COURT: TV WRITERS CAN USE PROFANITY -- EXCEPT IN SCRIPTS
Courts may have struck down the use of profanity on primetime TV, but writers were assured of their rights to use such language in the workplace when the California Supreme Court on Thursday tossed out a sexual harassment suit filed against Warner Bros. TV and the writers of Friends. In its opinion, the court said, "The record discloses that most of the sexually coarse and vulgar language at issue did not involve and was not aimed at plaintiff or other women in the workplace." It also noted that plaintiff Amaani Lyle had been warned that the writers would use such language. She reportedly had been fired for transcribing their words too slowly.

NEW NIGHTLINE ANCHORS DRAW BIGGER RATINGS THAN KOPPEL

Viewers of the revamped ABC Nightline have apparently heeded Ted Koppel's farewell advice to give the show a chance -- or risk seeing it replaced by another late-night variety show. ABC News said Thursday that ratings for Nightline indicate that last week the show increased the number of viewers in the key 25-54 age group by 18 percent over the comparable week a year ago. The total number of viewers -- 3.74 million -- represented Nightline's biggest audience since the relaunch last Nov. 28, according to the network.

COURIC VISITS FUTURE HOME AT CBS

Bob Schieffer told an audience at Drew University in Madison, NJ Wednesday night that he had been part of a "welcome wagon" to greet Katie Couric when she arrived at CBS News headquarters for the first time earlier in the day. Schieffer, who will be handing over the reins of the CBS Evening News to Couric in September, told the audience that she will be "a perfect fit" at CBS. As for reports that he is considering an offer to broadcast two commentaries a week on the newscast, Schieffer said that he now is considering doing one. "I'm not sure I have that much to say," he said. According to the Morris County Daily Record, Schieffer, who was generally regarded as politically neutral by many conservative critics of his predecessor, Dan Rather, spent much of his address criticizing the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. "I'm very pessimistic about this thing right now," he remarked at one point. At another, he predicted that Donald Rumsfeld's days as Secretary of Defense are numbered.

NBC QUASHES PHONY STORY FROM NEW IRAQ GOVERNMENT

NBC News producer Karl Bostic reported on the network's news blog Thursday that members of its Baghdad bureau were unable to confirm a Reuters report earlier in the day that groups of gunmen had beheaded two teachers in front of their students. The wire service's dispatch cited the Ministry of State for National Security. But school officials, local police, and students themselves denied that any such incident occurred, Bostic reported. The phony report was, he said, "a classic case of misinformation and bad reporting." He concluded, "Once again there is the reminder that on a daily basis, truth is always the first casualty here. Having a healthy skepticism about everything is just as important as wearing your flak jacket here."

VIVENDI DROPS "UNIVERSAL" FROM ITS NAME

NBC-Universal will now become the only hyphenated media company with the word "Universal" following the hyphen. Vivendi-Universal (the hyphen appeared to be optional) announced today (Thursday) that it would become just plain-old Vivendi again. In 2004, the company sold most of its Universal entertainment interests to GE, which combined them with its NBC broadcasting holdings. Nevertheless, Vivendi retained a small stake in the new company and continued to hold on to its record companies, Universal Music Group, and Universal Games (which will now be known as Vivendi Games). It also retained its French pay-TV company, Canal Plus. The company said that in addition it will delist its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

NBC PULLS PLUG ON CELEBRITY COOKING SHOWDOWN

NBC has cut short its planned five straight days of televising Celebrity Cooking Showdown. On Thursday, after three nights, the show was replaced with reruns -- as it will be tonight. (Washington Post TV columnist Lisa De Moraes quipped that it has "shriveled like an overtoasted marshmallow. Curdled like badly blended hollandaise. Collapsed like an underdone soufflé.") On Thursday's show, viewers were to have voted for a winner, with the results announced tonight (Friday). NBC decided at first to go ahead with the production of those shows, but present them only on its website, then changed its mind later and said that the webcasts would be repeated on Saturday, a night when hardly anyone watches TV anyway.

TREKKIES REJOICE; KIRK & SPOCK TO RETURN
The hopes of millions of aging Trekkies that their revered movie/TV franchise would be revived got a boost today (Friday) when Daily Variety reported that Paramount has signed J.J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III) to produce and direct an 11th Star Trek feature. The trade paper said that the screenplay, to be written by MI3's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, will concern the first meeting of James Kirk and Mr. Spock at the Starfleet Academy and their first mission. In effect, it revives a project called Star Trek: Beginnings that produced a script by Erik Jendresen. It was unclear what, if any, role longtime Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman would play in the new project.

ANIMATED FILM WITH ELTON JOHN MUSIC RESCUED BY DISNEY RECORDS

Executives of Walt Disney Records intervened on behalf of the Elton John animated film project Gnomeo and Juliet after it was canceled by Pixar execs John Lasseter and Ed Catmull -- and their efforts resulted in reviving the project at Disney's Miramax unit, Disney watcher Jim Hill reported on his website jimhillmedia.com Thursday. The music company executives pointed out that they had expected huge CD sales from the soundtrack, which was to have included new Elton John tunes with classic ones. Hill also observed that in order to assure Lasseter and Catmull that they were not being overridden, Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook told them that the Miramax film would be aimed principally at adults, would be edgier than Disney's usual cartoons, and would include songs like John's "The Bitch Is Back," which couldn't be included in a G-rated movie.

BATTLE OF THE SCARY MOVIES

One scary movie will be doing battle with another for supremacy at the box office over the weekend. Neither the second week of Scary Movie 4 or the premiere of Silent Hill, based on the videogame, is expected to make much of an impression, with both expected to gross less than $20 million. Analysts aren't expecting the other two films opening this weekend -- Fox's The Sentinel and Universal's American Dreamz -- to hit it big either, but some suggest that Sony Pictures Classics' Friends With Money could make a surprising showing as it opens wide after doing two weeks of terrific business in limited release.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SILENT HILL

Silent Hill, based on the popular video game, was not supposed to have been shown to film critics. Apparently the word never got out to whoever showed it to Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert rated it with a single star followed by a question mark. Here is the opening paragraph of his review: "I had a nice conversation with seven or eight people coming down on the escalator after we all saw Silent Hill. They wanted me to explain it to them. I said I didn't have a clue. They said, 'You're supposed to be a movie critic, aren't you?' I said, 'Supposed to be. But we work mostly with movies.' 'Yeah,' said the girl in the Harley t-shirt. 'I guess this was like a video game that you like had to play in order to like understand the movie.' I guess." The word apparently never got out to Canada, either, allowing Peter Howell in the Toronto Star to remark after seeing it that it was "dumber than a bag of coffin nails. ... It doesn't make a lick of sense."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE SENTINEL

The Sentinel, which was screened for critics, is not faring much better at their hands. Stephen Holden in the New York Times leads off his review by asking, "Why would a star of Michael Douglas's stature and intelligence attach himself to a Washington thriller as deeply ridiculous, suspense-free and potentially career-damaging as The Sentinel?" His co-star, Kiefer Sutherland, doesn't fare much better. Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe remarks that he appears to be reprising his Jack Bauer character in 24 for the movie. "You would think Sutherland would want to use his downtime from that show to wow us with something we didn't already know he could do. Can he dance? Does he juggle? If saving the world isn't yet boring for him, watching him do it in 'The Sentinel was boring for me." Kyle Smith in the New York Post calls the movie "so bland that it wants only to be as good as TV. Not as good as good TV, like 24. It merely aspires to be the Regis Philbin of D.C. thrillers." To Jan Stuart in Newsday, the movie is just plain "stupid." On the other hand, Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, describes it as "an unassuming thriller, a nifty piece of genre filmmaking without frills or self-importance. It's a throwback, if you will, to the days of B pictures, when formula movies were made with a maximum of skill and a minimum of pretense." Likewise Philip Wuntch writes in the Dallas Morning News: "A thoroughly professional job, The Sentinel is always watchable and often more than that." In between those extreme critical reactions to the movie is Claudia Puig of USA Today, who says of the movie: "It's a competent, if forgettable and implausible, thriller with some decent acting on the part of Sutherland and Michael Douglas as Secret Service agents."

MOVIE REVIEWS: AMERICAN DREAMZ

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times hits American Dreamz hard -- but warns in her lede of her intent. She writes that in the movie, about a President who attempts to restore his popularity by appearing on an American Idol-type TV show, "the jokes don't just fizzle into insignificance; they flop about with gaudy ineffectualness, gasping for air like newly landed trout. Unlike fish, alas, gags about nitwit commanders in chief, oily television hosts and rabidly ambitious young performers with stars in their eyes and sometimes their beds can't be tossed back in the water; only a blunt instrument, like a hammer, will do. Consider this a hammer, humanely but firmly applied." Desson Thomson in the Washington Post dismisses it a "tediously facile satire" with a "sophomorically liberal agenda." But Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News finds it amusing enough. "In the softer realm of parody, it has a good premise, a couple of funny performances and enough giggles for a reasonably good time at the movies," he writes. And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal suggests that moviegoers not enter the theater believing they are about to watch biting satire. The movie, he writes, speaks "the universal language of commercial TV sitcoms, with their constrained cultural vocabulary and their subtext of harmlessness: Don't be offended, none of this really means anything, it's just a goof about a lot of dumb stuff going down around us."

MOVIE REVIEWS: FRIENDS WITH MONEY

Friends With Money has pulled in a lot of it in its first two weeks of limited release. It has also drawn a lot of mixed reactions from critics. Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer has praised it as "sharply observed and deftly acted" by Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls it "acutely funny." And Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe describes it as a "finely etched, intelligently acted social comedy." But Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times awards it only two stars, remarking that "it seems to be more of an idea than a story." Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News regards it as "one of those exasperating movies that you admire without necessarily liking." And Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun concludes: "There's a self-loathing at the center of Friends with Money that makes it a tad unpalatable, as well as a sameness, a dependence on cliché, that makes it seem trite. All the fine acting, all the carefully observed friendships at its center, can't overcome the feeling that something of a dead horse is being beaten here."

Cinemark Movie Club