TV AS WE KNEW IT TO END 2/17/09
The budget bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday following a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Cheney included legislation that would require broadcasters to switch off their analog transmitters by Feb. 17, 2009 and provided $1.5 billion to help people with older sets buy converter settop boxes to use with their older, analog TV sets. Consumer groups condemned the action, maintaining that the amount was not nearly enough to aid the millions of viewers who will need them. Under the plan, the government will provide up to two $40 coupons that can be used to buy converters, which are expect to sell for around $50 to $60 each. "The digital television compensation program established by this bill is ... unworkable and unacceptable for consumers," the Consumers Union's Gene Kimmelman said Wednesday. "The bill provides only a fraction of the funds needed to compensate consumers for the costs of a government-mandated digital transition that they never asked for."

KOPPEL AND BROKAW TO APPEAR TOGETHER ON MEET THE PRESS

Only weeks after leaving ABC's Nightline, Ted Koppel will be returning to television Sunday -- on NBC. The network announced Wednesday that Koppel will join former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw for a special Christmas-day edition of Meet the Press for a discussion with moderator Tim Russert about politics and the press and the year in review. The entire program can also be downloaded for free for viewing on personal computers or portable video devices beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday at www.mtp.msnbc.com.

FOX "RESCUES" NY COMMUTERS

A couple of double-decker buses may not be enough to put a dent in New Yorkers' transportation needs during the current MTA strike, but Fox News Channel was able to get considerable publicity mileage from them as they shuttled commuters between the Brooklyn Bridge and the midtown Manhattan FNC studios on 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) Wednesday. FNC stationed reporter Alisyn Camerota atop one of the buses to interview the grateful and enthusiastic passengers. The news channel said that it planned to pick up New Yorkers from the opposite end of Manhattan at 86th St. today (Thursday). In on-air news banners, the news channel has repeatedly referred to the work stoppage as the "Illegal Transit Strike."

LETTERMAN'S LAWYERS SEEK TO HAVE RESTRAINING ORDER LIFTED

David Letterman's lawyers have asked a New Mexico district judge to quash a restraining order that was granted to an apparently deranged woman who alleged that the CBS Late Show host was sending coded messengers to her during his programs since 1994 and using gestures to signal that he desired her. A lower-court judge had granted the temporary restraining order on Tuesday to Colleen Nestler, who accused Letterman of mental cruelty and causing her "sleep deprivation." The order further granted Nestler's demand that Letterman stay at least three yards away from her and not "think of me and release me from his mental harassment." In his motion to quash the order, attorney Pat Rogers observed, "Celebrities deserve protection of their reputation and legal rights when the occasional fan becomes dangerous or deluded."

NIELSEN TO BEGIN OBSERVING DVR USAGE

Nielsen Research plans to begin providing ratings for programs that are watched on digital video recorders beginning next Wednesday. The ratings company said that in addition to its standard ratings, it will offer two other sets of figures: one for programs watched on the same day as the live broadcasts and another for those watched up to seven days after they air. In reporting on Nielsen's plans, the Hollywood Reporter noted that the figures are not likely to play a significant role in advertisers' decisions any time soon, since only 6 percent of households now own DVRs.

TELEMUNDO TO BE ADDED TO NIELSEN'S NETWORKS

Two days after announcing that it would add Spanish-language network Univision to the six broadcast networks for which it provides ratings data to advertisers, Nielsen Research announced Wednesday that it would also include Telemundo, the NBC-owned Spanish-language broadcaster, in the group. Telemundo President Don Browne hailed Nielsen's decision as "a sign of the maturation of Spanish language television and a clear recognition of a robust, healthy and growing market. From now on, as marketers target their audiences, they will now have a vehicle that will transparently evaluate audience delivery in Spanish side by side with English language networks."

FIRST EISNER, NOW MURDOCH TO VISIT DELAWARE
Raising the probability of another media titan having to take the witness stand in Delaware, a Delaware Chancery Court judge on Wednesday ruled that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp must stand trial on charges by Australian stockholders that it broke a promise that a "poison-pill" scheme would not be extended without the company's seeking stockholder approval. Murdoch could find himself testifying in the same courthouse where former Disney CEO Michael Eisner last year defended himself against shareholder complaints. Michael O'Sullivan, head of the Australian Council of Super Investors, one of the groups suing News Corp, said Wednesday that the breach-of-contract case was not about the merits of Murdoch's poison-pill defense against the possibility of John Malone gaining control of the company. "It's about a promise that was not upheld," O'Sullivan told the Sydney Morning Herald. O'Sullivan and other Australian investors maintain that when Murdoch sought their approval to move the company's headquarters to the U.S., he promised them that we would not extend the poison-pill scheme without seeking their approva -- but that he did so nevertheless last August. "Murdoch treats [News Corp] as if it's his company," O'Sullivan said in the newspaper interview, "but it's not a private company. It's 70 percent owned by other shareholders." News Corp has consistently denied that Murdoch's previous statements constituted a promise or a contract.

BEWKES TO BECOME NO. 2 MAN AT TIME WARNER

Time Warner on Wednesday named Jeff Bewkes, who has overseen the company's entertainment and networks group, to become its president and COO. In effect, the appointment makes Bewkes the sole No. 2-man at the company, after having shared that rank since 2002 with Don Logan, a 35-year-veteran of Time Warner, who is retiring. Bewkes came to prominence in 1995 after being promoted to president of Time Warner's HBO, where he was instrumental in promoting original programming, including such shows as The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE WHITE COUNTESS

The final Merchant-Ivory production, The White Countess, is receiving a limited release this weekend and had producer Ismail Merchant lived a few months longer -- he died last May -- he might have been pleased by the reviews of the film on which he spent the remains of his days. Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News is one of several critics who remarks that the movie "marks a fitting conclusion to the celebrated partnership of James Ivory and the late Ismail Merchant." He says that many of the distinctive Merchant-Ivory elements are combined here, including "bang-for-the-buck production design," a "literate presentation" and extraordinary performances by the stars, Natasha Richardson, and Ralph Fiennes. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert writes that he saw his first Merchant-Ivory movie, Shakespeare Wallah, in 1965. "So for 40 years, I have been watching them living up to their own standards when the world didn't care and, lately, even when it did. Sometimes they have made great films, sometimes flawed ones, even bad ones, but never shabby or unworthy ones. Here is one that is good to better, poignant, patient, moving." Claudia Puig, in her USA Today review, concludes: "Through the past three decades, Merchant and Ivory have been virtually synonymous with sumptuous, beautifully crafted period dramas. With Merchant's death in May, this film is a fitting tribute to the end of an era." Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune comments that, with this film, the Merchant-Ivory partnership "ends on a very high note, with a deeply evocative film, beautifully done." Jan Stuart in Newsday remarks that the film "offers up heaps of everything we have come to depend on Merchant and Ivory for: hyper-articulate dialogue, authentic period detail, impassioned performances from the crème de la crème of English-speaking actors." Not all critics are impressed, however. "With its tentative pace, fussy, pieced-together structure and stuffy emotional climate, The White Countess never develops any narrative stamina," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

L.A. TIMES CRITIC THOMAS RETIRES, IS RUSHED TO HOSPITAL

Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas, who often dependably offered opinions of movies that countered those of the majority of his colleagues, was reportedly stricken with a bout of cardiac arrhythmia and rushed to the hospital on Tuesday -- on the very day that fellow staffers were to give him an office retirement party. The LAobserved.com blog, which said that Thomas had been "nudged" out of the Times after 40 years as part of Tribune Co.'s current round of cutbacks, reported that Thomas later sent word that he had undergone routine treatment and was planning to drop by the following day.

Cinemark Movie Club