THE REAGANS: WORTH THE FUSS?

News footage employed in The Reagans miniseries, which originally was scheduled to air on CBS, came from NBC, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Tuesday). Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the producers, told the newspaper that they had received a better deal for the archived footage from NBC than they could have got from CBS. Moreover, they said, a CBS agreement with Walter Cronkite precludes the use of footage featuring him in docudramas. The Reagans showed the late NBC anchor John Chancellor. Meanwhile, several newspaper critics have been left scratching their heads over the controversy that resulted in the biopic being yanked from the CBS schedule and tossed to cable channel Showtime. A review of the movie by critic James Sullivan in today's San Francisco Chronicle, headed "Much Ado About Nothing," observed, "It turns out you could take whatever you wanted from The Reagans." Richard Roeper's review in today's Chicago Sun-Times was headed: "Hard to See What Fuss Over The Reagans Was All About." Commented Roeper: "The toothless version that aired Sunday was a fairly cheesy, middle-of-the-television-road love story about a big-hearted, charismatic but somewhat befuddled actor-turned-politician and his fiercely protective, adoring wife." Critic Dean Johnson wrote in the Boston Herald that the film was "neither bad nor libelous, though the three-hour film committed a much bigger television crime. It was tedious." The film as aired received no additional criticism from the Republican National Committee, which had criticized the original script (leaked to the New York Times). But, in a discussion of the drama on Showtime Monday night, Reagan biographer Martin Anderson called it "a hate movie."

ABC WINS WITH FOOTBALL

With CBS airing reruns on Monday, ABC's Monday Night football (Tennessee vs. N.Y. Jets) helped the struggling network win the night. It was the second time within a week that ABC had finished on top. (It rose above the competition on Friday, as well, boosted by a 20/20 edition featuring Hugh Hefner.) For the night, ABC averaged a 10.8/15, while CBS, which had put together a string of Monday-night wins, wound up in second place with a 9.7/14. NBC finished third for the night with a 9.1/13.

BRAVO TO AIR NEW POKER SERIES

Jumping on the surprising interest in poker playing on television, the Bravo channel is launching Celebrity Poker Showdowntonight (Tuesday). Bravo CEO Jeff Gaspin, who was responsible for the hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, told the Associated Press. "It's surprisingly entertaining and exciting. ... I was really taken aback. As a spectator sport, you wouldn't think that much of it. It's really interesting." AP reported that the World Poker Tour has already become the most popular series ever on the Travel Channel. And NBC is planning to air a poker special opposite CBS's telecast of the Super Bowl next month.

CHICAGO STATION: TAKING IT TO THE STREET

Mimicking the street-level, storefront network studios familiar in New York, NBC-owned WMAQ in Chicago plans to unveil its new 400-square-foot Studio 5 on Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile on Dec. 20. The TV station said Monday that it will originate its morning and midday newscasts from the new studio in the hopes of drawing crowds of Chicago residents and visitors. WMAQ also said that it expects that the studio will be used for Chicago features produced for NBC's Today show and the syndicated Access Hollywood.

DISNEY PANS GOLD

Displaying the makings of a formidable tag-team, Disney board member Stanley Gold joined Roy E. Disney Monday by quitting the Disney board, drubbing Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner for alleged mismanagement of the company, and calling for his resignation. Gold accused Eisner of turning the company into a "rapacious, soulless" organization and said that, like Roy Disney, he was resigning in order to "bring some pressure from the outside on this board because we were unable to do that from the inside." The board itself, he said, had come to serve merely "as a bulwark to shield management from criticism and accountability." The Disney company fired back at Gold, calling his criticism "untrue and unwarranted" and noting that it came at a time when the company's performance was improving. Analysts questioned the timing of the resignations, as well. Media analyst Anthony Valencia of TCW Group Inc. told today's Los Angeles Times: "Investors, like a lot of people, are a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately crowd. ... And lately, the stock has done well." In fact, the stock appeared unaffected one way or the other about the fuss. It closed Monday at $23.17, a gain of 8 cents.

TIGHT BOX-OFFICE RACE

In one of the closest box-office finishes in recent memory, Universal's Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat won, as many accounts put it, by "a whisker," as it took in $24.5 million, about $180,000 more than Disney's The Haunted Mansion. However, over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, Mansion beat the Cat $34 million to $32.9 million. The figures were so close and the margin for error so great in calculating thousands of theater totals that today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles called it "a statistical tie." Still, the real standout for the weekend was New Line's Elf, which wound up with $31 million over the five days and $21.6 million for the three days -- in its fourth week. The film actually increased its take from last week by 16 percent, to bring its total to $129 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Cat in the Hat, Universal, $24,459,685, 2 Wks. ($75,830,805); 2. The Haunted Mansion, Disney, $24,278,410, 1 Wk. (From Wednesday) ($34046111); 3. Elf, New Line, $21,649,842, 4 Wks. ($129,009,719); 4. Gothika, Warner Bros., $12,868,471, 2 Wks. ($41,277,711); 5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World, 20th Century Fox, $12,408,731, 3 Wks. ($66,632,517); 6.Bad Santa, Miramax, $12,292,952, 1 Wk. (From Wednesday) ($16,801,187); 7. The Missing, Sony, $10,833,633, 1 Wk. (From Wednesday) ($15,232,287); 8. Timeline, Paramount, $8,440,629, 1 Wk. (From Wednesday) ($12,424,762); 9. Love Actually, Universal, $8,218,630, 4 Wks. ($43,390,140); 10. Brother Bear, Disney, $4,872,344, 6 Wks. ($77695232).

TIDAL WAVE FOR NEMO OVERSEAS

Disney'/Pixar's Finding Nemo continued to make a big splash overseas, producing record ticket sales for the studio in numerous markets, including France, where it earned $12.6 million on 893 screens, or $14,110 per screen. According to today's (Tuesday)Hollywood Reporter, the film was No. 1 in 15 markets and raised its overseas gross to $230.8 million. The film has earned $340 million domestically.

EIDC CANS POLITICIANS

The scandal-plagued Entertainment Industry Development Corp. officially began implementing a bundle of reforms on Monday, beginning with the removal of 21 Los Angeles city and county officials from its board. The EIDC also voted to end the doling out of funds from its coffers for political campaigns and to create a citizens' advisory group that would address complaints from neighbors in areas used for location filming. A new board of 32 members (the previous one had 49) was announced, including 14 representatives of the film industry, eight from film labor groups, five from neighborhood associations, and five from business and civic organizations.

IT WILL BE COCHRAN VERSUS PETROCELLI AGAIN

The heirs of Stephen Slesinger have hired attorney Johnnie Cochran, famed for his defense of O.J. Simpson, to represent them in their lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. The heirs have reportedly been at odds with previous attorneys about strategy in their lawsuit, which alleges misrepresentation of royalties due them for Winnie the Pooh books and merchandise. Disney is represented by attorney Daniel Petrocelli, who represented the family of murdered Ron Goldman in the Simpson trial.

JACKSON SAYS TOLKIEN'S SON IS BARRING RINGS MUSEUM

Director Peter Jackson said today (Tuesday) that he has been blocked by Christopher Tolkien, son of the late Lord of the Ringsauthor J.R.R. Tolkien, from building a museum in New Zealand that would display the thousands of costumes, props, and sets used in the movie trilogy. Jackson told The Australian newspaper that New Line studios, which produced the film, "don't have the legal authority to allow [the museum] to happen. That's kept by the Tolkien estate, and so the Tolkien estate so far have refused." Christopher Tolkien has made seemingly contradictory comments about the Rings films in the past, issuing a statement two years ago saying that his father's work "is peculiarly unsuitable to transformation into visual dramatic form," but adding: "The suggestions that have been made that I 'disapprove' of the films, even to the extent of thinking ill of those with whom I may differ, are wholly without foundation."