TV news blogs were buzzing Thursday over the fact that Charles Gibson was missing from Good Morning America during the heavy coverage of the U.S. attack that killed insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The TVNewser blog observed that since Gibson is now also anchoring World News Tonight, "he's only supposed to host the morning show Monday through Wednesday. But wouldn't the new face of ABC want to help cover this big story as it breaks? He wasn't sleeping in -- he appeared on Regis and Kelly this morning." The nightly news anchors on NBC and CBS also did not appear on their respective networks' morning newscasts. However, NBC's Brian Williams did preside over a one-hour report on the death of al-Zarqawi at noon Eastern Time (9:00 a.m. in the West). ABC, incidentally, scored a pyrrhic victory over its competition Thursday when it broke the news of al-Zarqawi's death at 2:38 a.m., a full 38 minutes before NBC and more than an hour before CBS -- but unfortunately at a time when hardly anyone was watching TV.
CBS EXPANDS ONLINE OFFERINGS
CBS on Thursday expanded its deal with Apple Computer, agreeing to provide its three weekly CSI dramas, Numb3rs, NCIS, and Survivor to those already available -- at $1.99 apiece -- on the iTunes Music Store. Previously CBS had made coverage of the NCAA basketball champion available for viewing online on PCs and Macs or on Apple's Video Ipod portable device.
IMUS SAYS KAPLAN WAS "FIRED"
MSNBC personality Don Imus said on the air Thursday that Rick Kaplan had been fired as president of the cable news network. "The newspapers say it was some mutual agreement, but Rick told me he was fired," Imus remarked. However, it was not clear whether Imus was merely setting himself up for the quip that followed. "I have even worse news," he said, "I have been named to succeed him." Then, referring to the MSNBC primetime news hosts, he said, "Tucker, Joe, Rita, I'd like you to give me a call. ... Maybe we'll do it on a video conferencing thing. We need to refocus here." Meanwhile, in another shake-up at NBC's cable unit, David Friend, who oversaw business news on CNBC, which is principally a business channel during the day, resigned Thursday. Unlike the parting with Kaplan, NBC immediately named a successor -- Jonathan Wald, a former executive producer of Today and NBC Nightly News.
U.N. AMBASSADOR ASSAILS DEPUTY U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has lashed out at comments by Mark Malloch Brown of Britain, the chief deputy to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. On Tuesday Brown had accused the U.S. of using the U.N. as a diplomatic tool while encouraging its harshest domestic critics. "Much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News," he said. Responding to the charges, Bolton called Brown's remarks, "the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen." He added, "Fundamentally, very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, by an international civil servant, and it's just illegitimate," adding: "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I feel, will be the United Nations." In an interview with the Washington Post, Limbaugh remarked, "So Mark Malloch Brown is saying the reason that the United Nations is unrecognized for its greatness and its value, the reason that it's not recognized for its true benefit to world peace and blah, blah, blah, blah, is because of me and Fox News poisoning your minds. What's new? This is just another pointy-headed, elitist liberal saying you're a bunch of mind-numbed robots and you can't make up your own minds about things. The United Nations has not changed. It's still the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie."
CABLEVISION DELAYS ROLL-OUT OF VIDEO-ON-DEMAND SYSTEM
New York-based cable operator Cablevision has postponed plans to test a system that would allow subscribers to record shows on Cablevision's own servers and watch them on demand, thereby effectively eliminating digital recording devices, like TiVos, from the home. In a court filing in connection with a copyright-infringement lawsuit filed by Hollywood studios and the TV networks, Cablevision said that it would not introduce its "remote storage" system before Oct. 30, when a hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled to take place.
DEMOCRATS BUY ADS ON SPANISH-LANGUAGE WORLD CUP TELECASTS
Although they take place a long time before the November elections, the World Cup soccer telecasts will kick off the Democratic Party's campaign to reach Hispanic voters beginning today (Friday). According to Advertising Age, the New Democratic Network is launching a $2-million ad campaign under the banner "Mas que un partido" -- a play on words in Spanish meaning either "more than a game" or "More than a political party." The ads will air initially on Spanish language Univision, which is broadcasting all 64 games and on Fox Sports en Español."
WILL CARS GO THE DISTANCE?
The question this weekend is whether Disney/Pixar's Cars will be able to speed past the $70-million openings of previous hits Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Although reviews are generally favorable, they are not so enthusiastic as those for earlier Pixar productions, and a few even suggest that the film is a disappointment -- abundantly cute and technically impressive, but proportionately deficient in humor and heart. The film is making its debut on nearly 4,000 screens, however, a fact that in itself should assure it of a huge box office. Meanwhile, analysts suggest that there'll be a three-way battle for second place between The Break-Up, which took the lead last weekend, the X-Men sequel, which took the lead the week before, and The Omen, which opened earlier this week with the biggest Tuesday gross in history.
MOVIE REVIEWS: CARS
Just about all of the reviews compare Cars with the previous Pixar animated features. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, while giving the film a favorable review, nevertheless comments, "The movie is great to look at and a lot of fun, but somehow lacks the extra push of the other Pixar films." Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post sums up: "Cars is a little pedestrian by Pixar standards." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News remarks, "Cars isn't quite up to the emissions standards of previous Pixar fare. The engine takes a little while to get warm, the action skews a little younger than most Pixar products and the "city slicker gets schooled by townsfolk" premise is about as fresh as your father's Oldsmobile." Likewise Joe Morgenstern writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Cars is the first Pixar feature to feel familiar. ... That's a tactic often favored in DreamWorks features but avoided by Pixar until now. It doesn't make Cars a bad picture -- the visual inventions are worth the price of admission -- but it constitutes conduct unbecoming to a maker of magic." Indeed, the film encounters numerous roadblocks erected by critics. For example, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times calls it a "clunker." She observes: "Both in its ingratiating vibe and bland execution, Cars is nothing if not totally, disappointingly new-age Disney." On the other hand, Amy Biancolli in the Houston Chronicle writes, "[Cars] is as bumptious, spangly and cheerful a thing as Pixar has released in 20 years of computer animation." And Claudia Puig in USA Today begins her review this way: "The wizards at Pixar ... never seem to take a wrong turn, and Cars is yet another example."
MOVIE REVIEWS: A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion has critics divided again -- as they frequently are over Altman's films. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times awards it four stars and begins his review with these words: "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound." But Claudia Puig in USA Today applies the adjectives "cloying rambling and superficial" to the movie. There's not much in between.
COURT WRITES FINAL FOOTNOTE IN OVITZ CASE
Apparently bringing to an end the decade-long legal battle between dissident Disney shareholders and the Walt Disney Company, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the company acted properly in paying Michael Ovitz $150 million when it relieved him of his duties as president of the company. An attorney for former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who was sharply criticized by the presiding judge in the lawsuit for the way he hired Ovitz and later fired him (he nevertheless concluded that he had acted lawfully), remarked, "We always believed that there was no basis for this case and that Mr. Eisner had acted properly and in the best interests of the Disney shareholders." Steven Schulman, who represented the shareholders, said, "We are disappointed that the court did not agree with our appeal, but nonetheless we believe that we have vindicated important principles of corporate governance."
CHINA SAYS IT PULLED CODE TO HELP LOCAL FILMMAKERS
The Da Vinci Code was pulled out of Chinese theaters this week in order to support China's own movie releases and not because of protests by the Chinese Catholic Church, the state-owned China Daily indicated today (Friday). The article seemed to leave open the possibility that the movie, which became one of the biggest hits in Chinese history, could return to theaters at a later date. China Daily observed that it had already earned $12.97 million. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted a source as saying that newspapers had received orders from the government to stop all references to the movie and that the decision to yank the film had indeed been the result of protests from Chinese "religious groups."