ABC SHOOTS, MISSES WITH NBA FINALS

Ratings for ABC's coverage of the NBA Finals failed to improve Thursday despite a game which saw the Detroit Pistons even up the series �with the San Antonio Spurs. (Some analysts suggested that Detroit's lopsided victories on Tuesday and Thursday contributed to the loss of viewers.) The game averaged a 6.5 rating and an 11 share between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., well behind CBS's 7.8/14 for summer reruns during those hours. Last year's Game Four attracted well over twice the audience, scoring a 14.4/23. Several analysts have predicted that ABC will at least wind up with the second-lowest-rated NBA Finals ever and might even set an all-time low. NBC saw its audience virtually disappear Thursday with a 3.9/7, just a notch above UPN's 3.5/6 for wrestling.

FOX NEWS'S RATINGS NOW TRIPLE CNN'S

The return o�f the cable-TV news networks to relative normalcy following the Michael Jackson trial saw ratings for Fox News expanding still further in primetime, while the Nancy Grace show on CNN Headline News appeared to be cannibalizing the audience from the main CNN channel. Fox News, with an average 2.2 million viewers, commanded 57.9 percent of the entire cable news audience Wednesday night during primetime, compared with 52 percent a year ago. CNN's share was only 18.9 percent with an average 731,000 viewers. CNN Headline News, with 472,000 viewers, drew 12.2 percent of the audience.

COURT UPHOLDS LAW AGAINST TV CAMERAS IN NY COURTS

Court TV's efforts to get its cameras into New York courtrooms were shot down Thursday when the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a half-century old law barring cameras in state courtrooms is constitutional and does not violate the First Amendment. New York thereby remains the only state with a total ban on courtroom TV coverage. Judge G. B. Smith, who wrote the opinion, observed that TV reporters were not being barred from the courts, only their cameras. "This is not a restriction on the openness of court proceedings but rather on what means can be used in order to gather news," he wrote. In a statement, Court TV chief Henry Schleiff said, "We completely understand the court's reluctance to act in place of the legislature in providing a remedy to our state's citizens and hope that our legislative representatives will now respond accordingly."

USDA PRODUCES 36 NEWS CLIPS PROMOTING ITS POLICIES

Adding more fuel to the controversy over government agencies producing news clips to promote t-heir policies, the Chicago Tribune revealed today (Friday) that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has produced some 36 radio and TV news inserts since the first of the year promoting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and criticizing the agreement's opponents. Congress's Government Accountability Office has described such government-produced reports as "covert propaganda." However, USDA spokesman Ed Loyd told the newspaper: "They are reports about what the secretary of agriculture has said. ... We clearly state that we are the source."

BROKAW TO RETURN WITH "DEEP THROAT" SPECIAL

Tom Brokaw is scheduled to return to NBC's airwaves on Wednesday, July 6 with a one-hour special about the unmasking of Deep Throat, former FBI second-in-command W. Mark Felt. The� special is scheduled to include a lengthy interview with Washington Post columnist journalist Bob Woodward, who, with Carl Bernstein, had depended on Felt for leads during the Post's investigation of the Watergate break-in.

FOX REPORTER SAYS NATALEE STORY "MOST DIFFICULT" HE'S COVERED

Fox News reporter Rick Leventhal has written on the Fox Fan Central blog that covering the Natalee Holloway story in Aruba has been "one of the most difficult, intense, and confounding stories I've covered." Leventhal scored government officials who had been leaking official word of confessions and "confirmed grave sites," then quickly retracting them after they're reported. Leventhal pointed out that CNN has been hoodwinked by officials just as he had been, pointing out that the rival network earlier this week reported that Natalee's death had been confirmed and that there had been a confession. Th�e prime minister later announced that there had been no confession and no recovery of a body. The following day, Leventhal said, a Fox News producer received word from a spokesman for the minister of justice that Natalee was "confirmed dead." He said he went on the air with the news. "While we didn't have a second source, he was a government official and was willing to be quoted. ... Within an hour, he was on the phone, saying he'd been a victim of a 'campaign of misinformation,' and what he told us wasn't official after all." Concluded Leventhal: "Police and officials don't talk here like they do in the States."

PT. 2 OF MARTHA BIOPIC TO AIR THIS FALL

CBS, which had originally planned to air a sequel to its 2003 biopic Martha Inc: The Story of Martha Stewart, starring Cybill Shepherd, during the May sweeps but decided to postpone it after Stewart was released from prison, now says that it will� air the program in the fall. The air date appears to be timed to coincide with the launch of two new television series that Stewart will be launching for rival NBC at that time, a daily talk show and a spinoff of The Apprentice. The CBS sequel is titled Martha: Behind Bars. CBS also announced Thursday that it plans to broadcast a four-hour profile about the late Pope John Paul II in the fall.

WILL BATMAN RESCUE THE BOX OFFICE?

Analysts are predicting that Batman Begins will earn $60-65 million in its opening weekend and, with a strong line-up of holdover players, end the 16-week slump that the box office has endured. (If it does not, it will equal the 17-week recession record set in 1985. "That's one box office record we don't want," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told CNN.) The Warner Bros. superhero movie earned a soli�d, if not exceptional $15 million on opening day Wednesday -- strong by most standards, but not close to the $40.4 million that another superhero franchise movie, Spider-Man 2, took in when it debuted on a Wednesday. The last Batman movie, Batman and Robin, earned $16.1 million when it opened on a Friday in June 1997. Some analysts noted that the film will be competing against final exams and graduation ceremonies in many parts of the country. The Hollywood Reporter observed that only 60 percent of schools will have broken for summer vacation by this weekend, with an additional 10 percent set for next weekend.

STUNTMEN STAGE DEMONSTRATION TO DEMAND OSCAR RECOGNITION

Some 65 Hollywood stuntmen, or, in the words of today's (Friday) Los Angeles Daily News, "people who cheat death for a living," staged a demonstration outside the offices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Thursday, demanding that the work be recognized with an Oscar for the b�est stunt coordinator. The protest was organized by Jack Gill, who told reporters, ""I am baffled why all these other categories -- production, design, special effects, wardrobe -- are included and we are left by the wayside." The academy reportedly will consider adding a stunt category at a meeting of its board next week, but spokesman John Pavlik told Daily Variety that it was unlikely that the new category would be added.

DISNEY MUST FACE NEW LAWSUITS OVER THEME PARK SAFETY

The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that patrons of theme parks have the right to sue their operators if they are injured on rides, even though they may be seeking superficially dangerous thrills. The decision comes in the case of a 23-year-old woman whose family says she suffered a brain aneurysm from "violent shaking and stress" aboard the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland in 2000. She had sued under a law requiring transportation companies to provnide safe vehicles for passengers. Disney, however, had argued that it could not be considered a transportation company since riders were simply seeking "thrills and pleasure." However, in a 4-3 ruling, the court ruled that "there is no justification for imposing a lesser duty of care ... because the primary purpose of the transportation provided is entertainment." The ruling comes only days after a four-year-old boy died during the Mission: Space ride at Disney's EPCOT theme park in Florida. A medical examiner said Thursday that an autopsy showed no trauma to the boy and that additional tests would be required to determine the cause of death.

EX-AMITYVILLE HOME OWNER SUES STUDIOS OVER REMAKE

George Lutz has filed a libel suit against Dimension Films, MGM, and others for depicting him as "a homicidal maniac" in the latest version of The AmityvillYe Horror, which opened in April. The movie is based on Lutz's real life experience in 1975 of moving into a home in Amityville, Long Island, NY where a man had murdered six members of his family the year before -- and moving out 28 days later, claiming the house was haunted. But, Lutz points out in his lawsuit, in the movie, which was promoted as a true story, he kills his dog, goes after his son with an ax, tries to drown his wife, builds coffins for her and his children, and shoots at them. None of those things ever happened, the lawsuit contends. It also claims that Dimension failed to honor its agreement to pay Lutz $50,000 once the movie earned $10 million at the box office.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE PERFECT MAN

The Perfect Man, starring Heather Locklear and Hilary Duff, is being offered up this weekend as "cou)nterprogramming" to Batman Begins, which opened on Wednesday. Many critics suggest it really amounts to no competition at all. "The Perfect Man takes its idiotic plot and uses it as the excuse for scenes of awesome stupidity," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post scores it for its "sticky, straight-to-video caliber." Likewise Jami Bernard in the New York Post describes it as "this nondescript piffle." And Jan Stuart in Newsday proffers this advice: "If you are planning on seeing the new Hilary Duff comedy over Father's Day weekend, show Dad how much you care. Leave him home."