DIRECTV PRESSES STOP BUTTON ON TIVO

In a staggering blow to TiVo, DirecTV, which had been the digital recorder manufacturer's biggest customer, said on Thursday that it would begin offering its own video recorders to customers later this year, the New York Times reported today (Friday). Currently two thirds of TiVo's devices are installed in DirecTV households. "We will still support our TiVo service, but our core marketing and sales efforts will be with our new DVR," Bob Marsocci, a DirecTV spokesman, told the Times. The new DirecTV recorder will be manufactured by British-based NDS, which is owned by News Corp, which, in turn, owns a 34-percent controlling stake in DirecTV. The new recorder will also download movies from the DirecTV satellite and store them on its hard drive, thereby making them available to subscribers on demand. Customers will pay for them only if they watch them.

ON TV, NEWS IS WHAT SELLS, SAYS FORMER 20/20 PRODUCER

Former CBS and ABC news exec Av Westin has warned that "there is something very Orwellian and dangerous happening" in television news in which producers make decisions on which stories to cover based on ratings. "Today the bottom line trumps the editorial line every time," Westin told the Boise Weekly. Westin, who was the executive producer of ABC's 20/20 from its launch until his retirement in 2001, told the magazine that in interviewing 135 network news employees ("I had to promise their anonymity") for his book Newswatch: How TV Decides the News, "What I got was disclosure of heavy news filtering and closet racism. If news stories involved a racial demographic that didn't score well in the ratings, it didn't make it to air." Moreover, he said, the pressure to put audience-grabbing stories on the air as quickly as possible often means stories are not checked out sufficiently. "Competition for audience attention which beefs up advertising dollars means there isn't time for confirming sources, everything's got to get on the air right now," he said.

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS HOURS TO LAUNCH ON MSNBC

MSNBC is planning to launch two new entertainment news programs, MSNBC at the Movies, and MSNBC Entertainment Hot List, eachhosted by Sharon Tay, on Saturdays and Sundays respectively starting Feb. 5 and 6. They will air at noon and repeat at 5:00 p.m. each day. MSNBC at the Movies is expected to focus on the weekend's top openings, with interviews with the stars and directors and behind-the-scenes footage, and comments from film critics. MSNBC Entertainment Hot List will focus on hot DVDs, TV shows, theatrical productions, fashion, CDs, concerts, and electronic games. They will be produced by Scott Leon, formerly vice president of CNN Entertainment News and executive producer of its Showbiz Today feature.

CARLSON WAS DUMPED AFTER FILLING IN FOR BROWN, CNN EXEC SAYS

CNN President Jonathan Klein made his decision to dump Crossfire's Tucker Carlson after watching him substitute for Aaron Brown on Brown's news hour last week, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Friday). Klein told the newspaper: "What was unmistakable was that he was more turned on by the live debate and discussion and head-butting than the storytelling aspect of the show he anchored. That told me volumes." It also presumably dissuaded Klein from making him an offer that would keep Carlson from moving to MSNBC, where he is expected to replace Deborah Norville in the 9:00 hour.

SIRIUS MAY TRADE STAKE IN COMPANY FOR EARLY STERN EXIT

Analysts began speculating Thursday that Viacom may receive a significant stake in the digital satellite radio broadcaster Sirius in exchange for allowing Howard Stern out of his contract with Viacom's Infinity radio stations early. Currently, his contract is due to expire in January 2006. Oppenheimer's Peter Mirsky told CBS MarketWatch Thursday that such a deal would give "Viacom a stake in a technology that ad buyers are using as a stalking horse against broadcast radio and it brings a fast-growing investment into the fold."

BBC CHIEF DEFENDS JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA

Calling himself a "practicing Christian," BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has defended the decision to air Jerry Springer: The Opera Saturday night, saying that viewers will be warned about its content, which reportedly includes dozens of uses of the f-word. (The writers of the show deny accusations that it contains thousands of uses of the verboten word and claim that they actually number 117 "all of them sung beautifully.") Although the program has particularly outraged some Christians, Thompson maintained that there was nothing in the production that he believed to be blasphemous. His remarks were echoed by David Soul, who plays Springer in the musical. "I'm a Christian and I certainly don't see it as blasphemy at all," Soul said during an interview on the U.K.'s Radio 4.

DGA SHINES UNEXPECTED RAY ON HACKFORD

The Directors Guild of America on Thursday nominated Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), and Taylor Hackford (Ray). The inclusion of Hackford in the list was regarded as a surprise. Although he still commands the "A Film by ..." credit above the title, Hackford's currency has diminished in recent years (he had not directed a film in four years before Ray) and critics had focused their attention on the performance of star Jamie Foxx in reviewing his latest film. Hackford told today's (Friday) Newsday that even he was surprised to be included in the DGA's list. "It's a great affirmation," he said, adding that it means more to him than his first DGA nomination for 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman. "Frankly with this film, I struggled for 15 years to get it made," he said.

STAPLES DENIES POLITICS CAUSED IT TO PULL ADS FROM SINCLAIR STATIONS

Staples has denied that politics played any role in its decision to pull its ads from news programs airing on Sinclair-owned TV stations. Earlier this week the liberal group Media Matters said that Staples, the warehouse office supply firm, had agreed to stop advertising on the Sinclair stations in order "to be responsive to customer concerns about Sinclair's injection of partisan conservative politics into its nightly newscasts." The report of Staples' decision set wheels in motion for a conservative backlash. However, they came to a half on Thursday when Staples stated that its buying decision had "recently been misrepresented by an organization with no affiliation to Staples. ... We do not let political agendas drive our media buying decisions. ... Staples will continue to advertise on Sinclair Broadcast Group stations."

HAPPY DAYS REUNION: THE SEQUEL

ABC is planning to bring the original cast of Happy Days together for a second reunion -- marking the 30th anniversary of the show's demise -- on a two-hour special set to air Thursday, Feb. 3 at 8:00 p.m. The first Happy Days reunion aired in 1992. Among those reuniting for the latest special, the network said, are Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, Scott Baio, Erin Moran, Donny Most, and Anson Williams. They will be joined by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who starred in the Happy Days spinoff, Laverne and Shirley. The show is being produced by Winkler and Michael Levitt, who together also produced the Dallas reunion special last November.

HIGH-DEFINITION DVD FORMAT TO LAUNCH THIS YEAR

The heads of the home video divisions of the five studios supporting the HD-DVD format -- Warner's, Universal, Paramount, New Line, and HBO -- announced Thursday that they were prepared to release dozens of titles in the format late this year. Their announcement was made at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. No similar announcement was made by studios supporting the competing Blu-ray format. In reporting on Thursday's announcement, Video Store magazine commented that it amounted to the HD-DVD group's throwing down the gauntlet before Blu-ray to see who would be getting product into the hands of consumers first.

EISNER GETS BIG BONUS

Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who last year rode a professional roller coaster with more ups and downs than Disneyland's Matterhorn, capped the year with a $7.2-million bonus on top of the $1 million plus that he received in salary and other compensation, according to an SEC filing reported. Disney's board cited the company's "greatly improved performance" during the past year in awarding the bonus to Eisner. It immediately was decried by Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, who are leading a campaign to oust Eisner and who issued a statement saying that it "flies in the face of both logic and propriety." Meanwhile, it was announced that the Disney board had amended its corporate guidelines to separate the offices of chairman and CEO permanently.

JACKSON MIFFED OVER DECISION TO STAR RAPPER IN NEW FILM

Samuel L. Jackson has rejected an offer to appear in director Jim Sheridan's upcoming film Locked and Loaded because it stars rapper 50 Cent. In a statement, Jackson said, "Hollywood people tend to think that because one is successful in one aspect of entertainment they can bring them into this particular world and make a success out of them." Jackson suggested that the studio merely wanted to exploit his name to give the hip-hop star's first film legitimacy. (It reportedly is "loosely based" on his life.) In his statement, Jackson asks, "What is it about 50 Cent that makes Jim Sheridan say: 'I'd really like to make a movie with him?'"

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: WHITE NOISE

Critics are giving British director Geoffrey Sax's supernatural thriller White Noise a lot of static. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times suggests that moviegoers would be better served by catching one of the several excellent films that were released last month, which are likely to be "far superior to what generally slinks into theaters this unhappy month, including White Noise, a laugh-laced cheap thrill." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News dismisses the movie as a "third-rate thriller" that is "less likely to haunt an audience than simply bore them to death." John Anderson in Newsday comments that Sax "has put a novel idea to work: Keep the audience as confused as the hero." And Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe regards the movie as "a moronic exercise in supernatural claptrap."