CENSORS CUT SIN FROM SIN CITY Reality show producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) says that he has received "pages and pages" of notes from Fox censors demanding that he remove or tone down scenes in his Las Vegas-based series The Casino, which debuts on Monday.In an interview with Daily Variety,Burnett said that he has had to excise strategically blurred scenes of naked bodies, drop a storyline about a whipped cream bikini, and remove all mention of sex in the dialogue. "It's hard to tell a story about Sin City without sin," he told the trade publication. "The content has been very, very sanitized." Nevertheless, Burnett indicated that he sympathizes with Fox. "I blame Janet Jacket," he said. "It's the political climate right now. There's nothing acrimonious between me and Fox on this. I'm just not used to pages and pages of broadcast standards notes." Burnett said Canadian and Australian outlets have asked for the uncensored version of the show and he intends to comply with their requests.


Although the Janet Jackson incident during the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 is largely blamed for touching off the current regulatory crackdown on broadcasting indecency, the FCC said Thursday that it had received 146,268 complaints about indecent material on radio and TV broadcasts well before then -- during the last quarter of 2003. It received another half-million complaints about the Jackson breast-baring, it added.


Despite the fact that they are produced by the news divisions of the major networks, NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America, and CBS's The Early Show are increasingly being used as promotional platforms for the networks' primetime entertainment programming, according to a survey by TV Guide. During the May sweeps, the magazine said, Todaydevoted 117 minutes and 23 seconds to NBC shows. CBS was close behind with 107 minutes and five seconds. (TV Guidepointed out that Todayis on the air three hours a day, while Earlyis on only two.) Good Morning America, which lacked a hot show to hype during the month, devoted only 35 minutes and 56 seconds to ABC's primetime fare.


ABC is apparently borrowing a page from NBC, which introduced a series of "one-minute movies" to hold onto viewers during long commercial breaks last fall. The network said Thursday that it plans to test what it called "Micro-Minis," each about three minutes long. The short films, ABC indicated, will be the work of newcomers, with three of the initial four films coming from the Walt Disney Studios/ABC Entertainment Writing Fellowship Program. They will air as three separate one-minute segments interspersed throughout the network's primetime programming. No mention of the similar NBC product was made in the company's announcement. In fact, the network said that the idea originated more than two years ago and was aimed principally at furthering talent development.


Marc Collins-Rector, who founded Digital Entertainment Network during the Internet boom with seed money that included $7 million from NBC, pleaded guilty in New Jersey Thursday to transporting five boys across state lines for purposes of sex. In 1999 and 2000, DEN produced short episodic videos for the Internet that were intended to provide "niche" programming for audiences neglected by television -- a soap opera about gay teenagers, a drama about skateboarders, an inspirational series for young Christians, among others. The company reportedly sailed through $60 million dollars -- some of it reportedly used by Collins-Rector to ply young boys with expensive gifts, travel and regular payments -- before ending up on the rocks in 2000. In the same year Collins-Rector fled to Spain after revelations of his activities were reported by the Los Angeles Times and he was indicted in New Jersey. He was arrested in 2002 and extradited back to the U.S.


The wife of BBC reporter Frank Gardner, critically wounded in Saudi Arabia Sunday by gunmen believed to be associated with al-Qaeda, flew into Riyadh Thursday and told reporters after visiting her husband that he is "working hard to try to stay alive." She said that he remains unconscious following a second day of surgery at King Faisal Specialist Hospital.


Control Room , a documentary about the Arab news network al-Jazeera that is opening in limited release today, is receiving much praise from film critics. Although U.S. officials -- in particular Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- have charged that al-Jazeera is engaged in anti-American propaganda, the film depicts numerous instances of pro-American comments by the Arab network's officials and producers. Several critics refer to a potent scene in which an al-Jazeera producer remarks that if he were offered a job with Fox News, he would take it -- so that his children would be able "to exchange the Arab nightmare for the American dream." Says Ty Burr in the Boston Globe: "It sounds like hypocrisy; it plays as realpolitik candor." Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribunewrites: "If nothing else,Control Room is an eye-opener to anyone whose images of the war have come solely from U.S. news networks." Adds Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times: "I have not seen al-Jazeera and am in no position to comment on its accuracy. I have seen this film, however, which contains enlightening moments." Ebert says that he was particularly struck by the different approach al-Jazeera took to the coverage of the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein. The American networks showed crowds of Iraqis seemingly overjoyed by the incident. But the documentary, Ebert says, reveals "something American audiences were not shown: The square was not filled with cheering citizens, but was completely empty, except for the small band of young men who toppled the statue."WILL THEY STILL BE WILD ABOUT HARRY? Even though it's expected to drop by nearly 60 percent this weekend, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban probably will keep a lock on the box office, analysts appear to agree. Three new films, Universal's The Chronicles of Riddick,Paramount's The Stepford Wives, and 20th Century Fox's Garfieldwill be vying with Shrek 2 -- in its fourth week -- for second place. None of the new films received much praise from critics, but Riddickis given the best chance at nailing the runner-up spot.


It's hard to know whether movie critics, like the rest of the population, are divided into dog lovers and cat lovers. But there's certainly a mix of feelings about Garfield: The Movie, with some critics giving it some pleasant strokes, while others calling it, well, a dog. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesis one of the former. Ebert writes that the movie "captures the elusive charm of the most egotistical character on the funny pages, and drops him into a story that allows him to bask in his character flaws." But A.O. Scott is the New York Timessuggests that the story is one of the movie's problems. "Most humorous comic strips don't have them. The problem with Garfield: The Movie is that it does," he writes. Most of the reviewers, even those who hate the film, give Bill Murray high marks for giving Garfield a voice. Chris Kaltenback in the Baltimore Sunwrites that "it's hard to think of a movie more dependent for its success on someone whose face is never seen." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post hypothesizes: "Bill Murray would be entertaining even if he were reciting the tax tables. That thesis is just about put to the test in Garfield: The Movie." "It is the triumph of the audio over the visual, and Murray over all," writes Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer.But some critics find little in the movie to relish -- not even Garfield's prized lasagna. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, for example,calls the movie "a downright cat-astrophe."


Vin Diesel is being pummeledby a number of critics for his performance in The Chronicles of Riddick,the sequel to Pitch Black. They're also hammering the movie. "Riddick-ulous," harrumphs Megan Lehmann in the New York Post.Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls it "an overblown hodgepodge of volcano-baked desertscapes, Egyptoid-gone-baroque architecture, and gladiator-geared storm troopers with goofy headpieces." Most critics agree that the sequel is a shadow of the original. Writes Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Times: "Weighted down with money, pretension and Diesel's tenuous importance ... the follow-up to Pitch Black inverts nearly everything that made the first film an effective-enough shocker." And Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionannounces: "We have our first serious contender for Worst Movie of 2004." But Ty Burr in the Boston Globeobserves: "Fans of muscular sci-fi and teenage boys of all ages will probably kick my rating up by at least a star, because, really, Chronicles of Riddick is a perfectly acceptable entry in the summer-behemoth genre."


The question: Is the new version of the 1975 movie The Stepford Wivesbetter than the original? The critics provide different answers. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesobserves that "the 1975 movie tilted toward horror instead of comedy. Now here's a version that tilts the other way, and I like it a little better." Jack Mathews in the New York Daily Newspraises writer Paul Rudnick for turning the "dated" original "into a broad, feverishly fey parody" containing "some of the year's sharpest comic dialogue." But Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postcomments that the remake "shows the danger of taking the story out of the '70s but not taking the '70s out of the story." And Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star writes similarly: "Now remade as a startlingly unfunny $90-million comedy with a jaw-droppingly incoherent happy ending, the reborn Stepford Wives reveals nothing of its new moment."


Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11will have its U.S. premiere at IFP's Los Angeles Film Festival on June 22, three days ahead of its domestic debut. Daily Varietyreported today (Friday) that singer Neil Young, designated Artist in Residence at the festival, was instrumental in booking the controversial film. (Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" plays over the film's closing credits.) Although Moore is not expected to attend the screening, Young has reportedly agreed to introduce it.


The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), which represents record dealers, have begun merger talks, the two organizations announced in a joint statement today (Friday). "In addition to industry consolidation and other economic factors, matters pertaining to piracy, copyright law, First Amendment protections, theft prevention, formats, packaging and labeling, emerging business models, digital delivery and the like concern our members," the statement said. Although it was speculated that the merger talks might be driven in part by the increasing costs of holding separate national conventions, the statement said that this year's conventions will go on as scheduled.