SOUTH PARK BITES THE HAND THAT FEEDS IT
The CBS News blog Public Eye, which previously criticized all the major news outlets, including CBS, for refusing to show the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that recently touched off a wave of violent protests, has praised Comedy Central's South Park for taking up the issue. In a commentary posted on Thursday, Vaughn Ververs, who runs the blog, praised the recently Peabody-awarded show for a two-part series for speaking "truth to the irrational and irresponsible reaction to this cartoon controversy in the U.S. in general and among the media in particular." However, the Associated Press reported late Thursday that Comedy Central itself refused to allow the Muhammad cartoons from being shown in the South Park episode and that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker retaliated by showing an image of Christ defecating on President Bush and the American flag. In a statement, Comedy Central said, "In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision." The Washington Post observed today (Friday) that comedy central had previously aired an episode of South Park that depicted Muhammad -- without incident. Although the A.P. (and other news outlets) maintains that "Muslims consider any physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous," several writers have pointed out that nowhere in the Koran is there any mention of the matter.

FOX PAVES WAY FOR MORE ONLINE CONTENT

Fox has become the first network to negotiate a deal with its affiliates that will allow them to share in any additional revenue Fox receives from video-on-demand and online downloading services. The deal will allow Fox to provide 60 percent of its primetime programming to new-media platforms this year, rising to 80 percent next year, and all of it in 2008. Affiliates will receive 12.5 percent of the revenue for programs running off the air after they have already been broadcast and 25 percent if they run before they are broadcast. Peter Levinsohn, president of digital media for the Fox Entertainment Group, told the Los Angeles Times, "What's really great about this deal is that our affiliates will be partners with us so our relationship will be substantially more collaborative." He indicated that some of the programs might even be made available for downloading from the affiliates' websites.

QUEEN GUITARIST ACCUSES IDOL PRODUCERS OF DECEPTION

A member of the veteran rock group Queen has implied that he may have been used by the producers of American Idol to undermine the chances of one of the contestants. Guitarist Brian May said on his personal blog Thursday that an encounter between him and contestant Ace Young shown on Tuesday night's show did not occur as represented. He said that after his conversation with May was taped, "it was edited in such a way that it looked as if I was purely negative." May said that, as aired, it seemed that he was commenting on May's altered arrangement of "We Will Rock You" "after we had played together, which was not the way it happened, making me look like I was against the whole thing." He said that the conversation actually took place when May played him a demo of what he had in mind. "We then discussed how we could improve his ideas and ... came up with a kind of mixture of his thoughts and ours, which was the basis for the arrangement that you saw the house band play on the night! It was actually pretty damn good, I thought."

GE TRYING TO BRING NBC TO LIFE

NBC continues to be a source of frustration of General Electric stockholders. In an SEC filing, GE said Thursday that net income rose in the first quarter for nearly all of its units, save NBC. Falling ratings for NBC's primetime lineup, plus costs involved in its Winter Olympics coverage, GE said, dragged down NBC Universal's first-quarter profit 8 percent from the same quarter a year ago, despite a 24-percent surge in overall revenue, largely the results of ad sales for the Winter Olympics. The network said that while the Turin Games generated about $70 million in red ink, it expected to wind up ahead once it collects nonrefundable contributions from its affiliates.

TIVO WINS LAWSUIT AGAINST ECHOSTAR

Shares in TiVo, the digital video recorder maker, leaped 20 percent to $9.65 Thursday after a federal-court jury in Texas found that EchoStar Communications, which operates the DISH satellite TV service, infringed on TiVo's patents when it began producing DVRs of its own. The jury awarded TiVo $73 million -- a figure that could be tripled by the judge hearing the case. EchoStar later expressed confidence that the verdict will eventually be reversed.

WHO'S LEAKING CONFIDENTIAL BBC INFO TO LONDON TABLOID?

The BBC is looking into an apparent leak of confidential information about the salaries of top radio and TV newscasters and actors to the tabloid The Sun. Among other salary disclosures, The Sun reported Thursday that one radio show host, Chris Moyles, earns $1.1 million a year. Last month the tabloid disclosed salaries for members of the cast of the popular TV soap opera EastEnders. Reporting on the matter, today's (Friday) London Independent observed that the salary revelations have "led to speculation that a disgruntled BBC employee with access to a computer database containing salary information has been leaking it to the press."

HOW CLOSE WERE GREY, OVITZ TO PELLICANO?
In a front-page article, the New York Times reported today (Friday) that contacts between private detective Anthony Pellicano on the one hand and Paramount chief Brad Grey and former superagent Michael Ovitz on the other were more extensive than they had previously acknowledged. The newspaper, citing raw FBI records, indicated that Grey, who previously had said that he was only "casually acquainted" with Pellicano, had numerous meetings with him, including several about a projected TV series about a private detective that Pellicano had come up with. According to the government documents, the Times said, Ovitz acknowledged that in 2002 he had hired Pellicano to see if he could discover "embarrassing information" about 15-20 people who were "coming after" him as he was attempting to sell Artists Management, a company that he founded after he was forced to step down as President of the Walt Disney Co. Both Grey and Ovitz have maintained that they had no knowledge of Pellicano's alleged wiretapping activities on their behalf. A lawyer for Ovitz told the Times that if Pellicano "used illegal means to get information that he thought would impress Mr. Ovitz, that was not done with Mr. Ovitz's knowledge and consent."

ELTON JOHN JUMPING FROM ONE DISNEY UNIT TO ANOTHER

Spurned by the new Pixar regime at Disney, Elton John has taken his proposed animated musical Gnomeo & Juliet to Miramax. The project, which had been under development at Disney for years, was axed by Pixar's John Lasseter and Ed Catmull shortly after they began examining the studio's proposed animation slate in March. In a statement, John said, "I am very excited about working with Miramax. ... Gnomeo is an edgy concept, and Miramax is the perfect home to push the envelope in animation." Adding irony to the whole affair is the fact that Miramax is also owned by Disney, and the transition of the project from Disney Animation to Miramax is expected to involve little more than paper shuffling.

KIDS MOVIES TO RULE EASTER BOX OFFICE

With kids out of school for spring break, three films aimed squarely at them will be vying for box-office supremacy over the Easter weekend. They include Scary Movie 4, aimed at teens, The Wild, aimed at youngsters, and the champion over the previous two weeks, Ice Age: The Meltdown. Scary Movie is expected to sell the most tickets, with the other two films vying for second place.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SCARY MOVIE 4

"Cleverly stupid" -- that's the way Nathan Lee describes Scary Movie 4 in the New York Times. Lee attends to the movie in just 233 words, one of the shortest reviews in memory for any movie by any major newspaper -- and a positive one at that. Jami Bernard's in the New York Daily News is even shorter -- just 197 words, and indicates that the movie offers "plenty of chuckles" but few "true belly laughs." Likewise Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the film offers laughs, "but not nearly as many as you'd hoped." (His review is a comparatively lengthy 353 words.) Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, who admits he "kind of liked" the movie, puts it this way: "Scary Movie 4 never takes you close to death by laughter ... but it's funny enough to turn the hands on your watch much more quickly than you can believe." But several critics aren't nearly so charitable. Joey Guerra in the Houston Chronicle calls it "an unruly, unmitigated mess." And Matt Weitz in the Dallas Morning News describes it as a "formulaic [exercise] in franchise extension." (297 words.]

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE WILD

One critic after the other is describing The Wild as a virtual remake of Madagascar, although the movie was well into production when Madagascar was released. (Since such films usually attempt to teach kids certain moral lessons, Ty Burr observes in the Boston Globe, the lesson they may take away from this movie is, "The early bird gets the box-office returns.") Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times says that what lifts the latest movie above its predecessor is some splendid computer animation. "The Wild is filled with softness and texture," she writes. "When a breeze stirs the coat of Samson the lion, the hairs lift and separate just like the real thing." But being so much like the real thing apparently put off Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, who writes, "I thought the movie's lip-synching was too good. The mouths of the characters move so precisely in time with their words that the cartoon illusion is lost, and we venture toward the Uncanny Valley -- that shadowy area known to robot designers and animators, in which artificial creatures so closely resemble humans that they make us feel kinda creepy. Lip-synching in animation usually ranges from bad to perfunctory to fairly good, and I think fairly good is as good as it should get." Some critics, however, suggest that even "fairly good" may be too good a description for The Wild. Carey Rickey writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I liked The Wild better when it was called Madagascar -- and I didn't like Madagascar that much." And Kyle Smith's review in the New York Post is headlined "Badagascar."

Cinemark Movie Club