FOX "BALANCES" COURT-TV CLAIM
Fox News on Thursday quickly attempted to prick the publicity balloon that Court TV let loose earlier in the day when the courtroom channel released an announcement that its coverage of the Scott Peterson sentencing attracted over 2.4 million viewers, putting it ahead of all the other news channels. But Fox pointed out that Court TV's victory was shortlived -- five minutes to be exact. "We beat them in every hour of the verdict coverage on Monday," a Fox News spokesperson maintained. MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews quoted a source at Fox News as saying. "We get this all the time. ... For example, whenever there's a tornado somewhere, the Weather Channel makes a big deal of the fact that they beat us for about 5 minutes."

ABC GETS HELP FROM AFFILIATES TO KEEP MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

ABC's affiliates have approved a new four-year plan under which they will increase their contribution to Monday Night Football in return for additional time for local spots on the telecasts. Reporting on the agreement, Daily Variety commented today (Friday) that it "brings the Alphabet web one step closer to renewing its pact with the NFL." The trade publication indicated that the affiliates will contribute $35 million to the cost of the games, which currently stands at $550 million annually. However, some analysts have observed that under the current contract, ABC loses between $100 million and $150 million annually, and that CBS and Fox had to agree to an increase of about 27 percent to extend their contracts with the NFL.

20/20 REPORT LEADS TO MOVIE

Paige Laurie may already be too rich to learn that cheaters never prosper, but the young woman who claims she helped Paige -- the granddaughter of one of the Wal-Mart stores founders -- cheat her way through USC says she believes there's a lesson to be learned from her experience. According to today's (Friday) St. Louis Post Dispatch, Elena Martinez, who was Laurie's roommate at USC until she was forced to drop out because of lack of funds, has signed with an agent, Adrian Loudermilk of Venture Management, who plans to help develop Martinez's story into a screenplay. Loudermilk presumably became aware of it last month when ABC's 20/20 featured Martinez in a report about college cheating and recorded some of her conversations with Laurie, a Britney Spears lookalike who had a college arena named after her. Martinez admitted receiving $20,000 from Laurie for writing term papers for her. Laurie's parents are the owners of the St. Louis Blues hockey team.

NBC TO FILM NEW YORK SERIES IN NEW YORK -- NOT TORONTO

It took NBC Universal Group President Jeff Zucker less than 24 hours to decide to film a pilot for a TV series set in New York in New York itself instead of Toronto. Zucker said Thursday that he made the decision after the New York city council on Wednesday approved a new 5 percent tax credit for film and TV production. "There's a number of scripts we're looking at, that if greenlit, would also be perfect to be shot here in New York City and this will make it much more likely that that will happen as well," Zucker told Newsday. Douglas Steiner, head of a group that has converted buildings in the Brooklyn Navy Yard into film studios, told New York Business: "We've been pushing for this since May. ... This legislation should generate thousands of jobs."

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES TAKE ON THE NBA

ABC, which touched off a yowl about broadcast decency standards with a cross-promotion for Desperate Housewives on Monday Night Football, will try again with its Christmas Day NBA telecast, TV Guide reported on its website Thursday, citing an unnamed source. According to the magazine, the stars of the series, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan, taped "an NBA-themed spot" on the Housewives set Wednesday. Apparently, none of them wore towels. The magazine's source said that the spot was "very noncontroversial" and added: ""They were all sitting on Gabrielle's porch -- fully clothed -- saying something like, 'And that's why we love this game.'"

BBC ASKED TO BACK MORE MOVIES

A committee of the British parliament has urged the BBC to increase its investments in British-made films substantially so that top directors won't have to go abroad to seek funding. The recommendation was praised by John Woodward, CEO of the UK Film Council, who told the London Independent: "People clearly want to see more British films on television. As the prime public service broadcaster, the BBC should obviously lead the way in giving audiences access to new British films on television and investing in UK film talent." Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the Commons Culture and Media Select Committee, which issues the report, noted that famed director Mike Leigh, whose current critically acclaimed film Vera Drake received funding from the Film Council as well as Vivendi Universal's Studio Canal in France and a New Zealand investors' group, The Inside Track. Kaufman noted that when Leigh made Topsy-Turvy, a film about the British operetta team, Gilbert and Sullivan, "he felt that he had to have a scene set in Paris to acknowledge the French funding."

MOVIE REVIEWS: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Whether moviegoers will find Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events a fortunate or an unfortunate entertainment experience may depend on how they feel about Jim Carrey. That certainly seems to be the basis on which critics are sizing up the film. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times writes that the film suffers from Carrey's "loud, showboating performance," and writes that despite his intricate disguises in the film, "there's no mistaking his shtick or avoiding the look-at-me selfishness of his delivery." Likewise Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal comments that Carrey is "such an unseemly showoff that the movie keeps stopping in its tracks." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail writes that Carrey's "hyperactive wisecracking performance is about as harmonious as long nails raking a blackboard." Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer praises the other actors in the film, particularly Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, and the ubiquitous Jude Law, as the narrator, Lemony Snicket. But as for Carrey, she writes, his "shape-shifting grows intrusive and tiresome, like a seasoning that should have been applied more sparingly." On the other hand, Ty Burr in the Boston Globe notes that "the genius of Snicket is to cast Carrey as an actor -- a vain, eye-rolling, snorting aesthete of the old Edmund Kean school. ... By and large, Carrey earns his laughs without getting overly splattery." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calls the film "a fortunate addition to the holiday season. More, please -- but only if Carrey comes back, too." Peter Howell, who calls the film "a dark charmer," writes that Carrey "delivers one of his most memorable and amusing turns in a good while." Roger Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun-Times is mostly critical, but he concludes this way. "I liked the film, but I'll tell you what. I think this one is a tune-up for the series, a trial run in which they figure out what works and what needs to be tweaked."

MOVIE REVIEWS: FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX

Flight of the Phoenix is another one of those remakes of a middling classic film (the original, starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough, was released in 1965) that leaves critics wondering why it needed to be made. Stephen Holden in the New York Times, noting that the original was "far superior," says that the new version "is so manipulative that the involuntary jolts of adrenaline it produces make you feel like a fool." Clearly Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press came away with the same reaction, writing, "This is a movie so literal that the character who wears an eye patch is named Patch, and where everything that happens is spelled out with the subtlety of a first-grade teacher introducing the alphabet." Mike Clark in USA Today commented: "There's nothing like dumbing down a movie grown-ups love so it can be 'sold' to teens who aren't going to go anyway." Rob Lowman in the Los Angeles Daily News concludes that the movie is "pretty much a lost cause, and an episode of ABC's Lost, which, too, is about crash survivors, has tons more drama." But leave it to Kevin Thomas, the dependable contrarian who writes for the Los Angeles Times, to find much to like about the film. Thomas calls it "a worthy remake" and notes that the filmmakers "have done an excellent job of retaining key elements of the original plot but have created a whole new set of characters that gives the film an entirely contemporary feel. Most important, they have managed to generate such intense suspense that even someone who cherished the original film can become absorbed in the action."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE AVIATOR

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, receives the film-as-art reviews from critics, many of them focusing on the film's subtleties (or lack of them) and giving short shrift to its overall entertainment merits. Most of the reviewers complain that the film gives little insight into the man who died in 1976 in a Las Vegas hotel penthouse where he refused to cut his hair or nails and urinated into milk bottles. Writes Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Dramatizing Hughes' enthusiasms is easy, particularly for a man of passion like Scorsese. Finding the tension in a guy being afraid to touch a doorknob -- that's a problem, and the solution eludes the filmmakers." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times concludes that Scorsese "has compromised his dark gifts for commercial palatability. He lavishes attention on the surfaces of Hughes's life - the glossy women, the gleaming planes -- an approach that shows a director overly willing to attend to the surface of his talent instead of its depths." On the other hand, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times finds much to praise about the film. "Though what he does is invariably exquisite from a craft point of view, Scorsese has often had a tendency to be show-offy, to be there solely to please himself and overawe others," he observes. "But in Aviator he's put all his technique, energy and style at the service of a story we can't look away from, at least initially." Mike Clark in USA Today praises Scorsese and DiCaprio equally, writing about the actor, "A magnificent DiCaprio fully captures Hughes' drive and intensity yet also makes you see how, before he went fully over the brink, someone so impossible was also genuinely liked by so many." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail takes the middle ground. "This film is neither the worst nor near the top of Scorsese's oeuvre," he writes, "but its subject gives the director opportunity to play on familiar ground, visiting the golden age of show business."

MOVIE REVIEWS: SPANGLISH

Director-writer-producer James L. Brooks, who ordinarily receives rather glowing reviews from critics, is being banged about like a piñata by some of them for his Adam Sandler-starring movie Spanglish. Gene Seymour in Newsday writes that Brooks "should be ashamed of himself for making such a dismal, befuddled mess." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls it "this unpleasant comedy-drama." Eric Harrison in the Houston Chronicle concludes that the movie "leaves you with nothing to think about, except for all the opportunities Brooks missed to make something worthwhile out of the material." But Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe praises Brooks as "a poet, a realist, and a wizard when it comes to creating characters who could pass for real people. ... What he's come up with is one of the most humane works ever made about the lives of working mothers." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concludes that Spanglish "isn't his best work, but it's infused with humor and humanity. And how many films offer either one?" And Mike Clark in USA Today remarks: "Spanglish is the one movie families search for every Christmas for an outing."