SURVIVOR MAKES AN IMPRESSIVE RETURN
The return of Survivor to the CBS lineup Thursday night lifted the network well above its rivals. Survivor:Palau posted a 13.4/21 rating, pummeling NBC's Joey, which drew only a 6.6/10 and Will & Grace, which did little better with a 6.8.10. At 9:00, CBS's bulldozer gained speed, registering an 18.7/28 for CSI, nearly twice the numbers for NBC's The Apprentice, which posted a 9.6/15. An ABC special, Michael Jackson's Secret World, narrated by Martin Bashir, managed a 6.1/9. CBS completed its sweep of the night at 10:00 p.m. as its Without a Trace drew a 13.5/22 as NBC's E.R. wound up with an 11.8/19. The second hour of the Michael Jackson special picked up a bit with a 6.6/11.

FOX NEWS REJECTS AD FROM THE NATION

Fox News has rejected a commercial from the liberal magazine The Nation presumably because the spot takes an indirect swipe at Fox News itself. "Nobody owns The Nation -- not Time Warner, not Murdoch. So there's no corporate slant, not White House spin, just the straight dope," the commercial says in part. Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Asked about the rejection, Fox News told The Nation's ad buyer: "We have the right to reject a spot. We do not need to give a written statement regarding the rejection." According to The Village Voice, TBS and TNT channels had also refused to air the ads, but relented when the magazine agreed to delete the references to Time Warner and Murdoch. The two channels are owned by Time Warner (as is Fox News rival CNN).

OSCARS PRODUCER OPPOSES TAPE DELAY

The producer of the Oscars show said Thursday that he opposes the use of a tape delay, although, he indicated, the matter is "the network's call." In a statement, Gil Cates said, "The Oscars is a live show-and a live show should be LIVE. The reason I'm against the delay is that it is difficult to draw a distinction between censorship because of something like profane language, for example, or because of provocative political statements." He pointed out that two years ago, when Michael Moore won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, he used his time at the podium to criticize President Bush's policies. "In my role as producer, I played him off because he had gone over his 45 seconds. I would hate to think of someone with his or her finger on the delay button who must decide very quickly if the political nature of remarks warrant the censorship of acceptance speeches. I mean, do you push the button for that?" Nevertheless, Chris Rock, the comedian hosting this year's show, says in an interview for this Sunday's 60 Minutes that he regards a delay as "a safety net."

PBS ISSUES WARNING TO STATIONS ABOUT FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY

PBS, the public broadcasting network, has notified its stations that it cannot protect them against legal action if they broadcast an unedited version of the documentary A Company of Soldiers, which follows an American Army regiment in Baghdad facing insurgent attacks prior to last month's elections, the New York Times reported today (Friday). The newspaper said that although the network plans to offer the stations both an edited and unexpurgated version, it will be the edited one the will be available for direct broadcast. To use the unedited one, the stations will have to record it at an earlier time, then sign an indemnification waiver. Nevertheless, it said, the unedited version is the one that captures the reality of combat and the one that ought to be aired. David Fanning, the executive producer of Frontline, which produced the film, explained in a memo to PBS stations, "We believe the risks of an adverse outcome [of an indecency complaint] are small and the principles we stand on are large. Editorial decisions should be free from influence by the government and should be made in accordance with the standards, practices, and mission of public broadcasting."

CPB CHIEF DENIES SHE DISCUSSED CENSORING KIDS SHOW EPISODE WITH PBS CHIEF

Kathleen Cox, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has denied a published report that she had discussed a controversial episode of the children's program Postcards from Buster with PBS chief Pat Mitchell before Mitchell decided to axe it. The episode had been criticized by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings who objected to a scene showing children living with lesbian parents. Cox, in an interview with the Washington Post, which published the original report citing PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan, said, "I did not have any conversation with her where I was weighing in one way or the other. She in passing mentioned the Buster situation some weeks ago. ... My understanding is she did have conversations with people, but the first I heard from her was after she made that decision, explaining that she had made the decision after receiving the Spellings letter." Mitchell later said that Spellings' letter played no part in her decision to yank the episode.

REMEMBER THE V-CHIP?

Robert Thompson, the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, has suggested that current efforts by Congress to enact legislation aimed at preventing television stations from airing indecent material would be unnecessary if parents used the V-chip. "People are screaming bloody murder that there's bad stuff on TV," Thompson told the Providence Journal. "But the little things they can do, they're not doing." With great fanfare, Congress required the V-chip to be installed in all television sets beginning in 2000, but, Thompson observed, "only a tiny percentage is learning how to use the V-chip ... and it's not hard to do." He also noted that most cable systems offer a "parental control" feature that few parents actually use. He said that he had talked to sixth-graders who could quote chapter and verse from HBO's raunchy Sex and the City.

DILLER TO BACK INTERACTIVE TV

Barry Diller, who has said in the past that he has no interest in returning to television or film production, said Thursday that he is intrigued the potential of interactive television. Speaking to analysts, Diller said his Home Shopping Network will add interactive capability this year. "There is no question that interactive TV is going to be in a lot of homes within the next few years and I think we're going to be very, very early in the process," Diller said. Diller's comments came as his IAC/Interactive Corp. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $42.6 million after it wrote down the value of its call-center business and TV Travel Shop by $218 million.

U.S. TV SHOWS BEING DOWNLOADED IN BRITAIN

Eighteen percent of persons who illegally download U.S. television shows over the Internet live in the U.K., according to the web-tracking company Envisional. The most popular programs being downloaded, 24, Desperate Housewives, and Six Feet Under, are often available within hours after they are broadcast in the U.S. -- often with commercials and titles deleted in order to shorten the download time.

MOVIE REVIEWS: BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE
Most reviewers seem to agree that something was lost in the translation of Because of Winn-Dixie from the printed page to the screen. For example, Claudia Puig observes in USA Today: "The book tells the story more movingly and effectively." And Kevin Crust comments in the Los Angeles Times: "Sometimes a movie can be so faithful to the book it's based on as to squeeze the life out of it." Nevertheless, the film is likely to entertain the "tween-age" set, most critics suggest. As Jami Bernard observes in the New York Daily News, "You can hardly go wrong with a motherless child and a winsome dog." Jan Stuart in Newsday calls it "this winter's lovable-dog picture." In fact, quite a few critics express delight with it. Nancy Churnin in the Dallas Morning News begins her review by writing: "Good news for fans of the book Because of Winn-Dixie. Director Wayne Wang and screenwriter Joan Singleton have crafted an utterly faithful film adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's affecting Newbery Honor story." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe also has much praise for the movie. "In pace, sensibility, and big, beating heart, this is a child's first indie film, and it's the better for it," he writes. A few other critics positively blister the film, including Peter Howell in the Toronto Star, who describes it as "torpid and vapid" and "the most meandering and manipulative pile of Southern-fried mush to come down the sluice in a long while." Liam Lacey, across town at the Globe & Mail, regards it as "an unhomogenized combination of formulaic family entertainment and cornpone Southern fable." But in the South itself -- at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie writes that the movie "arrives like manna from heaven in the midst of the Hollywood desert otherwise known as January and February."

MOVIE REVIEWS: CONSTANTINE

The Keanu Reeves in Constantine is not much different from the Keanu Reeves in the Matrix trilogy, several critics observe, including A.O. Scott in the New York Times, but many, Scott included, suggest that this film is unlikely to enjoy the success of Matrix, despite its supernatural pretensions. "The movie tries for a stylized, expressionistic pop grandeur -- the kind of eerie, dreamy visual environment that made the first Matrix so intriguing -- but its look is sticky, murky and secondhand," Scott writes. Asks Gene Seymour in Newsday, "Why is it that whenever a studio movie engages the unseen, malevolent forces crawling beneath 'reality's' surface, Keanu Reeves is always the guy charged with beating them down?" Leah McLaren in the Toronto Globe & Mail imagines the studio execs' meeting at which the decision was made to produce the movie: "A few guys in Prada suits sit around an L.A. boardroom table going, 'The Matrix meets The Exorcist, huh .....? With Keanu? I like it. No wait -- I love it." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star has got it figured out. "The fact is, there is no person in movie history who has devoted more time to defending civilization from evil and obliteration than Keanu Reeves, or who has spent more time shifting between spiritual, perceptual and historical planes to do the job right proper." But this time, many critics suggest, the job is just too big for him. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal describes the movie as "a preternaturally joyless tale of the supernatural" and goes on to nominate for the year's most depressing film. And Hank Stuever in the Washington Post suggests that the movie ought to be called CSI: Revelation. The film does have a few defenders, including Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News, who call it an "intelligent, wildly entertaining nerve-jangler." And Michael Booth in the Denver Post comments, "Constantine takes itself just seriously enough to put on a good show."

MOVIE REVIEWS: SON OF THE MASK

Some critics are suggesting that Son of the Mask is one of those sequels that ought to have gone straight to video. But Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe suggests that it might not be a sequel at all. "It bears no resemblance to the 10-year-old Jim Carrey movie that allegedly inspired it and reeks of a studio desperate to make an easy buck from the memory of one of its hits," he writes. This is not a movie in which the major ingredients are acting and writing, Susan Walker observes in the Toronto Star: "Stars, acting, plot, cute dog, cuter baby -- all take a backseat to a head-spinning array of computer-generated tricks. With so many cuts a second, all attention goes into following the visuals. Just as well, since the story leaves so little to work with," she writes. Similarly, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes his review by remarking: "What we basically have here is a license for the filmmakers to do whatever they want to do with the special effects, while the plot, like Wile E. Coyote, keeps running into the wall."