FORGET KERRY; WHERE ARE THE BALLOONS? CNN, often accused by conservatives and Republicans of being overly friendly to Democrats, did the Democrats no favor Thursday night when, following John Kerry's acceptance speech, it decided to switch to the voice of convention producer Don Mischer. Over pictures of the candidate and his wife waving, Mischer' was heard becoming becoming increasingly frantic as he instructed, "Go balloons" but saw few of them fall. "I don't see anything happening," he shouted. "Jesus, we need more balloons. I want all balloons to go, goddamn. No confetti. No confetti. No confetti. I want more balloons. What's happening to the balloons?" In fact, viewers may have been unaware of any glitch at all except for Mischer's frenetic shouts. CNN's Judy Woodruff later apologized for Mischer's language. But Washington Postmedia critic Tom Shales commented in today's (Friday) Washington Post: "The failure of the balloons to fall was not nearly as big a fiasco as CNN foolishly fixating on them as if they were the story of the century and letting Mischer's shouting take up so much air time." On the broadcast networks, the convention coverage was watched mostly by CBS viewers. Still the network's ratings for the final day of the convention -- a 4.3/7 -- were down almost 50 percent from the network's CSIlead-in between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., an 8.3/14. NBC's convention coverage drew a 3.9/7, while ABC's finished with a 3.0/5.


The Nickelodeon cable division will now supervise Viacom's theme parks, Tom Freston, the company's recently named co-president and co-COO, announced Thursday. Freston told analysts that putting theme parks under Nickelodeon was a logical realignment because both target kids. As part of a widespread company overhaul, consumer products were also moved over to Nickelodeon, which has become the sixth-largest licensing company worldwide. Both theme parks and consumer products had previously been managed by Viacom's Paramount Motion Picture Group. "We want to get the focus of the Paramount Motion Picture Group onto the central task of moviemaking," Freston told today's (Friday) Hollywood Reporter.


Presumably convinced that American Idolhas cornered the market on talent contests, the Miss America Pageant announced Thursday that the annual telecast, which is being cut to two hours when it airs on ABC Sept. 18, will virtually eliminate the talent routines. (They will remain part of the preliminary competition, and a brief montage of clips from them will be shown during the finals.) The Associated Press on Thursday reported that the decision has created an uproar among former pageant contestants and officials. The wire service quoted former pageant CEO Leonard Horn as saying, "They're eliminating one of the core values of the Miss America competition." And Heather French Henry, who was selected Miss America four years ago called the decision "a tragedy," then went on to tell A.P.: "That's what separates us from the type of contestant that goes to Miss USA. Our young ladies get into it for the scholarships and the talent." Last year, ratings for the pageant declined to their lowest in history.FIVE NEW FILMS HIT THE BOX OFFICE Five new films will top the marquees at movie theaters this weekend, with Disney's The Villagelikely to end up as top dog ("dog" is precisely what some critics are calling the movie), ending the studio's long string of disappointments. Still, the M. Night Shyamalan thriller faces heavy competition from Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate, Universal's Thunderbirds, New Line's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and Sony Pictures Classics' She Hate Me. It also faces the second week of Universal's The Bourne Supremacy, which opened with a stunning $53.3 million last week and continued to perform well during midweek.


The scariest thing about The Villagemay be some of the reviews that it's getting. Once the darling of critics following his The Sixth Sense,M. Night Shyamalan has been reduced to a whipping boy with this film. Indeed, New York Postcritic Lou Lumenick remarks, "A gifted director and visual stylist, Shyamalan's scripts sadly have gotten progressively clunkier." Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Critics were enjoined after the screening to avoid revealing the plot secrets. That is not because we would spoil the movie for you. It's because if you knew them, you wouldn't want to go." Discussing those plot twists, A.O. Scott in the New York Timesremarks: "The last thing I want to do is spoil the fun, meager though it is." As for the surprise ending, Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post comments that it's "quite lame, quite tame and quite old. ... I figured it out plenty early, and the 75 percent of you who are smarter than I will get it even earlier." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily Newsrefers to the movie as "a genuine clinker" and "a dreary mess." Joe Morgenstern writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Movies don't come much sillier, or slower, than The Village." On the other hand, Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirercalls it a "hair-raising yarn ... Shyamalan deftly turns a familiar fairy tale into an eerie scary tale." And Eric Harrison in the Houston Chroniclecalls it "Shyamalan's best film since The Sixth Sense."


Although numerous writers have questioned the advisability of remaking a movie classic like The Manchurian Candidate,most critics have concluded that the makers of the new film have nothing to apologize for. "They've done a great job of updating The Manchurian Candidate," concludes Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News."Audiences who don't keep harking back to the twists of the first will find it a head-spinning trip with an undercurrent of cynicism and mistrust that feels in sync with the times," writes Megan Lehmann in the New York Post.Ty Burr in the Boston Globecalls it "a remake that not only is very good but that burns with fervor and up-to-the-minute topicality." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mailcalls the film "a happy surprise," and notes that it "is genuinely entertaining in its own right." Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News concurs, writing: "What could have been risible folly - remaking an acknowledged movie classic - emerges as riveting victory. is a runaway champion." Nearly all of the reviews refer to the impressive performances of the stars, including Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, and, in a smaller role, Jon Voight. But Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journalsays that she agrees with original star Angela Lansbury, that a remake of the classic "is a lousy idea."


One might get the impression from the reviews that the stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castleis not only aboutstoners, but is also forthem, and that an altered state may be necessary in order to discover the film's real humor. Some suggest that even a memory of that state may be helpful. Allison Benedikt, for example, writes in the Chicago Tribune that the movie "will resonate deeply with anyone who attended high school in the 1990s and at least saw a joint." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post concludes: "It isn't great, but what do you expect from the director [Danny Leiner] of Dude, Where's My Car?" Bob Townsend comments in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Its up-and-coming stars, Indian-American [Kal] Penn and Korean-American [John] Cho, break out of the stereotypical minor character roles they're usually relegated to and carry out all the goofiness with subversive intelligence and comedic chemistry." Indeed, Kevin Crust observes in the Los Angeles Times: "That Cho and Penn are such likable actors and are so funny in their roles earns the movie more slack than it probably deserves and prevents it from being just another gross-out comedy."


Several critics are referring to Spike Lee's She Hate Me as an "angry comedy." Call their reviews angry, as well. Stephen Holden in the New York Times, for example, charges that Lee "carries his political exasperation beyond outrage into chaos. ... The boilerplate polemics mouthed by stick-figure characters sound like the beery 3 a.m. debates of a college bull session that has outlasted its usefulness." Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily Newscall its "a mess" -- then adds these adjectives: "crude, nonsensical, stereotypical, cheap-looking and, OK, intermittently interesting." On the other hand, Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times apparently loves Hate, calling it: "a scabrously acute satire, vigorous and entertaining, made by one of America's most fearless and talented filmmakers. There are no lulls and no letup in this bristling 138-minute movie."


MGM on Thursday reported that it had significantly cut its loss in the second quarter to $19.7 million versus $133.6 million during the comparable quarter a year ago. Nevertheless, it said, gross revenue fell 17 percent to $406.1 million from last year's $487.7 million, when its earnings were lifted by sales from the home video release of the James Bond hit Die Another Day.(In a conference call, company officials refused to discuss reports that Pierce Brosnan had put the Bond character behind him, saying they would address "casting issues" when a final script is completed and a director, hired.) In the SEC filing, the studio made no mention of the reported ongoing negotiations with potential purchasers, including Time Warner and Sony Corp. and in their conference call, company officials said that they would not take questions about the sale talks.


Ending ongoing speculation that he might replace Michael Eisner at Disney, News Corp announced Thursday that Peter Chernin had signed a new contract to stay on as president and COO. News reports about Disney shareholders' dissatisfaction with Eisner have frequently mentioned that there is a dearth of talented executives who could replace him and have mentioned Chernin as one of the few who could -- especially since a provision in his contract allowed him to leave if offered a position as head of another media company. His contract with News Corp was scheduled to expire in November.