CHRISTIAN GROUP DAMNS THE BOOK OF DANIELNBC's The Book of Danielis not scheduled to premiere until Jan. 6, but it is already drawing heat from Christian conservatives. The Rev. Don Wildmon's American Family Association has asked its members to send messages to the network demanding that they cancel the series. "It would be beneficial to all if NBC showed a little more respect for Christians who believe the Bible," the AFA's statement said. It noted that the series features an Episcopal priest who talks to a "very unconventional" Jesus and that the priest's family includes "a 23-year-old homosexual Republican son, a 16-year-old daughter who is a drug dealer, and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter. At the office, his lesbian secretary is sleeping with his sister-in-law." The show was defended by Damon Romine of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who told the PlanetOut Network: "It doesn't surprise me that the AFA would be afraid of this series -- it shows a family that's both deeply religious and loving and accepting of their gay son." In a statement, NBC said, "We're confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they'll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family."


There were many no-shows among viewers of ABC's Monday Night Football party for its final broadcast. Despite a night heavy on nostalgia, the final MNF telecast posted only single-digit ratings -- a 9.0 rating and a 16 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour and an 8.6/15 at 10:00 p.m. The game, between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, nevertheless gave ABC a win for the night as it averaged a 7.8/13, beating CBS's 7.0/12. NBC placed third with a 5.2/9, while Fox trailed with a 2.8/5. On Tuesday night, all three hours of CBS's telecast of the Kennedy Center Honors beat rival programming. The telecast averaged a 7.6/13. Its closest competition came from NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which scored a 6.7/12 in the 10:00 p.m. hour.


Former NBC News President Neal Shapiro has turned up as an instructor at Boston's Tufts University, teaching a course in Communications and Media Studies entitled "News From the Inside Out." When he resigned in September -- some reports indicated that he had been pressured out by NBC Universal TV President Jeff Zucker -- he said only that he found himself "missing ... the kind of creativity I've had in previous jobs." At the time, TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall faulted Shapiro for running a "holding operation" during his four-year tenure as the network's news chief, criticizing him for failing to make the news division "forward-looking or innovative." Tufts' course description of Shapiro's course, which begins next month, says that he will look into such questions as, "Why do so many broadcasts look the same? Why do major newspapers chase some stories and not others -- and why are these often different from those aired on broadcast outlets? How is the technological revolution changing how information is reported and who reports it -- and how consumers receive it?"


A New Mexico judge who granted a temporary restraining order to an apparently deranged woman following her complaint that David Letterman was sending coded love messages to her over the air, has decided to lift it after a hearing on Tuesday attended by the woman and Letterman's attorney. The attorney, Pat Rogers, said that Letterman was entitled to "a protection of his reputation." The woman, Colleen Nestler, admitted that she had no proof of her allegations against Letterman. After the hearing, she told reporters that the lifting of the restraining order now means that Letterman "can actually come for me or send people. He has many accomplices." KING KONG STILL LUMBERINGBox-office trackers are continuing to predict that, in the end, King Kongwill justify its $220-million production cost. Several are noting that Titanictook in much less than King Kong in its opening weeks, yet went on to become the biggest box-office winner of all time. In an interview with the Associated Press, Paul Dergarabedian, head of Exhibitor Relations, noted that the Peter Jackson film earned $9.2 million on Christmas day. "The fact it did such strong business Christmas day shows there's a lot of interest in the movie," Dergarabedian said. Exit polls also showed a high level of audience satisfaction with the film. Analysts attributed the fact that it was not doing the kind of box-office business that the recent Star Wars.Harry Potterand Lord of the Ringsfilms did to several factors: There was no built-up fan base for King Kong.; it had to compete with a plethora of new releases: and it runs over three hours, limiting the number of times theaters can screen it. John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, told A.P.: "I'm not worried about King Kong. It's the type of movie that will continue to do business well into the new year." Meanwhile, Chuck Viane, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, predicted that Narniawill probably pass the $200-million mark at the box office by New Year's Eve. "I think what you have here is a movie instantly becoming one of those holiday classics," he told A.P. The top ten films over the four-day holiday weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. King Kong, Universal, $33,274,690, 2 Wks. ($120,597,410); 2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $Disney, $31,692,295, 3 Wks. ($165,135,135); 3. Fun With Dick and Jane, Sony, $21,530,160, 1 Wk. ($29,105,916 -- From Wednesday); 4. Cheaper by the Dozen 2, 20th Century Fox, $15,340,679, 1 Wk. ($20,622,433 -- From Wednesday); 5. Memoirs of a Geisha, Sony, $10,165,114, 3 Wks. ($13,254,749); 6. The Family Stone, 20th Century Fox, $10,009,399, 2 Wks. ($29,209,405); 7. The Ringer, Fox Searchlight, $7,702,439, (New); 8.Rumor Has It, Warner Bros., $7,515,000, (New); 9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Warner Bros., $6,500,000, 6 Wks. ($263,215,000); 10. Munich, Universal, $6,040,860, (New).


Despite an overall box office slump this year, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox have effectively fought the downturn and wound up with record years. While other studios were blaming everything from DVDs to noisy cell phone users to higher ticket prices to in-theater ads for a 6 percent drop at the box office, Warner Bros. currently has already exceeded its best year, 2001, posting $1.32 billion in ticket sales. Fox is only slightly behind with $1.29 billion. "This is an industry that is content-driven, and when the content is there, the box office responds," said Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman. who told the Los Angeles Daily News, "There's really nothing broken, it's just a matter of coming back with some good product." Bruce Snyder, Fellman's counterpart at 20th Century Fox, agreed, telling the newspaper. "I think Fox's secret is like Warners' secret: it was the product we put out this year. ... It worked and people wanted to see it. It's a matter of the mix of movies and we were fortunate." Nevertheless, the overall business slump is producing a stack of worries for members of the industry. Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., told Agence France Presse, the French wire service, "This industry is facing significant challenges. ... Some studios are doing some moderate lay-offs. L.A.'s future is at stake."


Steven Spielberg's Munichcontinues to be caught in a crossfire between Israelis and Palestinians angered by the way their respective causes are depicted in the movie. Mohammed Daoud, who is regarded as the mastermind of the 1972 Munich attack on Israel's Olympic team, expressed outrage that he was not consulted by the filmmakers. "Spielberg showed the movie to widows of the Israeli victims, but he neglected the families of Palestinian victims. ... How many Palestinian civilians were killed before and after Munich?" Referring to Spielberg's statement that the film represented his "prayer for peace," Daoud told Reuters, "If he really wanted to make it a prayer for peace he should have listened to both sides of the story and reflected reality, rather than serving the Zionist side alone." He charged that Israel's secret police, the Mossad, "carried out vengeance against people who had nothing to do with the Munich attack, people who were merely politically active or had ties with the [Palestine Liberation Organization]. ... If a film fails to make these points, it will be unjust in terms of truth and history."


David Cronenberg's A History of Violencehas been named best film of 2005 in the Take Seven critics poll conducted by New York's The Village Voice. The survey of over 100 film critics writing for alternative weeklies, online publications and film journals, also named Cronenberg best director. Heath Ledger was named best performer for his work in Brokeback Mountain, while Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whalewas voted best screenplay.


Woody Allen has made points with critics with Match Point, which is getting a limited release today (Wednesday). A.O. Scott in the New York Times calls it Allen's "most satisfying film in more than a decade" and "bracingly pleasurable." He notes that the film has "none of the desperate, self-conscious one-liners that have become, in Mr. Allen's recent movies, more tics than shtick. Nor is there an obvious surrogate for the director among the youthful, mostly British and altogether splendid cast. If you walked in after the opening titles, it might take you a while to guess who made this picture." Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Timesremarks, "Watching Match Point, you could almost conclude that Allen is shedding some of his more calcified habits, that he's molting." Claudia Puig in USA Todaysays that the film is "proof that Allen, who many have dismissed with his last few forgettable films, is still a filmmaking force." Jami Bernard in the New York Daily Newscautions fans that Match Pointis not a typical Allen comedy. "What fans want are good movies. This one isn't particularly funny or romantic, but it's gripping and tragic." Indeed, Kyle Smith in the New York Post remarks that of all of Allen's films, "this is the least Woody Allenish." Film: 12/28/05