COURIC MAY REPLACE RATHER, SAYS TIME

CBS is in talks with NBC Today show co-host Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather as anchor of The CBS Evening News, according to Time magazine, which cited a CBS source. Couric is under contract to NBC until May, 2006. However, if a deal is struck, "an old hand like Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer or Early Show host Harry Smith" could fill in between the time that Dan Rather leaves the nightly newscast in March until the time Couric takes over, Time observed. News of the Couric-CBS talks was greeted warmly by PBS president Pat Mitchell, who has known Couric since she started out as a CNN field producer in 1980. "I'm a huge admirer," Mitchell told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "She moves easily between serious, issues-oriented interviews and lighter things. ... This would give her a chance to exercise that more serious, journalistic focus." NBC spokesperson Allison Gollust told today's (Monday) New York Post that Couric's camp had declined to address the Time report and pointed out that "Katie's name is one of many that have been circulated for that job."

CBS NEWS CHIEF BEGINS MENDING PROCESS

CBS News President Andrew Heyward met with a group of 20 correspondents, producers, editors and others at CBS Television City in Los Angeles on Friday in an attempt to boost morale following last week's release of the report by an independent panel about the network's discredited account of President Bush's National Guard service, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday. A source told the newspaper that some staffers attending the meeting expressed unhappiness over the firing of three CBS News execs and the producer of the report, aired on 60 Minutes Wednesday (which had not appended Wednesday to its title at the time of the broadcast). Some employees asked Heyward why he himself was not fired. He replied that the decision rested with CBS chief Les Moonves. Heyward "got a lot of very angry and suspicious questions, and he handled them well," the Times' source said.

PBS TO CENSOR NEWLY ACQUIRED HBO DOCS

Concerned about setting off alarm bells at the FCC, PBS has decided to censor two of the three documentary films it has just acquired from HBO, PBS President Pat Mitchell told critics at their annual winter press tour in Los Angeles. He indicated that the scenes in question involved nudity and language. "Cable doesn't have to live with [FCC] regulations. We do," Mitchell told the TV writers. The cuts include a scene of a naked prisoner from the documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, which is due to air on Wednesday.

SOME VIEWERS WANT NUDITY ON NETWORK SHOWS

Although the FCC has reported that it received some 1,500 letters from angry viewers following the November 15 Monday Night Football telecast that opened with Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan shedding a towel in front of Philadelphia Eagles player Terrell Owens (only her back was seen), the Smoking Gun website, thesmokinggun.com, observed Friday that the commission also received more than 500 messages from viewers demanding that the FCC lay off. Among the comments: "[The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group] sure seems to fly under your radar; but Janet Jackson's breast and Desperate Housewives require endless attention. Makes me wonder who's really in charge over there." (To FCC Chairman Michael Powell) "Your morals are not the morals of the entire country. Let's see here, NFL Football: violence, beer commercials, cheerleaders in skimpy outfits, 'male enhancement' commercials." (From a gay writer) "You boys have waaay too much time on your hands. ... Straight people! Oy! You'll get rankled over anything!"

HOUSEWIVES CLEAN UP AT GOLDEN GLOBES

The hit ABC "dramedy" Desperate Housewives was clearly a hit at the Golden Globes ceremonies on Sunday as it won for best comedy or musical show, while one of the show's stars, Teri Hatcher, picked up a trophy for best actress in a comedy or musical. But the biggest surprise may have been the award to FX channel's Nip/Tuck for best dramatic TV show of the year. (It won over such other nominees as The Sopranos, 24, and Lost.) Another surprise winner was Mariska Hargitay who received the best actress award (drama) for her appearance in Law & Order. The best actor award (drama) went to Ian McShane, who stars in Deadwood, while Jason Bateman of Arrested Development picked up the comedy counterpart. The Globes telecast itself was pretty much an also-ran in the ratings through most of the evening. It was beaten in the 8:00 p.m. hour by ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which scored an 11.4 rating and a 17 share to the Globes' 10.0/14. Against ABC's Desperate Housewives' 14.4/21 at 9:00 p.m., the Globes pulled a 10.3/15. The Globes telecast scored its best numbers at 10:00 p.m. when it beat the competition with a 12.8/20. ABC fell to second place with Boston Legal, which recorded an 8.8/14, slightly ahead of CBS's CSI: NY, which pulled an 8.0/13.

FEAR FACTOR TO BECOME THEME PARK ATTRACTION, BUT FEAR NOT...

In its first demonstration of synergy between the NBC TV network and the Universal theme parks since the merger with Vivendi Universal's entertainment properties, NBC is planning to open a Fear Factor attraction at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando next May, the company announced. NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker said over the weekend that while some of the stunts will be transferred to the Orlando venue, visitors who participate in the attraction won't be required to eat bugs like contestants on the TV show. Nevertheless, Scott Trowbridge, vice president of Universal Creative, told today's Orlando Sentinel, "When you think Fear Factor, everyone expects sticky, ooey and gross, and we will not disappoint." Trowbridge said that some of the Fear Factor "contestants" at the theme park may wind up with invitations to appear on the TV show.

BRITISH MEDIA MAGNATES MAY BID FOR ITV

Three British media magnates are joining together to make an $11.2-billion takeover bid for the British commercial network ITV, the London Sunday Observer reported, citing unnamed sources. The three are Greg Dyke, the former director-general of the BBC before he was forced to resign last year; Lord Hollick, who operated two regional TV networks until he sold them in 2000; and Stephen Grabiner, the former managing director of the London Daily Telegraph. The Observer said that talks between the trio and ITV execs are in their early stages.

GLOBES ARE NO CRYSTAL BALL

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association distributed its largesse around fairly evenly Sunday night, thereby giving no film a special boost for Oscar consideration. The Paramount/Miramax film The Aviator picked up most of the organization's Golden Globe awards, but that was only three, including best dramatic movie, best actor in a dramatic movie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and best original score (Howard Shore). Twentieth Century Fox's Sideways received two awards, including best comedy and best screenplay (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor). Warner's Million Dollar Baby also received two awards, including best actress in a dramatic movie (Hilary Swank) and best director (Clint Eastwood). Other winners included Jamie Foxx for best actor in a comedy or musical (Ray); Annette Bening for best actress in a comedy or musical (Being Julia); Clive Owen for best supporting actor (Closer); and Natalie Portman for best supporting actress (Closer).

DISNEY LAWYER SAYS OVITZ COULDN'T BE FIRED "FOR CAUSE"

The Walt Disney company had no choice but to pay Michael Ovitz $140 million when it fired him in 1996, a California employment lawyer testified in Delaware chancery court on Friday. John Fox testified that if the company had not paid Ovitz the money, it would have faced "a very serious and ugly lawsuit for fraud, defamation and wrongful dismissal" that would have cost it hundreds of millions of dollars. Fox has brought such lawsuits against Hollywood studios himself. He noted that Ovitz's contract permitted him to be fired "for cause" only on account of gross negligence or malfeasance. He said that while Eisner wrote numerous memos alleging that Ovitz had repeatedly lied to him, no examples had been cited in the testimony at the trial. He attributed the "real reason" for the firing to "personality issues."

SLAM DUNK FOR COACH CARTER

The weekend box office, for a change, behaved the way analysts predicted it would, with Coach Carter, starring Samuel L. Jackson, coming in right on target with an estimated $23.6 million, holding off Meet the Fockers, which had remained in first place for the previous three weekends. Fockers slid just 33 percent to second place with $19 million, to boost its domestic total to $230.8 million. (By contrast, White Noise plunged 49 percent; Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, 47 percent; Ocean's Twelve, 45 percent, and The Aviator, 36 percent.) The live-and-animated Racing Stripes debuted in third place with $14 million. Another new film, In Good Company, (it debuted the prior weekend in just three theaters) placed fourth with $13.9 million, while yet another new film, Elektra, starring Jennifer Garner, finished fifth with $12.5 million. A clear disappointment, however, was the reception for Sony Picture Classics' House of Flying Daggers, which expanded to 1,189 theaters. The Zhang Yimou film, selected by Time magazine as the year's best, took in only $1.3 million. For a January weekend the figures were regarded as outstanding. With about $115.7 million estimated for the top 12 movies, the box office was ahead of last year's comparable weekend by nearly 25 percent.

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

1. Coach Carter, $23.6 million; 2. Meet the Fockers, $19 million; 3. Racing Stripes, $14 million; 4. In Good Company, $13.9 million; 5. Elektra, $12.5 million; 6. White Noise, 12.2 million; 7. The Aviator, $4.8 million; 8. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, $4 million; 9. The Phantom of the Opera, $3.55 million; 10. Ocean's Twelve, $2.9 million.

KISS AND HIRE

Madonna, who locked lips with Britney Spears during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and thereby evoked the wrath of millions of parents, has now locked Britney up in a contract to appear in the animated film version of her children's book, The English Roses, according to published reports in the U.K. Britney reportedly will provide the voice of the story's heroine, Binah, while Spears will voice the "pumpernickel-loving" fairy godmother.

FILM "CLEANERS" TO BE FEATURED ON AMC CHANNEL

An ABC film crew hired by the American Movie Channel has been interviewing the co-owners of Family Flix in Provo, UT for a documentary about companies that offer to "clean up" films for families who do not want to be exposed to objectionable language, sex or violence, the Deseret Morning News reported today (Monday). According to the newspaper, the crew has also interviewed representatives of two other similar companies, Clean Flics and Clean Films, and next intend to turn their attention on Hollywood studios for their side of the story.