FOX AND TBS PLAY BALL
The Fox broadcast network and the TBS cable network have approved seven-year deals with Major League Baseball to televise weekend games during the season, the entire first round of the playoffs, plus one of the two league championship series, the All-Star Game and the World Series, Bloomberg News reported today (Tuesday), citing three people familiar with the negotiations. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Under it, Fox would broadcast 26 Saturday games (up from the current 18), while TBS would carry 26 Sunday games. TBS would carry the American and National League first-round playoffs, sharing them with sibling cable network TNT. Fox would continue to air the All-Star Game, the World Series and either the American or the National League championship series. The other series is still up for grabs. Further details are expected to be announced before tonight's All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

RATHER TO RETURN, BUT WHO'LL BE WATCHING?

Dan Rather and billionaire Mark Cuban have confirmed that they have reached a three-year deal for Rather to develop and host a weekly documentary series for Cuban's HDNet. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Rather appeared to praise Cuban and take a swipe at his former employers at CBS in a single swoop. "Hard news needs backers that don't back down," Rather told the Inquirer. "It needs owners and operators who understand what news is and isn't, and back up their people and back them all the way." For his part, Cuban said that he regards Rather as "a pioneer and a maverick, small M. [Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.] From infancy, we Texans are taught to have a special place for pioneers and mavericks." He was critical of CBS's treatment of the former anchor over the "Memogate" scandal. "You don't take somebody who's done what he's done and basically make him a scapegoat. It's not right. Particularly over one incident." Further details about Rather's program are expected to be announced later today at the TV critics tour in Pasadena.

FRANCE AND ITALY SHUT DOWN FOR WORLD CUP

Not even America's Super Bowl game can claim the kind of audience share that Sunday's World Cup Final produced in the countries of the two participants. In Italy, 84 percent of the audience, representing 25 million viewers, tuned in. In France, it was 81 percent, or 22.1 million viewers. The audience in Germany, which lost to Italy in the semifinal round, was equally impressive, with 26 million people -- or 72 percent of the German TV audience -- watching on German networks (down from 29.5 million viewers for the semifinal). Even the audience in the U.S. was huge, with 12 million tuned in to ABC's coverage and another 5 million to Univision's. Univision said Monday that nearly half its audience for the World Cup was non-Hispanic. (As of Monday some one million people had accessed a clip of Zinedine Zidane's head-butt during the match uploaded on YouTube.com.)

BROADCASTERS TO MAKE TALENT PAY FOR INDECENCY VIOLATIONS

While the performers unions AFTRA and SAG were successful in persuading lawmakers to delete a provision of the broadcast indecency bill that would impose fines on individual talent for indecent comments, stations are beginning to require their on-air employees to sign contracts obligating them to pay indecency fines if they say anything that causes their stations to be penalized, the Washington Post reported today (Tuesday). The radio giant Clear Channel Communication, which says that it has adopted "zero-tolerance" policies for its personalities, now includes "indemnification language" in its talent contracts that would make the talent, not the station, responsible for paying any indecency fine meted out by the FCC, the Post said.

DISNEY'S ESPN MAKES DEAL WITH WEINSTEIN-OWNED COMPANY

Disney's cable sports network ESPN is dropping Buena Vista Home Video as its DVD distributor and switching to Genius Products, the home video distributor owned in part by the Weinstein Co. The deal surprised analysts inasmuch as Bob and Harvey Weinstein, following a dispute with Disney, abandoned Miramax, the company that they founded and sold to Disney, to form a separate independent production and distribution firm. Their Weinstein Co. subsequently formed a joint venture with Genius (which also has a deal with NBC News). In an interview with today's (Tuesday) New York Post, Genius CEO Trevor Drinkwater described the company as "small and aggressive" and noted, "You get the attention of a small studio, but with the access you'd get at a major studio."

MATSUSHITA TO PRODUCE WORLD'S LARGEST TV MONITOR

Japan's Matsushita Corp., which manufactures TV sets in the U.S. under the Panasonic brand, said Monday that it plans to introduce a 103-inch HDTV plasma monitor by the end of the year. It will be the largest in the world. The company said that it expects only 20 percent of the monitors will wind up in homes, with the overwhelming numbers being used for electronic billboards and other commercial applications. A price was not announced, but analysts expect that the units will be tagged at between $15,000 and $25,000. Matsushita said that it aims to produce 5,000 units annually.

HO HUM, HO HUM. PIRATES, NOT FOR WALL ST.
Wall Street reacted unenthusiastically Monday to reports that Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest had earned $135.6 million, $3.6 million more than earlier estimates, setting a slew of box-office records in the process. Disney stock barely moved, closing 9 cents higher at $29.92. (It rose at additional 7 cents by mid-day trading today). Analysts indicated that the market had already anticipated the successful debut of the movie and that the expectations had been reflected in the stock price. Bernstein Research analyst Michael Nathanson noted that Disney's overall revenue might fall short of his original estimate of $34.7 billion because the strong showing for Pirates would likely be offset by the weaker-than-expected showing for Cars. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Disney, $135,634,554, (New); 2. Superman Returns, Warner Bros. $21,815,243, 2 Wks. ($141,642,667); 3. The Devil Wears Prada, 20th Century Fox, $15,014,778, 2 Wks. ($63,110,544); 4. Click, Sony, $11,921,513, 3 Wks. ($105,842,811); 5. Cars, Disney, $10,734,082, 5 Wks. ($205,098,484); 6. Nacho Libre, Paramount, $3,339,828, 4 Wks. ($73,814,240); 7. The Lake House, Warner Bros. $2,854,457, 4 Wks. ($45,630,219); 8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Universal, $2,549,855, 4 Wks. ($57,434,625); 9. Waist Deep, Focus Features, $1,901,151, 3 Wks. ($19,207,640); 10. The Break-Up, Universal, $1,621,345, 6 Wks, ($114,278,860).

COPY PROTECTION FAULT FOUND IN HDTV DVD PLAYERS

Despite taking elaborate precautions to build fool-proof copy-protection systems into the next generation of high-definition DVD players, a computer magazine has found a relatively easy way of defeating the systems, thereby allowing pirates to make master copies. The magazine c't (sic), in an issue that went on sale Monday, noted that it is only necessary to press the Print key on a keyboard while an HD movie is running in order to get a full-resolution picture of each frame. By automating the process, frames can be captured in consecutive order to create a complete movie, the magazine observed. It can then be mixed with the audio track. The copy protection loophole affects both Sony's Blu-ray players and Toshiba's HD-DVD players. Both companies are expected to produce software updates to counteract the fault.

YET ANOTHER DELAY FOR BLU-RAY PLAYERS, SAYS CHINESE PAPER

And the delays keep coming for Sony's Blu-ray high-definition DVD system. China's Commercial Times newspaper is reporting that Sony's production facilities have not been able to meet the demand for the diode that generates the blue laser at the heart of the HD system. Both Sony's own plants and those of Japan's Nichia Corp., the only two suppliers of the diodes, have been plagued by production problems, the newspaper said. The supply problem, it observed, could not only delay production of Blu-ray DVD players for Sony and other manufacturers, but could also delay the release of PlayStation 3 models, now scheduled for November.

JUNE ALLYSON, STAR OF YESTERYEAR, DIES AT 88

Veteran actress June Allyson, one of the most popular MGM stars of the 1940s and '50s -- appearing in dozens of films during those decades -- died Saturday in Ojai, CA at age 88, her daughter told the Associated Press Monday. The cause of death was attributed to pulmonary respiratory failure and acute bronchitis. AP reporter Bob Thomas recalled that in a 1986 interview she expressed surprise that she had ever become a star: "I have big teeth. I lisp. My eyes disappear when I smile. My voice is funny. I don't sing like Judy Garland. I don't dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they'd take me home to meet Mom." In recent years, she appeared in numerous TV commercials for Kimberly-Clark's Depends.