IN TIGHT RATINGS RACE, CBS WINS THURSDAY

CBS edged out NBC in the ratings again Thursday night as its Survivor: Pearl Islands, with a 12.8 rating and a 19 share beat a rerun of NBC's Friends, which drew an 11.6/17 at 8:00 p.m., and the new The Tracy Morgan Show, which managed only a 9.8/14 at 8:30 p.m. A rerun of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation took the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 15.5/22, well ahead of NBC'sWill & Grace (12.1/17) and Scrubs (9.9/14). At 10:00, however, NBC roared back with a 16.0/24 for E.R. (which made it the highest-rated show of the night). CBS's Without a Trace remained competitive, however, with a 10.2/15. In overall households, CBS averaged a 12.8/19 for the night, a hair's breadth above NBC's 12.6/18. ABC was well behind in third place with a 5.4/8.

SNL MAY BE YANKED IN THREE STATES ON SATURDAY

NBC is planning to provide copies of an older episode of Saturday Night Live to affiliates in three states (California, New Hampshire, Oklahoma) and Washington D.C. because the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is scheduled to appear on Saturday's show, is due to be listed on the primary ballot as a presidential candidate in those states, CNN reported today (Friday). The cable news network observed that, under current FCC rules, Sharpton's appearance could trigger demands for equal time from other Democratic candidates running for the nation's top office in those states.

TABLOID TV REPORTER DIMOND MAY LAND ABC JOB

Diane Dimond, the TV reporter who has been Michael Jackson's media nemesis, first on the syndicated feature Hard Copy, and lately on the Court TV channel, is expected to be signed as a contributor to ABC's Good Morning America, TV Guide reported in its online edition Wednesday. Quoting an unnamed ABC News insider, the magazine said that Dimond had previously been proposed for the position but was turned down because network execs felt that there was "too much of the tabloid taint" about her.

MARY TYLER MOORE, NEIL SIMON IN TIFF OVER PLAY

After reportedly receiving a note from playwright Neil Simon telling her to either learn her lines "or get out of my play," Mary Tyler Moore has quit Simon's new play, Rose's Dilemma, walking out moments before Wednesday's matinee, published reports said today (Friday). Simon, who in his autobiography complained about the inability of several television and films stars to learn their lines quickly, was reportedly upset that Moore was relying on a wireless headset in which her lines were being fed to her by an assistant. Mara Buxbaum, her publicist, said in a statement: "Mary has been working tirelessly for months but feels pushed out of this production. This is a very upsetting time for her." Simon had no comment. In 1980, Tony Curtis pulled out of his playI Ought to Be in Pictures, because, according to Simon, the actor was unable to cope with his frequent script alterations during the show's tryouts.

JUDGE NIXES SUIT BY DIANA'S LOVER AGAINST FOX NEWS

A New York state judge has thrown out a $1-million lawsuit by former Major James Hewitt, Princess Diana's onetime lover, who sought punitive damages from Fox News for firing him last January, one week after it hired him to report on the then-anticipated war with Iraq. Judge Louis York on Thursday said that Hewitt was unable to show that his firing had been "malicious or vindictive." He let stand Hewitt's claim for $80,000 in compensatory damages -- the amount he was to have been paid under his contract. Fox said that it dropped Hewitt because he had leaked information about his hiring to the press, in violation of a confidentiality agreement. Hewitt denied the claim.

BRITISH TV REPORTER BLASTS U.S. MILITARY'S "SPIN" ON IRAQ BATTLE

In the latest media criticism of U.S. military claims in Iraq, Julian Manyon, a correspondent for Britain's ITV, has said that he and other correspondents have seen little evidence to back the U.S. army's claim that it had killed 54 Iraqis (some reports put the figure at 46), some wearing uniforms of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen guard, after they had tried to ambush two armored convoys in Samarra last Sunday. Manyon said that he and other reporters were informed by a local hospital official that the death toll stood at eight, one of them a woman who had been waiting for a bus when the encounter occurred. The Los Angeles Times quoted residents of the area as saying that another person killed was an elderly Iranian pilgrim. Britain's Guardiannewspaper reported that Iraqi officials in Samarra were accusing U.S. troops "of spraying fire at random people on the city's streets and killing civilians." Fifty persons were said to have been injured. In Baghdad, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, when asked about the TV and newspaper reports that conflicted with the military's, responded: "I trust the reports of my soldiers."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE LAST SAMURAI

The intense battle between the critics over The Last Samurai may be no match for the staged battles in the movie itself, but they are something to behold nevertheless. On the one hand, there are the shouters like Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, assaulting the filmmakers with heavy verbal swords. "The Last Samurai, in which Tom Cruise teaches the 19th-century Japanese to respect their own warrior traditions, is a crock -- a pandering epic that's as phony as it is condescending," he writes. On the other hand, Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune writes that despite its faults, "the film stirs us anyway. ... It's miles ahead of most of the gadget-ridden adventure epics around now." Roger Ebert, Wilmington's Chicago neighbor at theSun-Times. also extols the film, writing: "Beautifully designed, intelligently written, acted with conviction, it's an uncommonly thoughtful epic." Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News agrees that it may be "predictable," but, he writes, it's "also poignant and powerful ... [and] succeeds on its own terms. It has the flourish and even the delicacy of those whose life it celebrates." Still, most critics are letting loose with a barrage of arrows aimed at the movie, particularly faulting it for -- like many other epic films of the past -- depicting a white American as a formidable presence in a backward non-white culture. Ty Burr in the Boston Globe calls it "the latest in that oddly neurotic genre in which an American hero validates himself by becoming an alien culture's great white hope." "Movies set in Japanese history should not be about handsome white people. It just feels wrong and, in the end, leaves in your mouth the taste of desecration," comments Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. And while some critics grandly applaud the battle scenes ("[The film] is most watchable during the majestic brutality of the battle sequences," says Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times), Michael Sragow writes in the Baltimore Sun: "In The Last Samurai, the body count is almost as high as the dead-brain-cell count."

JOBS TO BECOME NUMBER-TWO MAN AT DISNEY?

Steve Jobs, the chairman of both Apple Computers and Pixar Animation, may be offered a position in the Walt Disney Co. that would make him second-in-command to Michael Eisner, according to the New York Post, which said that at the least, Jobs might be offered a position on Disney's board. Some analysts, however, scoffed at the notion of the two men being able to work closely together, noting that a year ago, Eisner criticized Apple's "Rip.Mix.Burn" campaign for its iTunes product as an effort to promote piracy. Disney and Pixar are currently in renegotiations over a production/distribution deal, and Jobs has threatened to chuck Pixar's deal with Disney unless it can be substantially improved.

COURT RULING ON "SCREENERS" EXPECTED TODAY

A federal court in New York is expected to rule today (Friday) on whether independent filmmakers should be granted a temporary restraining order against the MPAA that would force it to lift its ban on sending "screeners" to voters in various industry awards competitions. The ruling will be issued days after reports began circulating that MGM, a member of the MPAA, had sent out DVD copies of its Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde to members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the Golden Globes group, in apparent violation of the screener rule. The MPAA had previously said that commercially available DVDs are not excepted under the ban. An MGM spokesperson said later that "any conflict with MPAA policy is inadvertent."

MOVIE REVIEWS: MONSIEUR IBRAHIM

Omar Sharif may have gained his enduring reputation in such blockbusters as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and Funny Girl,but he is getting some of his best reviews as an elderly Arab deli operator in Paris, who befriends a 13-year-old Jewish boy in the small French film Monsieur Ibrahim, which opens in New York and Los Angeles today. Comments A.O. Scott in the New York Times: "Mr. Sharif, grizzled and white-haired at 71, has lost none of the charisma that made him an international movie star in the 1960's." "At 71 Sharif has returned to the screen with one of his best performances in one of the richest parts of his 50-year career," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. Glen Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News says that Sharif was "never better, giving a profound sense of humanity to a simple man who possesses a lifetime of common sense." He adds: "This is a beautiful little gem of a movie."