NO NEED FOR POISON?

Amid widespread speculation that Liberty Media boss John Malone was developing a strategy aimed at an unfriendly takeover of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Robert Bennett, Liberty's CEO, told analysts during a conference call that his company had no such designs. "I would like to make it clear that we view ourselves as allies of News Corp and the Murdoch family. We have no hostile intentions," Bennett said. Asked about News Corp's decision to put into place a "poison pill" defense to prevent Liberty from increasing its stake in the company, Bennett, who is Liberty's No. 2-man behind Malone, commented: "We understand why News Corp elected to instigate the shareholder rights plan. We are not surprised or troubled by it." He maintained that Liberty had moved to increase it voting shares in News Corp simply because "a unique opportunity" to do so had arisen as a consequence of News Corp's decision to move its headquarters from Australia to the U.S. Bennett's remarks came as Liberty issued third-quarter results showing profits rising to $372 million from $41 million during the year-ago quarter. Revenue leaped to $1.8 billion from $877 million.

COMPENSATION CONSULTANT ON OVITZ DEAL ADMITS CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Graef Crystal, who is sometimes described as the financial world's leading exert on executive compensation, admitted Tuesday that he feared he had allowed himself to be caught in a conflict of interest when he agreed to consult with Disney lawyers in drafting the 1995 employment contract between the company and Michael Ovitz. He said he had done so as a personal favor to Disney chief Michael Eisner. Testifying in the trial of a shareholders lawsuit in Delaware, Crystal, who is currently a columnist for Bloomberg News, said that he was outraged when the online magazine Slate placed the headline "Mike Ovitz Got Away With Murder and I Helped Him" over an article he wrote in December 1996 after Ovitz received $140 million as part of his payout package. Nevertheless, he stuck by the general theme of the article in pretrial statements, saying that when the contract with Ovitz was drafted, "Nobody quantified the total cost of the severance package, and I wish we had." He indicated that it became bloated when Disney lawyers countered Ovitz's demand for a $50-million signing bonus.

ABC BACK IN RATINGS CONTENTION

For the first time since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire went down the tubes, ABC was once again a contender for top ratings honors last week as its Sunday-night drama Desperate Housewives claimed second place on the Nielsen list; Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came in at No. 6 (surprisingly, it was No. 1 among teens); and the new drama Lost placed ninth. Associated Press TV writer David Bauder commented: "Back in April, saying ABC would have three of the six most popular TV programs in early November was like predicting the Boston Red Sox would win the World Series. Hey, miracles happen!" CBS remained the top-ranked network in overall numbers as it once again boasted the week's top-rated show, Thursday's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But the gap between the three top networks narrowed. CBS averaged an 8.5 rating and a 13 share for the week, representing 12.9 million viewers. NBC was second with a 7.4/12, or 11.3 million viewers. ABC was a notch behind with a 7.1/11 or 11 million viewers. Fox remained far behind with an average 4.1/6 or 6.3 million viewers.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 18.8/28; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 14.9/21; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 14.2/23; 4. Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS, 12.0/18; 5. E.R., NBC, 11.7/18; 6. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ABC, 11.5/17; 7. 60 Minutes, CBS, 11.4/17; 7. Cold Case, CBS, 11.4/16; 9. Lost, ABC, 11.3/17; 10. Apprentice 2, NBC, 10.5/15.

BROADCASTER, FEARING FCC BACKLASH, CANCELS PRIVATE RYAN

ABC affiliates in Des Moines and Sioux City, IA and Lincoln, NE have refused to broadcast Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day, saying that they fear they could be fined by the FCC. The stations are owned by Citadel Communications. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Citadel President Ray Cole said, "Under strict interpretation of the rules, we can't run that programming before 10 p.m. ... We have attempted to get an advanced waiver from the FCC and, remarkably to me, they are not willing to do so." He said that he had also sought permission from ABC to delay the broadcast until 10:35 p.m. but was turned down. Cole acknowledged that his stations had aired the film in 2001 and 2002 without a single complaint.

TV SHOW 24 COMING TO CELL PHONES

In a test of new third-generation (3G) cell phone technology in the U.K., 20th Century Fox is planning a "spin-off" of the Fox TV drama 24 that will be streamed in one-minute episodes (or "mobisodes" as 20th is calling them) to Vodaphone cell-phone users over 24 weeks. The first episode is scheduled to debut on Jan. 30 but is not expected to make an appearance in the U.S. until mid-2005, when the 3G technology is rolled out by Verizon, in which Vodaphone owns a 45-percent stake. The spin-off is being produced by Spark Hill Productions, a Hollywood-based company operated by Jayson Won and Matt Kennedy that produces DVD "extras."

BBC ACCUSED OF STAGING GANG FIGHT IN SCOTLAND

The Glasgow, Scotland city council has accused the BBC of staging a fight between youth gangs for a documentary, No Go Britain, which aired Tuesday night. Scenes of the fight were not included in the broadcast, which did feature another clash between rival gangs that a producer called more powerful. However, a spokesman for the council told today's (Wednesday) London Independent that park rangers were summoned to a park on Oct. 20 where the initial fight was being filmed after an off-duty ranger reported that the film crew was "choreographing a reenactment" of a fight. "They tried to stage something for the cameras and [were] prevented by our park staff before they could do it," the spokesman said. Adrian Addison, the BBC journalist who fronted the program, told the Independent that the council "are just spinning to take the focus away from the issue. It is a smokescreen for their own inability to deal with the problem. If they were dealing with it we would not have a film."

MOVIE REVIEWS: POLAR EXPRESS

Speeding down the tracks perilously close behind last week's The Incredibles, Warner Bros.' Polar Express is opening today (Wednesday) in advance of the Veterans Day weekend. As with The Incredibles, much of the critical attention focuses on the film's animation process -- in this one, it's called "performance capture." Many critics are unimpressed, among them Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who suggests that the film, about the power of the imagination, displays little of it. She calls the film "a grave and disappointing failure, as much of imagination as of technology" and writes that "the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings." Steve Murray in the Atlanta Journal says that the entire film feels "prefab," adding, "Even if it's wrapped in $165 million worth of tinsel (the movie's reported budget), a lump of coal is still a lump of coal." On the other hand, Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News describes the movie as "a sensation -- both a milestone in computer-animation and a likely Christmas classic." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times calls the look of the film "extraordinary," and remarks: "The characters in "The Polar Express" don't look real, but they don't look unreal, either; they have a kind of simplified and underlined reality that makes them visually magnetic." Comments Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "A classic story has brushed up against a new technology and, for once, both are the better for it. The result is cinematic kismet." And Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News praises the film as "a stunning technological achievement and, for the most part, a stirring emotional one. The groundbreaking animation is wondrous in detail and imagination." Several critics give the animation technology mixed reviews. Meghan Lehmann in the New York Post observes: "There's something creepy about the humans' faces, particularly the hollow eyes. But the digital animation allows the creation of beautiful vistas and outstanding sequences that could never be achieved with live action." Likewise, Ty Burr in the Boston Globe calls the movie "a holiday oddity of the first rank: a breathtaking visual feast peopled by dead-eyed mannequins."

POLAR EXPRESS TO MAKE STOPS AT IMAX THEATERS

The Polar Express will become the first film from a major studio to be released on 3D IMAX on the same day that it is being released in conventional format in other theaters. Some 70 IMAX theaters will be screening the film. "3D IMAX has a tendency to immerse you in the movie, to make it more emotional and more exciting," IMAX president Greg Foster told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Daily News. "This will enhance what is already an incredible movie." The newspaper observed that the 3D effect allows audiences to experience "snowfall in the theater (without the need to bundle up!), and [to take] a stomach-churning ride on roller-coaster-like train tracks." In his review of the film Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times that the "new, oversized 3-D glasses, big enough to fit over your own glasses, light enough so you can forget them, made this the best 3-D viewing experience I've ever had. If there's a choice, try the IMAX version.

FAHRENHEIT HEATS UP LIONS GATE PROFITS

Thanks to Disney's decision to refuse to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11, Vancouver-based Lions Gate Entertainment pivoted to a profit of $8.3 million on revenue of $231 million during its second quarter from a loss of $274,000 on revenue of $93 million during the same period a year ago. The company was also helped by the success of the low-budget Open Water.

NEW TYPE OF MOVIE THEATER OPENS IN THAILAND

Thailand has seen the launch of a new variety of movie theater aimed at small communities in which films are delivered by Thaicom satellite to individual rooms, which can also be used for karaoke and video games, the Bangkok Post reported today (Wednesday). The rooms are in various sizes, accommodating two, eight, or 21 persons each. Patrons are charged by the hour, ranging from $6.00 per hour for the two-seat room to $2.50 per person for the 21-seater. The Post said that the "My Theatre" franchise is expected eventually to double the country's movie theater industry. The test theater is located in Ratchaburi and was constructed at a cost of $250,000.