GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME FOX
After reporting a loss of $931 million last year for his company despite swelling revenue, Liberty Media chief John Malone indicated Monday that he is looking to spin off his international division to shareholders while at the same time embarking on a round of negotiations with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for an asset exchange. "There are assets that News Corp has that Liberty finds very attractive and wouldn't mind owning directly. And perhaps there are assets that Liberty has that News Corp would find quite attractive over time." Malone made it clear that he sees a Liberty Media International spinoff as the beginning of a new, world-wide version of Telecommunications Inc., the giant cable company that Malone headed before selling it to AT&T.

ABC'S PRIMETIME PRODUCER SUDDENLY QUITS

David Doss, the executive producer of ABC's Primetime Thursday, with Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, abruptly quit Monday, sending an email message to ABC News staff members saying, "No doubt this probably seems a bit sudden. But I am now in discussions about what I'm doing next." ABC later released a statement saying that Doss had left "by mutual agreement." Ratings for the news magazine, which faces strong competition from NBC's E.R. and CBS's Without a Trace, have remained lackluster of late, rising only when top celebrities are landed for interviews. Today's (Tuesday) New York Daily News cited an unnamed source as saying that Doss's departure was touched off by rumors of a management plan to replace Sawyer and Gibson on the show with Chris Cuomo and Cynthia McFadden.

ABC CONTINUES EXPLORATION OF HISTORICAL JESUS

In the latest documentary attempting to pin down the historical Jesus, ABC plans to offer Peter Jennings Reporting: Jesus and Paul, The Word and the Witness on Monday, April 5, the Monday before Easter. ABC said Monday that the program will include "the perspectives of a wide variety of biblical scholars _ secular and religious, Christian and Jewish, liberal and conservative." In its statement, ABC also observed: "No other network has demonstrated more commitment to covering issues of spirituality and religion than ABC News."

CBS "CENSORS" ITS CENSOR

CBS has contradicted a comment by its chief censor that it plans to use a 10-second tape delay during its coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Martin Franks, the network's vice president in charge of standards and practices, had told the New York Times that the network also planned to use tape delays during other live sports telecasts. CBS said Monday that Franks had "misspoke."

FOX TO GIVE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ONE-TIME SHOT ON WEDNESDAY

Fox TV plans to air its critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged Arrested Development Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. following its hit American Idol in a one-shot bid to draw an audience to the show (which normally airs on Sunday's at 9:30 p.m.). Ron Howard, who is the executive producer of the show and also its off-camera narrator, told today's (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirer that the low ratings for the show concern him a great deal. "I don't know enough about it to vie for a different time slot," he told the newspaper, adding: "Fox has been nothing but supportive." Wednesday's show will feature guest-star Julia Louis-Dreyfuss playing a blind attorney.

DAVID SOUL BLASTS BRITISH DOCUMENTARY ABOUT HIM

David Soul has denounced a British television documentary about him that aired Sunday night on the Channel 4 network, accusing the producers of the film, titled He's Starsky, I'm Hutch of using "regurgitated" and "salacious" tabloid stories about him to create a "tragic story of a 'hero' who is destroyed by personal failings in the face of adversity, a pathetic story of a man who had everything and 'threw it all away'. How bleeding original." Soul sent a copy of his letter to Britain's Guardian newspaper, which published excerpts today (Tuesday). In it the actor says: "I am hugely disappointed with the tone of this tabloid bull***t ... This, dare I call it a documentary, panders to preconceptions you must think a British television audience has about Hollywood." In reply, Channel 4 said that the producers had "worked to the highest journalistic standards and produced a very sympathetic, fair and balanced film about David Soul."

PASSION AGAIN EXCEEDS FORECASTS
For the third week in a row, Sunday ticket sales for The Passion of the Christ significantly exceeded studio estimates. The rush of churchgoers to movie theaters brought the movie's weekend gross to $32.1 million and its 19-day total to $264.5 million. With strong mid-week ticket sales continuing, the film should break the record for an R-rated film, currently held by the Matrix Reloaded with $281.5 million, by the end of the week and could cross the $300-million level by next weekend. Meanwhile, the new Johnny Depp thriller Secret Window opened in second place with $18.2 million. However, the film was receiving only fair comments from audience members polled by Cinemascore and is not expected to draw strongly next week. MGM's Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London debuted in fifth place with a disappointing $8 million, while Warner's Spartan, directed by David Mamet and starring Val Kilmer, premiered DOA with just $2 million.

PASSION PRODUCES A RECORD OF A DIFFERENT SORT

The commercial success of The Passion of the Christ has been lifted further with the arrival of the soundtrack album, released by Sony Music, in the top 20 on the national record charts. "This has completely surprised me," composer John Debney told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times. "Soundtracks aren't usually the biggest-selling things out there. And the fact that it's not a song-driven soundtrack also makes this a rarity. It's extremely exciting." In fact, the Times observed, a song-driven CD tied to the movie called Songs Inspired by The Passion of the Christ is due to be released next month featuring such performers as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.

ANTI-SEMITISM NOT BEING CREATED BY PASSION, SAYS STUDY

A U.S. survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research has concluded that fewer than two percent of those who are familiar with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ blame Jews for the crucifixion. In an interview with CNSNews.com, a unit of the conservative Media Research Center, Dr. Gary Tobin, president of the IJCR, commented: "So far The Passion of the Christ is not producing any significant anti-Jewish backlash. ... The film and perhaps even more, the discussions about the film, are having something of a positive effect, which is good news. Some Jewish and Christian leaders have been understandably worried that the film might unleash a wave of hostility toward Jews and even erode the constructive effects of Vatican II. But this does noT appear to be happening."

DE LUCA OUT AT DREAMWORKS, WILL MOVE TO SONY

Mike De Luca, the onetime New Line Cinema wunderkind who jumped ship to DreamWorks three years ago and nearly drowned in the process, is moving again. Sony Pictures Entertainment announced Monday that De Luca will become a producer at Columbia in July. In a statement, De Luca said, "I'm hoping that as a producer, I can continue to focus on the kinds of films that worked for me as an executive -- appropriately budgeted, provocative specialized films with visionary filmmakers, and pop-culture, mainstream genre films with franchise potential." At DreamWorks De Luca held a post comparable to president of production (DreamWorks eschews titles). He oversaw such films as Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, Head of State, Old School and the upcoming Anchorman.

AOL STILL A DRAG ON TIME WARNER

Time Warner, which already has erased AOL from its name, has warned that subscribers to the Internet service are erasing it as well, with little sign that the ISP's downturn is being abated. In a report to the SEC, the company said, "If America Online is unsuccessful [in combating competition] Time Warner's financial condition, results of operations and cash flows could be adversely affected," the report said.

KERKORIAN MAY REAP WINDFALL

Financier Kirk Kerkorian stands to gain $1.6 billion if MGM decides to pay out as much as $2.1 billion to its shareholders in a special dividend. Kerkorian owns 74 percent of the shares. Today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times reported the company plans to make good on a promise made last year when it said that it would share its newfound wealth with shareholders if it failed to acquire Vivendi Universal's U.S. entertainment assets (as it eventually did, losing to General Electric's NBC). MGM's shares, which were trading at just above $10 a year ago, opened at $16.29 this morning.

BRITISH POLITICIANS UP IN ARMS OVER POTATO MEN

Sex Lives of the Potato Men , which one critic called "a sump of untreated dung" and includes shots of a man picking his nose, other men masturbating with strawberry jam and fish paste, and close-ups of dog feces in a park, has touched off a howl of protest in Britain -- not so much because of the content, but because half the film's $3.25-million budget came from the British Film Council, which is financed by the national lottery. "The lottery was not meant to fund coarse, base movies like this," Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe told the London Daily Mail. But a spokesman for the Film Council said that it was obliged to invest in a "bawdy sex comedy" in addition to films of high art.