SAWYER AIMING FOR ANCHOR'S SEAT?Diane Sawyer has told friends and ABC colleagues that she is actively seeking to become the sole anchor of World News Tonight, according to, AOL's recently launched gossip website. According to a report appearing on the site, Sawyer is convinced that the Todayshow's Katie Couric plans to jump ship and become the anchor of the CBS Evening News when her NBC contract expires in May, and Sawyer wants to establish herself as the first female sole anchor ahead of Couric. TMZ quoted one network source as saying that Sawyer was "obsessed" with landing the anchor job. The website also reported that Charles Gibson is unhappy about the negotiations between Sawyer and network executives. After ABC announced its decision to install the team of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff as coanchors, it was widely reported that Gibson had earlier turned down an offer for the anchor's job because ABC refused to commit to a deal that would extend past the 2008 elections.


Hot on the heels of News Corp's $580-million acquisition of the teen and young-adult social networking website, NBC Universal announced Monday that it is buying iVillage Inc., which operates websites targeting women, for $600 million. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times, Allen Weiner, an analyst with Garner Inc., predicted, "You're going to see all of these big media companies line up to be part of these social communities. They can't get into that market quick enough." Today's New York Times reported that NBC plans to make some of its programs available on the iVillage sites. The newspaper commented: "This is a potentially awkward development because much of the NBC News content is also linked with, a website it owns jointly with Microsoft." In December, NBC took a controlling interest in MSNBC, leaving Microsoft with just an 18-percent stake in the news channel.


TV industry analysts expressed surprise Monday that ratings for Sunday night's Oscar telecast where off about 9 percent -- many had predicted a far greater falloff. The decline was almost identical to that at the box office itself, where ticket sales were down for the second year in a row. Still, the number of viewers who tuned in -- 38.8 million -- was far higher than those who watched in 2003 -- 33 million -- when Chicagowon the best film award. In an interview with the Los Angeles Timesblog "Channel Island," Oscar producer Gil Cates said that the falloff was "about what I figured." He attributed the decline to the fact that few people had seen the nominated films. "All five of the best picture nominees together, I don't think [their worldwide box office] goes to $250 million. [The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe] goes to $800 million by itself." [The total actually reached $680 million last weekend.] He indicated that he had attempted to counter that situation by adding numerous film montages to the production -- a strategy that several critics condemned. "In a year when some films are films people haven't seen, it's nice to remind people of films that have had an impact on their lives that they have seen," he said. He also defended the use of music behind the acceptance speeches, another sore point with critics, saying that he did so to provide a sense of "activity ... a unified thread" to the otherwise "dry" speeches. "I knew there'd be a difference of opinion about it," Cates said.


NBC's Deal or No Deal, which produced rather lackluster ratings in its week-long special last week, turned in a winning performance Monday night in its permanent weekly time slot. The game show won the 8:00 p.m. hour with an 8.8 rating and a 13 share, beating the first hour of a two-hour 24special on Fox, which scored a 7.0/11. The combination of The King of Queensand How I Met Your Motheron CBS averaged a 6.9/10. CBS, however, continued to rule the rest of the night.


In an attempt to distinguish itself from other makers of digital video recorders, TiVo is introducing a new feature this summer that will allow Verizon Wireless customers to program their recorders via their cell phones. In an interview with the Associated Press, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers said, "TiVo isn't just about a great way to watch television but it's also about a great way to manage your TV life, and to do that, we realize TiVo can't be isolated. It has to be integrated with all these other digital devices in people's lives." The TiVo service will be available through Verizon's "Get It Now" feature. Pricing has not yet been announced.LIONS GATE'S MARKETING CRASHLions Gate Entertainment spent $2 million to promote Crashamong motion picture academy members, gambling that if the film won, it would translate to big winnings at the box office and in DVD sales, the Toronto Star reported today (Tuesday). [Today's Los Angeles Timesadded that, since the film has a large ensemble cast, actors were particularly targeted by the campaign; 110,000 of the 130,000 DVDs of the movie that were sent out went to actors.] Since the film was the only one already out on DVD, the Canadian film company was able to rush out screeners without concerning itself with anti-copying issues. Screenwriter Roger Simon, a member of the academy, said that Crashwas the first screener he received last year. As a result of its victory, Oppenheimer analyst Tom Eagan said Monday, "We have estimated that the award is worth $6 million to $7 million in incremental home-video revenue." [The Timesreported that Crashjumped from No. 103 to No. 23 on Amazon's list of top sellers between Sunday and Monday.] The film is also going back into about 150 theaters in major cities next weekend. More important perhaps, the Starobserved, the best picture Oscar enhances the Canadian company's stature, making it a prime takeover target by a major media conglomerate. "A lot of the smart money has already been moving into Lions Gate, anticipating that it may be swallowed up by one of the bigger players," Jefferies & Co. analyst Robert Routh told the newspaper.


Despite competition from four new films, Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion remained in first place for the second weekend in a row, taking in $12.6 million and bringing its gross to $48 million, according to final box office figures. (The film cost $6 million to make.) Richard Prince, who writes the "Journal-isms" column for the Maynard College website, noted that the victory was achieved "by and large without benefit of the 'mainstream media,' which mostly didn't seem to get what was happening" -- that is, a huge turnout of "hardworking, Christian black women." Prince quoted Marcia Davis, who wrote in the Washington Postthat the simple plots in Perry's plays "have power in the way they resonate with the fault lines of modern-day African-American life." The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. Madea's Family Reunion, Lions Gate, $12,648,954, 2 Wks. ($47,748,243); 2. 16 Blocks, Warner Bros., $11,855,260, (New); 3. Eight Below, Disney, $10,137,068, 3 Wks. ($58,636,373); 4. Ultraviolet, Sony, $9,064,880, (New); 5. Aquamarine, 20th Century Fox, $7,482,669, (New); 6. The Pink Panther, Sony, $6,883,674, 4 Wks. ($69,668,601); 7.Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Focus Features, $6,214,723, (New); 8. Date Movie, 20th Century Fox, $5,131,207, 3 Wks. ($40,709,501); 9. Curious George, Universal, $4,519,550, 4 Wks. ($49,301,615); 10. Firewall, Warner Bros., $3,584,316, 4 Wks. ($42,494,897).


Fandango, Nextel, and Sprint on Monday launched a new service that will allow mobile phone customers to buy movie tickets on their phones. The service reportedly also allows customers to access information about the movies, including reviews, show times, directions to the theaters, and news items.


Analysts appraising Disney's takeover of Pixar Animation may not have sufficiently taken into consideration the loss of Pixar's story department chief, Joe Ranft, who died in an auto accident last August, Disney watcher Jim Hill observed on his website, today (Tuesday). Hill compares Ranft with Howard Ashman, whom he calls "the creative genius behind" such Disney blockbusters as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beastand Aladdin. "He could take the most improbable plot and find a way for audiences to connect with that material. Take the most unsympathetic character and then make moviegoers really care for them," Hill writes. And when he died, in 1991, Disney animation began to lapse into failure. "So don't think that the loss of a single man can't have a huge impact on a creative organization like an animation studio. Because Disney Feature Animation never quite recovered from the loss of Howard Ashman. Which is why many folks in the industry are now wondering ... Will we eventually see the same sort of thing happening to Pixar Animation Studios now that Joe Ranft is gone?"


Despite mounting demonstrations by members of South Korea's film industry, the country's government today (Tuesday) approved a bill that relaxes the protectionist quota on foreign films. The cabinet action comes in advance of negotiations with the United States on a new free trade agreement. Under current law, South Korean movie theaters are required to show domestically produced films on at least 146 days of the year. The new bill cuts the quota to 73 days.


Part 1 of a two-part miniseries, Dresden -- The Inferno,drew the largest audience for a German miniseries in history Sunday night as 12.7 million viewers tuned in. News reports suggested that an even larger audience may have tuned in Monday night. The film, set during the 1945 Allied bombing that flattened the city and killed 35,000 people, is the most expensive ever produced for German television, costing $13.2 million. It attracted 39 percent of the 14-49-year-old viewers. The film is also reportedly the first to treat the World War 2 event as drama, focusing on a fictional romance between an RAF pilot shot down during the bombing and a German nurse.