BUSH TV SPOT RILES USOC

The Bush White House has rejected demands by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Iraqi Olympic soccer team that it withdraw Bush-Cheney TV spots that refer to the Olympics. Alluding to athletes from Iraq and Afghanistan who are participating in this year's competition, the ads say, "This Olympics there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes." The USOC said that the ads reflect unauthorized use of Olympic images trademarks and pointed out that the committee does not associate itself with partisan campaigns. However, a spokesman for the Bush campaign told the online edition of Advertising Age Thursday that the ad would continue airing through Sunday, the final day of the Olympics, saying: "We are on firm legal ground to mention the Olympics to make a factual point in a political advertisement." On Saturday, the Iraqi soccer team reacted furiously to the spot, midfielder Salih Sadir telling Sports Illustrated: "Iraq as a team does not want Mr Bush to use us for the presidential campaign." Coach Adnan Hamd added: "The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

MEDIA ACTIVISTS TO MARCH ON N.Y. TV CENTERS

Liberal and Democratic activists are not only planning demonstrations in connection with the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York, but several groups, including FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) and Paper Tiger TV have announced that they intend to stage demonstrations and political rallies on Sept. 1 at CBS, at Time Life/CNN, and at Fox News. In a statement, the groups said, "For the past few years, the mainstream media have marched in lockstep with the Bush administration. Now it's time to march on the media."

OLYMPICS RATINGS DIP BUT STILL DOMINATE

Going into the final stretch, NBC's Olympics coverage is trailing off somewhat in the ratings but nevertheless dominating the nightly ratings. With no major athletic stars in front of the cameras, NBC averaged a 14.7 rating and a 24 share during primetime Wednesday night, the lowest ratings for the contests thus far. The Olympics telecast peaked in the 10:00 p.m. hour with a 16.2/27. NBC has averaged 25.9 million viewers each night, up 14 percent from the comparable period in 2000 when it averaged 22.7 million. The network also said that all four of its cable networks that have been carrying the Olympics -- CNBC, MSNBC, USA, and Bravo -- have shown a dramatic rise in viewers and that the daytime cable telecasts have not, as some had feared, sated the appetite for the nighttime NBC telecasts.

GAME PLAYERS WATCHING TV LESS

The burgeoning electronic games business may be making significant inroads into television watching, according to a new study, "Digital Gaming in America," from Ziff Davis Media. According to the survey, conducted by the Englewood, FL-based The Strategy Group, 26 percent of the gamers who were canvassed said that their TV viewing had decreased in the last year, and 20 percent said that they expect their TV viewing will decrease further in the next year.

NIELSEN'S TV HOUSEHOLDS GROW

Nielsen Media Research has again revised the number of TV households on which its ratings are based. It now estimates that 109.6 million households exist in the U.S., up from the previous figure of 108.4 million. One Nielsen ratings point is the equivalent of one percent of the total number of TV households. The numbers will be used for the 2004-2005 season. Nielsen also readjusted its list of major markets, moving Boston up to fifth place and San Francisco down to sixth. The top ten now line up as follows: 1. New York, 2. Los Angeles, 3. Chicago, 4. Philadelphia, 5. Boston, 6. San Francisco, 7. Dallas-Fort Worth, 8. Washington, D.C., 9. Atlanta, and 10. Detroit.

LATER FOR LATE LATE'S KILBORN

Craig Kilborn is due to exit late-night television tonight (Friday), winding up his stint as The Late Late Show host on CBS with appearances by Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Marlee Matlin, Martin Mull, Adam West and Wayne Newton. Beginning next week, NBC will fill the time slot with reruns, bringing it back with live shows in mid-September with a number of guests hosts. A permanent replacement is expected to be named by October.

TIVO HITS SLOW-FORWARD BUTTON

It may have become an English-language verb, but digital video recorder maker TiVo has yet to make a significant mark in the home electronics business, its SEC filing on Thursday indicated. The company said that it finished its last quarter with 1.9 million subscriptions, and while that is certainly well ahead of its 703,000 during the comparable quarter a year ago, it is barely a blip on the overall TV market. The company reported a $10.8 million net loss on revenue of $39.8 million versus a loss of $4.4 million during the year-ago quarter. CEO Mike Ramsay, however, gave an upbeat presentation to analysts Thursday, forecasting 3 million subscribers by the end of its fiscal year, on Jan. 31. He said that the wider loss was largely due to marketing and promotional expenditures.

NBC AND MICROSOFT SAY THEY WON'T BREAK UP MSNBC PARTNERSHIP

NBC and Microsoft responded Thursday to speculation that their MSNBC partnership may be on the verge of breaking up. "It's just not true," NBC Universal exec Brandon Burgess told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published in today's (Friday) editions. Microsoft exec Scott Moore added: "The state of the relationship is very healthy, and from the Microsoft side we're pleased with the way things are going."

SUMMER GOES OUT WITH A FIZZLE

The summer box office slogs to its conclusion this weekend with four new wide releases, none of which is likely to take in much more than $10 million, according to box office analysts. The most likely winner, they generally agree, would appear to be Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, which opens in nearly 3,000 venues. The Chinese blockbuster Hero, which was released in Asia two years ago and was acquired by Miramax, is expected to give the snake film a run for the money even though it is opening on one-third fewer screens. Suspect Zero, a movie about a serial killer who kills serial killers, and the kids film Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, round out the newcomers. In limited release, Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, which received arguably some of the most blistering reviews of all time when it was shown at last year's Cannes Film Festival, finally arrives on three screens in New York and L.A.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is getting just the kind of perfunctory reviews one might expect from a film titled Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. "Anacondas has no pretensions and gets its little job done effectively, providing some small-scale laughs and chills for the late summer season," Dave Kehr ho-hums in the New York Times. Megan Lehmann in the New York Post remarks, "Why anyone felt the need to film a sequel to 1997's mediocre Anaconda -- best known for Jennifer Lopez's hilariously earnest performance -- is a mystery." Gene Seymour in Newsday argues that it's no mystery at all, that it's the sort of film studios traditionally release at this time of year. "Let's check our calendars," he writes. "Yep, it's late summer. That means it must be time for that gratuitous knockoff chiller-thriller to send the kids back to school all flushed and giddy." In fact, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe appears to have seen the film, hoping that he could really sink his teeth into it. Unfortunately, he writes: "There's nothing really wrong with it -- it's bad, but no worse than it needs to be, which is the problem. Where the first movie had a fragrant odor, the smell, say, of Lysol sprayed in a gas station bathroom, Anacondas actually stinks." And Mike Clark in USA Today admits: "I had my pen loaded to stain this movie ridiculous. Turns out it slithers its way just above mediocre. If you want a mindless end-of-summer retreat, you could do worse than Anacondas."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: HERO

Talk about counterprogramming, Zhang Yimou's Hero appears aimed at the hearts and minds of cinema aficionados. (The credits read, "A Quentin Tarantino Presentation.") Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times describes it as "beautiful and beguiling ... a visual poem." Likewise Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls it "one of the most sheerly beautiful films in recent memory." Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News uses the adjective "ravishing" to describe it, then goes on to say that director Zhang Yimou, "turning relatively late in his career to the martial-arts genre, finds inspiration there to deliver a moving, if ambiguous, political message about individual sacrifice on the altar of the common good." John Anderson in Newsday chooses the adjective "sumptuous" to describe it, but regrets that Zhang, who directed such dramas as Raise the Red Lantern and Shanghai Triad, has turned to making a martial arts film. He concludes: "Hero is so lush, its palette so premeditatively hypnotic and its humor so good-natured that you hate to argue against it. But Zhang, in his earlier days, was more concerned with the emotional chasm between men and women. Such deeper themes no longer have precedence over the lure of armed warfare." And Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail concludes that "the spectacular martial-arts epic seems to signify nothing much more than its own beauty, as brilliant and ephemeral as a fireworks display."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: SUSPECT ZERO

Critics by and large are blasting away at Suspect Zero, which Manohla Dargis in the New York Times describes as "a serial-killer movie so preposterous, so garnished with accidental laugh lines and absent essential narrative logic it may actually put a permanent kibosh on this tediously overworked crime subgenre." She adds: "Here's hoping, at any rate." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News dismisses it as a "preposterous, physically hideous paranormal thriller." To Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post it's "a grisly, depraved and wholly uninvolving exercise in empty mannerism." Dependably, however, Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times presents the opposing viewpoint, writing that director E. Elias Merhige "understands how exciting going to the edge of credibility can be without falling off, and he has the bravura talent and imagination needed to pull off the sheer, hurtling audacity of Suspect Zero."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2

Critics are suggesting that Bob Clark's Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 may vie with Clark's original 1999 film Baby Geniuses for one of the worst films of all time. (Dave Kehr in the New York Times points out that the original ranks No. 7 on Metacritic.com's worst-film list.) Indeed, Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times writes that the movie "may quite easily put an end to any discussion of what is the worst theatrical release of 2004." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls it "spectacularly awful, way worse than you'd expect from a supposed family film being dumped into Hollywood's version of the Bermuda Triangle: a late-August release by a studio (Columbia) resorting to an alias (Triumph)." And Mike Clark in USA Today refers to it as "a late-August dog-days atrocity from the 'aren't farts funny?' school of filmmaking."