RATHER WON'T TRY TO STAY ON AT CBS
Dan Rather has confirmed that he is being forced to leave the network after 44 years. In an interview with USA Today, he said, "They wanted this resolution, and I'm willing to accept that and move on." He told the newspaper that he had expected to remain at CBS for the rest of his career. "But life takes its twists and turns, and I'm a pro." In a separate interview with TV Week, Rather said that "finishing details are being worked out" for him to leave the network and that he has "opportunities I can't discuss today." And in yet another interview with the Los Angeles Times, he remarked, "Network executives decided that I should go on to the next step of my work. ... It's clear I have some difficulties with the current corporate management." Asked whether he feels a sense of betrayal, he replied, "I'd leave it for others to define it."

NEW CNBC HELPS BEAT RIVALS

Jonathan Wald, appointed only a week earlier to succeed David Friend as business-news overseer at CNBC, rushed into the cable channel's control room Thursday afternoon and cut short an interview so that CNBC would be first on the air with word that Bill Gates is phasing himself out of Microsoft's day-to-day operations. According to the TVNewser website, MSNBC, which was formed by Microsoft and NBC (although NBC recently bought Microsoft's 50-percent stake in the channel, the giant software company still owns half of the MSNBC website), did not air Gates's announcement. In it, Gates said that he desired to focus his attention on the Gates Foundation, which has already poured $10 billion into efforts to reform education and fight AIDS and malaria in Africa.

WORLD CUP BEATING STANLEY CUP

Although there has been much debate in recent years over whether Americans have much interest in soccer, one thing has certainly emerged from the TV ratings over the past week: they're more interested in soccer than they are in ice hockey. According to Nielsen Research, Spanish-language Univision has been averaging 2.3 million per World Cup telecast while ABC and ESPN2 have averaged 2 million -- a total of 4.3 million. By contrast, Monday's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC drew 3.1 million total viewers, despite airing in primetime. Wednesday's Game 5 improved to 3.8 million viewers but still failed to beat the totals for the World Cup.

BUSH SIGNS BILL RAISING FINES FOR INDECENT BROADCASTS

As expected, President Bush on Thursday signed into law legislation that increases tenfold the fines broadcasters will have to pay if they violate the FCC's decency rules. At a signing ceremony, Bush remarked, "Broadcasters and the electronics industry must play a valuable role in protecting our children from obscene and indecent programming." Under the new law, the maximum fine is increased to $325,000 per violation from $32,500. Thus CBS's affiliates that were together fined $3,250,000 for airing a racy scene in Without a Trace would have been been fined $32,500,000 under the new law -- or about what it costs to produce all episodes of the series for an entire season.

FIREWORKS FIZZLE ON TONIGHT

Jay Leno was being criticized for aborting the anticipated fireworks display that the scheduled encounter between liberal George Carlin and conservative Ann Coulter on his show Wednesday night seemed destined to set off. "The telecast was about as fiery as a midday book signing at Barnes & Noble," wrote Alessandra Stanley in today's (Friday) New York Times. Leno, she observed, tossed softball questions at Coulter, beginning with one about whether her attacks on the 9/11 widows in her new book Godless didn't contribute to a "nasty" partisan culture. During the entire time, Carlin barely said a word, and Leno made no effort to draw him into the conversation. "It was left to a meekish Leno to challenge Coulter, since it was obvious that Carlin's mouth had been permanently wired shut during [the commercial] break," wrote Bill Brownstein in the Montreal Gazette.

NEXT SEASON WILL BE FIRST IN MEMORY WITHOUT A BLACK STAR

NAACP President Bruce Gordon has accused the major television networks of failing to honor their commitment to diversity by neglecting to include a single minority in the starring role of a new show. In the organization's analysis of the new season, excerpted in today's (Friday) Los Angeles Times, Gordon also pointed out that, with the recent cancellation of Fox's The Bernie Mac Show, the coming season will be the first in recent memory without an African-American lead on any TV program. "The lack of African American leads in sitcoms is unconscionable," Gordon said. "This is historically where many African actors, directors, writers and show runners have honed their artistic skills and found meaningful employment." He indicated that he plans to meet with network executives in the coming weeks to discuss the matter.

COULD THIS BE WHY COOPER'S HAIR HAS TURNED PREMATURELY GREY?

Clearly Anderson Cooper is painfully aware of the ups and downs his career has experienced since coming to CNN. In an interview with Carole Radziwill in Glamour magazine, Cooper recalled that things did not go well for him when he arrived at the network in 2001 as an anchor on American Morning; "Actually, the first six months were difficult. The ratings weren't great. I realized I was in trouble when I got sent to Afghanistan without a camera crew," he told Radziwill. "I called back to my office and Bill Hemmer answered my phone! That's how I learned I'd been replaced on the morning show and reassigned to the weekend desk." Meanwhile, the TVNewser website is reporting that when John Roberts has stood in for Cooper this month, he has drawn a bigger audience than Cooper.

A TALE OF TWO CARS
The box-office race will grow more crowded this weekend with the wide release of four new films, but Disney/Pixar's Cars is still expected to retain the lead, analysts say. Although it had opened with $60.1 million -- some $10 million below Pixar's previous hit, The Incredibles, it had been steadily playing catchup during midweek, taking advantage of the beginning of summer vacation. Although The Incredibles opened in November, it had the advantage of a four-day Veterans Day holiday at the end of its first week, which produced strong business on Thursday, Nov. 11. Still, Cars is expected to gross $85 million through Thursday versus $91.7 for The Incredibles over the comparable period. Ironically, Cars is expected to face its greatest competition from another movie about cars, Universal's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the latest F&F sequelfrom producer Neal Moritz. The last sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, premiered with $50.5 million. Also expected to challenge Cars for the family audience is another CG-animated feature, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, from 20th Century Fox. Two other film opening wide are Paramount's Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black, and Warner Bros.' The Lake House. Neither is expected to be a major contender.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT

With The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift going on location to Japan, the movie "delivers all the races and crashes you could possibly desire, and a little more," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert credits director Justin Lin for delivering the "something more," writing that he "takes an established franchise and makes it surprisingly fresh and intriguing." Even in a generally negative review ("flashy and inane as its predecessors") Jason Anderson in the Toronto Globe & Mail allows that the film features "superior vehicular stunts, most of them real rather than tricked out with CGI." (The "drift" in the title refers to the way Japanese racers sometimes hit the emergency brake and accelerator at the same time, causing their vehicles to skid sideways.) Several critics complain that director Lin devotes far more attention to the car races than he does to the plot. As Claudia Puig remarks in USA Today, "Its stultifying plot and wooden acting is likely to make you drift -- off to sleep." But Chris Hewitt in the St. Paul Pioneer Press comments, "The movie is really about energy, freedom and speed. To complain there's no plot or characters in Tokyo Drift would be like complaining a shark lacks feathers." Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News puts it this way: "The story's a joke; the characters barely have one dimension and the dialogue is as clunky as the cars are slick. Most times that would be all you needed to know, but there's one more important detail about the third installment in the F&F franchise: It's a great piece of entertainment. To call it a great film would be to oversell it, but as a fun, fascinating work of kinetic art, a 100-minute visual spectacle, it's a knockout."

MOVIE REVIEWS: GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES

Several critics seem to agree that Garfield, with Bill Murry once again providing his voice, is a lot funnier than he was in his last movie. "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties is roughly twice as good as that earlier hairball, Garfield,[The Movie]" writes Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel. And Nancy Churnin in the Dallas Morning News agrees: "The sequel, while hardly original, goes for goofier, kinder fun than the successful but often mean-spirited Garfield: The Movie." Most critics, however, are not at all amused. "Kids should see Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties," writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post. "It'll help prepare them for a lifetime of mediocre entertainment ahead." And Evan Henerson in the Los Angeles Daily News calls it, "the celluloid equivalent of a hairball." But Sarah Lindner in the Austin American-Statesman makes the point that what critics say about the movie will have absolutely no effect on what it will do at the box office. "You will see or shun Garfield based not on reviews but on whether your kids want to go. And they probably will. The first Garfield movie brought in $75 million from U.S. box offices in 2004."

MOVIE REVIEWS: NACHO LIBRE

Nacho Libre appears to have been made exclusively for Jack Black fans. Clearly many critics are not among them. One who is is Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times, who writes: "Black is a gifted physical comedian with surprisingly expressive eyes and an even more surprising tender streak." But Chocano is in the minority. The headline of Liam Lacey's review in the Toronto Globe & Mail effectively sums up most of the others: "Muy estupido -- and just not that funny." Fellow Torontonian Geoff Pevere of The Star was equally unimpressed, writing: "While I certainly wasn't expecting much from Nacho Libre ... I certainly wasn't expecting the sensation of embalming fluid coursing through my veins that set in within 10 minutes. Make no mistake: you can feel your heart rate declining." Kyle Smith in the New York Post predicts that "half of the audience (at least) is going to sit in bewildered silence. The rest will laugh roughly every 8.4 seconds." An Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune concludes that the movie's just not something to get worked up over. "The film is easy to take and easy to forget," he writes.

WILL SUPERMAN BE READY FOR IMAX? (AND VICE VERSA)

IMAX projectionists have posted messages on various websites indicating that they have been informed that delivery of the 3D print of Superman Returns may be delayed until June 26, making it impossible for them to assemble and prepare the reels for screening the following day. Advance tickets have already been sold for the scheduled June 27 IMAX debut of the 3D feature. As of Thursday, the studio had not confirmed that the IMAX screenings would be delayed and had given no hint how it will handle ticket refunds or exchanges if they are. The website Slashfilm.com also said that the studio has no plans to show the 3-D IMAX version of the Superman movie to film critics.

Cinemark Movie Club