JACKSON ATTORNEY LAYS INTO TV PUNDITS

No longer restrained by a gag order, Thomas Mesereau, Michael Jackson's attorney, unleashed a blistering attack on television coverage of the trial, particularly singling out Court TV, which he described as "really an arm of the prosecution through this case." Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live, Mesereau remarked, "I think that we have developed an industry of would-be experts who are not professional, who are not experienced, who are very amateurish about their comments about what's going on in courtrooms and who are willing to give opinions when they're not even there. And I think it has become the theater of the absurd, and I think it reached its lowest level in this case." Part of the problem, he suggested, lay in the very nature of TV news reporting: "How do you compress, you know, six to eight hours of testimony into a sound bite? You can't possibly be accurate," he remarked. Another part of the problem, Mesereau suggested, lay in America's obsession with celebrity trials, which, he said, had created "an industry of pundits who really are trying to be movie stars and not real legal experts. And it's just -- it just reached the bottom of the barrel in this case." Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times media critic Tim Rutten today lambasted media commentators for their treatment of members of the Jackson jury. In particular, he singled out CNN Headline News anchor Nancy Grace for her angry comments to jury foreman Paul Rodriguez. "There is something particularly repellent about watching a conscientious juror, who clearly honored his oath to put personal views aside and decide the case according to evidence and law, abused for the sake of what the show's producers doubtless regarded as 'great TV,'" Rutten wrote. "If jurors who conscientiously fulfill their oath _ as Jackson's did _ then are subjected to contempt and abuse for contradicting the self-interested sentiments of an electronic mob, then who among us is safe?"

TWO AND A HALF MEN MARATHON A RATINGS SMASH

In a rare -- if not unprecedented -- occurrence, four back-to-back episodes of the same show all landed in the Nielsen top ten last week. The Two and a Half Men marathon, which aired on Monday, helped CBS win the week despite strong competition from its rivals -- in particular, ABC, which aired the NBA finals between Detroit and San Antonio, and which also landed its new summer series Dancing With the Stars at the top of the list. A Primetime Live special, featuring an interview with Brad Pitt, also made the top ten. CBS averaged a 5.5 rating and a 10 share for the week. ABC and NBC tied for second with a 4.6/8. Fox trailed with a 3.5/6.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. Dancing With the Stars, ABC, 10.0/16; 2. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 8.5/15; 3. Primetime Live Special (Brad Pitt), ABC, 7.9/13; 4. Two and a Half Men (9:30 p.m.), CBS, 7.8/12; 4. Two and a Half Men (10:00 p.m.), CBS, 7.8/13; 6. Two and a Half Men (10:30 p.m.), CBS, 7.5/13; 7. Two and a Half Men (9:00 p.m.), CBS, 7.4/12; 8. NBA Finals, ABC, 7.2/13; 9. Law and Order, NBC, 7.1/12; 10. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.0/14; 10. NCIS, CBS, 7.0/13.

CABLE NEWS CHANNELS SEE RATINGS SOAR AFTER JACKSON VERDICT

Cable news channels experienced a massive surge in viewers Monday in the aftermath of the verdict in the Michael Jackson case. CNN's audience doubled; MSNBC was up 80 percent. Fox News Channel rose 55 percent and CNN Headline News, 40 percent. Nevertheless, Fox News retained a commanding lead over its rivals, posting an average audience of 1.99 million in primetime. CNN, despite the huge increase in viewers, remained well behind with 1.28 million, but its Headline News affiliate added another 540,000. MSNBC recorded 445,000 viewers. Earlier in the day, when the verdicts were announced, Fox averaged 4.8 million viewers, versus 3.5 million for CNN and 1.5 million for MSNBC. The Associated Press observed that the three channels collectively recorded 10 million viewers at a time when they'd usually have fewer than 2 million.

GERALDO SIGNS NEW DEAL WITH FOX NEWS FOR $3 MILLION

Ending much speculation about whether Fox News would resign Geraldo Rivera when his contract expires in November, Rivera said Tuesday that he had signed a new four-year deal with the network. TV Week said that Rivera will take home $3 million per year. Confirming the deal, Fox News said that Rivera will receive the title "correspondent-at-large" and will continue to host his Saturday even show At Large. Last month, Rivera said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, "I think this next contract could be my biggest news contract unless I f*** up between now and the summer, and I don't intend to."

GOODBYE, SYNERGY

In what was regarded as a washout for media synergy, Viacom's board of directors on Tuesday voted unanimously to revert to two companies, one, to be composed of Paramount and the company's cable channels; the other, composed primarily of CBS, UPN, Showtime, and Viacom's radio, publishing, theme parks, and billboard businesses. The former company will retain the name Viacom Inc. and will be headed by Tom Freston; the latter will be known as CBS Corp. and will be headed by Les Moonves. "I think the age of the conglomerates has passed," Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone told the Los Angeles Times. "Two other major media companies are considering what we are doing to see if some kind of division of their assets would ultimately enhance their value. I know I am pioneering a trend because one came to see me and said the idea was brilliant and that he was considering doing this with his own assets."

REDSTONE'S DAUGHTER APPOINTED VIACOM VICE CHAIRMAN

Confirming widespread speculation, Viacom's board of directors on Tuesday named Shari Redstone, daughter of Chairman Sumner Redstone -- to a newly created post of nonexecutive vice chairman. She currently oversees the Redstone family's privately held National Amusements, a movie theater chain with about 1425 screens in the U.S. and overseas. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, Redstone denied that the appointment of his daughter to the post was a sign that he was about to retire. He added, "Look, sooner or later, no matter how good I look and how good my vital signs are, I'm gonna die and control of the company is likely to pass to Shari. I hope nobody inherits my power for another 20 years. I eat the right stuff. I swim every day."

WAYANS BROS. TO BUILD STUDIO IN OAKLAND

The Wayans brothers are moving forward with plans to develop a studio, hotel and entertainment complex at the site of the old Army base in Oakland, published reports said today (Wednesday). In an interview with ABC-owned KGO-TV, located in San Francisco, Keenan Ivory Wayans remarked, "I see Oakland as the sleeping giant of the north. So you know, I've been looking at this area for quite some time, me and my brothers, just feel like there's a great opportunity here and a lot of untapped potential."

DEATH REPORTED AT $100-MILLION DISNEY RIDE IN FLORIDA

The Walt Disney Co. shut down its $100 million-dollar, state-of-the-art rocket-themed ride Mission Space at its Epcot theme park after a four-year-old boy from Pennsylvania passed out aboard the ride on Tuesday. The ride was reopened a few hours later after it was inspected by company engineers. Disney had hoped that the ride would revive interest in the park, which has seen a decline in admissions in recent years. The ride, which opened two years ago, sent seven people over the age of 55 to the hospital after they experienced chest pains and nausea while riding it in the first eight months after it was installed, published reports said. The latest incident is likely to spark renewed efforts to have theme park rides inspected by state and/or federal agencies. "The federal government regulates child seats in the back of automobiles ... but not amusement rides that approach G forces that astronauts are exposed to," Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts told today's USA Today.

AUDIENCES DON'T VENTURE OUT INTO BAT CAVES AT MIDNIGHT

Initial news reports today (Wednesday) indicated that midnight screenings of Batman Begins, which opened Tuesday (Wednesday morning), were only sparsely attended. People coming out of the theaters, many of them avid comic-book fans, sounded enthusiastic however, according to the reports. "By far, this is the best movie of all five," Mike Tehan, manager of the Longmont Time Warp Comics, told the Boulder Camera. Meanwhile, critics who did not file their reviews of the movie for Tuesday's editions are trotting them out today. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times calls the movie "unexpectedly good" and "the most successful comic-book adaptation alongside Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World." Kyle Smith in the New York Post writes that the movie "blew me away." To Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it's "a dark, stylish and dead-serious movie that doesn't so much reimagine Batman as remythologize him." On the other hand, Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star dismisses it as "surprisingly boring and lumpy." Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News describes it as "more easily admired than enjoyed." And Ann Hornaday warns in the Washington Post: "This movie is not only inappropriate for children, it might even prove too long and morose a haul for teens."

REPORT: ANGELINA JOLIE WANTS TO QUIT MAKING MOVIES

Angelina Jolie has reportedly become disenchanted with the movie business and wants to walk away from it, according to a report appearing on a number of entertainment-related websites. It quotes Jolie as saying at a news conference (the location is not provided): "There's so much drama that comes with films -- bickering with studios, directors fighting for their script. There's too much stuff about what product we need to get out to make this much money on that weekend." Julie said that she would prefer spending more time with her adopted son Maddox and pursuing her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "I guess I just don't care as much as I used to [about the movie business]," Jolie was also quoted as saying. "I'm happier doing other things. There's not a lot of stuff [involved in making movies] that is exciting or fulfilling."

SITH THEATER BIZ SLOW IN CHINA; SITH PIRATE BIZ HOT

On the heels of reports that Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith has been doing lackluster business in its theatrical debut in China, Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday) that DVD bootleggers have been "doing a roaring trade" selling illegal DVDs in Beijing for $1.20-$2.40 each. The trade publication, which devoted much of today's edition to reports about efforts to curb movie piracy, noted that while Chinese authorities speeded up approval in order to put the movie into theaters before it landed on the street, the maneuver made little difference. The pirated DVDs of the movie were said to be of relatively high quality.