MUSTN'T SEE TV
It was definitely not a must-see night for NBC Thursday. As all the networks aired reruns, NBC, which once dominated the night, tumbled to third place, with about half the audience of the leader, CBS. Even worse, the network jammed back-to-back episodes of its Friends spinoff Joey into three half-hours of its schedule with disastrous results. The first two half hours in the 8:00 p.m. hour averaged only a 4.4 rating and an 8 share, and viewers almost totally bailed out for the third half-hour at 9:00 p.m. when the sitcom sank to its lowest rating ever, a 3.9/7. The 9:00 hour was handily won by CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which produced the highest numbers of the night, an 11.5/20. At 10:00 p.m., CBS, with Without a Trace, remained in the lead with a 9.5/16, while NBC placed second with E.R., which managed only a 5.3/9. CBS averaged a 9.3/16 for the night, followed by ABC (which aired the Julia Roberts movie, My Best Friend's Wedding), with a 5.0/9. NBC placed third with a 4.5/8.

NBC NEWS WINS VIEWERS DESPITE BROKAW'S DEPARTURE

NBC Nightly News, which was expected to lose a substantial part of its audience with the departure of Tom Brokaw as anchor -- didn't. According to the latest Nielsen ratings figures the newscast, now anchored by Brian Williams, averaged 10.41 million viewers in the fourth quarter, versus 9.21 million for ABC's Word News Tonight with Peter Jennings and 7.21 million for CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. The NBC newscast also remained first among adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. An NBC spokesman pointed out that the newscast has actually increased its lead over ABC's and CBS's.

CNN'S RATINGS RISE WITH TSUNAMI

Round-the-clock coverage of the Southeast Asian tsunami disaster sent ratings for the news channel soaring -- up 26 percent on Sunday, 69 percent on Monday, and 89 percent on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Friday), citing figures by Nielsen Research. Media news analyst Andrew Tyndall told Reuters that the disaster coverage serves as reminder of why CNN exists. "They are much better at reporting than they are at arguing or opinion or debate. Fox cleans their clock when it comes to all that argument stuff," he said. Nevertheless, Fox News Channel continued to draw more viewers than any other news outlet, averaging 1 million-plus viewers over the first four days of coverage, more than CNN and MSNBC combined. Meanwhile, the broadcast networks virtually ignored the disaster in primetime. ABC was first to air a special about it -- but not until Wednesday (the tsunami struck Saturday night, Eastern time), when it devoted a special Primetime Live feature about it at 10:00 p.m. The feature was the highest-rated program of the night.

BRING YOUR OWN NEWS

The consequence of the rising use of cell phones and digital cameras with video capability to record events beyond the scope of television news cameras became apparent during this week's coverage of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Never before has so much amateur footage ever been aired concerning a news event. Footage by tourists and residents in the area was some of the first to be carried by cable news networks and broadcast news programs. Dr. Paul Levinson, chairman of Fordham's Communication and Media department, told today's (Friday) New York Post: "It's almost as if anyone in anyplace can be a potential cameraman for a television news show. ... One of the things that's keeping the public interest really perked is the fresh video that emerges everyday."

REALITY HURTS FOR ANNA NICOLE

Reality may just now be sinking in for former reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith after a federal appeals court on Thursday reversed a 2002 lower-court ruling that she was entitled to $88 million from the estate of her deceased husband, billionaire J.Howard Marshall, who met Smith 14 months before his death at age 90 in 1995. The San Francisco-based appeals panel observed that Smith was not mentioned in Marshall's trust and will and that "no provision for distributions of income or principal of the trust estate was made" for her. Smith starred in The Anna Nicole Show on the E! cable network from 2002 to 2004, when it was canceled because of "creative differences." Last month, when she appeared as a presenter on the American Music Awards, she appeared dazed and incoherent, and reportedly had to be taken off stage by the show's crew.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
The anti-Semitism evident in The Merchant of Venice has made it the only major work by Shakespeare never to have been produced by a major studio. It is therefore natural that many of the reviews of this first big-screen adaptation focuses on how successfully the director, Michael Radford, and Al Pacino, who portrays the Jewish moneylender Shylock, come to grips with the issue. A.O. Scott in the New York Times argues that it is an "impossibility " to "dispel the taint of blood libel from the play," despite obvious efforts to do so. In order to stage the play at all, he suggests, is "to allow its uglier qualities to continue to complicate its gorgeous flights of rhetoric and its brilliant inquiries into law, loyalty, the ethics of making promises and the quality of mercy." Moreover, Scott praises Pacino's performance. "He restrains himself here," Scott comments, "emphasizing Shylock's grief as much as his viciousness." But Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News argues that Pacino's performance "can't overcome the play's ugliness." Likewise, Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News concludes that Pacino's downplayed performance may humanize Shylock, "it can't dispel the unsavory stereotyping on which the play depends." On the other hand, Claudia Puig in USA Today argues that "Pacino's spectacular rendering of Shylock" allows the audience to feel "compassion for him because of the cruel way he is treated, without condoning his own terrible desire for vengeance.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MILLION DOLLAR BABY

Clint Eastwood is drawing the best reviews of his career for Million Dollar Baby -- and he has received some pretty ecstatic ones in the past. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times calls it "a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true." Ebert also has special praise for Hilary Swank, the "baby" of the title, a young woman who wants to escape her dull life as "trash" by becoming a boxing champion. He calls her performance "astonishing." Likewise Lou Lumenick in the New York Post comments that Eastwood "scores a knockout" as both the director and co-star of the film. The movie is, he says, an "exquisitely realized masterpiece." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune gives the movie four stars. He, too, praises Eastwood's direction, then remarks about his performance: "It's a pleasure to see him in the saddle again: to watch how, in maturity and old age, he still commands the screen so effortlessly, still makes his co-workers shine so brightly and still, as always, delivers in the last rounds." Mike Clark in USA Today, whoalso awards the movie four stars, writes: "Great scene follows great scene, taking the movie to fresh levels."David Answen in Newsweek adds: "Eastwood gives his most daring, emotional, unguarded performance. Jon Anderson in Newsday says that Eastwood's acting and directorial skills show "the mark of a master. An old master? You wouldn't know it from this film." And A.O. Scott in the New York Times calls Million Dollar Baby "the best movie released by a major Hollywood studio this year."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE WOODSMAN

A film that treats a child molester sympathetically may have a tough time drawing moviegoers to the theater. But some of the reviews for The Woodsman just may. A.O. Scott in the New York Times observes that director Nicole Kassell attempts neither to excuse nor exploit the character, played by Kevin Bacon, but instead "regards him with wary, ambivalent curiosity, placing him at the center of a modest, frayed drama that feels both understated and generous." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News wonders just how many Academy members are likely to view the movie between now and the January 17 deadline for them to turn in their nominations. (John Anderson in Newsday comments: "It's about whether the voters, and the public, can get past the subject matter.") But Mathews says, "The acting is really good stuff. Bacon deserves a nomination." And he also gives high praise to Mos Def, who plays a "morally indignant cop." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls the movie "one of the year's best ... hugely impressive." On the other hand, Claudia Puig in USA Today finds The Woodsman to be "a distasteful story [with] a muddled message and a sense of missed opportunity."