"EXTRAVAGANZA" EXITS FOR FRIENDS AND FRASIER

The final episodes of Friends and Frasier will air as two-hour "extravaganzas" on successive Thursdays in May, NBC announced Wednesday. Friends will be sent off with an hour-long retrospective, followed by the one-hour series finale, on May 6. Frasier will also return to its original Thursday-night spot on May 13 for similar treatment. Despite the similar send-offs, television critics have noted that the final season of Friends is receiving enormous promotion while Frasier is exiting with what Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic Melanie McFarland described in her column today as a "parting nod." Tom Jicha in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel remarked that it seemed "strange that a network would slight one extraordinary series to build up another." He pointed out that Frasier has won five Emmys for outstanding comedy, the most ever. Friends has won once. Frasier has also won 31 Emmys total -- more than any series in history, comedy or drama.

NBC PLANS TO LAUNCH "FALL" SEASON NEXT SUMMER

With millions of viewers tuned in for NBC's coverage of the summer Olympics and plenty of time on the telecasts to promote its fall schedule, the network has decided to launch its new season in August instead of September, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker told reporters at the TV critics' press tour in Los Angeles Wednesday. "We would be silly to wait three weeks until after the Olympics, lose that promotional base, to start the season," he said. Besides, he said, all of the networks are evolving into a 52-week schedule. NBC also announced Wednesday that it plans what amounts to the ultimate counterprogramming against the Feb. 1 Super Bowl telecast -- three back-to-back episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

POWELL SEEKS TOUGHER FINES FOR "INDECENT" BROADCASTS

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said Wednesday that he plans to ask Congress to increase the fine that broadcasters are required to pay when they are found to be in violation of the agency's indecency rules. Speaking to the National Press Club, Powell said that he expects to ask the Congress for a 10-fold increase in the fines, which currently stand at $27,500 per incident. "They're just a cost of doing business for some," Powell said. "Some of these fines are just peanuts." [By some accounts, Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting has paid more than $1 million in fines related to Howard Stern's daily radio programs alone.]

TRUMP UNLOADS ANOTHER ROUND AT MOONVES

Donald Trump has resumed his attack on CBS chief Les Moonves, telling TV critics gathered for their annual winter tour in Los Angeles that if Moonves were a contestant on Trump's new NBC reality show The Apprentice, "I'd fire him by the third episode." He repeated his charge that Moonves "is the most highly overrated person in television." Trump's disenchantment with Moonves apparently dates from the CBS executive's decision to drop Trump's Miss Universe Pageant. He first lashed out at Moonves during an interview on Access Hollywood last week after Moonves programmed a rerun of CSI against the debut of The Apprentice.

FALLEN MEDIA BARON KIRCH SUES MALONE'S LIBERTY MEDIA, DEUTSCHE BANK

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York, Leo Kirch, once the most powerful figure in German television, accused John Malone's Liberty Media of conspiring with Deutsche Bank to destroy his media empire. In a statement, Lawrence Rolnick of the New York law firm Lowenstein Sandler, which is representing Kirch, said: "We believe the plan was clear: Deutsche and Liberty conspired to cut off the Kirch Group's financing and then carve up the spoils." At the time Malone had been seeking to gain a foothold in the European cable market. In particular, Sandler referred to remarks made in a TV interview in Feb. 2002 by Rolf Breuer, supervisory board chairman of Deutsche Bank, questioning Kirch's ability to raise debt or equity to keep his businesses viable. Sandler said that Breuer's comments "administered the final blow in a well-orchestrated campaign to oust [Leo] Kirch and dismantle his empire."

SAUDI COMMENTATOR SAYS KILROY-SILK WAS RIGHT

The BBC has begun a review of past episodes of the talk show hosted by Robert Kilroy-Silk, who was suspended this week over a column that he wrote for a London newspaper in which he referred to Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors." According to the London Times, the broadcasting corporation is examining other examples of what the Muslim Council of Britain has described as "xenophobic remarks" against Arabs presented on the air by Kilroy-Silk that could prove grounds for his dismissal. Meanwhile, Kilroy-Silk has picked up additional Arab support, this time from as far away as Saudi Arabia. Mohammad T. Al-Rasheed, a columnist for the Saudi English-Language daily Arab News wrote today (Thursday) that although Kilroy-Silk's "generalization about Arabs ... [are] the hallmark of the intellectually limited," Arabs "deserve" his sort of criticism. "We brought it on ourselves. Isn't it damnation enough that the best of us live where Kilroy lives? ... If it is not a Kilroy who tells us what we are, then it will be someone else."

JERRY SPRINGER, THE OPERA NABS 8 AWARD NOMINATIONS

Jerry Springer, the television show, may have been snubbed by awards presenters, but Jerry Springer, the Opera, playing in London's West End, garnered a record eight nominations today (Thursday) for Britain's most prestigious theater honors, the Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. The awards are due to be announced on Feb. 22.

ANOTHER ACADEMY SCREENER HITS THE 'NET

Yet another screener sent to an Oscar voter has turned up on the Internet. Miramax said Wednesday that one of the Cold Mountain videocassettes that it sent out last month had landed on a file-sharing site. In another case, DreamWorks complained that the actual VHS screener of its House of Sand and Fog had landed on the eBay auction site. The site reportedly canceled the sale after it was contacted by the studio. The tape was identified as the one sent to Ivan Kruglak, an academy member who himself won a technical achievement award in 1998. Kruglak told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times that he had no idea how the tape landed on eBay. (The Times did not indicate whether DreamWorks was attempting to identify the person who listed the item.) Meanwhile, today's Hollywood Reporter observes that despite all the brouhaha over the academy screeners winding up on the Internet, the fact is that pirated copies of virtually every awards contender are already readily available. (It noted that the OBUS site lists two films as "Academy screeners" that have not even been mentioned in recent reports: Focus Features' 21 Grams, and Warner Bros.' Mystic River.)

GIBSON'S THE PASSION TO OPEN ON 2,000 SCREENS

Although Mel Gibson's controversial The Passion of the Christ had been expected to receive the kind of limited distribution associated with independent films, a Gibson spokesman said Wednesday that the film will open on Feb. 25 on about 2,000 screens, a figure generally reserved for major studio releases (and the biggest debut for an independent film in recent history). Gibson's own company, Icon Productions, is placing the film in theaters, with the help of indie distributor Newmarket Films. The film, which deals with the final hours in the life of Christ, has generated polarizing debate among religious groups, with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League warning that it could whip up anti-Semitic passions, and Pope John Paul reportedly giving it his blessing. Today's (Thursday) New York Times reported that one multiplex in a Dallas suburb plans to reserve all 20 of its screens for the film. Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films told the newspaper that theaters have been inundated with ticket requests. "People call and say, 'I want 10,000 tickets,'" he said.

DE NIRO TO STAGE MOVIE TRADE SHOW IN NEW YORK

Robert De Niro and his Tribeca Entertainment plan to stage a New York film trade show at the Javits Center from Nov. 20 to 22, New York newspapers reported today (Thursday). Called "So You Wanna Be in Pictures," the show reportedly will feature panel discussions and demonstrations aimed not only at motion picture professionals but also at movie fans, as well, the New York Daily News reported, quoting De Niro as saying, "People have a curiosity of how the film industry works. [The trade show will present] everything that any lay person would want to know." In a separate interview with the New York Post, De Niro called the event "a new frontier for the movies" and said that it would present "everything new about the industry and everything traditional. ... It's a whole other experience."

ROY DISNEY'S ANTI-EISNER WEBSITE TO BE REVAMPED

The managing director of Roy Disney's investment firm, Shamrock Holdings, said Wednesday that the company is redesigning its SaveDisney.com website, which criticizes the reign of Michael Eisner. In an interview appearing in today's (Thursday) New York Daily News, Clifford Miller said that beginning next Monday, the site will be given "more pop ... a little more fun." The site currently features anti-Eisner comments made by Roy Disney himself and by numerous newspaper columnists. Although Disney had initially indicated that he planned to include a forum on the site, he has apparently abandoned that plan in the belief that it would attract not only critics of Eisner's fiscal policies but also conservative political and religious critics as well. In a recent email to Studio Briefing, Disney said that he planned instead to link his site to a message board on another site that shares his position.

A PREVIEW OF PENN'S OSCAR ACCEPTANCE SPEECH?

Sean Penn, whom many critics believe to be the frontrunner for a best-actor Oscar this year for his performance in Mystic River, has written a lengthy article for the San Francisco Chronicleabout life in Iraq after his return to the country last month. The article, which could provide a hint of what Penn might say during an acceptance speech if he should win, excoriates U.S. policy. "Many Iraqis I speak to tell me there is no freedom in occupation, nor trust in unilateral intervention," he writes in the article, which appears in today's (Thursday) editions. "For the people and children of Baghdad and the coalition forces, the insurgents and the utter lawlessness of the streets are a constant and real threat."

Cinemark Movie Club