THE IDOL -- FOR MOVIEMAKERS
In what seems like an obvious idea for a reality TV contest, DreamWorks TV and reality-show guru Mark Burnett are teaming to produce a series to find the next Steven Spielberg. Today's (Friday) Daily Variety reported that while DreamWorks cofounder Spielberg is not likely to appear on the Fox TV program, titled On the Lot, except for some possible cameos, he's actively involved in its development. "All through my career I've done what I can to discover new talent and give them a start," Spielberg told the trade publication. "This opportunity ... allows all of us to reach out directly to open a much wider door." Spielberg indicated that he had no intention of playing a role in the series similar to Donald Trump's on The Apprentice. He said that contestants will be split into teams to produce a short film that will focus on a different genre (comedy, drama, etc.) each week. A panel of judges will then critique them à la American Idol and the TV audience will vote for their favorites. In an interview with today's New York Times, Burnett indicated that he expected the audition process to include examining the work of aspiring filmmakers who post their work on the Internet. "There is such a growing segment of the public making all these films on the Web that we have a great chance to tap into that," he said.

WOODRUFF -- ON CAMERA AGAIN

Three photos of ABC anchor Bob Woodruff released by the network on Thursday show him looking thin but with no visible vestiges of the injuries he received from a roadside bomb attack in Iraq last January. In a message to colleagues, Woodruff said, "Though I know there is still a long road ahead, it's nice to be feeling more like myself again -- laughing with family, reading bedtime stories and reminding my kids to do their homework." He added that he was "putting all my effort toward getting back to work with you."

STALLED RACE

CBS's decision to move its hit reality series The Amazing Race out of its original spot on Tuesday nights at 9:00 p.m. has virtually stalled the race. Ratings for the show have fallen by nearly a third since the network began slotting it into time periods that had previously recorded dismal ratings. Race succeeded in lifting ratings for those periods but seemed to damage itself irreparably in the process. On Wednesday night, it managed only a 5.0 rating and an 8 share, beaten by NBC's game show Deal or No Deal (8.8/15) and Fox's Bones (6.6/11).

VIEIRA ASSESSES NEW ROLE ON TODAY

Meredith Vieira made it unmistakably clear Thursday that she will be bringing a different sensibility to NBC's Today show when she takes over Katie Couric's job as cohost for a reported $40 million over four years. She told a news conference that NBC execs had encouraged her to inject her own personality into the show. "They may regret that," she added. Nevertheless, Vieira herself indicated that she will not be able to be as freewheeling on Today, which airs in some homes while moms are getting their kids off to school, as she has been later in the morning on ABC's The View. She said, "I'm going to have to be reining in a little bit." Referring to her previous work on network news programs (including CBS's 60 Minutes), she said, "I had 20 years of my life where I never said anything. Now every word out of my mouth is 'orgasm.' There must be something in between." Responding to criticism from some conservative groups that the network has installed another biased liberal in a top-flight news position (On The View, Vieira has spoken out passionately against U.S. policy in Iraq), she said Thursday, "There's nobody that doesn't have biases one way or the other. It's my responsibility once I'm on this show to put those aside. They have no place on this show. But there is nothing that I have said that I am ashamed of. I stand by anything that I've said."

NBC LIKELY TO HIKE AD RATES FOR COURIC'S LAST WEEK

NBC is planning to demand record-high advertising rates for Katie Couric's last week on the Today show, MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews reported today (Friday). The trade publication said that the network is considering asking for as much as $78,000 for a 30-second spot, up from the current $65,000, a 20-percent increase. Media buyers, however, were quoted as saying that they don't anticipate a big boost in the show's ratings during Couric's final week. "There might be a little bump for her last few days, but probably not much," said Andy Donchin, senior vice president of national broadcast for Carat USA.

AFTER THE MELTDOWN, THE FLOOD
Analysts are predicting with some confidence that Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown will remain at the top of the box office for the second week in a row and become the first movie of the year to earn more than $100 million. The runner-up is expected to be Sony's The Benchwarmer, starring David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Jon Heder. The movie was not screened for critics -- save one, Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel, whose reviews are often syndicated by the Knight Ridder Tribune wire service. He gave the film one star out of four, writing, "It's dopey, crude and lowbrow, but harmless." The Kansas City Star later reported that after the screening, the Star and other papers subscribing to the wire service, were contacted by Sony's ad agency and advised that Moore's review was "unauthorized." Moore, however, insisted that he had attended a typical screening arranged by the studio, returned to his office, wrote his review, and sent it out. "Three hours later someone from Sony called me and said there had been a mistake, that I wasn't supposed to have seen the movie," Moore told the Star. "Well, too bad. The train has left the station. The Titanic can't be turned around. ... But then this is the studio that a couple of years ago invented critics to write good reviews of their movies." In any case, Moore added, ""The crazy thing is that this is a critic-proof movie that's going to do business no matter what I or anybody else writes about it. I don't understand why Sony has its panties in such a bunch."

MOVIE REVIEWS: TAKE THE LEAD

Probably ending up in third place this weekend, say critics, will be the Antonio Banderas starrer Take the Lead, a fictional version of the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom about a New York City teacher's efforts to teach ballroom dancing to kids. Most critics are suggesting it trips up. "Take the Lead, despite its nifty concept and fiery leading man, feels sloppy and rushed," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Jan Start in Newsday argues, "What the system and its culturally underfunded student body probably don't need is inspired-by-true-events claptrap like Take the Lead." Likewise, Sarah Kaufman writes in the Washington Post, "There are a few good scenes, but the whole thing feels too phony." Several critics observe that the filmmakers apparently were concerned that a film about traditional ballroom dancing would fail to attract an audience and therefore decided to add hip-hop to the mix. As Wesley Morris comments in the Boston Globe, "The movie partners all the clichés of the inner-city school drama with the clichés of the dance instructional, and the two keep stomping on each other's toes, while suggesting that a spoonful of hip-hop will make any medicine go down, even the stodgy tango." On the other hand Carrie Rickey writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "It's a ballroom/hip-hop mash-up that, although at times discordant and at all times familiar, moves with Banderas' brio and bounce." And Nancy Churnin in the Dallas Morning News calls it "hopeful and inspiring."

MOVIE REVIEWS: LUCK NUMBER SLEVIN

Box office analysts don't expect Lucky Number Slevin to get lucky this weekend and neither do the critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Tribune indicates that critics will have difficulty getting a handle on it. "Lucky Number Slevin," he writes, "is too clever by half. It's the worst kind of con: It tells us it's a con, so we don't even have the consolation of being led down the garden path. The rug of reality is jerked out from under us in the opening scenes, and before long the floor is being dismantled. Crouched in the dark, I am resentful. Since the plot is irrelevant and the dialogue too mannered to be taken seriously, all I'm left with are the performances and the production design." Similarly, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls the movie, "Too clever for its own good." Adds Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "It's the type of movie where nothing is as it appears, and even when it's all sorted out it's completely unsatisfying." Some critics don't bother to mention its cleverness before slamming it. Writes Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This is the sort of high-octane slop that sticks to the wall long enough for a decent opening before dismal word-of-mouth gets around and the picture slides into video oblivion."

WGA NAMES GREATEST SCREENPLAYS OF ALL TIME

The greatest screenplay ever written was Casablanca, by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, according to a vote by the members of the Writers Guild of America. The WGA announced its results for the 101 best screenplays on Thursday with these films following Casablanca on the top-ten list: 2. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola; 3. Chinatown, by Robert Towne; 4. Citizen Kane, by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles; 5. All About Eve, by Joseph Mankiewicz; 6. Annie Hall, by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman; 7. Sunset Boulevard, by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr.; 8. Network, by Paddy Chayefsky; 9. Some Like It Hot, by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond; 10. The Godfather Part II, by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.

JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF DA VINCI CODE WRITER

Producers of the film version of The Da Vinci Code presumably heaved a long sigh of relief when a British judge today (Friday) ruled against two writers who claimed that author Dan Brown infringed on the copyright of their book by lifting its "architecture" for his own. If the court had ruled otherwise, it might have resulted in the producers having to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs before they could release their movie, which is scheduled to debut at the Cannes Film Festival next month. The lawsuit had been filed by Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, two of the three authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which Brown refers to in his novel. "Even if the central themes were copied, they are too general or of too low a level of abstraction to be capable of protection by copyright law," Justice Peter Smith ruled. "Accordingly, there is no copyright infringement either by textual copying or non-textual copying of a substantial part of HBHG." Random House, which published both books, released a statement quoting Brown as saying, "Today's verdict shows that this claim was utterly without merit." Gail Rebuck, chairman and CEO of Random House, said that it was "highly unusual and very sad" that Leigh and Baigent had sued their own publisher, adding, "The ruling is very important for the future of creative writing in the U.K."

CHRISTIAN GROUPS OVERSEAS PLAN PROTEST OVER CODE

The Seoul-based Christian Council of Korea, which reportedly represents over 60 Protestant denominations has gone to court seeking an injunction to block the distribution of The Da Vinci Code in South Korea, charging that the film, like the book, "belittles and tries to destroy Christianity." The film is due to open in South Korea on May 18. Meanwhile a group calling itself the Philippine Crusade for the Defense of Christian Civilization, Inc. has asked the country's Catholic bishops to support a boycott of the film, saying it is "concerned about the scandalous and sacrilegious manner in which Our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Mary Magdalene and the Catholic Church are portrayed in the book. We believe the movie wouldn't be any different."

NEWS CORP SETTLES LAWSUIT WITH SHAREHOLDERS

Settling a lawsuit brought by shareholders, News Corp agreed on Thursday to allow a shareholders' vote on whether to extend a "poison pill" defense to prevent a possible takeover attempt of the company. Some shareholders had contended that, in exchange for allowing News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch to move the company from Australia, he had agreed to allow them to vote on such matters. "This is pretty extraordinary," Stuart Grant, the plaintiffs' lawyer, told Bloomberg News. "Shareholders normally don't have a right" to vote on poison-pill plans in the U.S., he said. Murdoch had indicated that the poison-pill defense was aimed solely against Liberty Media chief John Malone, who had increased Liberty's stake in News Corp to 18 percent.

Cinemark Movie Club