DANCING BEATS SURVIVOR
"Out with the old; in with the new" turned out to be the rule Thursday night as ABC's Dancing with the Stars beat the premiere of CBS's Survivor: Panama -- Exile Island in the ratingsand CBS's Without a Trace beat a highly promoted episode of NBC's E.R. featuring James Woods. Dancing scored an 11.8 rating and an 18 share at 8:00 p.m., beating Survivor's 10.7/17. NBC's Will & Grace and Four Kings, were well behind, averaging a 4.8/7. As usual, CBS dominated the 9:00 p.m. hour with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which recorded a 16.9/25. The final half-hour of Dancing produced a 13.2/19 for ABC, but Crumbs, which followed, managed only a 6.3/9. On NBC, My Name Is Earl and The Office averaged a 6.1/9. At 10:00, CBS's Without a Trace posted a 13.5/22, 48 percent ahead of NBC's E.R., which drew a 9.1/15.
CBS BRINGS ITS TOP REPORTERS TO THE FORE
CBS News President Sean McManus wasted no time finding a permanent replacement for John Roberts, who announced on Wednesday that he is leaving the network and going to CNN. McManus said that correspondent Jim Axelrod, head of CBS's New England bureau, will take over Roberts' duties (although it was not clear whether that also included anchoring the weekend edition of the CBS Evening News). McManus also announced that Lara Logan, who has impressed many critics with her coverage from Iraq and Afghanistan and, like Roberts, was once seen as a possible replacement for Dan Rather, was named chief foreign correspondent, a position that was left unfilled after Tom Fenton retired in 2004. Finally McManus said that Byron Pitts, who distinguished himself during the 9/11 coverage, will become national correspondent, and also report on "a new area of concentration -- faith, family and the culture." In an interview with the TVNewser blog, CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer observed that the news division was attempting to "identify the people who are going to play a major role at CBS News." In that regard, he said: "When a big story happens overseas, Lara will be there. And it's kind of the same for Byron, on stories in this country. And then Axelrod will be at the White House." He described the three as "very old-fashioned reporters ... the kind of reporters who think the best way to do it is go to the scene, ask people what the story is, and then tell people about it."
SUPER BOWL SPOTS AT A DISCOUNT, ANYONE?
As of late Thursday, ABC had still not sold out all of its spot availabilities for Sunday's Super Bowl, leading USA Today to suggest today (Friday) that some advertisers may be able to grab them at a deep discount on the average $2.5 million price for a 30-second spot. The newspaper indicated that MasterCard took advantage of the situation by grabbing up a spot in the fourth quarter -- when viewers often turn out if the scoring is lopsided. Interviewed by the paper, Ed Erhardt, head of sales and marketing for ABC and ESPN, remarked, "We feel really good about where we are. ... We'll be sold out at game time."
NBC'S WINTER OLYMPICS DON'T SCARE OFF RIVALS
NBC's three major rivals -- CBS, Fox, and ABC -- are not throwing in the towel in the face of competition from the Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 10. ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson and Fox's Peter Liguori have indicated that they intend to air original programming, while CBS's Nina Tassler has said that her network will air both repeats and first-run programs. Thursday's Houston Chronicle quoted Liguori as saying, "We don't feel any need to modify what we're doing in a significant way. ... In terms of Idol's ability to stand up to the Olympics, we think the Idol audience is unbelievably loyal. This is their favorite show, and we anticipate that our ratings will be solid."
SIMON COWELL TO CREATE IDOL-LIKE TALENT SHOW FOR NBC
In a deal that seemed certain to infuriate programming executives at Fox TV, NBC has signed up Simon Cowell and American Idol producer FremantleMedia to create a new talent/variety competition series in which the winner will headline a show in Las Vegas. In a statement, Cowell said, "This is a show I've always wanted to make. This time we're looking for everything. Personally, I hope to find the next Siegfried and Roy! I promise this is going to be a fun ride." As described in the news release, the show will have virtually the same format as Idol but will also include, besides singers, dancers, comedic performers and "bizarre novelty acts." No title for the show was announced, but Cowell and Fremantle recently sold a series with a similar format to Britain's ITV under the title Got Talent. There was no immediate comment from Fox, which airs Idol.
U.K. MUSICIANS WANT TV TO DISCLOSE LIP SYNCING
Marking the latest effort at "full disclosure," the Musicians Union of the United Kingdom is demanding that British TV outlets make it clear when singers are lip-syncing to recordings and musicians are pretending to be playing. In a feature broadcast on the BBC's Culture Show Thursday night, singer Beverley Knight commented, "What I can't bear are those who are more than capable of delivering a show live with musicians and the whole thing and who don't. Why? Because its easy to do and they get their [paycheck] at the end of the day." The musicians' campaign is also being supported by Elton John and rock impressario Malcolm Mclaren, who are also demanding that concert promoters disclose whether performances are live. The BBC reported on results of a poll that found 71 percent of those surveyed backing such a disclosure.
MOVIES BUCK SUPER BOWL WEEKEND
It's the weekend following the announcement of the Oscar nominations, and studios with nominated films are expanding their release in many cases. In its ninth week, Brokeback Mountain, which received the greatest number of Oscar nods -- eight -- will for the first time be shown on more than 2,000 screens (2,089 to be precise) as Focus Features ups the total from 1,654 last week. Good Night, and Good Luck, which opened 18 weeks ago and was playing in only 105 theaters last weekend, will move into 824 this weekend. Likewise, Capote, which opened 19 weeks ago, will expand to about 1,200 theaters from 325 last weekend. And in its 12th week, Fox is putting Walk the Line onto 1,577 screens, an increase of 376 over last weekend. Munich is getting a modest bump to 1,140 screens, up just 160 from last weekend. The fifth best-film nominee, Crash, is already out on home video and is not being brought back to the big screen this weekend. Analysts have noted that it's difficult to make predictions about how these films -- or the two new ones opening wide, When a Stranger Calls and Something New -- will do in the face of the distraction of Super Bowl weekend. Most analysts are predicting that the horror remake When a Stranger Calls, which was not screened for critics, will be the big box-office winner, repeating -- or most likely exceeding -- the success last year of Boogeyman, which opened on Super Bowl weekend with a hefty $19 million.
MOVIE REVIEWS: SOMETHING NEW
The interracial romantic comedy Something New is not the usual alternative "chick flick" that studios rush out over Super Bowl weekend, several critics are suggesting. "I found myself unexpectedly moved," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, who rates the film with three stars and says in his concluding remarks that the film "delivers all the usual pleasures of a love story, and something more. The movie respects its subject and characters, and is more complex about race than we could possibly expect." Likewise Kyle Smith in the New York Post said that he found the movie "irresistibly warm and surprisingly realistic." Gene Seymour in Newsday praises it as "a romantic comedy with a lot on its mind. Indeed, it's one of the few romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood in recent years that actually has a mind and isn't ashamed to use it -- especially on such challenging matters as race and class." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times gives it a less enthusiastic but nevertheless positive review, describing it as "pleasantly diverting," and adding, "There's something reliably agreeable about watching two pretty people go through the usual romantic motions, especially since Big Hollywood seems to have more or less given up on love, perhaps because it's also more or less given up on women." Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times is one of the few critics who slam the film. "The characterizations, even the leads, rarely rise above archetypes," he writes. "The film's lack of depth as it oversimplifies the complexities of racism keep it from being anything other than a lightweight date movie."
HOLLYWOOD WIRETAP PROBE LEADS TO NEW INDICTMENTS
The FBI probe into wiretapping of Hollywood personalities is likely to reach a new stage on Monday with the release of grand jury indictments in the case, the Los Angeles Times indicated today (Friday). The newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said that former private investigator Anthony Pellicano, now serving a prison sentence for storing illegal explosives in his Sunset Strip office, is being returned to Los Angeles to face new charges in the wiretap probe. The Times also reported that in recent weeks investigators have focused on several close Pellicano associates, including former LAPD Sgt. Mark Arneson and a former telephone company employee, Ray Turner. The Times also disclosed that investigators have also been interviewing members of several prominent law firms that Pellicano worked for.
CNN FILM CRITIC CLINTON DIES AT 53
CNN film critic Paul Clinton died in Los Angeles on Monday at the age of 53 from natural causes, the network reported on Thursday. But in an obituary, CNN editor Todd Leopold, who edited Clinton's reviews noted that Clinton had been struggling with respiratory ailments due to smoking. In a final remembrance of his colleague, Leopold wrote, "As a critic, Paul Clinton was fond of using the word 'perfect' in his reviews. As his editor, I was just as fond of taking it out. In our regular phone calls, we would joke about that. 'I see you took out my favorite line,' he would tell me. And I'd say, well, I just wanted to get more detail in. 'Perfect' could be so absolute. Nothing's perfect, right? But there was something perfect: Paul, to his credit, was a perfect gentleman about my tinkering."