DAN RATHER GETS BIG SEND-OFF

Dan Rather's swan song on the CBS Evening News Wednesday night put the network newscast in front of its rivals in the news race for the first time in years, according to preliminary figures released by Nielsen Research on Thursday. Ratings for the network newscasts lined up this way: CBS Evening News with Dan Rather: 7.3; NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams: 6.5; ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings: 6.4. On their own newscasts, each of Rather's rivals mentioned Rather's departure and wished him well, possibly encouraging viewers to switch channels to see the exit firsthand. Meanwhile, veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer took over the anchor desk on Thursday, praising his predecessor as a man who "will be remembered for the remarkable body of work he has compiled over four decades, but I'll remember him for his love of the news and the fierce determination and courage to go wherever the news was breaking." Conspicuously, Rather did not mention Schieffer the night before.

E.R. TO REMAIN THROUGH 2008

The life of NBC's E.R., already the second-longest-running primetime dramatic show on TV (behind NBC's Law and Order), has been lengthened another two years, the Hollywood Reporter reported today (Friday), citing unidentified sources. The new agreement covers the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Terms were not disclosed. Meanwhile, NBC, in an apparent effort to give its boxing reality series The Contender a boost by exposing it to E.R.'s massive audience on Thursday night, saw its plans go up in smoke when The Contender drew only a 5.9 rating and a 10 share in the 10:00 p.m. hour. CBS's Without a Trace, by contrast, grabbed its biggest numbers of the season -- a 15.1/25 -- in the same hour. The debacle also helped CBS pull off its biggest Thursday-night win of the season, averaging a 15.3/24, versus a 7.1/11 for NBC.

KIDS SPEND MORE TIME WITH MEDIA THAN ADULTS SPEND WORKING

The average child between the ages of 8 and 18 now spends 6.5 hours a day with TV, the Internet, video games, radio, MP3 players and other media, according to a study released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and reported by Advertising Age. When children's multitasking is taken into account -- in which they are exposed to the content and advertising of two or more media at once -- their media engagement becomes the equivalent of 8.5 hours a day, more than the average workday of most adults. Commenting on the data, New York Senator Hillary Clinton urged advertisers to take it into account in producing commercials, and she joined a bipartisan group of colleagues who have reintroduced legislation calling for additional research into the impact of the media on children. She indicated that she was particularly concerned about the impact of violent images on TV, movies and video games on children.

GAY CANADIAN CHANNEL CAUGHT UP IN OWNER'S DIVORCE

A bitter battle between Bill Craig, head of Canada's gay television channel, and his ex-wife could cost him control of the channel and perhaps even shut it down, the Toronto Globe & Mail reported today (Friday). According to the newspaper, Craig owes his ex-wife C$1.4 million but is virtually without assets except for his 24-percent stake in PrideVision TV, which he purchased for C$1.4 million plus assuming C$1.1 million in debt. "They're welcome to liquidate it [the controlling stake.] At the moment it's losing money," Craig said in an interview with the Globe & Mail. "It'd be kind of a dumb thing to do." Craig was the founder of ICraveTV.com, which briefly in 1999 distributed U.S. TV shows airing in Canada over the Internet. Confronted by a plethora of lawsuits from TV networks, Craig abandoned the project.

TIVO'S LOSSES SOAR

TiVo's losses widened during the fourth quarter as the company increased its rebate offers on hardware in order to encourage subscribers to sign on. The company said that it lost $34 million on revenue of $60 million in the quarter versus a loss of $12.4 million on revenue of $42.6 million during the comparable quarter a year ago. Nevertheless, the company noted, it succeeded in meeting its goal of doubling the number of its subscribers to more than 3 million and forecast positive cash flow by the fourth quarter. It said it expected a first-quarter loss of between $8 million and $10 million. "Our primary focus last year was subscriber growth," TiVo's CFO, David Courtney, told analysts. "Our model is changing this year. We have a much larger base of recurring revenue, and our focus now is improving bottom-line results."

ECHOSTAR PROBE HITS SHARE PRICE

Shares in EchoStar, which operates the DISH home satellite system, dropped 6 percent Thursday and continued falling today (Friday) following reports that the SEC has launched an investigation of the company and its leader, Charlie Ergen. Bloomberg News reported that the SEC is looking into claims that Ergen may have made inappropriate payments to friends for consulting services and that investigators are also looking into the way EchoStar books deals with suppliers.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: ROBOTS

Both the critics and box office analysts are hedging their bets on 20th Century Fox's animated Robots. Forecasts for its weekend take range from $25 million to $60 million, an enormous spread. The unknown factor, the Hollywood Reporter suggested today (Friday), is how strong an audience pull the rival family film The Pacifier might exert. (The Vin Diesel starrer showed a considerable amount of strength not only last weekend, when it surprised analysts by placing first at the box office, but also during midweek, when it continued to dominate.) Reviews of Robots are decidedly mixed. Joel Siegel of ABC's Good Morning America remarks that the "look" of the film is riveting -- "even the rivets" -- and that Robin Williams' vocal performance is "fall-down funny." However, he adds, "what really lays an egg: the story. There isn't one. That means Robots has none of the emotional impact that made The Incredibles so incredible or made so many of us want to find Nemo." A.O. Scott in the New York Times likewise praises the look of the film, but concludes that in the end, Robots "is hollow and mechanical, an echo chamber of other movies and an awkward attempt to turn the intrinsically scary sensitive-robot theme into something heartwarming and cute." Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News notes that the film's "wow factor" is enhanced in the IMAX version, but adds: "For a movie that rails against the notion of creative artists toiling amid corporate gloom, Robots often feels calculated and mass-produced. It's a colorful scrap heap, but no more than the sum of its bells and whistles." That theme is repeated in numerous reviews. Jan Stuart in Newsday writes that the "animators had a whale of a time designing their balloon-colored robot world, but the ingenuity stops there. The script is mostly recycled parts." That's OK, Stephen Hunter suggests in the Washington Post. While noting that "the story fails to engage on any level save the kinetic," he remarks that some of the scenes display marvelous ingenuity. "Cleverness for its own sake is still cleverness," he writes. And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times puts it this way: "This is a movie that is a joy to behold entirely apart from what it is about."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: HOSTAGE

Critics are savaging the Bruce Willis starrer Hostage with some of the most virulent reviews of the year. The first paragraph of Stephen Holden's review in the New York Times reads: "More than sad, it's slightly sickening to consider the technology, talent and know-how squandered on Hostage, a pile of blood-soaked toxic waste dumped onto the screen in an attempt to salvage Bruce Willis's fading career as an action hero." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post asks, "Is the overbearing thriller Hostage a warm-up for Bruce Willis' fourth Die Hard movie -- or an attempt to hype his flagging career by revisiting past glories?" Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer comments: "In a singularly sadistic and degrading way it has something to offend everyone." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls it "moviemaking by sledgehammer." Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News describes it as "an overstuffed exercise in gore and stupidity that will leave your ears ringing and your eyes rubbed raw from disbelief." On the other hand, Willis has the reliably contrarian Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times on his side. He writes: "Made with energetic flair and no small dose of violence, mercifully handled with discretion, Hostage exemplifies taut, confident filmmaking. Bruce Willis draws upon the full measure of his strong physical presence, his intelligence and his considerable emotional resources held in reserve."

LUCAS URGES PARENTS TO LEAVE SMALL KIDS BEHIND FOR NEXT STAR WARS

George Lucas has predicted that his final Star Wars epic (Episode III Revenge of the Sith) will not receive a PG rating like the previous five films and says he quite accepts losing a significant part of his younger audience. "I don't think I would take a five- or a six-year-old to this," he says in an interview for CBS's 60 Minutes due to air on Sunday. "It's way too strong." The story describes the transition of the heroic Anakin Skywalker into the evil Darth Vader. "We're going to watch him make a pact with the devil," Lucas tells interviewer Leslie Stahl. "[The film] is much more dark. ... It's much more of a tragedy." He said that he expects the film will receive a PG-13 rating.

IMAX HAS ITS BEST YEAR

Calling 2004 a "watershed" year, IMAX co-CEOS Richard Gelfond and Bradley Wechsler reported better-than-expected profits of $7.79 million in its fourth quarter versus a loss of $507,000 during the same quarter a year ago. The two executives attributed the rise to Hollywood's recognition of IMAX venues as "a valuable new distribution platform for Hollywood event films." In an interview with Reuters, Gelfond said that he expected that four to six Hollywood films will be released in the IMAX format in 2006. Three films, Robots (set for release today), Batman Begins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are due to be released in the giant-screen format this year.

CONNECTICUT BILL TO DISPLAY ACTUAL MOVIE TIMES IS KILLED

The Connecticut legislature has killed a bill that would require movie theater owners to display two start times -- one, when the ads and trailers start; the other, when the actual movie does. State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, who introduced the legislation, had complained that moviegoers were being turned into captive audiences for ads. His bill, however, was killed in committee. Fleischmann said he plans to reintroduce it next year.

KING KONG BOAT TAKES ON WATER; CREW FORCED TO JUMP SHIP

Surveyors from New Zealand's Maritime Safety Authority boarded a ship being used for the filming of Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong after the ship began taking on water. Crew members were forced to put ashore at the nearby Kapiti Island. An inspector discovered that the leak was due to a rusted-out hole in the steel hull of the ship, the 49-year-old Venture II, and it was patched with concrete.