MARGE SIMPSON'S SISTER IS GAY!

Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, in which it was revealed that Marge Simpson's sister Patti Bouvier is gay ("Just because you're a lesbian doesn't mean you're less of a being, says Marge), and in which Homer becomes a minister and begins marrying gay couples, telling them that their union is legal in "Massachusetts, Vermont, maybe Canada ... [but] stay out of Texas," was, as expected, denounced by conservative family-activist groups and hailed by liberals and libertarians. L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, commented, "At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood." In an interview with the New York Times, Bozell added, "You've got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue?" The fact that the show does reach millions of kids -- and their parents -- was also mentioned in a statement by Stephen Macias, media director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who said, "What I like about The Simpsons is they use humor as a tool to educate as well as entertain. They also reach millions of people across the country, and that cannot be underestimated." Nevertheless, the episode did not produce winning ratings for the Fox series, as it came in a distant fourth in the Nielsens with a 5.8/9. ABC won the 8:00 p.m. hour with a 10.3/16 for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

DID ABC NEWS PAY FOR JACKSON INTERVIEWS?

ABC News has denied that it engaged in "checkbook journalism" with a two-hour special, Michael Jackson's Secret World, which it aired Thursday night. Nevertheless it acknowledged that it paid for U.S. rights to a British documentary about Jackson in which several of those interviewed received compensation for their appearances and that excerpts from that film were used extensively in the special, hosted by Martin Bashir. An ABC News spokesman declined to disclose who was paid to appear in the film or how much they received. It also emphasized that no payments were made to anyone interviewed by ABC for the special. Meanwhile, Judge Rodney Melville who is presiding in the Jackson trial, has denied a request by the prosecution for a contempt citation against Bashir. It had argued that Bashir, by appearing on the program, violated Melville's gag order prohibiting witnesses who had been subpoenaed in the case from making public statements. Bashir had argued that as a journalist, he was exempt from having to comply with the order.

NBA WANTS TO RENEW TV CONTRACTS 3 YEARS EARLY

Although its contracts with Disney's ABC and ESPN and Turner Broadcasting's TNT don't expire until 2008, National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said Sunday that it plans to begin negotiations to extend them as soon as next month. The ABC/ESPN contracts net the NBA $2.4 billion; the TNT, $2.2 billion. Stern and Turner Sports President David Levy also announced that Turner would distribute the NBA's own high-definition cable network through its sibling Time Warner Cable.

CNN HEADLINE NEWS TO INTRODUCE NEW PRIMETIME SCHEDULE

CNN Headline News is due to make some major changes to its primetime programming tonight (Monday), abandoning its continuous newscast and introducing a lineup that includes an hour-long show-biz program, a legal talk show, and an hour-long "in depth" newscast. The changes are aimed at lifting Headline News's sagging ratings during primetime, a time when most people have already learned about the major events of the day. A.J. Hammer, who is co-hosting the show-biz hour, told today's New York Daily News, "It is not going to be tabloidy at all. ... It's not a gossip show. It's not that the other shows do it poorly. We just hope to do it better."

MARTHA, IN JAIL, EARNS MILLIONS

Shares in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia rose to $35.28 at midday trading today, off only slightly from their 52-week high, set two weeks ago when they closed at $36.53. They had slumped to $8.25 last May when Stewart was awaiting sentencing for lying to investigators about her alleged involvement in an insider-trading scheme. While Stewart has been serving a five-month jail sentence, her net worth has reportedly risen by more than $500 million.

CONSTANTINE RUNS INTO A HITCH

Predictions that Keanu Reeves' Constantine would be the weekend's box-office winner ran into a Hitch as the Will Smith romantic comedy dropped only 26 percent in its second week to take in an estimated $31.8 million, bringing its gross to $90.1 million. Constantine was only slightly behind with about $30.5 million. The "tween" movie Because of Winn-Dixie placed third with a solid $10.85 million in its debut, beating out Son of the Mask, which opened with $7.7 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Hitch, $31.8 million; 2. Constantine, $30.5 million; 3. Because of Winn-Dixie, $10.85 million; 4. Son of the Mask, $7.7 million; 5. Million Dollar Baby, $7.2 million; 6. Are We There Yet?, $6.5 million; 7. Boogeyman, $5.5 million; 8. Pooh's Heffalump Movie, $4.4 million; 9. The Aviator, $4.2 million; 10. Sideways, $3.9 million.

WGA ANNOUNCES TOP SCRIPTS OF 2004

The Writers Guild of America selected the comedy Sideways as the best adapted screenplay of 2004 and another comedy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as the best original screenplay of the year. At the WGA awards ceremony Saturday night, the award for Sideways was claimed by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor and the award for Eternal Sunshine, by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gandry and Pierre Bismuth.

EASTWOOD CALLS CRITICS EXTREMISTS

Clint Eastwood has acknowledged that a plot twist in Million Dollar Baby that raises the issue of euthanasia "does hit you with sort of a left hook," and that when he attempted to raise money to produce the film "nobody seemed enthralled with that." In an interview appearing in the current issue of Time magazine, Eastwood suggested that he was able to keep the plot twist secret because the movie was made "under the radar. Nobody knew we were making it, and nobody gave a damn that we were making it." Eastwood said that he was surprised that it took so long for the matter to become the subject of controversy. Asked about the fact that the attack on the film comes from his "constituency," Eastwood, generally regarded as a Republican conservative, responded, "Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it. It doesn't take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right, you meet the same idiots coming around from the left."

SOUTH AFRICAN CARMEN WINS AT BERLINALE

A South African film adaptation of the opera Carmen was selected by a jury headed by Roland Emmerich to receive the top Golden Bear award at the 55th annual Berlin Film Festival Saturday. The movie, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, by British opera director Mark Dornford-May, set in Khayelitsha and performed in the Xhosa language, had received little buzz prior to the jury's announcement and surprised many film critics other industry observers attending the festival. The German film Sophie Scholl -- The Last Days, directed by Marc Rothemund, received a Silver Bear for directing and for best actress (Julia Jentsch). The Silver Bear for best actor was won by Lou Taylor Pucci for his performance in Mike Mills' U.S. drama Thumbsucker. Korean director Im Kwon-taek received the Honorary Golden Bear award for his contribution to the movie industry, the first Asian director to be so honored.

THE PRODUCERS NAMED BEST WEST-END MUSICAL

Two movies that were turned into stage musicals fought it out for top honors at Britain's Laurence Olivier Awards, and in the end The Producers turned out to be more supercalifragalisticexpialidocious than Mary Poppins. The Mel Brooks musical won the Best New Musical Award, while co-star Nathan Lane was named Best Actor in a Musical. Nevertheless, Mary Poppins was a big winner as well, as Laura Michelle Kelly, in the title role, won for Best Actress in a Musical. It also won for best choreography. In the drama category, Alan Bennett's The History Boys won for Best New Play, Best Director (Nicholas Hytner) and Best Actor (Richard Griffiths). Claire Higgins won for Best Actress for her performance in Hecuba.

JAPAN TO MAKE FILM ABOUT GERMAN W.W. I PRISONERS

A prefectural government in Japan has agreed to put up nearly $1 million to subsidize the production of a film about Germans who were held in a Japanese POW camp during World War I. According to today's (Monday) Yomiuri Shimbun, the German prisoners performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 for the first time in Japan at the camp on June 1, 1918. The title of the film is Kanki, meaning "Joy," and is derived from Friedrich Schiller's poem Ode to Joy, which is set to music in the symphony and sung by a chorus. According to the Japanese daily, the Japanese captured 4,500 German soldiers in Qingtao, China in 1917 and brought them to a camp in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture, where the prisoners were permitted to form what amounted to a German commune in which they grew vegetables, produced sausages and bread, staged sports events and musical concerts and published a newspaper.

HUNTER THOMPSON TAKES HIS LIFE

"Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the Rolling Stone columnist and author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was found dead Sunday night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home near Aspen, CO. Johnny Depp played Thompson's alter-ego, Raoul Duke, in a movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in 1998. Earlier, Bill Murray portrayed Thompson in the 1980 film Where the Buffalo Roam.

SANDRA DEE DIES AT 63

Sandra Dee, so iconic in the 1950s that a song with her name in the title, "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," was included in the '50s musical lampoon Grease, died of kidney disease Sunday in Thousand Oaks, CA at the age of 63. She married Bobby Darin in 1960 and starred with him in three films. She was portrayed by Kate Bosworth in last year's Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea. She once complained, "All my pictures have been disasters. Artistically they were really horrible. Nobody knows how difficult it is to lose the ingenue image. Then everything offered was either nude or Tammy Had a Kid."

BROADWAY STAR JOHN RAITT DEAD AT 88

John Raitt, best known for his performance as Billy Bigelow in the original Broadway production of Roger and Hammerstein's Carousel, died Sunday from complications of pneumonia in Pacific Palisades, CA at the age of 88. His only starring performance in movies was in 1957's The Pajama Game, opposite Doris Day. He was the father of singer Bonnie Raitt.

OSCAR NOMINEE DAN O'HERLIHY DEAD AT 85

Dan O'Herlihy, who received an Oscar nomination for his starring role in 1954's The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and who appeared in more than 60 movies during his career, died Thursday in Malibu, CA at age 85.