COMCAST TO PAY $1-MILLION TO SETTLE MASS. SUIT
Comcast, the giant cable company, has agreed to settle a legal action brought by the state of Massachusetts, which had accused it of advertising limited-time offers of low-rate cable packages without adequately disclosing what their price might be after the promotional period ended. State Attorney General Tom Reilly had also alleged that the company often hid the terms and conditions of its contracts with subscribers in hard-to-read fine print and charging them for converter boxes even when they owned TV sets where such boxes were not needed. Comcast agreed to pay $1 million to settle the complaints, while remarking, "We do not agree with the Attorney General's claims, however, we have already begun to make several changes."

PARAMOUNT TO NET $900 MILLION FOR DREAMWORKS LIBRARY

Paramount is likely to announce as early as today (Friday) that it has reached an agreement with Soros Fund Management to sell its 58-title DreamWorks library for about $900 million. The deal thus reduces Paramount's cost in acquiring DreamWorks for $1.6 billion, although some critics of the deal -- who claim that Paramount overpaid for the studio in order to make a preemptive strike against Universal, formerly DreamWorks' reluctant suitor -- noted that even the $700-million cost (not including legal and other acquisition fees) effectively raises the costs of future DreamWorks films unreasonably. Published reports said that Paramount will retain the right to distribute DreamWorks titles for a flat 8-percent fee, keep a minor stake in the library, and has an option to buy back the library at a later date.

MARCH MADNESS HITS THE 'NET

CBS today (Friday) claimed that record numbers of Internet users tuned into its out-of-market webcasts of the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Thursday. According to the network, more than 268,000 simultaneous video "streams" of games were served, with an actual total number of users estimated at 1.2 million by 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. CBS Digital Media President Larry Kramer told Reuters: "The numbers and positive feedback we have seen from our users today are extremely encouraging." In an interview with MarketWatch.com, former CBS Sports chief Neal Pilson, who now heads a consulting firm, called the webcasts a "watershed event," explaining, "There have been a lot of events available [on the Internet] on a subscription basis, priced modestly, but this is the first time that a significant national event -- which is also covered on television -- is being made available free, with the revenue stream coming from advertisers.

IDOL FAN SITE SHUTS DOWN

A website claiming to have developed a technique to reveal which contestants will be voted off American Idol has quit posting its predictions after receiving a cease and desist letter from Idol producers Fremantle Media. The unidentified operator of the site, DialIdol.com, said that he has "virtually no resources at my disposal to 'fight' this Goliath." However, he added in a message posted on the website on Thursday, he has been "swamped" with messages of support and is looking for a "brave affordable lawyer" to take on Idol's producers. Contacted by the Los Angeles Times blog, Channel Island, Eric Green, a spokesman for the producers, said, "Fremantle has no comment on this."

WOODRUFF "WATCHING THE NEWS"

ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff left the U.S. naval hospital in Maryland Thursday and taken to a hospital closer to his New York home as he continued to show progress in his recuperation from injuries he received while covering the Iraq war in January, ABC said. In an email to ABC staffers, ABC News President David Westin said, "Bob is up and about, regularly talking and joking with Lee [his wife], the children, other family members and - -yes -- watching the news. ... He continues to show just how strong and determined he is. That said, we should expect months of further recuperation."

RTNDA CHIEF ALARMED OVER PRODUCT PLACEMENTS ON NEWS SHOWS

The president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association has expressed alarm over a report that local TV stations are increasingly pitching advertisers' product-placement deals within news programs. In an interview with Reuters, Barbara Cochran said, "If viewers start thinking your news is for sale, then the credibility of your news is lost and your audience is lost." Cochran was referring to a report that appeared in the Hollywood Reporter this week, which claimed that several local stations, including KRON-TV in San Francisco and Spanish-language KMEX in Los Angeles, had confirmed that they had integrated products into local newscasts as part of deals with advertisers to buy packages of spots on their stations. KRON President and GM Mark Antonitis told the trade publication, "When you're an independent, you've got to do what you can to survive. You bank on your credibility as a news organization every day, but you also have to be successful as a business. You have to be creative for your advertisers without compromising the credibility of your news organization."

DID CRUISE SHUT DOWN SOUTH PARK EPISODE?

Tom Cruise forced Comedy Central to cancel a repeat of a controversial South Park episode lampooning Scientology after telling Paramount that he would refuse to promote Mission Impossible 3 if the show aired, according to the New York Post's "Page Six" gossip column, which in turn cited the website hollywoodinterrupted.com. However, a spokesperson for Comedy Central insisted that the episode had been yanked so that the channel could air a different episode that would serve as tribute to Isaac Hayes, who, like Cruise, is a Scientologist and who left the show (where he played "Chef") assertedly because of the Scientology episode. It originally aired last November.

UNI NAMES TWO EQUAL CHAIRS -- BUT ONE'S MORE EQUAL
As expected, Marc Shmuger and David Linde were named co-chairmen of Universal Pictures on Thursday, replacing Stacey Snider, who is leaving the company to become co-chairman and CEO of Paramount's DreamWorks unit. In fact, in what appeared to be a contortion of corporate linguistics, Shmuger was named chairman and Linde co-chairman. The apparent subtle difference was not explained, but Daily Variety commented, "Shmuger got the chairman moniker due to his longer tenure at Universal." The New York Times described the distinction this way: "The two executives will share the job, but Mr. Shmuger will be senior to Mr. Linde." Previously, Shmuger headed the studio's worldwide marketing and distribution division, while Linde served as co-head of Focus Features, Universal's art-house unit that released such films as Brokeback Mountain, Lost in Translation, Pride and Prejudice and The Constant Gardener. Several analysts observed that neither one has ever overseen the production of a major studio film.

MOVIE REVIEWS: V FOR VENDETTA

Critics are asking a lot of questions about V for Vendetta, set in the near future when Britain is supposedly ruled by a dictator and is challenged by a swashbuckling masked man. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Is this movie a parable about 2006, a cautionary tale or a pure fantasy?" Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Is the man in the mask who wants to make Parliament go boom Osama bin Laden or Patrick Henry? Or just a Phantom of the Opera clone? (She adds: "Your guess is as good as mine, and I've seen the film.) Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Is blowing up buildings in the name of freedom a good thing? What would George Bush make of all this? Or George Washington?" Amy Biancolli in the Houston Chronicle: "Can a terrorist be a hero?" Joel Siegel on ABC's Good Morning America: "Tell me, film-makers, how does one man alone in a totalitarian state take over British television then all alone manufacture and ship 200,000 masks?" Despite all of these questions, the film receives decent reviews. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post suggests that the questions don't really require answers. "The fast-moving "V for Vendetta" subordinates its political lecture to an entertaining piece of pulp fiction," he writes. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News calls it an "enjoyable -- if occasionally irresponsible -- comic-book thriller." And Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution predicts that the movie will likely elicit "passionate debate on the Internet among people with user names like Lord Asriel, Killdozer, Rant Breath and DocPazuzu. It is also the sort of movie that appeals to the inner teenage nerd/romantic in all of us."

MOVIE REVIEWS: FIND ME GUILTY

Critics are giving Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty, which had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last month, a thumbs-up verdict for the most part. "This movie by its nature is not thrilling, but it is very genuinely interesting, and that is rare," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. The film stars Vin Diesel as the real-life New Jersey gangster, Giacomo "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio, who represented himself in a 1987 mobster trial that lasted 21 months, the longest trial in U.S. history. "The screenplay manages a fine balance of allowing the audience to admire the lead character while also warning viewers that appeal and audacity can tarnish the truth," writes Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News. Nevertheless, several critics raise morality issues about a film in which the lead character, a mobster, is depicted as a hero. "What next, Gotti Is My Co-Pilot?" asks Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SHE'S THE MAN

A monthly "tweener" movie now appears obligatory in Hollywood, and this month's is She's the Man. It's the sort of movie many critics obviously dislike having to watch, let alone write about. Joel Siegel on ABC's Good Morning America, noting that the film is loosely based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, suggests that Shakespeare ought to sue, adding that the movie is "completely misdirected by an L.A. stage director whose sole advice to his cast seems to be: 'Mug as much as possible.'" Nevertheless, writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: "The target audience of 'tween girls will probably lap up She's the Man, even as their elders wince at the over-the-top acting in this clumsy, predictable, overlong update of Shakespeare's gender-bending Twelfth Night." Likewise Michael Booth concludes in the Denver Post: "It's refreshing, frankly, to see a PG-13 movie about high school girls that doesn't spit all over its rating; She's the Man is a very soft PG-13, and will not make parental escorts squirm with regret."

Cinemark Movie Club