NAB VOWS TO CLEAN UP ITS ACT Expressing its "serious First Amendment concerns" about proposed new government regulations aimed at barring "indecent" broadcasts, the National Association of Broadcasters on Thursday said that it was setting up an industry Task Force on Responsible Programming to develop a voluntary code of conduct. "It is our strong belief that voluntary industry initiatives are far preferable to government regulation," NAB President and CEO Edward Fritts said in a statement. The group said that the task force will hold its first meeting during the NAB convention in Las Vegas, which begins on April 17. Meanwhile ABC said Thursday that it had begun broadcasting Good Morning Americaand The Viewwith a five-second tape delay.


Michael Grade has been named chairman of the BBC, filling the post that was left vacant when Gavyn Davies was forced out following the release of the Hutton report that sharply criticized the BBC's oversight of its news operations. Grade had previously headed Britain's Channel 4 network, leaving that position to head the revived Pinewood-Shepperton film studio. His appointment was welcomed by the opposition Conservative Party, whose "shadow" culture minister, Julie Kirkbride, remarked that "broadcasting is clearly in his blood" and said that the BBC now "needs a strong chairman for the BBC to have confidence in." But John Beyer, director of the watchdog group Mediawatch, called him "the wrong man to fill this most important role" and said that during his tenure as head of Channel 4 "he pushed back the boundaries of taste and decency." Meanwhile, speculation arose today that reports on Thursday that Peter Mandelson, a close ally of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had become the frontrunner to become the new chairman, were the result of an April Fool's hoax.


For the first time in memory, a hit television show that shut down because its star walked away from it will be returning because the star presumably has had a change of heart. At least that's the way it might appear to some unsuspecting souls. MTV announced Thursday -- April Fool's Day -- that the prank show "Punk'd," starring Ashton Kutcher, will be returning next month for a third season. Kutcher had said in December that he wanted to quit while he was ahead. But the Associated Press boasted today (Friday) that when Kutcher made his announcement four months ago, it had warned that it might simply have been a ploy to throw off celebrities who were targeted to be "punk'd."


Anna Perez, who has the distinction of having once worked for President Bush and for Michael Ovitz, has become the chief spokesperson for NBC. Perez had also recently served as communications advisor to National security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Previously she held the post of head of media relations for Ovitz's Creative Artists Agency and followed her boss to Disney. "I love the television business," Perez told today's (Friday) New York Times. "I have no expertise in it so I will have a bit of learning curve. But I can't remember the last time I didn't have a learning curve when I took a new job.


The New York Times observed today (Friday) that liberal producers and writers are increasingly inserting dialogue into their scripts criticizing President Bush directly and/or questioning his policies. The newspaper cited numerous instances in recent weeks of television shows that mocked the president's positions on such matters as Iraq, the economy, and same-sex marriage. The Timesobserved that network executives denied that a liberal agenda was at play, insisting that the incidents referred to in the article represented isolated cases. Parenthetically, the Timesstated: "These network executives declined to be quoted by name because, they said, it would be tantamount to engaging publicly in a debate traditionally thorny for them."


The White House is engaging in a bit of damage control following Monday night's David Letterman program, which featured a segment called "George W. Bush Invigorates America's Youth," showing a yawning and fidgeting 12-year-old boy seated behind the president as he delivered a speech in Florida. The Washington Postreported today (Friday) that the boy, subsequently identified as Tyler Crotty, the son of an Orange County, FL Republican fund-raiser, has been booked to appear on Letterman's show tonight, apparently at the urging of the White House. "He's a young person who strongly supports the president and is excited about getting a chance to talk about it," White House assistant press secretary Reed Dickens told the Post. The newspaper said that the boy's father was blaming himself for his son's conduct because he had kept him up late the night before, then got him up early that day and brought him to the convention center, where he had to wait some three hours before the president appeared. Meanwhile, CNN anchor Daryn Kagan apologized to Letterman Thursday for reporting that the White House was calling the tape a fake. "It turns out, due to what we might say a misunderstanding among the folks who are usually so fantastic behind me here in the newsroom, it turns out that was not true," Kagan said. Letterman comment on the air Thursday that the apology was the first he had ever received in his 25 years of network broadcasting.A CROWDED WEEKEND AT BOX OFFICE The box office will be crowded with new entries this weekend, with two strong newcomers competing for the young male ticket buyer and one new family film vying with last week's top earner. Hellboy, based on the Dark Horse comic book character, played by Ron Perlman, will be going head-to-head against Walking Tall, starring The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). At the same time, Disney's hand-drawn animated feature Home on the Rangewill be competing against last week's champ, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. There's also a film aimed squarely at teenage girls, The Prince & Me,directed by Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl), and starring Julia Stiles.


If Disney is abandoning hand-drawn animation after releasing Home on the Range, it's going out without either a wimper or a bang. Critics have few discouraging words to say about the film but suggest that it offers little that will draw the big crowds that showed up for The Lion King andBeauty and the Beast. Mostly, they have nice things to say about the catchy music by Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. "I can easily imagine Gene Autry performing any of them, including the yodeling number," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, "and wasn't too surprised to find out that the Sons of the Pioneers [Roy Rogers' back-up group] starred in a 1946 movie with the same name." Joel Siegel on Good Morning America calls it Menken's "best score since Beauty and the Beast." Gene Seymour in Newsday regards the tunes as "amiable and witty," while Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News says that the film offers "enough catchy songs to make you want to buy the soundtrack (and tolerate your kids listening to it a couple of hundred times.)" Several critics, while finding fault with the script and suggesting that some celebrity voices are miscast, nevertheless appear to mourn Disney's abandonment of traditional animation -- among them Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe & Mail,who writes: "Home on the Range is supposed to be the end of the line for Disney's 2-D animated film division, which feels like a loss. Whatever the narrative shortcomings, these characters have the warmth of antique painted storybooks, unlike the eerie plastic simulation of Pixar characters."


Critics who still like comic books seem to like Hellboy; those who don't, don't. The Chicago Sun-Times'Roger Ebert is one who does, observing that the movie is "not only based on a comic book, but also feels like a comic book. It's vibrating with energy, and you can sense the zeal and joy in its making." Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times compares the movie to the "drizzly Gothic ambience" of Mike Mignola's comic-book renderings and says that director Guillermo del Toro also "lets loose with an all-American, vaudevillian rambunctiousness that makes the movie daffy, loose and lovable." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mailleads off his review by remarking, "If you like your movies inspired by comic books -- and who among us does not -- then Hellboy is quite the little treat." Lou Lumenick in the New York Postregards the movie as "surprisingly enjoyable, as adaptations of cult comic books go, thanks to a sense of humor all too rare in the genre, winning performances by Ron Perlman and Selma Blair, and a sweet romance of the kind that madeSpider-Mana richer experience than its competitors." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal says the film "is a perfect fit in the category of instant classic, and, not incidentally, fits the profile of super-profitability." On the other hand, Bob Strauss asks in his review in the Los Angeles Daily News:"Why does it feel like so many other comic book movies?" then answers, "The devil knows." Claudia Puig in USA Today writes that del Toro "has crafted a fiery action picture destined to please fans of other comics-turned-adventure flicks such as X-Men. The rest of us will find ourselves left out in the cold."


The Rock is receiving some respectful notices for his performance in Walking Tall, even if the movie itself is being dismissed by most critics as banal. Jonathan Foreman in the New York Postsays that the film effectively makes use of The Rock's "pumped-up, action-doll physique that's combined with an aura of decency and intelligence." Desson Thomson begins his review in the Washington Postthis way: "Would it shock you to learn that Walking Tall is one mediocre, ploddingly predictable film, loaded down with cheesy Hollywood tactics, whose only reasons to watch are The Rock's physical assets and gentle-giant presence?" And Jan Stuart concludes her review in Newsdaythis way: "While The Rock is never heard to utter, 'Hasta la vista, baby,' his candidacy for Schwarzenegger's vacated seat is rarely in doubt. As remakes go, Walking Tall exemplifies the dumbing down of stupidity."


Many critics are giving The Prince & Me , starring Julia Stiles,the royal shaft. Lou Lumenick in the New York Postfigures that the "only possible excuse for this interminable and hackneyed fairy tale is Stiles' real-life need to pay her tuition bills at Columbia University. It may beat waitressing, but not by much." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post seems to think that the film is the kind that leaves hardly any impression on the memory. "The movie is too bland and immediately disposable to raise many hackles," she writes. "Bland" is an adjective used frequently in reviews of the movie, such as Manohla Dargis's in the Los Angeles Times, who calls the film "a blandly diverting, chastely conceived and grammatically challenged fairy tale for our bland, chaste and grammatically challenged age."


Michael Eisner indicated Thursday that relinquishing the role of chairman of the Walt Disney Co. will allow him to devote more time to working with company executives on reinvigorating the company's animation unit and reviving the ABC television network. He insisted, however, that he would not be "micro-managing" the company, as some of his detractors have charged. In a presentation to investors, he suggested that he had made no effort to dissuade the Disney board from assigning the chairmanship to former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. "I was happy with this arrangement," he said, adding: "George is taking a lot of weight off my back." Referring to the unrelenting effort of former dissident board members Stanley Gold and Roy E. Disney to oust him from his job as CEO, Eisner said: "There is still noise out there, there will be noise out there as long as my enemies are my enemies. ... But I've never been more confident about the prospects of the company."