NIGHT OF THE TWO TONYS
It was the Tonys against Tony (Soprano, that is) but both of them were apparently shot down by the NBA Championship contest between the L.A. Lakers and the Detroit Pistons, which averaged a 7.3 rating and a 12 share Sunday night, peaking in the final hour with a 7.9/13. By contrast, the Tonys averaged a 4.8/9. Figures were not available for the season finale of The Sopranos, but it was expected that it would take a big hit from the NBA telecast, especially since numerous repeats of the episode are schedule on HBO. Critics were backslapping it with praise today (Monday). Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe called it "as rich an hour as fans could expect." Sarah Rodman of the Boston Herald agreed, saying that the "finale satisfyingly tied up a few loose ends and tantalizingly left a few threads dangling." Tom Shales in the Washington Post wrote that the season "went out with startling visceral violence that alternated with trenchant, sobering dissertations on the state of the American home." Alessandra Stanley observed in the New York Times that the episode "had a satisfying amount of violence, psychology and dark humor." And Ed Bark in the Dallas Morning News concluded his review by observing: "It now will be another long wait -- until late 2005 or early 2006 -- before The Sopranos returns for a final burst of 10 episodes. But, as always, we've got so much to talk about."

REDSTONE ASSURES STERN VIACOM WILL BACK HIM

Radio shock jock Howard Stern, who had predicted that he'll be booted off the air following the departure of Viacom President and COO Mel Karmazin, received strong backing Friday from Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone. As reported by the industry trade publication Radio & Records, Redstone told an investors conference that he had made it clear to Stern that he was willing to go to Washington to defend him. "We'll give Stern the support, and I believe he will stay with us," Redstone said. He suggested that Stern's detractors should simply not turn him on. "But he has millions of people who want to hear what he has to say, and those people should have a right to hear and see what they want to."

BBC REPORTER SHOT IN SAUDI ARABIA, CAMERAMAN KILLED

A BBC correspondent described as an expert on al-Qaeda was shot and critically wounded and his Irish cameraman killed in Riyadh Saudi Arabia Sunday night. The British embassy said that Frank Gardner had undergone surgery at al-Iman Hospital and had then been transferred to the intensive care ward at King Faisal Specialist Hospital where he was listed in critical but stable condition. Gardner and his cameraman, Simon Cumbers, were believed to have been attacked by al-Qaeda gunmen while they were filming outside the home of Ibrahim al-Rayyes, a suspected terrorist who was killed last December during a clash with government security forces. In a statement, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "Gardner is an outstanding reporter who always seeks to do everything he can to explain the dangerous world we live in to the BBC audience. I have nothing but admiration for journalists like Mr Gardner who know their lives are at risk as they go about their work."

U.S.-BACKED ARAB CHANNEL AIRS SADDAM LOYALIST

Alhurra, an Arabic news channel funded by the U.S. in an apparent effort to counter criticism of U.S. policies in Iraq frequently voiced on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, has included the opinions of persons loyal to Saddam Hussein, according to CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center. The website observed that during a recent debate, one participant depicted Saddam as the only "legitimate president of Iraq" and charged that the U.S. had "kidnapped" him. Mouafac Harb, Alhurra's news director, told CNSNews.com that it was necessary to "bring people who disagree with you" to the debate in order to allow people to make up their own minds about events in Iraq.

ACTOR/POLITICIAN RONALD REAGAN DEAD AT 93

Ronald Reagan, an actor who starred in mostly B-movies before becoming the host of television's General Electric Theater in 1954 and Death Valley Days 10 years later, died at his Bel Air Home Sunday at the age of 93. Following his acting career, Reagan entered politics, serving two terms as governor of California and another two terms as president of the United States. During his first year as an actor in 1938, he told the Des Moines Register: "It's a tough racket. But when you consider the rewards you're shooting at -- fame such as couldn't be won in any other profession and wealth that mounts to dizzying heights -- it's worth the chances you take."

IT'S A $92.6-MILLION POT(TER)
After opening on Friday with $38.2 million, leading several analysts to predict that it would topple Spider-Man's record $114-million three-day debut, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban surprisingly took an 18-percent dip on Saturday, recording $31.4 million in ticket sales. Analysts estimated that the Warner Bros. movie earned an additional $23 million on Sunday, to bring its total for the weekend to $92.6 million, making it the second-highest three-day opening in history. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone opened with $90.3 million in 2001; ...Chamber of Secrets opened with $88.4 million in 2002.) Meanwhile, DreamWorks' Shrek 2 performed admirably, grossing $37 million to bring its 18-day total to $313.6 million. (It took Spider-Man 22 days to hit $300 million.) In third place, 20th Century Fox's The Day After Tomorrow continued to score reasonably well, earning $28.2 million. It was the first time in box office history that three films wound up on the weekend chart together with more than $25 million each. After several weeks in which the box office trailed last year's by some 25 percent, the three blockbusters have now put it slightly ahead of 2003's. "What a difference a few weeks have made," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told the Associated Press. "This could actually be the perfect summer trajectory. Instead of a big start, stalling in the middle and a weak finish, like we usually have, we could have a weak start, a big middle and a strong finish." The box office total stood at $187 million, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen EDI, a 15.6-percent jump from the same weekend a year ago. If the figure holds up after final figures come in today (Monday), the box office would establish a new record for a three-day weekend, set following Christmas Day last year when $186 million in ticket sales was recorded. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, $92.65 million; 2. Shrek 2, $37 million; 3. The Day After Tomorrow, $28.15 million; 4. Raising Helen, $6.7 million; 5. Troy, $5.7 million; 6. Mean Girls, $2.9 million; 7. Soul Plane, $2.85 million; 8. Van Helsing, $2.35 million; 9. Man on Fire, $1 million; 10. Super Size Me, $835,000.

HARRY HOT OVERSEAS

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also knocked down box office records overseas, earning $114.1 million in 24 countries (including the U.K., where it opened last Monday).

DISNEY MAY SELL MIRAMAX BACK TO WEINSTEINS

The wrangling between Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Miramax co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein may lead to a separation of their two companies, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). During a recent dinner in New York, Eisner reportedly told friends that he might be willing to sell Miramax back to the Weinsteins but did not think they could raise sufficient funds to pay for it, the Times said, citing a source who attended the dinner. Although Eisner has claimed that Miramax has been profitable in only two of the last five years, Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik has disputed that appraisal, telling the times: "If the company thinks Miramax is so unprofitable, Bob and Harvey would be happy to buy it back if Disney names the price." Disney bought Miramax from the Weinsteins in 1993 for $80 million. Analysts cited by the Times said that they believe it is now worth more than $2 billion.

KILL BILL 1 KILLS RIVALS AT MTV MOVIE AWARDS

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was voted best film at Saturday's MTV Movie Awards, but Kill Bill 1 was the real killer, winning for Best Female Performance (Uma Thurman), Best Villain (Lucy Liu) and Best Fight (Thurman with Chiaki Kuriyama). Johnny Depp won for Best Male Performance (in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl). Jack Black took home the award for Best Comedic Performance for his role in School of Rock. This being MTV, Adam Sandler touched off little initial controversy (the awards show will not air until June 10) when, in accepting the Best Team award with Drew Barrymore for 50 First Dates, he thanked the people of Hawaii, where the movie was made, for supplying him with marijuana ("weed," as he put it).