CRANES TO FLY THE COOP

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker confirmed Monday that Frasier, which debuted in 1993, will leave the network in May. Zucker reportedly made his decision not to renew the show after efforts to convince Paramount to cut its license fee for a 12th season and persuade its stars to take a pay cut were spurned. Zucker indicated Monday that he is open to the possibility of a spin-off of the spin-off (it succeeded Cheers), focusing on the Niles and Daphne characters. "It's something that we would always consider," he said. Referring to complaints by Frasier co-creator David Lee that NBC is focusing all its attention on the finale ofFriends while giving Frasier short shrift, Zucker said, "Friends is the most popular comedy on television and nothing has come close to it, but now that we know the end of Frasier is upon us, that will be reflected in promos as well." Kelsey Grammer, who has now played the role of Frasier Crane for 20 years, including his stint on Cheers, indicated that he is in discussions to take over the Nathan Lane role in The Producers this summer and is also producing a drama pilot about a psychic. "It's the best thing I've read in a long time," he said.

TOO EARLY TO TALK OF A FRIENDS REUNION, SAYS ZUCKER

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker has denied published reports that the stars of Friends have been paid $2 million each to appear in a reunion show that would be filmed following the series finale this year and air sometime around Thanksgiving next year. Appearing on the syndicated TV show Access Hollywood, Zucker said, "I think it's too early to discuss a Friends reunion. ... I think it would be great in a couple of years to see them get back together, but who knows?" Earlier reports had quoted an unnamed NBC spokesperson as confirming the deal and saying, "We knew it would be tough to put the Friends stars together again once they'd gone their separate ways. So we put an offer on the table to persuade them to film the reunion right away."

WB VIEWERS GETTING OLDER

The WB network has seen its target audience of 12-to-34 year olds plummet 18 percent this season, with the median age of some shows, including Everwood, Reba and 7th Heaven hovering around 40, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday). The newspaper quoted media buyer Andrew Donchin of Carat USA as saying that the aging of The WB's viewership represents "a challenge." Donchin said: "They want to stay true to their 12-34-year-old audience ... but the younger audience is the most elusive to reach." However, the network's co-CEO, Jordan Levin, responded: "We're still the youngest of all of the major networks. ABC, NBC, CBS are all getting older. And we're trusting our gut that we're still having a pretty good season."

HEAD OF CONSERVATIVE WATCHDOG PUTS $1-MILLION CHALLENGE TO BROKAW

Brent Bozell, head of the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center has issued a $1-million challenge to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw following Brokaw's comments in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review that Bozell's complaint that the news media show a liberal bias "just doesn't hold up." Bozell said he would be willing to submit his group's research to a neutral third-party panel. "If this panel agrees with Brokaw's contention, the Media Research Center will donate $1 million to the anchor's favorite charity. If the panel agrees with us, NBC and Brokaw will donate $1 million to the Media Research Center. Oh, and to sweeten the pot we'll do this: we'll limit our evidence only to Tom Brokaw and NBC. Frankly, that's all the evidence we need to prove the point." Neither Brokaw nor NBC has responded to Bozell's challenge.

EU LIKELY TO CHARGE STUDIOS OF MONOPOLISTIC PRACTICES ON PAY-TV

The European Union is expected to charge that the major Hollywood motion picture companies' pay-TV divisions have, in effect, colluded to keep their prices high to European cable and satellite operators, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), citing unnamed sources. At issue is a most-favored-nation clause contained in all contracts requiring any European pay-TV company to pay all studios the best price that it pays any one of them for a similar package of films. EU investigators are expected to brand the practice as monopolistic. The studios maintain that such clauses are not illegal and that they can work against them as well as for them.

50,000 SUPPORT EMBATTLED BBC NEWS "PRESENTER"

A popular BBC news "presenter" who was suspended for writing an article in the London Sunday Express in which he denounced Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors," has won the backing of some 50,000 people who reportedly responded to a Daily Express phone poll. Moreover, the newsman, Robert Kilroy-Silk, a former Labor Party member of Parliament, has also won the support of Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, who told the newspaper: "While it is absolutely wrong to talk about people in categories, I also think that our tradition of free speech is precious and that is something we should never lose sight of." Kilroy-Silk said during an ITV interview on Monday that his remarks referred to militants and authoritarian Arab leaders, not to the Arab people. His appearance on ITV, the BBC's commercial rival, was said to have infuriated BBC executives. On Sunday, the Telegraph quoted Ibrahim Nawar, head of the watchdog group Arab Press Freedom Watch as saying that he agreed with Kilroy-Silk. "These regimes are not based on democracy and their legitimacy comes from military dictatorships or inherited systems," he said.

REUTERS SAYS ITS TV CAMERAMEN WERE "BRUTALIZED" BY U.S. TROOPS

The Reuter News Agency has filed a formal complaint to the Pentagon after three Iraqi-born members of its television news staff were arrested in Falluja as they were filming a scene of a helicopter crash. The U.S. military later identified the journalists as "enemy personnel" and claimed that they had fired on U.S. troops. Reuters claimed that the men were "brutalized" by U.S. soldiers who covered their heads with bags and made them stand for hours with their palms pressed against the walls of a jail cell. They were released after 72 hours of detention. The soldiers also detained an Iraqi-born cameraman working for NBC. No weapons were found either on the men or in their vehicles, news reports said.

OSCAR SCREENER HITS THE WEB

A screener of Something's Gotta Give sent to 69-year-old actor Carmine Caridi, an Oscar voter, has popped up on the Internet, theLos Angeles Times reported today (Tuesday), citing a person familiar with an investigation of the matter by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Special markings on the copy reportedly identified it as having been sent to Caridi, who could not be reached for comment, the Times said. Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis told the newspaper: "I still have trouble believing that anybody would take the care of a 2003 screener lightly. ... It never occurred to me that anybody would ever let this happen. It's risking the whole ability of the academy members to get their screeners next year." All academy members had been required to sign an agreement promising to prevent their videocassettes from being copied.

SONY'S BOX OFFICE ESTIMATE: ANOTHER FISH STORY

Just like the primary character's stories in Big Fish, Sony's claim that the movie had beaten The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at the weekend box office turned out to be something of an exaggeration. On Sunday, the studio estimated that Big Fishhad earned $400,000 more than ROTK. But a final tally on Monday found that the reverse was true. ROTK had taken in $400,000 more than Big Fish. While disparities between studio estimates and actual results are common, today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times observed that "it's extremely rare that a movie thought to be No. 1 on Sunday has to relinquish the top spot come Monday morning." In an interview with the Associated Press, Sony distribution chief Jeff Blake insisted that the misjudgment was not "maliciously intended." He explained: "It was just a situation where we thought we had the right to anticipate a better Sunday than we got." Studio estimates released on Sunday are based on actual Friday and Saturday receipts plus forecasts of Sunday business.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King, New Line, $14,209,098, 4 Wks. ($312,320,936); 2. Big Fish, Sony, $13,811,191, 5 Wks. ($23,386,775); 3. Cheaper By the Dozen, 20th Century Fox, $11,751,349, 3 Wks. ($101,147,842); 4. Cold Mountain,Miramax, $7,881,729, 3 Wks. ($55,340,445); 5. Something's Gotta Give, Sony, $7,727,359, 5 Wks. ($92,515,314); 6. My Baby's Daddy, Miramax, $7,548,819, (New); 7. Chasing Liberty, Warner Bros., $6,081,483, (New); 8. Paycheck, Paramount, $5,146,378, 3 Wks. ($46,443,104); 9. The Last Samurai, Warner Bros., $4,550,419, 6 Wks. ($97,181,327); 10. Mona Lisa Smile, Sony, $4,383,072, 4 Wks. ($56,883,304).

BERTOLUCCI'S FILM TO BE RELEASED UNCUT, SAYS FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Fox Searchlight Pictures has decided to release Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers uncut with an NC-17 rating, making it the first film since 1997's Bent that a major studio has released an NC-17 picture. The decision came a day after the London Sunday Times, in a cover story for its magazine section, had reported that the studio had recut the film for a screening at the Sundance Film Festival this week, trimming some scenes by as much as a minute in order to obtain an R rating. The reported cuts were denounced in the article by the leading actors in the movie. In a statement on Monday, Fox Searchlight Pictures President Peter Rice said: "We believe that NC-17 is the appropriate rating for The Dreamers given that this is not a film for children under 17; it is an audacious and original film for intelligent critics and discerning adult audiences." In the same statement, Bertolucci himself was quoted as saying: "I'm relieved -- in so many ways -- that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb."

SUPREME COURT MAY HEAR CASE INVOLVING WHEELCHAIR-BOUND PATRONS

The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Justice Department to present its views on whether it should hear an appeal of a decision requiring the Regal Entertainment movie chain to refit its stadium-style theaters to enable wheelchair-bound patrons to have the same view of the screen as other patrons. The request appeared to indicate that the high court would review a decision by a lower appellate court that held that requiring patrons in wheelchairs to sit in front of the theaters near the entrances was a violation of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Regal, which is backed by the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in its filing that the ruling would require it either to destroy the stadium-style theaters it had built or to retrofit them at high cost.

DISNEY'S FLORIDA ANIMATION STUDIO SHUTS DOWN

As expected, the Walt Disney Co. closed down its Orlando, Florida animation facility on Monday, leaving many of its 260 employees without work. Some reportedly will be invited to locate to Disney's Burbank headquarters. The Digital Animation and Visual Effects School in Orlando said that it had received numerous inquiries from Disney employees about teaching jobs. Scott Kingston, the school's director of operations, told Orlando TV station WESH-TV, "Teaching is a nice thing to do if the job isn't there for them." But Roger Moore, movie critic for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote today (Tuesday) that the closure represents a "cost-cutting move from a company that isn't so much soul-searching as selling its soul -- and selling short." The problem Disney has experienced with its animated features of late, he suggested, has little to do with the fact that they were drawn by hand. They were "story and character problems," he wrote. "The front office stopped sweating the details on these films years ago," he added. In a statement, Roy Disney said Monday that the Florida closure represented "another example of Michael Eisner's de-emphasis of creativity and total indifference to the impact his decisions have on the people who helped to make the company great."