JOEY OUT ON THURSDAYS; EARL INIn what appeared to be a less-than-friendly act, NBC is yanking Friendsspin-off Joeyfrom its Thursday-night lineup as part of a major revamp aimed at reviving the network's once invincible Must-See-TV comedy array. The network said Thursday that beginning Jan. 5, Joeywill be replaced by Will & Grace. Four Kings, a new sitcom from Will & Gracecreators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, will follow at 8:30 p.m. The network will move My Name Is Earl, its only successful new entry of the season, into the key 9:00 p.m. timeslot, followed by The Officeat 9:30 p.m. The network's long-running E.R.will remain in the 10:00 p.m. period. "Thursday night is what NBC is about," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told today's (Friday) New York Times. "This is just about going back to a comedy block." The new moves also bump Donald Trump's The Apprenticeoff the schedule, although Reilly told the Timesthat he expects it to return in the spring -- but probably not on Thursday nights. He also said that NBC will bring back the comedy Scrubs on Jan. 3 at 9:00 p.m.,scheduling two original episodes back-to-back each week.


Nielsen Research acknowledged Thursday that the race for the coveted 18-49-year-old audience during the November sweeps ended in a dead heat between CBS and ABC, suggesting that any small difference in its actual numbers was statistically insignificant. Nielsen said each network ended the month with an identical 4.4 rating in the demo. However, CBS retained a wide lead in overall households. Nevertheless, analysts agreed that ABC's comeback was stunning as it trounced the competition with such shows as the new Commander in Chief as well as last season's winners Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Grey's Anatomy, and the always dependable Monday Night Football. ABC hadn't finished first in the 18-49 demo in a sweeps period since May 2000, when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was dominating the TV schedule.


With the November sweeps ended, CBS on Thursday kicked back with a slate of reruns, which nevertheless won (or tied) in every half hour in primetime. Once again, CSI: Crime Scene Investigationtook top honors as the most-watched show of the night, posting a 14.4 rating and a 22 share at 9:00 p.m.. Earlier, a rerun of Survivor: Guatemala registered an 11.5/18. Both shows faced competition from the ABC movie Have No Fear: The Life of John Paul II, which averaged a 4.9/8 in the 8:00 p.m. hour and a 4.4/7 in the 9:00 p.m. hour. At 10:00 p.m. CBS' Without a Traceand NBC's E.R. tied with a 10.2/17.


In an unusual corporate action in advance of Viacom's split into two entities -- one company to retain the name Viacom; the other to be called CBS Corp. -- Viacom spokesman Carl Folta was named to the newly created post of executive vice president of the office of chairman -- at both companies. In that post, he will be reporting directly to Chairman Sumner Redstone, not to Viacom chief Tom Freston or CBS chief Les Moonves. An SEC filing said that Folta will be responsible for "strategic positioning and outreach to all internal and external audiences, including the media, the investment community and U.S. and international government officials."


Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman ended their much talked-about "feud" Thursday as Winfrey guested on Letterman's late-night program and remarked, "I have never for a moment had a feud with you." (In 2003, Winfrey said in a Timemagazine interview that she had declined invitations to appear on Letterman's show after being the target of his jokes.) "I'm just very happy you're here," Letterman remarked at one point -- to which Winfrey responded, "Really? I've been hearing for the past week you talking about it, and I didn't know if you were really serious or you were just doing your 'Dave thing.'" A moment later, however, Letterman began describing some of Winfrey's social contributions, concluding: "You have meant something to the lives of people. We're just a TV show." He finished the interview by escorting Winfrey across the street to the premiere of the musical stage version of The Color Purple, which she produced.


Continuing to shore up its planned London operations, al-Jazeera said today (Friday) that it had signed Stephen Cole, formerly senior anchor with BBC World, as its primary anchor in London when the 24-hour English-language version of the Arab cable news network launches next year. Previously it had signed famed interviewer David Frost to host a London-based talk show. A precise launch date for the news network has not yet been announced, but al-Jazeera executives have indicated that they intend to kick off in the spring.POTTER-MANIA TO CONTINUECritics are regarding Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a sure bet to retain its No. 1 position at the box office for the third consecutive time this weekend, as only one film, Paramount's Aeon Flux, opens wide. The studio canceled advance screenings for the sci-fi movie -- always a bad sign. (Website reviewers who previewed it at sneak screenings hated it. Brian Orndorf of wrote that it is "the type of lazy sci-fi blockbuster filmmaking that normally only rears its head on basic cable. While fun to watch Charlize Theron prance around in spandex, the film is a chore to sit through. And if you're not already a fan of the [MTV] series, the film will be a complete snooze.") Universal's Walk the Line, which continues to show surprising strength, was expected to remain the No. 2 film.


The Directors Guild of America has chosen Clint Eastwood to receive its lifetime achievement award at the 58th annual DGA Awards on Jan. 28. Calling Eastwood "the consummate filmmaker," DGA President Michael Apted said in a statement, "As one of the most prolific, versatile directors in the history of the medium, there isn't a genre that Clint Eastwood hasn't mastered in the more than 25 films he has directed over the past 35 years. ... His ongoing body of work continues to touch generations of moviegoers and bring huge audiences into movie theaters. He does it all with great class, intelligence, and style."


Although Blockbuster and other video rental outfits have been wringing their hands over slow rentals, sales appear to be another matter. Home Media Research estimated Thursday that total video sales in October amounted to $1.14 billion, up 9.3 percent from October 2004. DVD sales accounted for 98 percent of the total and were up 14.1 percent from the year-ago period. Nielsen VideoScan observed, however, that actual unit sales were virtually flat, but that consumers were buying more new releases, which command higher prices than older titles. Nevertheless, with sales of 4.5 million units, the top money-maker of the month was Disney's "platinum" re-release of the 1950 animated feature Cinderella, which included newly discovered deleted scenes and "reconstructed" deleted songs. TV DVDs accounted for 19.4 percent of total sales, with the No. 1 seller, South Park: The Complete Sixth Season, according to Home Media Research.


In interviews to promote Brokeback Mountain, which premiered earlier this week in San Francisco, Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Wedding Banquet; Sense and Sensibility)has said that making the $120-million blockbuster Hulk in 2003 nearly ended his career. "After Hulk, I was wrecked!," he told the San Francisco Bay Times. "I really thought I was done making films for a while." Nevertheless, he said, he had wanted to make Brokeback Mountainfrom the time he saw the script, before making Hulk. "I knew I would be so jealous if someone else did it," he remarked. Asked how he thought playing gay cowboys might affect the careers of the film's two stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Lee responded: "They're actors. ... Of course they want juicy parts. I'm not their manager. I don't care if this movie dooms the rest of their careers. ... All I cared about was that they performed for me." Besides, he noted, "I was directing a gay Western set in the Mountains of Wyoming, and there is nothing farther from my personal experience. ... If I can do it and make it convincing, so can they." In a separate interview with the San Francisco Chronicle,Lee added: "Some people maybe feel a gay director is the right person to do this movie. But I don't think whether a filmmaker is gay or if the actors are gay matters. They have to be sensitive."


Sony on Thursday launched Portable TV in Japan, a service allowing users of its PlayStation Portable (PSP) devices to download current episodes of TV shows, music videos, and movie trailers from Sony's website. The service was regarded as Sony's response to Apple's iTunes store, which recently added ABC and Disney Channel TV shows and music videos to its offerings. In Sony's case, however, the videos can be viewed for only one to two weeks, after which they self-destruct. Sony did not indicate whether it plans to introduce a similar service in the U.S. Meanwhile, El Gato Systems, which makes the EyeTV unit, a digital TV recording device that works with Macintosh computers, released an upgrade to its software Thursday that permits users to download any recorded TV show to the new iPod video player at no cost.


Card Walker, who rose from mailroom employee in 1938 to CEO in 1971 during nearly a half century with the Walt Disney Co., died Monday of congestive heart failure at age 89, Disney announced Thursday. He led the company until 1983, a period that saw the development of the Epcot Center and the creation of the Disney Channel. In a statement, Disney chief Robert Iger said, "Card was instrumental in keeping Disney strong and growing in the critical years that followed the passing of founders Walt and Roy Disney." Critics faulted Walker for failing to adapt to the changing Hollywood scene, insisting on making frothy family films while other studios were turning out stunning blockbusters. But Disney watcher Jim Hill said on his website Thursday: "Walker liked being out of step with what was going on in the entertainment industry. More importantly, he felt that the Disney way of doing things was actually something that was worth preserving. Which is why Card actively made an effort to imitate the way Walt had run the corporation."