JACKSON VERDICT DUMBFOUNDS TV LEGAL PUNDITS

Reporters for broadcast and cable network news outlets, many of whom had been treating a conviction in the Michael Jackson case as a foregone conclusion from the time of his arrest, appeared stunned Monday by the not-guilty verdict on all counts. Even as anchors and commentators on cable outlets vamped as they awaited the verdict to be read, they continued to predict at least some jail time for the pop singer and to speculate about the effect of such an outcome on Jackson and his family. Fox News Channel's legal analyst Jim Hammer predicted: "I fully expect Jackson, who barely made it through the trial, who almost didn't get here on Pajama Party Day, that if he is convicted, his mother may collapse in the courtroom." Others noted that an ambulance was parked near the courthouse and implied that it was waiting to take Jackson away if he himself passed out after the reading of the verdict. Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy predicted: "I think there is no question we will see convictions here. ... I don't think there is any doubt." (After the verdict was read, Murphy remarked that Jackson ought now to be called the Teflon Molester and suggested that jurors ought to be given IQ tests.) Reporting on the TV coverage, USA Today commented, "If there were media losers in this case, they were a handful of outspoken Jackson observers who were perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have aligned themselves with prosecutor Thomas Sneddon and his team against Jackson: Court TV and Headline News anchor Nancy Grace, Court TV anchor Diane Dimond and Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth." On her CNN Headline News show Monday, Grace remarked: "I'm having a little crow sandwich on the set tonight, and it's not going to taste good." In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, TV writer Neal Justin observed, "The anchors I watched, particularly Fox's Shepard Smith, acted as if it was the biggest upset since the United States beat the Soviet Union in Olympic hockey." However, on Fox News, Geraldo Rivera, who had defended Jackson from the beginning, interviewed him before the trial began, and offered to shave off his moustache if he was convicted, collected on a bet with Sean Hannity, who had agreed to contribute $1,000 to Rivera's favorite charity if Jackson got off. On NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams commented, "We have tried very hard to limit coverage of the Jackson trial to the most newsworthy days in the proceedings. ... Tonight, at long last, it is time to move on." Later that night, however, NBC News aired a one-hour Dateline special about the trial. CBS broadcast a half-hour edition of 48 Hours, employing a novel computer-generated system to make its courtroom sketches appear three-dimensional. "As creative people, we have to be focused on the editorial content," executive producer Susan Zirinsky told the Los Angeles Times. "The pictures, they're a gift." ABC, which had broadcast the documentary about Jackson that had seemed to ignite the proceedings, remained with its scheduled programs.

SINGAPORE TO PRODUCE ORIGINAL DRAMAS FOR CELL PHONES

Singapore's state-owned Mediacorp television company is planning to produce 30 three-minute episodes of a romantic drama that will initially be available for viewing only on 3G cell phones. The episodes will eventually be combined and aired on television as a 90-minute special, the company said today (Tuesday). Mediacorp said that it expects to produce at least 10 such 3G-to-television programs in 2006.

BBC WORLDWIDE SEES PROFITS SOAR

The BBC may be caught up in a national dispute over its cost-cutting plans to eliminate 4,000 jobs and turn over production of some of its programs to outside producers, but BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, appears to be raking in huge profits. The company said Monday that its sales increased 7 percent in the past year to $1.3 billion, even as it cut costs by $9.2 million. The company attributed the record rise in profits to strong syndication sales of the game shows Spooks and The Weakest Link and to the success of the DVD Little Britain. In a statement, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said, "I am delighted to see BBC Worldwide producing such excellent results and delivering more cash back to the BBC."

REPORTER WHO REFUSED TO GO TO IRAQ SUES ABC FOR TERMINATING HIM

Former ABC-TV reporter Richard Gizbert's $4-million lawsuit in London against his onetime employer, which was to have begun on Wednesday, was postponed Monday until some time in August because the tribunal chairman who was set to hear it concluded that it will take longer than the three days that had been scheduled for it. Gizbert, who joined the network in 1993 and was assigned to its London bureau at the time he was dismissed, claims that he was axed because he refused an assignment to report from Iraq. Although he had previously reported from Chechnya and Bosnia-Herzegovina, he said he believed that the Iraq assignment was different since journalists had seemingly become targeted by both sides in that conflict. In an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times, Gizbert said that he was told by Marcus Wilford, ABC's London bureau chief: "'We've decided to terminate you. ABC wants to replace you with a correspondent who will travel to war zones.' I said, "You're firing me because I won't go to war zones?' 'No,' he said, "we're terminating you and replacing you with someone who will.' And I said: "Isn't that the same thing?'" Under a code of practice that ABC News has signed, "assignments to war zones or hostile environments must be voluntary."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: BATMAN BEGINS

Batman Begins is set to begin in most theaters at one minute past midnight tonight, prompting many newspapers to publish their reviews of the movie today (Tuesday). And, while there's not a Joker among the critics, a few express some misgivings about the approach taken by director Christopher Nolan. Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail writes: "All of the story is so absurdly humorless that it is dramatically inert, as if Nolan had decided the only way to make the Batman character more substantial was to put weights on his wings." Although acknowledging that the movie "does far more right than it does wrong," Ty Burr in the Boston Globe concludes that it "feints at topical notions of airborne terrorism and fundamentalist disgust with American decadence, but it quickly devolves into rubble and noise" and ends in a sequence that is all cliché. But Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune, while finding numerous faults with the film, says that he nevertheless regards it as "the best of the Batman series since director Tim Burton moved on after 1992: a violently kinetic, eerie portrait of a revenge-driven, two-faced hero ... waging pathological warfare against the fiendish master criminals who have turned Gotham City (partly recreated in Chicago) into hell on Earth." His Chicago colleague, Roger Ebert, also finds much to praise about the film, concluding: "This is the Batman movie I've been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for, because I didn't realize that more emphasis on story and character and less emphasis on high-tech action was just what was needed. The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment. There's something to it." Christian Bale is also receive much positive notice for his performance in the title role. "Bale is by far the best of Hollywood's Batman corps," writes Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News. "The former child actor (Empire of the Sun) has as strong a screen presence as Michael Keaton, George Clooney or Val Kilmer, and -- as we discover here -- he is a better actor." The question remains, however, whether this new Batman will rescue the box office. Several reviewers, including some who praise the movie, express their doubts that it will attract a mass audience. Detroit Free Press critic Terry Lawson comments: "his is a grown-up comic book movie, with no comedy. ... While I greatly prefer this approach, with its life-sized performances from excellent actors and its morally ambiguous sobriety to the smash-cut alternative, it cannot be denied that Batman Begins is heavy going."

MR. & MRS SMITH IN SMASH OPENING

While most studios were assessing the effects of a slump in attendance that has entered its 15th week, 20th Century Fox appeared to be experiencing a windfall as the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie comedy thriller Mr. & Mrs. Smith opened with $50.3 million, about double what analysts had expected. At the same time, 20th's release of George Lucas's star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, continued to perform strongly, earning $14.9 million in its fourth week and placing third on the box-office chart. In second place was DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar, which took in $17.2 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, 20th Century Fox, $50,342,878, (New); 2. Madagascar, DreamWorks, $17,180,801, 3 Wks. ($128,414,334); 3. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, 20th Century Fox, $14,851,474, 4 Wks. ($332,109,171); 4. The Longest Yard, Paramount, $13,878,482, 3 Wks. ($118,484,565); 5. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, Miramax, $12,582,088, (New); 6. Cinderella Man, Universal, $9,728,955, 2 Wks. ($34,642,020); 7. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Warner Bros., $5,711,420, 2 Wks. ($23,732,629); 8. The Honeymooners, Paramount, $5,538,835, (New); 9. Monster-in-Law, New Line, $2,624,376, 5 Wks. ($76,475,163); 10. High Tension, Lions Gate, $1,897,705, (New).

MCDONALD'S OFFERING BURGER, FRIES, AND DVD

Following a successful launch in Denver of Redbox DVD rental machines in all its restaurants, McDonald's said Monday that it plans to place the machines in all its Minneapolis-St. Paul outlets by July 1. As in Denver, first-time renters will get their first disk free for a night. After that the charge is $1 per night. Renters can find the location of each machine in Denver or Minneapolis-St. Paul and learn what's in stock by logging in to the Redbox website, www.redbox.com. The machines, manufactured by Solectron, can hold 550 titles. By next year, the machines are also expected to offer UMD movie titles for viewing on PlayStation Portable devices.

WAL-MART SAYING GOODBYE TO VIDEOCASSETTES

Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest home video retailer is planning to remove all VHS titles from its shelves by next February, Home Video Retailing reported on its website Monday. The company is expected to phase out the video cassettes based on customer demand. By September, it said, it expects to phase out 20-40 percent of it VHS titles, using the space to stock additional DVD titles.

VIACOM SELLS CANADIAN THEATER CHAIN

Viacom has agreed to sell its Canadian theater chain Famous Players to Cineplex Galaxy for $397 million. If regulators approve, Cineplex, which operates Canada's Cineplex Odeon and Galaxy movie houses, would control 63 percent of all Canadian theaters, effectively doubling its size. It said that it plans to sell 35 theaters in order to satisfy federal monopoly rules.