GAG ORDER SOUGHT IN JACKSON CASE

Santa Barbara prosecutors have asked the judge presiding over the Michael Jackson case to issue a gag order that would bar Jackson, defense attorney Mark Geragos, and all others connected with the case from discussing it with the news media. In a 58-page filing, the prosecution expressed concern that continued publicity about the matter would taint the jury pool, adding: "Experience has shown that when the 'talking heads' on what could be called 'tabloid television' do not have Mr. Geragos or other lawyers and principals to interview, they interview one another and indulge in speculation. That gets old in a hurry." The filing further intimated that Geragos may be in violation of the State Bar's rules limiting public comments concerning a client. Geragos responded that his comments were in response to those made by the prosecution. "I was not the one conducting multiple press conferences with audio and visual displays," he said. Meanwhile, NBC News reported Wednesday that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has launched an investigation to determine who leaked a memo by the Department of Children and Family Services that effectively cleared Jackson of the molestation charge that has been leveled against him by the Santa Barbara D.A.

TV SHOWS COME TO THE CEREAL BOX

In a reversal of the usual arrangement in which ads are placed inside television shows, television shows will soon be placed inside the boxes of General Mills cereals. Sony TV and the consumer foods products company announced Wednesday that episodes of the currently running The King of Queens, along with the classic series Mad About You, Barney Miller and The Donna Reed Showwill soon be included in five brands of General Mills cereals. The DVDs will also include bonus footage, the companies said, without elaboration.

ECHOSTAR THREATENS TO SUE VIACOM

EchoStar, which operates the DISH satellite service, has put on hold a lawsuit that it had filed against CBS and its parent Viacom claiming that Viacom was trying to force it to carry several Viacom-owned cable channels in return for the right to carry CBS stations in 15 major markets. It demanded that Viacom be required to negotiate a contract extension not conditioned on the purchase of other cable networks that it owns, which include the MTV and Nickelodeon channels, BET, TV Land, Spike TV, CMT, and Comedy Central. The suit was yanked as the two companies agreed to resume negotiations. Meanwhile, Viacom announced that it has renewed an agreement with EchoStar's rival DirecTV.

WIRELESS TV COMING TO THE HOME

Sony has unveiled a new 12-inch wireless TV set that will allow users to watch television shows or DVDs anywhere in their homes. The device requires a special in-home transmitter. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company also showed off a smaller unit that consumers will be able to use to access their home video collection via any broadband Internet connection while on the road. Both items are due to be introduced later this year, the company said.

TV EXEC RANKED THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSON IN SPORTS

The Sporting News has placed George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, at the top of its annual listing of the 100 most influential people in sports. "I am proud to accept this honor on behalf of everyone at ESPN and ABC Sports," Bodenheimer said in a statement released by the company. "The fact that The Sporting News, with its great history and tradition, has recognized the tremendous value our people create every day is a terrific way to begin the New Year." The only other media figure listed in TSN's top ten is David Hill, chairman and CEO of Fox Sports.

IT WILL BE DEBORAH VS. LARRY COMING JAN. 21

MSNBC confirmed Wednesday that it plans to introduce a new 9:00 p.m. interview show hosted by Deborah Norville against CNN's Larry King Live beginning Jan. 21. In a statement MSNBC President Erik Sorenson said, "Deborah is the ideal host, who can offer thought-provoking interviews and really deliver the stories people are talking about." Norville also hosts the syndicated TV magazine show Inside Edition.

IT'S GETTING TO BE A HOBBIT

Ian McKellen is predicting that the film-rights conflict between New Line Cinema on the one hand and MGM/UA on the other over J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit will be resolved. In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 Wednesday, McKellen said, "There is currently a situation where two companies own the rights [to The Hobbit], but when that's sorted out Peter [Jackson] and I will sit and talk it over. We've mentioned it recently and Peter is looking forward to getting it into production." (Jackson's next scheduled production is a remake of King Kong.) McKellen has previously recommended that Jackson turn The Hobbit into a long-running television series. It is a prequel to the Lord of Rings trilogy, describing how Bilbo Baggins originally acquired the ring.

L.A. CRITICS FIND AMERICAN SPLENDOR SPLENDID

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has named American Splendor best picture of 2003. At its 29th annual awards presentation Wednesday, the organization also voted Peter Jackson best director for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Bill Murray received the best actor award for Lost in Translation, while Naomi Watts was voted best actress for 21 Grams.Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini won the screenplay award for American Splendor. (They also directed it.)

BECKHAM FILM INCLUDED IN IMAGE AWARDS NOMINEES

The British film Bend It Like Beckham has been included in the NAACP's list of nominees for best picture at its annual Image Awards ceremonies. The other nominees include Bad Boys II, The Fighting Temptations, Deliver Us From Eva and Whale Rider. Bend It Like Beckham describes the conflict that an Anglo-Indian girl faces within her Asian community in England after she's selected to participate on a female soccer team. The Image awards, which honor persons of color in the film industry, are scheduled to be handed out in Los Angeles on March 8.

PALM SPRINGS FILM FEST DEBUTS WITH 200 FILMS

The 15th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival is scheduled to open with a screening of Tim Burton's Big Fish tonight (Thursday) at the Palm Springs High School auditorium. After losing critical financial sponsors in recent years, the festival has picked up sponsorship from Tiffany and Co. and Paramount Domestic Television's Entertainment Tonight. "Having theEntertainment Tonight sponsorship gives Palm Springs a tremendous advantage in branding this city," the Palm Springs Desert Sun observed today. Some 200 films are scheduled to be screened during the course of the 11-day festival.

CANADA SEES FILM BIZ PICK UP

While noting that "for steady work, the last thing you want to be now is a gaffer, grip or cameraman" in Canada these days, theToronto Sun reported today (Thursday) that several Hollywood projects are scheduled to begin filming in Toronto in the coming weeks, featuring such names as Sean Penn, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Ron Howard, Dylan McDermott and Britney Spears. Nevertheless, the Sun commented, "whether this heralds a turning tide [in Toronto's film industry] remains to be seen." Most worrisome, the newspaper noted, is the continuing rise of the Canadian dollar against the American. U.S. producer Rick Bieber, whose film Aurora Borealis recently wrapped, told the Sun that the exchange rate still represents "a good deal, but we would have saved a lot of money if we'd been able to start filming a few months earlier."

BRITONS RUSH TO BUY DVD'S

Sales of DVDs in Britain soared 75 percent to 140 million in 2003, while sales of VHS videos dropped 19 percent to 60 million, the British Video Association reported today (Thursday). Top sellers in both categories were the Lord of the Rings and Harry Pottersequels. The BVA also reported that worldwide DVD sales rose to $22.7 billion in 2003 while VHS sales dropped to $19.6 billion.