VALENTI RE-EMERGES AS TV DEFENDER
Hoping to convince conservative religious groups and family activists that they already have the tools necessary for keeping undesirable programs away from their children, former MPAA chief Jack Valenti has revealed that the major broadcast and cable companies have developed a plan aimed at educating parents about such tools. Speaking before a Senate commerce Committee hearing on decency in the media, Valenti said that the industry will be aided by the Ad Council and will include public-service announcements on local and network broadcast/cable outlets. Moreover, he testified, electronics retailers will begin distributing to customers materials about how to employ the V-chip, which supposedly ensures that bad language, sex and violence are blocked from TV screens. "The beauty of this is, we don't torment and torture the First Amendment," he said. Valenti indicated that cable providers and broadcasters have agreed to spend between $250 million and $300 million on the campaign. It was immediately attacked by Brent Bozell, head of the Parents Television Council, which has been responsible for most of the anti-indecency protests that have flooded into the FCC. Bozell called the current system, "an inconsistent, inaccurate, arbitrary and capricious mess."

LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF?

Some writers are poking fun at NBC's decision to pronounce the name of the host city of the Winter Olympics as Torino rather than the traditional Turin. NBC Sports's Dick Ebersol told the Wall Street Journal that 'Torino' "rolls off your tongue, sounds so Italian, so romantic. ... 'Turin' just doesn't do it for me." But in Thursday's Chicago Tribune, sports columnist Mike Downey, presenting himself as "R.U. Deff," NBC vice president of "verbal affairs," writes in a fictional memo to NBC broadcasters, "Never mind that our viewers are making angry phone calls and sending us nasty e-mails that say: 'Where in the [expletive] is "Torino?"' I like the sound of it. It's a combination of two of my favorite places, Toronto and Reno. If you ever go to Toronto or Reno, you'll know what I mean. A couple of fun towns.'Turin,' though, what's that? A soup bowl?" "Deff" then goes on to order that Steven Spielberg's new movie be referred to as "München," not "Munich." "I like that a lot better, don't you? 'München' sounds like fun! 'Munich' ... ick." Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, has said that it will use 'Turin' when referring to the city but 'Torino' when referring to the Games.

HARDBALL'S MATTHEWS COMPARES BIN-LADEN WITH MICHAEL MOORE

A remark by MSNBC's Chris Matthews in which he said that Osama bin-Laden "sounds like an over-the-top Michael Moore here, if not a Michael Moore" has outraged opponents of the war in Iraq and leading Democrats including former presidential candidate John Kerry. Matthews made the comment during an interview with Sen. Joseph Biden on Hardball Thursday in which they discussed an audio tape by bin-Laden that aired earlier in the day on Al Jazeera, the Arab news channel. Kerry commented: "You'd think the only focus tonight would be on destroying Osama bin-Laden, not comparing him to an American who opposes the war. ... If the administration had done the job right in Tora Bora we might not be having discussions on Hardball about a new Bin Laden tape. How dare Scott McClellan tell America that this Administration puts terrorists out of business when had they put Osama bin-Laden out of business in Afghanistan when our troops wanted to, we wouldn't have to hear this barbarian's voice on tape."

ABC WILL NOW PERMIT WEB USERS TO WATCH ITS ONLINE NEWS SERVICE FREE

Continuing to search for a profitable business model for online news video, ABC said Thursday that it will now permit consumers to watch its ABC News Now Internet service for free but that they must first agree to watch a commercial. Previously the news service had required a $39.95 annual subscription or a $4.95 monthly fee. Currently the primary advertiser for ABC News Now is AT&T.

MANY HDTV SET OWNERS CAN'T WATCH HDTV, SAYS STUDY

Nearly half the owners of HDTV sets are unable to receive programs in high-definition because they do not subscribe to HDTV packages from their cable providers, according to a study by Forrester Research for the Best Buy consumer electronics stores. In a statement, Best Buy said Thursday that while the study indicated that one in three consumers are interested in installing a home entertainment system, they are confused about how it actually works. The retailers say their clerks ("Blue Shirts") have been instructed on how to prepare customers for the transition to HDTV.

IGER-JOBS NUPTIALS?
Speculation intensified Thursday that the Walt Disney company may be on the verge of buying Pixar Animation for a reported $7 billion, following a Wall Street Journal report that such a deal was in the works. Disney's board is expected to discuss the proposed deal at its regular meeting on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Friday). Analysts reacted favorably to Thursday's Journal article, with much of their attention focused on Robert Iger, who took on the job of Disney CEO on Oct. 1. Andrew Seibert of S&T Wealth Management told Bloomberg News, "It would definitely be a coup for Mr. Iger." Analyst Aryeh Bourkoff of UBS AG remarked, "Bob Iger is a dynamic executive willing to do a big deal." Other commentators noted that such a deal would give Apple/Pixar chief Steve Jobs a dominant role at Disney. In an interview with today's New York Times, ex-Disney technologist Bran Ferren, who is now co-chairman of consulting firm Applied Minds, said of Jobs: "He's one of the handful of people who has shown the ability to guide both technology and entertainment companies and that might be quite useful to Disney. ... What he has that is rare is taste, and that's a very valuable commodity if you can focus it and harness it." While several reports, including the Journal's, quoted sources as cautioning that the deal could come undone at the last moment, Paul Saffo, an analyst with Institute for the Future told the Washington Post, "To me, the deal has the smell of inevitability to it. ... If it doesn't happen, for whatever reason, it would be a lost opportunity for both companies. The long-term trajectory of both these companies without each other is downwards." But Marla S. Backer, an analyst with Soleil Securities, was quoted in today's edition of the Journal as saying, "I very much believe Disney would want it. I just continue to question what's in it for Pixar. There's no advantage for Pixar and the corporate culture is too different."

INVESTMENT FIRM TO BACK MOVIES BY TWO STUDIOS

In a complicated and unique deal, a Beverly Hills investment group has agreed to put up $600 million to help fund the production of 18 films at two studios, Sony and Universal. Under the deal with Relativity Media, Sony will have access to $400 million and Sony, $200 million. Both studios will continue to have creative control over their movies and worldwide distribution rights. While the deal will limit the profits each studio can expect to realize from its productions, it will also limit the amount of damage its flops can inflict. "We are prepared to give up some of the upside for more certainty on our financial positions," Bob Osher, chief operating officer of Columbia Pictures Motion Picture Group, told today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times.

YOUR TICKET'S ON YOUR CELL PHONE

Movie theater patrons in the Detroit suburb of Livonia who have an Internet connection on their cell phones can now purchase tickets online (as opposed to waiting in line), then display the on-screen barcode for the ticket-taker to scan as they walk in. Thomas Beals, founder of Livonia's Movie Box Office told Thursday's Detroit News that he hopes to expand the system to the nation's major movie chains. "Movies and this technology are big right now," Beals told the newspaper. "We just married the two."

BROKEBACK REMAINS ON TOP OF MOUNTAIN

Brokeback Mountain retained its position at the top of the midweek box office for a second day in a row Wednesday although playing in just 682 theaters. The Oscar front-runner earned $740,000 -- $105,000 more than second-place Glory Road. The film is due to expand to 1,194 theaters this weekend -- nearly doubling the number of venues after slowly expanding over the past six weeks. Daily Variety said that the decision to accelerate the release pace was taken in order to take advantage of excitement over the film that was generated by the film's win at the Golden Globes and would likely expand even wider if it garners major Oscar nominations on Jan. 31.

MOVIE REVIEWS: END OF THE SPEAR

Underworld: Evolution, starring Kate Beckinsale,is expected to become the No. 1 film at the box office this weekend, but it was not screened for critics, since distributor Sony Screen Gems apparently believed that it would receive largely negative reviews. However, two other new films are also opening to dreadful notices, the Christian drama End of the Spear and Warner Independent's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Most critics give Spear points for sincerity and inspiration, but few for entertainment. (Most dismiss the film in three or four paragraphs.) "This undramatic would-be piece of inspiration seems like made-for-TV fare for the Christian Broadcasting Network before it morphed into the Family Channel," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe describes it as "a dutiful public service announcement."

MOVIE REVIEWS: LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

Albert Brooks's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is receiving even harsher criticism than the Christian film, and not at all because of the use of the other religion's name in the title. Brooks once claimed that Sony refused to distribute the movie because of the title, a claim that Sony denied. Critics are suggesting that the studio correctly decided to cut its losses. The film starts off well enough, the critics agree, as Brooks is supposedly hired by a presidential commission to find out what makes Muslims laugh. In fact, Jack Mathews writes in the New York Daily News, "There are funny ideas laced throughout, but they are rarely fleshed out into something more than a spasm of whimsy." Several critics give Brooks their blessing, however -- among them Claudia Puig in USA Today, who writes: "The comic actor/director's most humorous movie since 1996's Mother is filled with witty social observations and silly laughs. It runs out of steam in the final 15 minutes. But anyone who can mine so many laughs from the world in which we live since 9/11 deserves applause." And Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times comments that the movie "is not Brooks' funniest film, but it possesses his trademark wry humor and is slyly observant. At first glance, it would appear not to have much to say. But Brooks, a low-key comedian, has a fondness for the broad, high-concept set-up that masks the subtlety of his satire."