Grocery talks collapse: Lots of the usual hot air from both sides, so it's hard to know where the long-winded talks really stand. Union leaders claim that the three major chains - Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons - are offering less for health insurance than the current contract. You might recall that the current contract cut deeply into what had been nearly cost-free medical coverage. The United Food and Commercial Workers had been hoping for a better health care deal in the new contract, but that seems like wishful thinking. There's really no deadline for cutting a deal (contract talks have been known to drag out for years), and that may be a good thing because there doesn’t appear to be much enthusiasm for another strike/lockout. LAT
Albrecht's previous scrape: The LAT's Claudia Eller reports that HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, who took a leave of absence yesterday after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, was involved in another incident 16 years ago in which he shoved and choked a female subordinate. The couple had ended a romantic involvement and when the woman told Albrecht that she had been dating someone else, he supposedly threw her from her chair to the ground. The Time Warner unit paid a settlement of at least $400,000 - a settlement that was overseen by Time Warner President Jeffrey Bewkes, who is apparently tight with Albrecht. Also, Nikki Finke reports that there have been other nasty incidents over the years involving Albrecht and women.
Countrywide recovering: The Calabasas-based mortgage lender reported this morning that it made 11 percent more home loans in April than a year earlier, and that "nonprime" loans - including those pesky subprime types - fell 49 percent. The company has tightened its lending policies in the wake of the subprime mess (just 7 percent of loans were nonprime from January to March and that number will fall even further in the second quarter). By the way, Countrywide shares were down 2.7 percent this morning, perhaps an indication that investors are debunking takeover rumors that were jacking up the price yesterday. Reuters
Movie magic: "Night at The Museum'' didn't seem like that big a deal when it came out late last year, but News Corp. is citing its $571 million box office performance as contributing to a 6.2 percent increase in third-quarter profit. Also helping out were DVD sales of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit of Glorious Nation Kazakhstan,'' which took in $39.5 million. No breakout, by the way, for MySpace, which News Corp. bought a couple of years ago for $580 million. Bloomberg
Anemia drug payments: Bet you didn't know that Thousand Oaks-based Amgen has been paying many millions of dollars to doctors, who use the company's anemia medicines on their patients. Those drugs, Aranesp and Epogen, may be unsafe at the normal dosage. The payments are legal, but they obviously raise all kinds of conflict-of-interest red flags. Amgen (along with Johnson & Johnson, which also engages in the payoffs, er, payments) won't talk numbers, but the NYT came across documents showing that at just one practice in the Pacific Northwest, a group of six cancer doctors received $2.7 million from Amgen for prescribing $9 million worth of its drugs last year. Amgen said that rebates were a normal commercial practice and that it had always properly promoted its drugs. "Amgen is dedicated to patient safety," said David Polk, a spokesman.
Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration added to concerns about the drugs, releasing a report that suggested that their use might need to be curtailed in cancer patients. The report, prepared by F.D.A. staff scientists, said no evidence indicated that the medicines either improved quality of life in patients or extended their survival, while several studies suggested that the drugs can shorten patients’ lives when used at high doses. Yesterday’s report followed the F.D.A.’s decision in March to strengthen warnings on the drugs’ labels.
Inflated fuel: And an inflated story. The LAT spends way too much space tsk-tsking the gasoline business over the extra three cents a gallon that motorists might be shelling out because fuel expands when temperatures rise and gas station nozzles don't adjust for the change. Might be are the operative words here; the fuel expansion issue is hardly new and there's really no way of knowing whether it's one cent or three cents or no cents. One thing we do know: this is not that big a deal. (And gas stations would likely tack on the cost of new nozzles to the price of gas.)
Will Law & Order move to TNT?: That's the buzz, given that NBC execs might not renew the series, now in its 17th year. The deal would probably be for a full season of 22 episodes, according to the NYT - a far higher order than what's the norm in cable land. And these are expensive shows to produce. Expect a decision in the next few days (NBC is expected to have its lineup next week). The story was first picked up by Broadcasting & Cable.