OSCARS ROCKED IN RATINGSAs expected, the the 77th Annual Academy Awards telecast took a big hit in the ratings Sunday night, falling more than 21 percent below last year's numbers. The ABC telecast registered a 23.3 rating and a 34 share in primetime versus a 29.6/40 a year ago. (It peaked in the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 24.7/35) Last year's telecast saw a 17-percent rise in the ratings, largely attributed to the return of Billy Crystal as host. But even the previous year's telecast produced significantly higher ratings -- a 25.2/37. Sunday's telecast recorded an 11.7 rating among adults 18-49. The figures were in line with most industry analysts' expectations. Earlier in the evening, a Barbara Walters interview special captured a 10.8/17 opposite CBS's 60 Minutes,which managed to come up with only a 6.1/10.


Most critics described Sunday night's Oscars telecast as bland and safe and gave host Chris Rock average marks for hosting. Several of the more generous ones noted merely that his opening monologue ran too long and that by the time it was over, he was generating more polite applause than laughter. Frazier Moore of the Associated Press even praised Rock for giving the awards show "a needed pick-me-up." But Tom Shales remarked in the Washington Post: "Though a brilliant and caustic stand-up comedian, Rock's stint as an Oscar host was strangely lame and mean-spirited." David Bianculli of the New York Daily Newsobserved: "Rock was neither edgy nor funny enough, and some of his remarks were considered mean enough to prompt a rebuttal -- by no less than Sean Penn" (who came to the defense of Jude Law, who had repeatedly served as a target of Rock's routine).


Robin Williams ripped a piece of tape from his mouth when he appeared as a presenter at Sunday night's Oscar ceremonies. On Saturday, the New York Timesreported that ABC execs had forced Williams to drop a comic song that he had prepared to deliver, lampooning James C. Dobson's Focus on the Family group which had charged that the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is gay. According to the original plan, Williams was to deliver it as if he were a preacher, with the orchestra playing a gospel beat. Williams told the Times: "For a while you get mad, then you get over it. ... They're afraid of saying Olive Oyl is anorexic. It tells you about the state of humor. It's strange to think: how afraid are you?" Williams spoke a few of the lines on stage nevertheless. ("What about Donald Duck? Little sailor top, no pants. Hello?")


Two of the three top CBS News executives who had been asked to resign last month in the wake of the CBS "memogate" scandal -- but who had refused -- have finally quit. One of them, Mary Murphy, a senior broadcast producer of the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, which carried the report, issued a statement through her attorney saying that she had "reached an amicable resolution" with the network. Saturday's New York Timesreported that Betsy West, a senior vice president of the news division, had also resigned but had issued no statement. A third executive, Josh Howard, the executive producer of the program, continues to refuse to leave. Meanwhile, in an article with New Yorkermedia writer Ken Auletta, CBS Evening Newsanchor Dan Rather, who fronted the now discredited report, defended the colleagues who were responsible for the report. "I worked with all these people for a long while, and neither in my mind nor my heart am I not going to give them up," he said. He also criticized his fellow members of the news media for not playing up the fact that the panel that investigated the report had concluded that they could not prove political bias and had been unable to prove conclusively that they were fake.


Neither CBS News nor ABC News has reported "one word" about a White House correspondent, James Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon) who apparently had been inserted as a shill into the White House news corps in order to pose friendly questions to President Bush at news conferences, the online Salonmagazine observed today (Monday). The man was later exposed as a male prostitute who maintains a website in which he appears naked. Former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart is quoted in Salon as saying, "It's difficult to explain. ... What more do we need for this story to be reported on seriously?" Indeed, Salonitself observes, "Ordinarily, revelations that a former male prostitute, using an alias ... and working for a phony news organization, was ushered into the White House -- without undergoing a full-blown security background check -- in order to pose softball questions to administration officials would qualify as news by any recent Beltway standard." However, David Thibault, managing editor of CNSNews, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, recently compared Guckert's inexperience with that of entertainers who are hired to host talk shows on TV and asked, "How many times did Bill Clinton get softball questions from the adoring White House press corps, 90 percent of whom admitted to voting for him?" Finally, Thibault maintains that Guckert/Gannon's homosexuality disqualifies him from representing himself as a conservative. "Homosexuality, at its core, is about narcissism and self-loathing," he concludes.


The FCC has refused to brand as indecent a scene in the TV series Angel, which the Parents Television Council, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, described this way: "Spike is on top of Harmony, their clothes are on, but his body rocks back and forth and their breathing is heavy. She tries to speak, but he tells her not to spoil the moment. Her eyes start to bleed, and suddenly she turns into her vampire self and bites his neck." The FCC concluded that the scene failed to qualify as indecent since it was brief and neither graphic nor explicit. Meanwhile, the current issue of Rolling Stonepoints out that under a bill recently passed by the House that would raise the maximum fine on indecency to $500,000 per violation would put Bono's "f***ing brilliant" remark on an equal footing, so far as government fines are concerned, as "illegally testing pesticides on human subjects." Moreover, the magazine noted, "You could cause the wrongful death of an elderly patient in a nursing home and still have enough money left to create dangerous mishaps at two nuclear reactors." THEY WENT AHEAD AND MADE HIS DAYThe Oscars presentations came off as predictably as a fixed fight Sunday, with Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Babywinning for best film, best director (Eastwood), actress (Hilary Swank), and supporting actor (Morgan Freeman). Jamie Foxx won for best actor in Ray and Cate Blanchett won for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.The writing awards were captured by Sideways writers Alexander Payne and Jim Taylorfor best adapted screenplay, and by writer Charlie Kaufman for his original screenplay, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Incredibleswon for best animated feature, while Spain's The Sea Inside won for best foreign film.


Box office analysts and movie critics were no doubt commiserating with one another at the water cooler this morning over word that Diary of a Mad Black Woman was the top film over the weekend, earning $22.7 million. The Lions Gate film, which debuted to devastating reviews, was not even expected to place among the top three. "Every once in a while there is a film that comes out of nowhere and grabs the No. 1 spot and certainly Diary of a Mad Black Woman has done that," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told the Associated Press. The romantic comedy Hitch,starring Will Smith, which had been expected to repeat a third time as box-office champ, wound up in second place with about $21 million, to bring its total to $122 million and make it the first film of the year to pass the $100-million mark. The Keanu Reeves thriller Constantinefollowed in third place with $11.8 million, while the Wes Craven horror film Cursed,which some analysts thought had a chance to debut in the lead, only managed to come in fourth, with $9.6 million, slightly ahead of another new film, Man of the House, which opened with $9 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:1. Diary of a Mad Black Woman, $22.7 million; 2. Hitch, $21 million; 3. Constantine, $11.8 million; 4. Cursed, $9.6 million; 5. Man of the House, $9 million; 6. Million Dollar Baby, $7.2 million; 7. Because of Winn-Dixie, $6.8 million; 8. Are We There Yet?, $4 million; 9. The Aviator, $3.9 million; 10. Son of the Mask, $3.8 million.


Reviewers were finally able to get a look at the seemingly cursed movie Cursedover the weekend, having to buy tickets at the box office to see it, after the studio refused to provide press screenings. They reacted pretty much as expected, almost all of them remarking that the filmmakers -- director Wes Craven (the Screammovies, Nightmare on Elm Street) and Kevin Williamson (the Screammovies, I Know What You Did Last Summer) -- had failed to produce a sufficiently entertaining film despite three years of editing and reshooting. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postcommented, "They've both had better days." Peter Howell in the Toronto Starexpressed his disappointment in the film this way: "The only thing worse than a bad horror movie is a bad horror movie made by good people." A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times:"Mr. Craven, a master of the genre, could put together scary scenes in his sleep, which may be what he has done here. Many of the usual technical and narrative conventions are observed, but without imaginative vigor or self-conscious playfulness."


Despite questions about whether the National Hockey League will continue to exist after cancelling the entire 2004-05 season, Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli and his wife Susan have agreed to by the Mighty Ducks hockey team from the Walt Disney Co. presumably at a fire-sale price. Actual terms were not disclosed, but some reports said that the deal was worth about $75 million. Disney had paid an estimated $50 million expansion fee to launch the team in 1993 but is believed to have lost hundreds of millions of dollars since -- as much as $31 million last season alone, according to one report. It even reportedly lost $12 million in the 2002-03 season, the year it reached the Stanley Cup final.