STUMBLING JOEY GETS NEW LEGS

NBC announced Thursday that it is renewing Joey, Las Vegas, and Crossing Jordan for the coming season. At the same time, the network indicated that either the faltering Joey, the Friends spin-off, or Will & Grace, which follows it in the Thursday-night line-up, would likely be moved to a different night beginning in May. "We've got to seed other blocks around the schedule, and those are two assets that could be movable," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told advertisers and reporters at a presentation in Burbank. Reilly also noted that he was "acutely aware" that the network needs to develop "the next generation of hits" by next season. The network has seen its ratings, particularly among adults 18-49, plummet during the current season.

"CABLE CAM" TO MAKE GOLF DEBUT

NBC is planning to use a "Cable Cam" during its golf coverage. The cable-mounted camera will be able to follow the flight of the ball from tee to green from as far as 60 feet above the course. The camera will be employed first at just one hole at next week's Players Championship. In a statement, NBC Sports golf producer Tom Roy said, "We are always seeking new and creative ways to bring the viewers at home as close to the action as possible and to enhance their experience." Sports writers commented that next week's telecast will also test whether the camera becomes a distraction to players.

CBS NEWS EXEC DEFENDS RATHER, BLASTS CRONKITE

Veteran CBS news exec Marcy McGinnis has come to the defense of Dan Rather and scolded colleagues inside and outside the news organization for criticizing him. She particularly lashed out at Walter Cronkite, who, in an interview in the New Yorker, said that he preferred watching Tom Brokaw and suggested that Rather did more "showboating" than reporting. McGinnis, CBS's senior vice president for news coverage, told the Buffalo News, "Cronkite comes out after 24 years of pent-up anger and spews all this vitriolic hatred of Dan Rather out and I'm thinking to myself: What is that all about? ... I hope when I'm 89 years old, I don't do that." Responding to criticism by former CBS senior correspondent Tom Fenton that CBS's "fixation on the bottom line" had resulted in disastrous cuts to foreign news coverage, McGinnis replied, "We've got an astronomical budget; hundreds of millions of dollars. ... I would say in terms of a financial commitment, they are giving us the money to both gather and tell news." She dismissed suggestions that the nightly news program be lengthened to one hour. "Local stations control that time slot and they make a huge amount of money with syndicated shows. They will never give up that half hour of revenue to network news." She did not explain why a second half hour could not be sold as a syndicated package to the stations.

KELLEY'S ODD REMARK ABOUT BOSTON LEGAL CUTS EXPLAINED

Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times publishes a "For the Record" follow-up to a report on Thursday quoting Boston Legal producer David E. Kelley as speculating that ABC ordered references to Fox News Channel deleted because of the controversy generated by the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident last year. "Although Kelley did make reference to the Jackson incident," the Times said, "he also said he believed ABC did not want Boston Legal to deal with the central issue of perceived bias in the news industry."

STAR WARS III -- "TITANIC IN SPACE," SAYS LUCAS

George Lucas has described his final Star Wars movie, Episode III -- The Revenge of the Sith, as "Titanic in space." Speaking to the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas, Lucas said that the new film was "not like the old Star Wars ... This one's a little bit more emotional." Later, Lucas was asked by the Associated Press whether fans would accept a film so different from the old Star Wars. "I feel that I've made the movie the best I can and it turned out the way I wanted it to be, so I'm happy," Lucas replied. "I never try to anticipate what the world's going to think or even worry about whether they're going to like it or not. That's not my job, to make people like my movies. They either like them or they don't. That's completely out of my hands."

SUPERMAN SETS DOWN IN AUSTRALIA

Brandon Routh, cast as the next Superman, and Eva Marie Saint, who will play the superhero's mother, have arrived in Tamworth, Australia, about 250 miles north of Sydney, to begin filming Superman Returns. Producer Chris Lee told the Tamworth Northern Daily Leader that about two weeks of filming would take place in the area, which doubles for the Kansas farmland where Clark Kent grew up, while the main production is set for Sydney's Fox Studio. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. on Thursday dismissed as simply "a Web-based rumor" reports that director Bryan Singer plans to use footage that the late Marlon Brando shot for Superman II, but which was never included in the film. Brando played the Man of Steel's father, Jor-El, in the original Superman movie and shot a handful of scenes for the sequel at the same time. In his autobiography, he wrote that when producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind asked to use the footage in the second film, "I asked for my usual percentage, but they refused, and so did I." Ironically, if a deal with Brando's estate is indeed concluded, the new film would, for the first time, bring Brando together again in a movie with Saint, with whom he starred in On the Waterfront more than 50 years ago. Both won Oscars for their performances.

JULIE ANDREWS ATTENDS MARY POPPINS PERFORMANCE

Julie Andrews on Thursday attended a performance of Mary Poppins, the hit London musical based on the 1964 Disney film that launched her film career. Prior to the show, Laura Michelle Kelly, the 23-year-old actress who won the best musical actress award at last month's Oliviers for her performance in the title role, told reporters that she was "very nervous" because Andrews is "my absolute hero." British news reports noted that Andrews, who is 69, was returning to the same theater, the Prince Edward, where she had her first starring role in a performance of Humpty Dumpty at the age of 13.

HOLY GRAIL COMES TO BROADWAY

Monty Python's Spamalot, Mike Nichols' Broadway version of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, has opened with ravesalot. Veteran critic Clive Barnes describes it as "bloody fantastic. Gorgeously silly. Superlative and better." Gordon Cox in Newsday remarks: "The show slays 'em like Excalibur." The New York Daily News assigned both its film critic, Jack Mathews, and its theater critic, Howard Kissel, to review it. Mathews writes: "It's an evening of rapturous insanity." But Kissel comments somewhat grumpily: "Perhaps if I didn't know their sketches by heart, I might have been more charmed by this incarnation. So if you have no idea what the significance of a killer rabbit is, you might enjoy it more." Terry Byrne's review in the Boston Herald is headlined, "Joust hilarious! Spamalot does Python proud." The worst review of the lot comes from the New York Times' Ben Brantley, who writes: "That Spamalot is the best new musical to open on Broadway this season is inarguable, but that's not saying much. The show is amusing, agreeable, forgettable."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE RING TWO

Horror films have had a good ride at the box office this year despite receiving their usual downpour of negative reviews. The Ring Two, directed by Japanese horror mater Hideo Nakata, is probably no exception. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times concludes that despite "Mr. Nakata's track record and the radiant presence of its star, Naomi Watts, The Ring Two is a dud." Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun begins his review by asking, "Remember mood rings? The Ring Two is a mood movie -- a bad-mood movie." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post admits that he was utterly baffled by the film. It "appears to have been written on a large piece of blank paper by chickens with their feet dipped in ink," he writes. On the other hand, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times argues that the "charm" of The Ring Two "is based on the film's ability to make absolutely no sense, while nevertheless generating a real enough feeling of tension a good deal of the time." And David Hiltbrand in the Philadelphia Inquirer found the film to be "unusually atmospheric" and although "subtler and slower-moving" than most American horror films, it is nevertheless "nightmarish, in the true sense of the word."

MOVIE REVIEWS: ICE PRINCESS

Disney's Ice Princess, starring Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Dawn on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, appears to be aimed squarely at the niche audience referred to as female "tweens." But, as Gene Seymour in Newsday observes, "Teenage girls need solid, uplifting sports movies as much as boys do." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times observes that despite formulaic and cliché-ridden, scenes, "somehow the film started to get to me, and I was surprised how entertained I was. Like Shall We Dance? or Saturday Night Fever, it escapes its genre." Claudia Puig in USA Today also praises the movie for being "subtly inspiring, focusing not on mean girls but instead on girls getting along and helping one another accomplish their goals." But Kyle Smith of the New York Post is not impressed. "This movie wasn't just made for 11-year-old girls; it seems to have been made by 11-year-old girls," he writes. And Evan Henerson in the Los Angeles Daily News dismisses the film as "a safe, edgeless cinematic after-school special."

MOVIE REVIEWS: STEAMBOY

Many critics suggest that the Japanese hand-drawn animated film Steamboy presents some very adult ideas very well, but runs out of steam near the end. (Both an English-language version, featuring voices by Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, and Patrick Stewart, and the original Japanese version -- some 23 minutes longer -- are being released in about 36 theaters today.) Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times describes it as a "noisy, eventful and unsuccessful venture into Victorian-era science fiction, animated by a modern Japanese master." At the end, he writes, director Katsuhiro Otomo appears to abandon his story and fill the screen with "wonderfully executed but pointless and repetitive kinetic energy." Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle also faults the "tangled tale". The plot, he writes, "gets lost in the calamity. It's often unclear who's fighting whom and for what purpose." Nevertheless, he concludes, "in visuals alone, Steamboy gets the job done. Its action couldn't have been much more thrilling if done entirely by computer, or shot in costly live-action." And Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times also expresses an ambivalent reaction to the film, writing: "A sometimes stirring adventure story and visual treat with its lush, painterly backgrounds and some virtuoso sequences, it's a stunning-to-look-at film marred by a less than searing pace and some narrative incoherence."