TV NEWS FILM IGNITES NEW MUSLIM OUTRAGE

Australian television news footage showing U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two suspected Taliban militants has ignited another uproar in the Muslim world. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Thursday that the footage, shown on Australia's SBS network was "very troublesome." He promised an investigation, "and if there is, in fact, wrongdoing that was found, then those who are responsible for that wrongdoing will be held to account." The footage, part of a feature presented on the Dateline magazine program (not connected with NBC's program of the same name) was taken by freelance journalist Stephen Dupont, embedded with the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. Dupont reported that the U.S. troops were apparently using the bodies to provoke a Taliban attack, taunting them in a broadcast by announcing, "Attention Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. ... You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be." In the Muslim religion, burning bodies is regarded as an act of desecration.

ANALOG TV TO SHUT DOWN ON APRIL 7, 2009

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday gave overwhelming approval to a measure aimed at ending analog television broadcasting by April 7, 2009. The measure provides $3 billion to help consumers who cannot afford new digital TV sets buy converter boxes that would allow them to receive digital broadcasts on older models. The bill also contains a provision to assist owners of low-power TV stations to make the switch.

CBS ALONE GARNERS BIGGER THURSDAY RATINGS THAN OTHER NETS COMBINED

CBS has increased its dominance of Thursday night, averaging a 13.7 rating and a 22 share -- greater than the numbers for NBC (7.4/12), ABC (4.2/7), and Fox (1.8/3) combined. Once again the highest-rated show of the night was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at 9:00, which registered a 17.3/26 and is almost certain to wind up at the top of the ratings list for the week.

SEACREST TO SUB FOR LARRY KING

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest is being brought in by CNN to share duties with Bob Costas as Larry King's substitute, the New York Post reported today (Friday), citing CNN insiders. The newspaper said that Seacrest, who also hosts the nationally syndicated American Top 40 radio show and works as the morning-drive DJ on L.A. radio station KIIS-FM, has been given free rein to book his own guests. Last August, Costas refused to host one of King's shows after learning that the show's regular bookers had lined up interviews for him about Natalee Holloway, the teenager who went missing in Aruba.

CRONKITE, ROONEY LAUD CLOONEY MOVIE

Walter Cronkite, who joined CBS in 1950 but did not become part of the clique of correspondents known as "Murrow's Boys," has said that George Clooney's movie about Murrow's battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy, Good Night, and Good Luck, ought to have included an introduction to set the scene and explain what the battle was all about. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Cronkite nevertheless complimented Clooney for making "a very important public service. ... I hope we can look for more such material." In a separate interview, Andy Rooney, who began working as a writer in the entertainment division of CBS in 1949, said that the danger that McCarthy posed in the 1950s "wasn't laid out too clearly in the movie." Nevertheless, he said that he was encouraged that the film is attracting moviegoers. "I'm not highly hopeful about the intelligence of the American people," Rooney said. "If they like this, they're not as dumb as I think they are."

DISH NETWORK WON'T PAY MORE FOR HOCKEY

EchoStar Communications, which operates the DISH satellite service, said Thursday that it has dropped Comcast-owned Outdoor Life Network because the channel was asking higher fees for including NHL games in its lineup. In a statement Outdoor Life said, "We are surprised and disappointed that Dish has unilaterally chosen to stop providing OLN to its customers--and denied fans the opportunity to watch sports coverage on OLN."

NEWS CORP'S BSKYB BUYS BROADBAND PROVIDER

News Corp-controlled BSkyB, the British satellite broadcaster, has paid a whopping $375 million to purchase the UK-based Easynet broadband ISP. In a statement BSkyB CEO James Murdoch said that the acquisition will enable the company to offer "on demand" television programs as well as telephone services via the Internet. In a statement, Murdoch said that the acquisition "reflects the exciting opportunities that now exist to combine quality entertainment with significant high-speed connections."

FOR SONY, NO REPEAT OF BETAMAX DEBACLE

In what appeared to be a climactic victory for Sony in its battle with Toshiba over the next-generation high-definition DVD format, Warner Bros. has agreed to adopt Sony's Blu-ray format. Until now, the studio had been part of Toshiba's HD DVD camp, and although it indicated that it would back both formats, the fact that the majority of films will now be released in Blu-ray -- Universal is the only studio that has not announced support of Blu-ray -- appears to doom HD DVD. Today's (Friday) Daily Variety quoted one executive close to the negotiations as saying, "This is something the HD camp cannot recover from." In 1988, Sony threw in the towel in the home-video wars at the time when it abandoned its Betamax format and began manufacturing recorders with the rival VHS system.

BOX OFFICE IS DOOMED

Box office analysts figure that lousy reviews for Doom -- even on several videogame websites -- are not likely to doom the movie's opening weekend. Most, in fact, expect fans of the game on which it is based to push it to the top of the box office with around $15-17 million -- not a lot for a film that reportedly cost some $80 million to make, but much better than what most other new releases have been earning of late. Second place is expected to go to Warner Bros.' North Country, which analysts predict will earn $8-10 million. DreamWorks' Dreamer, starring young Dakota Fanning, is expected to give North Country a run for the money. It's predicted to earn $7-9 million. A fourth newcomer, Stay, has been attracting reviews that say, "Stay away." Moviegoers are expected to follow that advice. It is expected to earn $3-5 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: DOOM

Critics have become a group of doomsayers in appraising Doom. Certainly few of them have played the video game on which it is based, something that many of them readily admit. "No, I haven't played it, and I never will," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, "but I know how it feels not to play it, because I've seen the movie. Doom is like some kid came over and is using your computer and won't let you play." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post simply writes off the movie as "another sorry chapter in Hollywood's infatuation with video games," and Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel says it's not "worth turning off the PlayStation to go see." But Victor Godinez in the Dallas Morning News regards Doom as "a surprisingly non-kitschy action film." He concludes: "Video game-based movies have become something of a dirty word in recent years, but Doom is good enough to stand on its own merits. It may not win any Oscars, but it is entertaining."

MOVIE REVIEWS: NORTH COUNTRY

They're talking about a possible second Oscar for Charlize Theron for her performance in North Country as one of the first Minnesota female mine workers following a consent decree in the 1970s that forced the mine companies to hire women. Theron's character is based on one of the Minnesota women who eventually filed the first sexual harassment class-action suit in the United States. (The film is being compared with Norma Rae, Silkwood and Erin Brockovich.) Ann Hornaday writes in the Washington Post: "Theron, who won an Oscar last year for completely transforming herself to play the prostitute Aileen Wuornos [in Monster], once again proves to be a remarkable character actress, submerging her almost superhuman beauty." Likewise Roger Ebert remarks in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Here is another extraordinary role from an actress who has the beauty of a fashion model but has found resources within herself for these powerful roles about unglamorous women in the world of men." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star puts it more succinctly: "She's nothing short of spectacular here," he writes. Nevertheless, the movie itself, by and large, does not come off as well as the actress who stars in it. Kenneth Turan remarks in the Los Angeles Times that while the events in the movie actually occurred, they feel "relentlessly contrived." He concludes: "While it's a truism that movies have to take dramatic license to make complex stories fit into finite time frames, it is depressing to come across a movie whose over-eagerness to convince us makes us reject rather than embrace it." And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal laments that the film winds up as "a long, slow slog through what could have been, and should have been, a more absorbing story."

MOVIE REVIEWS: DREAMER

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story is also inspiring much praise for its young star, Dakota Fanning. John Anderson begins his review in Newsday by remarking, "Her adult teeth haven't come in yet and already Dakota Fanning, 11, is one of the best actresses on screen." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie puts it this way in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Technically, she's still a child star. What she really is is a star. Period." Kyle Smith in the New York Post calls her performance "stellar and moving." Ellen Futterman observes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Fanning deftly combines a wide-eyed innocence with an eerily mature wisdom, and she makes it all seem so believable." In the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano adds: "Fanning radiates intelligence and poise while acting her age -- a rare gift these days. Dreamer keeps the cuteness in check, so the predictable happy ending is more dessert than cream pie in the face." In the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman has this word for parents: "As long as little girls love horses, grownups will have to take them to movies about little girls who love horses. Should you happen to be the designated chaperone for Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, count your blessings."

VILLARAIGOSA ACTS TO STEM RUNAWAY PRODUCTION

In a show of support for efforts to discourage runaway production, recently elected Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday that he plans to eliminate fees charged by the city to shoot on city property. (Such a move would have to be approved by the City Council.) He also reaffirmed his support for other measures being introduced at the state level aimed at encouraging filmmakers to remain at home. "We cannot stand idly by while other states enact incentives to lure jobs away from California," Villaraigosa told a news conference. He declared that if Los Angeles does not nurture and protect its entertainment industry, "this city will die on the vine."