CABLERS SHUN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE AL-JAZEERA
Unable to find a single cable operator, satellite service or online company to carry it, the English-language version of Al-Jazeera is likely to postpone its planned launch, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today (Thursday). Contacted by the newspaper, Al-Jazeera spokesperson Rana Jazayerli would only say that the news channel expects "to be fully ready for a global launch, sometime soon." Meanwhile, the Arab network has announced that it has signed two new correspondents, Rob Reynolds, who had previously worked as a senior Washington correspondent for MSNBC, and Kimberly Halkett, who has worked for CNBC as a Washington correspondent.

APPRENTICE TO GO INTERACTIVE

NBC's The Apprentice is the latest reality series to add an interactive element. The network said Wednesday that viewers will have a change of winning $10,000 by playing "Get Rich With Trump" during each episode beginning next Monday. The game can be played via text messaging on a cell phone or via the website www.NBC.com/APPRENTICE. Three winners will be selected following each show one from the Easter/Central time zone, one from the Mountain time zone, and one from the Pacific time zone.

NBC, AFFILIATES FORM BROADBAND COMPANY

NBC and its affiliates are partnering in a new online business called the National Broadband Co. (To differentiate itself from the broadcast network, the enterprise is being referred to internally as NBBC.) In reporting on the venture, the Associated Press said Wednesday that it was "intended to give NBC stations access to millions of dollars in advertising migrating from traditional TV to the Internet." Daily Variety said that the service plans to offer content from the NBC Universal library, content generated by the local affiliates and "some first-run primetime shows."

EBAY: THE TV SHOW

The Internet auction site eBay is getting its own ABC reality series. As reported by MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews, the show, tentatively titled Make It Happen, will feature families who place their "hidden treasures" for sale on eBay, then use the proceeds to pursue their dreams. The show will reportedly debut as a twice-a-week feature (Mondays and Fridays) beginning this summer, with the Monday-night episode describing the items to be placed on the auction site and the Friday episode revealing what they brought in and what the winners intend to do with the money they earned.

A SITCOM INVOLVING MICK JAGGER (ONLY HE'LL HARDLY BE IN IT)

Mick Jagger is likely to appear in an ABC comedy series about a group of workers in New York who plot to rob a celebrity -- in this case, Jagger, the Hollywood Reporter reported today (Thursday), citing unnamed sources. Jagger would not have a major role in the series, the trade paper indicated, "but he is crucial to the plot line as the target of the planned robbery and is mentioned numerous times." The series, produced by Disney's Touchstone Television, is being produced by Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman.

FOR CHRISTMAS: THE BIGGEST TV SET IN THE WORLD

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which produces consumer-electronics items under the Panasonic brand name in the U.S., plans to begin selling a 103-inch plasma-display-panel television set by the end of the year, the company said Wednesday. It noted that the screen width is comparable to the size of a double bed. In a statement, the company said that it hoped that the TV set, the world's largest flat-panel model, will "impress the marketplace" with its technological excellence.

"SHOPTALK" CREATOR FITZPATRICK DEAD AT 56

Don Fitzpatrick, who started the emailed newsletter "ShopTalk," in 1983, which initially focused on the TV news business but eventually broadened its scope to other areas of TV and cable, died Monday in Alexandria, LA at age 56. From 1982 to 2000, he headed San Francisco-based Don Fitzpatrick Associates, a TV news "headhunting" firm that landed jobs for Jim Nantz, Meredith Vieira, Leeza Gibbons, Randall Pinkston and John Tesh. "Shoptalk" was one of the first electronically distributed newsletters, originally posted on The Source online service, then moving to CompuServe, and finally onto the Internet in the form of TVSpy.com. In 1999 he closed DFA and concentrated on the website, which he sold to The Vault.

CO-EXEC PRODUCER OF THE SHIELD DIES

Scott Brazil, the co-executive producer of The Shield, died Monday of respiratory failure, a complication of Lou Gehrig's disease, a spokesman for FX Networks said Wednesday. In recent months he had continued to work as producer-director from a motorized wheelchair, showing up on the set until last Thursday.

EARLY SHOW PRODUCER DIES

Gary Chern, a coordinating producer of CBS's Early Show, was stricken by an apparent heart attack while at work on Wednesday and was transported by ambulance to a New York Hospital, where he died, the network said.

19 FILMS TO COMPETE FOR PALME D'OR
Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel are among 19 films chosen to compete for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, festival organizers announced today (Thursday). Kelly's Tales, which takes place two years in the future, features a large cast that includes The Rock, Sean William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson and Kevin Smith. Marie Antoinette stars Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Judy Davis. Iñárritu's Babel, stars Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, and Gael Garcia Bernal. Also included in the competition are: Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation; Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley; Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.

CRITICS UNIMPRESSED WITH HD DVD

Consumer electronics writers have begun to weigh in on the new HD DVD players distributed by Toshiba this week, and most are unimpressed. Several cite an intolerably long boot-up period, a confusing menu system, and incompatible sound. But nearly all express disappointment in the picture. On smaller sets, the writers agree, the difference between HD DVD and a conventional DVD is virtually undetectable. "Bottom line is that HD DVD is great, but will you notice?" asks Ben Drawbaugh on HDBeat.com. Writing in the Los Angeles Times David Colker remarked that on larger screens he could detect a subtle difference. He added: "I tested my perceptions by switching between the two formats. I asked a colleague to close his eyes while I chose a version, then had him open them and guess: DVD or HD DVD? He got it right only about 75% of the time. So, yes, it's better. But don't expect the dramatic leap in quality that came with the transition from VHS to DVDs in the 1990s.

DISNEY'S DVD "EASTER PRESENT" HOPS TO A SECOND WIN

Disney's the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remained the top DVD seller for the second consecutive week. Sony's Fun With Dick and Jane came in second in its debut. Universal's King Kong placed third in its third week on the sales charts but remained in second place on the rental charts.

THEATER REVIEWS: JULIA ROBERTS IN THREE DAYS OF RAIN

Julia Roberts, a darling of American film critics and the top female box-office star, is receiving mixed reviews from theater critics following her debut playing two characters in Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain on Broadway. Ben Brantley writes in the New York Times: "She's stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don't want to let her out of your sight." Later, he continues: "That she does not do well -- at least not by any conventional standards of theatrical art -- is unlikely to lose Ms. Roberts any fans, though it definitely won't win her any new ones among drama snobs. Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost, as if to move too much might invite falling." Peter Marks writes similarly in the Washington Post: "Well, she gives it the old college try -- and that is all she appears capable of. As if marooned on an unfamiliar shore, Julia Roberts staggers hesitantly through Three Days of Rain." Elysa Gardner in USA Today is kinder, writing, "Roberts makes both women [her two characters] credible, compelling and sweetly funny. And she manages a tender chemistry with each of her costars." As for Shakespeare's remark that "the play's the thing," clearly he lived before the age of movie stars. As Howard Kissel observes in the New York Daily News, "There's almost no point discussing Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain" as a play. With Julia Roberts as its leading lady, it's an event! Think Puffy in "A Raisin in the Sun." Or Liz and Dick in "Private Lives." A celebrity changes theatergoing into an evening of status enhancement. It's not about experiencing a play - it's about telling your friends you saw Her."

FILM DELAYED FOR THREE YEARS TO BE RELEASED IN CHINA

A Chinese film that won the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at the Shanghai Film Festival, but has seen its general release delayed for three years because of a dispute between its investors, will finally open on April 25, China's Xinhua news service reported today (Thursday). Jasmine Women, directed by Hou Yong, stars Zhang Ziyi, who plays three different women living at different periods of the 20th century. In an interview with the news service, Zhang Ziyi commented: "Over the last three years, whenever I heard news about the suspended movie I phoned Hou, even if I was in the United States. What we talked about most was our hopelessness and anxiety. Now I believe all the staff in our working group are very happy on hearing the news."
CORRECTION: In Wednesday's edition we mentioned that the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced Bombay Dreams is still playing in London's West End. It is not.