FOX BITES NETS

Fox News Channel's coverage of the Republican convention drew more viewers on Tuesday and Wednesday than any of the broadcast networks', according to Nielsen Research. On Wednesday, FNC attracted 5.9 million viewers; NBC recorded 4.5 million; CBS, 2.6 million; and ABC, 3.3 million. As Newsday TV writer Verne Gay observed, "Fox has staged a big upset of the major broadcasters in head-to-head competition ... marking the first time in history a cable network has bested the Big Three during a convention week." The Associated Press called Wednesday's ratings results "a landslide for Fox News Channel." Although cable figures for Thursday night were not available at press time, it was generally assumed that FNC would be able to claim a similar victory for that night, as well, particularly given the fact that the convention coverage featured President Bush's acceptance speech, expected to be a big draw. Network executives seemed appalled by the FNC victory. NBC News President Neal Shapiro told today's (Friday) New York Times: "Any time you see a number of that magnitude, you have to think about it." CBS anchor Dan Rather told the newspaper that he has already heard network executives talking about cutting back convention coverage to two nights and said that he would not be surprised to see a network skip convention coverage entirely four years from now.

"BATTLEGROUND STATES" EXPECTING AD BONANZA

Broadcast and cable outlets in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin -- the primary "battleground states" -- are expected to reap a bonanza in political advertising between now and the Nov. 2 election. The Kerry campaign acknowledged Thursday that it plans to target those states, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, 16 others in its TV ad campaign. The Bush campaign is also expected to focus on those states.

NBC'S DATELINE CONTINUES TO POUND JACKSON

NBC Dateline

reporter Josh Mankiewicz, who has sometimes appeared to TV critics as a mouthpiece for the prosecution in the Michael Jackson case, is expected to report on the magazine program tonight (Friday) that Jackson paid $2 million to the son of a Neverland Ranch employee in 1990 as hush money to prevent him from going public with a charge of child molestation. Mankiewicz, who fronted another Jackson report on Dateline last year entitled "Michael Jackson: Unmasked," does not identify the source of his information. However, he does interview retired Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas, who told Jackson that he heard about the boy when he was investigating the 1993 allegation against Jackson, and added: "We always believed there were eight to 10 other children out there." Thomas has been hired by Dateline as a paid analyst during the current legal proceedings against Jackson. The singer and his attorneys are blocked from responding to the latest allegations because of a gag order.

SUGAR RAY LEAD SINGER MCGRATH TO CO-HOST EXTRA

Mark McGrath, the lead singer of Sugar Ray, has been named the new co-host of the syndicated showbiz newsmagazine Extra. McGrath, best known for the 1997 hit "Fly," is set to join co-host Dayna Devon on the show when its 11th season kicks off on Sept. 13. Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, the series' senior executive producer, told the Associated Press that she regarded McGrath as "the ultimate insider," given his celebrity connections. (He was named People magazine's "Sexiest Rock Star" in 1998.) Ironically, Sugar Ray recorded a hit album in 1999 titled 14:59, a reference to Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" quote and suggesting that theirs was approaching its end.

NHK DISCLOSES FOUR EMPLOYEES WERE FIRED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT

Japan's publicly supported NHK network admitted Thursday that it had failed to disclose that it had fired four employees between 1997 and 2001 for embezzling nearly $100,000 all told. In what the Asahi Shimbun described as a "belated announcement," NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa said that the employees had not been prosecuted because they returned the money. He denied that the incidents, which came to light during an internal investigation into another scandal involving an NHK producer, had been covered up. However, he pledged, future occurrences involving the discovery of misuse of official funds will be publicly disclosed.

SUMMER LABORS TO AN END

The summer movie season comes to a close with the Labor Day weekend and the release of one film, Wicker Park, that is attracting mixed reviews, and another film, Paparazzi, that the studio decided not to screen for critics, certain that it would be panned. They will be competing with a relatively lackluster group of holdovers. The Labor Day weekend is traditionally the slowest holiday of the year for the box office, as families return from vacations and children get set to return to school. Last year's Jeepers Creepers 2 set a record for the holiday by earning $18.5 million in is debut.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: WICKER PARK

Roger Ebert generously bestows three stars on Wicker Park, starring Josh Hartnett, Diane Kruger and Rose Byrne, but admits that watching another film about quantum physics on the same day helped. He writes cryptically: "By substituting 'Wicker Park' for "'quantum physics,' I was able to experience the movie in the same way that I experience the universe, by treating it as if it exists even if it doesn't." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post comments: "This is a smart movie, full of astonishing reverses and switchbacks, and it adroitly walks the thin line between too clever by half and not clever enough by three-quarters." Other critics are more mundane. Joanne Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal writes that the movie "is built on such a goofy premise that your average soap-opera scriptwriter would laugh it out of a story meeting." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail observes: "If plot were oats, Wicker Park would choke a horse. There are bushels of the stuff here, some of it hard to decipher, most of it impossible to summarize." Dave Kehr in the New York Times just calls the movie "poorly conceived."

SECURITY STEPPED UP FOR EDGE OF REASON POST PRODUCTION

Working Title Films has acknowledged that it has stepped up security at its post production facilities in England amid reports that movie pirates have offered $10 million for a perfect digital copy of Edge of Reason, the Bridget Jones sequel scheduled to be released theatrically on Nov. 19. A spokesman for Working Title told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "We are aware that significant sums of money are being offered for any early material on the movie." The spokesman declined to comment on reports that the film company had employed New York-based risk consultants Kroll to protect the film, saying only: "Security is something we take very, very seriously. We are looking at all sorts of measures to tackle global piracy."

SONY SETTLES "DAVID MANNING" SUIT

Sony Pictures has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a class action suit charging that the company conned them into seeing movies by planting fake reviews in their advertisements, Reuters reported today (Friday), citing an unnamed source. The suit was originally filed in June 2001 after Newsweek magazine exposed the fact that a review for Sony's movie A Knight's Tale cited in one of its ads was actually written by a Sony publicist who concocted the name David Manning.

HOME VIDEO SALES TOP $1 BILLION FOR JULY

Sales of home videos on DVD and VHS crossed the $1-billion mark in July, setting a record for the month, Video Store magazine reported Thursday. The spending figure of $1.01 billion was 6.5 percent above last July's. Ninety-three percent of the figure was spent on DVD purchases compared with 86 percent in July 2003 and 72 percent in July 2002. The top-selling DVD for the month was Cold Mountain, the Miramax-produced film, distributed by Disney's Buena Vista Home Video. Unit sales were estimated at 2.19 million.