CBS edged out NBC in the ratings Thursday night, but Donald Trump's The Apprentice on NBC knocked off a repeat of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS in the 8:30-9:00 p.m. time period. The reality series featured would-be Trump executives pitching rival ad campaigns for a private-plane company, Marquis Jet. It scored a 14.0 rating and a 20 share at 8:30 p.m. and again at 9:00 p.m., while the CSI repeat garnered an 11.1/16 at 8:30 p.m. but lead off the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 20.1/28. The Trump show benefited from following NBC's outgoing comedyFriends, which led off the night with an 18.7/27. Still, the two Thursday-night contenders wound up in virtually a dead heat, with CBS averaging a 14.9/21 and NBC, a 14.7/21. Each of the networks attracted nearly three times the audience that ABC, with a 5.5/8, was able to draw.


Saying that "the time is right for the next generation of prime-time game shows," ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne told television critics at the winter tour in Los Angeles Wednesday that the network plans to launch a new show called Deal or No Deal before the end of the current season. Clearly hoping that the show could become another Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, ABC execs noted that the show was created by Endemol, one of the most successful game show producers (Big Brother). Launched in Australia in primetime, it achieved only moderate success and was moved to a daytime Monday-through-Friday format. Lyne also conceded Thursday that she is "as bollixed ... as anybody else" about why the network has been unable to mount a single successful dramatic since Alias in 2001. She indicated that ABC plans to take a new tack soon by launching shows for a limited run, including the fright series Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital on March 3.


A battalion of television newsmen and technicians greeted Michael Jackson as he arrived at a courthouse in Santa Maria, CA today (Friday) to plead innocent to child-molestation charges. Arriving 21 minutes late, the entertainer was lectured severely by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville. "Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot here," the judge told him. "I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court."


William Shatner, the former Capt. Kirk of Star Trek and the lounge lizard of countless Priceline commercials, is being joined in the Priceline ads by Leonard Nimoy, the former Mr. Spock of Star Trek. Company CEO Jeffery Boyd said that the two are joining up to promote a new approach to travel purchases that Priceline is introducing -- allowing Priceline users to name their own price -- as in the past -- or to choose their airlines and flight times from a list of published fares. The commercials are intended to illustrate the choice Priceline users will now be given in making their travel plans. Terms of the deal with the two actors were not disclosed. Priceline's original deal with Shatner in 1998 called for him to receive 125,000 stock options. When the Internet boom reached its peak those options had risen to $104 each and were worth $13 million. In 2,000, just before the bubble burst for Internet stocks, Shatner sold 35,000 shares at $94 and collected $3.3 million. Shares in Priceline subsequently fell to a low of $3.25 and closed Thursday at $18.50, making Shatner's remaining 90,000 shares worth $1.7 million.


Maria Shriver met with NBC President Neal Shapiro in Burbank Thursday morning to discuss whether her position as California's first lady presents a conflict of interest with her position as occasional cohost and reporter for Dateline. Today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times quoted an NBC spokeswoman as saying that Shapiro went into the meeting "open-minded about the options." Following the meeting, the two sides said that no decision had been made. The Times said that Gov. Schwarzenegger has been seeking to hire a chief of staff or executive assistant to aid Shriver in her expanded role in his administration. Although her mother Eunice is the sister of John Kennedy and her father Sargent was the first director of the Peace Corps, Maria broke from the "family business" to enter journalism instead of politics in 1983.


Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean is receiving significantly more criticism on the networks' nightly news programs than his rivals, according to research conducted by the nonpartisan watchdog Center for Media and Public Affairs. According to the CMPA, only 49 percent of stories about Dean have been positive versus some 78 percent about his rivals. The study also found that NBC was harder on the Democratic candidates than the other networks, while ABC presented the most positive assessments of them.


CBS has turned down a request from the liberal group MoveOn to buy a 30-second commercial during this year's Super Bowl that is critical of President Bush. The network said that the ad violated a CBS policy that bars the broadcasting of "issue" ads. A 60-second version of the ad, which is critical of the Bush administration, is due to begin running on CNN beginning Jan. 17. Meanwhile, PETA has criticized CBS for turning down an ad that the animal rights group also hoped would run during the Super Bowl. It observed that CBS's policy was highly selective and arbitrary, noting that it allowed to air an anti-smoking commercial during the Super Bowl, and that it allows other advertisers to run spots advocating the consumption of meat.


It doesn't look like a traditional Disney cartoon, but critics are saying that Teacher's Pet proves that hand-drawn animation is worth saving. "This marvelously quick-witted and gloriously goofy hand-drawn feature shows there's still more than 21 grams of life left in the form," writes Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post comments: "Like most good animated films, Teacher's Pet works on many levels, with a story about fitting in that will appeal to kids -- and more subversive jokes aimed at adults, poking fun at some of Disney's most beloved icons." "The level of invention is remarkable," is the way the Wall Street Journal appraises -- and praises it. But there are a handful of critics who are not amused -- among them, Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "In the proud mansion that is Disney, this thing belongs on a basement shelf behind the boiler," he writes.


It's a different Jen and Ben, but the new Jen and Ben movie, Along Came Polly is not getting much better reviews than the one Jennifer Lopez made with Ben Affleck. In this one, it's Jennifer Aniston paired with Ben Stiller, and Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times calls it "a movie where a lot of things don't work out, including, alas, the movie itself." Ann Hornaday of theWashington Post calls it "a generic romantic comedy of the one-from-column-A, one-from-column-B variety." Several critics complain about the film's toilet humor. "Along Came Polly goes straight into the sewer," concludes Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun (which may be a lot better than going straight to video). Jan Stuart in Newsday puts it this way: "If this is entertainment, the Port Authority should consider selling tickets to the washroom facilities at its New York bus terminal."


The biker movie Torque is what it is, a biker movie, the critics write dismissively. "It's a simple-minded celebration of speed that pretends to be nothing else, even throwing in the occasional wink to acknowledge its own silliness," Megan Lehmann in the New York Post observes. Or as Wesley Morris notes in the Boston Globe: "This is a movie that knows you know it's dumb, and that's enough to make the whole thing worth tolerating."


A Los Angeles judge has thrown out seven of the 11 criminal counts against former Entertainment Industry Development Corp. Chairman Cody Cluff, who has been charged with misappropriating public funds and embezzlement. The decision was hailed by Mark Werksman, Cluff's attorney, who charged that the prosecution had piled on the 11 charges to create an impression of massive misconduct that would undermine a free trial. The prosecution, however, maintained that the judge's ruling amounted to little more than "housekeeping" and would have no impact on its case. Cluff headed the agency that acts as a clearing house for government permits in Los Angeles and promotes the city as the filmmaking capital.


The Screen Actors Guild on Thursday announced its nominations for best performances of 2003. Nominated in the "outstanding male actor" category were Sean Penn (Mystic River), Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), Ben Kingsley (The House of Sand and Fog), and Bill Murray (Lost in Translation). Nominated in the female category were Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent), Diane Keaton (Something's Gotta Give), Charlize Theron (Monster), Naomi Watts (21 Grams), and Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen).


In Thursday's edition we remarked that if Mel Gibson is able to premiere The Passion in 2,000 theaters as planned, it would amount to the biggest independent film opening in recent history. However, writer-director Eli Roth points out that his hit horror film, Cabin Fever, which opened on 2,087 screens last year, currently holds that record.