RATHER'S LAST STAND?

Dan Rather is set to return to the television news wars Wednesday with an interview on CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday with Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric (which owns rival network NBC). In an interview with today' (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Rather indicated that boosting the quality of the program may well be crucial not only for the show itself but for his own career. "April is our month of decision. We need to do well. We need to prove we're valuable to the schedule," he said. If CBS decides to yank the Wednesday edition of the news magazine, Rather could find himself with no where else at the network to go. (Members of the Sunday 60 Minutes program have pointedly indicated that Rather would not be welcomed there.) Ratings for 60 Minutes Wednesday remain weak and most analysts have expressed doubt that he can strengthen them. Nevertheless Jeff Fager, exec producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday, told the Inquire, "Dan has sort of given us new life. .. People are pumped up. He's a big figure, and he means a lot to the people working here."

ADVERTISERS SWITCHING TO PRODUCT PLACEMENTS

Stamford, CT-based Media research firm PQ Media is set to release a report today (Tuesday) predicting that advertisers will spend a record $4.25 billion on branded entertainment -- essentially product-placement deals for radio, TV, and films, the New York Times reported today. The figure is up 22.8 percent from the $3.46 billion spent for such deals in 2004 and 160.7 percent from the $1.63 billion spent in 1999. The study indicated that the rise in spending has been driven by the growing use of digital video recorders. PQ Media President Patrick Quinn told the newspaper: "Technological advances, most notably DVR's, mean that a more engaged consumer can skip ads at the touch of a button."

CBS BEATS RIVALS WITH RERUNS ON MONDAY

With virtually identical numbers, a chosen-by-fans episode of CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond and a rerun of CSI: Miami turned out to be the highest-rated shows on any network Monday night. At 9:00 p.m. Raymond garnered a 9.8 rating and a 14 share -- well above NBC's Las Vegas, which settled for a 7.3/11. Fox placed third with a 6.8/10 for 24, while ABC trailed with a dismal 5.6/8 for the premiere of its latest Bachelor series. At 10:00 p.m. CSI: Miami registered a 9.8/16, topping the 8.9/15 for NBC's Medium. The second hour of ABC's The Bachelor trailed with a 5.9/9. CBS again won the night with an average 8.4/13, followed by NBC's 7.3/11. Fox placed third with a 6.4/10, while ABC trailed with a 5.8/9.

CABLEVISION MAY ATTEMPT TO GRAB ADELPHIA

At the last minute, Cablevision appears ready to join the competition to buy Adelphia Communications, entering an auction that had seemed all but won by a joint bid from Time Warner and Comcast, the New York Times reported today (Tuesday), citing executives involved in the process. According to the newspaper, Cablevision is currently seeking an alliance with private equity groups Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Providence Equity Partners to bid for the bankrupt cable operator.

WEST WING EPISODE GENERATES TURKISH ANGER; NBC APOLOGIZES

NBC has sent an apology to the Turkish ambassador to the United States, expressing its regrets for inaccurately portraying Turkey as a country in which women who commit adultery are beheaded. The letter, signed by Jeff Zucker, president of the network, and John Wells, executive producer of The West Wing said that the writers of the episode had been misinformed. The telecast had been denounced by Turkish government leaders, including the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "In the future, we will not only visit Turkey, a country that we admire, but also present a better and correct portrayal of your country," the letter stated.

REPORTER ACCUSED OF PRODUCING FAKE NEWS FOR FLORIDA GOVERNMENT

The South Florida Herald Tribune has exposed yet another case of a television reporter receiving public funds to produce PR news clips touting the work of state agencies. The newspaper said that while doing freelance reporting for Florida NBC stations and CNN, Mike Vasilinda had earned more than $100,000 over the past four years from contracts with the office of Gov. Jeb Bush and top state agencies. In an interview with the newspaper, Vasilinda maintained that he had put procedures in place to assure that there was no pro-agency bias reflected in his news reports. However, journalism ethics professor Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute told the Herald Tribune: "When journalists have loyalties to a government office or government agencies, those competing loyalties can undermine journalistic independence."

WHO'S ON FIRST

The interracial comedy Guess Who took first place in the Easter weekend box office competition, earning $20.7 million in its debut. The film, starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac, beat out another comedy, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, starring Sandra Bullock, which opened with $14 million. The overall box office was down 7 percent from the Easter weekend last year, when it occurred two weeks later.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Guess Who, Sony, $20,671,446, (New); 2. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Warner Bros. $14,043,215, (New) ($17,098,519 -- From Thursday); 3. The Ring Two, DreamWorks, $13,616,573, 2 Wks. ($57,901,866); 4. Robots, 20th Century Fox, $12,914,900, 3 Wks. ($87,302,429); 5. The Pacifier, Disney, $8,087,395, 4 Wks. ($85,833,272); 6. Hitch, Sony, $4,283,334, 7 Wks. ($166,444,518); 7. Hostage, Miramax, $4,138,040, 3 Wks. ($26,201,432); 8. Ice Princess, Disney, $3,732,867, 2 Wks. ($13,342,028); 9. Be Cool, MGM, $2,830,732, 4 Wks. ($52,336,105); 10. Million Dollar Baby, Warner Bros. $2,587,313, 15 Wks. ($94,133,270).

PASSION FAILS TO RISE AGAIN ON EASTER

The re-release of an edited version of The Passion of the Christ performed poorly over the Easter weekend. Playing in only 162 theaters, the film earned just $69,241, an average of $427 per theater -- a small fraction of the cost of striking off a print of the new version and distributing it. Unlike the original, the new version received little support from church leaders. Rev. Jerry Shirley, pastor of a church in Decatur, IL, told the Decatur Herald & Review, ""I don't think it was a good idea to release the cut-down version. ... Some of the most important parts of what made it his passion is what he endured -- otherwise you don't see the full effect of what Christ went through." (Even recut, the film was unable to get a PG-13 rating; it is still rated R.)

SONY REMOVES KABBALAH BRACELET FROM KUTCHER'S WRIST

Sony spent about $100,000 to use digital imaging technology to remove Ashton Kutcher's red string Kabbalah bracelet from his wrist, which appeared in scenes throughout his latest movie, Guess Who, MSNBC.com's Jeannette Walls reported Monday. Walls quoted a source as saying that test audiences "were really annoyed" by the bracelet According to a posting on the Kabbalah website, the bracelet "protects us from the influences of the Evil Eye. Evil eye is a very powerful negative force. It refers to the unfriendly stare and unkind glances we sometimes get from people around us." A believer might well have concluded that the removal of the bracelet contributed to the plethora of negative reviews for the movie.

STUDIOS AGREE TO PAY FOR DIGITAL PROJECTORS

Hollywood's major studios are close to an agreement to finance the installation of digital projectors in theaters across the country, Investor's Business Daily reported today (Tuesday), citing unnamed people in the industry. The agreement would end the years-long standoff between the studios and the theaters over who should pay for the digital projectors. Theaters have long held that they would receive little benefit from the new apparatus (although Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who also owns the Landmark Theater chain, announced recently that he plans to install them in his theaters in order to present concerts, sports events and other live entertainment). IBD said Walt Disney, Sony and Warner Bros. plan to raise some $3 billion for theater owners to use to buy the digital projectors. There was no mention of the four other major studios in the article. Sony, one of the three studios involved in the deal, may have a special interest in promoting the digital rollout since corporate sibling Sony Electronics has developed the ultra-high definition projection system that Landmark is planning to install in its theaters.

PAUL ALLEN TO GET BACK DREAMWORKS INVESTMENT

Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who invested $600,000 in DreamWorks when the studio was founded ten years ago, may finally be able to get some of his investment back. Allen, Lee Entertainment, and Vivendi Universal Entertainment said Monday that they plan to sell $500 million worth of shares in DreamWorks' animation spin-off company after May 27, following the opening of its latest feature, Madagascar, which has been receiving much positive buzz. DreamWorks principals Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen have given no indication that they intend to sell stock in the company, and indeed have said repeatedly that they have never even taken a salary as studio executives.

HIGH COURT TO GROK FILE-SHARING CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the MGM v. Grokster case today (Tuesday), a case that analysts believe will decide the fate of peer-to-peer (P2P) Internet systems. The case pits record, movie, television, and publishing companies against consumer and technology groups, with the former arguing that the P2P sites are designed to facilitate the bootlegging of copyrighted material and the latter arguing that, like video tape recorders, the P2Ps have substantial non-infringing uses. Opposing demonstrations are scheduled to take place at the Supreme Court building today, including one by the Consumer Electronics Association, which sides with Grokster, and the National Music Publishers Assn., which sides with MGM. Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said that he has agreed to finance Grokster's legal efforts. Cuban, who sold his Broadcast.com to Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.7 billion, wrote on his website: "If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it, it will be the domain of the big corporations only."