LENO: "I'M NOT A CONSERVATIVE"

In an apparent effort to counteract his portrayal as "the right comic" following his endorsement of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California gubernatorial campaign, Jay Leno has told a Los Angeles columnist, "I'm not conservative. I've never voted that way in my life" and disclosed that he has no conservatives -- and no Republicans -- on his writing staff. In an interview with Nikki Finke appearing in L.A. Weekly magazine, Leno also expressed the opinion that "the media is in the pocket of the government, and they don't do their job. They have people like Michael Moore who do it for them." He told Finke that he often goes on the Internet, where he can "seek out and get news now where I want to get it, which I never could. ... Go on the Internet and get raw footage from Iraq right now, because some guy is broadcasting what they don't want you to see."

CBS GIVES GROUND ON DOCUMENTS DISPUTE

Facing intense criticism that CBS had relied on fake documents to support its claims that President Bush had shirked his obligations while a member of the National Guard during the early '70s, CBS News President Andrew Heyward said Wednesday, "Enough questions have been raised [about the documents] that we're going to redouble our efforts to answer those questions." Heyward's statement came after 40 Congressional Republicans signed a letter demanding that CBS retract the story. CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who fronted the report for the network's 60 Minutes II news magazine last week, also conceded for the first time that the documents might be phony. In an interview with the Washington Post, Rather said, "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story. ... Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.'" The Post, along with several other publications, observed Wednesday that the storm over the documents could force Rather's resignation. Bob Schieffer, CBS's chief Washington correspondent, told the newspaper: "I think this is very, very serious. ... When Dan tells me these documents are not forgeries, I believe him. But somehow we've got to find a way to show people these documents are not forgeries." 60 Minutes II Wednesday night aired an interview with Marion Carr Knox, the secretary of the now-deceased National Guard commander whose name appears on the disputed documents. In it, Knox maintained that she had not typed the memos in question but suggested that they nevertheless reflected the commander's assessment of Bush. Although Rather had previously described the source of the documents as "unimpeachable," several publications now speculate that the source was Bill Burkett, a retired Texas National Guard officer who has previously accused Bush aides of ordering portions of the president's National Guard record "sanitized." Headers in the memos indicate that they were faxed from a Kinko's store in Abilene, TX, near Burkett's home in Baird, TX. Meanwhile, despite calls by conservative talk show hosts and Internet bloggers for a boycott of advertisers on CBS News programs, no advertiser has yet pulled out, and several told CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, that they had received little or no response from viewers. CBS affiliates said that they, too, had heard little about the matter from viewers.

OPRAH HITS THE GAS

Monday's episode of Oprah

, in which she gave away Pontiacs to each of the 276 members of her studio audience, drew the biggest ratings for a season debut of the show since 1996, Nielsen Research said Wednesday -- a figure that translated to 8 million homes. (By comparison Jane Pauley's new show drew 1.4 million.) In her Washington Post column today (Thursday), Lisa de Moraes quotes The Daily Show host Jon Stewart as grumbling over the give-away, "The whole thing makes me angry. Oprah violated the talk show host code, a sacred trust, to treat the studio audience like s**t. Thank you, Oprah, thank you very much. Perhaps next you can ruin Christmas."

STEWART ASKS JUDGE TO PUT HER BEHIND BARS NOW

Martha Stewart said Wednesday that she has asked a federal judge to send her to prison without further delay so that she can immediately start serving her five-month sentence for conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice in a notorious insider-trading scandal. She said that the decision was dictated in large measure by a desire to protect her media company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her television show has gone on hiatus until she completes her sentence and her magazines have been hit by ad cancellations. Two board members of the company attended Stewart's news conference, where they thanked her for her decision.

MGM SLATE FACES ERASURE

Numerous films under development at MGM may never see the light of day following the expected acquisition of the studio by Sony, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Thursday) Producer David Ladd, who has three films in development at the studio, told the Times that he is concerned that they may never be made. "It's awful," Ladd told the newspaper. "These projects are like your children. You nurture them and raise them. You get a director, and things start to take off. You begin making the movie in your head -- and then spending the profits." Another unnamed producer remarked: "Every executive is fearing for their job, every production company is fearing for their overhead." Nevertheless, the Times quoted other sources as saying that until the deal with Sony is completed, MGM would probably to move ahead with at least three new films.

SONY TO MAKE ITS FILMS AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD

The Internet site CinemaNow will be able to offer films from Sony Pictures for download on personal computers on the same day that the pictures become available for video-on-demand cable outlets, Video Store magazine reported today (Thursday). CinemaNow exec Bruce Eisen told the trade publication, "The addition of Sony's high-caliber films to our existing library is a significant step forward in providing users with the greatest selection of movie content available on-demand via any platform." The movies, which can be viewed at any time during a 24-hour period, will be priced at $3.99 for first-run films.

THE WAR OF THE WARS

In what is likely to impinge on Steven Spielberg's plans to film a new version of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Pendragon Pictures announced Wednesday that it has completed principal photography of their own version of the 1898 classic story. Although earlier reports had indicated that the producers had halted production following the 9/11 events, director Timothy Hines told the sci-fi website SFCrowsNest.com, "We never stopped really. After an initial two-week hiatus, we saw the light in adapting a dead-on accurate version of The War of the Worlds from the original source material." He said that to keep the work hush-hush, it was shot under the cover title The Great Boer War. Hines maintained that his film and Spielberg's planned remake could co-exist, saying: "What they are doing sounds interesting. From what I understand, they are changing the story dramatically, whereas we have point-by-point recreated the book for the screen. Our production ... is set at the turn-of-the-century. We're almost a back story to their version, sort of like a prequel."

LUCAS SAYS THAT POWER-HUNGRY EXECS HURT MOVIEMAKING

Star Wars

creator George Lucas has complained that Hollywood continues to operate under the "Thalberg Syndrome," a reference to Irving Thalberg, the all-powerful studio executive who virtually controlled virtually every movie made at MGM in the 1930s. In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Lucas remarked that the tendency of middle managers to interpose themselves into productions has resulted in the film industry "making hugely inefficient movies for great amounts of money and they aren't creatively very interesting. Any studio you go to, you're going to find 30 executives working on your picture."

MURDOCH GETS A $12.5-MILLION REWARD

News Corp awarded its chairman, Rupert Murdoch, a bonus of $12.5 million in fiscal 2004, calling it a reward for the company's extraordinary performance. He also received a salary of $4.5 million, according to News Corp's annual report, filed with the SEC on Wednesday. The company's COO, Peter Chernin, received the identical remuneration, $9 million in salary along with an $8-million bonus. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was paid $7 million.

71-YEAR-OLD FILM TO BE SCREENED IN LONDON

Baby Face, a film starring Barbara Stanwyck and a 26-year-old John Wayne that was banned in 1933 and thought to be "lost," will be screened at the London Film Festival next month after being discovered in the Library of Congress's Motion Picture Archive, the London Times reported today (Thursday). In the film, Stanwyck plays a ruthless woman who uses sex to achieve power, becoming the head of a top banking corporation. The Times reported that the Warner Bros. film was withdrawn following protests by theater owners and local censorship boards.

SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL TO HONOR WOODY

Spain's San Sebastian International Film Festival is scheduled to open Friday with a screening of Woody Allen's latest movie, Melinda and Melinda, starring Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, and Jonny Lee Miller. Allen himself is expected to be on hand to accept a lifetime achievement award.