MARCH MADNESS SCORES AGAIN
Even though CBS's Thursday night coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament failed to draw the kind of overwhelming ratings that the network's regular lineup does, they were still good enough to give CBS an overall win for the night -- although it failed to capture the top position among adults 18-49. That victory went to NBC, which attracted younger viewers with Will & Grace, two episodes of My Name Is Earl, and E.R. ABC also continued to draw good numbers with week two of American Inventor, although the audience was down somewhat from last week.

NBC GIVES FOUR KINGS THE ROYAL FLUSH

NBC has decided to dethrone Four Kings, its new comedy created by Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who were also responsible for Will & Grace. After putting the show on hiatus for five weeks, the network brought it back last Thursday, on a night when it would only have to compete against an early round of the NCAA basketball tournament instead of Survivor. It tanked, however (so did Will & Grace), and NBC decided to replace it with repeats of My Name Is Earl., which began Thursday night.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE CULTURAL PHENOMENON

With the soundtrack from the Disney Channel movie High School Musical returning to the top of Billboard magazine's record charts, and with Disney set to release a DVD package that includes a sing-along version of the film, the movie has become a veritable cultural phenomenon. Indeed sales of the HSM CD -- the first original movie TV soundtrack ever to hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart -- are expected to climb again following Thursday night's repeat of the movie on the Disney Channel. Nearly one million copies of the CD have been sold since the movie originally aired. The San Francisco Chronicle observed on Wednesday that teens are "downloading the flick [from Apple's iTunes Music Store] by the truckload and digging its cheesy dancy saccharine bubblegum pop soundtrack and its clean-cut nonswearing nonsexual teen cast." The Salt Lake Tribune reported today that Robyn Roberts, the principal of East High School, receives emails every day about the movie. "They're asking, 'Is your school really that fun?'" She says that one school administrator asked for a floor plan of East High. "They're redesigning their school ... and they want to make it more enjoyable for kids."

60 MINUTES TO START TICKING ON YAHOO!

Hoping to attract younger viewers, CBS announced Thursday that it will make content from 60 Minutes available on Yahoo! beginning this fall. (A special free download of an interview with Tiger Woods sill be available Sunday.) In a statement, CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus expressed expectations that the deal with the premier Internet portal would "bring the rich storytelling of television's No. 1 news magazine to a new and younger audience ... [and establish] 60 Minutes as the news magazine of the future."

THAILAND JOURNALISTS PROTEST FIRING OF TV NEWSMEN

Two professional Thailand associations -- one representing print journalists; the other, broadcast journalists -- have charged that the Thai government is using intimidation to control political reporting in the country. The Thai Journalists' Association and the Thai Broadcasting Journalists' Association issued a joint statement on Thursday condemning the firing of an anchorman on a Channel 3 news program and the news editor of Channel 9 after the two were accused of supporting opponents of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thais have been in the throes of political demonstrations for several weeks, with Thaksin's critics accusing him of corruption and nepotism and demanding that he resign.

WILL SPIKE SPIKE THE BOX OFFICE?
The box office, which has been steadily ebbing behind last year's for the past several weeks, appears destined to fall even further behind this weekend. Three new films are being released wide, but only one of them -- Spike Lee's Inside Man, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster -- was even shown to critics. The horror movie Stay Alive and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector are opening without advance critics screenings, "a strategy," today's (Friday) New York Post observed, "usually employed by studios anticipating pans." Nevertheless, any of those films stands a chance of topping last weekend's box-office leader, V for Vendetta, which many analysts had been predicting would become the year's first big blockbuster but which instead earned just over $26 million. They're now predicting that next weekend's Ice Age: The Meltdown will finally heat things up.

MOVIE REVIEWS: INSIDE MAN

Inside Man may be a far cry from the type of rebellious films Spike Lee has famously turned out in the past, but some critics are suggesting that it may be Lee's most satisfying -- and perhaps his most successful. Indeed, Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe calls it Lee's "most purely enjoyable movie." It may be surprising to see Lee at the helm of a mainstream film, but Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times comments, "Viewers may be surprised at the smoothness with which the frequently bombastic Spike Lee navigates the mainstream." "This is the kind of seamless diversion that should be a stock item in Hollywood, but isn't," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post agrees, calling Inside Man, "a crackling, twisty thriller." He also remarks that the movie features Denzel Washington "at the top of his game." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post praises it as "a deft, tense pure thriller with great star turns and brilliant directing." On the other hand, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times bestows only two stars on it and remarks that it "goes to much difficulty to arrive at too little." Ebert, who is the only major critic to turn thumbs down on the film, does allow this bit of faint praise: "Because the film is directed by Spike Lee, it is not without interest."

MOVIE THEATERS TO FEATURE SPORTS, PEANUTS AND BEER

Movie theaters are likely to begin screening live 3-D telecasts of sports events by 2007, according to Shari Redstone, president of the National Amusements theater chain, the controlling shareholder of Viacom and CBS, Inc. "We want to transition our theaters from being traditional movie theaters to being community entertainment destinations, and what better way to do this than sports?" Redstone told Reuters Thursday. She pointed to the success that her company has had presenting Boston Red Sox baseball games in its Showcase Cinemas in several New England cities on weekday nights, where vendors sell hot dogs, peanuts and beer in the aisles. "We are not just putting the game up on the big screen but making the experience like being in Fenway Park," Redstone told the wire service. "The experience is more important, really, than what you are showing."

UNIVERSAL TO ALLOW MOVIE DOWNLOADS IN THE U.K.

Buy the DVD and get the download first. That will apparently be the sales pitch of the British online DVD rental company Lovefilm, which announced on Thursday that it had reached a deal with Universal Pictures to make some 35 movies available online to customers who buy the DVD version. The service is set to launch in the U.K. on April 10 and include King Kong and Pride and Prejudice in the initial package. Users who pay $36 will receive the regular DVD in the mail plus two digital copies that they can download to their home computer (PCs only) and a hand-held device (only those using Windows software). In a statement, Universal Pictures U.K. chairman Eddie Cunningham said that the service "gives instant access, it gives portability and it gives much greater flexibility for the consumer to consume the product any way they want."

BROKEBACK ACTOR SAYS HE WAS VICTIM OF "MOVIE LAUNDERING"

Randy Quaid has filed a $10-million lawsuit against the producers of Brokeback Mountain, claiming they misled him into believing that the film was "a low-budget, art-house film, with no prospect of making any money" so that he would sign on at a low salary figure. Quaid said in the lawsuit that he originally was approached in 2004 by director Ang Lee, who told him, "We can't pay anything, we have very little money, everyone is making a sacrifice to make this film." In fact, he says, the film has proved to be a box-office hit, grossing around $160 million worldwide. Quaid charged in the lawsuit that he was the victim of a "movie laundering" scheme intended to obtain his services as an actor in Brokeback "on economically unfavorable art-film terms."

Cinemark Movie Club