MARKETING THE NEW SEASON

NBC is focusing its marketing efforts for the upcoming reality show Three Wishes on smaller red-state cities and towns like Kennesaw, GA (a suburb of Atlanta), Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Des Moines. Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times called the marketing effort a "radical departure" for the network that was once the home of such urban comedies as Cheers, Seinfeld and Frasier. Among other things, the network has distributed more than 7,000 DVDs of the series' premiere episode to ministers, along with a recorded message to their congregants from the show's host, Amy Grant, a crossover Christian singer, who is also appearing on Christian radio stations to promote the series. In addition, it is distributing $150,000 in $1 bills to small stores to be used to pay for necessities for surprised customers. (Each bill is affixed with a removable sticker urging recipients to watch the show and asking them, "What's Your Wish?") Meanwhile, today's New York Daily News reports that Court TV plans to promote its docudrama Parco P.I. by placing a massive, lifelike version of its star, a real life private detective, Vinnie Parco, in Times Square. The replica of the private eye will appear to be looking through binoculars into the window of a nearby office building, below a billboard reading, "Parco's Watching." A similar lifelike version of Parco is currently hanging at another Manhattan location. The Daily News quoted one passerby as remarking, "It's a little creepy," when she saw it. Another remarked, "I don't get it."

COMING SOON (PERHAPS) -- TV FROM THE PHONE COMPANY

A bill that has received bipartisan support from the House Energy and Commerce Committee would allow telephone companies to offer video services over their DSL broadband connections without requiring them to compete for cable-TV franchises. (In effect, they would be given a national franchise.) Nevertheless they would still be required to pay franchise fees to local governments and meet many other regulatory requirements including having to carry the signals of local stations.

NBC NEWS ESTABLISHES PERMANENT BUREAU IN NEW ORLEANS

Anticipating that the rebuilding of New Orleans will remain a major news story for years to come, NBC announced Thursday that it is establishing a full-time bureau in the city, headed by Frieda Morris, currently the network's bureau chief in Atlanta. The network assigned Martin Savidge as the first full-time correspondent at the New Orleans bureau. "We believe that this story has so many elements to it and it's going to be so far-reaching that it was only appropriate to establish a bureau there," NBC News acting president Steve Capus said in a statement.

BRITAIN TO HAVE A ROLLING BLACKOUT OF ANALOG TV

Beginning in 2008, television stations on the English-Scottish borders will be required to switch off their analog transmitters and beam only digital signals. Each year another British region will be required to do the same until the last analog transmitters are superseded by digital ones in 2012. Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced the timetable in a speech to the Royal Television Society, an organization of British broadcasters, on Thursday. "I believe [digital television] can leave us with a legacy of more choice for more people than anywhere in the world," she said. She also promised some $1.5 billion in help for the elderly and disabled who may not have the means to pay for settop boxes to convert digital signals for viewing on older TV sets, calling them "the people that the state has a duty to protect."

RIVERA SAYS HE WON'T BE A "WHIPPING BOY" OF THE NY TIMES

Geraldo Rivera has renewed his vow to sue the New York Times if it does not issue a correction of TV writer Alessandra Stanley's assertion in a recent column that he nudged a rescue worker out of the way so that he could be shown on television aiding an elderly victim of Hurricane Katrina. "They're going to have to live with this fight," he told today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times. "I've stopped being the whipping boy." The L.A. newspaper observed, "A review of the tape that ran on the Sept. 8 "[O'Reilly] Factor" does not appear to show Rivera nudging anyone." But Stanley is sticking to her guns, telling the L.A. Times, "When I make a mistake, and I do make mistakes, I make sure it is corrected, as the New York Times record shows. ... [But] I have looked at the tape again, and am satisfied that I described it fairly."

DISNEY BOOSTS DIGITAL PROJECTION

Digital projection, long stalled by a clash between the studios and exhibitors over who will pay for it, may finally become a reality as the result of a deal struck between Walt Disney Co. and Access Integrated Technologies, which stores and delivers movies digitally to theaters, and its partner, Christie, a Japanese maker of digital projectors. Under the deal, reported in today's (Friday) Wall Street Journal, Christie and Access would finance the installation of as many as 4,000 digital projection systems in U.S. and Canadian theaters over the next two years. As each projector comes on board, Disney will pay a "virtual print fee" to the two companies, representing the amount it would ordinarily pay to send out a film print to the theater -- until the $70,000 cost of each digital projector is covered. The Journal estimated the cost of a film print at $1,000. Other experts put the figure at as high as $4,000. A film can be distributed digitally for a small fraction of that amount.

EXHIBITOR SUES EXHIBITOR

Hollywood Theaters, a midsize movie chain, has sued Carmike Cinemas, its much-larger competitor, alleging that Carmike forces the major studios to give it exclusive rights to the most popular films thereby shutting out smaller operators like Hollywood. Hollywood alleges that such deals between Carmike and the studios violate antitrust laws. Today's (Friday) Wall Street Journal reported that the California attorney general is also looking into the issue. Hollywood Theaters chairman and CEO Scott Wallace told the Journal that the practice creates what he called "an artificial monopoly." He added that the movie business had buried the issue in the closet "and no one wants to talk about" it.

PHOTOGRAPHER GETS PRISON FOR EXTORTION

Photographer John Rutter was sentenced to 3 years and 8 months in prison Thursday for trying to extort $4 million from actress Cameron Diaz who posed nude for him in 1992 when she was 19 years old. Rutter reportedly approached Diaz with the photos a week before the 2003 premiere of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, telling her that he had publishers who were interested in buying the photos. Rutter's attorney, Mark Werksman, told today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times that the trial represented a legal battle between "a rich and famous celebrity" and a "hard-working photographer."

WALLACE AND GROMIT BECOME HITS DOWN-UNDER

British cartoon favorites Wallace and Gromit have made their big screen debut in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in Australia, and initial reviews and audience reaction have been excellent, the BBC reported today (Friday). The Melbourne newspaper The Age described the film as "a lot of fun and true to the original spirit." Australian Broadcasting Corp. critics Margaret Pomeranz and David Strattan gave the film 4.5 stars and 4 stars respectively out of a possible 5 on their Ebert and Roper-like show. A 13-year-old interviewed by a BBC reporter, who said she had grown up watching the characters, pronounced the film "magical and better than I could have imagined." The film is scheduled to open in the U.S. in three weeks.

MOVIE REVIEWS; LORD OF WAR

Critics are warring over the Nicolas Cage satire Lord of War about the international gun market. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times calls it "a misfire" even though Cage's performance, she remarks, is "watchable." The problem, she writes, is that writer-director Andrew Niccol "never resolves the disconnect between this star's function (to entertain) and that of his character (to repel)." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune remarks: "The film is morally unsettling on its surface, and then you realize the surface is all you're going to get." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes it as an "often heavy-handed and terminally dull depiction of the violent world of unscrupulous international arms deals." On the other hand, Phillip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News finds the film compelling. "Lord of War definitely aims to be something more profound than brain candy. It gives moviegoers something to think about," he writes. "If that recommendation sounds too dutiful, let it be known that it's exciting as well as thought-provoking."

MOVIE REVIEWS: JUST LIKE HEAVEN

The reviews for Just Like Heaven are not exactly heavenly, but given the kind of censure most new releases have been getting from the critics these days, they're not at all bad. A. O. Scott in the New York Times remarks that the movie is "a bit too thin and gooey to be counted among the classics" of what he calls "metaphysical second-chance" comedies. But, he says, "it is also impressively nimble and cheery." The critics are crediting the stars with whatever entertainment value the film provides. Says Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times: "Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo are two of the most appealing and versatile young actors in the movies, and in Just Like Heaven, which proceeds from one shameless tear-jerking contrivance to the next, they earn every cent of their salaries." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution grades the film a B-, writing, "It's an easygoing boy-meets-girl saga with two likable, dependable stars -- a good Reese Witherspoon and a better Mark Ruffalo. ... It's love as manifest destiny, from a script that dots each "i" with an itty-bitty heart."