SECOND COMING OF JESUS FAILS TO ATTRACT
Television audiences did not show the same sort of passion about CBS's Jesus Sunday night that movie audiences did about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. A repeat of the second part of the network's 2000 miniseries drew a 7.1 rating and an 11 share, well below the ratings for NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent at 9:00 p.m., which nabbed a 9.5/14 and Crossing Jordan at 10:00 p.m., which scored a 9.8/17. The movie was second in its time period in the 9:00 hour and third in its time perioid at 10:00 p.m. hour. The original telecast, which included a two-hour opening episode about Christ's early life, drew 21 million viewers and was the highest-rated miniseries of the 2000-2001 season.

HDTV MAKING GREATER ADVANCES

HDTV can now be accessed in 75 percent of the households that are linked to cable TV, according to a study released today (Monday) by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The percentage is more than double (34 percent) the January 2003 figure. Cable operators also carry 382 local stations via digital TV, a 300-percent increase since January 2003.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD OUT AT NBC

Ashleigh Banfield, once regarded as a rising star at NBC News, has instead become a shooting star, burning out as the network declined to renew her contract. The New York Daily News quoted an NBC News spokesperson as saying, "Regrettably we were unable to agree on a new assignment for her. ... We thank her for her hard work and wish her well." Last year Banfield was reportedly reprimanded for remarks she made at Kansas State University in which she charged that television news producers had sanitized coverage of the war in Iraq and had wrapped themselves in the American flag in order to appeal to "a certain target demographic."

QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT VIACOM'S PLANS FOR GAY CHANNEL

Viacom's plans to launch a 24-hour gay cable channel has raised questions about its viability among advertisers, producers, and even members of the gay community, the Wall Street Journal observed today (Monday). The newspaper noted that some cable operators, especially those outside major urban areas, might also be reluctant to add another channel to their offerings and question the ability of the channel's programmers to offer sufficient stimulating shows to engage an audience 24 hours a day. Besides, as Law & Order: SVU co-executive producer Robert Nathan told the Journal: "Do we have to fractionalize the audience for everything?"

GLAAD LAUNCHES COMPETITION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE COMMERCIAL

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has invited amateur and professional filmmakers to produce a 30-second commercial that might "counter the negative, discriminatory and fear-mongering tactics of the religious right" regarding gay marriage. The competition, in which the filmmakers are being asked to "translate your passion for fairness and equal protection" into the spot, will run until May 11. The selected spot is expected to be placed in key markets during the second half of the year. The organization has posted details of the competition on its www.glaad.org website.

EARLY CANDID CAMERA FOOTAGE LOST

Most of the film sequences shot between 1948 and 1959 for the long-running Candid Camera series -- the original TV reality show -- no longer exist, according to Peter Funt, whose late father Allen Funt was the show's creator and original host. Funt, who is currently producing a Candid Camera DVD set due to be released this summer, told the trade publication Video Store, "It's always been my frustration that they never saved a lot of that footage. ... I don't think that anyone dreamed, back in the 1940s and early 1950s, that we would be sitting around here in 2004 talking about it, let alone wanting to look at it again."

PANEL CHOOSES NEW BBC CHAIRMAN

A panel charged with finding a new chairman of the BBC has made its recommendation to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, disclosed on Sunday. Under British procedures, Blair is required to inform the Queen of the recommendation, who will then confirm the appointment by an Order in Council. Jowell said on a Sky News talk show that the official announcement of the appointment will be made in about three weeks.

A POLITICAL IDOL?

The British commercial network ITV is planning to launch a political version of its hit Pop Idol (American Idol, in the U.S.) series, in which people from ordinary life will compete to become a candidate for a seat in Parliament, the London Sunday Times reported. The series, tentatively titled Vote for Me, would see contestants appearing before a panel of experts who would grill them on current issues and comment on their responses. The newspaper said that it is understood that the winner could contest any seat, including those of Prime Minister Tony Blair or opposition leader Michael Howard. An ITV spokeswoman denied that the show was an imitation of Idol, telling the Sunday Times that it was an effort "to engage [young] people in the political process."

SCOOBY DOOS IT AGAIN
The answer to the perennial question, "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" is: at the top of the box office. Warner Bros.' sequel to its live-action, theatrical version of the TV cartoon series, subtitled Monsters Unleashed, opened with an estimated $30.7 million, 43 percent below the $54.2 million taken in by the original in June 2002 and well below analysts' expectations. But other films at the box office didn't stand a ghost of a chance against it. The No. 2 film, the Coen Brothers' remake of The Ladykillers, took in $12.5 million, a considerable accomplishment given the fact that it opened in fewer than half the number of theaters that welcomed Scooby-Doo 2. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ dropped to third place with $12.5 million, bringing its gross to date to $315 million. The Ben Affleck starrer Jersey Girl turned out to be no Gigli but no big hit either, as it opened in fifth place with $8.3 million, somewhat higher than analysts had predicted. The only other new film, the low-budget Never Die Alone, starring rap star DMX, opened just outside of the top ten with $3.1 million. For the fifth consecutive week, ticket sales were strikingly higher than those for the comparable weekend a year ago, rising 26 percent to $109.5 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, $30.7 million; 2. The Ladykillers, $13 million; 3. The Passion of the Christ, $12.5 million; 4. Dawn of the Dead, $10.3 million; 5. Jersey Girl, $8.3 million; 6. Taking Lives, $6.5 million; 7. Starsky & Hutch, $6.3 million; 8. Hidalgo, $5.43 million; 9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, $5.42 million; 10. Secret Window, $5.4 million.

DISNEY PLANS TO PRODUCE TOY STORY 3 ON ITS OWN

Disney is planning to make Toy Story 3 on its own as a theatrical feature after its deal with Pixar ends next year, Disney Studio Chairman Dick Cook said Friday. Interviewed by Reuters in San Antonio in advance of next week's premiere of The Alamo, Cook did not rule out the possibility that the sequel might go directly to home video, but said, "My hunch is big screen." He added: "I think it deserves it. These are two of the most beloved characters in the last generation. Buzz and Woody are fantastic characters, and I think that is something that would fit on the big screen nicely."

DISNEY'S NEW CHAIRMAN UNDER FIRE AGAIN

Although Disney's new chairman, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, has halted his work as a consultant to the company, he continues to receive payments from other companies where he is a board member, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that because of those deals some governance experts and investment fund officials have raised questions about his commitment to corporate reform at Disney. "You would like there to be consistency," Christi Wood of the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) told the Times. "The fact is, if he really practiced what he preached and believes in good governance, you would think he would not be doing consulting work for companies where he's on the board." In a letter to the Times, Mitchell said, ""I have always thought, spoken and acted with complete independence on the Disney board and on all other boards on which I have served."

MPAA CHIEF JACK VALENTI DELIVERS HIS FAREWELL TO EXHIBITORS

Introduced by Warren Beatty and making a presumed final appearance before movie exhibitors at the ShoWest conference in Las Vegas Thursday night, Jack Valenti said that he believed his greatest accomplishment as head of the MPAA was safeguarding freedom of speech. "I've done my damnedest to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment," he said, as the applauding audience rose to its feet. "I have never ceased fighting to make sure that every creative film artist can tell the story as they choose to tell it without any fear that the government would intervene or interrupt or make them stand mute. Those 45 words that comprise the Constitution is the one clause that guarantees all the others."

OSCAR, EMMY-WINNING ACTOR USTINOV DEAD AT 82

Peter Ustinov, who won the best supporting actor Oscar twice -- for Spartacus in 1960 andTopkapi in 1964 and won Emmys for best actor in a drama in 1952, 1966 and 1970, died in Switzerland Sunday at the age of 82. He was also sought out as a raconteur on TV talk shows and was a regular guest on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in the late '50s and early '60s.