CBS STANDS ITS GROUND

CBS continued to stand by its 60 Minutes report questioning President Bush's National Guard service, accusing critics of ignoring the "key questions" that the broadcast raised and focusing instead on the authenticity of the documents that were presented during the report. In an unusually long (six minutes) statement on the CBS Evening News on Friday, anchor Dan Rather, who fronted the 60 Minutes feature, calling some of the critics of the report "partisan political operatives" maintained that document and handwriting experts with whom the network had consulted had verified the documents. Meanwhile, several mainstream newspapers joined the critics. The Dallas Morning News, checking one of the documents that suggested that a commander of a Texas Air Guard squadron had "sugar coated" Bush's record discovered that the commander had retired 18 months before then. Newsweek reported that a former Guard officer that CBS had consulted as a man who had experienced two nervous breakdowns. CNN's Wolf Blitzer commented that if the documents turned out to be a hoax, "it's a huge story, right on the heels of the Jayson Blair matter." Likewise, former NBC News President Larry Grossman told the Wall Street Journal, "If the documents are proven to be a fake ... people will be fired, the program loses its credibility and Dan Rather ends a distinguished career with his reputation besmirched."

SUPER BOWL IS BIG BUSINESS -- IN SEPTEMBER

Next year's Super Bowl may not take place until Feb. 6 but Fox Broadcasting claims that it has already sold half its inventory of commercial time for the telecast, according to TelevisionWeek. The trade publication indicated that the game will also see the return of dot-com advertisers, including Careerbuilder.com and GameznFlix.com, companies that had never previously advertised during the Super Bowl. However, Rino Scanzoni, president of national broadcast for Mediaedge:cia, told the trade publication: "Advertisers who have jumped in could jump out. There hasn't been one Super Bowl where advertisers weren't looking to sell off units in the weeks before the game."

DON'T SHOOT MESSENGER, SAYS EDITOR ABOUT JEOPARDY REPORT

The editor of TelevisionWeek said today (Monday) that the trade publication has received numerous complaints since it broke the story on its website last week that Ken Jennings' winning streak on Jeopardy! had ended. Editor Alex Ben Block wrote in today's edition that while most of the complainers argued that the story ruined the fun of watching the syndicated quiz show, some also maintained "that we could hurt the show's ratings, and that it was not the job of a trade paper to break a story of this nature." Block responded: "While we are sensitive to the impact of what we do, what we do is break news stories of importance to our audience. We take this as a serious responsibility. This particular story clearly was important." Block also insisted that the story was not based on Internet rumors. "We put out the story only after we found multiple credible sources of our own to confirm the information we had obtained independently."

IDOL PARTNERS MAY PART

Simon Fuller, who created the British hit Pop Idol, then brought it to the U.S. as American Idol, is suing Simon Cowell, the acerbic judge of both versions of the show, claiming that Cowell's new talent contest, X Factor, is a rip-off of Idol. X Factor debuted in the U.K. on Saturday. Cowell reportedly owns a substantial stake in Idol and his blunt appraisals of the performances of the show's contestants have been given large credit for its popularity. In an interview with the newspaper, Cowell described Fuller's complaints as "totally and utterly ridiculous." Today's (Monday) New York Post speculated that the legal rift between Fuller and Cowell could result in Cowell quitting Idol.

CBS CONFIRMS TELEVISED MADONNA CONFERENCE IS OFF

A deal between CBS and Madonna that would have brought one of her re-Invention Tour concerts in Lisbon, Portugal next week to the network during the fall season has collapsed, published reports said Sunday. "She wanted to do a two-and-a-half-hour-plus commercial-free format, and we wanted a two-hour format with commercials," a network representative told TV Guide's online edition. CBS had included the Madonna special in its fall season presentation to advertisers last May.

REPORTER KILLED DURING LIVE COVERAGE IN IRAQ

A reporter for the Arab news channel al-Arabiya was killed in Baghdad Sunday as he was reporting live on clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents. Mazen al-Tomaizi, a Palestinian, was killed when a U.S. helicopter fired on a crowd that had gathered around a U.S. tank that been set struck by a car bomb. Blood from al-Tomaizi's body splayed over the lens of the camera and he could be heard screaming. A cameraman for Reuters, Seif Fouad, standing nearby was struck by shrapnel following a second round but survived. The English-language Saudi newspaper Arab News reported that Fouad's footage showed the crowd around the tank to be composed of unarmed boys and men. However, Major Philip Smith of the 1st Cavalry Division maintained in an interview with the Associated Press that the helicopters were returning small arms fire from insurgents in the vicinity of the vehicle.

RESIDENT EVIL RESIDES IN FIRST PLACE

Box office analysts were once again embarrassed over the weekend as their predictions proved to be well wide of the mark as Sony's Resident Evil: Apocalypse raked in a whopping $23.7 million in its debut -- more than twice what had been forecast. "These movies come out of nowhere and do big business and everybody is caught off guard, but we really shouldn't be," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told the Associated Press. "These horror thrillers always make a killing at the box office." New Line's Cellular also performed solidly as it opened in second place with and estimated $10.6 million. Paramount's Without a Paddle slipped to third place with $4.58 million, slightly ahead of Disney's Hero, which fell from first- to third-place with about $4.42 million after spending two weeks in the top spot. The same studio's Princess Diaries 2 remained in fifth place with $2.93 million. The top 12 films recorded $64.7 million in ticket sales, down 11 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago, according to Exhibitor Relations, and the lowest box office total of the year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Resident Evil: Apocalypse, $23.7 million; 2. Cellular, $10.6 million; 3. Without a Paddle, $4.58 million; 4. Hero, $4.42 million; 5. Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, $2.93 million; 6. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, $2.90 million; 7. Vanity Fair, $2.74 million; 8. Collateral, $2.70 million; 9. Napoleon Dynamite, $2.65 million; 10. Paparazzi, $2.60 million.

TIME WARNER GIVES MGM A DEADLINE

Time Warner has told MGM that it plans to withdraw its offer to buy the studio unless MGM makes a decision on it within the next two days, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). The newspaper also reported that Sony, which had previously bid $4.5 billion for the studio, had sweetened the bid to close to $5 billion. Moreover, it reportedly told MGM that it is securing a fully financed bid and was prepared to put up a $150-million nonrefundable deposit in case the deal falls through, the Journal said, citing an unnamed person familiar with the situation.

VERA DRAKE WINS AT VENICE

Thanking the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival for rejecting his film, British director Mike Leigh accepted the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award for his film, Vera Drake. The film also earned its star, Imelda Staunton, the festival's best actress award. It was the first time since 1992 that a film rejected by Cannes received top honors in Venice. (The 1992 film was Chinese director Zhang Yimou's The Story of Qiu Ju.) Under festival rules, a film screened in competition may not have been previously screened at any other festival. The movie, produced for just $8.5 million, is due to play the New York Film Festival on Oct. 8 and open the London Film Festival on Oct. 20. Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar took the Jury Grand Prize for his The Sea Inside, starring Javier Bardem, who received the festival's best actor award. Both films are due to be released by Fine Line in the U.S. in the fall. Meanwhile, Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace won the Grand Prix for Independent Film at the Deauville Festival of American Film in France on Sunday.

ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DESCEND ON TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

Animal rights activists have vowed to stage a demonstration at the Toronto Film Festival to protest the screening of the documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. "We have carloads of people coming in from all over Canada and the U.S. There will be at least 300 of us on Tuesday," Suzanne Lahaie, co-founder of a Toronto group, Freedom for Animals, told the Toronto Star. The newspaper reported that one anonymous caller reached a festival programmer at home and threatened to "skin him alive" and "shove knives in his eyes" if the film was screened.

DISNEY SAYS IT REGRETS COLOR PROBLEMS WITH JAPANESE FEATURE

The Walt Disney Co. has apologized to Japanese customers who purchased copies of the DVD version of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and discovered that it had a red tint, the Mainichi Shumbun reported Sunday. The apology came as part of a settlement that Walt Disney Japan reached with plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the company over the color issue. Disney said that the color problem had resulted from "misunderstand and confusion," according to the newspaper, and promised to disclose any "adjustments" in films released on DVD in the future.

HAMMILL SAYS LUCAS ASKED HIM TO APPEAR IN A FUTURE STAR WARS TRILOGY

Mark Hammill, the original Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movies, has said that George Lucas once told him that he planned to produce episodes seven, eight, and nine of the series beginning around 2011 and asked him to return for cameo appearances then. Hammill said he agreed to do so. (In a separate interview, Lucas described his comment as "an off-hand comment" and added, "I never had any intention of doing that. ... Episode six is the end. There isn't any more to it.") Hammill also disclosed at the presentation of Fox Home Entertainment's Star Wars Trilogy DVD set that 20th Century Fox researchers had originally nixed the title of the first movie. "They didn't want to have 'wars' in the title," he recalled. He said 20th executives told Lucas that their research "shows that women between the ages of 18 and 36 do not like films with the word 'wars' in the title. I'm not making this up. This was a real memo. So we had a contest -- 'Naming the Movie -- and we put it up on the call sheet: Anybody that can come up with a better title than Star Wars, if their title was selected, they'd win something -- I forget [what it was]. And nobody came up with anything any better."