FILM FANS HAND HOLLYWOOD RECORD CASH: LOS ANGELES (AP) — The big deal for Hollywood is not the record $10.8 billion that studios took in domestically in 2012. It's the fact that the number of tickets sold went up for the first time in three years.
Thanks to inflation, revenue generally rises in Hollywood as admission prices climb each year. The real story is told in tickets, whose sales have been on a general decline for a decade, bottoming out in 2011 at 1.29 billion, their lowest level since 1995.
The industry rebounded this year, with ticket sales projected to rise 5.6 percent to 1.36 billion by Dec. 31, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. That's still well below the modern peak of 1.6 billion tickets sold in 2002, but in an age of cozy home theater setups and endless entertainment gadgets, studio executives consider it a triumph that they were able to put more butts in cinema seats this year than last.
AILING WHALE WASHES ASHORE AT NEW YORK CITY BEACH: NEW YORK (AP) — An ailing, endangered finback whale has been found washed ashore in a coastal enclave of Queens that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy.
Emergency workers and marine biologists responded to a report of a 60-foot whale that was stranded on the bay side of the Rockaways. The call came around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday.
Biologist Mendy Garron says it's unclear what caused the whale to beach itself, but its chances of survival appear slim.
She says the whale isn't moving around much and "looks very compromised."
Garron says biologists are waiting for the tides to subside to determine what to do next.
HAWAII LIEUTENANT GOV. PICKED TO FILL SENATE SEAT: HONOLULU (AP) — Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz of Hawaii was appointed Wednesday to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced the appointment after receiving a list of three candidates from the state Democratic Party earlier in the day. The other candidates were U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Esther Kiaaina, a deputy director in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Inouye died Dec. 17 of respiratory complications at the age of 88. He had sent Abercrombie a letter that day, saying he would like Hanabusa, 61, to succeed him.
"Sen. Inouye conveyed his final wish to Gov. Abercrombie. While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the governor's decision to make," Jennifer Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff, said in a statement. "We wish Brian Schatz the best of luck."
OKLAHOMA CITY HOUSE FIRE KILLS MOTHER, 4 CHILDREN: OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A fire that ripped through a home in Oklahoma City before dawn Wednesday killed a woman and her four children and left one man in critical condition with serious burns, authorities said.
Firefighters who arrived about 6:30 a.m. found the bodies of Jeanine Bonnet, 28, and her children inside the two-story, wood-frame home, Fire Department Maj. Tammy McKinney said. They found Brian Poletto, 39, outside the burning house while a man who rented a room at the home, David Ruppert, managed to escape the flames.
Polletto was in critical condition at a local hospital later Wednesday with second- and third-degree burns to his back and arms, McKinney said.
Police Sgt. Gary Knight identified the children as Kara Leon, 3; Matthew Zackary Leon, 5; Samantha Leon, 7; and Natalie Leon, 8.