POWELL QUITS; STERN CHEERS

Michael Powell is expected to resign today (Friday) as chairman of the FCC, published reports said today (Friday). News of Powell's expected resignation first appeared in an unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which cited no source. Later, the Associated Press said that Powell planned to issue a statement later today but would not hold a formal news conference. Citing "two agency officials and others," the wire service said that although Powell will announce that he is quitting, he does not plan to step down immediately. CNN later said that he is expected to stay a couple of months, until his successor is appointed and confirmed. Reacting to the news, Howard Stern remarked on his radio show this morning, "Thank God he's gone. This is a great day in broadcasting."

BOCHCO SAYS HE HAS TO FIGHT FOR NYPD SCRIPTS

Producer Steven Bochco said Thursday that if he had tried to launch NYPD Blue today instead of 1993, he never could have gotten it off the ground. "The medium has become increasingly conservative," he told television critics attending their annual winter tour in Los Angeles. He said that he once thought that the success of the show would open the door for more sophisticated drama but that he now has to fight with network censors more vigorously than he ever had to do in the past. "It's a setback," he said.

NBC RETURNS TO THE TOP ON THURSDAY

The return of The Apprentice with its "book smarts vs. street smarts" theme helped lift NBC to a win Thursday night as CBS struggled without Survivor in its lineup. NBC easily won the 8:00 p.m. hour with Joey and the first half hour of The Apprentice, while CBS's new Wickedly Perfect barely edged out Fox's The O.C. CBS returned to first place at 9:00 p.m., however, scoring a 12.2/18 for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the highest-rated show of the night. NBC then see-sawed back to first place at 10:00 p.m. as it narrowly beat CBS's Without a Trace.

GOOD NIGHT, RAYMOND

Everybody Loves Raymond is due to tape its final (210th) episode tonight, with producers and cast giving little hint of what it is about, except to say that it will not attempt to go out with a bang. Series creator Phil Rosenthal told television critics at their annual winter tour in Los Angeles that he "doesn't want to do anything we normally don't do. ... It's six people trying not to yell too loud." However, costar Patricia Heaton added, "It's the perfect last episode. ... It sort of embodies everything the show has tried to be and is." The invited audience, made up mostly of friends and family of the cast and crew, will be asked not to disclose the contents of the episode; the press has been barred. (Although it has devoted comparatively little space to the show's demise.) The episode is due to air on May 16.

HDTV SETS TO DOUBLE IN 2005 -- BUT THAT'S NOT SAYING MUCH

The number of high-definition TV sets in American homes is expected to double this year, according to a study from Lyra Research. Nevertheless 60 percent of respondents said that they would not consider purchasing any new television set -- conventional or HDTV -- unless the one they already own broke. Only 9 percent said that they were considering buying an HDTV set this year. Most cited the high costs of HDTV sets as the primary reason for their reluctance to consider buying them. Meanwhile, it was announced that the Cablevision cable TV provider had sold its money-losing HDTV satellite unit VOOM to EchoStar Communications for $200 million in cash. EchoStar operates the DISH satellite network.

WHY ARE RATINGS FOR UPN'S SITCOMS PLUMMETING?

Viacom executives are puzzled over the wholesale ratings decline of five of its six sitcoms that appeal largely to blacks, with company researchers suspecting that the culprit may be the change in the way Nielsen now samples the TV audience. David Poltrack, who tracks ratings for Viacom's two networks, CBS and UPN, observed that Nielsen now categorizes viewers of Caribbean descent as black even though they are primarily Spanish-speaking and have different viewing habits from U.S. born blacks. e composition of black viewers in the Nielsen sample has changed," Poltrack told the wire service. "I'm not saying it's right or wrong. It's different." Viacom co-chairman Les Moonves remarked, "In all my years doing network television, I've never seen a group of six shows come down in a group like this."

GOVERNMENT MAY DEMAND THAT BBC BE "BALANCED AND FAIR"

As a condition for renewing its 10-year-long government charter, the BBC will be required to promise that it will broadcast news that is "balanced and fair," the London Daily Telegraphy reported today. The newspaper observed that the clause could result in increased government scrutiny of the BBC's news content and cited an unnamed source as saying, "The diversification of channels has put a lot of pressure on mainstream public service broadcasters really to make it clear what 'good' news is: namely, that it is impartial, balanced, authoritative and objective."

A WEAK WEEKEND?

Analysts are predicting a weak weekend at the box office, even as two Oscar contenders, Sideways and The Aviator expand into wide release, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. Two new films, Assault on Precinct 13, which opened in many cities on Wednesday, and Are We There Yet? have moderate expectations. Indeed, several analysts are suggesting that Meet the Fockers, which topped the box office for two weeks, until it was dethroned last week by Coach Carter, has a reasonable chance of returning to the top spot this weekend.

MOVIE REVIEWS: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

Assault on Precinct 13, which stars Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke, and John Leguizamo, is the kind of movie that has critics wondering how producers are able to land terrific talent for remakes of B-pictures. The original was produced in 1976 and directed by John Carpenter. Several critics suggest that the director, Jean-François Richet, making his American film debut, is no John Carpenter. As A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Carpenter's film ... still resonates with the political paranoia and social unease of the era. Mr. Carpenter's cynical refusal to distinguish clearly between good guys and bad guys feels freshly unsettling, while Mr. Richet's 'modernization' looks like something we've seen a hundred times before." Wesley Morris writes in the Boston Globe that the film "is disappointing for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's silly. For another, it's not always silly enough to be diverting." On the other hand, Peter Howell in the Toronto Star calls the movie "a bold calling card by a helmer to watch." Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times writes that director Richet "displays a terrific sense of mood and atmosphere, and his terse, succinct pacing and involving characters deftly deflect any questions of plausibility." And Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle adds that "he performers give this potboiler pop."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ARE WE THERE YET?

Critics are giving Are We There Yet? a bumpy ride. Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News reflects the view of most: "The affable Ice Cube is all that makes this forced, unfunny film watchable, and, frankly, it's hard watching him waste his efforts on a movie so woefully cynical."

ACTORS, PRODUCERS SIGN PACT

The two actors' unions, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), have reached a three-year agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but while the pact calls for across-the-board pay increases of around 9 percent, it does not bring a bigger share of DVD revenue to the actors. The deal must be ratified by the membership of the two unions.

SUNDANCE OPENS; REDFORD URGES DISSENT

Robert Redford kicked off the 2005 Sundance Film Festival Thursday by urging young filmmakers to be a voice of dissent. Redford, a political dissenter in his own right, told an opening-night audience, "I'm here tonight because I wasn't invited to another event," presumably referring to the presidential inauguration. He said that he believes the independent filmmakers unspooling their work at the festival "reflect more accurately the world we live in."

KUSTURICA TO HEAD CANNES JURY

Bosnian-born director Emir Kusturica, who has been honored with the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or award in 1985 and 1995 (he is the only director ever to have won the prize twice), will serve as president of the 2005 jury in May, the festival announced Thursday. In a statement, Kusturica, an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led intervention in Yugoslavia (as well as the invasion of Iraq), said, "I have given myself the mission, as president of the jury, to put aesthetics and art at the heart of the show." As the head of a jury looking at short films last year, Kusturica said that he was hoping to save world cinema from Hollywood and expressed the hope that young filmmakers would take a more intense look at the human condition. "At the moment, life is drastic, politically, historically, socially. Cinema does nothing about this," he said.

ALBINOS WANT TO WHITE-OUT KILLER FROM DA VINCI SCRIPT

An organization representing albinos has registered its opposition to portraying a killer in the film version of The Da Vinci Code as an albino (which is the way he is represented in the Dan Brown novel). "[Producer/director Ron Howard and Imagine [Films Entertainment, which is producing the movie] can make a big difference for people with albinism by continuing the trend away from a hack device if they adjust the Silas character to not be an evil albino" said Mike McGowan, president of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH). "Over the years the stereotyping and misinformation foisted on the albinism community by filmmakers who don't take the time to learn the facts about albinism does real harm to real people," he added.

B.C. GOVERNMENT TO INCREASE TAX CREDITS FOR FILMMAKERS

The government of British Columbia, which has been dragging its feet on increasing tax credits for the film industry, finally yielded to pressure from filmmakers Thursday and promised to introduce legislation next month that would match the tax credits enacted by the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Several Vancouver-based film companies had threatened to move to Toronto unless the government took action. Under the new legislation, the production services tax credit would be increased to 18 percent from 11 percent. In an interview with the Canadian Press, B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen worried about the possibility of a tax war breaking out between the provinces to attract filmmakers. "I think there's far more to gain by us working together to try to attract industries like the film industry to try to come to Canada rather than using our tax system to redistribute those industries inside Canada," he said.

MALAYSIA SEEKS PIECE OF WORLD BOX OFFICE

Malaysia is hoping that its $4-million epic, Princess of Mount Ledang, will find commercial success and thereby spearhead a breakthrough for its tiny film industry. In an interview at the Bangkok Film Festival with the Bangkok Post, director Saw Teong Hin acknowledged that the film, the most expensive ever produced in his country, was "very risky." (Although it has broken box-office records in Malaysia, a country with a population of fewer than 20 million, the film grossed only 25 percent of its budget.) "The producers knew from the beginning that it'd be difficult to get the money back, but they went ahead anyway because, first of all, they really wanted to see it happen, and because they decided to go for the international markets, which is something no Malaysian has ever done before," Teong Hin told the newspaper. "The Malaysian film industry is keeping an eye on us. If we succeed, I mean if the producer can recover the money we've put into the project, then I think you'll see more big things from Malaysia. If we don't, then it's another story."