TEN COMMANDMENTS ARE MORE LIKE AN 8.7
Part One of ABC's new version of The Ten Commandments posted so-so ratings for the network Monday night. The first hour, at 9:00 p.m., won its time period with an 8.5 rating and a 15 share. (Actually it only won the second half hour; the first half hour went to CBS's Two and a Half Men," which drew a 9.2/14, but The New Adventures of Old Christine fell to a 7.6/11 in the second half hour.) At 10:00 p.m. the biblical epic was overtaken by CBS's CSI: Miami, which wound up with an 11.1/18 to the Commandments' 8.8/14. Earlier in the evening, at 8:00 p.m., NBC's game show Deal or No Deal remained strong, registering an 8.9/15, substantially ahead of the competition.

LAUER FETCHES $14-MILLION ANNUAL SALARY

He may not have garnered much attention during all the hoopla over Katie Couric's decision to leave the Today show to anchor the CBS Evening News and Meredith Vieira's decision to leave The View to replace Couric on Today, but Matt Lauer is garnering a big salary increase. Today's (Tuesday) New York Times reported that Lauer 's contract, which was due to expire in 2008, will be extended to 2011 and that he'll be paid more than $13 million a year, at least $1 million more than Vieira will presumably receive. In an interview with the newspaper, Lauer said that he could not imagine another position in broadcasting that he would want more. "I like it here," he said. "I like this job." Taking note of all of the recent features that questioned whether he and Vieira will be able to achieve the same "chemistry" that was evident between him and Couric, Lauer told the Times, "What we need to do is do some shows together. I hope people don't expect we'll come out of the box in the same place Katie and I are today, after 10 years of working together."

NBC'S "STING" ETHICS QUESTIONED

Some journalists are questioning NBC News's ethics following its acknowledgment that it paid the organization Perverted Justice at least $100,000 to set up a pedophile sting operation in Ohio for a Dateline NBC feature. The operation was the fourth of its kind staged by the magazine show, in which Perverted Justice members pose as juveniles to lure potential pedophiles to a local house, where they are confronted by Dateline correspondent Chris Hansen in front of hidden cameras and are then arrested when Hansen's "interview" concludes. In an interview with the Associated Press, Bob Steele, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute in Florida, remarked, "If the journalist was paying someone for their information, cooperation and participation, the payment may taint the reliability of the story and the truth being sought. ... Credibility is affected. Some would even put the term 'checkbook journalism' on this matter." However, David Corvo, executive producer of the program, insisted that Perverted Justice was working as an NBC consultant on the program. "We think the system we set up has allowed us to keep our journalistic standards as well as perform a public service," Corvo said. Today's (Tuesday) Washington Post also noted that in the Ohio sting, Perverted Justice members were deputized by the local sheriff. Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the newspaper that she had never heard of a media outlet using paid associates to act as law-enforcement officials. "It sounds to me like a very risky thing to do," she added.

TIVO CUTS 60 MINUTES TO 15

Users of TiVo and other digital video recorders are being confounded by CBS's Sunday-night primetime schedule, which often is thrown out of whack on the East Coast by overruns of sports events that begin in the afternoon, the CBS blog Public Eye observed Monday. Public Eye writer Brian Montopoli noted that coverage of the Masters Tournament Sunday pushed the start of 60 Minutes to 7:45 p.m., resulting in people who had scheduled their DVRs to record the program at its regular starting time, 7:00 p.m., seeing only 15 minutes of the program. Montopoli observed that as of the first of the year, TiVo only had about 4.4 million subscribers. "But one has to wonder how much of an impact the variable start time will have, especially as DVRs become more widespread."

IRAQI TV JOURNALISTS SENDING FAMILIES ABROAD

Iraqi journalists working for NBC News (and presumably for other Western news organizations) are increasingly sending their families to Syria or Jordan fearing they may be attacked as a reprisal for working for western media, an NBC News producer wrote Monday on NBC's Blogging Iraq website. Michele Neubert quoted one local NBC journalist as telling her, "I sometimes just sit in my children's bedroom and cry ... wondering what happened to our dreams. Our dreams are all destroyed here in Iraq. I just wonder, [what] has happened to us?" Many journalists, Neubert wrote, have joined their families abroad. "Even our list of experts whom we turn to for comment on the latest bomb attack or political maneuver has shrunk. Each time I return to Baghdad, I am struck by how many more of them have been crossed off our list. Most have moved to neighboring countries for safety; others have been killed, caught up in the violence here."

ICE COOLS; SMOKING SMOKES
Twentieth Century Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown melted off half its earnings from its opening week but remained the top movie over the weekend with $33.8 million. The debut of Sony's The Benchwarmers ranked second with $19.7 million. However, in terms of money earned per screen, the second-place film was Fox Searchlight's Thank You for Smoking, which earned $2.3 million at just 299 theaters -- or $7,723 per screen. By contrast, The Benchwarmers took in about $1,700 less per screen and Ice Age, about $800 more. New Line's Take the Lead did not come close to taking it, winding up with $12 million in its debut. The MGM-Weinstein Co. film Lucky Number Slevin did a so-so $7 million, while Fox Searchlight's Phat Girlz opened with a very skinny $3.1 million. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Ice Age: The Meltdown, 20th Century Fox, $33,823,894, 2 Wks. ($115,751,973); 2. The Benchwarmers, Sony, $19,656,429, (New); 3. Take the Lead, New Line, $12,051,277, (New); 4. Inside Man, Universal, $9,131,410, 3 Wks. ($66,013,040); 5. Lucky Number Slevin, MGM, $7,031,921, (New); 6. Failure to Launch, Paramount, $4,130,869, 5 Wks. ($79,145,215); 7. ATL, Warner Bros. $3,710,215, 2 Wks. ($17,215,267); 8. V for Vendetta, Warner Bros. $3,404,210, 4 Wks. ($62,296,435); 9. Phat Girlz, Fox Searchlight, $3,109,924, (New); 10. Thank You for Smoking, Fox Searchlight, $2,309,097, 4 Wks. ($6,193,074).

DISNEY'S THEATRICAL UNIT GETS NEMO FOR A SONG

Disney's marriage to Pixar took a new turn Monday when the company announced that it would be turning Finding Nemo into a musical. Unlike The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan and the upcoming The Little Mermaid, Nemo will not be finding a home on Broadway. According to the company, Finding Nemo -- The Musical will be presented at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, FL, will last only a half hour, and will feature puppets and live performers. "It is the first time in theme-park history that we have taken an animated film that is not a musical and turned it into a musical," Anne Hamburger, executive director of Disney Creative Entertainment, told the Orlando Sentinel. "Nemo is the next generation of theatrical entertainment for the company. It will encompass a lot of visual spectaculars and will be a very popular show." The music is being written by Avenue Q composer Bobby Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for the a cappella musical Along the Way.

XBOX GAME CONSOLE TO SHOW HDTV TRAILERS

Owners of Microsoft's game console Xbox 360 will be able to download trailers of Paramount's Mission: Impossible III and Nacho Libre and watch them on high-definition home theater systems. Gerry Rich, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing, told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times that the move "hits the audience in a big way -- the 12- to 34-year-old audience. That's the sweet spot of frequent moviegoers." Moreover, Michael Pachter, Wedbush Morgan Securities' interactive entertainment industry analyst, told the Times that by using the Xbox, Paramount will be able "to get the high-definition monitor owners drooling. ... It's clever marketing. It's a good, solid, high-income, early adopter niche." The newspaper reported that about 2 million Xbox owners now connect to its online service, Xbox Live.

FOUR MEDIA GIANTS OPPOSE SEC PLAN

The Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal, and the recently split Viacom companies, Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., have registered their opposition to a proposal by the SEC that would force them to disclose the compensation that they pay their leading nonexecutive employees, such as studio chiefs, producers and stars. While the SEC has said that its purpose is to apprise shareholders of the compensation being paid out by the companies they own, a letter to the SEC from the four entertainment giants said that they see no reason to disclose "the use of assets for employee compensation where the employees in question are not managerial officers who have a significant policy-making function."

UCLA NEWPAPER BLASTS MOVIE DOWNLOAD PLAN

The student newspaper of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has lambasted plans by five studios to sell movies over the Internet via the CinemaNow and Movielink websites. In an editorial, the Daily Bruin observed that the $20-30 price for the downloads is roughly twice the cost of a DVD and that they can only be viewed on just two computers running the Windows operating system. "Basically, this new service would make downloaded films expensive and difficult -- if not impossible -- to view on more than a couple computers," the editorial observed. It compared the plan to a similar one instituted early on by the record industry, which "did nothing to disuade even those who only casually pirated music to cease and desist" -- all of which changed with the advent of Apple's more reasonably priced iTunes, it noted. The editorial concluded: "Don't look to these download services to change our viewing habits: We'll stick to Netflix and the trek down to Best Buy to get our DVD fix. And as for the people who pirate films over the Internet, we're willing to bet this won't change their viewing habits either."

DGA DECRIES PROPOSED FRENCH LAWS PERMITTING P2P DOWNLOADS

In an unusual step for an American union or guild, the Directors Guild of America has announced its opposition to legislation being proposed in France. The new laws would substantially legalize the downloading of movies via peer-to-peer websites. In a letter of support sent to four organizations that represent French film directors, writers, producers and editors, DGA President Michael Apted wrote that the proposed French law would have the effect of legalizing piracy. "Can directors survive when their films are exploited in ways that rob them of their livelihood?" Apted asked in the letter. "Will producers invest in work that risks being mass distributed before it even reaches the screen? But if filmmaking goes into decline, it won't only be us who are the losers but the culture and society that is the source of our inspiration."

DYING, ART BUCHWALD TICKS OFF FAVORITE DEATH SCENES

Even though he reportedly is nearing death, Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist Art Buchwald, 80, is continuing to turn out his syndicated column, from a hospice in Washington D.C. In January, his right leg was amputated, and recently, he refused dialysis to treat kidney failure. In his latest column, he writes that from the time he was a child, his thoughts about dying were shaped by the movies, and he offers a remarkable montage of death scenes that have occupied his mind. He says his favorite one is Ronald Reagan's in Knute Rockne All American in which Reagan says to Pat O'Brien, who plays Rockne, "Tell them to out there ... and win just one for the Gipper." Adds Buchwald: "Except I change it to 'win just one for you-know-who.'" Buchwald reels off a dozen other death scenes from movies, concluding poignantly: "I have always depended on movies to write my 'script.' I can't get the scene out of my head when I play Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity and I'm dying in Monty Clift's arms after being beaten in the stockade. What makes it so endearing is Monty Clift plays taps. I like someone playing taps in my final scene."

Cinemark Movie Club