LET THE BATTLE BEGIN Fox Television Entertainment President Gail Berman leveled a counterpunch Thursday at her opposite number at NBC, calling NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker's charges that Fox was ripping off programming from other networks "baseless ... outrageous and unacceptable." "Ideas are not copyrightable," Berman told TV critics in Los Angeles. The network exec, who announced that fox planned to air the reality series The Next Great Champafter NBC bought the Mark Burnett/Sylvester Stallone-produced The Contender, told TV critics in Los Angeles: "Just like scripted programming, the unscripted world has reached a point where multiple projects with similar themes are being pitched simultaneously. Fox has always been aggressive and noisy. We have the ability to reach quickly and defy the competition." Fox is expected to beat NBC to the punch with The Next Great Champ, although a date for its premiere has not yet been set. It also has said it plans to air another reality series, Trading Spouses, which has been compared with NBC's forthcoming Wife Swap.


In an apparent effort to stop second-tier stars in TV series from staging sick-outs to demand higher pay, CBS on Thursday fired CSIactors George Eads and Jorja Fox, each of whom were in the fifth year of a seven-year contract. They were reportedly not showing up on the set in order to seek significant increases in their $100,000-per-episode fee. CBS's action comes following last year's uprising by members of the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond, which resulted in modest pay hikes for each.


Martha Stewart, often described as television's "domestic diva," was sentenced to five months in prison and five months in home detention for lying to federal investigtors about whether she had engaged in insider trading. She remained free pending the outcome of her appeal. Defiant to the end, Stewart said afterwards that what she called "a small personal matter" had been magnified out of proportion by prosecutors. "I'll be back," she assured her supporters on the steps of the courthouse. "I'm not afraid, not afraid whatsoever. I'm very sorry it had to come to this."


Eyebrows were raised Thursday after the TV miniseries The Reagans, which was yanked from the CBS network and forced to air on the pay-TV channel Showtime, received seven Emmy nominations. The leaders of MoveAmericaForward.com, which led the battle against Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, had charged that in the Reagan film, the couple "are smeared by a collection of Hollywood liberal screenwriters and actors who concoct false events and statements in a desperate attempt to redefine the Reagan Legacy." And even Patti Davis, the sometimes estranged daughter of the late president, had condemned the film as "idiotic." The film's co-producer, Craig Zadan, told the Hollywood Reporter that the major TV networks "still feel the residual chill from the highly politicized attacks that were leveled by people who never even saw their movie." But Michael Paranzino, who launched the website www.boycottcbs.com after the film was announced, told the Los Angeles Times that the Emmy nominations illustrate "the differences in Hollywood values versus mainstream American values."


The liberal activist group MoveOn.org has announced that it will hold a news conference in New York on Monday at which it will reportedly announced that it will file a lawsuit challenging Fox News's tagline "Fair and Balnced." Common Cause Pesident Chellie Pingree is also scheduled to participate in the news conference as well as former employees of the news channel.


A battle between cartoon giants loomed Thursday as Marvel Enterprises, creator of Spider-Man, The Hulk,and X-Men, sued Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and company, for $16 million. The suit charges that Disney failed to provide a proper accounting for the Marvel-based cartoons that currently air on the ABC Family channel (formerly the Fox Family channel). It also charges that the cable channel refused to promote the shows adequately and instead devoted most of its marketing effort to its own animated fare.


Over the objections of Jewish groups, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the counterpart of America's FCC, gave the go-ahead for the Arab all-new channel al-Jazeera to be seen in Canada. The commission ordered that cable distributors keep records of al-Jazeera broadcasts and allowed it to alter or delete any "abuse comment." Some Western critics have complained that the network sympathizes with terrorists, pointing out that it regularly airs video featuring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.


The British reality show Supernanny, in which nanny Jo Frost moves into homes and takes charge of unruly children, saw its audience soar to an average 5.7 million, representing a whopping 27.0 share on Wednesday night. The second episode of the series peaked with a 30.1 share in its final quarter hour. ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS Robots are expected to knock Spider-Man off his perch at the top of the box office this weekend as 20th Century Fox's I, Robot, starring Will Smith, debuts today (Friday). Analysts are predicting that total ticket sales will amount to around $40-50 million. Meanwhile, Spider-Man 2 is expected earn between $20 million and $30 million. It currently is about $27 million short of the $300-million mark.


Critics appear to agree that I, Robot, starring Will Smith, is a serviceable summer film to accompany a large tub of popcorn, but little else. Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News comments: "I, Robot is yet another summer entree in which good intentions are stymied by excessive bric-a-brac. But you'll still enjoy the robots on parade." Ty Burr in the Boston Globeremarks that Isaac Asimov's 1950 short story collection "has been remixed and remodeled into a stylish, watchable, very familiar future-cop action thriller. What was once original is now almost completely derivative." Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journalremarks that the movie "is impressive for Patrick Tatopoulos's production design but depressive for the juiceless story." Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer similarly remarks: "While I enjoyed its look and Smith's charisma, [director Alex] Proyas' film is long on flash but short on resonance." Several critics suggest that the movie has a lot in common with the robots it depicts. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail describes it as: "A movie of its kind and of its time -- functional, professional, slickly manufactured and slouching toward consciousness -- I, Robot is a perfect slave to mechanical convention." And A.O. Smith in the New York Timesobserves: "This kind of movie presents a troubling paradox, since it is an example of the very phenomenon it purports to warn against. Dramatizing the threat of runaway technology seems to demand ever greater technological innovation, as digitized special effects increasingly push human beings off screen."


Once upon a time there was this movie about a Valley girl who has to live with an evil stepmother when her father is killed and who ends up -- totally dissed by the critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timespens his review of A Cinderella Story as a letter to a teenager, writing "This is a lame, stupid movie ... sappy and dead in the water." Megan Lehmann in the New York Postcalls it "an instantly forgettable wisp of marshmallow that revisits the same teen-crush cliches that have surely been in play since the days of the classic fairy tale it ransacks for inspiration." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postwrites: "You can say of this movie, truly, that they took the most famous tale in the world and broke it." And Stephen Holden in the New York Times posts this notice at the conclusion of his review of the movie: "Hollywood be warned: teenagers hate being taken for fools."


Critics, by and large, are reserving their most positive reviews to a small film starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger that is the very antithesis of a summer movie. A. O. Scott in the New York Times, calls the Door in the floor,based on a John Irving novel, "surely the best movie yet made from Mr. Irving's fiction. It may even belong in the rarefied company of movies that are better than the books on which they are based. And above all, Jeff Bridges offers perhaps the wittiest and richest piece of screen acting by an American man so far this year." Ty Burr in the Boston Globecalls it: "a stunningly well-acted drama for grown-ups." But Ann Hornaday writes in the Washington Post: "This is a carefully conceived, thoughtfully orchestrated effort in taste and restraint that ultimately is too restrained and tasteful." And Mark Caro observes in the Chicago Tribune: "A Door in the Floor" is the kind of novel adaptation that constantly reminds you of its literary origins. That is, the characters talk and behave the way characters in novels do -- so if you like lyrical dialogue and fanciful metaphors, you're in luck. If you're inclined toward characters whose behavior is more grounded in the way people act in the real world, you may be less forgiving."


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday announced new rules that include one which bars studios from "casting a negative or derogatory light" on other nominees for Oscars in their ad and marketing campaigns. The rule reportedly resulted from a controversial ad placed by DreamWorks in Daily Varietylast year, in which it cited several film critics who said that while Shohreh Aghdashloo deserved to win the supporting actress Oscar for her performance in House of Sand and Fog, Renée Zellweger would likely win it for Cold Mountain (she did). "That ad sort of crystallized the issue for us," academy executive administrator Ric Robertson told today's (Friday) Variety. "It got us to thinking we needed to craft some language to address that kind of situation."


Shares in the online DVD-rental outfit Netflix fell 15 percent in after-hours trading Thursday following the company's announcement that it had failed to meet earnings estimates, primarily because of the higher costs of attracting new subscribers. Shares in the company closed at $32 but dropped to $27.10 in after-hours trading. At mid-morning today (Friday), they were down to $24.23. The company said that in the last quarter, it had earned $2.80 million, down from $3.31 million in the year-ago quarter. Gross revenue, however, rose 90 percent from a year ago to $120.3 million.