VIACOM'S NETS ECHO FROM A STAR AGAIN EchoStar's Dish Network flipped the on-switch to restore CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and other Viacom-owned stations to its satellite service late Wednesday, ending a three-day contract dispute in which each side accused the other of using high-handed tactics. About 10 million Dish Network customers were affected by the blackout. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but EchoStar reportedly agreed to carry Viacom's NickToons network, a cable outlet that it said Viacom was trying to cram down its throat as a condition for signing a retransmission agreement to allow it to carry the signals of CBS affiliates in 16 major markets. EchoStar had also balked at fee increases that Viacom had demanded for its cable channels.


Of all the new TV technologies available to consumers, the ability to skip commercials is by far the most appealing, according to research conducted for the Home Technology Monitor at Knowledge Networks/SRI. As reported by MediaPost's MediaDailyNews, 72 percent of those surveyed also said that digital video recorders should not be lumbered with devices that would prevent commercial skipping. Paradoxically, 63 percent of those surveyed agreed that watching commercials is a fair price for receiving "free" TV. "They just don't want to be the ones paying it," said Dave Tice, director of the Home Technology Monitor.


ABC confirmed Wednesday that it will drop its long-running legal drama The Practice on May 16 but that some of the actors on the series -- and their characters -- will become part of another legal drama next season. While the David Kelley dramafocused on criminal law, the new, as-yet-unnamed one will focus on civil law, the ABC announcement said. The show will presumably air in The Practice's Sunday-night time period and reportedly star James Spader, although no talent deals have yet been signed.


CBS is compressing its 2000 miniseries on the life of Jesus into a a single two-hour movie set to air March 28. Jesus, which starred Jeremy Sisto and Jacqueline Bisset, failed to touch off the firestorm of controversy that has accompanied Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, but did receive respectable reviews at the time -- something that has largely eluded Gibson's film. CBS chief Les Moonves reportedly carried a tape of the show to the Vatican and screened it for the pope.


David Solomon, the FCC's chief of enforcement, says that given current public sentiment, he would rule differently than he did last year when he said that Bono had not violated broadcast decency standards when he used the F-word during an acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Wall Street Journal, commented: "Given the reaction of the commissioners and others [following the Janet Jackson incident at the Super Bowl], we wouldn't be deciding it that way today."


Apparently the British love losers as much as Americans do. In the wake of a recording company signing William Hung, the 22-year-old University of California engineering student who shot to fame after butchering the Ricky Martin tune "She Bangs" on American Idol, the BBC is planning to offer a show called The Can't Sing Singers. Following a format similar to Idol, the show will debut in the fall and a winner will be picked over the Christmas holiday. "This will be a huge series for us," a source told the London daily, the Sun. "It's going to be the same audition process as for Pop Idol [the British version of American Idol] but it will be for people who can't sing at all. Everyone loves the people who aren't that great and we are taking it one step further to help them fulfill their singing dreams." MITCHELL SAYS HE CAN HANDLE EISNER The new Walt Disney Co. chairman, George Mitchell, has denied accusations that he is so close to CEO Michael Eisner that he cannot effectively represent shareholders' interests in overseeing the company. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Washington Post, the former U.S. senator said that the accusations were being "made by people who don't know me." He maintained that when he served in Washington "I had to look in the eyes of senators who helped me get elected and tell them, squarely, 'No.'" As for Eisner, he said that he has had dinner with him just twice in ten years. "We have a business relationship," Mitchell told the Post. "Our relationship is cordial." His current role, he emphasized, "is holding management accountable." He also disclosed that Eisner had once offered him the post of president of Disney but that he had turned him down.


News Corp President and COO Peter Chernin, often mentioned as a possible successor to Disney CEO Michael Eisner, told an investors' conference in Palm Beach, FL Wednesday that he is "very happy" acting as Rupert Murdoch's No. 2 man. "I love the job. I am -- I guess with more publicity than I would like -- currently in a contract renegotiation. I wouldn't be in that renegotiation if it wasn't my desire to be with the company." In recent weeks, analysts have speculated that Chernin would jump at the shot to head Disney, given the possibility that Murdoch might decide to designate on of his sons to succeed him when he steps down. However, Chernin said, "It's hard for me to see any place in the media space that has the growth opportunity that this company has."


Mystery surrounds the decision by Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment to postpone for a second time the DVD release of Tim Burton's Ed Wood,starring Johnny Depp. The film has been featured prominently in interviews with Depp and TV profiles about him in advance of Friday's opening of Secret Window, in which he stars. Video Storemagazine reported Wednesday that Wood, which originally had been scheduled for release in 2002, had been reset for release last month and that some copies had already been distributed to retail outlets. Dozens of copies have been posted on the eBay auction site. They are described as "Recalled," and a notice emphasizes that they are not bootleg or imported copies. Buena Vista Home Video declined to disclose why the film had been pulled.


Moviegoers continued to pack theaters showing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christon Monday and Tuesday. The film grossed an additional $20 million on those two days, a figure that would have represented a good three-day weekend take for any film. Box office analysts continue to revise upwards their prediction of what Passion will ultimately gross, with many now apparently convinced it will become one of the highest-grossing movies ever. Meanwhile, reports emerged Wednesday that 20th Century Fox, which was among the studios that shied away from distributing the film originally, is close to signing a deal to distribute it on home video.


Despite the fact that Pixar Animation is headed by Steve Jobs, who also heads Apple Computer, Pixar has used Linux and Intel-based systems to create its animated films like Toy Storyand Finding Nemo, it emerged at an Apple seminar in New York Wednesday. According to the online publication MacNN (Mac News Network), Don Peebles, a senior systems engineer for Apple Computer, told the seminar that Pixar has decided to switch to Mac G5 workstations and the OS X operating system for its production work. Peebles predicted that the move will make Jobs "very happy."


Ben Affleck is apparently attempting to take the cure from foot-in-mouth disease again after attacking Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein in Peter Biskind's book, Down and Dirty Pictures. As reported in today's (Thursday) New York Post, Affleck wrote to Vanity Faireditor Graydon Carter after the magazine published excerpts from the book, saying that he regretted cooperating with Biskind and calling him "yet another gossip columnist masquerading as an 'entertainment journalist.'" In 1998, Affleck launched a similar attack on Jeffrey Wells, then a reporter for the now-defunct Internet site Mr. Showbiz, after Wells put some pointed questions to him about the movie Dogma at a news conference intended to promote another movie, Armageddon, in which he costarred. After calling the questions "inappropriate" and blasting Wells as a "fool" and a "chucklehead," he mocked the name of the website, asking, "What kind of a name is that?" At the time, Mr. Showbiz was owned by the Walt Disney Co., which produced Armageddon.