DEMAND GROWS FOR PROBE OF CBS REPORT
CBS appeared to be circling the wagons Monday as mainstream media joined the original Internet bloggers to question the authenticity of documents presented by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes II last week, alleging that George W. Bush received special treatment to allow him to avoid fulfilling his National Guard duties in the early '70s. Rather devoted another segment of the CBS Evening News Monday night to the controversy, calling in experts who maintained that, assertions by other experts to the contrary, technology existed in the '70s to create the documents. But today's (Tuesday) New York Post and the Washington Post each cited Microsoft expert Joseph Newcomer as calling the CBS documents a fake. "The probability that any technology in existence in 1972 would be capable of producing a document that is nearly pixel-compatible with Microsoft's Times New Roman font and the formatting of Microsoft Word and ... was in casual use at the Texas Air National Guard is so vanishingly small as to be indistinguishable from zero," he said. Moreover, the Washington newspaper reported that Marcel Matley, the lead expert that CBS retained to examine the documents, now maintains that he had only examined the signatures on them and that, because they are copies of the originals, "there's no way that I, as a document expert, can authenticate them." Editorially, the New York Post said today that it agreed with conservative New York Times columnist William Safire, who wrote on Monday that CBS ought to appoint an independent panel to reexamine the sources and papers cited in the 60 Minutes report -- as the New York Times had done in the Jayson Blair affair. "If Rather and CBS hope to rescue their credibility, they should do no less," the Post concluded. The New York Times itself reported today that several CBS News staffers are growing increasingly anxious over developments in the matter, with one of them describing their emotional state as being one of "deep concern, I'd say not panic -- we all want it to be right." Another longtime correspondent remarked, "I'm distressed."

TRINITY BROADCASTING HEAD FENDS OFF GAY-SEX CHARGES

A furious controversy has developed over a report in Sunday's Los Angeles Times that Paul Crouch, president and founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, had allegedly paid off a TBN employee nearly a half million dollars to prevent him from going public with a story claiming that he had had a sexual encounter with Crouch in 1996. The newspaper also quoted a letter written by the religious broadcaster's lawyer, Dennis Brewer, recalling a conversation with Crouch's son Matt, who said that he was "confronted with having to face the fact that my father is a homosexual." (The younger Crouch subsequently denied that the conversation ever took place.) TBN, while calling the charges "dishonest, false and scandalous," nevertheless acknowledged that Ford had been paid $425,000 to "avoid the bad publicity, time and effort that it would take to fight" them. TBN claims to be the largest Christian broadcasting network in the world -- with 43 satellites carrying its programming to 10,000 TV and cable outlets worldwide -- and features a number of televangelists who regularly denounce homosexuality as evil.

THE BENEFACTOR BENEFICENT FOR ABC

The debut of ABC's Apprentice-like reality series The Benefactor won the 8:00 p.m. hour Monday night, recording a 6.6 rating and an 11 share, according to overnight Nielsen ratings. The show, together with Monday Night Football (Green Bay Packers vs. Carolina Panthers), which averaged an 11.7/18, gave ABC a win for the night. NBC's series launch of LAX at 10:00 p.m. also performed solidly, despite generally poor reviews. It came in second with an 8.6/13, beating a rerun of CBS's CSI: Miami, which scored a 6.6/11.

TRUMP THREATENING TO SUE ABC

Donald Trump has told New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove that ABC's Primetime Live is planning to start the new season Thursday with a "hit piece" about him. Grove reported that Trump's attorney has sent the network a blistering letter warning that he will sue if the segment damages Trump's reputation. The segment is to be fronted by Primetime correspondent Chris Cuomo, whose father is the former governor, Mario Cuomo. "Chris Cuomo has a conflict of interest," Trump told Grove. "You know, I called Mario Cuomo a major loser -- which he is - and perhaps the worst governor in the history of the state of New York -- which he, fortunately, was. His son is the correspondent. If somebody is calling my father a loser, I'd probably feel the same way." Trump also observed that he had taken The Apprentice to ABC first, "and then they started to nickel and dime us, and we went to NBC instead." Cuomo responded that he had repeatedly asked Trump for an interview but that Trump had refused.

VIVENDI UNIVERSAL SINKS INTO THE RED AGAIN

Vivendi Universal reported a higher-than-expected second-quarter loss of $2.27 billion compared with a loss of $384 million during the comparable quarter a year ago. The company blamed the weaker U.S. dollar, the legal costs involved in selling its U.S. entertainment assets to NBC, and big losses at its video games unit. On the other hand, sales rose at the company's music unit, Universal Music, and its French pay-TV company, Canal Plus.

AUSTRALIAN OPPOSITION PARTY PLEDGES AID TO FILM, TV PRODUCERS

The Australian Labor Party pledged today (Tuesday) to increase spending by $123 million for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) and locally produced TV and film production if it wins the federal election next month. Terry Laidler, a spokesman for a group called Friends of the ABC, told the Australian Associated Press that the additional funding could represent the first turnaround following 20 years of decline for the public broadcaster. "Labor's funding promise is the first sign of spring in what has been a long cold winter for the ABC," he said.

WILL SONY TAME THE LION?

Sony appeared to have caught a lion by the tail Monday as it reached a tentative deal to buy MGM for nearly $5 billion. Sony emerged as the studio's sole suitor after Time Warner dropped out of the bidding, indicating that attempting to top Sony's price would place an unreasonable burden on its finances. Sony, however, was able to justify the high price because of a deal with Comcast that would launch a video-on-demand cable service showcasing MGM and Sony films. The deal would also mark the end of one of Hollywood's oldest studios -- it is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. "It was once the premier studio of all time," former MGM chief Alan Ladd Jr told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times. "It's been dwindling away at a slow pace for years. There's nothing that can save it, so it's best to dispose of it." In fact, MGM will presumably now become a unit of a studio that has its headquarters and principal production facilities on MGM's former Culver City lot.

EVIL RESIDING AT NO. 1 AT BOX OFFICE

Resident Evil: Apocalypse proved to be downright apocalyptic for the box office over the weekend as the video-game-based film performed far better than analysts had expected and caused most of the other films to perform far worse. Apocalypse, from Sony's Screen Gems, took in $23 million, followed by New Line's Cellular which accounted for a solid, if unspectacular $10.1 million. None of the other films managed to earn even $5 million, making the weekend the lowest-grossing "frame" (to use the Variety term) of the year. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Screen Gems, $23,036,273, (New); 2. Cellular, New Line, $10,100,571, (New); 3. Without a Paddle, Paramount, $4,512,552, 4 Wks. ($45,518,563); 4. Hero, Miramax, $4,420,702, 3 Wks. ($41,652,507); 5. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Disney, $2,932,938, 5 Wks. ($89,259,246); 6. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Screen Gems, $2,807,475, 3 Wks. ($27,578,480); 7. Paparazzi, 20th Century Fox, $2,771,056, 2 Wks. ($12,005,971); 8. Collateral, DreamWorks, $2,718,073, 6 Wks. ($92,691,776); 9. Vanity Fair, Focus Features, $2,613,777, 2 Wks. ($11,096,102); 10. Napoleon Dynamite, Fox Searchlight, $2,516,879, 14 Wks. ($30,294,397).

DISNEY DISSIDENTS WON'T LET UP

Disney dissidents Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold indicated Monday that their efforts to remove Michael Eisner as chief executive will not diminish as a result of Eisner's recent announcement that he plans to retire from the post in 2006. The two charged in an open letter to the Disney board that Eisner's announcement was "mere window dressing" for a plan that included installing "his obedient lieutenant Bob Iger" as CEO and regaining the post of chairman himself. In other words, the two dissidents said, a company now run by Eisner and Iger would be handed over to Eisner and Iger. Disney and Gold said that they plan to nominate a new slate of directors at the company's board meeting next March unless the board replaces Eisner before then.

EISENSTEIN CLASSIC GETS A NEW SCORE

Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent classic Battleship Potemkin was screened in London's Trafalgar Square Sunday night with a new score composed by the British band, the Pet Shop Boys, performed by the band and the Dresdner Sinfoniker orchestra. Although band member Neil Tennant recently wrote on his website that while he was attracted to the assignment of writing a 73-minute piece of music, he was even more excited about the "unsullied purity about the whole thing, as we don't get paid and the audience doesn't pay to see it. It feels refreshingly idealistic at a time when Madonna's concert tickets can cost as much as