HURRICANE BLOWS IN CHANGE FOR CNN, SAYS CHIEF

CNN President Jonathan Klein maintained Wednesday that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the cable news network plans to take a more "aggressive" stance in its reporting and to do more to challenge officialdom. Interviewed on the blog TVNewser, Klein said, "It's been an objective of ours for the whole year, to take a more muscular and assertive approach to covering the news. ... Amid all the talk we've been doing about it, we have finally found a story where correspondents and anchors could apply it." He said that such a stance will continue after the Katrina story dies down. "This will be a permanent hallmark of our coverage. Our voice is going to be one of aggressively demanding answers on behalf of the audience, which does not have access to a microphone or those officials," he said.

HURRICANE DRAMA BOOSTS CABLE NEWS NETS

The television audience continued to swell the ratings of the cable news channels this week. CNN, in particular, saw its numbers rise against Fox, and when the audiences for the main CNN channel and its Headline News Channel were combined, the the two rivals were virtually even throughout the day. In fact, CNN led in the morning and afternoon hours, slipping during primetime, when Fox continued to show impressive strength. In particular, at 9:00 p.m., Bill O'Reilly flew by the 3 million mark, with 3,180,000 viewers. By contrast, CNN's Paula Zahn drew 1,113,000.

CBS DEMANDS U.S. RELEASE CAMERAMAN

CBS News has demanded that American forces in Iraq immediately release 25-year-old cameraman Abdul Amir Younes Hussein, who was shot and wounded by U.S. forces while he was filming the aftermath of a car bombing for the network on April 5. Today's (Thursday) Wall Street Journal reported that the network and military authorities have become locked in a bitter legal and political dispute over the arrest and that the network has hired a prominent Washington law firm, which has gathered strong evidence to dispute the military's allegations that Hussein had been engaged in "insurgent activity" and that he posed "an imperative threat to coalition forces." The network issued a statement Wednesday saying: "The cameraman has now been detained for more than five months, and no one concerned has been informed of the evidence against him." In its report, the WSJ observed that military officials have also refused to allow CBS to recover its camera or duplicate the videotape Hussein had shot, stating that it could be used as evidence. In addition to Hussein, at least four other Iraqi journalists including two cameramen for Reuters, remain in American custody, the newspaper said.

AN ALL-IRAQ-WAR CABLE NETWORK?

CNN cofounder Reese Schonfeld is urging the cable news network to launch a separate channel devoted exclusively to the war in Iraq. He suggested that Headline News Channel might be converted into such a channel, delivering two minutes of general headlines every half hour, followed to in-depth coverage of the war. "With a flip of the switch CNN might bring the war, its events and implications, an overview and the details into the awareness of almost all Americans," Schonfeld wrote on his website, www.meandted.com. Schonfeld concluded: "I do not kid myself. A 24/7 Iraq network will cost more and probably earn less revenue. It will cost CNN money, so why should CNN do it? Sometimes (particularly when you're a distant number two) prestige is more important than profits. The 24/7 Iraq Channel would prove that CNN is 'The World's Most Important Network.'"

ROBERTS SIDESTEPS MEDIA ISSUES AT HEARING

Chief justice nominee John Roberts took a kind of "on the one hand/but on the other hand" approach to issues facing the media during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Asked about the original decision to bar the media from accompanying military personnel involved in recovery efforts in New Orleans, Roberts said, "If it's a situation in which the public is being given access, you can't discriminate against the media and say, as a general matter, that the media don't have access, because their access rights, of course, correspond with those of the public." On the other hand, he said, there may exist "some perfectly valid reasons for excluding media" in certain circumstances. Asked whether he would allow TV cameras into the Supreme Court to cover oral arguments, Roberts replied, "My new best friend, [former Tennessee] Senator [Fred] Thompson [who co-stars on The West Wing], assures me that television cameras are nothing to be afraid of. But I don't have a set view on that. I do think it's something that I would have to be -- I would want to listen to the views if I were confirmed to my colleagues." Thompson has been advising Roberts on his appearances before the Senate panel.

HOUSEWIVES BUILDS GMA'S AUDIENCE, SAYS MAGAZINE

The success of ABC's Desperate Housewives is one of the primary reasons for the inroads Good Morning America has made against NBC's Today, particularly on Mondays, when GMA features outtakes from the previous night's Housewives episode, the New York Observer noted today (Thursday). When GMA included a deleted scene from the season finale of Housewives last May, the show beat Today by more than 600,000 viewers. Series co-star Brenda Strong told the Observer that when she appeared on GMA last season, the cast and crew of the show gave her a standing ovation. "It's funny," she said, "because I didn't really realize kind of the far-reaching impact that our show had until I went on and [co-host] Charles [Gibson] actually said, 'You know, you guys don't understand -- it's even trickling down to the news department. The entire network feels like it's gotten a fresh surge of optimism.'"

DISNEY LIKELY TO REPORT BIG LOSS

Just as Disney's ABC ailing network was showing signs of a robust recovery, its filmed entertainment division has taken a turn for the worst. Disney CFO Tom Staggs told an investors conference Wednesday that Disney could report a loss of as much as $300 million for the current quarter given the doleful box-office performances of Herbie: Fully Loaded, Sky High, Dark Water, and Valiant. Moreover, the dumping of a slew of iffy Miramax productions on the market to coincide with the departure of Bob and Harvey Weinstein has added to the company's red-ink entries. Disney reported a loss of $34 million in the previous quarter. Nevertheless, Staggs maintain, the fourth quarter could set things right again with such promising releases as Chicken Little, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Cars, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

DREAMWORKS TO OFFER MADAGASCAR SEQUEL, SHREK STAGE SHOW

DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg confirmed Wednesday that his company plans to produce a sequel to its summer hit Madagascar -- he expects it to premiere in 2008 -- and to mount a Broadway musical production of Shrek. British publications have reported that DreamWorks will be partnering in the stage production with London-based Neal Street Productions, headed by Sam Mendes, who manages to direct hit movies and stage productions with equal accomplishment. (Mendes, who won the best director Oscar for 1999's American Beauty, is also reportedly at work turning a Broadway musical into a movie -- a film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd -- for DreamWorks.) Appearing at an investors conference in Pasadena on Wednesday, Katzenberg said that successful stage versions of movies can produce a steady revenue stream for a long time. "When these things work, they are very, very, very powerful and seem to go on for a very long time," he said.

STARS SAY SEX IN NC-17 FILM WASN'T EXPLICIT

The two male stars of the NC-17-rated Where the Truth Lies insist that the ménage-à-trois scene in the film that drew the MPAA's censure was not particularly explicit. Interviewed by the Toronto Star at the Toronto Film Festival, where the film is making its North American debut, Colin Firth said, "I've seen much, much, much more explicit sex on the shelves of Blockbuster. I think there's a discomfort in the drama, which shows that the drama has been successful. And that's exactly what we were looking for." But co-star Kevin Bacon said that while the film works artistically, "Business-wise, I think it's not so great." The Star observed that the film can probably be shown without fear of censorship "any place but America, where it's okay to show endless violence, but not a brief scene of naked thrusting."

TOBACCO COMPANY TO HAVE SCREENING FOR SMOKERS

Perhaps taking a cue from the American indie film Thank You for Smoking, the Japan Tobacco company is offering free tickets to a screening of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, on one condition -- that everyone smoke. Today's (Thursday) Mainichi Shimbun observed that Japan Tobacco sells nearly two-thirds of the country's cigarettes. Company spokesman Tsuyoshi Miyashita told the newspaper, "The event is to provide a rare opportunity for smokers to light up freely while watching the movie, so they can enjoy the film without suppressing their urge to smoke. ... I remember seeing filmgoers smoke in theaters, though it's impossible today."

LEGENDARY PRODUCER-DIRECTOR ROBERT WISE DEAD AT 91

Producer-director Robert Wise, who directed 39 films over a career that spanned a half century, was nominated for seven Oscars and won four times, died Wednesday of heart failure in Los Angeles at the age of 91. Wise began his career as a film editor, working with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, and in recent years served as the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He won Oscars for best picture and best director in 1962 for West Side Story and the identical awards in 1966 for The Sound of Music.