HOUSE HOLDS NIPPLEGATE INQUIRY Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue were grilled by members of the House Commerce Committee's telecommunications panel Wednesday over the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident on Super Bowl Sunday. Each pointed fingers at the halftime show's producer, MTV. Tagliabue said that messages he sent to the show's producers were ignored. Nevertheless, he conceded, "While we made our view on halftime entertainment clear, we certainly did not maintain or assert control ... We gave the keys to the car to someone without ensuring that they knew how to drive a car safely, and it crashed." He emphasized that he was upset about the entire halftime show, not just the Jackson incident. Karmazin, whose company owns both MTV and CBS (which aired the show), while asserting that the incident "happened under our operation, and we take responsibility for it," nevertheless maintained that nobody in any of the Viacom divisions had advance knowledge of what was to occur. He blamed the entire episode on the performers, saying, "If Janet committed a crime, Justin [Timberlake] was the getaway driver."


NBC is hoping to pull in $1 billion in advertising for this year's Athens Olympics and has already reached 80 percent of that goal, the Wall Street Journalreported today (Tuesday). The figure, it noted, would exceed the $900 million recorded for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The newspaper observed that the network is not selling individual spots but is instead offering packages that include NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo. However, some ad buyers have observed that the Games this year will be played in August, generally a weak month for television viewing.


Fox's American Idol lost little of its glitter Wednesday night as it remained the most-watched primetime show with a 14.9 rating and a 21 share, according to Nielsen overnights. Leading into the show, Fox's That '70s Show finished in first place in its time period with an 8.0/12. Still, it was not enough to overcome NBC's slate, which included The West Wing(10.4/15) and Law and Order (14.3/22). NBC won the night with a 10.3/15, followed by Fox with a 9.7/14. CBS was in third place with a 7.6/11, while ABC trailed with a 6.8/10.


Laci Peterson's mother and stepfather have expressed outrage over USA Network's decision to air a ripped-from-the-headlines movie about Scott Peterson, the man accused of killing their daughter. In an interview with the Modesto Bee,Laci's stepfather, Ron Grantski complained, "It's all about Scott. It's not written from the victim's perspective." Scott's parents, too, blasted the film. "It's just bull, no basis in fact," Lee Peterson told the Bee. "It's just someone making a pile of money off a news story." The film, which airs Friday at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m., and Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on the USA Network, has the seemingly contradictory title of The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story. It stars former Superman Dean Cain in the role of Scott. In a review of the film, Marijke Rowland writes in today's (Thursday) Bee: "In its rush to beat the pack, USA has done the seemingly impossible. It has made a movie that has no ending -- and the ethics of this are dubious at best."


In yet another effort to distinguish itself from other Internet providers, AOL is now making available highlights from top television shows that viewers can watch the following day. Using Keyword "tv top 5," viewers can now watch the winning field goal at the Super Bowl, Prince and Beyoncé at the Grammy's, and Rudy's departure from Survivor. Newsdayreported today that the most popular download to date was an excerpt from Britney Spears' recent interview on ABC's Primetime. ALL EYES ON EISNER Wall Street analysts were divided Wednesday on whether Comcast would be able to pull off a hostile takeover of Disney, but they generally agreed that the maneuver will test the mettle of Disney chief Michael Eisner as never before. "This is the toughest battle he'll face in his career," Timothy Wallace of UBS Securities told the Los Angeles Times.There is a fatigue factor associated with Eisner," Steven Cohen of Kellner DiLeo Cohen told the Financial Times. "Comcast's strategy clearly is to separate the board from him." Financial journalists reacted similarly. "Comcast's hostile offer for Disney isn't about convergence," wrote Eric Reguly in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "it's about Michael Eisner." The AP's Seth Sutel put it this way: "It's not just Comcast v. Disney. It's also Roberts v. Eisner." At the same time, Institutional Shareholder Services recommended that Disney shareholders withhold their vote for Eisner's reelection to the board. "At the end of the day, all roads lead back to Eisner," the ISS report said. Several publications particularly observed that should Comcast CEO Brian Roberts succeed in taking over Disney, Comcast President Stephen Burke would likely be named the new Disney chief. Burke, before being hired by Roberts in 1998, had held numerous top-level posts at Disney, including president of ABC in 1996. Recently he has been praised for successfully integrating AT&T's cable division, which Comcast acquired in 2002, into the company's overall operations. Speaking during a conference call with analysts on Wednesday, Burke seemed to take a direct swipe at Michael Eisner's famed "hands on" approach to running the company, when he remarked that Disney's underperforming divisions could probably benefit from a more "decentralized" environment. Burke was particularly critical of Eisner's management of the animation division, noting that at one time "it was the dream of every great animator to grow up some day and work for the Walt Disney Co." He promised to revive negotiations with Pixar's Steve Jobs once Eisner was gone.


In what appeared to be its first move at defending itself from Comcast's hostile takeover bid, Disney stepped up the release of its first-quarter results Wednesday. Showing better-than-expected earnings in most of its divisions, the report showed net income of $688 million versus $107 million for the year-ago quarter. It attributed the strong performance in particular to record DVD sales of Finding Nemoand Pirates of the Caribbean. The company suggested that the strong numbers were the result of recent management decisions paying off. Credit Suisse First Boston analyst William Drewry told the Boston Globe: "Disney is in a turnaround mode at several key businesses, and there is a potentially strong cyclical tailwind driving this."


Jude Law, who is nominated for a best actor Oscar for his performance in Cold Mountain said Wednesday that the award should rightfully go to Sean Penn, who has been nominated for his role in Mystic River. Law told a news conference at the Berlin International Film Festival, "I've always loved Sean Penn's work. ... He's someone I've respected and looked up to and admired for years and years and years, and I think it should be his year." His remarks will no doubt rankle Miramax Chairman Harvey Weinstein, an inveterate Oscar campaigner, whose studio produced Cold Mountain. While the film has been nominated in seven categories, it was not nominated for best film, one of the few times a Miramax film has not managed to be included among the top nominees.


The president of the Catholic League, the largest organization of lay Catholics in the country, has derided comments by the head of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christcould revive the kind of anti-Semitism that has fallen on the heels of Passion Plays produced in the past. In a statement, William Donohue said, "Aside from one Catholic convert in Nazi Germany who was attacked, we have to go back to the Middle Ages to find examples. And in the U.S., there is no record of violence against Jews following any Passion Play." CORRECTION:In Wednesday's edition, we incorrectly identified the Merrill Lynch analyst who commented on the Comcast bid. She is Jessica Reif Cohen.