THE DEATH OF PRIMETIME?

Announcements by three major networks that they plan to make their content available on demand has spurred speculation that the day of primetime television as we have known it may be about to pass. In separate announcements, ABC said it would make some of its programming available on Apple's iTunes store; CBS said it would place some of its on Comcast's video-on-demand cable platform; and NBC said its programs will be accessible on the DirecTV satellite system (a corporate sibling of the Fox TV network). Today's London Independent quoted Josh Bernoff, a media analyst at Forrester Research, as saying: "This is going to be the end of the evening schedule. You will now be able to watch programs wherever and whenever you want." Other analysts speculated that the move to video-on-demand will free the television networks from the former restrictions on content that have put them at a disadvantage against pay TV channels like HBO and Showtime. At the very least, analysts predicted, the networks will now be able to include additional scenes and unexpurgated language in their VOD offerings much like DVD producers now offer a package of "extras." On the CNN website, a report about the new VOD deals noted that for the networks they "these deals could be the first real opportunity to move away from almost complete dependency on advertising and toward subscriber revenue."

CBS EXTENDS ITS WINNING STREAK

Make it seven out of seven for CBS as the network continued to dominate primetime programming during the 2005-06 season without a single week's loss in the overall ratings. It also led among adults 18-49, the group most prized by advertisers, for the fourth straight week. The week, which included the first four days of the November sweeps, also saw a considerable spike in viewership for the network's NCIS, Criminal Minds and Ghost Whisperer. CBS averaged an 8.7 rating and a 14 share, well ahead of second-place ABC's 6.9/11. NBC finished third with a 6.5/10, while Fox trailed with a 4.5/7.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.9/27.0; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.3/22.0; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 13.3/22.0; 4. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 12.1/19.0; 5. NCIS, CBS, 11.3/17.0; 6. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 11.0/19.0; 7. Survivor: Guatemala, CBS, 10.9/17.0; 8. Cold Case, CBS, 10.6/15.0; 8. CSI: NY, CBS, 10.6/18.0; 10. Criminal Minds, CBS, 10.4/16.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES ACTOR FIRED

Only weeks after remarking in an interview that he regarded his role in Desperate Housewives as a chance for "making a name for myself," actor Page Kennedy has been fired from the drama. Janet Daily, a spokeswoman for the series, said that he had been let go for improper conduct after a "thorough investigation by the studio" of the allegations against him. She did not describe the allegations. Kennedy, who joined the series this season, played a fugitive who was being held captive in the basement of the home of a character portrayed by Alfre Woodard. In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Kennedy said that he had turned down other job offers in order to take the Desperate Housewives role. "This is an opportunity for me to showcase all the years of training I've had," the 28-year-old actor said at the time.

TOYOTA YANKS SPOTS FROM NIP/TUCK

Following a letter-writing campaign by the conservative media watchdog group Parents Television Council, Toyota has pulled its commercials from the FX drama Nip/Tuck. The group, a unit of Brent Bozell's conservative Media Research Center, had blasted the show's "graphic sex and violence." In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, Toyota spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell acknowledged that the show's content was one of the factors responsible for the carmaker's decision.

NEWS PRESIDENT MCMANUS DENIES CBS IS BIASED

Newly appointed CBS News President Sean McManus said Tuesday that he has no plans to address charges by numerous conservatives that the network betrays a liberal bias. Meeting with staff members on the second day in his new position, McManus, as reported by the CBS blog Public Eye, was asked whether he feels the need to address perceptions of bias. He replied, "No," then added, "It's very difficult for any reporter or producer to completely and totally shut out his political opinions, but what I've seen at CBS News, people do a darned good job at doing that. I guess if I saw that creeping into our coverage I would have to address it, but I don't see that in our coverage, I think we have been falsely accused of that at times."

TV FILM CLAIMS U.S. USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN IRAQ

The Italian state television network has broadcast a documentary in which a former U.S. soldier who served in Iraq claims that troops were ordered to use white phosphorus shells against insurgent and civilian targets during the offensive in Fallujah a year ago. The documentary, titled Fallujah: The Concealed Massacre, included footage of horribly burned bodies, including women and children, and an interview with a biologist in Fallujah in which he claims that a "rain of fire fell on the city." The U.S. has said that it had used phosphorus shells only for purposes of illumination. The story was picked up by the BBC and displayed prominently on its website under the headline, "U.S. Used Chemical Arms in Iraq" (later changed to read "U.S. Uses Incendiary Arms in Iraq." Al-Jazeera, the Arab News Network later picked up the BBC report. A spokesman for the BBC said that it made the change because, contrary to the RAI claim, white phosphorous is not a chemical weapon. Moreover, he noted, the U.S. is not a signatory to conventions barring its use in warfare. It also quoted a Pentagon spokesman as calling the documentary part of a "disinformation" campaign. No U.S. network has aired any part of the film.

LIKE A SLINKY, PIXAR BOUNCES BACK

Pixar Animation, whose stock sank on Monday and Tuesday after analysts expressed skepticism over whether the studio would be able to come to terms with Disney, saw its shares jump nearly $5.00 per share by midday trading on the NYSE today (Monday) after it reported a 22-percent rise in profit in its third quarter. Although it did not have a new film in theaters, income from TV, DVD and consumer products from Finding Nemo and The Incredibles helped push net profits to $27.4 million versus $22.4 million during the comparable period a year ago. The results beat analysts' estimates and seem to allay their concerns that the studio would be harmed by slumping DVD sales. In an interview with Bloomberg News, David Miller, an analyst at Sanders Morris Harris, said that the results "demonstrates the earnings power of their evergreen product and their film library" and answers the question, "What DVD slowdown?" However, other analysts observed that the success of Disney's Chicken Little over the weekend demonstrates that Disney doesn't really need Pixar to produce computer-animated fare. (The movie earned $40 million, and while Pixar's The Incredibles earned $70 million a year ago, Disney had to split half the profits of that film with Pixar.) At the very least, the film's success gives Disney greater leverage in negotiations with Pixar. In a conference call, Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs said that negotiations with Disney CEO Robert Iger have been "productive" but that some issues have yet to be worked out. "If they were all worked out, we'd be having a different conversation today," Jobs said.

STAR WARS DVD GETS BIG PLUG FROM TRUMP

The recently released Star Wars DVD (Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith) gets a big push tonight (Wednesday) when it becomes the centerpiece of NBC's Donald Trump reality show The Apprentice. In it, Trump calls upon his job candidates to create an interactive display in a Best Buy store featuring the DVD as well as the video game, Star Wars Battlefront II. They are given access to graphic designers, photographers and structural engineers to create the display. "Good luck, and may the force be with you," he tells them. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment reported Tuesday that together the Star Wars DVD and video game grossed $210 million in their first week in stores in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, Australia and Latin America.

BLOCKBUSTER MAY BE ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY

Blockbuster released its most dismal quarterly report ever on Tuesday, so dismal that it even included a warning that it may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection. The company reported a loss of $491 million during the quarter, most of it due to a write-down related to its spin-off from former parent Viacom. In-store business, it said, continued to be down due to the elimination of late fees, and online business remained flat as the company was unable to attract more than a fraction of Netflix's subscriber base. The company said that it plans to reduce marketing costs and sell or shutter its smaller rental chains, Movie Trading, Video King and Mr. Movies.

MOVIE REVIEWS: GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN'

Protests by black community activists over the 50 Cent-starrer Get Rich or Die Tryin' continued to spread Tuesday on the eve of the film's debut today (Wednesday). In Durham, NC, LaFonda Jones-General, head of a group called The Freedom Project, told the Charlotte News & Observer that she had sent letters to local movie theaters asking them not to show the movie. She charged that the film will leave young people with the impression that becoming a drug dealer can lead to a music contract. Several critics, reviewing the film today, have taken note of the protests. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times observes, for example, that those leading the demonstrations are "not do-gooders or killjoys but people who have seen the bodies on the streets and attended the funerals and seen drugs taking a deadly tax of young manhood." The film itself is receiving mixed reviews. Ebert praises it as "a film with a rich and convincing texture, a drama with power and anger." However, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe -- one of the few major-market African-American critics -- argues that the film fails largely because of a flat performance by its star. Not only does it lack emotional punch, he writes, but even the rap singer's narration comes across as "a babyish mumble only Mike Tyson could understand. In his music, that indistinct mutter is a clever instrument: ... But Dr. Dre didn't produce this movie." Likewise, Lou Lumenick writes in the New York Post that "the charismatic rapper is so utterly inexpressive as an actor that he's constantly getting swallowed up in his own movie." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe & Mail suggests that not even the work of award-winning helmer Jim Sheridan could save this film. "Get Rich or Die Tryin' dies tryin'," he comments. "Hard-working to a fault, this is a movie that's all effort and no direction, a movie completely lacking in what its hero eventually finds -- a sense of identity." But A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times that the movie is not really about acting or directing or plot and really amounts to "a triumph of packaging, a carefully engineered product aimed at satisfying the sometimes contradictory needs and concerns of the mass audience."