NBC MAY FORCE COURIC TO DECIDEIn order to present advertisers with a solidified schedule during its "upfront" market presentation in mid-May, NBC is considering releasing Katie Couric from the contractual prohibition barring her from negotiating with other networks until her contract expires on May 1, the Wall Street Journalreported today (Monday), citing people familiar with the matter. The newspaper also said that if Couric decides to accept an offer from CBS to become its anchor for the CBS Evening News,she will likely be replaced on Todayby one of three candidates -- Campbell Brown, host of Weekend Today, Natalie Morales, who appears on the third of Today, or Meredith Vieira, co-host of ABC's The View.


David Blum, the author of Tick, Tick, Tick, about the history of CBS's 60 Minutes, said Sunday that Mike Wallace did not voluntarily agree to leave the magazine show. Appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources, Blum was asked by Howard Kurtz, the show's host, whether Wallace got "a shove from CBS." Blum replied, "They've been trying for the past several years to get him to cut back, and he would always agree, and then he would always produce far more pieces than he was contracted to do. They were very anxious to open up not only that slot, but also that considerable amount of money that he was earning to hire younger correspondents, more correspondents to fill out the show." Blum said that even after announcing at age 86 that he was cutting back, Wallace continued to rifle through other correspondents faxes "to see what everybody else was working on so that he could get there first. He was always the most aggressive correspondent at 60 Minutesfrom the very beginning, and he really never stopped." The problem, Blum commented, was that Wallace was no longer attracting viewers. "And to spend that many millions of dollars to keep him on staff every year just wasn't cost-effective spending for CBS when they could better devote it to Katie Couric's salary, for example."


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Friday that the agency's decision to fine broadcasters for airing indecent language depends in part on "context." Asked at a news conference why the FCC allowed broadcasters to air Saving Private Ryan, which has numerous uses of the f-word throughout, but fined PBS stations for airing the documentary The Blues, which also does so, Martin replied, "We look at how integral the words are, how easy it could've been to have the same effect without using those words." Martin also indicated that the commission looked into programs about which it had received "thousands of complaints." However, critics of its decision-making process pointed out that virtually all of those complaints were generated by a single group, the conservative Parents Television Council. In a statement on Friday concerning the FCC's actions, Tim Winter, PTC executive director, said, ""The airwaves must remain safe for families when children are likely to be in the audience. Those who violate the public trust are breaking the law and must be punished accordingly."


Taking advantage of the usual relatively slow start of CBS's coverage of March Madness, ABC debuted its new American Inventoron Thursday and came away with its best ratings numbers for the night since the height of Who Wants to Be a Millionairehysteria six years ago, winning top honors for the night with an 8.4/14 in the 8:00 p.m. hour and a 9.2/15 at 9:00 p.m., giving ABC an overall win in primetime with an average 7.8/13. Daily Varietyobserved that the network also won the night among the key 18-49-year-old viewers -- the first time it had done so on a Thursday night with series programming in at least 15 years. CBS, the usual Thursday-night winner, slipped to second place with a 7.3/12. NBC finished third with a 7.0/11, while Fox (without a Thursday-night American Idolin its lineup for the first time in four weeks) fell far behind with a 3.5/6. Ratings for the NCAA basketball tournament remained about par with last year on CBS from Thursday through Sunday, jumping to first place on Saturday, usually the lowest-rated night of the week, and during the 7:00 p.m. hour on Sunday, where an overrun pushed CBS's regular lineup into a later hour.


Bill Beutel, a fixture on New York television for more than 30 years as the anchor of WABC-TV's nightly Eyewitness News, died Saturday in Pinehurst, NC from complications due to a neurological disorder. Beutel was also co-host (with Stephanie Edwards) of ABC's AM Americain 1975, the predecessor to Good Morning America.IT'S V FOR VICTORYWhile some box office analysts were predicting that Warner Bros.' V for Vendettawould emerge as the first big blockbuster of the year, it opened instead with an estimated $26.1 million -- a V for valiant effort, but hardly explosive. The film, written and produced by the Wachowski brothers, took in about $2 million less than their original Matrixdid in 2000 and was the fourth-highest opening of the year. Overall, the box office was down 9 percent from the comparable week a year ago. Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman attributed the failure of the movie to open with big numbers to competition from college basketball's "March Madness." The counterprogrammed film She's the Man, aimed at female audiences, debuted in fourth place with $11 million. Paramount's Failure to Launch, last week's box-office champ, slipped to second place with about $15.8 million, to bring its total to $48.5 million. Meanwhile, opening in limited release, the satire Thank You for Smokingposted a banner $260,000 in five theaters in New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. But the Sidney Lumet-directed Find Me Guiltywas unable to find an audience as it opened with just $628,000 in 439 theaters. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:1. V for Vendetta, $26.1 million; 2. Failure to Launch, $15.8 million; 3. The Shaggy Dog, $13.6 million; 4. She's the Man, $11 million; 5. The Hills Have Eyes, $8.1 million; 6. 16 Blocks, $4.7 million; 7. Eight Below, $4.2 million; 8. Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, $3 million; 9. The Pink Panther, $2.5 million; 10. Aquamarine, $2 million.


Pixar's John Lasseter and Ed Catmull plan to spend eight days a month at Pixar's studios in the Bay Area and eight days at Disney's studios in Burbank, while setting aside five days per month that may be spent at either place, the New York Timesreported today (Monday). In an interview with the newspaper, Lasseter, who is Pixar's chief creative officer, said that he and Catmull, Pixar's president, could hold video conferences with executives and staffs at either location, wherever they might be, as well as monitor productions. "Even if I can't be in [Burbank]," he said, "I can be watching reels. ... I can be looking at the art direction."


With Disney's acquisition of Pixar close to being completed, a booming market in Pixar's stock certificates, decorated with the characters in Toy Story, has been set off, the Associated Press reported today (Monday). The wire service observed that although the stock price of Pixar has been hovering around $65, a stock certificate purchased from such places as OneShare.com and Frame-a-Stock -- complete with a frame -- could bring the total cost to $150. Nevertheless, that price has apparently not deterred souvenir hunters. Byron Beach, OneShare's vice president of marketing, told AP, "It's been like Christmas all over again for us."


Hollywood blockbusters are not likely ever to be released simultaneously in theaters and on DVD, leading filmmakers have told USA Today. In an interview with today's (Monday) edition, writer-director M. Night Syamalan (The Sixth Sense) commented, "What some people don't get is that a movie makes a much stronger connection with audiences than DVDs. ... If someone really loves something they see in theaters, they champion it in a way they don't with DVDs. ... They work harder to get people to come to theaters. And that creates a demand when the DVD finally does come out. Financially, messing with that model is dumb." Twentieth Century Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder observed that Walk the Line,the Johnny Cash biopic, would have tanked if the window had been shut. "People didn't know the story, didn't know about the performances. It needed to be in theaters and get people talking before they were going to buy a copy to keep forever," he said. J.J. Abrams, who is directory Mission: Impossible III, remarked that he made the movie "for theaters ... not for DVD." Abrams, who also created Lostand Alias for TV, commented, "Story is important, but people also come to the theater for spectacle."