RELIGION IS A RATINGS REVELATION FOR NBC

NBC got religion Wednesday and got ratings in the process. A one-hour Dateline special about the religious musings found in the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code won the 8:00 p.m. hour with a 7.4 rating and a 12 share, beating a repeat of ABC's hit Lost, which drew a 6.9/11. At 9:00, NBC's Revelations debuted with a heaven-sent 9.9/15, far ahead of the network's average for that timeslot. (The biblical whodunit was nevertheless topped by Fox's American Idol, which recorded a 14.5/22.) NBC took the lead at 10:00 with Law & Order, which drew an 11.5/19 and beat CSI:NY, which registered a 7.1/12.

FCC WARNS TV STATIONS ON GOVERNMENT VIDEO HANDOUTS

The FCC late Wednesday warned TV and cable outlets that under the law they must identify the source of video news releases and that the agency will vigorously take action against those who neglect to do so. The action came in the wake of news reports that some stations were airing as actual news what critics described as Bush administration "propaganda" designed to support its policies. Although the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has strongly criticized the use of public funds to produce such videos, the FCC took no position on that facet of the controversy. Today's Wall Street Journal took notice of the fact that the commission's announcement was issued at 8:00 p.m. and suggested that it might have been rushed out under pressure from Republicans to undercut legislation being introduced by Senate Democrats that would require such videos to carry a disclaimer saying they were paid for with taxpayer funds. Meanwhile, the conservative group Accuracy in Media issued a statement Wednesday noting that the Clinton administration was also criticized for producing video news releases and added, "The recent controversy has been framed by media as a uniquely Bush administration practice and problem."

FCC WON'T RELAX RULE ON OWNERSHIP

In a separate action, the FCC on Wednesday denied a request from the Tribune Co. for a permanent waiver of rules that bar a company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same area. The commission, however, did agree to extend Tribune's temporary waiver in Connecticut, where it owns both the Hartford Courant and WTXX in nearby Waterbury. Tribune has been trying to sell the TV station.

RETIRING NBC NEWS EXEC CAUTIONS CBS OVER MULTIPLE-ANCHOR PLAN

NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley, who announced Wednesday that he will retire in June, has told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he believes CBS will be making a mistake if it goes ahead with reported plans to install a quartet of anchors for the CBS Evening News. Wheatley, who produced NBC Nightly News from 1985-90, told the Inquirer: "I would think four anchors in half an hour would be very difficult to produce on a day-to-day basis. ... I don't know why anyone would want to do that." Even two anchors, he said, would be a dubious proposition. "Given the time restraints, the passing back and forth, takes up time. Two isn't necessarily better than one. There has to be a strong rationale to do it."

FAMILY GROUP RENEWS WAR AGAINST THE SHIELD

Conservative activist Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council has launched a campaign to urge advertisers to drop sponsorship of the FX cable network hit, The Shield, which it said, "depicts the most explicit sexual content and nudity, obscene language, and graphic violence imaginable." The PTC pointed out that FX airs on basic cable, "which means that if you have a cable subscription so your children can watch The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon or The History Channel, there's a good chance they could have stumbled across this horrific content by mistake." The PTC urged members "to send a loud-and-clear message to FX and the show's sponsors that we're not going away until they either get rid of the obscene filth on this show, or stop forcing us to subsidize it." Producers of the program have pointed out that it airs at 10:00 p.m., that viewers are warned of the graphic content, that the program can be blocked with the V-chip and that cable subscribers can ask their company to block it at their homes.

GAY CHANNELS TARGETED BY AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION

Meanwhile, the American Family Association, headed by the Rev. Tim Wildmon, has launched a campaign against two gay-oriented cable channels, Here and LOGO. "I don't think most parents want their children flipping channels on their way to the Cartoon Network and running across a scene of two men kissing in bed on the Logo network," Wildmon said. He urged followers to avoid advertisers who sponsor "this type of offensive, heavy-duty homosexual content."

NO BIG 3-HOUR FINALE PLANNED FOR APPRENTICE 3

Donald Trump says that unlike the last finale of The Apprentice, which aired over three hours and featured a reunion show hosted by Regis Philbin, the May 19th finale of Apprentice 3, "at my insistence," will be trimmed to one hour. In a news statement, Trump said that with Apprentice 2, "We ended up with a reunion and all of this nonsense. Nobody wants that. What they want is a finale where somebody gets fired. ... and they want to witness the excitement of the hiring."

MPAA IS WATCHING YOU

Further details of the entertainment industry's latest efforts to halt the trading of movies and music over peer-to-peer Internet networks emerged today (Thursday) as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that MPAA investigators were able to determine that on April 11 at 1:23 p.m., 7,070 people, including Georgia Tech students, were sharing content, including movies. One of the GT students, the MPAA alleged, had 328 different movies available for downloading. In one of numerous lawsuits filed on Wednesday, the MPAA referred to the Georgia Tech students only as John Does, but, the newspaper said, another lawsuit charged that John Struna, of Sugar Hill, GA had downloaded three movies: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid; Exorcist: The Beginning; and Alien Vs. Predator. A spokesman for the university said that the lawsuits were "directed specifically against the students" and not the school.

ACTORS UNIONS MAY STRIKE VIDEO GAME MAKERS

Hollywood's two principal actors' unions, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), have entered a critical phase of their negotiations with the major producers of video games with odds of a strike regarded as even, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). Complicating matters, the trade paper observed, is the fact that video game publishers have created no umbrella organization comparable to the Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers to represent them with the unions. It said that one medium-sized publisher wasn't even aware that such talks were going on and appeared "nonplussed" by the possibility of a strike, saying that his company uses mostly non-union talent.

CHARITY PREVIEWS SET FOR FINAL STAR WARS MOVIE

Die-hard Star Wars fans may be tempted to shell out $500-$1,000 for tickets to special charity screenings of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith to be held on May 12, one week before the official release, in 10 cities. Among the charities that are due to benefit from the advance screenings are: Los Angeles: Artists for a New South Africa; Denver: Colorado Children's Campaign; Seattle: Alliance for Education; Boston: City Year; Miami: Children's Hospital Foundation; Washington, DC: The Children's Defense Fund; Chicago: Children's Memorial Hospital; Atlanta: Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital; San Francisco: Koret Family House; and New York: The Children's Health Fund. Tickets for the special screenings are being sold by the individual charities.

SONY SAYS IT'S WILLING TO CONSIDER A TRUCE IN FORMAT WARS

Sony, a company which was trounced in a format war over videocassettes 20 years ago when its Betamax format lost out to VHS, moved Wednesday to head off a similar battle over high-definition DVDs. In an interview with Reuters in Bordeaux, France, where Sony is introducing its latest products for the European market, Sony exec Yukinori Kawauchi commented: "From the point of view to provide the best service to the consumer one format is better than two. We're open to discussions." Nevertheless, Kawauchi, who is Sony's general manager in charge of its so-called Blu-ray HDTV format, said that there has been little effort made by the industry to adopt a single standard. Sony heads the Blu-ray group, which includes Hitachi, LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, HP, Dell, Apple, TDK, and Thomson, while rival Toshiba heads another group backing the HD DVD format, which includes NEC, Sanyo and Thomson. (France's Thompson group, which owns the RCA brand, is a member of both groups.) Sony Films, 20th Century Fox, and Universal side with the Blu Ray group; Warner's. New Line, Paramount, and Universal, with the HD DVD group.

ORIGINAL SCORE TO RETURN TO HITCH

George Fenton's musical score for Hitch, which was removed from the theatrical release, will finally see the light of day when the DVD release makes its debut in February. Director Andy Tenant has told Home Media Retailing that before the score was completed, he used existing pop songs for the soundtrack. Then, when test audiences reacted positively to them, he decided to keep them in the finished film, given the outlook that "if it's not broken, don't fix it." He said, Fenton's score gave the movie "a wholly different feel. ... It was heartbreaking for me and the composer to cut it."

PRODUCER LOOKING TO EXPLOIT NEGATIVE PUBLICITY

The producer of a movie about the real-life murders of two Canadian teenagers by the Ontario couple Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo has sent messages to colleagues in Hollywood asking them for advice on how to capitalize on the negative publicity the film has already generated prior to its release, the Toronto Star reported today (Thursday). In an email, producer Michael Sellers wrote, "We've got the premier of Ontario publicly urging people to boycott it and the lawyer of the victims' families demanding an advance screening and various groups protesting, as well as a number of columnists taking our side ... before we're even starting to attempt generating any publicity on our own." He added, "I'm thinking some of you might see this as a business angle or have some advice for us on how to manage and, ultimately, capitalize on this bonanza of publicity." Thus far, the film, titled Deadly, has not been picked up by a distributor.