NETS SHOW HITS CAN CO-EXIST
Demonstrating that the broadcast networks can attract an enormous audience if the programming is compelling enough, Phoebe's wedding on NBC's Friends, in a "super-sized" episode between 8:00 and 8:45 p.m. Thursday night, recorded a 19.0 rating and a 27 share, representing 25.26 million viewers. At the same time, CBS Survivor: All-Stars managed to attract a 13.6/19 or 21.69 million viewers. In another programming ploy, NBC followed Friends with a 75-minute episode of The Apprentice that began at 8:45 p.m. The Donald Trump reality show averaged a 13.6/19, coming in second to CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which earned the highest ratings for the night with a 20.0/28. NBC returned to first place at 10:00 with its perennial hit E.R, which averaged a 16.2/27. Close behind was CBS's Without a Trace, with a 14.2/21. The two networks wound up in a virtual dead heat, with NBC scoring a 15.9/23 and CBS, a 15.8/23. ABC followed in third place with a 5.8/8. Fox trailed with a 4.0/6.
TWO-PART DIANA DOCUMENTARY TO AIR ON NBC
In yet another departure from its Must-See-TV Thursday-night formula, NBC is planning to air a two-part documentary about Princess Diana on two successive Thursdays, March 4 and 11, during the 10:00 p.m. hour -- the hour usually reserved for the its hit drama E.R. The network recently raised eyebrows when it inserted the Donald Trump reality series The Apprentice into the usual Thursday-night comedy bloc. According to the network, the documentary, titled Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes, will feature audio recordings that Diana taped inside Kensington Palace, in which she tells a "story beginning with her life before becoming a Princess, through her battle with bulimia and her suicide attempts, to intimate details of Prince Charles's longtime affair with Camilla Parker Bowles." Never-before-broadcast video footage will also be included, the network said. The documentary is scheduled to air opposite ABC's newsmagazine Primetime as well as CBS's Without a Trace.
BIG BIRD GOES TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Marking what the British website Digital Spy <http://www.digitalspy.co.uk> described as "possibly the most bizarre cross-over between two series yet seen on television," several Sesame Street characters are scheduled to appear on the March 3rd episode of The West Wing. The characters reportedly include Big Bird and Elmo, who make their appearances when First Lady Abigail Bartlet, played by Stockard Channing, is invited to appear in a Sesame Street public service announcement in which she tells how she can be both a First Lady and a doctor. (She ends up giving Elmo a check-up.)
HOUSE COMMITTEE VOTES TO INCREASE FINES TEN-FOLD
The House Commerce Committee's telecommunications subcommittee on Thursday voted to increase the fines that the FCC could level against broadcasters for broadcasting indecent material. The new fines would represent a tenfold increase from the current $27,000 to $270,000. The bill, by Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan who chairs the subcommittee, received bipartisan backing and is expected to receive swift passage by the Congress and an equally swift signature from President Bush. The bill gathered impetus following the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident on Super Bowl Sunday. Meanwhile, Georgia Senator Zell Miller declared Thursday that he particularly objected to the halftime performance by Kid Rock in which he wore an American flag poncho. The Associated Press quoted Miller as saying, "This is the same flag we pledge allegiance to, the same flag that is draped over the coffins of dead, young, uniformed warriors killed while protecting Kid Rock's bony butt."
ANOTHER SCANDAL INVOLVING A REALITY SHOW CONTESTANT
The Smoking Gun website on Thursday posted a mug shot of Shandi Sullivan, a finalist on UPN's America's Next Top Model, after she was arrested in May 2001 on charges of burglarizing a candy store in Kansas City. The website said that Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to two years probation. The Smoking Gun also displayed a Kansas City Police Department report showing that Sullivan had stolen $650 in cash from the store, a fax machine, and a small safe.
BBC NEWS REPORT TRANSMITTED BY WIRELESS INTERNET
In what is believed to be a television first, a BBC news team in Bristol has aired a live television report using a wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet connection. The BBC said that the team employed a camcorder, laptop and Quicklink compression software to transmit the report. Andrew Butterworth, senior operator for the BBC's mobile technologies project, said that he expected such transmissions to catch on, particularly since Wi-Fi connections are so readily available at coffee shops and pubs, where journalists already enjoy working from.
MOVIE REVIEWS: 50 FIRST DATES
It's a foregone conclusion that the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy 50 First Dates will become this weekend's big hit at the box office -- with some forecasters expecting a gross of as high as $45 million. What is unexpected is the critical enthusiasm being showered on the movie -- particularly for Sandler, who has rarely been a favorite of movie reviewers. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes that with this movie, Sandler "reveals the warm side of his personality, and leaves behind the hostility, anger and gross-out humor." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe also appears charmed by the new Sandler on display here, calling him "appealingly lumpy, confident instead of cocky, and if not exactly mature, at least aware maturity has its benefits." And Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News pays him this left-handed compliment: "Sandler is not an easily acquired taste for anyone acquainted with the classy screwball comedies of yore, but he manages to get under the skin." On the other hand, Glenn Whipp writes in the Los Angeles Daily News: "This is Sappy Sandler all the way, which, if you've been following his career, is vastly inferior to Angry Sandler, the screaming lunatic who made the first Barrymore-Sandler collaboration, The Wedding Singer, tolerably good fun." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post is also unimpressed with Sandler's new guise, writing: "50 First Dates is in Sandler's hands, meaning that it bears the worst of his signature slapstick tropes." As for the movie itself, A..O. Scott in the New York Times calls it "a surprisingly graceful and, in the end, impressively daring romantic comedy." On the other hand, Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times provides his usual counterbalance to most of the film's notices. "It's only February," he writes, "but the abysmal 50 First Dates will be hard to beat as the worst movie of the year."
GIBSON SHUNNING AREAS WHERE PASSION MIGHT RUN HIGH
Although Mel Gibson's Icon Productions has boasted that his controversial The Passion of the Christ will open on 2000 screens on Feb. 25 -- a huge number for an independently distributed film -- most of those screens will be located in the Bible Belt and in black and poor areas of major cities -- and will not include areas that are considered "Jewish, upscale, or liberal," FoxNews.com's Roger Friedman observed today (Friday). After examining the list of theaters posted on the movie's website and on moviefone.com, Friedman noted that in Manhattan, for example, the film will play in one theater in Times Square, but none from 42nd Street to 96th Street on the West Side and only in two on "fringe areas" of the East Side. It will be shown in only two theaters in Chicago. In the Los Angeles area, it will not be screened in Beverly Hills, Century City, or the Beverly Center (but will be screened in all the Magic Johnson theaters).
NOTRE DAME ALLOWS FIRST GAY FESIVAL
The University of Notre Dame, which, while rarely described these days as a Catholic university, nevertheless retains close ties to the Catholic Church, has permitted the presentation of the first ND Queer Film Festival this week. "You have to understand what a breakthrough this is," fifth-year student Richard Friedman told the Chicago Tribune. "The university's administration had even barred gay groups from advertising in the student newspaper." The film festival was organized by GALA-DN/SMC, composed of gay and lesbian alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary's College. Among the featured speakers was writer-director Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Bounce), who was graduated Phi Beta Kappa at Notre Dame, but who told the Tribune that he had not returned until now "because in my years it was such a repressive place."
INVESTORS BID UP DISNEY SHARES
Apparently persuaded that Comcast will substantially increase its bid for Disney beyond the $51 billion that it had originally offered, investors on Thursday continued to grab up Disney shares. They have risen almost $4.00 since Wednesday, closing Thursday at $28, their highest price in nearly three years. Some analysts also observed that the Comcast bid awakened investors to the realization that Disney shares may be undervalued. On Thursday, Disney chief Michael Eisner said that the company's board of directors will carefully review the Comcast bid at its current meeting in Orlando, FL. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he asserted: "I'm not in the slightest bit beleaguered or battered. ... [That's] ridiculous."
IN THREE YEARS, THERE'LL ONLY BE THE BIG THREE, SAYS MURDOCH
Rupert Murdoch has predicted that in three years, only three large media companies will exist -- his own News Corp, Time Warner, and Comcast. He also mentioned that several "very good and well run" smaller companies will be able to survive, including Echostar and Cox Communications. He conspicuously omitted any mention of Disney, Viacom, Sony or NBC Universal.
FEDS LOCATE PIRATE SOURCE IN L.A.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles has charged three employees of the post-production company Lightning Media of illegally copying movies that the company had received and posting them on the Internet. After the FBI traced the copies to the company, the three men were reportedly fired. They are charged with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum one-year jail penalty. (They reportedly cannot be charged with a felony, because there is no evidence that they profited from the alleged pirate scheme.)
LONDON FILM CRITICS SNUB RINGS
In a departure from the near unanimous decisions of other major film critics groups, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has been shut out in the annual voting of the London Film Critics' Circle. The group of 100 critics who write for newspapers and magazines throughout the United Kingdom selected Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as the year's best film. The award for directing went to Clint Eastwood for Mystic River. Sean Penn received the best actor award for the same film; Julianne Moore, the best actress vote for Far From Heaven. The screenwriting award was won by John Collee and Peter Weir for Master and Commander. The German film Goodbye Lenin took the best foreign language film award.