NBC had more reason than ever to be concerned about its falling ratings Thursday as Friendsreplacement Joey attracted its smallest audience to date for an original episode. The show drew an 8.8 rating and a 13 share. (By contrast, a repeat of Friendson the comparable night a year ago drew an 11.1/17.) CBS once again dominated the night, averaging a 15.2/23, peaking in the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 20.0/29 for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. NBC was in second place with a 12.1/18. The other networks were left in the dust.


Veteran television journalist Bill Moyers said Thursday that he expects to retire from television next week after airing what he calls "the biggest story of our time." Moyers told the Associated Press that the story, his last for PBS's Now magazine series, concerns: "how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee." Moyers added: "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people." Moyers insisted that he would be airing the same program "if the Democrats were in power." (He was Lyndon Johnson's press secretary until 1967.) And the former CBS analyst maintained that he probably would not have been able to do so on a commercial network. "I think my peers in commercial television are talented and devoted journalists, but they've chosen to work in a corporate mainstream that trims their talent to fit the corporate nature of American life. And you do not get rewarded for telling the hard truths about America in a profit-seeking environment," he said.


Andy Rooney indicated Thursday that CBS may once again be considering airing a one-hour nightly newscast. Appearing on Larry King's CNN program, Rooney said: "Most of the American public gets their news from television. And if we're going to have an informed electorate, we have to have good television news. I think it's vital that we have it. I keep waiting for some hero to come in and say, look, I'm going to give them the money. We're going to run this network, we're going to make all our money off programming and we can make plenty of it that way. But the news we're not going to touch. We're going to make it better. We're going to put on an hour of news every night." An unsuccessful battle for a one-hour nightly newscast was long waged by Walter Cronkite when he anchored the CBS Evening News. Rooney said that he had discussed the prospect with CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "He's hopeful. He thinks there's some prospect that they might [approve it], that they know how important it is."


During the past year (November 2003 to November 2004), cable operators lost about one percent of their subscribers to satellite, about the same percentage that they lost last year, according to a study by the Television Bureau of Advertising. Cable penetration is down to 66.4 percent, the lowest it's been in ten years. Satellite now reaches 19.2 percent of all homes, up from 18.2 percent a year ago. The TBA points out that the continued erosion of cable subscribers poses a particular problem for local advertisers inasmuch as satellite operators cannot insert local ads into programming as easily as cable operators can, although new technologies are being rolled out that permit satellite operators to do so -- even to target individual demographic groups.


The United Church of Christ has filed petitions with the FCC challenging the licenses of a CBS- and an NBC-owned TV station in Miami after their parent companies rejected a church-produced commercial. In a statement, the UCC said that it had filed the challenge because "there is substantial and material question as to whether the stations' parent companies, Viacom, Inc., and the General Electric Company, have operated the stations in the public interest." UCC spokeswoman Gloria Tristani said that the two stations, WFOR and WTVJ, were chosen because their licenses come up for renewal first. Tristani is a former FCC commissioner. The ad in question shows a diverse group, black and white, gay and straight, being barred from a church. An announcer's voice then intones: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Why should we?" Another diverse group is then shown attending a UCC service as the announcer says, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." Although the networks have rejected the spot as too controversial, Ute Molitor, pastor of a UCC church in Boxborough, MA, told today's (Friday) Boston Herald: "There's a certain sense of pride that there's even a controversy. ... We are standing for something."


Providence, RI reporter Jim Taricani was sentenced to six months of house arrest Thursday for refusing to reveal the source of an FBI videotape that he aired showing a politician accepting a bribe. U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres said that he had taken Taricani's physical condition into account -- he had a heart transplant in 1996 -- when he decided not to send him to prison. "Reporters do not have complete authority to decide when sources can be kept secret," Torres said.


A former member of the Walt Disney Company board characterized the departure of Michael Ovitz as president of the company much the way Ovitz himself did in testimony a month ago. Tom Murphy, who, as CEO of Capital Cities Broadcasting, sold ABC to Disney in 1996, said that keeping Ovitz in his position "was like a cancer in the organization." His words virtually echoed Ovitz's own when he testified on Nov. 9: "I was cut out like a cancer. ... I guess you could say I got pushed out the sixth-floor window." While not referring to the metaphorical "sixth floor," Murphy testified that to have "someone in that high a position ... was just not working out." Murphy and the other Disney directors are being sued by shareholders who claim that they neglected their fiduciary duty to oversee Ovitz's hiring and firing. In earlier testimony CEO Michael Eisner said that he had brought Ovitz aboard to help integrate ABC into Disney, but Murphy testified Thursday that the former CAA chief "was having problems with the people at ABC and he was failing." As for Eisner's decision to send Ovitz packing with a $140-million severance check, Murphy remarked: "Let me tell you about Michael Eisner. There are only two things that interest him in life -- his children and Disney. ... He was very tight with money. He wouldn't have given him a dollar if he didn't think he had to."


Testimony at the current Disney shareholders trial will presumably serve as the basis for an upcoming TV movie about the Michael Eisner-Michael Ovitz debacle being developed by Showtime. Daily Varietyreported today that the pay-TV channel is planning to air a drama titled Two Blind Mikesby Frederic Raphael, a co-writer of Eyes Wide Shut, that will focus on what Varietycalled "the doomed relationship" between Eisner and Ovitz."

AMAZON LAUNCHES DVD RENTAL PLAN -- IN THE U.K., which was believed to be on the verge of launching a cut-rate DVD-by-mail rental service to compete with those presently offered by Netflix, Blockbuster and Wal-Mart, finally announced it was joining the fray on Thursday. The DVD service will only be available in the United Kingdom, however. Amazon is offering two plans. One allows subscribers to keep two DVDs out indefinitely and to rent a maximum of four per month for ?7.99 (about $15.25 at the current exchange rate). The second plan allows them to keep three out at a time and rent six per month for ?9.99 (about $19.00). Subscribers to the rental service will also receive an additional 10 percent reduction in the price of DVDs that they buy from Amazon. Although Netflix does not operate in the U.K., Blockbuster does. Under its program, subscribers may keep a maximum of three DVDs out at a time and rent an unlimited number per month for ?13.99 ($26.75).


Wal-Mart is looking to expand the number of DVD titles that it can offer customers by seeking permission from the studios to make copies in their stores, Video Store Magazinereported Thursday, citing reliable inside sources. According to the trade publication, the studios have expressed concern about Wal-Mart's ability to carry out such a plan securely. "I think the ability to provide adequate copy protection is our main concern," an unnamed studio executive told Video Store. "That is everybody's primary concern at the moment, and they have not yet proven their ability to provide it."


British director Michael Winterbottom has expressed outrage at the decision by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification to rate his latest movie X18+, roughly equivalent to an NC-17 rating in the U.S. The movie, 9 Songs, includes explicit sex scenes. In a statement quoted by today's (Friday) edition of The Australian,Winterbottom observed: "In 9 Songs, I wanted to explore the relationship between physical and emotional intimacy. How is it possible to do that without trying to honestly show the two characters at their most intimate?" The Australianobserved that the X18+ rating effectively bans the film from all movie theaters in Australia.


It may be as disposable as a stick of chewing gum, but critics suggest that Ocean's Twelveis also about as enjoyable. Lou Lumenick in the New York Postemploys a different metaphor: "This slickly entertaining sequel is all about savoring eye candy," he writes. Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirercompares it with a vacation: "As soon as it's over, and you find yourself back in the harsh light of the workaday world, you'll be hard-pressed to remember what happened. Except that you'll remember enjoying yourself -- immensely." Indeed, Wesley Morris writes in the Boston Globe, "It's so well made and undeniably entertaining it should leap from tall buildings and wear a big 'S' on its chest." Most of the critics do complain perfunctorily about the script -- or the lack thereof. "A fizzy no-brainer" is the way Eleanor Ringel Gillespie describes it in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribunesuggests that "the improbable plotting is part of the charm." And clearly the critics are charmed by the camaraderie of the multi-million-dollar cast, which includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy Garcia and a host of big names in cameo roles. They also bestow much praise on director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh, alternating his art-film projects with a commercial one the way Frank Sinatra, who starred in the original Ocean's Eleven, did with dramas and comedy/musicals. "When Ocean's Twelveworks, it's a blast," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. But Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times is not amused. "A lethargic would-be entertainment as well as a dispiriting vanity project, it is such a misfire that it makes it hard to remember what was special about its predecessor," he writes.