TUCKER OUT AT CNN; CROSSFIRE DOUSED

CNN has dropped a bomb on its bombinating half-hour debate program Crossfire, saying goodbye to conservative cohost Tucker Carlson, cutting the feature down to 10 minutes, and folding it into Inside Politics, hosted by Judy Woodruff. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, CNN chief Jonathan Klein said, "We need to lower the temperature. ... It's time for us to do a better job of informing our audience in an engaging way, as opposed to head-butting and screaming. ... I doubt that when James Carville and Paul Begala briefed President Clinton [as advisers] they sat there screaming at him for half an hour." For now, Carville, Begala ("from the left") and Robert Novak ('"from the right") will continue as co-hosts of the feature. A conservative replacement for Carlson is expected to be named soon. Carlson appears to be heading to MSNBC to replace Deborah Norville at 9:00 p.m. (Eastern Time). He told the Washington Post. "I can't wait to work for [MSNBC President] Rick Kaplan. He's a great producer. I would host an infomercial if he would produce it." He had reportedly proposed hosting an 11:00 p.m. talk show to CNN bosses, but Klein told the Post: "There was zero fit between what he wanted to do and what we wanted to do. ... Our network is about roll-up-your-sleeves journalism, powerful storytelling."

LOST DRAWS ITS HIGHEST RATINGS YET

ABC's hit drama Lost found expanded ratings success Wednesday as it drew its biggest audience to date, scoring a 12.8 rating and a 19 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour. It was the highest-rated show of the night and gave the fourth season premiere of Alias, which aired a two-hour episode beginning at 9:00 p.m., some powerful coattails on which to ride. Alias scored a 10.9/16 at 9:00, falling to an 8.9/14 at 10:00. As a result, ABC dominated the night with an average 10.9/16. CBS was far behind in second place with a 7.8/12, a tad ahead of NBC which averaged a 7.7/12. Fox remained in fourth position, averaging only a 5.2/8.

VIEWER SUES NBC OVER FEAR FACTOR

A Cleveland paralegal has filed a $2.5-million lawsuit against NBC, claiming that its reality show Fear Factor permanently affected his health. The handwritten four-page filing, which contained so many typos and grammatical errors that much of it is incomprehensible, said in part: "To have the individuals on the show eat (yes) and drink dead rats was crazy and from a viewer's point of view made me throw-up as well an another in the house at the same time." Contacted by Reuters for an interview, the man, Austin Aitken, refused to grant it unless he was paid.

TIT FOR TAT? ABC YANKS BUD SPOTS

ABC and its cable sibling ESPN have rejected three Anheuser-Busch commercials spoofing ads by its rival Miller only weeks after all four major networks rejected Miller spots spoofing Anheuser-Busch's. A spokesman for Miller said that the company had not filed any complaints about the Anheuser-Busch spots, implying that ABC and ESPN had acted independently. Anheuser-Busch had filed a 26-page complaint about the Miller spots. ABC declined to discuss its decision to yank the spots, saying it does not comment on actions by its standards and practices unit.

BBC WON'T YANK SPRINGER OPERA

The BBC said Wednesday that it will go ahead with plans to air the hit West End show Jerry Springer: The Opera despite reports that the broadcasting watchdog OFCOM had received 4,500 complaints and that some 15,000 people had flooded its own switchboard to voice their criticism of the public corporation's decision to carry it. According to the BBC's own publication Radio Times, the "opera" contains 3,168 uses of the f-word alone (albeit sung in operatic style). The Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch, the Church of England's spokesman on broadcasting, also condemned the BBC's plans. "Freedom of expression is not at issue here. My worry is that this program is a major departure from the current high expectations of viewers regarding offensive material on a publicly funded channel," he said. A message posted on a British entertainment website read: "OK, it has swear words in [it]. So what? It's on at 10:00 p.m. when adults watch TV, if people don`t like it tough! And if kids see it, what are the parents doing?" Another commented: "The religious right are a nightmare in the U.S. and the last thing we need is them gaining momentum in the U.K"

BBC'S HIT SOAP EASTENDERS SEES AUDIENCE DIVE

The BBC soap opera EastEnders, once the top-rated television show in Britain, saw its audience share plunge to its lowest level since it aired opposite an England vs. Scotland soccer match five years ago. The latest episode captured "only" 28 percent of the British TV audience, an astounding figure by American standards but disappointing for a show that usually pulls in 40-50 percent of the U.K. audience. By contrast, another top-rated soap opera, ITV's Emmerdale, drew a 41 share on Tuesday.

IT'S NOW BLACK AND WHITE: GREY'S IN

Viacom and Brad Grey were finally wed today (Thursday), after it had appeared for a time that Grey was considering fleeing the nuptials. Five days after the Los Angeles Times reported that the decision to name the talent agent chairman and CEO of Paramount was a done deal, Viacom Co-President and Co-COO Tom Freston made the appointment official. "Brad's smarts, style and instincts have made him a winner time after time over the years," Freston said in a statement. "He's an entrepreneur, a manager, a dealmaker, a hit maker and has that combination of creative business acumen. He's the ideal leader for the challenges of motion picture business today and tomorrow." Grey is expected to take over the job from current Paramount chief Sherry Lansing on March 1.

PRODUCERS GUILD NAMES TOP FIVE FILMS OF 2004

The Producers Guild of America has nominated The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways and The Incredibles for its best picture award to be presented on Jan. 22. The organization's nominations are generally mirrored by those of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which presents the annual Oscar awards. The inclusion of Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles among the other more weighty was regarded as something of a surprise. In reporting on the nominations, today's (Thursday) Daily Variety commented, "By selecting Sideways and Million Dollar Baby, the PGA also departed somewhat from its historical penchant for tapping mostly big-budget vehicles while looking past smaller projects."

OLIVER STONE BLAMES ANTI-GAY SENTIMENT FOR ALEXANDER FLOP

Only days after accepting part of the blame for the box office failure of Alexander in the U.S., director Oliver Stone has attributed the disastrous performance to "raging fundamentalism in morality" in America. Speaking at the London premiere of the movie Wednesday night, Stone said, "From day one audiences didn't show up. They didn't even read the reviews in the South because the media was using the words: 'Alex is Gay.' As a result you can bet that they thought, 'We're not going to see a film about a military leader that has got something wrong with him." Reviews of the film in London appearing today (Thursday) were as faultfinding as they originally were in the U.S."

TV VIEWERS TO RECEIVE MOVIES OVER THE INTERNET WITHOUT A P.C.

Microsoft is partnering with movie download service CinemaNow to pipe movies to the TV sets of consumers over the Internet without a computer. The service, which employs a settop box and a wireless keyboard, is due to debut this spring with 2,000 titles, rising to 5,000 by summer, according to published reports. The service, which will require an initial outlay of $200 for the converter box, is expected to be offered for a monthly subscription fee of $10.00, although users of the service may also opt for an à la carte alternative. Meanwhile, Microsoft also indicated that it is joining up with Sirius Satellite Radio on a service that will deliver two or three channels of video content to children seated in the back seats of cars. "We will take the DVD experience to the next level, offering the best content easily available to families and consumers," Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin said in a statement.

WOOLWORTH'S CHIEF BLAMES PIRACY FOR DIVE IN DVD SALES

The head of one of Britain's largest retailers has blamed piracy for a plunge in DVD sales over the Christmas holiday period. Trevor Bish-Jones, CEO of Woolworth's, commenting on figures showing that sales of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were less than half of its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, told Daily Variety: "The Harry Potter franchise may not be quite as strong as it was, but everything suggested that the latest Harry Potter should have flown off the shelves." He blamed "replication plants in China pumping out counterfeits." Bish-Jones noted that sales of Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 were also well below expectations.

THAILAND OPENS ANIMATION EXPO AND FESTIVAL

Thailand's second annual Animation and Multimedia Expo opened in Bangkok today (Thursday) with more than 150 exhibitors setting up booths at the city's primary convention hall. The four-day exhibition is also presenting its first Thailand Animation Film Festival, featuring 40 animated shorts and features from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, Sweden, Thailand, the U.S., and Zimbabwe. The event was expected to draw 100,000 visitors. Dr. Surapong Suebwonglee, Thailand minister of information and communications technology, told the Bangkok Post that the government intends to promote animation "to be a world class industry" and that doing so is part of Thailand's goal to become the Hollywood of Asia. DreamWorks and Disney have sent representatives to participate in conference sessions.