INTEL TO GO LIVE WITH VIIVWith a panoply that included an appearance on stage of Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman and Danny DeVito, Intel showed off its Viiv technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Thursday. The technology was described as a method to bring home-entertainment devices under the control of a personal computer. "The capabilities we have built into Viiv are really fundamental to the way that consumers are going to use computers,'' Intel CEO Paul Otellini told Bloomberg News. "It's the first foray into the living room." The British technology news website was unimpressed. The "star power" present at the unveiling (there to plug the new ClickStar movie downloading service, which works with Viiv), it said, "did little to convince us that this Viiv thing is more than a wishy-washy brand." Meanwhile, Google is expected to unveil its Google Pack software at the CES today, a package including a Web browser and media player that will allow users to watch a wide array of sports, news and entertainment content on demand -- at a price. It is also expected to announce a deal with CBS and the NBA, which reportedly have agreed to provide programming for the downloading service.


Bloggers were furiously speculating Thursday about the reasons why NBC removed a question and answer from the transcript of an interview with New York Timesreporter about whether he had information indicating that the CIA may have eavesdropped on CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. NBC only contributed to the speculation when it told the TVNewser blog later that the "transcript was released prematurely" and that it was yanked because "we had not completed our reporting" on the matter. The online Slatemagazine contributed even more to the speculation when it observed Thursday night that Amanpour is married to Jamie Rubin, a State Department spokesman under Clinton and a Kerry foreign policy advisor. Slate asked: "If the Bush administration was listening in on Amanpour's phone, was it listening when she talked with her husband? Was it listening when he might have used her phone himself?" Slateacknowledged that "what we've got here are hints about a question." However, it added, the Bush administration's policies "invite questions like these." Meanwhile, TVNewser late Thursday quoted a CNN statement that it received saying, "Neither CNN nor Christiane Amanpour is aware of alleged eavesdropping by the government on Ms. Amanpour and we are unable to confirm this story. We are looking into it."


As consumers continued to add digital video recorders to their home entertainment systems to allow them to skip commercials, the number of product-placement ads jumped in 2005 to 106,808 from 82,014 in 2004, an increase of more than 30 percent, according to Place*Views, a new tracking service of Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Of the 10 TV shows with the most product placements, seven were reality series. Topping the list was NBC's The Contender, which recorded 7,514 "brand occurrences" in just 15 telecasts -- or more than 500 per telecast.


In yet another experiment to see whether TV viewers will pay for on-demand content, DirecTV announced Thursday that corporate siblings Fox and the FX channel will provide some of their programs via the satellite service up to two days before they actually air and a week after the actual broadcast. FX will offer The Shield, Rescue Me, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and 30 Days; Fox will offer 24 and Prison Break. DirecTV subscribers wishing to view the programs will have to pay $.99 $2.99 to download them onto DirecTV digital recorders.


TV critics, it would seem, are as divided over NBC's The Book of Danielas churchgoers in general. The series, which premieres tonight (Friday), has spurred some conservative Christians, who have called it blasphemous, to mount a campaign to have it yanked off the air. They have an unlikely ally in the Washington Post's Tom Shales, who also vigorously attacks the show, but not, seemingly, on the basis of religious disposition. "I cannot recall a series in which a greater number of characters seemed so desperately detestable -- a series with a larger population of loathsome dolts," he writes. "There ought to be a worse punishment than cancellation for a show that tries this hard to be offensive and, even at that crass task, manages to fail." Ned Martel in the New York Times concedes that the show "is mainly respectful and even affectionate toward those trapped and troubled by their impulses," but remarks that his main objection to the show "is that it's just not very good." On the other hand, USA Today's Robert Bianco gives it 3 1/2 stars, writing that "it is first and foremost a show about a true-to-life, loving, complex family. It is also witty, earnest, intelligent, overdone, overly ambitious, wildly entertaining and superbly cast -- which are just a few of the things that the people who decided to protest the show before it even aired have failed to mention." David Bianculli in the New York Daily Newswrites that the show "the heart of a warm family drama, with a central message of acceptance, forgiveness and love that seems the antithesis of anti-Christian." Several critics compare the show -- favorably -- with HBO's Six Feet Under, including Linda Stasi in the New York Post, who observes, "Despite the pre-premiere hysterical protests by Christian groups ... let me be the first to say Danielis not that controversial, but is really pretty damned, oops, darned good."PIXAR SHARES RIDE THUNDER MOUNTAINAmid intense speculation on Wall Street that the Walt Disney Co. and Pixar Animation were about to announce a new deal, shares in Pixar began taking off Wednesday and continued its flight on Thursday -- rising nearly 10 percent over the two days. But as the day wore on Thursday, with no news from either company -- a Disney spokesperson said late in the day that there was nothing new to report -- Pixar shares began retreating. The drop was accelerated after Credit Suisse First Boston analyst William Drewry said in a report to clients Thursday that Pixar's stock looked "priced for perfection" -- presumably meaning that it was based on the presumption that Pixar would continue to have an unbroken streak of hits. At midmorning today (Friday), Pixar was the only major entertainment company listed on the NYSE showing a drop in share price.


The Directors Guild of America on Thursday gave Steven Spielberg his tenth nomination for best director for Universal's Munich. (He won for three of them: The Color Purple, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.) The nomination may have offset some of the disappointment the director may have felt after his film was ignored by several key critics groups and all other industry guilds. Also nominated by the DGA was Ang Lee -- his third nod -- for Focus Features' Brokeback Mountain. Three other directors received their first nominations -- Paul Haggis for Lionsgate's Crash, Bennett Miller for UA/Sony Classics' Capote, and George Clooney for Warner Independent's Good Night, and Good Luck.


Wal-Mart's attempt to mimic Amazon, NetFlix, and Blockbuster by providing an automated system that recommends movies based on the types of DVDs its customers previously ordered came to a crashing halt Thursday after blogs spread the word that the Planet of the ApesDVD was linked to "Similar Items" that included DVDs about Martin Luther King, Dorothy Dandridge, Jack Johnson and Tina Turner -- all notable African Americans. "We are heartsick that this happened and are currently doing everything possible to correct the problem," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said in a statement. "We were horrified to discover that some hurtful and offensive combinations are being mapped together. ... We are deeply sorry that this happened." The company gave no explanation for how the software program managed to select only films about African-Americans for the recommendations.


Richard Branson, whose scattered businesses include records, air and train travel, and mobile phones, announced today (Friday) that he is launching an animated film company, Virgin Animation, that will produce films primarily aimed at the Asian market. Sharad Devarajan, was named CEO of Virgin Animation. (Devarajan is also listed as the CEO of Gotham Comics, which publishes comic books in Asia employing content from leading U.S. comic-book companies, including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and MAD Magazine.) Devarajan said that Virgin Animation is teaming with director Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth, Four Feathers) and film producer Gotham Chopra (Bulletproof Monk) to help "start a creative renaissance in India." The company will be based in Bangalore, India's high-tech capital.


Critics, who are by and large rarely horror-movie fans, are predictably hostile towards Hostel, the new horror film from Eli Roth (Cabin Fever). Nathan Lee in the New York Timescomments that the film "is one of the most misogynistic films ever made." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily Newspays it this left-handed compliment: "It all adds up to superior sick entertainment." Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe has a warning about the use of the "Quentin Tarantino presents" banner over the film. Hostel, he writes, "is being sold as a Quentin Tarantino presentation, which seems a little disingenuous, even though it's true. Viewers expecting Tarantino's visual wit and cinematic verve are bound to feel rooked by Roth's gallows schlock." And Matt Pais in the Chicago Tribune: has this suggestion: "Looking to save money on a dinner-and-a-movie date? Catch an early flick and kiss your appetites goodbye."