MEMOGATE REPORT SLAMMED

A former general counsel and vice-chairman of the New York Times has condemned the findings of former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press chief Louis Boccardi, who investigated the 60 Minutes report about President Bush's National Guard service. Writing in the current New York Review of Books, James C. Goodale points out that the producers of the feature were never allowed to rebut evidence or respond to negative criticism and that they failed to hire independent experts to determine the authenticity of the challenged documents. Responding to criticism that the producers had neglected to present evidence of a "chain of custody" for the questioned documents used for the report, Goodale, who was a general counsel for the Times at the time it published the Pentagon Papers, said: "If a strict standard of "chain of custody" had been applied to the Times's possession of the Pentagon Papers, this standard would have made the story unpublishable." Summing up, Goodale wrote: "One is tempted to say that the report has as many flaws as the flaws it believes it has found in Dan Rather's CBS broadcast."

BAD TIME FOR PRIMETIME PRODUCER

After continually denying reports that she had been battling with producers of ABC's Primetime Live and that staff morale had plummeted, Shelley Ross was removed as executive producer of the magazine show. She will be replaced, at least temporarily, by 20/20 executive producer David Sloan. Last month USA Today reported that some staffers had filed complaints about Ross with ABC's Human Resources department and that others had requested transfers to other ABC News programs. Ross maintained, however, that "we have a positive work environment, and I try to provide positive leadership." Some staffers openly cheered Ross's departure. "She was simply mean," one told the New York Post's "Page Six" column. ABC News President David Westin said that Ross will develop and produce new programs for ABC News. Ratings for the program have plummeted this season as it faced not only competition from NBC's E.R., but also from CBS's hot drama Without a Trace. The show also lost its two hosts, Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson. (Sawyer is still listed as a rotating co-host, along with Cynthia McFadden, John Quinones, and Chris Cuomo, but her appearances on the program are rare.)

GMA-TODAY FEUD GOES ON THE AIR

Rivalry between NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America escalated Monday when a GMA booker was briefly arrested and handcuffed by Atlanta police after refusing to get out of an NBC shot as Ashley Smith, the last hostage taken by accused killer Brian Nichols, was being interviewed by Today's Matt Lauer. According to reports, the booker, Mike Nagel, had picked up Smith earlier in the morning and had driven her to ABC's Atlanta studios, but her attorney, Joshua Archer, after getting wind of the planned interview, contacted her on her cell phone to tell her that he had already arranged for her to appear on Today and that he was sending a car to take her to the location. At the beginning of the Today interview Nagel could be seen in the shot shouting into his cell phone and arguing with one of Smith's attorneys standing nearby, who quickly had him restrained by police. An ABC spokeswoman later described the incident as a "misunderstanding" and said no action would be taken against Nagel.

TOWEL SCENE ON MNF WAS NOT INDECENT, FCC RULES

"Titillating" but not "indecent." That was the conclusion of the FCC Monday regarding the ABC plug for Desperate Housewives that introduced Monday Night Football last fall in which Nicolette Sheridan, one of Housewives' stars, dropped dropped the towel she was wearing after confronting Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles in the team's locker room. The FCC said that it had received more than 50,000 complaints about the promo. Nevertheless, the agency ruled that "it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under our standard." Issuing a separate statement, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has long championed stronger enforcement of the agency's indecency rules, suggested that while the promo may not have been technically indecent, ABC should have shown greater "responsibility" and "self-discipline" and not have aired it. "As stewards of the public airwaves, broadcasters can and should do better," Copps said.

IDOL FINALIST MUM ON WHY HE QUIT

American Idol finalist Mario Vazquez has refused to disclose why he decided to drop out of the contest, telling the Associated Press only that "my gut and intuition told me it wasn't time to do this. ... I had to focus on some personal areas in my life with the little bit of privacy that I have." He described as "crazy" speculation that he was worried that something about his personal life might be disclosed that could embarrass him or those close to him. "I don't think it's by any means an end to my career," he said. "It's just things you need to take care of in life." A spokesman for the show told today's (Tuesday) New York Times: "Mario left the show of his own volition. We certainly respect his decision and his right to privacy."

TIVO MAY HAVE DEAL WITH COMCAST

Personal digital video recorder maker TiVo may be on the verge of signing a deal with Comcast, the world's largest cable-TV company, to develop a version of its device and service for Comcast's subscribers, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Tuesday). The deal could more than offset the business TiVo had likely lost recently when satellite provider DirecTV dropped out of an exclusive deal. Most of TiVo's three million subscribers came to it via DirecTV.

BUSH AIDES SAY PHONY NEWS REPORTS WERE LEGAL

The Bush administration has squared off against the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress that looks into complaints about how tax money is spent, over the GAO's opinion that it is improper for the government to feed TV stations produced "news" clips about its programs. Following a report that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday alleging that at least 20 federal agencies have produced and distributed hundreds of promotional news clips during the past four years, administration officials said that the GAO had no authority in the matter and that it came under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC has maintained that the clips do not violate laws banning covert propaganda by the government and instead represent "the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency." Meanwhile, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy have written to the president to remind him that he had promised to abandon clandestine public relations practices. "It is wrong to deceive the public with the creation of phony news stories," they wrote.

MALONE SAYS HE WOULDN'T BUY VOOM

Liberty Media chief John Malone said Monday that he agreed to serve on the board of Cablevision as a favor to his friend, Charles Dolan. But he added that he doubted that Dolan's effort to turn his satellite venture Voom into a legitimate competitor of DirecTV and EchoStar's DISH network would succeed. "Let's put it this way: I wouldn't do it with my money," Malone said during a conference call. "We were offered on a number of occasions an opportunity to participate in a third satellite competitor and we declined because we didn't think the risks were warranted by the potential returns."

IGER'S FIRST BIG JOB: STEVE JOBS?

Analysts indicated Monday that Robert Iger's adroitness in wielding command of the Walt Disney Co. may be tested by whether he is able to strike a deal with Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs to keep the animation company within the Disney fold. (Most believe that Disney's rupture with Miramax's Weinstein brothers is too far gone to be repaired.) Asked by the New York Times about whether he plans to renew talks with Pixar, Iger replied obliquely: "Over the years I've had great relationships with external partners. I think its vital to continue that." He appeared to deal more directly with the matter in a separate interview with the Washington Post. "Don't just assume just because of change [in Disney management] a deal will be made," Iger said. "It takes two to tango." The Wall Street Journal reported that among the deluge of congratulations Iger received on Sunday, when the announcement was made that he had been selected to replace Michael Eisner as CEO of Disney, was an email from Jobs. (The newspaper did not reveal its contents.) "I'd like nothing more than for that relationship [with Pixar] to continue," Iger told the Journal, "but it has to be the right one for the company from a business perspective." And in yet another interview, with the Los Angeles Times, Iger remarked: "I will certainly make an attempt and look forward to some dialogue [with Jobs] provided he's willing. ... I've always valued creative partnerships. This one has been incredibly successful for both companies." His remarks appeared to be at odds with those he made last fall, when he said that the two companies had "outgrown each other."

ROBOTS RULE!

Twentieth Century Fox's Robots invaded the box office over the weekend, and although it didn't exactly represent the kind of shock and awe that some analysts had predicted, the $36 million that it took in nevertheless turned out to be the second-highest gross for any film opening in March, behind another Fox animated hit, 2002's Ice Age, which took in $46.3 million. Several analysts noted that, unlike the previous film, Robots had to compete against another successful family film, Disney's The Pacifier, starring Vin Diesel, which recorded $18.2 million in its second weekend. MGM's Be Cool, with John Travolta, tooled down considerably in its second weekend, but its $10.3 million was nevertheless enough to land it in third place, slightly ahead of Miramax's Hostage, starring Bruce Willis, which debuted with $10.2 million. Sony's Hitch rounded out the top five with $8.8 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. Robots, 20th Century Fox, $36,045,301, (New); 2. The Pacifier, Disney, $18,152,357, 2 Wks. ($54,477,697); 3. Be Cool, MGM, $10,250,128, 2 Wks. ($38,375,714); 4. Hostage, Miramax, $10,214,734, (New); 5. Hitch, Sony, $8,786,575, 5 Wks. ($149,840,901); 6. Million Dollar Baby, Warner Bros., $5,153,356, 13 Wks. ($84,054,207); 7. Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Lions Gate, $4,876,399, 3 Wks. ($44,019,656); 8. Constantine, Warner Bros., $3,838,380, 4 Wks. ($66,518,726); 9. Man of the House, Sony, $1,770,456, 3 Wks. ($16,523,056); 10. Cursed, Miramax/Dimension, $1,564,363, 3 Wks. ($17,759,198).

LANDMARK THEATERS TO GO DIGITAL

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban plans to install Sony's next generation of digital projectors in all of Landmark Theaters' 58 venues, the New York Times reported today (Tuesday). The newspaper said six of the projectors, the first to roll off Sony's assembly line, will be installed in July and that the others will follow as they become available. When installed, they will represent more than a third of all digital projectors installed in the U.S. The Times noted that while such installations have been stalled by continuing bickering between theater owners and studios over who should pay for them, Cuban, who owns a controlling interest in Landmark, plans to employ a different business model and use the projectors not only to show movies but also for live concerts and sports events. The new Sony projectors boast a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels, twice that of the current generation of digital projectors.

VERSAILLES BECOMES MOVIE SET

Sofia Coppola has won approval from the French government to film scenes for her biopic Marie-Antoinette in the palace of Versailles, the French daily Le Parisien reported today (Tuesday). The newspaper said that production of the film, which stars Kirsten Dunst in the title role and Jason Schwartzman as her husband, Louis XVI, began in Paris last week and is due to be completed in 11 weeks. Filming at the palace has been closed to the press, according to the French wire service, Agence France Presse, which did not indicate whether the palace had also been closed to tourists.