DEAL PUTS NBC BACK ON TOP
NBC's Deal or No Deal showed it was the real deal Friday, as its fifth and final day in the 8:00 p.m. hour not only won the hour but also was the highest-rated show of the night, posting a 6.9 rating and a 13 share. Moreover it helped give NBC's magazine show Dateline a narrow victory in the 9:00 p.m. hour over CBS's Close to Home, and probably helped Law & Order: Criminal Intent edge out CBS's Numb3rs in the 10:00 p.m. hour. It was the first time this season that NBC has won every half hour of primetime with entertainment programming. Over the holiday weekend, many households found that they had other things to do besides watching TV. On Saturday, Christmas Eve, the highest rating for the night was a 4.8/12, posted by CBS's NCIS at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, Christmas Day, belonged to Fox, thanks to an overrun of its NFL telecast, which registered a 9.0/21 in the 7:00 p.m. hour. All of the other networks received not a bit of Christmas cheer.

NBC TAKES CONTROL OF MSNBC

Microsoft, the "MS" in MSNBC, has decided to sell most of its stake in the channel it has owned with NBC. Its decision will leave NBC with an 82-percent stake in the news outlet, with an option to acquire the remainder within two years. Previously, the two companies were 50-50 partners. Terms of the deal were not announced, and there was no mention of whether the channel would continue to use its current name. Some analysts predicted that it will be renamed The NBC News Channel. The deal reportedly will not affect the operation of the MSNBC.com website, whose track record has exceeded that of its cable counterpart.

VIACOM CHIEF SAYS HE WON'T PART WITH ANY PART OF COMPANY

Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone has denied persistent Wall Street speculation that he is splitting the company into two parts -- one focused on movies and cable; the other, on broadcast TV and radio -- in order to sell one of the halves. In an interview with today's (Monday) New York Times, Redstone said, "I have no intention of selling. ... I happen to like both companies." The split -- scheduled to be accomplished on Jan. 3 -- was arranged, he said, "to maximize the value, and we are going to do it. There is no intent to sell this. That is absurd." Analysts interviewed by the Times expressed skepticism. Regardless of Redstone's remarks, said Jeffries & Co. analyst Richard Routh, "I think a sale is a real possibility. ... Sumner has set it up in such a way that it makes perfect sense."

NBC WEIGHING LEGAL BATTLE WITH TIVO

NBC executives are warning of a potential legal confrontation with TiVo over its announced plans to provide subscribers with software that will allow them to transfer digitally recorded programs to their iPod Video and PlayStation Portable devices. On its website, Daily Variety described NBC Universal TV President Jeff Zucker as being "petulant" about the plans and quoted him as saying, "This is clearly not the proper way to behave." (Although the TiVoToGo service is not yet available, Macintosh computer owners are already able to download recorded programs to iPods and PSPs -- without paying a subscription fee -- using Elgato System's EyeTV recorder.) Variety quoted TiVo general counsel Matt Zinn as saying that the service will provide TiVo customers with "added flexibility to use lawfully acquired content in a manner that is undistinguishable from activities that have long been understood to be 'fair and legal.'"

PIXAR AND DISNEY: ALL BUT A DONE DEAL?
Disney and Pixar are on the verge of wrapping up a new distribution agreement, Daily Variety reported on its website Sunday, citing unnamed insiders. The trade publication indicated that a sticking point "undoubtedly" is Disney's already operating Circle 7 Animation, a computer animation unit that reportedly was set up to make sequels of previous Pixar features and which has been working on a second Toy Story sequel. Variety also reported that Disney CEO Bob Iger is keeping Pixar officials "in the loop about developments at Circle 7." However, longtime Disney watcher Jim Hill has expressed doubts about the underpinnings of Circle 7 almost from its inception, quoting a source last August as saying, "That studio is never going to produce a single frame of finished animation. It's all just a set-up to get Pixar back to the negotiating table." Hill pointed out that Circle 7 was set up so hastily that its name was plucked off the "street sign" on the Disney lot where it was given space -- across from the studios of Disney's local ABC-TV station, which uses the number 7 (its channel position) surrounded by a circle as its logo.

APE IN CLOSE BATTLE WITH LION

Analysts are still scratching their heads over the box-office performance of King Kong. No official estimates were announced today (Monday) because of the semi-holiday, which shut down most studio offices. But the giant ape has been swinging up and down almost from the day it opened. After tumbling in mid-week ticket sales and falling behind Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Universal film took the lead Friday with an estimated $8.02-million take to Narnia's $7.99 million. On Saturday, however, Narnia regained the lead with about $4.84 million to Kong's $4.82 million. (Kong also crossed the $100-million mark in domestic sales on Saturday.) Holdovers Fun With Dick and Jane and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 took third and fourth places respectively, while Memoirs of a Geisha moved into wide release in fifth place with about $4.14 million for the two days. The remainder of the top ten, in order: "The Ringer, The Family Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Munich, and Syriana.

SPIELBERG RESPONDS TO CRITICS OF MUNICH

Steven Spielberg says that he was aware that he was stepping into a "minefield" when he decided to direct a film about the events surrounding the 1972 killings of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. In an interview with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Spielberg responded to the central charge by Jewish critics that his film depicts the Israeli and Palestinian causes as morally equivalent. "Frankly, I think that's a stupid charge," he told Ebert. "The people who attack the movie based on 'moral equivalence' are some of the same people who say diplomacy itself is an exercise in moral equivalence, and that war is the only answer. That the only way to fight terrorism is to dehumanize the terrorists by asking no questions about who they are and where they come from. What I believe is, every act of terrorism requires a strong response, but we must also pay attention to the causes. That's why we have brains and the power to think passionately. Understanding does not require approval. Understanding is not the same as inaction. Understanding is a very muscular act. If I'm endorsing understanding and being attacked for that, then I am almost flattered."

MOVIE REVIEWS: RUMOR HAS IT

The Rob Reiner-directed Rumor Has It, starring Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner, and Shirley MacLaine debuted Sunday and found few friends among critics. A.O. Scott in the New York Times called it a "misbegotten project ... at least six wrong movies in one." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News described it as "a lump of coal, sculpted from the kind of high-concept idea screenwriters find scribbled on bar napkins after nights of heavy drinking." John Anderson in Newsday, referring to the fact that writer-director Ted Griffin was pulled off the project and replaced by Rob Reiner, remarked: "Why would Rob Reiner, who's not even the poorest man's Noel Coward, think he had the sophisticated comedic chops to pull something like this off? It's like watching someone in oven mitts trying to crack a safe. He's not getting in. And we feel like we're never getting out." Referring to Reiner's rumored political ambitions, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe commented that the movie reveals that Reiner is "out of touch, which is distressing news for his imagined electorate. How could anyone expect him to reform government when for a decade he's been serving up the same-old same-old at the movies?" But Roger Ebert gave him a reluctant vote for this one, writing: "This is not a great movie, but it's very watchable and has some good laughs." And fellow Chicagoan Allison Benedikt wrote in the Tribune that the movie is "surprisingly likable" and "fun."

Cinemark Movie Club