Comments by News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch that he plans to launch a Fox business channel later this year were downplayed by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes Thursday. Questioned about Murdoch's remarks by New Yorkerwriter Ken Auletta at a breakfast hosted by Syracuse University's Newhouse School in New York, Ailes remarked, "I keep telling Rupert, 'Quit saying that.'" He said that Fox News has yet to determine whom such a channel would appeal to. "Does an audience for business news really exist [or] have they gone on the Internet?" On Thursday, Fox News Channel devoted virtually all of its Your World with Neil Cavuto, described as FNC's premier business new program, to interviews with critics of the court decisions in the Terri Schiavo case. Although the program also included an interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt on Social security reform and a report from Rome on the condition of the pope, it included no business news.


Fox News chief Roger Ailes' schadenfreude was on display Thursday as he discussed CBS News's woes over its discredited 60 Minutesreport about President Bush's National Guard service. Interviewed by New Yorkermedia writer Ken Auletta at a gathering hosted by Syracuse University's Newhouse School, Ailes quipped that there was a lesson to be learned by CBS's experience: "Try not to get to the point where there is an attorney general investigating you," he said (a reference to the fact that the CBS story was eventually examined by a group headed by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press executive Louis Boccardi). Asked if he would hire Dan Rather, who stepped down as anchor of the CBS Evening News following the Thornburgh-Boccardi report, Ailes replied, "I wouldn't not hire him. ... Dan is a very controversial guy but Dan does a lot of very good journalism." However, Ailes added that Rather would be too expensive for the channel: "He couldn't afford to work on cable and we couldn't afford to have him, so it's a moot point." Ailes said that nevertheless he recently had dinner with Rather and that Rather had asked him why Fox News had not attacked him over his appearance at a Democratic Party fund-raiser in Texas that was hosted by his daughter. Ailes said that he replied that Fox didn't mention the matter because Rather's family was involved.


Ted Koppel announced Thursday that he will leave ABC's Nightline -- and the network -- at the expiration of his contract in December. Tom Bettag, the show's executive producer, said that he intends to leave as well. Reports have persisted that ABC intends to revamp the Nightline in order to make it more competitive with NBC's Tonightshow and CBS's Late Show. Koppel had reportedly been critical of the proposed changes. In a statement, ABC News President David Westin said, "I would have preferred Ted to have stayed a few more years, but I respect his decision." In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer,Koppel indicated that Westin had told him that he planned to expand the program to a one-hour live telecast. "Been there, done that," he told the newspaper. "I did Nightlinelive for 14 years, coming in at 9:30 a.m. and going home well after midnight. I'm not up to doing that again." He said that he and Bettag plan to do news programs but not for ABC. He was equally vague in discussing his plans with the New York Times, saying only: "There are some very interesting prospects out there, let's put it that way." And in another interview with the Wall Street Journal,he remarked, "I am not waltzing into the sunset."


Noah Wyle, the last original cast member remaining on E.R., said Thursday that he will be leaving the medical drama as a regular at the end of the current season. His character, Dr. John Carter, will not be written out of the drama, however. Wyle is due to return for four episodes in each of the next two seasons. Wyle's decision was expected. In an interview with the E! Entertainment Channel last year, he said that he had "this little urge to scratch a different kind of itch in my career, and it's just coming to the end of the character's run." Although still a potent ratings draw for NBC, longer ranks No. 1 on the Nielsen list, as it did for many years. Suffering from lower ratings from its lead-in programs than it did in previous seasons, the show now ranks slightly behind CBS's Without a Tracein the Thursday 10:00 p.m. hour.


American television networks have been renting rooftops, hotel rooms, and apartments near St. Peter's Basilica for years in anticipation of the imminent death of the pope, according to a February report by the Chicago Tribunethat was being widely reprinted on Thursday, as the pope's health deteriorated further. According to the report, ABC long ago even placed robotic, remote-controlled cameras around the Vatican for instant live shots. CBS News exec Marcy McGinnis told the Tribunethat she first went to Rome in 1996 to negotiate a ten-year-deal for roof rights and that now, "every broadcaster in the world has a rooftop or balcony lined up."


The Arab all-news network al-Jazeera, which has fended off fierce criticism from Washington politicians on the one hand and Arab leaders on the other, has now drawn fire from Moscow. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday charged that the satellite news channel has given a distorted picture of the rebellion in the Chechen Republic. In a statement released by the foreign minister, al-Jazeera was accused of ignoring efforts by federal and local authorities to normalize life in the area and presenting a false impression of Russian policies in general.


Two vastly different new movies will be competing for box-office attention over the weekend, Beauty Shop, a female/African-American comedy that opened on Wednesday, and Sin City, a male/comic-book thriller. Analysts give Sin Citythe edge to win. But it is not a clear winner with critics, who are vastly at odds. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, while praising some of the film's stylish images, suggests that Robert Rodriguez, and the Sin Citygraphic novel creator Frank Miller, who collaborated on the film, have failed to bring the comics' characters to life. "When stuff goes blam, you jump like someone who's landed on a whoopee cushion. But then you just sit there, wrap yourself in the dark and try not to fall asleep," she writes. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journaldescribes his reaction to the movie this way: "If there's a single scene that epitomizes the sensation that overtook me slowly but inexorably, it's the one in which Clive Owen's character ... sinks slowly into a tar pit." Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquireralso admires the film's visual presentation, but concludes, "Sin City ultimately comes off as an exercise in cold-blooded stylishness, uninvolving and overlong at 2 hours and 6 minutes." Likewise, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes that the movie is mostly style and little else. "This isn't an adaptation of a comic book, it's like a comic book brought to life and pumped with steroids. It contains characters who occupy stories, but to describe the characters and summarize the stories would be like replacing the weather with a weather map," he says. Nevertheless, he acknowledges, the movie succeeds as "a visualization of the pulp noir imagination, uncompromising and extreme. Yes, and brilliant." Ty Burr in the Boston Globeputs the emphasis on the brilliant, writing that "Sin City is the first great Hollywood joy ride of the year ... a stunning, visceral piece of work -- cheap thrills polished to the level of high art." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postdescribes the movie as "a dessert from hell ... pure outlaw art" and a blood descendant of The Wild Bunchand Kill Bill. He concludes: "Two hours and six minutes has never seemed so much like two and six-tenths seconds. It's pure pulp metafiction." And Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribunebestows 3 1/2 stars on the film, but warns: "Sin City is an evil place, full of awful people, an obsessive movie full of monomaniacal tough guys. Yet when Miller and Rodriguez move it into gear, noir lives."

$30,000 SCALPERS?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday sued three ticket brokers for selling tickets and passes to last month's Oscar presentations without permission. The organization has acted similarly before and pointedly noted Thursday that it had previously been successfully in such lawsuits. It said that one of the agencies had offered to sell a pair of tickets to its undercover investigator for $30,000. The suit not only noted that such sales represented "unfair competition, unjust enrichment and inducement to breach of contract and trespass," but that they also raised security concerns. "As one of the most televised and glamorous events in the world, the ceremony is a potential target for terrorists, celebrity stalkers, or anyone seeking to gain attention for a cause," the suit observed. The agencies named in the suit were Musical Chairs of Los Angeles, VIP Getaways of Long Beach, and StubHub of San Francisco.


Gossip columnist Liz Smith says she will fight Newsday's bid to cancel her column. The newspaper said on Thursday that it would no longer run Smith's column because she "did not exercise her option to extend her contract, which has expired." Smith, however, told Editor and Publisherthat she had wanted to exercise the option and that the newspaper was dropping her in order to cut costs. "It ain't over yet; the fat lady hasn't sung," Smith told the trade publication. Her attorney, David Blasband, said that he has filed for arbitration under a provision of her contract allowing either party to take a dispute to the American Arbitration Association. Newsdayis owned by the Tribune Co., which syndicates her column nationally through Tribune Media Services. It has appeared in the New York area not only in Long Island's Newsday but, in syndication, in Manhattan's New York Post, too.


Blockbuster plans to fire as many as 300 employees by the end of this month and use the cost savings to upgrade and expand its Internet ventures, Home Media Retailingreported Thursday. In an interview with the trade publication, Blockbuster spokesperson Karen Raskopf said, "Our goal is to transform Blockbuster ... and we're investing in initiatives that bring more value to our customers, but at the same time we need to reduce our costs structure and operate as a more efficient retail operation."


Australian officials are waxing euphoric over the apparently limitless budget Warner Bros. has given Superman Returns, which began production in the state of New South Wales last month. The state's treasurer, Dr. Andrew Refshauge, told the Australian Associated Press, "It's going to be one of the biggest film projects ever made in Australia -- bigger than the Matrixtrilogy. He said that it will generate A$100 million (US$77 million) for the state's economy and create more than 10,000 jobs.