NETWORKS ARE OUTFOXED AT RNC

All of the major television networks were beaten by the Fox News Channel Tuesday night during the 10:00 hour when each of them was covering the Republican National Convention. According to figures from Nielsen Research, 5.2 million people tuned in to FNC, while 5.14 million watched NBC; 4.4 million, CBS; 4.3 million, ABC; 1.61 million, MSNBC; and 1.55 million, CNN. It marked the first time ever that FNC has ever attracted more viewers than any of the broadcast networks in covering a news event. For the entire three hours of primetime devoted to the convention by the cable networks, FNC averaged 4.1 million viewers; PBS, 1.9 million; MSNBC, 1.3 million; and CNN, 1.2 million. (TV writers also took note of the fact that CNN had been overtaken by MSNBC for the first time.) Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes observed today (Thursday) that TV network execs would only discuss the Fox win "from the comfortable shroud of anonymity." She quoted one of them as saying that "Fox News Channel is the official channel of the GOP." Another remarked: "To paraphrase The Daily Show: 'To call Fox News Channel appealing to Republicans is to call [legendary pantomimist] Marcel Marceau a little quiet." However, FNC spokesman Paul Schur responded: "Saying Fox News won because it appeals to Republicans is like saying a Sopranos finale only beat the broadcast networks because it appealed to Italian Americans."

FRANKEN MAY BECOME REGULAR FIXTURE ON SUNDANCE CHANNEL

The CEO of Robert Redford's Sundance Channel says he is bringing liberal satirist Al Franken aboard as part of an effort "to broaden our appeal beyond the independent-film fanatic." In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, CEO Larry Aidem said, "They were our foundation, but it's too small an audience in an era of 200 channels." Aidem indicated that he plans to carry a one-hour edited version of Franken's daily radio talk show at least through the November elections and, if it proves successful, beyond the elections. He said that he has scheduled it to air at 11:30 p.m. in the hope that it will pick up viewers from Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs at 11:00 p.m.

NBC'S HAWAII SURVIVES CRITICAL WIPE-OUT

NBC's drama Hawaii, which was lambasted by critics, debuted as the most watched television show of the night Wednesday, scoring a 7.0 rating and a 12 share and helping the network to an overall ratings win for the night, according to Nielsen Research. The debut of Fox's Renovate My Family, however, beat Hawaii among adults 18-49. Meanwhile, producers of Hawaii put out the word Wednesday that they are looking to cast "local surfer" types between the ages of 16 and 21 and will hold open casting calls from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. today (Thursday) and Friday in Honolulu. Casting director Cathy Reinking said that those cast as extras can earn about $115 a day, while those with speaking parts will be paid $678 a day.

WATCHDOGS POUNCE ON WASHINGTON TV STATIONS

Two TV watchdog groups have filed a complaint with the FCC charging that two Washington D.C. stations are in violation of the agency's rules requiring stations to air at least three hours of educational programs for children per week. Today's (Thursday) Washington Post quoted Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy as saying that the stations, WDCA and WPXW, were "thumbing their noses" at the community. The other complainant is the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, whose communications chief is former FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani. "This is a good place to start holding stations accountable," she told the Post. Ironically, one of the stations cited in the complaint, WPXW is owned by the "family friendly" Paxson Communications. (The other is Fox-owned WDCA.)

TV GUIDE GETS A NEW EDITOR

Former Us magazine editor Ian Birch has been named editor-in-chief of TV Guide, America's largest weekly magazine (9 million subscribers). In an interview with Reuters, Birch denied that his British background -- he's a former chairman of the British Society of Magazine Editors -- might hinder him in determining what goes into a magazine devoted to American television. He said that he has spent much time watching U.S. television, which, he says, he regards as "highly fascinating and exciting." Nevertheless, he remarked, TV Guide's emphasis from now on will be "helping people find the kind of programing they want to see ... and giving them a sense of ... 'read TV Guide, and you never need to watch another bad TV show ever again.'"

TIME WARNER OFFERS CASH FOR MGM

Time Warner is offering $4.5 billion in cash for MGM, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday), citing unnamed sources. However, the newspaper observed, the cash offer may not satisfy MGM's controlling shareholder, Kirk Kerkorian, who reportedly is demanding a minimum of $5 billion to part with the studio. Kerkorian has previously turned down a somewhat larger -- but more complicated -- offer from Sony. Earlier on Wednesday, MGM put out a press release saying, "Recent press reports regarding a possible transaction valuing MGM at a price as high as $5 billion are inaccurate."

INDIE VIDEO STORE OWNERS DEPLORE MCDONALD'S VIDEO TEST

Angered at McDonald's test in Denver of vending machines where customers can rent videos for $1.00 per night, a group of independent video dealers is vowing to strike back by promoting Morgan Spurlock's documentary, Super Size Me, Video Store magazine reported on its website Wednesday. One independent video dealer posted a message on the Video Software Dealers Assn.'s message board saying, "Indications are the test has been successful in increasing evening food sales" and that the kiosks, a version of McDonald's Tik Tok "convenience store in a machine," will be rolled out nationwide. "I think we should all be sure to order Super Size Me," dealer Mike Salas wrote. "Maybe we can lessen the impact on our revenue by helping to chase the public away from their restaurants."

OPENING CERMONIES IN VENICE DELAYED

The opening of the 61st Venice International Film Festival was delayed more than an hour Wednesday night as attendees awaited the late-arriving Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, whose film, The Terminal, opened the festival. Although some attendees expressed irritation over their tardiness, a spokesperson for Hanks said, "They were ready but were told to wait." Some speculated that the delay may have resulted from efforts by authorities to secure the area, where dozens of demonstrators had gathered earlier to protest against Hollywood's cultural dominance and the high cost of movie tickets.

PASSION SETS RECORD FOR R-RATED MOVIE IN DEBUT

First-day sales of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ set a record for an R-rated movie as more than 4.1 million DVD copies flew off the shelves, but the numbers did not approach the first-day sales of 8 million copies of Finding Nemo that were sold last year or the 7 million copies of the original Spider-Man that were sold the year before. Many of the DVDs were ordered well in advance by church groups who were able to purchase them at significant discounts. The DVDs carry a suggested retail price of $29.98 but some large retailers were selling them for as low as $15. The online Amazon.com has the title priced at $18.00.

TURNS DOWN THE BEAM ON MOVIEBEAM

Disney has decided to delay expansion of its MovieBeam video-on-demand system, despite favorable customer reaction in the three markets in which it is being tested, CNET News.com reported Wednesday. MovieBeam uses over-the-air broadcast transmissions to deliver some 100 movies to a settop box (they are updated at regular intervals). Users pay between $1.99 and $3.99 to see the films. The delay is seen as part of an effort by Disney to reduce expenses. It has already spent $68 million on the venture, which will continue to operate in Spokane, Salt Lake City, and Jacksonville FL. Disney is also involved in tests for other video-on-demand systems including CinemaNow and MovieLink.

SMITH SAYS HE'S THE WRONG GUY FOR GREEN HORNET

Director Kevin Smith, noted primarily for such edgy indie films as Clerks, Chasing Amy, Mall Rats and Dogma, says that he was as surprised as anyone when he was asked to direct the big-budget Green Hornet. Smith, whose only mainstream film, Jersey Girl, is being released on DVD Sept. 14, told the online edition of TV Guide, "When I was asked by Harvey Weinstein to do [Hornet] for Miramax, I was blown away because nobody offers me a franchise movie." In Chasing Amy (1997), Smith's main characters were comic-book writers who create the duo Bluntman and Chronic, and comic-book references are woven into the dialog of other Smith movies. Still, he said, "When you watch my movies, you don't really think of me for that type of thing [The Green Hornet]. I keep telling them, 'I'm the guy who makes fun of comic-book movies!'"

NIGERIAN FILMMAKER RECEIVING THREATS

A Nigerian production company says it has been receiving telephone death threats from persons demanding that it abandon plans to release a politically charged new film. The Lagos publication City Players said Wednesday that part of the drama takes place at the Okija shrine in Anambra State, where a secret cult reportedly slaughtered nearly 100 persons, and that the skulls and corpses of the victims are featured in the film. Producer Ojiofor Ezeanyaeke told City Players that he believes the film, whose title was not mentioned in the report, will "shake the nation" when it is released on Sept. 13 and that it will reveal "the real patrons" of the Okija shrine.