NBC NEWS CHIEF QUITS

NBC News president Neal Shapiro made it official today (Wednesday), announcing that he will step down on Friday. NBC said that NBC News senior executive Steve Capus will take over on Monday on an interim basis while the network continues its search for a permanent replacement. Rumors began spreading in May that Shapiro, whose laid-back style was said to be at odds with that of the intense NBC Universal TV President Jeff Zucker, would be leaving his post. According to several reports, Zucker has held talks with a number of high-ranking broadcasting executives, all of which have fallen through. In a memo to staff on Tuesday, Shapiro did not indicate why he had decided to step down at this time, except to say that he found himself "missing ... the kind of creativity I've had in previous jobs," but he seemed uncertain of his own future. He concluded by remarking, "I don't know what's next, whether it's at NBC Universal or elsewhere." Shapiro's tenure at the head of NBC News received a harsh appraisal from Andrew Tyndall, who writes the Tyndall Report on broadcast news. He told USA Today that since he took over as news chief in 2001, Shapiro "ran a holding operation and was never able to put his mark on NBC News. ... NBC News hasn't fallen apart under him, but it hasn't been forward-looking or innovative."

GERALDO SAYS HE'LL SUE THE NEW YORK TIMES

Geraldo Rivera said Tuesday that he plans to sue the New York Times after the paper accused him of nudging "an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crews could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety." Interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News program, Rivera described TV writer Alessandra Stanley, who wrote the Times piece, as "the Jayson Blair of the Style section," and showed video of the scene in question, which appeared to contradict her description. Rivera said that he had asked for a retraction, which the newspaper refused. "In their arrogance, they defy the facts," he said. "And when confronted with the evidence, to still defy the truth is really pathetic."

FREE BENEFIT CONCERT TO COST NETS $10-15 MILLION

Friday's scheduled two-hour special, Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, will cost the six TV networks carrying it between $10-15 million in advertising revenue, MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews reported Tuesday. The publication noted that several millions more in local advertising time will also be lost.

ITV AND BBC TO LAUNCH FREE SATELLITE SERVICE

Britain's ITV, which reported today (Wednesday) that its ad revenue was down 3.4 percent in the first half, has announced that it plans to team up with the BBC to launch a free satellite service in 2006. The service, dubbed Freesat, is intended to complement Freeview, a free digital terrestrial service that is outside the range of more than 25 percent of British households. The two services will carry all BBC and ITV digital programming, as well as digital radio and interactive services, without a fee. The London Evening Standard pointed out that it will also enable ITV to offer paid subscribers the opportunity to watch popular soap operas and newscasts on their mobile phones. In a statement, BBC Director General Mark Thompson said, "The huge success of Freeview, already in more than five million homes, demonstrates how highly free digital television is valued by many people."

THE BBC AT CENTER OF NEW POLITICAL BROUHAHA

A new political storm has arisen over the BBC after it rebuked morning talk-show host John Humphrys for making "inappropriate and misguided remarks" in a speech to the British Communication Directors' Forum last June. Humphrys, renowned for his combative interviews, had singled out numerous government ministers for ridicule, calling Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown "quite easily the most boring political interviewee I have ever had in my whole bloody life," and that the mention of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's name evokes laughter because "you can't understand a bloody word he says." He also suggested that all politicians are liars. Supporters of Humphrys claimed Tuesday that he had been set up by Tim Allan, a former deputy to former Downing Street Communications Director Alastair Campbell, who had launched a bitter attack on the BBC after a report aired on Humphrys program claiming that the government had "sexed up" a report about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. Allan had asked for a tape of the speech and forwarded a transcript to the London Times. Conservative Party MP David Davis told BBC News, "It is outrageous that Alastair Campbell's former henchman is seeking to undermine the reputation of one of the country's foremost journalists." And Sir Menzies Campbell of the Liberal Democrats remarked, "John Humphrys gives us all a hard time. The Government should be big enough to take it on the chin and not to indulge in stings like this." The London Daily Mail said in an editorial that it "can vouch that every word he uttered is 100 per cent true. And if the Government objects, we can assure our readers of one thing: We won't apologize."

BOB "GILLIGAN" DENVER DIES AT 70

Bob Denver, who will always be identified with the title character in the 1960s TV sitcom Gilligan's Island, died on Sept. 2 in North Carolina. Cause of death was cancer. He was 70.

SAUDI PRINCE ALLIES WITH MURDOCH

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who twice helped to bail out Euro Disney, has now come to the aid of Rupert Murdoch, taking a 5.5 percent stake in the company's voting stock in an effort to help the media tycoon defend himself against a possible effort by Liberty Media chief John Malone to seize control of the company. "We don't know what his [Malone's] intentions are," the Saudi investor told Bloomberg News. "We're very close to Mr Murdoch. You should not look at this matter as anti-Malone. You should look at it as being pro-Murdoch." On the other hand, Al-Waleed said that he stood ready to boost his stake if Murdoch's strategy "is being threatened by any outsider. ... Clearly, this is something we will not accept, because we are very happy as shareholders with what Mr. Murdoch is doing." And in a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal, Al-Waleed commented, "Just because I am a friend of Mr. Murdoch, does not preclude at all the potential of me being a friend of Mr. Malone." Meanwhile, the London Financial Times reported that Murdoch has planned a rare "summit" meeting at his California ranch this weekend to discuss the company's strategy for expanding its presence on the Internet.

BOX OFFICE SURPRISINGLY STRONG ON LABOR DAY

Many box-office analysts were left with egg on their collective faces as the Labor Day weekend set a record for the holiday, with several films performing well above analysts' estimates. In particular, the No. 1 film, Transporter 2, took in $20.1 million, more than twice the predicted amount, and The Constant Gardener, which was expected to earn about $6 million, wound up with nearly $11 million. The No. 2 film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, also surprised analysts by earning $16.5 million in its third week to bring its total to $71.9 million.

The top ten films over the four-day Labor Day holiday, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Transporter 2, 20th Century Fox, $20,104,608, (New); 2. The 40-Year Old Virgin, Universal, $16,535,700, 3 Wks. ($71,886,455); 3. The Constant Gardener, Focus, $10,961,311, 1 Wks. ($12,683,307 (From Wednesday); 4. Red Eye, DreamWorks, $9,438,230, 3 Wks. ($45,517,427); 5. The Brothers Grimm, Miramax, $9,025,597, 2 Wks. ($28,725,497); 6. Four Brothers, Paramount, $6,366,088, 4 Wks. ($64,352,755); 7. The Wedding Crashers, New Line, $5,825,100, 8 Wks. ($195,801,693); 8. March of the Penguins, Warner independent, $5,561,872, 11 Wks. ($63,566,739); 9. The Skeleton Key, Universal, $4,043,120, 4 Wks. ($43,779,225); 10. The Cave, Sony, $3,764,249, 2 Wks. ($11,778,458).

BURTON'S ANIMATED FILM EVOKES CHEERS AT VENICE FILM FEST

Tim Burton's animated Corpse Bride, which screened at the Venice Film Festival tonight (Wednesday) received a "thunderous reception" at an earlier press preview, according to Reuters. The wire service said that it took 10 years for Burton to bring the project to the screen, since he relied on stop-motion animation using clay models, a time consuming process that allows only a few seconds of footage to be shot in a single day (although a gearing mechanism inside the puppets' heads to achieve changes of expression speeded up the process somewhat). "It can be tedious work," said co-director Mike Johnson in the production notes. "It's just the kind of thing that you have to be passionate about and willing to commit to completely."

"ALTERNATE ENDING" FOR THE INTERPRETER ON DVD

The DVD release of Sidney Pollack's The Interpreter, scheduled for Oct. 4, will allow viewers to watch the original ending shot for the film. According to several reports, Pollack decided to reshoot the ending after audiences at test screenings complained about it. The reports also indicated that Pollack had had misgivings about the ending from the very beginning and rejected the one that was described in the original script. Several critics lambasted the ending that Pollack eventually settled on for the theatrical version. The DVD's "extras" will also include scenes deleted from the theatrical version and a video diary compiled by Pollack during the production of the movie.

UNITED AND PARAMOUNT BREAKING UP UIP

Universal and Paramount agreed on Tuesday to put into action a plan that would break up their joint overseas distribution company, United International Pictures, over the course of two years. Initially Paramount will own and operate the business in Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand while Universal will do so in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Switzerland. During the two years, Universal would set up a distribution network in Paramount's territories while Paramount would do the same in Universal's territories. Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger said in a statement, "This represents a shift of strategy so that we can run our own businesses more effectively. If we directly own and operate our distribution in key territories. ... For all of us who worked and will continue to work with UIP, this brings mixed emotions. It marks the end of an era."