WAS CBS NEWS PUNK'D?
In what appears to be a case of a torpedo reversing course, documents that formed the basis for a 60 Minutes report alleging misconduct by President Bush when he served in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s have been debunked as crude forgeries by document experts and the widow and son of the officer who allegedly wrote them. The documents were first challenged on the Internet "blog," PowerLine.com with mainstream news media quickly coming aboard. The website of News Corp's conservative Weekly Standard magazine cited several forensic document experts as concluding that the memos cited were likely computer-generated. One expert, Richard Polt of Xavier University in New Orleans, told the publication: "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s." One expert on Power Line pointed out that the typed characters in the document are "kerned," a spacing technique that could not have been accomplished with a typewriter. Gary Killian, the son of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who allegedly wrote the memos, questioned CBS's account that they had been kept secret. "It just wouldn't happen. The only thing that can happen when you keep secret files like that are bad things." He also questioned the signatures that appeared on the memos. Killian's widow, Marjorie Connell, told ABC radio that her husband didn't type. CBS initially issued a statement saying that it was convinced of the authenticity of the documents, then later revised its position, saying that it had talked to unnamed former associates of Killian who confirmed that the documents "reflect his opinions." Furthermore, today's (Friday) Washington Post cited an unnamed senior CBS official as saying that one of the network's sources was retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, Killian's immediate superior, who confirmed that the remarks in the memos "are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time." Although the White House has denounced the release of the documents as "dirty politics," it has not disputed their authenticity.

JOEY MAKES SOLID DEBUT -- BUT IT'S A FAR CRY FROM FRIENDS

The debut of Matt LeBlanc's solo spinoff Joey got off to a solid if inauspicious start Thursday by scoring an 11.7 rating and a 20 share in the 8:00 p.m. time slot. But it fell far short of last year's season start of Friends, which recorded an 18.8/28. In fact, it drew virtually the same numbers as the ill-starred Coupling did in its debut on the same night a year ago. Nevertheless, Joey beat its primary competition, an NFL pregrame show on ABC (6.8/11) and Big Brother 5 on CBS (6.2/10). NBC's season premiere of The Apprentice, which followed at 8:30 p.m., slipped to a 9.9/16, then to a 9.4/15 at 9:00 as ABC's NFL telecast (New England vs. Indianapolis) kicked off with a strong 11.0/18 to take first place. A CSI repeat on CBS was third with an 8.9/14. ABC remained in the lead at 10:00 p.m. as the NFL telecast garnered a 10.6/17, beating the premiere of Medical Investigation on NBC (8.3/13) and a rerun of Without a Trace on CBS (7.6/12).

PRIDE ROARS IN THE RATINGS

Surprising critics who took the whip to it, the premiere episode of NBC's animated Father of the Pride debuted in second place in the Nielsen ratings last week, a tad behind CBS's 60 Minutes, which had the benefit of a strong lead-in from the U.S. Open tennis championships. In fact, in a ratings anomaly, the DreamWorks cartoon actually drew a million viewers more than the venerable news magazine -- 12.39 million for Pride; 11.36 for Minutes. Overall, NBC and CBS tied for the week with a rating of 4.9 and a 9 share. ABC placed third with a 4.1/7. Fox followed in fourth with a 3.2/6. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.8/17; 2. Father of the Pride, NBC, 7.7/12; 3. NFL Pre-Season Football, ABC, 7.6/13; 4. CSI: Miami, CBS, 7.5/12; 5. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 7.4/11; 6. Hawaii, NBC, 7.2/13; 7. Dateline Special (Jane Pauley) (Wednesday), NBC, 7.0/11; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 7.0/11; 9. Cold Case, CBS, 6.5/13; 9. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 6.5/10.

SAUDIS TRUST ARAB NEWS CHANNELS, DISTRUST THE U.S. ONE

Seventy percent of television viewers in Saudi Arabia regard the al-Arabiya all-news channel as "very trustworthy," while fewer than 1.5 percent regard it as not trustworthy. They had a similar opinion about al-Jazeera, another Arab all-news station, with 69 percent saying they regard the station as trustworthy and fewer than 3 percent saying it is not trustworthy. However, the American-funded al-Hurra network received mostly negative comments from those polled, with just 17 percent saying that they regard the channel as very trustworthy and a whopping 20 percent calling it not trustworthy. The findings were reported today (Friday) in Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News.

JAPAN'S NHK TO PROVIDE PROGRAMS FOR CELLULAR DEVICES

For the first time, Japan's publicly funded TV network NHK has signed a deal that will bring its programming to cell-phone and other mobile-receiver users via Mobile Broadcasting Corp, which is due to launch its video service next month, the Asahi Shimbun reported today (Friday). NHK's application to provide the new service was approved by regulators on Wednesday. Mobile Broadcast has said that it will launch with 37 channels, 30 of which will be devoted to audio programming; the remainder, to video.

EISNER TO QUIT -- IN 2006

Michael Eisner has informed the Disney board of directors that he intends to step down as chief executive in Sept. 2006, when his current contract expires, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday). "It has been a fantastic Disney ride for the past 20 years," he wrote. "Ups and downs to be sure, but filled with great satisfaction in building this wonderful creator of classic American culture into one of the premiere entertainment-oriented companies in the world." Much of Eisner's letter reads like a pep-talk, and it ends, "I can only conclude by telling you what I am doing next 'I'm going to Disneyland!'" There was no immediate comment from Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, the former Disney board members who have been leading a battle to oust Eisner. However, the New York Post quoted Disney, the 74-year-old nephew of the company founder, as saying on Thursday, before word of the Eisner letter was disclosed, that "we will definitely continue in our battle" to remove him. "We believe he's doing an awful job. ... and we wouldn't be in this battle if we didn't think we can win it." In an interview with the Journal, Eisner maintained that the Disney-Gold campaign and other controversial issues affecting the company played no role in his decision to step down. He said that his purpose in announcing his retirement two years in advance was to ensure that "there will be a comfortable period of succession." He repeated his belief that Disney President Robert Iger would make "a worthy successor" but he added that the final decision on that score rests with the board.

SONY TRIES TO ENTICE THE LION AGAIN

Sony has sweetened its offer to buy MGM, the New York Post reported today (Friday), citing no sources. The newspaper said that details of the revised offer were sketchy but that it was intended to assure MGM that it will be able to complete the acquisition. MGM is also being wooed by Time Warner.

HERO DVD ANNOUNCED -- WHILE MOVIE IS STILL NO. 1

In the first time in memory that a home video release was announced while a film was reigning (for the second week) at the top of the box office, Miramax said on Thursday that it plans to release a DVD version of Hero, starring Jet Li and directed by Zhang Yimou, on Nov. 30. It will be priced at $29.99. The film has earned $36.7 million theatrically through Wednesday at the domestic box office.

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 TO BE REISSUED

Michael Moore is updating his Fahrenheit 9/11, adding previously deleted scenes, excerpts from testimony before the 9/11 Commission, and other material -- and will reissue it theatrically on Sept. 24, published reports said today (Friday). The reissue is apparently intended to promote the Oct. 5 DVD release, which will also include the additional scenes. Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster, the publisher, said Thursday that the New York Times had refused permission for Moore to include in his upcoming book The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader an article in which the newspaper reviewed its shortcomings in reporting on the events leading up to the war in Iraq. A spokeswoman for the newspaper later said that it is "determined not to associate ourselves with any work in film or print that attacks either candidate."

FAMED ANIMATOR FRANK THOMAS DEAD AT 92

Frank Thomas, whom animation historian John Canemaker described in today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times as "one of the greatest animators of all time," died Wednesday in Flintridge, CA at the age of 92. He was one of Disney's famed "Nine Old Men," and worked on Disney's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as well as a host of other Disney features until he retired after working on The Rescuers in 1977.

MOVIE REVIEWS: CELLULAR

Although a cell phone may be the real star of Cellular, about a kidnapped woman who randomly calls a man on his cell phone, the film's performers, including Kim Basinger as the woman, Chris Evans as the man, Jason Statham as the leader of the kidnappers, and William H. Macy as a desk cop, are receiving plaudits from several critics for performances that lend credibility to a film that most of them portray as contrived. "The movie is skillfully plotted, halfway plausible and well acted; the craftsmanship is in the details, including the astonishing number of different ways in which a cell phone can be made to function -- both as a telephone, and as a plot device," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. A. O. Scott in the New York Times, while calling the plot "implausible," nevertheless describes the movie as "an honest, unpretentious, well-made B picture with a clever, silly premise, a handful of sly, unassuming performances and enough car chases, decent jokes and swervy plot complications to make the price of the ticket seem like a decent bargain." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post writes similarly: "There ought to be a small place in heaven for movies like Cellular. Now they almost never make them, but from the '30s through the '60s they were a Hollywood staple: efficient programmers, taut, tight killer B's, churned out in the hundreds, unstudied and unloved, but perfect on the undercard of a double feature, then gone forever in a week." John Anderson suggests in Newsday that Cellular shouldn't last that long, that the movie "is too inept to work as what it seems to be, and not clever enough to work as a spoof -- which, if you're feeling charitable, is what you assume they intended." And several critics, including Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune, Megan Lehmann in the New York Post, and Susan Walker in the Toronto Globe and Mail use the same term to disparage the movie: "Wrong number."

MOVIE REVIEWS: RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE

Any movie with a name like Resident Evil: Apocalypse is asking for a duel with critics. And they are shooting it down faster than a 14-year-old who has just shoved the video game on which it was based into his GameCube. The major problem, suggests Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe, is that "like so many movies with a keypad for a brain, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is another exercise in making us feel the irritation associated with having to stand behind some game hack for our turn to play." But Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Tribune indicates that even if viewers were able to play the game, it might not be worth it. "As video game movies go, this one contains less plot and character development than Pac-Man," he writes. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star suggests, that Torontonians may well want to see the film, since it was produced in their city. In fact, he writes, "There's just one reason for seeing this sad excuse for a zombie flick, apart from self-abuse. It's the chance to witness your fellow Hogtown residents running wild in the streets and being politically incorrect about just about everything, cannibalism included." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times accompanies his review with this warning: "Parents: If you encounter teenagers who say they liked this movie, do not let them date your children."