EYE SEE TV

It may not have produced the kind of ratings that Survivor: Pearl Islands did, but CBS's The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular produced a solid 7.8 rating and a 12 share between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Thursday, and, while falling behind a rerun of Friends (10.8/17) in the first half hour, rose to an 8.5/13 in the second half hour to beat Good Morning, Miami (8.1/12). The rest of CBS's schedule also beat out NBC's once must-see powerhouses, with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation recording an 18.1/27 at 9:00 p.m. and a new episode of Without a Trace (14.3/22) walloping a repeat of E.R. (8.9/14) at 10:00 p.m. (ABC's Primetime, which had scored respectable ratings with specials on Tuesday and Wednesday, fell well behind during its regular Thursday period at 10:00 p.m. with a 5.8/9. Overall, CBS won the night with an average 13.3 rating and a 20 share. NBC was far behind in second place with an 8.6/13, while ABC was barely a contender with a 5.3/8.

COMCAST, VIACOM PLAN FOR INTERACTIVE TV

Philadelphia-based Comcast, the country's largest cable provider, has reached a new five-year deal with Viacom, which owns CBS, the MTV Networks, Nickelodeon and the BET Networks, among others. The agreement calls for the two companies to work together to develop interactive services that will enable subscribers to access CBS News reports on demand and play MTV music videos as they can on a video jukebox. In addition, Comcast agreed to provide space on its system to enable it to carry additional Viacom digital networks, including those offering HDTV programming, the companies said.

MURDOCH PLANS FOR INTERACTIVE TV, TOO

When Rupert Murdoch completes his acquisition of DirecTV, he plans to use it to add interactive features that will change the way Americans watch television, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Friday). Among the changes Murdoch plans to introduce, according to the newspaper: Viewers will be able to vote with their remotes for their favorite American Idol contests and, also with their remotes, watch replays of NFL games from various angles. In addition, the newspaper said, Murdoch's News Corp plans to spend $1 billion to enable DirecTV to carry more local channels and provide HDTV capacity.

REPORT: MICHAEL JACKSON REJECTS BROTHER'S "HELP"

Jermaine Jackson's appearance on ABC's 20/20 tonight (Friday), in which he accuses Santa Barbara authorities of bruising "certain body parts" when they arrested his brother Michael has been greeted with outrage by the singer himself, according to the MSNBC.com website, which cited a source close to the singer. "Jermaine is not out there speaking for Michael -- he's totally hurting him," according to the source. "It's going to make Michael look like a liar." The singer was formally charged Thursday with nine counts of child molestation against a boy under the age of 14. The victim was described as the boy who was seen with Jackson in the British documentary that was broadcast in this country by ABC last February.

ELTON JOHN TO PERFORM ON WORLD IDOL FINALE

The January 1 telecast of World Idol which will announce the world champ from a group of international contestants performing a week earlier on Christmas Day, will include a performance by Elton John, Billboard magazine reported today (Friday). The publication quoted Idol exec producer Richard Holloway as saying that John "is an idol and inspiration to many of those contestants participating in the show. ... His appearance underlines the magnitude of World Idol and will be a major highlight to what promises to be an unmissable final show."

YOKO REPLACES LENNON'S OLD FLAME IN NEW VIDEO

For the recently released DVD Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, which includes 20 music videos featuring the slain Beatle, Yoko Ono edited herself into at least two of the original films, including one, #9 Dream, in which she is seen mouthing the backup vocals that were originally sung by May Pang, Lennon's girlfriend at the time, according to FoxNews.com's Roger Friedman. In an interview with Friedman, Pang remarked, "She [Yoko} is trying to erase everyone who had anything to do with John with her alone." Last month Yoko described her intentions to Rolling Stone: ""Instead of just making an MTV kind of thing, we carefully considered what John would have wanted to express. Because he was so artistically inclined and so finicky, I think that we tried even harder to make sure it's something he'd be proud of."

KING RINGS UP $34.1 MILLION ON FIRST DAY

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sold about $34.1 million worth of tickets at the domestic box office on Wednesday, setting a record for a Wednesday premiere and also setting the stage for what many analysts predict will be the biggest opening weekend for any film ever. The previous record for a Wednesday opening was set by Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace in 1999, when it took in $28.5 million. New Line Cinema distribution chief Rolf Mittweg reported that the film earned an additional $23.5 million in 19 other countries, including $5.2 million from the U.K., where it also set a Wednesday record.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MONA LISA SMILE

Although it's being offered as counter-programming to the new Lord of the Rings sequel, the Julia Roberts starrer Mona Lisa Smile, set in the 1950s, is evoking few smiles from critics. Stephen Holden in the New York Times accuses it of pretending to be audacious as it "preaches disruptive female self-empowerment out of one side of its mouth while out of the other it invokes the dream of being swept up, up and away by Prince Charming." Similarly Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post writes that it is "sanctimonious, relentlessly predictable and willfully ignorant of the period it's set in. ... And for a film that brims with smugness at its espousal of non-conformity, Mona Lisa Smile could hardly be more conventional in its style and its message." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune calls it "one of those movies where heart and head clash and neither wins." The very duplicity that those critics and others complain about is viewed as a kind of paradox to Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, who writes: "Do we damn the film outright for lacking the courage of its tacky convictions, or praise it modestly for trying to break out of that sentimental box?" He concludes: "My inclination is to err on the side of generosity." Indeed, several critics write quite generously about the film -- among them Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, who comments that, in the end, "the characters involve us, we sympathize with their dreams and despair of their matrimonial tunnel vision."

TIME WARNER MGM?

Time Warner, which recently dropped AOL from its name, may soon add three other famous letters: MGM. According to published reporters, Time Warner, which recently said that it is again in the market for prominent acquisitions, has held preliminary merger talks with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Time Warner, which already owns the Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema studios, is reportedly interested primarily in MGM's vast library that includes some 4,000 titles.

ADL BACKS OFF PASSION CRITICISM

The Anti-Defamation League, which had denounced the original shooting script for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, has moderated its criticism following word that Pope John Paul II had seen it and had endorsed it. Avowing that the group respected the pontiff's opinion, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement: "The pope has a record and history of sensitivity to the Jewish community and has a clear moral voice and understanding when it comes to anti-Semitism." However, Foxman added, "we must reserve final judgment ... until we have an opportunity to see the film. We hope that Mel Gibson has heard our concerns and those of Christian and Jewish scholars and religious leaders, who expressed unease about the earlier version of the film and its potential to fuel, rationalize and legitimize anti-Semitism."

VHS MAY GO THE WAY OF BETA, VINYL IN 2004

The emergence this holiday season of affordable DVD recorders presages the imminent demise of the VHS format, analysts have told Video Storemagazine. Already DVD accounts for 87 percent of all home-video sales and 64 percent of all rentals, the trade publication reported, with DVD sales up 42 percent and VHS sales down 50 percent in the fourth quarter versus the comparable period in 2002. Artisan Home Entertainment President Steve Beeks said that sometime early next year, the company will begin releasing new titles on DVD alone and he predicted that other companies will do the same. "It's effectively reached the point where, except for family and fitness, it's a DVD market," he said.

IMAX TO SCREEN NEXT POTTER MOVIE

The next installment of the Harry Potter movies will debut on both conventional and giant Imax screens simultaneously next June, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported today (Friday). The newspaper quoted Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman as saying: "We are so pleased that this summer, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which lends itself beautifully to Imax's format, will play throughout the Imax theaters." Shares in Toronto-based Imax shot up nearly 7 percent on the news Thursday.

LOST IN TRANSLATION WINS AGAIN

The Toronto Film Critics Association has named Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation the best film of 2003. In addition, the group awarded Bill Murray its best actor trophy. Coppola tied for best screenplay with Barbarian Invasions writer-director Denys Arcand. Peter Jackson was honored for best director for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, while Samantha Morton won the best actress award for the British film Morvern Callar.