NBC TAKES VICTOR'S STAND
NBC's $800-million gamble on the Summer Olympics will pay off far more handsomely than previously predicted, network executives indicated Wednesday, telling reporters that they expected to clear $60-70 million in profit, well above their pre-Olympics estimate of $50 million. With ratings and audience numbers rising well above guarantees to advertisers, the network has been selling inventory that had been set aside for "make goods" to advertisers in case the ratings had fallen short of the network's goals. Moreover, the network's cable siblings, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, and Telemundo, have also seen a surge in viewership. "Every advertiser who got involved is looking very smart today," NBC Universal Network Television Group president Randy Falco told today's (Thursday) New York Daily News.

U.K. NETWORK PITS NEW DRAMA SERIES AGAINST OLYMPICS

While NBC's competitors would probably never even dream of launching a new series during the Olympics, Britain's Channel 4 network valiantly premiered a dramatic series, NY-LON, Tuesday night that was unsurprisingly trounced by the BBC's Olympics coverage. The drama, the first by any British TV network to be shot partly in New York (it concerns a transatlantic love affair), drew 1.8 million viewers versus 8.8 million for the Olympics. A rerun of CSI on Channel 5 averaged 2.5 million viewers. Channel 4 said that it expected the audience for NY-LON to rise over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Australian newspapers are reporting that local ratings for the Olympics have plunged from their level in 2000, when they were staged in Sydney. On Tuesday, they observed, a CSI rerun outrated the Games.

GM PUTS BRAKES ON CORVETTE SPOT

A TV spot for the Chevrolet Corvette, directed by Guy Ritchie, Madonna's husband, has been yanked from NBC's Olympics telecasts following complaints from consumers and safety groups, General Motors acknowledged Wednesday. The spot depicts a pre-teen boy driving the car wildly through city streets, then through a large drainpipe, and becoming airborne, where he sees a girl driving the opposite way. The spot was dubbed internally "A Boy's Dream." But the Consumers Union, Public Citizen, the Center for Auto Safety, the Consumer Federation of America and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety wrote in a letter to GM: "This ad is certainly among the most dangerous, anti-safety messages to be aired on national television in recent years." It could not be immediately determined how many of the Corvette spots have aired during the Olympics, news reports said. Advertising Age observed that they represented the first TV commercials for the GM brand since 1997.

KERRY LIFTS RATINGS FOR STEWART'S DAILY SHOW

Tuesday night's appearance of Sen. John Kerry on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart attracted 1.5 million viewers, enormous by cable-TV standards. The results appeared to enhance Stewart's profile as a late-night TV personality and possibly place him in ascending contention for the post about to be vacated by Craig Kilborn, host of the CBS's Late Late Show. (At one point during Tuesday's interview, Stewart asked Kerry: "I was gonna say this: Can you get me on a network?") Bill Clinton's appearance on Stewart's show earlier this month pulled even bigger numbers -- 1.9 million, according to Nielsen.

LEBLANC HAS NOT INVITED FRIENDS STARS TO APPEAR ON JOEY

Despite earlier predictions that other members of the cast of Friends would be making regular visits to the set of Matt LeBlanc's new sitcom Joey, LeBlanc has told TV Guide that none of them has been invited as yet. "They've all said they're open to coming if they're available, but it doesn't feel right right now," he told the magazine's online edition, adding, "I don't want it to seem like somebody came in and propped us up." Joey's series premiere is scheduled for Sept. 9 in Friends' former timeslot on NBC.

MTV BOOTS ANTI-GAY JAMAICAN SINGER FROM AWARDS CONCERT

MTV has bowed to gay activists protesting the appearance of Jamaican singer Beenie Man at a nightclub concert being produced in connection with Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards being staged for the first time in Miami. A spokeswoman said that the singer was removed because "we don't want anything to overshadow what will be a great weekend of events for South Floridians." Beenie Man, whose songs include the lines: "I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays," and "Hang chi chi gal [gays] wit a long piece of rope," defended his lyrics in an interview with the Miami Herald. "I just want to teach people -- my sons and my daughters -- the right way of life," he said.

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR MURDOCH

A judge in Indore, India has ordered the arrest of News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch following complaints by a local cable operator that Murdoch's Star TV had been illegally yanked from his service, even though he had made payments on time. Judicial Magistrate M.P. Tiwari issued a similar warrant against ZEE TV chief Subhash Chandra who had also been named in the complaint by Severa TV Network, the Hindustan Times reported.

JOURNALISTS "KIDNAPPED" BY IRAQI AUTHORITIES

In what was being described as a "news conference at gunpoint," some 60 journalists in Najaf, Iraq, including the entire BBC contingent, were rounded up at their hotel, forced into vans and a truck, and driven to the headquarters of the police chief, who berated them for their news coverage about the current crisis in the city. He particularly complained about a report that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was planning to lead a demonstration against coalition and local authorities. Meanwhile, al-Jazeera reported that Iraqi police had arrested five members of the rival al-Arabiya news network after it reported that U.S. planes had fired missiles within a few feet of the Imam Ali shrine.

FBI POUNCES ON PEER-TO-PEER NETWORK
The FBI on Wednesday raided six locations allegedly used by members of a group called the Underground Network for peer-to-peer trading of movies, games and music. In a statement, the Justice Department said that the raids represented the first direct offensive against P2P networks for distributing copy-protected material. "We will pursue those who steal copyrighted materials even when they try to hide beyond the false anonymity of peer-to-peer networks," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement. However, an operator of Underground Network in San Antonio, who declined to give his name, told Bloomberg News that the group is an online community used for social communication and although some people may use it for file sharing, it is not involved in such activity itself. "Everybody is pretty upset we are being targeted as a distribution group," he said. "We never distributed any kind of material. We did nothing illegal."

FOX HOME VIDEO COURTS CHRISTIANS WITH PASSION

Twentieth Century Fox, which was originally among the studios that rejected a deal to distribute Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, has launched a massive marketing campaign for the DVD release, targeting Christian households and churches, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). The newspaper observed that the studio has been urging pastors at some 260,000 churches to buy copies of the movie in bulk by preordering at the website www.thepassionofthechrist.com. Moreover, the studio has sent email messages promoting the film to more than six million Christian families, the Times said. The newspaper commented that the tactic amounts to "rewriting the rules of movie marketing -- bypassing the Hollywood sales machinery in favor of direct appeals to churchgoing Christians."

WRITERS GUILD LEADERS LOOKING FOR UNITED FRONT WITH DIRECTORS, ACTORS

Leaders of the Writers Guild told their membership Wednesday that they had not asked for a strike vote because at the present time it "would only erode our credibility, since striking right now is so clearly not in our interest." The letter was sent one day after the Directors Guild began its own negotiations with producers, and it implied that negotiators for the writers were planning to present a united front with "our sister guilds" to strengthen their bargaining position. Agreements between the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild expire June 30. The Writers Guild contract expired on May 2.

INDIAN FILM PRODUCERS AVOID MENTIONING SUBJECT OF FILM -- AIDS

The producers of a new movie dealing with India's AIDS epidemic are marketing the film with virtually no mention of the controversial content, the Indian Kerala News reported today (Thursday). The movie, Phir Milenge (We'll Meet Again), stars heartthrob star Salman Khan in the lead role, who told the Associated Press in Mumbai (Bombay): "I hope I've played my part by taking on the role ... when some other actors were perhaps a little reluctant." But one producer told Kerala News that the subject matter was being avoided in ads for the movie "because they're afraid no one will come to see a film about AIDS. You tell me, who would accept the muscled and sexy Salman as a guy fading away with AIDS?"

FILM ABOUT 9/11 HIJACKERS PRAISED BY CRITICS

British director Antonia Bird's Hamburg Cell, a docudrama focusing on the lives of some of the 9/11 hijackers, received rave notices as it made its debut at the Edinburgh International Film Festival tonight (Thursday). Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian awarded the film five stars and remarked: "Some thrillers grip. This one had me in an SAS chokehold. If there is a more important, more urgent story to be told than this, I can't think of it."

WORLD'S LARGEST STUDIO TO BE BUILT IN HUNGARY

Budapest-born producer Andrew Vajna, whose films include the Rambo movies, Total Recall, Evita, and Terminator 3 is teaming with Hungarian mall developer Sandor Demjan to build the world's biggest movie studio in Etyek, Hungary, about 20 miles from Budapest, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Thursday). According to the newspaper, the $181-million project will feature six sound stages, including one that would be the world's largest, and a tank for filming on (and under) water. A dozen villas will also be constructed to house film stars working at the studios. Separately, Vajna told the newspaper that he is currently working on Terminator 4, which will be made without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Asked how that could be accomplished, he replied, "We will surprise the world."