ALBERT IS SLAM DUMPED Marv Albert has been dumped as the play-by-play announcer for the New York Knicks telecasts after officials of the MSG Network broke off contract renewal negotiations with him following Albert's refusal to agree to take a more positive stance towards the team, published reports said today (Thursday). The New York Timesquoted two industry executives as saying that Albert particularly angered Cablevision President James Dolan, whose company owns Madison Square Garden and the Knicks. "Jim felt all broadcasters had to be cheerleaders and sell tickets," one of the executives told the Times. Albert himself told the newspaper that his dealings with Dolan sometimes made him feel as if he were working for the "theater of the absurd" instead of the MSG Network. "This is a chapter in journalism about how a broadcast should not be handled," he said. Rumors immediately arose that Albert could wind up next year as the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers.


The two principal guests who were to appear on the premiere of Unfiltered, Tucker Carlson's new talk show on PBS, each bowed out on Wednesday, two days before the national broadcast. (It airs at different times -- and on different days -- throughout the country.) In an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlson -- who described the guests only as "awesome" -- remarked, "We're scrambling. I've always respected bookers, but never more than right now. They have one of the most difficult and least appreciated jobs in TV. They have to be aggressive and charming at the same time, which most people cannot do." Carlson, who will remain as the conservative co-host of CNN's Crossfire, denied that he had been brought aboard by PBS to counter charges that the public broadcaster leaned to the left. He told the Inquirer: "Being conservative was not a factor, so far as anybody has told me. From the beginning, my only instructions have been to do a good TV show." Carlson's program is being produced by Steve Friedman, who was Bryant Gumbel's producer on NBC's Todayand CBS's The Early Show.


Heady days returned to ABC Wednesday as overnight ratings figures for Tuesday's NBA championship match, in which the Detroit Pistons beat the L.A. Lakers to win the series, turned out to be the highest in six years. The telecast averaged a 9.8 rating and a 16 share, peaking during the 10:00 p.m. hour with an 11.8/19. The five-game series average 17.9 million viewers -- nearly twice the 9.9 million who tuned into last year's series featuring the New Jersey Nets and the San Antonio Spurs. On Wednesday, even Disney stock was up, while most other media stocks turned lower. But by nightfall, the blush was off the bloom, as ABC fell to fourth place again with a 3.1/6 average for the night. NBC was No. 2 with a 6.2/11, followed by CBS (6.1/11), and Fox (5.2/9).


Pat O'Brien is leaving the syndicated Access Hollywood and may become the host of a new Paramount TV series called The Insider. The show's executive producer, Rob Silverstein, said that O'Brien's contract was not renewed because the syndicators, NBC Universal Television, had decided to take it in a new direction. They are replacing O'Brien, who is 56, with the show's East Coast correspondent, Billy Bush, who is 32, and a cousin of the president. (Billy Crystal once called him "the most annoying man in show business.") Over the past year, O'Brien has also handled several celebrity interviews for NBC's Dateline. It was not clear whether he remains in good standing with the older-skewing magazine program. A former sportscaster, he has already signed to work on NBC's coverage of the summer Olympics.


Live Internet coverage of the British version of Big Brotherwas cut off early today (Thursday) after two participants in the series, identified as Emma and Victor, became involved in a fight and security guards were called upon to separate them. In the commotion, trays were thrown, plates were smashed and a table overturned, news reports said. At one point Emma screamed at Victor: "I'll f***ing kill you." He responded, "Never f*** with me, Emma. ... You ain't f***ing shit to me, I'll f***ing show you!" British news reports have said that the obvious animosity between some participants has produced strong ratings for the Channel 4 show, with Wednesday night's program drawing 6.3 million viewers.FAHRENHEIT RISES A heavy promotional campaign for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which opens on June 25, will be launched Friday when Moore appears on NBC's Todayin the morning and on Dateline in the evening. The interview was taped Tuesday. On Wednesday distributor Lions Gate said that it had booked 422 theaters thus far for the documentary and was continuing its efforts to expand that number past 500. (The distributor had originally forecast that it would clear 1,000 theaters by opening day.) Meanwhile, the liberal activist group MoveOn has sent an appeal to its 2.2 million members urging them to attend screenings of the film. If they turn out, the group said, "it'll send a clear and unmistakable message to the media and the theater owners that this movie is a force to be reckoned with." On the other hand, an outfit called Move America Forward is urging conservatives to call theaters and urge them not to screen the film.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has hit on a plan that would allow the studios to send screeners to all of its 6,000 members without concern that they could be copied and uploaded onto the Internet: send each of them a special DVD player containing a built-in "key" that can unlock a digital code incorporated into the screeners, which cannot be played on conventional DVD players. Moreover, the machines will record the date and time that the disc was played and identify the machine. Nevertheless, Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday) that providing each Academy member with such a machine could cost $2.4 million in addition to the costs of encrypting and distributing the screeners. The trade paper observed that it was not clear how the studios could divvy up such costs without appearing to violate antitrust rules.


Elie Samaha, who as the operator of a small chain of dry cleaners in Hollywood, formed friendships with actors and producers and eventually helped them find financing for a host of movies, will have to pay a German distributor $77 million after a federal jury agreed that he had defrauded the company. The distributor, Intertainment, had charged that Samaha's Franchise Pictures had inflated the budgets for a slate of movies, so that Intertainment, which believed it was paying 47 percent of the costs, actually paid for virtually all of them. The jury will now decide whether punitive damages will also be awarded to Intertainment.


Superman, who appears to have been struggling with kryptonite since he last appeared on the screen 17 years ago, may finally make his return next year in a film to be produced for Warner Bros. by Neal Moritz (The Fast and the Furious) and Gilbert Adler (Starsky and Hutch), Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday). The trade publication observed that although it was likely that Charlie's Angelsdirector McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol) will direct, he has not yet been signed. (Nor, for that matter, has the film been officially greenlighted.) Varietysaid that the studio has decided to find a relative unknown to play the Man of Steel and that McG screen tested six actors last week for the role.


Texas Congressman Lamar Smith introduced copyright legislation Wednesday intended to defend the ClearPlay DVD filtering system that removes profanity, sex and violence from movies. The system has come under attack by numerous studios and guilds, which allege that by modifying the original version, the system infringes on the filmmakers' copyright. However, in a statement issued Wednesday, Smith maintained that ClearPlay "is the electronic equivalent of what parents did a generation ago to safeguard their children by muting the sound or fast-forwarding over behavior that is unwelcome in a family living room." On the other hand, the Directors Guild of America said Wednesday: "Amending the copyright law as proposed would allow companies to destroy someone else's property rights and reputation, all in the name of profit."


An Indian film about a lesbian love affair that touched off violent protests -- and, in one instance, a theater burning -- by the fundamentalist Shiv Sena party after it was released this month, has now encountered opposition from gay activists. The Organized Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Action charged on Wednesday that the film, Girlfriend, directed by Karan Razdan, is doing nothing to enhance the image of lesbians in India. A spokeswoman for the group called the movie, "a cheap and titillation-oriented film masquerading as one that's liberal."