BUSH BATTLES BUNNY

Several local public broadcasting stations may defy the Bush administration and PBS and air an episode of the animated children's series Postcards from Buster that features an animated bunny visiting a real family headed by a lesbian couple, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Friday). Earlier this week, the program was denounced by the Department of Education's new secretary, Margaret Spellings, who said that the Department's "purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television." PBS subsequently announced that it would not distribute the episode, but denied that the education secretary's views played a role in its decision. WGBH-TV in Boston, which produces the Postcards from Buster series that includes the controversial episode, said that it plans to air it, pointing out that a condition of the government funding was that the program expose children to cultural diversity. The Times said that other stations will decide whether to run the episode after previewing it over the next few days.

WHITE HOUSE WON'T APPEAL OWNERSHIP RULINGS

Surprising both supporters and opponents of the FCC's efforts to rewrite media ownership rules, the Department of Justice said without explanation Thursday that it will not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down lower court rulings that effectively nullified the FCC's rules. Media companies and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) immediately announced that they would pursue an appeal, but legal analysts said they believed it was highly unlikely that the high court would consider the matter barring an appeal from the Justice Department. The NAB issued a statement saying in part: "We continue to believe the Supreme Court needs to clarify lower court decisions related to media ownership." Shaun Sheehan, the Washington lobbyist for the Tribune Co., told today's (Friday) London Financial Times that his company, along with NBC Universal, News Corp, and Viacom are planning to go ahead with their appeal even though the chances that it will be heard are dim. The rules, introduced by outgoing FCC chairman Michael Powell in 2003 would have permitted broadcasters to own stations reaching 45 percent of the national audience. The current threshold is 39 percent. They would also have allowed newspaper companies like the Tribune to own stations in cities where they also publish newspapers.

THE SOPRANOS EXPECTED TO MAKE A KILLING

HBO is expected to announce today (Friday) that it has sold rerun rights to The Sopranos for about $2.1 million per episode to either Time Warner-owned TNT or Hearst/Disney/NBC-owned A&E Network, Daily Variety reported today, citing unnamed insiders. The trade publication also indicated that HBO may be wooing creator David Chase to do a seventh season and that one cable network dropped out of the bidding when it learned of such a possibility, presumably concluding that the value of the reruns would decrease if they had to compete against new episodes. The $2.1-million pricetag would represent the biggest per-episode price ever paid for a TV series, Variety said.

CBS AND NBC SHARE ALIKE ON THURSDAY

CBS and NBC wound up in a virtual dead heat Thursday night as CBS aired a slew of reruns in the run up to the February sweeps. Each network averaged a 10.4 rating and a 16 share for the night, with ABC finishing third with a 5.2/8. NBC led in the 8:00 hour with a repeat of Joey scoring a 6.7/11 and the first half-hour of The Apprentice registering an 8.2/13. CBS, which dumped its ratings-challenged Wickedly Perfect to Saturdays, finished second with a rerun of Without a Trace. CBS took over the top spot at 9:00 p.m. with CSI posting the top rating of the night -- a 14.0/21 against The Apprentice's 10.7/16. NBC returned to first place at 10:00 with a 13.0/21 for E.R. CBS aired another rerun of Without a Trace, which scored a 10.1/16.

STAR EXPECTS DEMISE OF STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE

Despite a stepped-up campaign by Star Trek fans to save the long-running series, John Billingsley, a star of UPN's Star Trek: Enterprise has predicted that it will not be renewed. Billingsley told the Ventura County Star that the current low ratings for the series and the fact that Paramount will have the 100 episodes need for syndication of the series spells doom for the series. It returned this season only because Paramount TV, which produces it, agreed to significant budget cuts. However, audience erosion continued. "My feeling is that after all these years, the people who are not watching Star Trek won't start watching," Billingsley said. Meanwhile, fans of the series said Thursday that they hope to raise $14,994 to pay for a "Save Enterprise" ad in USA Today that would run during the February sweeps.

DE NIRO, AMEXCO ACCUSED OF EXPLOITING 9/11

Robert De Niro and American Express are being criticized for a new 30-second TV ad airing in the U.S. and the U.K. which includes shots of the now barren site of the World Trade Center. In the ad, directed by Martin Scorsese, De Niro walks through New York, referring to "My East .. my West Side." When he arrives at Ground Zero, he remarks, "My heartbreak." (The spot's tagline is: "My life. My card.") Brand Republic, an online publication covering advertising and marketing, said that the spot is drawing flak for exploiting the 9/11 tragedy.

PAUL ANKA SAYS HE WROTE TONIGHT SHOW THEME

Paul Anka said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that he wrote the theme music for the Tonight show, adding that he agreed to give Johnny Carson half the royalties after Carson fought the show's original bandleader, Skitch Henderson, "who wasn't happy that this 20-year-old kid was intruding." Anka pointed out that it's "the longest theme ever on TV" (more than 40 years) and that whenever he hears it, "two words come to mind: 'Heeeere's royalties!"

JAPANESE NEWSPAPER SAYS PUBLIC FORCED NHK CHIEF TO QUIT

The Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun theorized in an editorial Thursday that Katsuji Ebisawa was forced to resign as president of the publicly funded NHK network when viewers refused to pay their annual subscription fees (comparable to the license fees that British viewers pay to support the BBC). "In refusing to pay, the viewing public reacted sharply to the string of scandals and the management's mishandling of the situation. The boycott has shaken the broadcaster to its foundation," the editorial said. Viewers were particularly outraged recently when it was revealed that a TV program about the behavior of Japanese soldiers during WWII was censored by the NHK at the behest of high-ranking politicians. The Asahi editorial observed that despite controversies involving the BBC, polls indicate that 90 percent of the British public regard it as an asset to Britain. "NHK has much to learn from how the BBC has often had to play hardball with the government over the years. A public broadcaster deserves that status only if it has the trust of viewers and the public at large," the editorial concluded.

BBC FACES ANOTHER BATTLE ROYAL

Setting the stage for another set-to between the BBC and the British government, a government-appointed panel has recommended that the BBC's board of governors be scrapped and replaced with a Public Service Broadcasting Commission that would perform many of the functions of the current board but with greater intensity. The PSBC would appraise programming to ensure that it performs a public service, but it would also consider turning over license-fee money to commercial broadcasters for unsponsored public-service programming. The panel suggested that there was an inherent conflict of interest in the "dual role" of the board of governors "as both critical friend of management and defenders of the BBC on the one hand, and providing public interest oversight of the license fee money on the other."

SPIDEY RESCUES SONY

Sony's film and TV companies, which had long been a drag on the company's profits until recent years, turned out to be the sole bright spot on the company's books in 2004, according to the company's SEC filings Thursday. Overall company revenue during the third quarter fell 7.5 percent to $20.9 billion, while operating profit dropped 13 percent to $1.3 billion. The company was unable to meet sales targets for its new digital audio players, TV sets, cameras, and PlayStation consoles. However, the movie business, boosted by DVD sales of Spider-Man 2 and Seinfeld collections, saw a 12-percent leap in revenue to $1.96 billion in the quarter.

FILM FESTIVAL YANKS MOVIE BY SLAIN DIRECTOR

The Rotterdam International Film Festival has canceled a screening of Submission Part One, Theo Van Gogh's film about a Muslim woman who is forced into a marriage with a man who beats her and who is later accused of adultery when her uncle rapes her. Last year, Van Gogh was killed by an Islamist militant, who left a message on the knife that he used to stab blaming the movie for his act. The writer of the film has since gone into hiding. The film had been scheduled to be shown on Sunday during a discussion on freedom of speech in film at the festival. The producer of Submission, Gijs van de Westelaken, said Thursday, "We do not want to take any chance of endangering anyone else who participated in the film."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: ALONE IN THE DARK

Reviews don't come any worse than those for the horror film Alone in the Dark. Stephen Holden in the New York Times writes that it "is so inept on every level, you wonder why the distributor didn't release it straight to video, or better, toss it directly into the trash." Similarly, Jack Mathews writes in the New York Daily News that it "is no better than whatever you might pick up while wearing a blindfold at Blockbuster, even if you happen to reach into a trash can." How bad is it really? "So bad in ways the people who coined the word never even thought of," writes Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun, "that it's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 10 was involved with it." Janice Page in the Boston Globe remarks that the film has reached the lowest "level of pee-yew." But leave it to Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times to find a jewel where others find trash. Thomas writes that the film has "fast pace, lots of gadgets, monsters, explosive special effects, plenty of inscrutable plot twists and turns. Beyond that, director Uwe Boll, cinematographer Mathias Neumann and production designer Tink have created a striking-looking world for their film -- one that's shadowy, brooding and menacing. On a purely visual level, Alone in the Dark is persuasive.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: HIDE AND SEEK

The pre-release buzz on Hide and Seek starring Robert De Niro and child star Dakota Fanning had been bad enough. The actual reviews are mostly worse. Debra Birnbaum in the New York Post describes it as a schlocky thriller choking under the weight of its own psychobabble." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal sums up the movie this way: "Robert De Niro collects another stupendous paycheck for starring in another piece of exploitable junk." Likewise Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News comments: "Add this movie to Robert De Niro's climb up Mount Hackdom." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post observes that at times it "veers tantalizingly close to being one of those movies that is so bad it's good, but in the end, it's so bad it's just . . . bad."