DID NBC MISCALCULATE?

NBC reportedly encountered strong resistance from advertisers when it refused to lower its ad rates despite a 17-percent drop in ratings during the past season, trade reports indicated over the weekend. It eventually was forced to watch its rivals haul in more revenue than expected as ad buyers switched ad buys away from NBC and to them. MediaWeek said today (Monday) that it expected NBC to report upfront sales of as little as $2 billion, down more than 30 percent from last year's network-leading $2.8 billion. The trade publication quoted one ad buyer as saying, "They had to go back and rethink their model." By the end of the week, according to trade reports, NBC execs had begun lowering prices by about 4 percent. In MediaPost, editor Joe Mandese commented: "The development is not just a serious one for NBC. Once buyers smell blood in the water, the downward spiral in price pressure could begin to affect the upfront pricing leverage of other national TV outlets, including cable and syndication."

WRITER CLAIMS SHRIVER NIXED HIS APPEARANCE ON TODAY

Maria Shriver used her influence at NBC, where had been a co-host of Dateline, to block an appearance on the Today show by the author of a book about her husband, the New York Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper cited an email message sent in March from Andrea Smith, a producer at Today in charge of authors, and John Murphy, head of publicity at St. Martin's Press, which is publishing Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer, which says in part: "Anyway, you can ask Maria to call me so I can just make sure she is O.K. with us doing the Leamer book." Leamer, who interviewed Shriver for the book, told the Times that he thought that Shriver, as a journalist herself, "would go ballistic when she heard" about the request. Instead, he says she told him, "I know you are going to make Arnold look really good in this book and make me look really bad. Send me the galleys and then I'll decide." In the end, the Times reported, Leamer did not send Shriver the galleys and he was not booked on Today. In reporting on the incident, the Times observed: "You might expect Ms. Shriver, a longtime, well-respected member of the NBC family, to get a heads-up about Mr. Leamer's appearance, but giving the wife of a governor the right to approve a guest on its network, whether out of personal loyalty or the desire to maintain access, would be a remarkably bad move for a major news organization."

CHAPPELLE SERIOUS ABOUT COMEDY CENTRAL RETURN

Dave Chappelle, whose popular Comedy Central show was postponed last month amid published reports raising questions about his mental stability, has told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to get together with the cable network's representatives this week to discuss a return. The Times said that Chappelle stunned audiences at two L.A. comedy clubs last Wednesday when he took the stage to deliver stand-up routines. A spokesman for Comedy central told the newspaper that no meeting with Chappelle had yet been set, adding: "We've been anticipating hearing from Dave and expect to shortly."

RATHER SAYS HE WAS WRONG TO HAVE DEFENDED MEMOGATE REPORT

Dan Rather has admitted that he should not have waged a tough defense of his 60 Minutes report about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard as he did after serious questions arose about the authenticity of the documents at the core of the report. "I was guilty of standing by and standing up for the story," he told some 500 journalists at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Denver. He appeared to have accepted the conclusion by an investigative panel that his first allegiance should have been to the public and not the story.

CNN TO LAUNCH HOUR-LONG INTERNATIONAL NEWSCAST TODAY

CNN was scheduled to begin airing a full hour of international news every day starting at noon today (Monday). The hour, titled Your World Today, is replacing News from CNN. In a recent news release, CNN/US President Jon Klein remarked, "We cover international news better than anyone. Why not give our U.S. viewers a real opportunity to see the type of stories they cannot see anywhere else?

BROADCASTING MUSEUM FIRES STAFF; PRESIDENT QUITS

Citing "difficult financial challenges," the Museum of Television & Radio has laid off 15 employees in its Beverly Hills and New York facilities. At the same time, museum President Stuart Brotman has resigned after 15 months.

STAR WARS GOES SOUTH

The box-office slump went into a steeper descent over the weekend as Star Wars: Episode III -- The Revenge of the Sith appeared to be heading quickly towards its saturation point after only three weeks and fell to third place with an estimated $26 million, down 53 percent from last weekend. It was beaten by the DreamWorks cartoon Madagascar with $28.7 million and the Adam Sandler comedy The Longest Yard with $26.1 million. Three new films debuted with disappointing results. Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe, saw its glass shoe -- if not its glass jaw -- smashed as it opened in fourth place with $20.9 million, well below analysts' forecasts of about $30 million. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants managed to bring in just $10.2 million ($14 million since its Wednesday debut). And the skateboarding flick Lords of Dogtown wiped out with just $5.7 million. The overall box office tallied $128.3 million, off a huge 30 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. It marked the 15th consecutive weekend of lower grosses than last year. "It feels like the movie business is in a malaise," Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider told USA Today. "It's something we're all talking about."

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Madagascar, $28.7 million; 2. The Longest Yard, $26.1 million; 3. Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, $26 million; 4. Cinderella Man, $18.6 million; 5. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, $10.25 million; 6. Lords of Dogtown, $5.7 million; 7. Monster-in-Law, $5.3 million; 8. Crash, $3.3 million; 9. Kicking & Screaming, $2.1 million; 10. Unleashed, $900,000.

SITH SETS NEW BOX-OFFICE RECORD

Even as it dropped to third place, George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith established another record: fastest movie ever to cross the $300-million mark. It did so on its 17th day of release, one day faster than last year's Shrek II. Trade reports noted that with $308.8 million Sith has already passed the $307 million taken in by the original Star Wars in 1977. However, using a standard inflation calculator, the original film's take would be worth nearly $1 billion in current dollars. The highest grossing film of the series was The Phantom Menace, which earned $431 million during its run. Sith appeared stronger overseas than in the U.S., earning $38.5 million, a drop of just 37 percent, according to Daily Variety. Its worldwide total now stands at $617 million.

FIRST REVIEWS: BATMAN BEGINS

The first reviews are emerging for the next blockbuster flick, Batman Begins, and they're likely to bring much cheer to Warner Bros. officials, who are releasing it on June 15. David Edwards in the London Daily Mirror describes it as "a violent and truly scary film and definitely not one for the kids. For grown-ups, though, it could well be the ultimate superhero movie." Mike Goodrich in the British trade publication Screen Daily describes the movie as "a bold new vision of the DC Comics staple and further proof that [director Christopher] Nolan possesses abundant confidence and vision as a mainstream film-maker." And Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter comments that for "Nolan to turn Batman Begins into such a smart, gritty, brooding, visceral experience is astonishing. Truly, Batman does begin again."

STILLER LAYS AN EGG AT MTV MOVIE AWARDS

Although the rock group Nine Inch Nails dropped out of the MTV Movie Awards after producers refused to allow them to display a photo of President Bush during their planned performance, the awards show was not totally free from protests Saturday Night. Ben Stiller, who won the Best Villain award (for Dodgeball), appeared at the podium with an egg in his hand and displayed it to the audience. "Take a look at this little fella. He's killed more people than all the Hollywood bad guys combined," Stiller said. "Crush cholesterol now!" The award for Best Movie of the year went to a film that cost just $400,000 to make but grossed $44.5 million -- Napoleon Dynamite. It also won for Best Musical Performance (by star Jon Heder) and Breakthrough Performance by a Male (also Heder).

Other awards:

Best Movie: Napoleon Dynamite; Best Male Performance: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator; Best Female Performance: Lindsay Lohan, Mean Girls; Best On-Screen Team: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, Mean Girls; Best Kiss: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, The Notebook; Best Breakthrough Female: Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls; Best Fight: Uma Thurman vs. Daryl Hannah, Kill Bill: Vol. 2; Best Frightened Performance: Dakota Fanning, Hide and Seek; Best Comedic Performance: Dustin Hoffman, Meet the Fockers; MTV Generation Award: Tom Cruise; Best Video Game Based on Movie: Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay; Best Action Sequence: Roland Emmerich, Destruction of Los Angeles, The Day After Tomorrow. (The MTV Movie Awards is scheduled to air on Thursday.)

COLORADO SCHOOL BOARD REFUSES TO ALLOW FILMING NEAR COLUMBINE

The Jefferson County, CO school board has refused to allow an independent production company to shoot scenes at a local high school for a film about a gay teenager who is bullied by his peers and learns martial arts to protect himself. The scenes for the film, titled The Sensei, were to have been shot at Alameda High School in Lakewood, a short distance away from Columbine High School, the scene of the 1999 rampage by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, students who were said to have been bullied by classmates. School Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told the Rocky Mountain News Saturday, "Nationwide, what I see consistently is, whenever there is any issue with school violence, it gets connected to the Columbine community. In thinking of the good of the entire community who are very tired of being connected to school violence, it would just be better if it were filmed in a different location."