DO BETTERS KNOW APPRENTICE RESULT?

BestWWTS.com, an Internet betting site located in Antigua, suspended betting on the winner of The Apprentice Tuesday following what it called "an unusual betting pattern on two contestants" from betters located in New Hampshire, the Associated Press reported. "We don't know if this is some kind of link to the contestants or some way involved with the production," a director of the website told the wire service. "When this has happened before, it's because someone has known the outcome." A.P. warned readers to "stop reading now if you don't want to know the show's outcome," before reporting that the heavy bets were being placed on lawyer Jennifer Massey and software exec Kelly Perdew. An NBC spokesman simply responded: "We're not going to speculate on the outcome at all." He pointed out that it would not be known until the season finale. "The finale is live, and there won't be a winner until the finale," he said.

A GOOD NIGHT FOR THE BIG 3

The season premiere of CBS's Navy NCIS was the most-watched show of the night Tuesday as it scored a 9.1 rating and a 14 share, but all three of the Big 3 networks had something to boast about. CBS also averaged the best ratings for the night, an 8.0/13, but ABC placed second in overall viewers as it tied NBC in the ratings with a 6.1/10. NBC, however, led all three networks in the 18-49-year old demo with a 3.9 rating, just edging out ABC's 3.7.

FOX NEWS BEATS ALL OTHER NEWS CHANNELS COMBINED IN THIRD QUARTER

Fox News Channel extended its domination of the cable news audience in the third quarter, averaging more viewers in primetime than CNN, Headline News, MSNBC and CNBC combined, according to Nielsen Research. Fox News averaged 1.75 million viewers during primetime, while the other four channels together averaged 1.67 million. Almost all of the channels saw a rise in the number of viewers in primetime, largely due to interest in the party conventions, the presidential campaigns, the turbulence in Iraq, and the hurricanes in Florida. Fox News was up a whopping 39 percent over the same quarter a year ago; CNN was up 19 percent; Headline News, 17 percent: MSNBC, 55 percent (helped by Olympic Games lead-in programming). Only CNBC experienced a loss of viewers. It was down 13 percent. Meanwhile, both Fox News and CNN said Tuesday that they do not plan to allow the two presidential candidates to dictate how they should be covered during the debates that begin on Thursday. A spokesman for Fox News, which is the pool provider told the Associated Press: "We're providing all the networks' coverage and we're not going to follow directions from outside sources." One provision of the candidates' agreement says that reaction shots of one candidate cannot be shown while the other is speaking. "The campaigns have agreed to this," Princell Hair, CNN's general manager, told A.P. "We haven't.. ... A producer in the booth will make those determinations, not some people in the campaign."

KIDNAPED CNN PRODUCER RELEASED

CNN producer Riad Ali was released Tuesday after his kidnaping was denounced by Palestinian leaders. Although Ali told reporters afterwards that his abductors claimed that they were members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a spokesman for the group denied that it was involved and described the kidnapers as "the enemy of the people." Ali's father credited Yasser Arafat for securing Ali's release. He told CNN: "Yasser Arafat made every effort, he promised, the word of a man, he told me 'I will not rest and not sleep until Riad Ali is freed and back home with his family,' and when I spoke to him now he told me 'I promised, I freed.'"

SUIT SEEKS TO HALT FEDS FROM NABBING REPORTERS' PHONE RECORDS

In a legal move that is likely to affect all news media, The New York Times on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent investigators from looking at the telephone records of its reporters. The Justice Department is attempting to learn who leaked information to the New York Times that revealed that Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration's foreign policy, was a CIA operative. In the lawsuit, the Times claims that federal investigators have sought the phone records of its reporters, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon.

TAX BREAK = SPRINGTIME FOR BROOKS

Mel Brooks said Tuesday that New York's recently enacted Empire State Film Production Tax Credit will allow him to film his movie version of the musical The Producers in New York, where it is set. At a news conference in the newly constructed Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Brooks said, "It was breaking my heart to think we'd have to go to Bucharest, to Vancouver, to Toronto to mimic this incredible city." To be eligible for the tax credit, filmmakers must agree to spend at least 75 percent of their production budget in New York. Joining Brooks at the news conference, New York Gov. George Pataki remarked as he signed he tax credit into law, "The bottom line is that all those New York City wannabes ain't gonna be. ... We're going to be able to make movies about New York in New York." Production of the movie, which is budgeted at $45 million, is due to start in February. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also attended the news conference, said that he will support an additional city tax credit for filmmakers. Brooks said he had another incentive for making the film in New York: "The bagels. ... You go to Toronto, they're mushy."

CONNERY QUITS MOVIE, YIELDS $17.5-MILLION FEE

Sean Connery, who reportedly had a tempestuous relationship with the director of his last film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, has reportedly clashed with the makers of what was to be his next film, Josiah's Canon, and quit the film. Canon, for which Connery reportedly was due to receive $17.5 million, was to have begun shooting in February. Officially, an announcement from the actor stated that he wants to devote more time to writing his autobiography.

IGER: LITTLE LIKELIHOOD PIXAR WILL REMAIN WITH DISNEY

Disney President Robert Iger appeared to spike any hope that the company might be able to persuade Pixar Animation to remain in the Disney fold. Speaking at a conference of the Royal Television Society in London, Iger called a rapprochement with Pixar "unlikely" and later, in an interview with Reuters, observed that Disney is not engaged in any discussions with Pixar right now.

CAMCORDER LAW PASSED BY HOUSE

A bill passed by the House on Tuesday would make it a federal crime, punishable by up to six years in prison, to operate a camcorder in a movie theater. The bill -- the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act -- also covers Internet piracy and other forms of movie copying. Exempted from the bill would be users of devices that allow sex, violence, and foul language to be deleted from films.

VIACOM CO-PREZ VOWS PARAMOUNT WILL MAKE A COMEBACK

Viacom Co-president Tom Freston told an investors conference in Pasadena, CA Tuesday that "we intend to really cultivate new talent to restore Paramount." Acknowledging that the studio languishes in last place among the major studios (he was presumably excluding MGM), Freston said that the parent company intends to allow it to take greater risks and spend more money to compete with its rivals. "Creativity is the most important cultural value -- where risk-taking is valued, where people would want to come and work for you," he commented, while quickly adding, "Not that people will get a blank check."

SOUND SYSTEM WILL LET CHARACTERS WHISPER IN AUDIENCE'S EARS

A new theatrical sound system employing a technology called losono will give audio engineers the ability to pinpoint sounds in a theater, giving moviegoers the feeling that they are emanating a few feet away from them or even that a person in whispering in their ears, Mercury News reported today (Wednesday). "This opens up a whole lot of possibilities to help filmmakers tell the story with sound," motion picture sound mixer Stanley Johnston told the technical news service, a unit of the San Jose Mercury newspaper. The system was developed by Karlheinz Brandenburg, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Germany, who is regarded as the "father of MP3," according to Mercury News.

FRANCE'S THOMSON HOPING TO EXPAND IN MOVIE BUSINESS

France's consumer electronics giant Thomson, which markets its products in the U.S. under the RCA brand, has become the frontrunner in the bidding for the British post-production and special effects company The Moving Picture Company, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Wednesday). The company is being sold by ITV as part of a debt-reduction effort. Thomson appears to be expanding its role as a major player in the film industry. Four years ago, it acquired the Technicolor company, and, under the brand name Technicolor Digital Cinema, became one of the two leading producers (the other is Boeing) of digital projection equipment for theaters. (It halted production last year, castigating the film industry and theater owners for failing to work out an agreement on rolling out digital projectors.)