CBS WILL FIGHT NIPPLEGATE FINE

CBS on Monday took the first steps in what could become a protracted legal battle with the FCC over the commission's decision to fine it $550,000 because of the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the halftime show at last February's Super Bowl. In a 78-page filing in which it asked the FCC to reconsider the fine, it said that while it was itself shocked by Jackson's "costume reveal," the incident itself was not indecent and to consider it so would result in a "broad, chilling effect" on broadcasters. The FCC ruling, the brief concluded, "vastly expanded the scope" of the agency's indecency standard and therefore represented a violation of the First Amendment.

NETS CAN'T HOLD THE LINE AGAINST FOOTBALL HIKES

They may continue to lose money on their football deals, but CBS and Fox have nonetheless agreed to put up $8 billion to extend their rights to broadcast NFL games for six more seasons. In a separate deal, DirecTV signed on for another five years for $3.5 billion. Although the networks had maintained that they would no longer continue to shell out the enormous fees for the games that they had in the past, each of the deals represents a substantial increase over the previous ones. ABC and its sports cable network ESPN remain holdouts. All of the current contracts don't actually expire until October 2005. In a statement, George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, said, "Our intention is to retain the Monday and Sunday packages, and we will continue our ongoing conversations toward that end." However, the company could face competition from NBC or others if it waits until next fall, when its exclusive negotiation period expires.

IT'S THE COMPETITION THAT'S "DESPERATE"

In the face of competition from the TV premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on The WB network, the heavily promoted My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss on Fox, the onetime indomitable Law and Order on NBC, and a Dallas reunion on CBS, ABC's Desperate Housewives scored its best ratings yet Sunday night -- a 16.6 rating and a 24 share. It boosted ABC's ratings by 75 percent over the comparable night a year ago and lifted the network to an overall win on Sunday, a night usually dominated by CBS. On Monday night a 90-minute episode of CSI: Miami beat out Monday Night Football on ABC as it scored a 15.3/22 to football's 12.2/19. At 10:00 p.m., the laugh was on NBC as its debuting The $25-Million Hoax managed only a third-place finish with a lowly 5.4/8.

THAT CHUCKY DISCLAIMER -- WAS BRITNEY REALLY BEHIND IT?

Focus Features has added a disclaimer to its TV commercial for the upcoming Seed of Chucky, which features a Britney Spears look-alike being blown up. It reads: "Britney Spears does not appear in this movie." Nevertheless, it was not clear whether Spears or her representatives had demanded the disclaimer. In a statement, the studio said that it wanted to make clear that "no actual Britney Spears were harmed during the filming."

CRONKITE LAYS INTO RATHER'S REPORT

Walter Cronkite, who once remarked that Dan Rather, his successor as anchor of the CBS Evening News, should have been fired after he walked off the set in 1987 when his newscast was delayed by a tennis broadcast, has enlarged upon his previous criticism of Rather's discredited report on George W. Bush's National Guard service. Asked in an interview in the upcoming edition of Details whether he had ever come close to making a mistake like Rather's, Cronkite responded: "Fortunately, I don't know about the close times, and I'm sure there must have been some. But I never had a failure quite like that, where my sources actually turned out to be wrong, or not the sources they claimed to be."

THE INCREDIBLES IS SUPER

The final weekend ticket-sales figure for Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles was $70.5 million, making it the second-best premiere ever for an animated film, behind Shrek 2, which took in $108 million. (Meanwhile, DreamWorks announced that the home video version of Shrek 2, released on Friday -- the same day that The Incredibles opened -- generated some $185 million in sales over the weekend.) It was the best opening ever for a Pixar feature, edging out last year's Finding Nemo by just $216,000. The only other new film opening wide, Paramount's Alfie, tanked with just $6.2 million, winding up in fifth place on the box-office charts. The top 12 films took in $135.8 million, down 5.4 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago.

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

1. The Incredibles, Disney, $70,467,623, (New); 2. Ray, Universal, $13,644,990, 2 Wks. ($39,641,775); 3. The Grudge, Sony, $12,675,393, 3 Wks. ($88,755,563); 4. Saw, Lions Gate, $11,093,169, 2 Wks. ($35,394,411); 5. Alfie, Paramount, $6,218,335, (New); 6. Shall We Dance?, Miramax, $5,663,514, 4 Wks. ($42,144,287); 7. Shark Tale, DreamWorks, $4,555,382, 6 Wks. ($154,031,467); 8. Friday Night Lights, Universal, $2,975,065, 5 Wks. ($57,256,950); 9. Ladder 49, Disney, $2,670,778, 6 Wks. ($69,977,816); 10. Team America: World Police, Paramount, $1,863,371, 4 Wks. ($30,464,862).

EX-DISNEY BOARD MEMBER SAYS OVITZ WAS FIRE-PROOF

Former Disney board member Irwin Russell, who was also head of the board's compensation committee as well as the man who negotiated the terms of Michael Ovitz's hiring and firing (he was additionally Disney chief Michael Eisner's personal attorney), acknowledged Monday that he did not seek an opinion from outside counsel on whether Ovitz could have been fired for cause. If he had been, Disney may not have been required to pay him the $140 million that it handed over to Ovitz in 1996. Asked by an attorney representing Disney shareholders why he had not informed the board that Ovitz was using Disney funds "to pay for personal gifts for his friends and business associates," an activity that might have represented proper cause for dismissal, Russell replied that he had not done so "based upon a consideration of many aspects" including the assumption that Ovitz would sue the company. He said that Ovitz's excessive spending "did not come close to meeting the standards of good cause."

HOLLYWOOD GROUPS URGE SUPREME COURT TO CONSIDER P2P NETS

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and the Recording Industry Assn. of America were joined by an array of trade and professional organizations and unions, performers, legal experts, and state attorneys general in asking the Supreme Court on Monday to overturn a U.S. appeals court decision that allowed Grokster and other peer-to-peer Internet operations to continue to function. The U.S. Ninth Circuit appellate court had held that the so-called P2P networks are unable to oversee which files are being shared or prevent copyrighted materials from being swapped. It also ruled that such networks can be used for substantial noninfringing purposes. Meanwhile, StreamCast Networks, which operates the Morpheus P2P network, filed a brief with the high court opposing the entertainment industry's petition. "The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets. ... Yet history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests," the brief said.

PASSION, IN; FAHRENHEIT, OUT

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. said Monday that it will consider Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ for a Golden Globe nomination in the foreign-language category. However, it said, there is no category in which Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 fits. The group does not hand out awards for documentaries. Lions Gate Films, which distributed the film, released a statement expressing disappointment in the HFPA's announcement. Regarding Passion, the HFPA observed that its rules state that when the language spoken in a film is preponderantly non-English, it is considered a foreign-language film. (Latin and Aramaic are spoken in the film.) The motion picture academy has already stated that the film cannot qualify for an Oscar in its foreign-language category because films in the category must be submitted by the countries in which they were made.

CONSUMERS WILL RETURN TO RENTING DVD'S, SAYS BLOCKBUSTER EXEC

The average video renter rents two movies to every one he or she buys, according to Blockbuster exec Larry Zine. Speaking to analysts at a Harris-Nesbitt presentation, Zine noted that before the DVD sellthrough market exploded, the ratio was seven or eight movies for every one purchased. Nevertheless, Zine said that he anticipates that more and more customers will be returning to rentals. As reported by Video Store magazine, Zine told the meeting: "We don't look at that group as one that will want to spend $15 or $20 to buy when they can rent four or five for the same amount." As for people who sign up for monthly subscription use, "average [rental] activity goes up quite a bit," said Zine. "They go from renting four movies a month to renting 10 or 12 movies a month, but they would not have spent as much time or money with us if they were not on the subscription program."

FARRELL TAKES HIMSELF OUT OF THE RUNNING TO PLAY 007

Colin Farrell appears to have issued a kind of "General Sherman statement" ("If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve.") regarding reports that he is high on the list of candidates to become the next James Bond. "The idea of me playing James Bond got into the press, but it is not true. I would not like to do it ... they should find someone the audience has no history with," Farrell told Reuters.