ROCK ROCKS THE OSCARS

Oscar producer Gil Cates denied Monday that he or anyone at the motion picture academy is miffed by remarks made by Chris Rock in Entertainment Weekly, in which he referred to the Oscars as "a fashion show" and "idiotic" and insisted that no "straight black man" watches it. In a statement, Cates said, "Chris's comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at the show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy." Rock, however, raised other issues in his comments to the magazine, pointing out that "they don't recognize comedy [films], and you don't see a lot of black people nominated." Reporting on Rock's remarks, Reuters observed Monday that the Oscar show's producers "are getting what they paid for when they hired ... [Rock] -- a bit of pre-show controversy that could boost TV ratings." Meanwhile, the New York Observer is reporting that Christopher Guest will be taking on the Oscars in his next mockumentary. Citing unnamed sources, the magazine said that Guest, whose previous credits as a writer-director include Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, has decided to call his next film, For Your Consideration. (Guest himself has never been considered for an Oscar.)

CONTESTANT ON THE CONTENDER COMMITS SUICIDE

NBC said Monday that the suicide of a contestant on its upcoming reality series The Contender would have no effect on the network's plans to launch the show as scheduled on March 7. The contestant, middleweight boxer Najai Turpin, took his life in Philadelphia Monday, the network said, without providing details. "Nothing changes," producer Mark Burnett told today's (Tuesday) New York Times. "I'm not even going to make any edits because it's real." The Times observed that the incident brings to mind the suicide of a contestant on the Swedish version of Survivor, Burnett's first hit reality series, after he was voted off the show. As a result of the incident, the Times said, Burnett began conducting extensive psychological tests on contestants. Burnett told the newspaper that all of the boxers on The Contender had undergone such testing.

NIELSEN ADMITS MAJOR SNAFU IN DIGITAL CABLE RATINGS

Nielsen Research has notified clients that key ratings data concerning digital cable networks for most of the current TV season were incorrect, MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews reported Monday. The trade publication quoted one Nielsen customer as describing the snafu as "horrendous." Nielsen advised clients to discontinue using its ratings data for its MarketBreaks service between Nov. 1 2004 through Feb. 2, 2005. One unnamed Nielsen client indicated that the error could have significant financial impact on digital cable networks, depending on "the number and size of the deals that have been made to date with these data." Besides the costs to ad agencies of having to revise their strategic planning, the Nielsen client added, "one also needs to ask what will be the cost to investment firms and the other businesses that relied on these data for critical business analyses and judgments."

TRINITRON TO TRINITY

For the first time in nearly 16 years, one studio was able to claim the top three movies at the box office. Sony accomplished that feat this past weekend with Hitch, Boogeyman, and Are We There Yet? -- equaling an achievement not realized since Universal pulled it off in September 1989 with Sea of Love, Uncle Buck and Parenthood. The film division of the Japanese Electronics giant also had something else to crow about: Its $43.1-million take for Hitch, starring Will Smith, set an all-time record for romantic comedies.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Hitch, Sony, $43,142,214, (New); 2. Boogeyman, Sony Screen Gems, $10,235,785, 2 Wks. ($32,768,501); 3. Are We There Yet?, Sony, Sony, $8,234,767, 4 Wks. ($61,253,768); 4. Million Dollar Baby, Warner Bros., $7,447,212, 9 Wks. ($44,948,277); 5. Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Disney, $5,805,559, (New); 6 . The Wedding Date, Universal, $5,513,065, 2 Wks. ($19,421,375); 7. Hide and Seek, Fox, $5,408,477, 3 Wks. ($43,410,777); 8. The Aviator, Miramax, $4,671,646, 9 Wks. ($82,323,907); 9. Sideways, Fox Searchlight, $4,472,135, 17 Wks. ($52,777,699); 10. Meet The Fockers, Universal, $3,456,245, 8 Wks. ($269,946,550).

SHARK TALE SETS FEBRUARY DVD RECORD

Shark Tale, another film featuring the (vocal) talents of Will Smith, also made a big splash this week, grossing more than $80 million in home-video sales, according to DreamWorks, the studio that released it. With 6 million DVD and VHS units sold, it is by far the biggest February debut of any movie, far surpassing the previous record of 4 million set by My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2003.

SOMETHING SMELLS FUNNY ABOUT EUCALYPTUS CANCELLATION

Actors and crew on the Australian set of Fox Searchlight's Eucalyptus were expressing bewilderment Monday over the studio's decision to halt production of the film. Although the studio had said that it had taken the action because "the screenplay is not where we need it to be," co-star Hugo Weaving, in an interview with the Sydney Daily Telegraph, said, "I don't believe the script needed work at all and it was my understanding that no one else had major problems with the script. ... On the contrary, it was the script which drew all of us to it." His comments were echoed by co-star Jack Thompson. Several cast and crew members have begun pointing the finger at Russell Crowe as the source of the production's downfall. Crowe was serving as both star and executive producer of the film. The Telegraph cited rumors that Crowe had been insisting on changes being made to his character and threatening not to appear on the set until they were "sorted out." Crowe said over the weekend that he was mystified by the project's demise, and his publicist said that he was "cut up" about reports blaming him for it.

MOVIE GALLERY WINS REGULATORY O.K. OF MERGER WITH HOLLYWOOD VIDEO

Movie Gallery, which is fending off a hostile bid by Blockbuster in its effort to acquire Hollywood Video, announced Monday that it received a pre-merger clearance from the Federal Trade Commission. The regulatory green light, it said, "confirms ... that Movie Gallery stores do not have any substantial overlap with Hollywood's stores and therefore pose no risk to competition. In contrast, we believe that Blockbuster's proposal poses significant regulatory risk, as more than 80 percent of Hollywood's stores are in the same local market as a Blockbuster store."

NEW COPY-PROTECTION SOFTWARE TO BE UNVEILED

Macrovision is expected to unveil today (Tuesday) a copyright-protection system called RipGuard that it claims can block 97 percent of the DVD copying software used by bootleggers, the Los Angeles Times reported today. A Macrovision marketing exec told the newspaper that he expects some studios to roll out RipGuard this year.

EISNER REELECTED CEO OF DISNEY

Demonstrating what a difference a few hit movies and television shows can make in the life of a media mogul, Walt Disney Co. shareholders, meeting in Minneapolis, overwhelmingly supported the reelection of all 12 members of the board. In particular CEO Michael Eisner won the support of 92.2 percent of the stockholders. A year ago, 45 percent withheld their votes from Eisner.

EISNER PERSONALLY TRIED TO PERSUADE WRITER TO REVISE BOOK

From Wednesday, Jan. 26 through Friday, Jan. 28, Michael Eisner was on the phone from mid-afternoon to 10:00 p.m. with DisneyWar author James Stewart, urging Stewart to make extensive changes in the book, the New York Observer reported Monday, citing a source close to the author. Much of what Eisner was denying, the Observer said, came straight from Eisner's own autobiography. When on Monday, Jan. 31, Stewart told Eisner that he could no longer make changes, Eisner replied, "I own a publishing company. You can always delay."

FILM ABOUT SUICIDE BOMBERS DEBUTS IN BERLIN

Paradise Now, a film that follows 24 hours in the lives of two would-be Arab suicide bombers, premiered Monday at the Berlin Film Festival and immediately touched off controversy about where its sentiments lie. At a news conference, producers who backed the film denied that it took a position on behalf of Israel or the Palestinians. "We tried simply to make a story which deflates the myth of both extremes and brings it down to a human factor," co-producer Bero Beyer said. Amir Harel, another producer, said that he hoped that the film would convey to both sides "the great tragedy of the occupation and the way it corrupts both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. ... It's important for me that both Israelis and Palestinians see it." He denied a report by Israel Radio that the Israeli Film Fund had concluded that the movie glorified suicide bombers and maintained that the fund's head had indicated it would finance distribution in Israel.