TV NEWS GOES ALL-REAGANCBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather has complained that television has "over-covered" the funeral of Ronald Reagan. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer,Rather remarked, "Even though everybody is respectful and wants to pay homage to the president, life does go on. There is other news, like the reality of Iraq. It got very short shrift this weekend." Similar comments were voiced by NBC Nightly Newsanchor Tom Brokaw, who told the Inquirer, "I think just about everything is over-covered these days. ... The spectrum is so crowded. With all the cable networks, it begins to have a 'video wall' feeling to it." But ABC World News Tonightanchor Peter Jennings indicated that he intends to confine the funeral coverage. "I'm more inclined to spare coverage," he told the newspaper, "come on [the air], do something meaningful, then get away." Meanwhile, campaign representatives for President Bush and Senator Kerry said Monday that they have pulled their spots for 24 hours on Friday, the official day of the funeral, in order to set aside partisanship on that day.


British actress Alex Kingston, who has played surgeon Elizabeth Corday on the NBC drama E.R.for eight years, is being written out of the series because producers say she is too old, Kingston told the British magazine Radio Times. She is 41. "The show seems to be taking a different tone. I understand it needs to keep reinventing itself to keep going and apparently I, according to the producers and the writers, am part of the old fogeys who are no longer interesting," she remarked. She also suggested that budget considerations may also have been instrumental in the decision to fire her. She currently receives $100,000 per episode. "The newcomers aren't getting much at all," she said. In a joint statement, Warner Bros. and the exec producers of E.R. disregarded Kingston's claims, saying only, "Like countless other characters on long-running series, story lines run their course over time. The situation with Alex Kingston's character ... is no exception."


MTV, which produced this year's Super Bowl halftime show at which Janet Jackson notoriously bared her breast, has decided it will not air a segment of its MTV Movie Awards show, which was taped Saturday, in which Eminem mooned the audience. (Oddly, the usually conservative Toronto Globe and Mailshowed no reluctance to feature a photo of the incident in today's editions.) The telecast is due to air on Thursday. Newspaper headline writers have been having a field day with the story. AP's was headlined "Eminem's Moon Has Been Eclipsed;" the Globe and Mailbannered its story "For Eminem, the Butt Stops Here;" and the New York Daily Newstrumpeted, "Eminem's Assets Banned."


Aware that several top rock bands have lost their lead singers over the years, reality-show producer Mark Burnett is planning a new series in which a replacement will be found via an American Idol-type talent contest. Daily Varietyreported today (Tuesday) that Burnett has recruited David Goffin, the supervising producer of Idol, to exec produce the new series. The band looking to replace a lead singer was not named, but Varietysaid that it is likely to pick the winner of the talent contest, probably with the help of viewers. Meanwhile, Queer Eye for the Straight Guychannel Bravo said Monday that it has ordered eight episodes of a reality series called Manhunt: The Search for America's Most Gorgeous Male Model.


Despite the departure of Friendsand Frasier, NBC reported Monday that it has taken in $2.9 billion during the upfront ad campaign. The network credited the success of the Donald Trump reality series The Apprenticeand positive reaction to the Friendsspinoff Joeyfor the figure which nearly equals last year's. "Everyone was predicting the collapse of our schedule," NBC Universal TV Network president Randy Falco told the New York Daily News. "We kept Thursday night intact." Although analysts had forecast that the network would raise its rates about 8 percent, it reportedly increased them only 5-6 percent. "NBC is the only network that appears to selling at a [rate] increase less than pre-market projections," media analyst Jack Myers told CNN Monday. Several analysts predicted that all the major networks will wind up their advance ad sales by this afternoon (Tuesday).


A massive fiber optic system that is expected to provide services such as digital television, video and music on demand, voice over IP telephony, and high-speed Internet to some 5,000 Indian cities when it is fully launched in about a year, has begun tests at its headquarters in Mumbai (Bombay). "Technologically, we are running this race one year ahead of the rest of the world," Amit Khanna, a spokesman for Reliance Infocomm, told the website Thus far, $3.6 billion has been spent on the project, mostly to lay out the fiber optic cable that now spreads out over 37,000 miles and is expected to reach 56,000 miles by the end of the year.


BBC correspondent Frank Gardner reportedly remains in a coma after being shot by Arab militants in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Gardner, who speaks fluent Arabic, is regarded as an expert on al-Qaeda. Only a day before he was shot, Gardner was featured in a lengthy BBC News report in which he discussed Saudi security precautions in the wake of last week's al-Qaeda attack in Khobar that took the lives of 22 people. Gardner ended his report by remarking: "This is a country that thousands of Britons have made their home for years. Now, slowly, they are coming to terms with the fact, that if the terrorist attacks on Westerners continue, they may have to consider leaving Saudi Arabia before it is too late." In an editorial, the English-language Saudi Newscommented today (Tuesday): "The murderers may have known that the BBC crew was coming to film the home of Ibrahim Al-Rayyes, a wanted terrorist killed by security forces last year. Their ambush was directed against a distinguished journalist and his cameraman because Al-Qaeda has no interest in the factual reporting of its attacks and the deluded men who perpetrate them."OGRE BATTLES WIZARD If it hadn't been for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,who knows what Shrek 2might have taken in at the box office this past weekend! As it was, the DreamWorks animated feature earned $37.9 million, to put it past the $300-million mark in just 18 days -- ahead of the record pace set by Spider-Manin 2002, which took 22 days to reach that level. As of Sunday, the movie had earned $314.5 million. Nevertheless, Warner Bros.' latest Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, may very well give the green ogre a race for the money. It took in $93.7 million to set a box office record for June. DreamWorks distribution chief Jim Tharp told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Daily News: "When another movie opens, it does impact your box office to some extent, and Harry Potter opening to over $90 million was a direct hit." Twentieth Century Fox's The Day After Tomorrowwas also impacted as it dropped to third place with $27.9 million. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban, Warner Bros., $93,687,367, (New); 2. Shrek 2, DreamWorks, $37,931,716, 3 Wks. ($314,523,202); 3. The Day After Tomorrow, 20th Century Fox, $27,869,665, 2 Wks. ($128,478,844); 4.Raising Helen, Disney, $6,550,342, 2 Wks. ($24,064,716); 5. Troy, Warner Bros., $5,977,491, 4 Wks. ($119,290,098); 6.Mean Girls, Paramount, $2,927,211, 6 Wks. ($78,157,529); 7. Soul Plane, MGM, $2,755,007, 2 Wks. ($10,986,076); 8. Van Helsing, Universal, $2,439,860, 5 Wks. ($114,601,155); 9.Man on Fire, 20th Century Fox, $1,047,993, 7 Wks. ($75,377,549); 10. Super Size Me, IDP Films, $842,684, 5 Wks. ($6,208,445).


Overseas, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanposted $113.5 million in ticket sales at 7,885 theaters in 24 countries, making it the third-biggest overseas debut ever (behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Kingand Matrix Revolutions). The U.K., which opened the film on Monday, a bank holiday, led the way with a seven-day total of $43.7 million. France tallied $17.7 million over three days, followed by Germany, with $15.2 million.


Showing surprising strength for a documentary, Super Size Me,which follows director Morgan Spurlock as he goes on a McDonald's-only diet for a month, remained on the top-ten list for the third week. The film, which cost $65,000 to make, has so far taken in $6.2 million. "In the face of super-size competition, its doing phenomenally," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told USA Today.


Raising the possibility of the peacock ruling the lion's den, published reports said today (Tuesday) that NBC is interviewing investment bankers to advise the broadcaster on a potential bid for MGM. "We'll do what we can to take a look at it," NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright said during an interview on CNBC Monday. Until now, however, MGM has remained in exclusive negotiations with Sony. Asked by London-based AFX Financial News whether NBC would be willing to match the $5 billion that Sony has offered for the studio, Wright replied: "We haven't got into it in that much detail, but that's quite a bit of money."


Vivendi Universal's former CFO, Guillaume Hannezo, has become the object of an investigation by French authorities looking into charges of stock manipulation by the company in 2000 and 2001 when it was headed by Jean-Paul Messier, according to news accounts. The probe centers around a number of allegedly illegal share buybacks at the media firm that were intended to boost the price of Vivendi's stock.