The head of Los Angeles News Service, an independent TV news gathering company, says he turned down a request by the pilot of a private jet to act as a sales agent for footage that he had secretly recorded of Michael Jackson conferring with his attorney en route from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara this month. In a letter to the online newsletter Shop Talk, Bob Tur, a pilot himself (he recorded the stunning footage of truck driver Reginald Denny being attacked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots), said that pilot Jeffery Borer had come to him in the belief that he -- Tur -- could get "top dollar" for the Jackson footage. Tur said that he turned Borer down because he believed the tape was shot in violation of both federal and state laws barring the making of secret recordings where the parties believe they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Moreover, he indicated, he had ethical considerations in mind when he declined Borer's proposal. "Television news has hit a new low," he wrote. "A temporary 44 percent (sic) to 55 percent increase in ratings isn't worth it."


Singer Justin Timberlake's career, which had been cruising in high gear of late, braked with a severe jolt on Friday when an NBC music special starring him, Justin Timberlake: Down Home in Memphis, garnered only a 2.8 rating and a 4 share, putting it in fourth place during the 8:00 p.m. hour against competition from reruns on the other networks. A surprisingly strong performance at 10:00 p.m. by ABC's 20/20 (7.6/14), which featured an interview with Hugh Hefner on the 50th anniversary ofPlayboy magazine -- the highest-rated show of the night -- lifted ABC to a rare win as it averaged a 5.8/10. CBS was in second place with a 5.3/9. NBC was third with a 4.5/8, just edging out Fox, which recorded a 4.2/7. CBS won decisive ratings victories on Saturday and Sunday, almost equaling the combine ratings of ABC and NBC on Sunday.


The NFL is likely to force the drama Playmakers off ESPN's primetime schedule next season despite the fact that it has attracted a huge following (in the cable-TV universe) of 2 million viewers, most of them 18-34-year-old males, TV Guide observed in its current issue. Former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, now a sports marketing consultant, told TV Guide columnist J. Max Robins: "When I was at CBS, I could honestly say to the NFL that I had no control over what some entertainment show did. No such fire wall exists at ESPN." Some of the show's football-player characters have included steroid users, gamblers, homosexuals, and wife beaters. Commented series creator John Eisendrath: "The owners and players seem to forget that it's fiction." A Connecticut sports columnist commented Sunday that "the NFL's stance is as absurd as if the White House issued its disapproval for the storyline of The West Wing."


The BBC's plans to erect a number of giant television screens in civic centers across Britain have been greeted with outrage by some environmentalists. The 300-square-foot TV screens, costing about $430,000 each, would provide 24-hour coverage of news, sports, and entertainment programs from the BBC as well as local productions. But Val Weedon, secretary of the U.K. Noise Association, told the London Sunday Times: "It seems sick that noise from these giant screens will be forced upon people as they try to go about their daily lives." And Julie Kirbride, a spokeswoman for the Conservative party on media and culture, called the plan an "insult" to local taxpayers.


BBC journalists who were barred last week from writing for newspapers may received a salary bonus to offset their lost income offset, the London Sunday Telegraph reported. BBC director-general Greg Dyke told the newspaper, "We'll talk to journalists [individually], and we will negotiate with them." U.K. newspapers pointedly noted that the bonuses, which could amount to millions of pounds, would come from the license fees Britons pay annually to support the broadcasting corporation. According to the Times, the payments are intended to prevent the BBC's star reporters from defecting to commercial outlets where such a ban has not been imposed. Several prominent BBC "presenters" are believed to earn well over $175,000 annually from outside writing.


Claiming that the morals of the country are being undermined by television, Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has ordered television stations and cable outlets to halt the airing of programs "unsuitable" for underage viewers. In an interview with the Indian Express, Prasad said that stations that refuse to comply will be fined or taken off the air. And an official of the Central Monitoring Service commented, "We always have the option of blocking out channels if they do not abide by our rules." The order was greeted with a chorus of protests by Indian editorial writers. The Hindustan Timescommented, "Banning books, films or works of art is only a step away from silencing their authors, as was the case in pre-modern times."


In what some analysts interpreted as a veritable declaration of war, Roy E. Disney resigned from the Walt Disney Company's board of directors and dispatched a letter to Michael Eisner, the company's chairman and CEO, calling on him to leave the company, too. Although it was known that the Disney board had asked Roy Disney and two other board members to retire under corporate-governance guidelines adopted last year making retirement mandatory for directors over the age of 72 (Roy Disney is 73), the blunt nature of Disney's open letter to Eisner -- it covered three typewritten pages -- stunned several observers. Under Eisner's leadership, it said, the company "has lost its focus, its creative energy, and its heritage." Disney presented a laundry list of complaints about Eisner's alleged management failures, including the continued poor performance of ABC-TV and the Disney theme parks, his inability "to establish a clear succession plan," his ineffectiveness at establishing a strong relationship company partners, including Pixar Animation Studios, and his penchant for "micro-management ... with the resulting loss of morale throughout this company." Disney accused Eisner of driving "a wedge between me and those I work with even to the extent of requiring some of my associates to report my conversations and activities back to you." Finally, Disney wrote, "It is my sincere belief that it is you who should be leaving and not me. Accordingly, I once again call for your resignation or retirement. The Walt Disney Co. deserves fresh, energetic leadership at this challenging time in its history just as it did in 1984, when I headed a restructuring which resulted in your recruitment." A meeting of the Walt Disney board is scheduled to take place in New York today (Monday) and Tuesday.


The box-office race between three family films over the Thanksgiving weekend was so close that Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian, an interview with the New York Daily News, pronounced it a "photo finish." The three films were Disney's The Haunted Mansion, Universal's Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, and New Line's Elf. Each of the films reportedly took in around $25 million. In what some analysts interpreted as a marketing ploy, Universal first estimated that its Cat in the Hat would earn $24.7 million, but after Disney figured Mansion would take in $25.3 million, Universal issued a new estimate of $25.5 million, saying that its original number represented a clerical error by a publicist. New Line projected Elf to take in $22.2 million. Official results are due to be announced later today (Monday). The race was tight over the entire five-day holiday, with the box-office lead changing between the three films on each day. The real victor, however, may have been Elf, a comparatively low-budget film ($32 million) that snuck in under the radar, improving its box-office take by 18 percent from last weekend and bringing its total gross to $130.1 million after four weeks. Also performing strongly was the opening of New Line-Dimension's Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thornton, which tallied $12.5 million. Sony's The Missing, Ron Howard's Western starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett, earned an estimated $11.7 million in its debut. But Paramount's Timeline, based on the sci-fi novel by Michael Crichton, flatlined with only $8.5 million. In limited release, the animated French film The Triplets of Belleville took in $114,636 in six locations, while Jim Sheridan's In America tallied $202,730 in 11 theaters.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat, $25.6 million

2. The Haunted Mansion, $25.3 million

3. Elf, $22.2 million

4. Gothika, $12.71 million

5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, $12.7 million

6. Bad Santa, $12.5 million

7. The Missing, $11.7 million

8. Timeline, $8.5 million

9. Love Actually, $8.2 million

10. Brother Bear, $4.9 million


Charging that Hollywood studios "are perverting our youth and crushing Russian-made films," a group of Russian parliamentarians said Sunday that they will introduce a bill requiring that at least half of all films shown in movie theaters have a Russian director, producer, screenwriter and composer. The London Sunday Times quoted Valery Galchenko, one of the bill's authors, as saying, "American blockbusters are filled with cruelty, violence and sex. ... Our children have been bombarded with this sort of junk for more than 10 years now. It's time to stop it."