SINCLAIR FAILS TO QUIET STORM OVER ANTI-KERRY FILM

Facing growing opposition from advertisers, shareholders, public interest groups and Democratic presidential campaign officials, Sinclair Broadcast Group on Tuesday backed away from its plans to air a controversial documentary, Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, critical of John Kerry's anti-Vietnam-war stance more than 30 years ago. The company said that it would air excerpts of the 42-minute film in a program titled A P.O.W. Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media. It did not indicate how much of the film would be used. It also said that the program would air Friday on only 39 of its 62 stations. In its press release, Sinclair insisted that it had never said that it would air the controversial film in its entirety, but it had waited a week and a half to issue that clarification, during which time Sinclair's stock price fell by nearly 17 percent as numerous advertisers pulled their spots from its stations and consumer-interest groups threatened to contest the company's license renewals with the FCC. A group of Sinclair shareholders said that it would file suit, charging that the company's management was pursuing a partisan agenda at the expense of shareholder value. Also on Tuesday, the Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the FCC demanding equal time, although the commission's equal-time rule applies only to on-air appearances by candidates. It was not known whether President Bush appears in the Sinclair program. However, a Kerry backer, Deborah Rappaport offered to buy an hour of time on the Sinclair Stations to air a pro-Kerry documentary, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, produced by George Butler. Rappaport said she was offering $1 million above the company's ad rate to buy the time. In Tuesday's press release, Sinclair CEO David Smith declared, "We cannot in a free America yield to the misguided attempts by a small but vocal minority to influence behavior and trample on the First Amendment rights of those with whom they might not agree."

BET CABLE CHANNEL ANGRY OVER BUSH SNUB

President Bush has turned down an invitation for a primetime interview on BET, the Viacom-owned cable network that focuses on black viewers. Senator John Kerry, who had also received an invitation, accepted and was interviewed on Oct. 7. BET said that its founder and CEO, Robert Johnson, had sent a letter to top African Americans in the Bush Administration, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, asking them to urge the president to reconsider his decision. The letter said that the invitations to the two candidates were intended to give them the "chance to show African Americans that their issues, opinions and their votes really matter."

PRODUCERS SAY, "ALOHA OY!"

One produced-in-Hawaii TV series has knocked off another produced-in-Hawaii series. NBC announced Tuesday that it had halted production of the new drama Hawaii, which has been consistently trounced by ABC's Lost. Both shows were being shot on the island of Oahu, although Lost is set on a mysterious deserted island, and both aired during the 8:00 p.m. hour on Wednesday. Along with Desperate Housewives, Lost has given ABC a much-need shot in the arm, instantly becoming one of the top-ten shows on the weekly ratings list. Last week, Hawaii, a critically scorned cop drama, placed 56th in the ratings. Initially, NBC said that it planned to continue producing Hawaii and bring it back at a later date. However, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that while an episode was being filmed on Monday, producers Jay Benson, Jeff Reiner and Francis Conway arrived on the location set. According to a source with the production, one of the three shouted, "The network said it's over, you're done, stop rolling the cameras." A member of the show's staff commented. "This is a very sad day for us. ... We did our homework. We had cultural and technical advisers; we showed Hawaii beautifully; we became ohana [family]." Co-star Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa remarked, "That's showbiz. It may be traumatic ... but the bottom line is that these things happen every day in this business." From the beginning, Tagawa had expressed his disappointment with the show's scripts.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS FOR FOX'S BASEBALL COVERAGE

Ratings for the baseball playoffs were down considerably from the comparable week last year, but they were good enough to allow Fox to claim the ratings prize as the top network among 18-49-year-olds last week. It was also second overall with an average 7.7 rating and a 12 share. CBS once again drew the most viewers, averaging an 8.5/14, and produced the number-one show of the week, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which recorded an 18.1/27. NBC placed third for the week, averaging a 6.7/11, but ABC was hot on its tail with a 6.5/11, and placed two regular shows, Lost and Desperate Housewives in the top ten -- the first time it had done so since Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was flying high. (Monday Night Football came in at No. 13.) Meanwhile, with the new sitcom Joey drawing ratings that are 34 percent below those for Friends and Law and Order down 21 percent from last season, NBC is clearly struggling. "I can't tell you we're clicking our heels up," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told the Associated Press. "This is tough, and it has gotten tougher with ABC's performance."

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 18.1/27; 2. CSI: Miami, CBS, 14.2/22; 3. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 13.1/19; 4. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.7/20; 5. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.6/17; 5. Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS, 11.6/18; 7. E.R., NBC, 11.2/18; 8. 60 Minutes, CBS, 11.1/18; 8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.1/16; 10. Lost, ABC, 110./17.

THE TWO MICHAELS -- TOGETHER AGAIN

Eight years after a bitter -- and expensive -- parting, Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz have come together again, this time in a Delaware chancery court, where a group of shareholders is suing the company for allegedly wasting corporate assets when it allowed Eisner to buy out Ovitz's contract in 1996 for $140 million. Today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times observed that if the shareholders prevail, the $200 million that they are demanding (the $140 million, plus interest and legal costs) would be paid by Disney's insurance carrier. The trial is expected to last about a month.

DISNEY TRIAL TO BE WEBCAST

Shareholders and other interested parties wanting to keep informed about the trial of the shareholders suit in Georgetown, Delaware over Disney's $140-million severance package to Michael Ovitz in 1996 will be able to watch the trial itself over the Internet for $10.00 per day. However, the trial sessions will not be carried live. Morning sessions will be available via www.CourtroomConnect.com at approximately 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time each day; afternoon sessions, at 6:00 p.m. "The webcast will include the primary camera angle and the user can pause, rewind and fast forward the stream. Users will have access to the trial for the entire day, but will not be able to access the previous day's recordings," a message posted on the website said. Today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times quoted veteran talent manager Bernie Brillstein as saying, "It will be better than watching Desperate Housewives."

COURT TOSSES OUT WRITER'S CLAIM AGAINST WGA

A federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday threw out claims by screenwriter Michael Alan Eddy that he was wrongfully barred by the Writers Guild of America, West from participating in arbitration over screenplay credits for last year's The Last Samurai. Eddy had claimed that the movie was based in part on his script titled West of the Rising Sun but that he was excluded from participating in a credits arbitration hearing. The WGA said that it employed three expert readers to determine whether Eddy's claims should be arbitrated. Producer Ed Zwick had conceded that he had seen Eddy's original script about an American in the 1970s who fights with the Samurai, but had decided to throw it out and start all over.

TEAM AMERICA CREATORS THANK SEAN PENN

Last weekend's box office for Team America: World Police may have been lower than analysts had expected, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker are suggesting that it might have been lower still had not Sean Penn denounced them in an open letter. In their movie, the pair skewer Penn and other Hollywood anti-war activists for attempting to confront terrorism with pacifism. Penn responded that they were encouraging "irresponsibility that will ultimately lead to the disembowelment, mutilation, exploitation, and death of innocent people." But in an interview with DarkHorizons.com, Parker maintained that "There isn't anything he could have done to help us more. ... Like, he released this letter and it gets picked up all over." Parker predicted that other celebrities who are lampooned in the movie "will like it." Penn, he said, was "humorless."

NETFLIX FOUNDER PREDICTS ONLINE DVD SHAKE-OUT

Netflix founder Reed Hastings said that he "went through the normal anger, denial and grief syndrome" when he confirmed rumors that Amazon was planning to enter the online DVD rental business. However, he told today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal, he had been expecting some such occurrence. "From inception, we have been telling our employees, there will be big new competition coming in the future; we don't know when or how. So everyone is pretty prepared for a big fight." Hastings expressed confidence that Netflix will eventually obtain the rights from studios to distribute their films electronically as well as by mail. He said that Netflix will be able to compete with more established firms in online delivery "by having the best brand, the best service, the best movie-choosing, the best pricing. ... Somebody has an opportunity to build a 20-million subscriber base here ... and if you do the math, 20 million subscribers is about $4 billion in [annual] revenue."

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL GETS UNDERWAY

The 48th London Film Festival opens today (Wednesday) with a screening of Mike Leigh's award-winning Vera Drake, about a female abortionist working in the 1950s. As part of the festival, which is scheduled to run through Nov. 4, a 50-foot inflatable screen has been erected in Trafalgar Square, where short films, trailers and interviews will be projected. Sandra Hebron, the festival's artistic director, told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "The festival was set up 48 years ago as a public festival and that is very important to what we do. We do have to have a relationship with the industry but we are trying to balance those two needs."