CONGRESS ENACTS STIFF PENALTIES FOR INDECENCYLegislation vastly increasing the fines the FCC can mete out to broadcasters airing indecent programs received final Congressional approval Wednesday. When President Bush signs it into law, as he has said he will, broadcasters could be forced to pay up to $325,000 per infraction; in the case of a network that amount could be levied on each of its owned stations, so that, for example, NBC, which owns 13 TV stations, could be fined as much as $4.23 million per infraction. (Theoretically each of its affiliates could also be fined, although the FCC has never chosen to take action against them, as well.) The bill passed on Wednesday does not contain language that would have fined individuals appearing on the offending broadcasts -- a provision that had been included in earlier versions and which had been fought relentlessly by the two major performers' unions, AFTRA and SAG. In a statement on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, praised the Congress for giving "the commission increased fining authority in our efforts to protect children from inappropriate programming." But several legislators observed that the bill did not contain language that would change the rules on indecent broadcasts, many noting that parents have all the tools they need to restrict what their children can see on TV.


MSNBC President Rick Kaplan resigned Wednesday, with some analysts suggesting that he was quitting on a high note, while others suggesting it was not high enough. Ratings for the news channel had risen significantly under Kaplan's leadership over the past two years -- rising 25 percent in primetime and 19 percent during the day -- but the channel nevertheless remained a distant third in the ratings behind Fox News Channel and CNN. Likewise, writers disagreed on whether he had been fired or had stepped down voluntarily. Officially, NBC Universal, which owns the channel, said that the decision had been made by mutual consent. In a statement, NBC News President Steve Capus, who will take over Kaplan's duties until a replacement is found, observed that Kaplan had "led MSNBC through a period of impressive growth, especially in primetime." For his part, Kaplan wrote in a message to staff: "I couldn't be more proud of the progress we've made together." Kaplan did not announce future plans. According to, Kaplan was called in to a meeting Capus Wednesday morning and told that MSNBC "is moving in a new direction."


ABC and CBS may be cutting back on their output of news magazines, but NBC is increasing the number of hours of Dateline -- at least during the summer. On Wednesday night NBC offered two back-to-back hours of Dateline(as it did on the previous Friday and Sunday) and came away with the best ratings of the night in overall households. Datelinewon the 8:00 p.m. hour with a 4.9 rating and a 9 share. It came in second at 9:00 as Fox's So You Think You Can Dance scored a 6.5/11, edging out Dateline, which improved to a 6.1/10. CBS won the 10:00 p.m. hour with a 6.3/11, ahead of NBC's Law & Order, which posted a 5.7/10. NBC finished the night with an average 5.6/10. CBS followed with a 5.4/9. Fox placed third with a 5.3/9, while ABC trailed with a 3.1/5.


CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier was transported back to the U.S. on Wednesday and was taken to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where she will undergo further treatment for the serious injuries she sustained while filming a Memorial Day report for the network. The hospital -- officially called The National Naval Medical Center -- released a statement noting that "a comprehensive care plan will be implemented" and that "CBS News will be responsible for the cost."


Although previous efforts to allow consumers to access the Internet on their television sets have produced dismal results, TiVo is hoping that a free service with a limited amount of specialty video programming may find greater acceptance. It announced Wednesday that it will introduce a new service called TiVoCast that will allow its subscribers to, among other things, read the New York Times, access highlights of National Basketball Association games, and log on to the popular women's site In a statement, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers said, "We are once again transforming the television experience by bringing the rapidly expanding array of video content on the Internet into the living room."


Programs shown on Britain's Channel 4 can be viewed on the Internet for 30 days after their original broadcast, as the result of a deal reached Wednesday between the TV channel and producers. The deal takes effect in the fall when Channel 4 launches a full-scale on-demand service. CHINESE BAR CODEThe Chinese Communist government, whose founder, Mao Tse Tung, outlawed the Catholic Church and called religion "a disease," has responded to protests by Chinese Catholics and halted the showing of The Da Vinci Codein the country's theaters, the Los Angeles Timesreported today (Thursday), citing Sony officials. The movie had opened in China three weeks ago on a record 393 screens and had already grossed $13 million. "What can we say? We are surprised and disappointed about it," Sony distribution chief Jeff Blake told the Times. "The good news is that we did a substantial amount of business in China." Yu Guoming, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, told the newspaper: "The government wants to show respect to [the Catholics'] will and doesn't want to cause trouble because of one movie. The Chinese government has always been very cautious on ethnic and religious issues." There was no official explanation for the government's decision.


In what could be a good omen for the box office in general, the 6/6/06 debut The Omenremake -- which some said owed its very existence to the date -- opened with $12.6 million (officially, the film took in $12,633,666, but skeptics were doubting those last three numbers), the most ever earned by a film on a Tuesday, usually the slowest night of the week at the box office. By contrast, last weekend's top film, The Break-Up,took in $4 million. The Omen faces the traditional problem for horror flicks, however: a sharp fall-off after their opening. Still, 20th Century Fox, which released the film, must have been thinking it had rolled sevens; it was unlikely that the film would have performed as strongly if had opened on Friday against Disney's Cars. Indeed, its success could give it driving momentum through the weekend. "People finding out it was a giant success helps to propel the weekend," Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told today's (Thursday) Daily Variety.


The celebrity gossip magazine Life & Style Weekly is publishing details of a prenuptial agreement between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes that it says calls for Holmes to receive $3 million a year for the first 11 years that she is married to Cruise, at which point she becomes eligible to receive half of Cruise's fortune under California's community property law. The item was picked up by's Jeannette Walls, who said that Cruise's representatives had declined to comment on it. No date has been set for the nuptials.


Although it will most likely not run 24 hours, the Fox TV series 24is headed for movie houses, Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday), citing no sources. According to the trade publication, the movie will abandon the 24-hour plot line ("the real-time conceit," as Varietyreferred to it) and focus on Jack Bauer, the lead character portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland. It's expected that the movie will be shot next spring and summer, during the hiatus between the production of season six and the anticipated season seven of 24.


Psychopathia Sexualis, based on Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebbing's study of sexual aberrations (Krafft-Ebbing coined the term "masochist"), is opening in limited release today (Thursday), but critics warn that those looking for kinky sex scenes will likely be disappointed. Director Bret Wood, according to the reviews, appears to bend over backwards in his effort to avoid charges of sensationalism. "What begins as an impressibly tense recreation of a notorious work eventually loses urgency and energy," says a summary of the movie appearing in New Yorkmagazine. Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times puts it in harsher terms. "There's necrophilia, and there are sheep (thankfully unmolested), but there is not one moment of fun. Whether in the whorehouse or the sanitarium, Psychopathia Sexualis is an exercise in unrelenting dullness."