CHINA TO ALLOW HOUSEWIVES TO AIR
China, which has never previously appeared desperate to add racy content to its TV offerings, will debut Desperate Housewives on Monday in a marathon presentation that will see three episodes airing back-to-back each night and the entire first season airing during one week. The series has been dubbed into Mandarin. Today's (Friday) Daily Variety observed that Disney and China's state-run CCTV8 had finalized a deal last summer and had originally indicated that it would go on the air in September. The trade publication noted that neither side has explained the delay, but today's Los Angeles Times observed that in August, the Chinese Culture Ministry announced that it would tighten its control over popular culture, including increased censorship of imported programming.

NBC AND ABC ADS ON CBS BILLBOARDS?

The announcement that Viacom's billboard company will change its name to CBS Outdoor when the company splits in two in the coming weeks has raised questions among some media advertisers about whether they want to see their ads placed on signs that also display the CBS brand. MediaPost observed on its website Thursday that media companies account for 10.7 percent of outdoor advertising sales. The trade publicationquoted insiders as saying there are still a number of thorny issues to work out and that the CBS name may not appear on the billboards but merely become the official name of the outdoor unit.

GROWING PAINS COMING TO DVD -- WITH GROWN-UP CAST

Growing Pains, which ran for seven seasons in the 1980s, is the latest long-since canceled TV show to go the TV DVD route. Warner Bros. Home Video announced Thursday that it will release the complete first season of the show on DVD on Feb. 7, 2006, complete with extras that include a reunion of the cast and a first-time-ever presentation of the original pilot, in which the character played by Tracey Gold in the actual series was played by another young actress, Elizabeth Ward. (Years later, Gold's character was written out of the series as the young actress underwent treatment for anorexia.) In a statement, WHV marketing chief Rosemary Marson observed that the Seaver family depicted in the series represented those in which mothers had returned to the workforce and fathers were taking up responsibilities in the home. "Even today, the show remains relevant, which is why we chose to bring this great series to DVD," she said.

CHEAP DVD COMPILATIONS OF OLD TV SHOWS COMING

In addition to offering full-season compilations of former TV hits, Warner Home Video said Thursday that it will increase its output of "TV Favorites" DVDs on Feb. 28, 2006 with collections of six of the best episodes being offered for the suggested retail price of $9.97 each. They will include Welcome Back Kotter, The Drew Carey Show and Night Court.

BEFORE SUPERMAN RETURNS, TV DOCUMENTARY TO AIR

Director Bryan Singer has called upon documentary maker Kevin Burns -- not to be confused with fellow documentary maker Ken Burns -- to make a TV documentary about the origins and evolution of Superman. Burns has made a number of documentaries about Hollywood subjects, including Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood and Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. The plan is to complete the new film and put it on the air before the scheduled June 30, 2006 opening of Warner Brothers' Superman Returns, then to package it as an "extra" in the DVD package later in the year.

STRUGGLING NBC EXEC ZUCKER IS PROMOTED TO #2 MAN

Far from being shown the door after two seasons of dismal ratings, NBC President Jeff Zucker was promoted to the newly created post of CEO of the combined NBC Universal Television. NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright said that Zucker's elevation was part of a streamlining effort to ensure "that all of our knowledge, all of our assets, all of our people in television are completely aligned."

ANOTHER SURPRISE EXIT AT NEWS CORP

Three months after Lachlan Murdoch, the son of News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, surprised the industry by suddenly quitting his father's media empire and moving to Australia, Richard Freudenstein, the COO of Murdoch's BSkyB satellite service in the U.K. has also quit the company and announced plans to move to Australia. Freudenstein was regarded as the most likely successor to BSkyB CEO James Murdoch if the younger Murdoch was elevated to a more senior position in the company by his father.

KING KONG MAKES A SOFT LANDING
Critics had described the ape in Peter Jackson's King Kong as a "big softie," but few had thought that the opening of the movie would be described the same way. Yet Wednesday's opening-day box office for the film amounted to only $9.8 million, about half what Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring earned on its Wednesday opening four years ago ($18.2 million). (The Rings films reportedly cost less than $100 million to produce; Kong reportedly cost more than $200 million.) However, Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco insisted that the film "is doing great," telling the Los Angeles Times, "Sometimes a movie that opens soft on a Wednesday will surprise you on the weekend." Rocco attributed the soft opening to bad weather in much of the nation and the fact that, unlike several other years, including 2001, when the first Rings film was released, school had yet to let out for the holidays in much of the country. Besides, Rocco told the Times. "This little monkey is going to have long, long legs and will be around for quite some time." (The film did set a record for a Wednesday opening in New Zealand, where it was filmed, racking up $415,960 in just 72 theaters.)

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE PRODUCERS

There is a scene in the Producers in which the title characters, who had hoped to produce a bomb in order to keep the investors' money, discover that their production is actually a hit. Unfortunately, the producers of the film version of the Broadway musical version of the 1968 movie version of The Producers are likely to have the opposite reaction when they read today's reviews: their sure-bet hit, many critics are suggesting, is likely to be a flop. A.O. Scott in the New York Times comments that the film version may in fact expose the fact that Broadway musicals now "represent the lowest common denominator: theme park attractions for tourists" and that the screen version of The Producers actually exposes "the real essence" of the Broadway musical: "its vulgarity, its cynicism, its utter lack of taste, charm or wit." Joe Morgenstern writes similarly in the Wall Street Journal that the movie is a "head-bangingly primitive version of an overrated Broadway show that grew out of a clumsy 1968 movie with an inflated reputation." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News, who calls the movie "less an adaptation than a gigantic blowup," concludes that it's "nearly unbearable." Likewise, Michael Phillips remarks in the Chicago Tribune that the movie "does not work. It is not very funny. It doesn't look right. It's depressing." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star puts his finger on the problem this way: "The voyage from Broadway to Hollywood has been accomplished without heed to the essential differences between the stage and the screen. The former requires volume and projection; the latter needs modulation and nuance. In a film, it is not necessary to holler every line as if you are attempting to reach the back row of the St. James. Nor is it kosher to make facial gestures that could be read by an orbiting spy satellite. And yet that's exactly what everyone in this egregiously over-amped production does. The movie is a textbook example of why the stage is a very different medium from cinema." Not all of the critics disapprove. Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News, acknowledges that is presented "like it's still taking place on a live theater stage. ... But anyone who can let themselves be had by Max Bialystock and his mad band of extreme caricatures is in for a pretty good time." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times suggests that his main difficulty in reviewing the movie is his memories of the original, which he regards as "one of the funniest movies I've ever seen." He concludes "f I had fun, most other viewers are likely to have more fun, because they won't have my baggage."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE FAMILY STONE

The Family Stone is not likely to give King Kong much competition at the box office this weekend -- not even as a film appealing to a niche crowd, critics suggest. "Almost everything about The Family Stone is so schematic and prefabricated that it should come with its own easy-to-follow blueprints," writes Gene Seymour in Newsday. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe & Mail writes similarly: "Popped in the oven and marked with a predictable P, The Family Stone is the Christmas cookie of Christmas movies - this thing is so pat it should come with the recipe attached." But Michael Booth in the Denver Post suggests that the recipe works. "The Family Stone creeps up on the audience," he writes. "We're sitting there thinking: Ah, another shameless attempt at a holiday tear-jerker. ... Suddenly we're wiping away tears, glancing around to make sure no one noticed we had fallen for this steaming cup of melodrama." Lou Lumenick finds the movie to be a "happy exception" to run-of-the-mill family-oriented holiday movies. He writes, "This rollicking screwball dramedy goes mercifully light on the sugar, offering some tart performances from a first-rate cast headed by Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Keaton." And inevitably, Susan Walker writes in the Toronto Star: "The Family Stone is a lot slyer than you might expect."

BLOCKBUSTER ADMITS SOME STORES HAVE ENDED NO-LATE-FEE POLICY

On the heels of reports that attorneys general in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee are looking to allegations that some Blockbuster franchise stores have begun charging late fees again without notifying customers, Blockbuster issued a statement on Thursday acknowledging that about 160 of its 515 franchisees have dropped the "no late fees" policy. The company said that the independent stores had done so because they could not afford to buy the inventory needed to allow customers to keep the rented movies for lengthy periods of time.

Cinemark Movie Club