DON MEREDITH RETURNING FOR MNF FINALE
Don Meredith, a member of the original announcer troika that launched Monday Night Football on ABC in 1970, is scheduled to sing "The Party's Over" during the final MNF telecast on Monday. USA Today reported today (Wednesday) that Meredith had been coaxed out of retirement by Frank Gifford, another one of the original announcers, who also agreed to appear on the final telecast. (The third, Howard Cosell, died in 1995.) Meredith's appearance on the program was taped at his home in Santa Fe, while Gifford's was taped in Los Angeles. Monday's finale will also feature a tribute to the late ABC programming and sports chief Roone Arledge, who was responsible for launching the weekly football telecast and making it accessible not only to hardcore football fans but general audiences as well.

ANOTHER ABC HIT SERIES COMING TO YOUR COMPUTER

ABC's Commander in Chief has been added to the list of TV shows that can be downloaded from Apple's iTunes Music Store. Each episode of the hit series will become available online the day after it airs for $1.99. Past episodes can also be downloaded. The TV shows can be viewed on virtually any personal computer or on Apple's video iPod device. ABC had earlier announced that episodes of three other shows were also available for downloading, Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Night Stalker. (Night Stalker was canceled last month after its first six episodes failed to attract a significant audience.)

NBC METES OUT "APPROPRIATE ACTION" TO DATELINE PRODUCER

NBC Dateline producer Shane Bishop ventured beyond the traditional territory of a journalist when he informed the governors of Florida and Texas that he could obtain a confession from a suspected killer if they agreed to waive the death penalty, two news media experts have told the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram. Bob Steele, who teaches journalism ethics at Florida's Poynter Institute, told the newspaper, "Our job as journalists is to hold institutions and individuals accountable. Journalists should not be making deals with the same public officials we cover." John Tisdale, who also teaches ethics at Fort Worth's Texas Christian University, added: "I always feel uncomfortable when journalists try to do police work. ... Journalists are to a certain degree detectives, but it gives me some unease when a journalist writes a letter to the governor on behalf of a murderer." Meanwhile, NBC has said that Bishop acted "in violation of NBC News policy" and that "appropriate action has been taken." (In an hour-long Dateline Bishop-produced feature that aired in February, 2002, the suspect, Michael Ronning, confessed that he was the actual killer of a Battle Creek, MI teenager, not the man serving time for the crime. The same program claimed that in 1997 Ronning, who was serving a life sentence in Arkansas, agreed to plead guilty to the murders of two other women in Arkansas and Michigan if the governors of those states waived the death penalty. They did.)

NBC'S DEAL PAYS OFF IN SPADES

NBC'S Deal or No Deal, which the network is running at 8:00 p.m. every night this week, drew an even bigger audience on Tuesday than it did on its opening night, Monday, according to Nielsen Research. The show pulled a 7.8 rating and a 13 share, beating a repeat of CBS's top-ten show NCIS, which recorded a 6.9/11. But the big winner of the night was the two-hour Barbara Walters special, Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There, which registered an 8.8/13 in the 9:00 hour and a 9.7/16 in the 10:00 p.m. hour, well above the competition.

REALITY SHOW FINALES FIZZLE

Even some of TV's most successful reality shows are showing signs of severe ratings erosion. According to Nielsen Research, last week's finales of CBS's The Amazing Race 8 and NBC's The Apprentice 4 came in well below their previous finales. (The Apprentice 4 wrap-up had only 12.8 million viewers tuning in, compared with 27.6 million who watched the first Apprentice finale in April 2004.) CBS once again overwhelmed the competition, posting a 7.9 rating and a 13 share -- and taking eight of the top-10 positions on the Nielsen ratings list. ABC placed a distant second with a 5.7/9, edging out NBC, which posted a 5.6/9. Fox trailed with a 4.3/7. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 11.5/18; 2. NCIS, CBS, 10.9/17; 3. CSI: NY, CBS, 10.8/18; 4. Without a Trace, CBS, 10.2/17; 5. Criminal Minds, CBS, 9.9/16; 6. Cold Case, CBS, 9.8/15; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 9.4/15; 8. House, Fox, 9.3/14; 8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 9.3/14; 10. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 9.2/16.

MOVIE REVIEWS: FUN WITH DICK & JANE
Today (Wednesday) may tell who's bigger at the box office -- King Kong or Jim Carrey. Carrey's Fun With Dick & Jane, about a married couple who turn to crime after the Carrey character loses his job in an Enron-like debacle, opens against the second week of the giant-ape movie, which is a long way from becoming the giant box-office hit that many analysts had expected. But while King Kong generated mostly ecstatic reviews from critics, Fun With Dick & Jane is receiving the same kind of bland reaction that its title seems to summon up. "Kind of funny," is the judgment of Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "There's fun -- but not nearly enough -- in Fun With Dick & Jane, writes Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News. Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post clearly likes the movie but gives it no rave review, concluding: "Even as an instant forgettable, Fun With Dick & Jane has lived up to its title: It's fun, and that's fine." Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun, while allowing that some scenes "detonate theater-quaking belly laughs," concludes that in the end, the movie amounts to nothing more than "a liberal-concept comedy." and a "surprising failure" for the director, David Parisot. The film does evoke a few caustic reviews, among them, Lou Lumenick's in the New York Post, who writes that it is "as much fun as a root canal. ... the last of a series of overpriced, mindless bombs greenlighted this year by Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal." (Several critics suggest that if you've seen the commercial for the movie, you've seen all the really funny scenes.)

MOVIE REVIEWS: CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 is faring worse at the critics' hands than Fun With Dick & Jane. A couple of sample comments: Lara Kern in the New York Times: "This is a tiresome film, full of repetitive, misfired jokes, false emotions and caricatures." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "'Cheaper by the Dozen 2' obviously refers to the counting up of cheap pratfalls, inane set pieces and unfunny jokes that can be delivered in an hour and a half."

DISNEY HOME VIDEO UNIT FINED FOR PRICE FIXING IN FRANCE

The Walt Disney Co.'s home-video unit, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, was fined $3.7 million by France's Competition Council today (Wednesday) for acting with two giant retail chains and a wholesaler in France to fix the price of videocassettes sold in France between 1995 and 1998. The two retailers, Casino and Carrefour, were fined $3.8 million and $6.8 million respectively, while the wholesaler, Selection Disc Organisation (SDO), was fined $2.9 million. The fines could have been higher, but the French watchdog said it had agreed to reduce them by 25-40 percent after the companies agreed not to contest them and pledged to end what the Competition Council called their "vertical collusion" to keep the price of home videos "artificially high." Typically home videos sold in Europe bear prices that are substantially higher than those in the U.S., and consumer groups abroad have complained that the "zone" coding on DVDs is aimed not only at ensuring a wide window between the overseas theatrical release of a movie and its home video release but also to prevent overseas buyers from purchasing cheaper copies from the U.S.

ANIMATED FILMS JUDGED HOLLYWOOD'S BIGGEST EARNERS

Animated films represented the most lucrative genre of films released between 2000 and 2004, earning an average of $194.5 million in gross profit each, according to a study by Monterey, CA-based Kagan Research. In the study, entitled "Economics of Motion Pictures 2006," the entertainment industry research film concluded that sci-fi/fantasy films were the second most profitable and family films were the third. The study further concluded that the most costly films to produce were also the biggest box-office earners.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE VOTED YEAR'S BEST BY CANADIAN CRITICS

Canadian director David Cronenberg's A History of Violence was chosen as the best film of 2005 by the Toronto Film Critics Association on Tuesday. The film was also named best Canadian film, even though it was financed by New Line, an American company, is set in America, and was produced with an American cast, although it was shot in Canada. It's the first major honor for the film during the awards season, which has seen most critics groups honor Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. The Canadian critics also named Philip Seymour Hoffman best actor for his performance in Capote and Laura Linney best actress for her performance in The Squid and the Whale. Cronenberg also received the best director award. The choice of Violence as the best Canadian film raised eyebrows, but, in an interview with today's (Wednesday) Toronto Star Cronenberg agreed with the decision to include it in the Canadian competition. "I'm completely Canadian," he said. "I'm born and raised here and I've always lived here, so how could I be anything else? And I think A History of Violence is Canadian, too, although on a creative level and not on an official, government-funding level."

GYLLENHAAL CLAIMS DIRECTOR LEE LEFT HIM FEELING "JUST ALONE"

Brokeback Mountain co-star Jake Gyllenhaal has strongly criticized director Ang Lee's style of directing during the filming of the movie, telling the website Hollywood.com that Lee often shunned him and Heath Ledger, purposely making them feel uncomfortable. "It was really hard for us," Ledger was quoted as saying. "Ang disengages with his actors as we start filming. As soon you start shooting he backs off; he just doesn't do anything with you; you're just alone."