CBS NEWS WINS PEABODY

CBS News, embroiled in controversy over the past year over the "memogate" report narrated by Dan Rather and produced by Mary Mapes, won a Peabody Award today (Thursday) for its report on the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal, which was also narrated by Rather and produced by Mapes. Mapes was fired by the network for her role in the "memogate" affair. Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb said that the controversy over the Rather/Mapes story about President Bush's National Guard service did not figure in the awards committee's considerations. "We feel that this tory [Abu Ghraib] stood on its own merit," Newcomb said. "It was really an important moment in television this year." Jon Stewart won his second Peabody for his satiric observations on the 2004 presidential election campaign.

NEWSPAPERS CHIDE TV'S POPE COVERAGE

Coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II by many television reporters on the scene has been criticized by their brethren working in print. "The desire to match the solemnity of the moment and the mood of mourners brought out some of the most cloying prose in television history," wrote New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley, who also commented that NBC anchor Brian Williams and CNN's Aaron Brown "began sounding more Catholic than the cardinals, and Diane Sawyer went into the kind of transports usually associated with St. Teresa of Avila." Julie Hinds of the Detroit Free Press was critical of CNN's efforts to turn virtually all its 24-hour coverage to the story, which included an interview with Darrell Mease, a killer who was spared from execution after the pope intervened with the governor of Missouri. "Darrell, was the pope a popular man in prison?" reporter Greta Van Susteren asked. "There aren't many Catholics here, but he wasn't unpopular," Mease replied. Several critics remarked that TV reporters seemed to go out of their way to avoid any discussion of criticism of the pope, from the right or left. When on Fox News, Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee remarked that Arabs were impressed by the pope's strong stance against America's war in Iraq," commentator Neil Cavuto attempted to cut him off, saying that "his views were not that black and white on the war." When Ibish responded, "No, I think you're wrong about that," Cavuto replied, "I don't want to argue with you today because I like you." Appearing on MSNBC, NBC anchor Brian Williams recalled covering the pope's "magical trip" to meet with Fidel Castro in 1996, "marred, at its height, by a bulletin from the U.S. that Newsweek magazine was running a story about the president and an intern." All three major TV networks as well as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC plan to carry the pope's funeral on Friday beginning at 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

DID TV FAIL TO REPORT JUROR MISCONDUCT AT JACKSON TRIAL?

Bob Tur, the award-winning TV helicopter newsman, complained Wednesday that the crowd of reporters at the Michael Jackson trial, which Tur has been covering, "sat on a story that is about as explosive as it gets." Tur, in a note to the online "Shop Talk" industry newsletter, said that several reporters had overheard jurors discussing testimony by one of the prosecution's witnesses during a break and laughing at his remarks. Moreover, Tur wrote, several reporters were unaware that such discussions "could be grounds for dismissing the jurors involved, or more likely, a mistrial." Later in the day, the story was picked up by the Associated Press, which quoted a court official as saying, "It is an unsubstantiated rumor and there is no investigation."

TELEMUNDO'S CHIEF QUITS

Jim McNamara, president/CEO of Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish-language network, has resigned after six years with the NBC Universal-owned company. Although credited with strengthening the network's programming, McNamara, who was raised in Panama and is fluent in Spanish, was unable to increase viewership significantly. Rival Univision dominates the Spanish-language market with 80 percent of Hispanic viewers, while the remaining 20 percent is divided among Telemundo, TV Azteca, and Univision-owned TeleFutura. McNamara will be succeeded by Telemundo's current COO, Don Browne.

SECOND TRIP TO THE OFFICE IS SOMEWHAT BRIGHTER

In its second week in its regular Tuesday-night time slot, NBC's The Office picked up additional viewers but not enough to lift it out of third place. While it is rare for a new show to improve in the ratings in its second week, The Office's numbers, a 5.1 rating and a 7 share, remained disappointing and were behind those for ABC's lackluster Rodney, which produced its worst ratings ever in the same time period. The top-rated show of the night was (again) American Idol, with a 16.1/25. A repeat of Fox's House, which followed, produced an 11.0/16. Together the two shows gave Fox an easy win for the night. On Wednesday Idol retained its ratings dominance for its results show, posting a 16.0/23. On ABC, killing off one of its regular stars resulted in a 12./0/18 count for Lost. The season finale of NBC's The West Wing posted a respectable 9.3/14 against Idol at 9:00 p.m., while a repeat of NBC's Law & Order took over first place at 10:00 p.m. with a 9.2/14.

TV ACADEMY REVEALS EMMY STREAMLINING

In an effort to reverse a ratings decline, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which produces the Emmy awards, is planning to ask winners in some off-camera categories to record their acceptance speeches, published reports said today (Thursday). The move was seen as a compromise to avoid a bitter feud with the writers' and directors' guilds which had balked at reported plans to move awards in 14 categories to the non-televised Creative Arts Emmys. "We are absolutely thrilled that common sense has prevailed," Directors Guild of America President Michael Apted told the Los Angeles Times. "The academy is keeping its core responsibility to honor good work on television."

MTV UNVEILS "HYBRID SCREEN"

MTV has begun offering what it describes as a "hybrid screen" -- a website where viewers can watch MTV programs on demand, receive updates of MTV News features, and view a host of music videos. Dubbed MTV Overdrive, the website, now in the testing stage, is due to make its official debut on April 25. The network also said that it plans to launch a separate website from which consumers will be able to purchase and download video and/or audio tracks. It will compete directly with Apple Computer's market-dominating iTunes. In an interview with Bloomberg News, MTV Networks Group President Van Toffler remarked, "It's about time technology has caught up with the demands of young people."

MOVIES ENTER THE THIRD DIMENSION

In an apparent effort to encourage theater owners to convert to digital projection, several major studios are planning to re-release many top hits in 3D and to release new blockbuster films in both 2D and 3D, Reuters reported Wednesday. The wire service noted that the 3D films, which cost some $4.5 million apiece to convert but which must be shown with digital projectors, could generate additional income for theaters. It also reported that George Lucas intends to re-release his entire Star Wars series in 3D beginning in 2007. Michael Kaye, CEO of In-Three, one of the companies converting films into 3D, told Reuters: "Exhibitors have all said this [3D] was the first reason they had to go digital."

DAY OF THE MATRIX COMING?

Sony has received a patent for a device that could transmit sensory data, including images, tastes and sounds, directly to the brain, Britain's New Scientist magazine reports in an edition to be published on Saturday. The device is described as "entirely non invasive," using ultrasound to focus on small groups of brain cells. Although the technology has not yet been tested, it is being taken seriously by a number of independent experts, the magazine said. Neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer of the University of Tübingen in Germany commented, "I looked at it and found it plausible." Other experts expressed concern about the long-term safety of such a device. Sony emphasized that at present, the device is purely theoretical. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention," a company spokeswoman said Wednesday. "It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us."

IGER WON'T BREAK UP DISNEY

Disney CEO-designate Robert Iger says he has no plans to break up the company into separate film and broadcast entities as Viacom seems prepared to do. In an interview with the online edition of TV Week, Iger said, "We believe we've done a very effective job at managing all of our businesses in a very integrated fashion on a lot of levels, so we don't have any intention really of splitting the company in a manner that would be similar to what they've done."

FINAL COURT DOCUMENTS FILED IN DISNEY SUIT

Lawyers for the Walt Disney company filed post-trial briefs Wednesday supporting the company's position that CEO Michael Eisner properly fired former President Michael Ovitz in 1996 and appropriately consulted the Disney board before doing so. A group of shareholders had sued the company in Delaware Chancery Court demanding that it pay back the $140-million severance package paid to Ovitz when Eisner fired him after a year on the job.

GATES-OWNED COMPANY BUYS DEAD CELEBRITY FIRM

Corbis Corp., a company owned by Microsoft's Bill Gates, has bought the Roger Richman Agency, whose "clients" include such dead celebrities as Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, Betty Grable, the Marx Brothers and Mae West. Terms were not disclosed. Corbis exec Gary Shenk told Wednesday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer: ""There is such an interest in use of celebrity likenesses around the world," Shenk said. "This is a major category that we felt we really needed to be in." He said that the acquisition of the Richman company gives Corbis the "opportunity is to go to the families and the people who manage these estates in a more informal way and show them the opportunity to go out and push these personalities on a global basis." Reporting on the acquisition today (Thursday), the Los Angeles Times commented: "The deal comes as advertisers are discovering that while dead celebrities don't tell tales, they can sure ring up sales."

LINES FORM IN HOLLYWOOD FOR SITH -- BUT AT WRONG THEATER

Die-hard Star Wars fans, some 112 of them, have already begun lining up at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, the traditional site for the movie's Hollywood premiere, for the May 19th debut of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith. However, today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Daily News reported that the fans may be waiting in line at the wrong theater. Fox, it said, is reportedly planning to open the film at the ArcLight, several blocks away. Nevertheless, when informed of the studio's plans, those standing in line refused to budge. "This is Mecca for fans," one told the newspaper. "It's been a tradition for decades." Another fan who flew in from Australia remarked: "I was here in '02 [for the opening of Attack of the Clones] and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I walked up with a suitcase and the people welcomed me with open arms."