RATHER RESIGNS

Dan Rather, under fire for a discredited report about George W. Bush's National Guard service during the Vietnam War, has announced his resignation as anchor of the CBS Evening News. He will leave the nightly news program on March 9, he told a New York news conference, but plans to remain with the network as a correspondent for its two 60 Minutes magazine shows. "I have always been and remain a 'hard news' investigative reporter at heart," he said. "I now look forward to pouring my heart into that kind of reporting full time." In his announcement, he did not refer to the controversy over the National Guard report, which is currently being investigated by an independent team headed by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press president and CEO Louis Boccardi.

REPORT: TIME WARNER AND SEC CLOSE TO A DEAL

Time Warner and the Securities and Exchange Commission are close to agreeing on a settlement that would bring to an end the SEC's effort to bring the giant media company to account for alleged accounting irregularities at its America Online unit, the Washington Post reported today (Tuesday), citing people familiar with the settlement talks. According to the newspaper, Time Warner would pay about $750 million to settle the allegations but would neither admit or deny charges that AOL cooked its books to make it appear that its revenue and profit were higher than they actually were. The Post pointed out, however, that even if the SEC lawsuit is settled, the company still faces shareholders lawsuits related to its previous accounting practices.

CNN HIRES NEW CHIEF TO HALT RATINGS DRAIN

Struggling cable news channel CNN has hired Jonathan Klein, a former CBS News exec, to take on the job of president of CNN News Group, a job that oversees all domestic news operations. Klein will replace Princell Hair, who was bumped to the new position of senior vice president of program and talent development. Klein is the latest in a series of CNN News Group chiefs (Hair held the title of executive vice president and general manager for CNN/U.S.) who have vainly tried to arrest declining ratings of the news network. Currently it averages 683,000 viewers, versus 1.4 million for Fox News channel, according to Nielsen Research.

FOX SCOOPS UP THE BALL, WILL AIR COLLEGE BOWL GAMES

Fox wasted no time locking up a deal to air college football's Bowl Championship Series after ABC dropped out of the bidding for it on Friday. Beginning in 2007, Fox will replace ABC as the broadcast outlet for the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls. ABC will continue to air the Rose Bowl under a separate deal worth $20 million per game. The new three-year deal will add an additional bowl game and, by doing so, will reportedly give the BCS a 5-percent revenue hike. ABC had been paying $25 million for each bowl game but had offered only $17 million in its renewal bid. The Fox deal works out to $22 million per game.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL RETURNS -- TAMED

"It's 9 p.m. Eastern Time on a Monday night and you know what that means," New England quarterback Tom Brady said at the beginning of last night's Monday Night Football. Clearly it did not mean any sort of repeat of the naughty opening of last week's telecast in which Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan appeared to seduce Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens -- an opening that led to a political firestorm and resulted in an apology by the network. In reporting on the cleaned-up opening, today's (Monday) St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented: "The opening of ABC-TV's Monday Night Football went from tawdry to tepid."

LAX IS GROUNDED FOR LIFE

Kept aloft long after most critics -- and most TV viewers -- decided it was no longer air worthy, NBC's LAX has finally been grounded, and most TV writers are suggesting that it is unlikely that it will ever take off again. Officially, its flight has not yet been canceled -- three completed episodes have yet to air -- but the network has yanked the program from its schedule through most of December, an almost sure sign that it will never return. Meanwhile, TV Guide said on its website Monday that ABC is denying rumors that LAX star Heather Locklear is in talks to join Desperate Housewives.

TV CAMERAS CAPTURE CLOSING OF STAR EDITION

The Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes will show the frantic process of closing an edition of Star magazine during a profile of its editor, Bonnie Fuller. As reported in today's New York Daily News, in one scene, an employee of the magazine confronts Fuller about revisions she has made in a story, shouting "You are making a mistake." As the shouting continues, the staffer wails "Can we turn these damn cameras off for a second?" They kept rolling.

EX DISNEY CFO: OVITZ WAS ODD, NOT USEFUL

Former Walt Disney Co. CFO Stephen Bollenbach ticked off a laundry list of complaints about the style and conduct of Michael Ovitz when Ovitz served as company president in 1995 and 1996, but, he insisted, none of them amounted to grounds to fire Ovitz for cause and thereby deny him severance under his contract. At one point, he said, he arranged a series of meetings with Ovitz that would serve as a tutorial on the company's financial operations of its different businesses, but Ovitz failed to show up for any of them. When he told Disney chief Michael Eisner about Ovitz's nonattendance, Eisner, he recalled, told him, "Go talk to him." Bollenbach said that he replied, "Come on, that's your job." He also indicated that Ovitz's style often clashed with that of Disney's corporate officers and recalled Ovitz's idea for a brainstorming session in which he asked the 40 assembled execs to name the most important person in history. (Jesus got the most votes, he related, but Eisner got a couple.) "In my experience, the techniques were considered odd as opposed to useful. ... I just thought, this is not the way that companies work." Within a few months, he said, most Disney execs had simply decided to ignore Ovitz, ensuring that he wouldn't be "doing any harm."

DISNEY FILM REPLACES DISNEY FILM AT TOP OF BOX OFFICE

Disney's National Treasure produced more gold at the box office over the weekend than either the studio or analysts had expected, raking in $35.1 million. Paramount's hand-drawn The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie absorbed a big part of the remaining total as it grossed $32 million. Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles continued to perform strongly as it dropped to third place in its third week with $26.5 million. It has now earned a total of $177.5 million. Yet another animated film, Warner Bros.' The Polar Express, took the fourth spot with $15.6 million in its second weekend.

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

1. National Treasure, Disney, $35,142,554, (New); 2. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Paramount, $32,018,216, (New); 3. The Incredibles, Disney, $26,523,852, 3 Wks. ($177,555,485); 4. The Polar Express, Warner Bros., $15,668,101, 2 Wks. ($51,463,282); 5. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Universal, $10,044,890, 2 Wks. ($21,511,685); 6. After the Sunset, New Line, $5,075,005, 2 Wks. ($19,092,384); 7. Ray, Universal, $4,565,210, 4 Wks. ($59,192,215); 8. The Grudge, Sony, $3,812,121, 5 Wks. ($104,422,638); 9. Seed of Chucky, Rogue, $3,241,211, 2 Wks. ($13,459,639); 10. Saw, Lions Gate, $2,882,575, 4 Wks. ($50,355,671).

FAST DVD RELEASE SET FOR RAY

Universal's Ray remained in the box office top ten last weekend, making Universal's announcement that it plans to release a DVD version of the movie in just eight weeks all the more surprising. Trade reports indicated that the studio was rushing the release of the DVD to put it into the hands of Oscar voters. The single-disc DVD will carry a price tag of $29.98, while a two-disc special edition will sell for $44.98. The studio gave no indication what the special edition will contain.

MIYAZAKI FILM SETS NEW JAPANESE BOX OFFICE RECORD

Hayao Miyazaki, often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan, has seen his latest animated film set a new Japanese box office record. Howl's Moving Castle, based in a British children's book, earned $15 million in its opening weekend. Miyazaki's other films include Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Nausicaä.

SOUTH AFRICAN POLITICAL PARTY PROTESTS NEW EXORCIST

South Africa's African Christian Democratic Party, has protested against posters for the upcoming release of Exorcist: The Beginning, much of it set in Kenya. A spokesman for the ACDP, which claims to represent "Bible-believing Christians" and others who hold "a high regard for moral values," charged that the posters, which depict an upside-down crucifix, humiliates the image of Christ. "Under the Biblical command of honoring and respecting the Lord, this form of portrayal could be viewed as advocacy of hatred, and incitement to cause harm," an official complaint said.

SENATE PASSES NEW ANTI-PIRACY LAWS

The Senate on Monday voted to make it a federal crime, punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years, to use camcorders in theaters to tape movies or to distribute movies and other copyrighted works before they are released. Another proposed measure that would further crack down on people who use Internet peer-to-peer networks to copy movies and music was omitted from the final version of the bill, which now goes to a conference committee with the House, where a similar measure was recently passed.

WILLIS SUES STUDIO, SPECIAL-EFFECTS FOREMAN

Bruce Willis has sued Revolution Studios and the special-effects foreman of 2003's Tears of the Sun, claiming that he was injured during the shooting of the film as a result of their negligence. According to the lawsuit, which was posted Monday on the Smoking Gun website, Willis says he was hurt when a projectile fired in one scene hit him in the forehead, causing an injury that resulted in "extreme mental, physical and emotional pain and suffering." Willis accuses the special-effects man, Joe Pancake, of negligently plotting the shooting sequence.