JANET WON'T PLAY LENA Only days after the release of a Vanity Fairissue in which she appears in a two-page spread dressed like legendary singer Lena Horne, Janet Jackson has reportedly withdrawn from the planned ABC biopic Lena. (The Vanity Fairarticle shows Jackson posing on a 1940s-style bandstand, while a caption -- obviously written before the Super Bowl incident -- reads in part, "She has said that people think of her as 'the normal one.'") Jackson's decision to quit the project followed on the heels of a report in Peoplemagazine that Horne was so offended by Jackson's breast-baring antic on the Super Bowl halftime show that she demanded that Jackson be fired. According to Variety, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have also quit the project "in solidarity with Jackson."


CBS says it wants to know more about product placements appearing in its shows and to that end has signed a deal with iTVX, a New Rochelle, NY-based company started by veteran product-placement marketer Frank Zazza, according to MediaPost's online edition. CBS said that it doesn't offer product-placement deals for its primetime comedy and dramas but does offer them for reality series and for daytime soaps. Zazza told the trade publication that networks often don't control product placements; the production companies working with marketing firms, do, he said.


Mark Cuban, the Internet entrepreneur who took the profits he made selling his company to Yahoo! and bought the Dallas Mavericks, has agreed to give away $1 million during an upcoming ABC series called The Benefactor. In a format similar to Donald Trump's The Apprentice, Cuban will reportedly listen to contestants compete to convince him why they deserve the loot. In a statement announcing the show, ABC quoted Cuban as saying: ""The right person is going to get on my good side at the right time, and whoever that is, is going to walk away with a check from me for $1 million. ... I can promise you it will be a journey, with some of the rules made up along the way." ABC said that Cuban will not be paid for his appearance on the show.


NBC, which hadn't aired professional boxing for 11 years before returning to the ring last year with a three week trial, announced Monday that it will expand its run to five telecasts on Saturday afternoons this year beginning April 17. Once a primetime mainstay, ratings for boxing plummeted in the 1960s. The sport has been relegated almost exclusively to cable outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports, or in the case of major fight cards, HBO, Showtime, or pay-per-view. USA Todayquoted NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer as saying, "We had a great sell last year with ratings, which we'd like to see improve, but it was a great beginning with great fights."


Two-thirds of Americans believe that executions should be televised; 21 percent say they would pay to watch Osama bin Laden be executed on pay-per-view TV; and 11 percent say they would pay to watch Saddam Hussein be executed. The results were included in a Harris poll prepared for the Trio cable network.


Billy Crystal has given the Chicago Sun-Timesa look at the processes involved in preparing to host the Oscars. "We write thousands of jokes. It's almost like creating a football playbook with options: If this one wins, I can say this; if this one wins ... and we bank it all," Crystal said. "Then, hopefully, you don't need any of them. The best nights are when you're free and it comes to you right then and there." He said that while watching a Whoopi Goldberg-hosted Oscar show at home in 1993 he noticed the opportunity for a joke that sailed past the producers. "I sat there and went, 'Oh, no! This can't be possible! How do I reach [Whoopi] backstage?'" CORRECTION:The Billy Crystal Crystal book I Already Know I Love You, which we referred to on Monday, is in fact a book of illustrations for a short poem that Crystal wrote about becoming a grandfather for the first time. Crystal reads the entire poem and delivers a special message on the Amazon.com website <www.amazon.com/childrens>. A Windows operating system or a Mac running System OS X is required, along with a RealOne player.RETURN OF THE KING RINGS UP $1 BILLIONThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has become the second film in history to earn more than $1 billion worldwide, reaching that level during its tenth week of release, one week faster than Titanic(which went on to earn $1.8 billion). According to its distributor, New Line Cinema, the film's total stood at $1,005,380,412 through Sunday. The results were announced even as the domestic box office experienced a deep swoon, falling 21 percent behind results for the comparable week a year ago. Although four new films made their debuts, not one earned so much as $10 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. 50 First Dates, Sony, $20,427,325, 2 Wks. ($71,738,493); 2. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Disney, $9,350,572, (New); 3.Miracle, Disney, $7,803,352, 3 Wks. ($50,352,253); 4. Welcome to Mooseport, 20th Century Fox, $6,775,132, (New); 5. Eurotrip, DreamWorks, $6,711,384, (New); 6. Barbershop 2: Back in Business, MGM, $6,287,008, 3 Wks. ($53,223,440); 7. Mystic River, Warner Bros., $3,094,569, 20 Wks. ($79,206,839); 8. Against the Ropes, Paramount, $3,038,546, (New); 9. The Butterfly Effect, New Line, $2,975,882, 5 Wks. ($53,208,211); 10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New Line, $2,850,455, 10 Wks. ($361,118,934).


Although reports at the time indicated that Wall Street analysts were stunned by Comcast's bid to buy the Walt Disney Co., Chairman Michael Eisner said during a conference call with investors on Monday that he had been tipped off that the bid would be made, had consulted the company's board about it, then had three outside advisors help him craft a response. Eisner said that when the call came from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, he accessed the response on his computer and read it to Roberts "word for word." Eisner's comments appeared to tick off Comcast execs, who issued a statement saying, "We find it extremely troubling that Disney's board would have made up its mind to say no to our proposal before they even heard it," Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said. "How could that possibly be in the best interest of Disney shareholders?" One source told the New York Post: "This is like the worst kind of management entrenchment and board entrenchment."


DreamWorks cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg has apologized for an ad boosting Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo for a best supporting actress Oscar while taking a swipe at Renée Zellweger. "The ad was a mistake. It shouldn't have happened," Katzenberg told the Los Angeles Times. "In a year in which everyone has pledged to take a higher road, we made a very bad and ill-advised mistake." The ad contained comments from movie critics that predicted that Zellweger, nominated for her role in Cold Mountain, would probably beat out Aghdashloo, who appears in House of Sand and Fog, but that Aghdashloo deserves to win. "It's certainly a new and unwelcome step downward in campaigning," the academy's executive director, Bruce Davis, told the Times. Davis and other members of the academy are reportedly considering what penalties they should mete out to DreamWorks as a result of the incident.


Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival, who were severely criticized last year for their choices of films and a lackluster presentation, are reportedly preparing to streamline this year's affair, culminating in the announcement of the top awards on Saturday -- a day earlier than usual -- and a presentation of the winning film the following day at which the film's cast and crew, along with the entire Cannes jury, headed by Quentin Tarantino, will be introduced, published reports said today (Tuesday). According to the online edition of Britain's Empiremagazine, the festival will culminate with a glittery party at which "a shed-load of fireworks" will be set off. Meanwhile, it was announced Monday that Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Educationhas been selected as the opening film of the festival on May 12. In a statement released by the organizers, Almodóvar remarked, "Opening the Cannes festival marks the peak of the honeymoon that I've been living with the French public for years."


Although film critics had been expected to crucify Mel Gibson when his The Passion of the Christwas released, the reviewers have turned out to be about equally divided over its merits. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, for example, anoints it with four stars, although commenting, "This is the most violent film I have ever seen." (Earlier in the week, Richard Roeper, Ebert's colleague on his syndicated TV show, commented "This is the most powerful, important and by far the most graphic interpretation of Christ's final hours ever put on film.") Ebert adds: "The film is unsuitable for younger viewers, but works powerfully for those who can endure it." Clearly, some critics have not been able to endure it. Writes Gene Seymour in Newsday: "This movie is little else besides a depiction of punishment so ruthless and unyielding that watching it unfold feels like punishment. (And what, one wonders, did we do to deserve such punishment?)" Indeed, some critics who find much to praise about the movie, wind up concluding that the unrelenting violence in it makes it virtually unwatchable. In the words of Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: "Passionis the closest we've come to a must-see movie this year, but the real question is: How many audience members will have the stomach to actually satisfy their curiosity?" There is also the criticism voiced by early viewers of the movie. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily Newswrites in a review published on the newspaper's front page: "Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II. It is sickening, much more brutal than any Lethal Weapon." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Timesis not among the film's boosters either, and he remarks that the polarized reaction to it has left him in "the grip of a profound despair." He writes: "What is profoundly disheartening is that people of goodwill will see this film in completely different ways. Where I see almost sadistic violence, they will see transcendence; where I see blame, they will see truth." Still others point out that the film represents Gibson's vision. Richard Corliss, in Timemagazine, while critical of much of that vision, nevertheless writes: "In dramatizing the torment of Jesus' last 12 hours, [Gibson] has made a serious, handsome, excruciating film that radiates total commitment. Few mainstream directors have poured so much of themselves into so uncompromising a production. Whatever the ultimate verdict on Gibson's Passion, it's hard not to admire Gibson's passion." NOTE:A further clarification concerning our note Monday about readers who pointed out that Final Fantasy: Spirits Withinwas the first computer-animated film released by Sony, not, as claimed by the studio, the forthcoming Open Season.We have received notes from several Sony employees observing that Final Fantasywas produced by Square USA, a now-defunct Hawaiian-based company backed by Square, the Japanese video game manufacturer, and Sony Computer Entertainment. The movie was released by Sony Film Corp. Open Season, however, is being produced in-studio by Sony Feature Animation, an outgrowth of Sony Pictures Imageworks, the studio's effects unit that produced the computerized animation for Spiderman and Stuart Little, among others.