EVERYBODY LOVES FINAL EPISODE OF RAYMOND
Monday night's finale of Everybody Loves Raymond received hearty praise today (Tuesday) from critics, who particularly complimented the producers for not attempting to go out with a bang and instead offering up a typical, if sometimes memorable, episode. "No marriages, births, jailings, racing to the airport or other sitcom absurdity often crammed into finales to make them 'special,'" Diane Werts observed in Newsday today (Tuesday) Fans of the show reacted similarly. On Kansas City Star columnist Aaron Barnhardt's Internet blog, one commenter described the finale as "a fitting sort of summation that also allows things to continue forever ... and that wasn't a bloated self-indulgent mess." The 9:00 p.m. show drew gigantic ratings for CBS -- a 19.7 rating and a 29 share. Earlier, a Raymond clip show at 8:00 p.m. pulled a 15.0/24.

ABC SHOWS OFF FALL NEWCOMERS

Today (Tuesday) was ABC's turn to unveil its plans for the fall to advertisers. It said that it is adding five new shows to its schedule, including the sitcoms Freddie, starring Freddie Prinze Jr.; Hot Properties, starring Gail O'Grady; Commander in Chief, starring Geena Davis; plus the dramas Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and Invasion. In January, following the football season, the network plans to offer Emily's Reasons Why Not; Tell Me About It, and What About Bryan (the new show from Alias and Lost creator J.J. Abrams). Being booted from the schedule are Blind Justice, 8 Simple Rules, My Wife and Kids, and Eyes. Although there had been much speculation about the possibility that ABC might yank one or both of its news magazines, Primetime Live and 20/20, because of a significant erosion in their ratings, the network granted both of them a reprieve.

LITTLE "UP" SEEN IN "UPFRONT" FOR NETS

Both the broadcast and cable networks are likely to experience soft upfront sales following their presentations in New York this week, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Tuesday). The broadcast networks, the newspaper said, are expected to report flat sales (they were up marginally a year ago), while the cable networks are expected to be up 10 percent (versus 17 percent a year ago).

CNN TO OFFER VIDEO NEWS ONLINE FOR FREE

CNN said today (Tuesday) that it will drop all charges for online access to its news clips starting June 20. It currently has been charging $4.95 per month for the digital content. Meanwhile, today's Wall Street Journal reported that E.W. Scripps Co.'s Scripps Networks, which operates Home & Garden Television and the Food Network, plans to launch several websites designed for broadband Internet services later in the fourth quarter -- including one focusing on kitchen design, another about hobbies, and yet another tied to the Food Network.

RATHER HAILS BOOTED CBS NEWS WORKERS

Dan Rather Monday night accepted the Peabody Award for his 60 Minutes II feature on CBS exposing prisoner torture and degradation at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He was accompanied on stage by the producer of the feature, Mary Mapes, who was later fired by CBS following the scandal over another 60 Minutes report about President Bush's National Guard service. Mapes did not address the audience, but Rather said that she and CBS News senior exec Betsy West, who also was forced out of the network, "did most of the work, bore the heaviest burdens and took most of the criticism. ... It took guts, and they had them."

COURIC INDICATES SHE'S OPEN TO CHANGES

Katie Couric has confirmed that she was "approached" by CBS to replace Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. But, in an interview with TV Guide, Couric remarked, "There were no serious talks." Nevertheless, she declined to commit to remaining with NBC's Today, telling the magazine that "when I feel it's right for me, I'll figure out what I want to do, whether it's continuing to do what I'm doing or try something new or do something crazy and totally different." Couric also said that since former sports producer Jim Bell came aboard as executive producer of Today, the show has improved. "I think the show was overly scripted," she said. "It didn't give us enough down time to chat, relax and be ourselves because [the producers] were trying to cram in so much."

BOX OFFICE AWAITS THE FORCE

Four new films vied for attention at the box office over the weekend, but there were few sold-out venues, and the top-grossing film, Monster-in-Law, starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez, took in only $23.1 million. Kicking & Screaming, starring Will Ferrell, placed second at $20.2 million. The Jet Li martial-arts film Unleashed debuted with $10.9 million to place third, while Renny Harlan's Mindhunters tanked with just $1.9 million, placing tenth. It marked the twelfth consecutive weekend that results came in lower than the comparable week a year ago. The box office is expected to post its best numbers of the year next week following the opening of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Monster-in-Law, New Line, $23,105,133, (New); 2. Kicking & Screaming, Universal, $20,159,925, (New); 3. Unleashed, Focus, $10,900,901, (New); 4. Kingdom of Heaven, 20th Century Fox, $9,625,509, 2 Wks. ($35,097,419); 6. House of Wax, Warner Bros., $6,563,440, 2 Wks. ($21,946,754); 7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Disney, $5,049,938, 3 Wks. ($43,516,918); 8. The Interpreter, Universal, $4,592,505, 4 Wks. ($61,161,945); 9. XXX: State of the Union, Sony, $2,134,772, 3 Wks. ($24,340,577); 10. Mindhunters, Miramax/Dimension, $1,911,358, (New).

STUDIOS EYE STAR WARS TRAILER PARK

Studios have had to line up for a chance to show the trailers for their latest movie during the run of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), noting that the theatrical trailer block has been limited to five. While it has been reported that George Lucas had imposed the limitation, several distributors told the Times that 20th Century Fox, which is releasing the movie, had created it. Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder confirmed: "It's my request to exhibitors. ... It's not an edict; it's a request." However, John Logan, CEO of Logan Luxury Theatre Corp. in South Dakota remarked that those who violate the five-trailer cap could lose their copy of Star Wars. "I think you'd get the phone call. In the contract, it says they could pull your contract and feasibly pull your print," he said.

SEX-PACKED DVD SET OF KINSEY

The just-released two-disc DVD of Kinsey, about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, not only includes some deleted scenes from the movie, but a lot of other adults-only material, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Tuesday). A feature-length documentary in the set describes the controversial history of the film and even includes the sex histories of members of the movie's cast and crew. Another feature, Sex Ed at the Kinsey Institute, spotlights a sex-related exhibit at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, including sex toys from the past.

REPORT: SONY-TOSHIBA TALKS ON HIGH DEFINITION DVD'S NEAR COLLAPSE

Despite a report last week that Sony and Toshiba were on the verge of announcing an agreement on a new format for high-definition DVDs, the London Financial Times reported from Tokyo today (Tuesday) that the talks between the two companies were close to collapse. The newspaper quoted Toshiba as saying, "We are continuing discussions ... but Sony is saying its own [Blu-ray] disc format will be the basis for a unified format while we believe it would be better to base the format on our [HD-DVD] disc structure." Last week's reports indicated that a compromise had been agreed upon in which Sony's Blu-ray hardware would be supported by Toshiba's HD-DVD software. However Toshiba said Monday: "Sony has not provided sufficient evidence of the superiority of its Blu-ray format. We believe Toshiba's [newly developed] 45 gigabyte disc will form the basis for any unified format."

HURT SAYS ACCOUNTANT TOOK ALL HIS MONEY

Actor William Hurt, who won the 1985 Oscar for Kiss of the Spider Woman, has told the Hartford Courant that his accountant has "robbed" him of his entire savings. Without naming the accountant, Hurt said during an interview with the newspaper at the Cannes Film Festival that he has been attempting to recover the money, but has been unsuccessful. "We had a robbery -- an accountant-type robbery," he said, adding that it amounted to his "whole nest egg." Hurt was in Cannes to promote two recent movies, The King and A History of Violence.

BILL MURRAY AT CANNES WINS IN TRANSLATION

International reporters at the Cannes Film Festival, hoping to get some heady analysis of Broken Flowers, the latest film from director Jim Jarmusch, found many of their questions punctured by Bill Murray, who costars in the film. (It was scheduled to have its world premiere at Cannes tonight.) Asked at a news conference what drew him to work with Jarmusch again (following 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes), Murray replied that it was because Jarmusch smoked cigarettes. "That and his hair," he said. When another reporter asked about Jarmusch's "minimalism," Murray interjected that he owes his own minimalism to "an erosion of talent."