O'REILLY SCANDAL IN NO-COMMENT ZONE

The scandal involving Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly and Andrea Mackris, an associate producer for his TV program, abruptly sputtered out Thursday as the two reached a settlement and dropped all lawsuits against each other. Mackris had sued O'Reilly and Fox for sexual harassment; O'Reilly had sued Mackris for extortion. Details of the settlement were not disclosed, and when the two were separately approached by reporters, Thursday night, each said they were barred from discussing it. "I will never speak of it again," said O'Reilly, pointing out to his TV viewers that he had admitted "no wrongdoing" in the settlement. "It's over and I'm happy," said Mackris.

FOX BETTING ON THE O.C. ON THURSDAYS

Fox is spending heavily to promote next Thursday's season debut of its teen-oriented drama The O.C., against NBC's Joey and CBS's Survivor, Daily Variety reported today (Friday), calling the promotional campaign "one of the most extensive and costly" in Fox's history. "This [move] is an opportunity for us to get back into the game on a night where we haven't been active in five years or more," Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman told the trade publication, noting that even if the show's ratings are down somewhat from last year, the network could garner more revenue from movie studios, which concentrate their TV ad spending on Thursday nights and seek shows with a strong appeal to younger viewers. Last May Berman suggested that she had a contingency plan in case The O.C. bombed on Thursday. "We have no interest in seeing it be destroyed. If it doesn't work. We'll move it. We'd like to believe that it's going to work," she said.

CNNfn TO FOLD

Time Warner's cable news operations took a new hit Wednesday as CNN President Jim Walton announced that CNNfn, the company's financial-news network, will shut down in mid-December after more than nine years on the air. Walton said that he was pulling the plug on the outlet in order to help shore up CNN and CNN Headline News. He also indicated that a continuing problem had been finding outlets for the network which is only available in some 30 million homes, half of which nearly half are served by DirecTV. Walton indicated that CNN International may take the place of CNNfn on the cable dial. Although about 100 employees of CNNfn are affected by the decision, Walton said in a staff memo that many of them "will assume other roles within CNN" and that the company will relocate others with the financial news website that it produces with Time Inc.'s Money magazine.

ABC AIRS TAPE OF PROBABLE AL-QAEDA OPERATIVE

After asking CIA officials to verify its authenticity, ABC News on Thursday aired a video in which a man identifying himself as an al-Qaeda operative warns in English that another attack on U.S. shores could come at any time. "Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood matching drop for drop the blood of America's victims," the man says. ABC reported that the CIA could not be completely certain that the 75-minute tape is authentic, but the agency did acknowledge that "it appears to have been produced by al-Qaeda's media organization, al-Sahab productions." An ABC spokesman, Jeffrey Schneider, told Reuters: "The government is clearly taking this tape very seriously."

VIACOM WINS SOME, LOSES SOME

Viacom reported a net loss of $487.6 million in the third quarter, which it attributed to a $1.5-billion write-down of Blockbuster. It was the second time this year that the company had taken a charge to reflect Blockbuster's plummeting worth. Last year Viacom posted a gain of $699.6 million for the comparable quarter. Most of the company's businesses appeared to be performing strongly, however, including CBS, the company's cable networks, and Paramount Pictures. However, its Infinity radio network continued to show weakness, dropping 17 percent in earnings and 4 percent in revenue.

60 MINUTES TO AIR SIMPSON SNAFU

It now turns out that a news team from CBS's 60 Minutes was shooting a feature about how NBC's Saturday Night Live is produced when the commotion over Ashlee Simpson's botched performance occurred. After Simpson's voice was heard singing the same song she had sung earlier in the show, Simpson danced for a few seconds, then ran offstage -- and into 60 Minutes' cameras, which recorded her reaction and show creator Lorne Michaels'. CBS said Thursday that reporter Leslie Stahl and the 60 Minutes cameras were also on hand during the dress rehearsal, when Simpson again ran off stage.

OVITZ GOT MORE MILLIONS FROM CAA

Michael Ovitz apparently did not take the kind of financial hit that earlier reports suggested he did when he left the Creative Artists talent agency to become president of the Walt Disney Co. in 1995. During testimony on Thursday at a shareholders' lawsuit in Georgetown, DE, Ovitz acknowledged that he continued to collect $28 million from the agency he founded. Asked whether Disney directors were aware that he was still being paid by the agency, Ovitz replied, "It was common knowledge. ... The entire [Hollywood] community knew the deal that we made." He also denied that his continued ties to the agency represented a conflict of interest, saying that he never had authority to make or approve deals with CAA clients. At another point during his cross-examination, Steven Schulman, representing Disney shareholders, asked Ovitz why, as a self-styled student of Asian culture, he had not warned Disney officials that the Martin Scorsese movie Kundun would anger the Chinese government at a time when Disney was attempting to move into the Chinese market. Ovitz responded that he had "called a lot of my friends in the Chinese government to calm the waters." Besides, he said, "In America, we do not stop creative people from expressing their freedom of speech." In the end, Ovitz suggested, the controversy over the film quickly blew over. "There is a [Disneyland] park being built there right now," he observed. Britain's Guardian newspaper described Ovitz's performance on the witness stand as "more riveting than anything else from Disney this year."

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION CONTINUES TO FLY HIGH

A day after DreamWorks Animation's IPO debuted on the New York Stock Exchange at a higher-than-expected $28, the stock soared in its first day of trading Thursday, closing at $38.75, making it the hottest stock entry of the year. By mid-morning today (Friday) it had risen to $41.90. "There's been nothing as explosive as this in media in a very long time," Lehman entertainment analyst Anthony DiClemente told today's New York Daily News. "This is a very lucrative, trendy part of the film business."

WEBSITE OFFERS FREE COPIES OF FAHRENHEIT 9/11

A San Bruno, CA man has admitted that he has spent $2,000 for high-speed Internet connectivity to his website so that people can download Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 for free. Marc Perkel told the London Independent that he does not expect to be sued for copyright infringement. "Michael Moore wants me to distribute this," he said, while admitting that he has never actually spoken to Moore. (Moore said in July: "I don't agree with the copyright laws and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people as long as they're not trying to make a profit off my labor.") So far, Perkel said, the film has been downloaded 337,756 times <http://marc.perkel.com/archives/000468.html>. "But I don't count downloads, I count votes. How many voters are converted or how many people are motivated to actually vote? ... I am trying to prevent World War III and possibly the fall of civilization."

DEAF ACTIVISTS WILL WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR FOR THEATER RULING

The Ontario (Canada) Human Rights Tribunal has delayed the start of a hearing on demands by deaf activists to force Canadian theaters to install a technology called Rear Window Captioning in all movie houses in Canada. The technology employs a device that fits into the cup holders of theater seats and reflects captioning projected onto the rear wall. Hugh Christie, a lawyer for NBC Universal, told today's (Friday) Toronto Star, "If you're going to have an industry-wide solution, you've got to have the whole industry here." The Star indicated that the hearing is not likely to be held until March at the earliest.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: RAY

There's hardly a review of director Taylor Hackford's Ray Charles bio Ray that doesn't mention that it is certain to bring Jamie Foxx, who stars in the title role, an Oscar nomination and probably the best actor award. The film itself receives mixed reaction. On the one hand, there's Joel Siegel of ABC's Good Morning, whose review sounded like a riff from a Ray Charles number: "Tell your ma, tell your pa. It's one of the best films I ever saw." "Ray Charles was quite a man; this movie not only knows it, but understands it," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. There's also Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who calls the film "this triumphant musical movie-bio." On the other hand, there's Chris Kaltenbach, who comments in the Baltimore Sun: "Jamie Foxx is so mesmerizing as Ray Charles ... it's a shame his performance isn't surrounded by a better film." Similarly, Steven Rea writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Foxx is trapped in a movie that takes the music icon's unique story and turns it into cheesy, sentimental American Dream clichés." In between, there's Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who remarks that Ray is "a proudly conventional film that combines an involving true story, irresistible music and a charismatic performance in a way that makes us not only forgive but actually almost relish how standard the presentation is." And there's A.O. Scott of the New York Times, who concludes, "Ray, while not a great movie, is a very good movie about greatness, in which celebrating the achievement of one major artist becomes the occasion for the emergence of another."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: SAW

Dueling it out with last week's box-office champion, Grudge, for Halloween attention, Saw, starring Danny Glover, Cary Elwes, and Leigh Whannell, is being cut down by most critics. "A gore movie with no teeth," is the way Jamie Bernard describes it in the New York Daily News. "A bloody mess" is V.A. Musetto's description of it in the New York Post. Jan Stuart in Newsday says that the film is "so giddily pumped up with nasty hormones, you can't help but dissolve into laughter at the same time as you are hiding your eyes." Gary Dowell of the Dallas Morning News dismisses it as "a grisly thriller that plays like a bargain-basement rehash of other, better movies." The film does manage to evoke a few positive comments from a handful of reviewers -- sort of. Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Tribune remarks that the movie "is oddly satisfying, though the gag reflex never entirely goes away." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News suggests that the movie is "well put together until you start thinking about it. And Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle advises, "If you see Saw, scorn popcorn. This grisly little movie may kill your appetite -- but not your interest."