With some reports noting that Dan Rather had been put out to pasture following his retirement as anchor of the CBS Evening News and the cancellation of 60 Minutes Wednesday,Rather himself augmented the metaphor Thursday by remarking that he felt recently that "I was rode hard and put to bed wet." Rather's comments came during an interview with CNN's Larry King and they appeared to underline the opinion of an investigative panel that observed that Rather's suspect 60 Minutesreport questioning President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War had culminated a whirlwind (literally) of activity by the 73-year-old newsman who had just covered the Florida hurricanes and the Republican National Convention and had barely vetted the report. Nevertheless, he stated, "I'm not a victim of anything except my own shortcomings. It didn't feel terrific." Rather still refused to disavow the report, however, saying, "The last line of this hasn't been written." He acknowledged that while the authenticity of the documents used in the report has yet to be established, "the facts were supported by all kinds of things other than the documents." Asked by King how he developed the image of a left-leaning anchor, Rather replied that part of the answer is the reputation that CBS News developed from the time of Edward R. Murrow's report on Senator Joseph McCarthy to its Harvest of Shamereport on migrant workers to Walter Cronkite's opposition to the Vietnam War. "Part of it is CBS. Part of it is myself [for believing] that news is what somebody, somewhere, doesn't want you to know and that the public needs to know. All the rest is just advertising."


Wall Street analysts have weighed in on Viacom's announced intention of splitting into two businesses -- one that will include its cable TV and movie operations, the other that will include CBS-TV and its radio and billboard units. Morris Mark of Mark Asset Management told Reuters Tuesday that the split "would have a favorable impact on the price of the stock, but make for an inherently weaker group of businesses. Frank Biondi, a former Viacom CEO who clashed with company chairman Sumner Redstone, commented that it "reflects the failure of the CBS deal particularly the radio and outdoor advertising." Media analyst Jack Myers said on his website that the split could "ultimately place both the CBS and MTV (Networks) units into potentially unfriendly hands or long-drawn out merger/acquisition scenarios within 12 to 18 months." (A Viacom spokesman called Myers's comments "ludicrous.") On the other hand Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, commented, "Splitting Viacom into two pieces is going to enhance investors' ability to see the underlying value."


CBS claimed Thursday that it would be the biggest winner when upfront sales for the major markets are tallied. It said it expected to announce sales about to $2.5-2.6 billion for the 2005-06 season, overtaking NBC, the perennial upfront sales winner. "NBC no longer has bragging rights," CBS president of sales Jo Ann Ross told the New York Daily News. ABC announced earlier in the week that it had finished with $2.1 billion. Fox said Thursday that it had also completed its upfront sales, but declined to announce a figure. AdAgequoted an unnamed Fox source as saying that the broadcaster would come in at about $1.6 billion. Fox broadcasts fewer hours of primetime programs than its rivals. NBC said that it is still conducting business. Most analysts expect it to drop to about $2.3 billion from last year's $2.9 billion.


Pepsi, which has fought it out with Coke for supremacy at the concessions counters at the nation's theaters, dropped out of sponsorship of the Academy Awards telecast Thursday. Coke quickly stepped in. The Oscars show is second only to the Super Bowl in audience ratings. Coca-Cola said that it would air six 30-second commercials during the telecast and one during the pre-show. It wasted no time in grabbing the sponsorship, its announcement coming within hours of learning that Pepsi had decided not to renew because "the Academy Awards is not a distinct enough platform."


NBC has selected a little-known Chinese computer manufacturer, Lenovo Group Ltd., to be its computer equipment provider for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. "Today's announcement illustrates Lenovo's ability to provide computing equipment for companies on a world-class level. We created an equipment package that meets NBC's exacting standards for performance, reliability and efficiency," Yang Yuanqing, chairman of Lenovo Group, said in a statement. "The Olympic Winter Games in Torino are the perfect opportunity to showcase the new Lenovo's ability to provide cutting edge, cost effective computer equipment solutions for large scale global companies." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In an interview with Agence France Press, the French news agency, Thomas Wang, an analyst with Beijing-based Analysys International, observed that until now, Lenovo has not sold their products overseas. "This deal with NBC is very important to the new Lenovo, because Lenovo faces a great challenge from the international market: will foreign companies accept Lenovo, or will they reject Lenovo," Wang said.


Two weeks of "tentpole" movies will be challenged by more specialized films this weekend, with one aimed primarily at teenaged girls, another at teenaged boys, and a third at adults. For the girls, there's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, directed by a man, Ken Kwapis. (It should be explained that it concerns what happens when a group of teen girlfriends discover a pair of pants that fits each, then agree to wear them for a week and write to each other about their experience. "In a season of overhyped blockbusters, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a genuine sleeper that deserves to find an audience," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesdescribes the film as "a real pleasure, a big-hearted movie where a group of gifted actresses find opportunities most younger movie stars can only dream about." Another male reviewer, Scott Moore of the Washington Post, writes that the movie "is supposed to be a teenage chick flick, but I have to confess that at the emotional high point, a tear formed in the eye of this middle-aged man (who, of course, wiped it away before anyone else could notice)." Female reviewer Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer asks rhetorically, "What's not to like about a movie that warmly insists size doesn't matter, but that soul and friendship do?" And another female reviewer, Carina Chocana of the Los Angeles Times, describes it as "the girly equivalent of a midsummer Bruckheimer extravaganza -- a roller-coaster ride to the edge of total (emotional, natch) devastation that makes the happy ending that much more reassuring and cozy."


Lords of Dogtown, the film aimed at teenaged boys but directed by a woman, Catherine Hardwicke, is landing with a crash among most critics, nearly all of them comparing it unfavorably with the earlier documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News writes that the script by onetime skateboarding champ Stacy Peralta, who directed the documentary, "is hackneyed, Hardwicke's direction is flat, the cinematography is boring, the acting is atrocious, and the film's depictions of the '70s surfer/skateboarding culture at L.A.'s Venice Beach is scandalously clichéd." Amy Biancolli in the San Francisco Chroniclesums it up this way: "In the end it isn't much more than the rags-to-riches tale of ghetto kids who skate well and land a few plum endorsement deals." On the other hand, Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning Newswrites that "the high-flying maneuvers and swirl of hormones and excitement keep Lords flowing fast and furious." And A.O. Scott in the New York Timessays that "from start to finish [it's] pretty much a blast."


Some critics are already suggesting that Ron Howard's Cinderella Man may become the second boxing movie in a row to win the best-film Oscar -- even critics that don't particularly like it. For example, Lou Lumenick of the New York Post writes that the movie "is an Oscar-baiting fairy tale that manipulates the audience at every turn of the cliché." Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Postpraises the performance of star Russell Crowe as former heavyweight champ Jim Braddock and says that it "will no doubt make the middleweight Cinderella Man a contender -- an Oscar contender." Peter Howell in the Toronto Starcalls it "the year's first guaranteed Best Picture Oscar nominee." Several critics take exception to the unsympathetic portrayal of former heavyweight champ Max Baer in the movie, including Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post, who observes, "It's just not right. In fact, Baer was as beloved as any heavyweight in history, was seen as a friendly, clownish kind of guy, and when a fighter died after a fight with him, he was so upset he quit boxing for several months, then went 2-4 when he came back." Jami Bernard in the New York Daily Newsalso points out that Baer became an American "hero in 1933, when he wore a Star of David on his boxing trunks as he TKOed Hitler's favorite, the German Max Schmeling, at Yankee Stadium."


Max Baer Jr. has expressed outrage over the portrayal of his father in Ron Howard's Cinderella Man. Baer Jr., best remembered for his costarring role on The Beverly Hillbillies,called a scene in which Baer Sr., portrayed by Craig Bierko, boasting about two boxers he killed in the ring "a lie." In an interview with the New York Daily News,Baer Jr. said, "My father cried about what happened to [Baer ring victim] Frankie Campbell. He had nightmares. He helped put Frankie's children through college." Baer said that while he has "great respect" for Cinderella Man producer/director Ron Howard, "he never called me for any factual information about my father. They distorted his character. They didn't have to make him an ogre to make Jimmy Braddock a hero." A spokeswoman for Howard replied, "The script was written from the point of view of the Braddock family. To them, Max Baer was a real threat. Ron felt that was how the character needed to be drafted."


With the box office now into a four-month slump, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter has blamed exhibitors for part of the problem. In an editorial appearing in today's (Friday) edition, Robert J. Dowling, who apparently does not watch movies at press screenings, described attending a movie last weekend and being "assaulted with one inane commercial after another. Not commercials that are geared to movie fans, but ads for television shows, telephones, soft drinks, credit cards -- seemingly every product on the market. And I could not stop thinking about how this onslaught of commercials was coming after we'd paid $20 for our senior tickets plus what we ordered at the snack stand. On and on the commercials went. They were loud, annoying, distracting, and, above all, they totally ruined that transcendent feeling you look forward to when you're just about to watch a movie." Dowling notes that "the exhibitor's unique selling point" is his ability to show films on a big screen. "But I caution theater owners and managers not to be so sure that even the biggest movie buffs won't eventually prefer to pay what it takes to watch a film at home without all the incredibly loud and annoying advertising."


In an announcement that stunned an already reeling British film industry, David Heyman, producer of the Harry Pottermovies, indicated Thursday that he may shoot the next episode of the franchise outside of Britain. In an interview with the British trade publication Screen Daily,Heyman said, "We are exploring all options to determine the best place in the world to make the film. We are looking at the U.K. and other places all over the world." Heyman's comments follow published reports that the producer of the James Bond movies is considering shooting the next film, Casino Royale, in Bulgaria and Romania.