TV'S AND PC'S REACH MERGING POINT
In its latest experiment in merging television with the Internet, ABC is planning to make most of its programming available for free on a revamped website beginning April 30, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday), citing no sources. A limited number of shows, including Alias, Commander in Chief, and Lost, will make their debut at launch, with the network expanding the available programming in the future. Shows from cable networks owned by the Walt Disney Co., including the Disney Channel and ABC Family Channel are due to become available in June, while Soapnet plans to offer some programs beginning April 17. Each will be "streamed" and contain commercials that viewers won't be able to skip, the Journal reported, although the video can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded. It cannot be downloaded to portable devices like the iPod or PSP, although some of the same programming will continue to be provided for downloading commercial-free for $1.99 on Apple's iTunes Music Store. Ten advertisers have reportedly signed up for the service, which will limit the number of ad breaks to three, instead of the usual five, with a commercial for only one advertiser appearing during each break. The Journal observed that the move could spark numerous rifts with Disney partners -- cable companies are likely to complain that the plan is aimed at bypassing them; affiliates would probably complain that they would be unable to benefit from the online operation; unions might complain that the company is opening a new revenue source for itself without cutting in the creators of the material being offered.

COMCAST, SONY TO LAUNCH CABLE CHANNEL FOR SCAREDY CATS

Comcast and Sony Pictures are teaming up to launch a video-on-demand cable channel offering some 1,000 horror and thriller movies and TV shows. The companies have set Oct. 31 -- Halloween -- for the debut of the as-yet-unnamed channel, according to the Associated Press, which said that an official announcement was due to be made today (Monday). Although the programming will be available on demand, unlike most other VOD movies, those offered on the new channel will be available free to Comcast subscribers, with about 20 films and some TV shows available at any one time and about a quarter of the content changing every two weeks.

SCOTT SCOTCHED

This is not going to be a great day for Scottish actor Dougray Scott. Trade reports indicated today (Monday) that Heist, the NBC TV series in which he stars as a professional thief, is being canceled after it debuted with disappointing ratings and continued to drop each week after that. At the same time, critics are heaping damnations on his miniseries The Ten Commandments, debuting tonight, in which he stars in the role made famous by Charlton Heston. Tom Dorsey, writing in the Louisville Courrier-Journal observed: "Scott plays Moses more as a 'Why me, God?' person who seems in agony and on the verge of tears much of the time." Scott Pierce, writing in Salt Lake City's Deseret News, commented that Scott's performance is "more wooden than his staff." Another Salt Lake TV writer, Vince Horiuchi of the Tribune, concluded: "We're left with a mucky, blood-stained version of the Prince of Egypt who didn't encourage me to follow His commandments. OK, I did follow one commandment for I cannot bear false witness: This movie sucketh." Commented Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe: "Portrayed by actor Dougray Scott, Moses is so lacking in leader-like charisma and confidence that he seems ready to break into tears at every sand dune." Part of Scott's problem may be the script -- the movie script, that is -- according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Wrote David Wiegand: "Unlike Heston, Scott's Moses is meant to be a regular Joe, given to self-doubt, occasional indecision and inattention to his wife and family. But who needs Moses, of all people, to be the guy next door?" Moreover, Scott has attracted some positive notices. Jonathan Storm describes the production as "pretty darned good" and Scott's performance as "superb." In an interview with today's New York Daily News, director Robert Dornhelm said that he realized that he would probably make "a lot of enemies among Jewish groups who would say, 'What did you do to our Moses? ... But I showed [the movie] to my rabbi, and to my great surprise, he had no problem with it."

HALF OF BRITAIN WATCHES SOAP CHARACTER KILLED OFF

More than half the TV audience of Britain -- some 12.4 million viewers -- tuned in to ITV's nighttime soap opera Coronation Street Friday to watch Mike Baldwin, a character played by actor Johnny Biggs for 30 years, die of Alzheimer's disease in the arms of his lifelong enemy, Ken Barlow, played by Bill Roache. Roache has appeared as the Barlow character on the series since it debuted in 1960.

ICE MELTS, BUT STAYS ON TOP
Although it suffered something of a meltdown itself, Ice Age: The Meltdown nevertheless remained at the top of the box office for the second consecutive weekend, earning an estimated $34.5 million -- about half the amount it took in during its opening weekend. Box office analysts said they regard such a drop for a family film as not uncommon. More important is the fact that it became the first to pass the $100-million mark this year -- its gross now stands at $116.4 million -- and that it helped push the box office some 30 percent ahead of last year's for the comparable weekend. Also adding to the full till was Sony/Revolution's Benchwarmers with a solid $20.5 million. But Take the Lead, with Antonio Banderas starring as an instructor teaching ballroom dancing to tough high school kids, did only so-so business, as it debuted with $12.8 million. Lucky Number Slevin proved to be not so lucky at all with just $7.1 million. A fourth newcomer, Phat Girlz, phlopped with $3.1 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Ice Age: The Meltdown, $34.5 million; 2. The Benchwarmers, $20.5 million; 3. Take the Lead, $12.8 million; 4. Inside Man, $9.2 million; 5. Lucky Number Slevin, $7.1 million; 6. Failure to Launch, $4.1 million; 7. ATL, $3.75 million; 8. V for Vendetta, $3.4 million; 9. Phat Girlz, $3.1 million; 10. Thank You for Smoking, $2.4 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE BENCHWARMERS

The Benchwarmers, which was not screened for critics in advance of Friday's opening, drew the kind of scathing reviews over the weekend that Sony had expected. Actually in her review, the New York Times's Manohla Dargis expressed understanding for the studio's reluctance. "After all," she wrote Saturday, ""Why would a studio bother, since movie lovers are clearly not the intended demographic? ... Filled with sprays of vomit, fountains of spit and enough hot body air to launch a flotilla of passenger balloons, The Benchwarmers is the sort of trash that Hollywood does really well."

9/11 WIDOWS PROTEST STONE'S WORLD TRADE CENTER FLICK

Two women whose husbands were among the New York Port Authority officers who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 have denounced Oliver Stone's upcoming film about the calamity, telling the Newark Star-Ledger that they don't want their children to see how their fathers died or share the last moments of their husbands' lives with moviegoers. The women, Jamie Amoroso and Jeannette Pezzulo, said that they had informed Paramount about their concerns. They also expressed resentment that two other Port Authority officers who were with their husbands at the time, but who survived, were being paid as consultants on the film. Pezullo's husband Dominick was attempting to free one of the surviving men, Will Jimeno, when he was struck by falling debris and was killed. Addressing Jimeno, Jeannette Pezzulo said, "My thing is: This man died for you. How do you do this to this family?" Ms. Pezzulo said. Jimeno told the newspaper that he felt it was important that the story be told accurately. "I never crossed the line," he said. "It's our story, too. We're also victims of this."

MASS. CORRECTIONAL OFFICER DISCIPLINED FOR SHOWING BROKEBACK

Massachusetts may have earned itself a reputation for political liberalism by, among other things, sanctioning gay marriages, but the state's Department of Corrections has drawn the line at showing a movie featuring gay sex and male nudity to inmates at the state prison in Norfolk. In an interview with Reuters, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed Saturday that a correctional officer had been disciplined for screening Brokeback Mountain at the institution. "It was not the subject matter," she maintained. "It was the graphic nature of sexually explicit scenes." She said that the officer in question showed the movie, two days after it was released on DVD, without reviewing it in advance, as prison guidelines required him to do.

Cinemark Movie Club