there‘s a big gap between the blockbusters that Hollywood is making for the 24-year-old male, the ideal demo, and these movies that are considered art by Oscar voting standards.  There‘s a really big chasm. 

I‘m not sure it‘s all about values, because I just think it‘s about what the academy thinks is artistic.  And that‘s getting smaller and smaller every year, as Hollywood panders to the, say, 24-year-old male. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, to the art crowd.  Also, it seems that for a while there—and people were concerned when “Titanic” won best picture—it seemed for a while that Hollywood was moving towards the middle, towards the mainstream, to the types of movies that people watched in Kansas City and Saint Louis and Dallas. 

Now, let‘s bring in some other people.  We have got film critic and syndicated talk show host Michael Medved.  We‘ve got Lee Daniels, who produced “Monster‘s Ball” and “The Woodsman.”  We also have with us Cheryl Felicia Rhoads, an actress who thinks Hollywood leans way too far to the left. 

And let‘s start with you, Michael Medved.  You heard me describe what was going on in Hollywood this year.  What‘s up? 

MICHAEL MEDVED, FILM CRITIC:  Well, I‘ll tell you what‘s up.

William F. Buckley said a long time ago that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names at random in the Boston television directory than by the 2,000 members of the faculty at Harvard College.  And you have an illustration like that. 

I would take the top five box office movies of 2004 and that‘s a better selection of actual cinematic excellence than what was nominated, because those top five movies included “The Passion of the Christ.”  It included “Spider-Man 2,” which was a wonderful movie.  It included “The Incredibles” and it included “Shrek 2.”  Now, these are all pretty darn good movies, not just in terms of commercial blockbusters, but in terms of aesthetics.

I‘m glad that “The Incredibles” is nominated for best animated picture, but it deserved to be nominated for best picture as well.  I think what the Oscars have been saying increasingly is that we are deliberately going to define excellence in a different way than the American people at large define it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Lee Daniels, what do you think? 

LEE DANIELS, FILM PRODUCER:  I would agree. 

And I would think that the problem is, is that we‘ve been—America has been brainwashed into thinking that these big epics are great films.  And I think what is great now is, is that you have independent filmmakers out doing their own thing and telling ordinary stories.  And this is what America, we learn from this.  I learn from watching independent film. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, we saw—again, we saw 1998 tie the “Titanic” win.  And a lot people, again, one of the biggest movies—I think the biggest movie of all time.  But do you think there‘s a reaction, was a reaction to that and that‘s one of the reasons why independent films are starting to rack up these awards year after year after year? 

DANIELS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

I think that people want to see the dark world.  And I think that mid America needs to see the dark world.  And I think that the studio system underestimates the intelligence of the entire American audience. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Cheryl Felicia Rhoads, let me ask you, do you agree with that?  Is Hollywood doing us a favor by showing us a dark side of human nature? 

CHERYL FELICIA RHOADS, ACTRESS:  Hey, listen, getting up in the morning is a chore in itself sometimes for some people. 

(LAUGHTER)

RHOADS:  I don‘t know that we need to be shown a dark world necessarily. 

And the good news is, I think, that there are two films that are up for best picture, “Finding Neverland” and Ray,” and that, even though they certainly have some downbeat aspects, they follow what I have always felt is kind of the key to a successful film.  Playwright Maxwell Anderson said you take a main character through a series of moral challenges and he becomes a better person by the end of the story. 

This does mean a happy ending.  “Hamlet,” it‘s not a happy story, but he at least knows certain things about himself.  And I think, in “Finding Neverland” and in “Ray,” about Ray Charles, that is accomplished.  So, I was pleased at least by those two inclusions in the best picture. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Medved, I was struck again.  You look at these subjects.  Again, I‘m going to keep repeating it, because it explains why a lot of people aren‘t going to be watching on Sunday night, despite Chris Rock. 

“Million Dollar Baby,” euthanasia, “Sideways,” alcoholism, “Vera Drake,” a cheery housewife that is also a back-alley abortionist.  I mean, really, does Hollywood think that we‘re going to sit, middle America, and watch this stuff? 

MEDVED:  Well, again, it‘s not a group of people getting together and conspiring and saying, we‘re going to shock middle America.  It is not a conspiracy, but it is a consensus.  And there‘s been a very big problem for a long time. 

The problem is this, is that people now have the idea that, in order to be treated as an artistically important film, a film has to be profoundly depressing.  I thought we got away from that Alabama last year with all of the well-deserved acclaim and all of the Oscars for “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” which also got a little bit of a bump upward in terms of the ratings. 

This year, they‘re back, even with Chris Rock, who Dana was talking about, they‘re back with the same old formula, the idea that we‘re going to get attention by shocking people.  And, look, I think that, with Steve Martin and Billy Crystal having done such a classy jobs in the past, I hope that Chris Rock can live up to their standards. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Quick prediction from everybody, best picture.  Michael, I‘ll start with you.

MEDVED:  I suspect “Aviator” will win.  I fear that “Million Dollar Baby” will win.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Lee Daniels? 

DANIELS:  “Aviator,” though I want “Million Dollar Baby” to win.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK. 

Cheryl.

RHOADS:  I want “Finding Neverland” to win, but I fear deeply that “Million Dollar Baby” will win. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Fear deeply.

RHOADS:  Fear deeply.

SCARBOROUGH:  And we‘ll end up with you, Dana.

KENNEDY:  I think “Million Dollar Baby” will win, but I wish “Collateral” had been nominated. 

(CROSSTALK)

DANIELS:  Yes.  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There you go.  Thanks a lot.  I appreciate you all being with me.

Here‘s the prediction.  I‘m going to tell you, everybody is expecting “Million Dollar Baby.”  “Aviator” is going to sneak in there and win it. 

Michael Medved, thanks for being with us.  Lee Daniels, Dana Kennedy, thank you so much.  And also, Cheryl, appreciate you being here.

We‘ll be right back in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK) 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s not just an honor to be nominated.  I want to win all the time.  Maybe that‘s why I‘ve got issues. 

First of all, I have got issues with much money celebrities earn for the honor of just being nominated.  All of the nominees, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Annette Bening, will receive gift bags worth well over $100,000.  And those walking the red carpet, like Kate Winslet, can also expect free clothes to wear on the big night.  And this week, it was reported that Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank were each paid about $120,000 just to wear Chopard jewelry to the Golden Globes. 

Expect even bigger payouts for celebrities walking Oscar‘s red carpet this Sunday.  But, hey, it‘s enough just to be nominated, right? 

And I‘ve also got issues with “The Washington Post”‘s coverage of Condoleezza Rice this week.  Now, the secretary of state visited an Army base in Germany on Wednesday and she gave a rousing speech about saluting the Army‘s many achievements.  So, why did “The Washington Post,” instead of talking about that speech, put a large photo of Dr. Rice at the base on yesterday‘s front page because of her outfit? 

Today, “The Post” ran another article on the cover style session dissecting her black boots and above-the-knee skirt, talking about how sexy it was.  Now, were Dr. Rice a man, you wouldn‘t be reading about the three inches above the knees.  You‘d be reading about the speech. 

And, finally, I‘ve got issues with Sharon Stone.  Now, this actress has been dying to revive her career for years.  And she is set to film a sequel to “Basic Instinct,” the film that made her famous for not wearing underwear.  Now, while it‘s unclear if Stone will again flash audiences, as she did, she announced that her character is going to have a lesbian fling this time. 

So glad to hear you‘re not resorting to cheap gimmicks, Ms. Stone.

Now to something very serious.  You know, every parent lives in fear of finding out that something is wrong with their child.  I know that personally.  NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne, also know that.  They were doting grandparents to their 2 ½-year-old grandson when the doctor first uttered the horrible words that they and their family are never going to forget, that the young boy had autism. 

Now, this morning, the Wrights came on Don Imus‘ show here on MSNBC and told the wrenching story of how their little grandson began to slip away. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DON IMUS SHOW”)

SUZANNE WRIGHT, FOUNDER, AUTISM SPEAKS:  We had thought we had a typically developing little boy.  He was extraordinary.  He would bound into our house and say, mooma (ph), mooma (ph), grandpa Bob.  He would get into our cabinets and take out the pots and pans.  And he would be so joyful and just wonderful to play with. 

In our car, he would say—he had a vocabulary about 800 words.  He would say garbage truck, car transporter, public utility.  His vocabulary was extraordinary.  And then, about two years and two months, we noticed, my daughter and I, that he started to not speak as much.  We would have to prompt him a lot. 

DON IMUS, HOST:  How old was he when he had the 800-word vocabulary? 

WRIGHT:  He started speaking at about one year, one month and he went all the way to two years and two months.

IMUS:  Wow.

WRIGHT:  And then, over a period of about two months, he slipped away from us.  I mean, it was tragic.  It was really something very terrible to watch.  It was like seeing your child, as my Katie (ph), my daughter, said, he was kidnapped.  One night, somebody came into our house and took him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, that‘s so sad. 

And the thing is—and, again, our family is dealing with this, also, and it‘s not just extreme autism.  There are so many—so many varying cases of autism, from extreme autism to Asperger‘s.  It‘s just—it‘s unbelievable, all the new cases out there; 24,000 new cases of autism every year in the United States is being reported.  And every 20 minutes, a child is diagnosed with the disease. 

Now, for more information, you can go to health.MSNBC.com or you can make a donation or receive a DVD on the subject by going to AutismSpeaks.org, the organization the Wrights have created to try to stem the tide of this terrible, terrible disease.  And I will tell you, most health care officials will tell you that, since about 1987, 1988, 1989, the numbers of autism cases in children have just been skyrocketing. 

Something is going on out there.  And the most frightening thing is, none of us understand what it is.  God bless the Wrights for taking this on. 

Now, coming up next, another story of extraordinary courage, as we name our first SCARBOROUGH champion.  We‘ll do that in a minute. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, coming up next, they‘re the regular Joes of the world who go above and beyond the call of duty.  And they make us all proud to be Americans.  Join us as tonight as we salute tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY champion in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome back. 

Now, tonight, we‘re going to start a special section that we‘re going to be doing every Friday where we tell you about the regular Joes out there who make a real difference, the men and women we should all thank God for and who we want to recognize.  Each week, we are going to be picking a man or a woman that we call our SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY champion. 

Tonight, our first SCARBOROUGH champion honors a man who has shown extraordinary courage and bravery.  He is a member of the Army‘s 1st Cavalry Division.  He was one of the soldiers who returned to Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this week after spending more than a year fighting in Iraq. 

It was nothing short of a hero‘s welcome.  And I‘m very happy to welcome our first SCARBOROUGH champion from the Army‘s 1st Cavalry Division.  He‘s Captain Kevin Scott Badger of Dallas, Texas.  And with him are his wife, Tea (ph), and his children, 10-year-old Braxton (ph) and 3-year-old Peyton (ph). 

I‘d like to welcome all of you here tonight.

And, most of all, Captain Badger, welcome back to America.  What is it like to finally be back home with your family and friends? 

CAPT. KEVIN BADGER, 1ST CAVALRY DIVISION:  First of all, thank you very much.  And it‘s great to be back.  We‘ve enjoyed a few days here together of good rest before we get back to work. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Try to tell Americans about the type of sacrifice that you saw, not only from your unit, but from all the men and women that were fighting to liberate the Iraqi people. 

BADGER:  For us, at least, our experience was very, very cold, austere conditions as well, but very long time in the mud and fighting a day-to-day enemy that was committed to his cause as we were to ours. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Captain, I wanted to ask you about the elections, because the coverage, unfortunately, in America by a lot of, I think, anti-war journalists has been negative. 

But then the elections came along, and all of the things that preceded it seemed to be wiped away.  And, all of a sudden, Americans understood what you all were doing over there.  What was it like for you to see Iraqis who had been tortured and terrorized by Saddam Hussein be able to go out and vote for their leaders? 

BADGER:  Well, Mr. Scarborough, I tell you, the election day was a remarkable day to witness. 

The elections themselves, although we were prepared for well 24 hours prior to, we didn‘t see an initial footprint of the voters early in the morning, because I think they were curious to see how things would turn out.  And, as the day progressed and things—they kind of trusted the fact that it was going to be safe for them, we started seeing the first smiles.  And it looked a whole lot like it did on TV during the war, where people were actually thanking us and giving us thumbs-up and hugs. 

And it was very refreshing to see, after months of some frustration and hard times for both the people and the soldiers. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The sacrifice that you all have endured is just absolutely unbelievable. 

We thank you so much, Captain Badger.  And thank your family.  Good luck.  And, again, we appreciate your service to our nation. 

BADGER:  Thank you very much for having me. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

And that‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Have a great weekend. 

We‘ll see on you Monday, when we give you an Oscar wrapup.  Have a great weekend.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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