GROUPS BACK DECENCY CHAMP TO HEAD FCC

The leaders of some 54 groups that are seeking stricter policing and enforcement of the FCC's rules on indecency have sent a letter to President Bush urging him to appoint a new FCC chairman who will redouble the agency's current efforts to crack down on offenders. The letter, written by Morality in Media President Robert Peters, calls on the president to name a chairman who recognizes that "the breakdown of standards on TV and radio is a 'moral values' problem we cannot ignore." Some groups are seeking a far more activist FCC leader than outgoing Chairman Michael Power was during his tenure. CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center headed by L. Brent Bozell III, quoted Bozell on Thursday as saying that Powell "was clearly not willing to do the work that the public was demanding on the decency front." Bozell, who also heads the Parents Television Council, responsible for the overwhelming number of complaints sent to the FCC regarding allegedly indecent broadcasts, is one of the letter's cosigners.

BUSTER PRODUCER "DISINVITED" BY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

The Department of Education has "disinvited" the producer of the PBS children's series Postcards from Buster from speaking at a Baltimore conference that the DOE is sponsoring with PBS, Broadcasting & Cable reported on its website Thursday. Carol Greenwald, whose other credits include the award-winning series Arthur, Between the Lions, Zoom, and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, became embroiled in controversy when the new DOE Secretary, Margaret Spellings, denounced an episode of Buster in which the animated bunny encounters a real-life family headed by a lesbian couple. Spellings demanded that PBS pull the episode or face the loss of DOE funding; she also demanded that PBS repay the department for the cost of the episode's production. PBS said that it had decided not to distribute the episode but insisted that its decision was unrelated to Spellings' complaint.

MICHAEL JACKSON SAYS TV NEWS ABOUT HIM IS "FICTION"

In a wide-ranging interview that conspicuously skirted the child-molestation charges that have landed him in court, Michael Jackson has told Geraldo Rivera that TV news coverage about him has mostly been "fiction" and that his stardom has made him an easy target for gossip mongers. "The bigger the star, the bigger the target. I'm not trying to say I'm the superduper star, I'm not saying that," Jackson told Rivera in an MSNBC interview that was taped two weeks ago and is due to air Saturday. "I'm saying the fact that people come at celebrities, we're targets. But truth always prevails. I believe in that." While not directly responding to critics' implications that he built his personal theme park on his Neverland estate in order to lure potential victims, Jackson said it gave him "a chance to do what I couldn't do when I was little" and share that experience with inner-city children who otherwise might never have enjoyed such a fantasy world. "I feel I won God's smile of approval, because I'm doing something that brings joy and happiness to other people," he said. Asked about sister Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during last year's Super Bowl telecast, Jackson said it happened so quickly that he missed it. "I was looking right at it and didn't see it," he said. He added that after the controversy erupted over the incident, he advised his sister to "be strong."

COMCAST CALLS INTERNET PHONES ITS "BIG PRIORITY FOR 2005"

Comcast, America's largest cable system, plans to roll out telephone service over the Internet this year with the intention of making it "the big priority for 2005," COO Steve Burke said Thursday. The company now provides broadband Internet hookups to 7 million homes after adding 1.7 million in 2004, but, Burke said, he expects Internet customer growth to slow down this year. Comcast reported net income of $423 million for the quarter ending Dec. 31, up 10.4 percent over the year-ago quarter of $383 million. The cable operator reported gross revenue of $5.24 billion for the quarter versus $4.74 billion during the previous year.

BRAD PITT TO APPEAR IN SUPER BOWL SPOT

Brad Pitt, who previously had only appeared in TV commercials that were broadcast in Europe, will appear in a 60-second spot for Heineken beer during Sunday's Super Bowl telecast, Bloomberg News reported Thursday, citing an unnamed person familiar with the commercial. The wire service observed that Pitt joins Robert De Niro and Nicole Kidman as top celebrities now pitching products on U.S. television, something that was rare until recently among top actors, who have traditionally been concerned that such spots could tarnish their image. Hamish Pringle, director general of the London-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and author of Celebrity Sells, told the wire service that "stars have become more comfortable" appearing in commercials on American TV. "As soon as one or two leading lights do a commercial and it becomes legitimate, others follow." Cary Berman, head of the commercial division at the William Morris Agency, said that top actors could earn $10 million a year for a major ad campaign and noted that in Pitt's case, "the question isn't whether it will help him, because he is a triple-A star. The question is whether it can hurt him. If it's a great commercial, it's not going to hurt at all."

JAPANESE VIEWERS REFUSE TO PAY OFFICIAL TV SUBSCRIPTION FEE

Japanese television viewers appear to have launched a full-scale revolt against the publicly supported NHK network, with at least 397,000 people refusing to pay their required subscription fee, the Tokyo daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported today (Friday). The viewer revolt was touched off by several embezzlement scandals involving NHK employees that eventually led to the resignation of NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa. Nevertheless, word that Ebisawa had subsequently been rehired as an adviser to NHK touched off further public revolt. His successor as president, Genichi Hashimoto said Thursday, "The [financial] situation is serious. I can only say we must do something to gain viewers' understanding."

007 TO RETURN IN CASINO ROYALE

Casino Royale will be the next James Bond movie, but it will not be directed by Quentin Tarantino, nor will it star Pierce Brosnan. Tarantino had suggested last year that the Bond producers revive Casino Royale, a Bond novel that had previously only appeared on film as a 1967 spoof in which a number of stars played Agent 007 "in disguise" -- including Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and David Niven. Tarantino said at the time that the producers ought to "go my way and do it a little differently. I won't do anything that will ruin the series." However, published reports said today (Friday) that Martin Campbell, who directed 1995's GoldenEye starring Brosnan, had been chosen to direct the new Bond movie. Today's Los Angeles Time reported that the screenplay will be written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the screenplays for the last two Bond movies. No decision has been made on who will play Bond, but the Times quoted sources as saying that the producers now intend to launch a "comprehensive" search to find an actor for the role of "a younger Bond."

MOVIES VERSUS THE SUPER BOWL

When the motion picture academy members decided to move up the dates of the annual Oscar nominations and awards, they may have overlooked the effect of the Super Bowl. One week after nearly all of the top films that received Oscar nods on Jan. 25 saw a huge boost in their box office take, the same films are likely to witness the tide recede this weekend as families prepare for Super Bowl parties on Saturday and gather to watch the game itself on Sunday. None of the studios is releasing a big-budget film. Sony hopes to capture the date crowd on Friday and Saturday with the fright flick Boogeyman, which it has not shown to critics. (Horror movies performed quite well during the usually lackluster month of January.) Universal is aiming at women ("Not everybody is watching the Super Bowl" Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco told Daily Variety) with the romantic comedy The Wedding Date, in which Debra Messing plays a woman who hires a male escort (Dermot Mulroney) to pose as her boyfriend at a wedding party. Universal might have been well advised to withhold that film from critics as well. It was thoroughly drubbed by them today. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post described it as a "witless, stale and half-hearted rehash of clichés." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune calls it "a tossed bouquet full of dead flowers and bad jokes that belongs in the nearest trash receptacle." Female reviewers were no kinder. Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times concludes that it's "an oddly depressing, lost, little movie that eventually caves in on itself." And Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News figures that it "isn't bad enough to send you rushing back up the aisle, past the popcorn and into the winter weather. But once you've admired the expensive clothes, the beautiful couple and the pretty setting, you'll be more than ready to call it a night."

HOLLYWOOD VIDEO CHIEF QUITS IN MIDST OF TAKEOVER WAR

With his company caught in a tug of war between rivals Movie Gallery and Blockbuster, Mark Wattles, the chairman and CEO of Hollywood Entertainment Corp., which operates the Hollywood Video rental chain, resigned Thursday. He gave no reason for his departure. His resignation came just one day after Blockbuster launched a hostile takeover effort for Hollywood, upping its original offer to $14.50 per share in cash and stock. Hollywood had previously accepted Movie Gallery's bid of $13.25 per share. The two suitors had also agreed to assume Hollywood's $350-million debt. However, analysts have observed that Blockbuster would likely face an upward battle in winning approval for the deal from the Federal Trade Commission.

ADVISORY FIRM URGES DISNEY SHAREHOLDERS TO REJECT CHAIRMAN

Dissidents among Disney shareholders may turn their attention away from CEO Michael Eisner and focus it on Chairman George Mitchell following a report from proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis recommending that Mitchell's bid for reelection be rejected. "We do not believe Mr. Mitchell was a suitable choice for the role [of chairman], given his prior financial entanglements with the company, his performance on this board as presiding director ... and his performance on other boards," Glass Lewis told clients, who include several of the top institutional investors that had previously called for Eisner's resignation. Glass Lewis maintained that Mitchell had a "history of entangling conduct" not only with Disney but with other companies where he served on the board overseeing their affairs while at the same time receiving payments for consulting services from them.

EX-VIVENDI UNIVERSAL CHIEF SAYS HE'LL FIGHT HUGE FINE

Jean-Marie Messier, the flashy onetime head of the French water utility and media giant Vivendi Universal, said on Thursday that he will appeal the €1 million ($1.3 million) fine meted out to him by France's Financial Markets Authority for misrepresenting the financial condition of the company to shareholders and regulators. Messier said through an attorney, that he would challenge the fairness of the inquiry conducted into his stewardship of the company from 2000 until 2002, when he was forced to resign as the company verged on collapse due to the crushing weight of debt that Messier had taken on in order to expand the company.

MPAA SAYS RAIDS ON ASIAN PIRATES ARE INCREASING

The MPAA said Thursday that some 50 million pirated videos were seized and 3,156 recorders confiscated in Asia last year, mainly in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. It estimated its loss from piracy in the region to $896 million and worldwide at $3.5 billion, not including online piracy. Speaking at a news conference in Taipei, Frank Rittman, vice president of the film association's Asia Pacific region, congratulated Taiwan's government for its commitment to cracking down on piracy. "But it does still exist here," Rittman said. He noted that bootleggers have shifted their operations from factors to private residences, making the organization's investigations more difficult. Their activities, he said, have an impact not only on Hollywood but on the local economy as well, he observed.