NEW WB SHOW: EDITED ON AIR, UNCENSORED ON WEBThe WB plans to present an unedited version of the pilot episode of its new series The Bedford Diaries that network censors decided to cut following the FCC's decisions to fine broadcasters for what it deemed to be indecent programs, the New York Timesreported today (Thursday). According to the newspaper, network chairman Garth Ancier contacted the show's producer, Tom Fontana, after the FCC decision and asked him to remove a number of scenes from the show. "I said no," Fontana told the Times. "I told him I found the ruling incomprehensible. He said the censor would do the edit." Fontana, whose credits include St. Elsewhere, Homicideand Oz, said that the "message" the WB is sending by putting the episode on the Internet is that viewers will now "be forced to go alternative ways ... if they want to see the real thing. ... It's like they're telling people that broadcast television now has much less interesting stuff than you see on the Web or cable."


Although numerous critics have predicted that America's fascination with American Idolwas bound to wane, Tuesday night's telecast indicated that it is actually continuing to swell. According to Nielsen figures, 33.2 million viewers tuned in for the show -- more viewers than tuned into all five competing networks combined. The 19.2 rating/28 share (which peaked in the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 20.2/29) represented the biggest audience ever recorded for a "performance" episode and was topped only by the season premiere (35.5 million) this year and by the season finale in May 2003 (38.1 million). Meanwhile, Wednesday's "results" edition of Idol posted a 15.8/23 at 9:00 and served as a strong lead-in for the debut of Fox's new series Unan1mous, which scored a 9.5/14.


Mike Wallace has indicated that he may be having second thoughts already about his decision to announce his retirement. Appearing on Larry King's interview program on CNN Wednesday night, Wallace said that he didn't really know whether he was going to leave and that his announcement merely meant that "I'm not going to be on 60 Minutes very much anymore." When King pressed him about the number of features he expected to front on the program, he initially appeared reluctant to be specific, then remarked, "I'm trying to figure it out -- maybe four or five times a year." Later, when King interviewed Wallace's son, Fox News correspondent Chris Wallace, the younger Wallace remarked, "I firmly believe ... that six months from now the real story will be not how little he's working but how much he's working. So this is going to be ... a long and repeated retirement tour."


Walter Cronkite has castigated producers of the network nightly newscasts for including stories about "your health and mine and your backyard and mine and all that kind of thing" at the expense of more substantive reports. "It doesn't belong in the evening news," Cronkite said during an interview on Texas Monthly Talks,which airs on Texas public broadcasting stations. "We're the most important nation in the world ... and there are these other very important stories in a very complicated world that we need to cover. We can't do that in 15 or 16 minutes." Apparently suggesting that the television networks ought to dispense with commercials during their nightly newscasts, Cronkite remarked, "The networks should be giving us the full half hour. ... It's ridiculous to have as little time as we have."


Chef, the character voiced by singer Isaac Hayes on South Park, appeared to die a grisly death on the show Wednesday night (actually a grizzly death, as he was attacked by a grizzly bear while impaled on a post). The episode aired just days after Hayes said in a statement that he was leaving the show because of its thinly veiled attack on Scientology, the semi-religious group of which he's a member. At Chef's funeral, one of the South Parkgang says in a eulogy: "A lot of us don't agree with the choices Chef has made in the last few days. Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can't let the events of the past few weeks take away the memories of how Chef made us smile." Finally, the South Park tyke remarks, "We shouldn't be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains." Although Hayes's voice was used in the episode, the dialogue apparently was pieced together from previous episodes. The Associated Press, noting that Chef received "a true South Parksend off," indicated that the ending, in which Chef's "fruity little club" tries to revive him, leaves open the possibility of his return.


New Zealand network C4 has apologized for airing the controversial South Park episode that featured a statue of a bleeding Virgin Mary. The broadcast had drawn the wrath of New Zealand Catholics. In a statement, the channel said that it "acknowledges the strength of feeling in relation to the program, and we sincerely apologize for any offense taken." It promised not to air a repeat of the episode since it had "detected a shift in the public's perspective on matters ... [relating to] religious satire." PEACE REIGNS AT DISNEYLANDEnding the threat of a possible strike that could have shut down the Walt Disney Co.'s Disneyland park, the Disneyland Master Services Council of Unions, representing nearly 4,600 "cast members," announced today (Thursday) that it had reached an agreement on a new contract. The union and Disneyland execs had been negotiating under the guidance of a federal mediator since March 15, when the previous contract expired. The union invited members to vote on the new agreement on Saturday in Millionaire Theatre in Disney's California Adventure Park.


Raising chicken-and-the-egg issues, Toshiba said Wednesday that it will begin shipping its HD DVD players when studios begin releasing product in the high-definition format. It had previously announced that shipments would begin on March 28. "In order to maximize the launch of HD DVD, we intend to synchronize the launch of our players with HD DVD title releases," Toshiba's U.S. marketing chief, Jodi Sally, said in a statement. Warner Home Video had previously indicated that it would be the first to offer product in the format. It has scheduled release of Million Dollar Baby, The Phantom of the Operaand The Last Samuraion HD DVD on April 18.


British filmmakers have given qualified support to a new government plan for tax incentives announced Wednesday. Under it, relatively low-budget films ($36 million or less) will qualify for 20-percent tax relief, while films with budgets above that amount will receive 16 percent. Under the proposal, producers would be required to spend 25 percent of their budget in Britain in order to qualify for the tax breaks -- a proposal that was warmly received by U.K. filmmakers. Tim Willis, director of film for PACT, the independent producers' trade body in Britain, was quoted by the Guardiannewspaper as saying, "We believe that the government's intention to encourage the sustainable production of British films provides the possibility for transformation of the independent production sector." However, he expressed concern about how the plan might be regarded by the European Union, which bars state aid for film productions. "We will lobby hard to ensure that the technical obstacle which has been raised can be overcome," Willis said. But Andrea Calderwood, vice chairman of PACT, said in a statement that she was concerned that the British tax-incentive plan might "seriously endanger the prospects for British and European productions, while giving maximum tax advantages to U.S. studio productions."


South African filmmakers who had hoped that the success of Tsotsiat the box office and at the Oscars -- it won for best foreign-language film -- would result in an extension of the government's financial aid had their hopes dashed on Wednesday when the Department of Arts & Culture made it clear that it would not reconsider its decision to shut down the national film fund. The fund, which had provided $5.8 million to 26 filmmakers through the National Film & Video Foundation over three years, was not extended when it was drawn down in December. Daily Varietytoday (Thursday) quoted Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan as saying, "The grant was intended to anchor the industry and kickstart feature film production. Now the industry has to stand on its own legs." Tsotsireceived almost half of its financing from a British film fund.