DISH PULLS PLUG ON CBS
CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, and other Viacom-owned outlets went dark on EchoStar Communications Dish satellite service early today in many areas. (While CBS confirmed that Dish had yanked its programming, it was still accessible at Studio Briefing's office, which subscribes to Dish's New York and Los Angeles local packages.) Echostar Chairman Charlie Ergen had accused Viacom of using "extortion" to force Dish to agree to higher fees for Viacom's cable networks. But at a media conference on Monday, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone remarked: "Viacom will not and can not give Charlie Ergen a better deal than Rupert Murdoch," who owns the rival DirecTV satellite service.

JUDAS CLOBBERS ANGELS

Television viewers did not display the same sort of passion about ABC's Judas Monday night that moviegoers did about Mel Gibson's movie, but its average 7.3 rating and 11 share easily beat NBC's Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie's Angels, which pulled a 5.9/9. Both made-for-TV movies were beaten by reruns of the CBS comedies Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men in the 9:00 p.m. hour and CSI Miami at 10:00 p.m.

THE SOPRANOS CUT DOWN BY THE RATINGS

HBO's The Sopranos took a big hit in the ratings Sunday as the fifth-season debut produced an audience that was 25 percent below the fourth season's, according to Nielsen Research. Nevertheless, 10.1 million people watched the episode, a formidable number in the cable world (versus 13.4 million who tuned in for the season debut in September 2002) and even in the broadcast world. Only NBC's Law & Order drew a bigger audience in the time slot Sunday night.

MSNBC.COM SPRUCES UP TODAY'S WEBSITE

MSNBC.com, like its cable sibling a joint venture between NBC News and Microsoft, today (Tuesday) unveiled a revamped website for the Today show <www.today.msnbc.com> that includes columns by regular contributors on the show, as well as daily features on food, relationships, fashion, parenting, and money. The site also features news clips from the show (Matt Lauer's interview with disgraced journalist Jayson Blair is currently posted). MSNBC claims that it attracted 20.7 million unique visitors in January, which likely put it slightly above the usual Internet news leader, CNN.com, which claimed 19.9 million in December. In an interview with MediaPost's website, MediaDailyNews.com, MSNBC.com's president, Scott Moore, called the site more consumer- and advertiser-friendly. "There's more content and more video. We've given more prominence to our branded partners, and beefed up entertainment and health coverage," Moore said.

THREE-IN-ONE RECORDER TO DEBUT IN JUNE

Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which manufactures products marketed in the U.S. under the Panasonic label, said today that it will introduce five new DVD recorders beginning in June, one of which will be a three-in-one device that will allow users to record onto a DVD disk, a hard disk drive, or a VCR. The unit will also allow two different TV programs to be recorded simultaneously. Two of the recorders include a DVD and hard disk drive; another a DVD recorder and a VCR.

CBS AND UPN DUMP MARTHA

Martha Stewart Living, syndicated by King World, was dropped Monday by Viacom's CBS and UPN outlets. The action followed Stewart's conviction of Friday on five charges related to the insider trading scandal involving ImClone stock. The show's ratings had dropped significantly, and renewal was doubtful even if she had been acquitted, analysts indicated. Published rumors indicate that Oprah Winfrey, whose talk show is also syndicated by King World, may be readying a homemaking program to fill the void left by Stewart's cancellation. Meanwhile, Stewart met with federal probation officials on Monday who will make their recommendations to the court in June about the length of her prison sentence. Speaking to reporters briefly afterwards, Stewart gave no indication that she planned to admit to wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. When a New York Daily news writer asked her to comment on the fairness of the trial, she replied, "The unfairness of the trial, that's the right comment."

THE WORST RECORD EVER?

American Idol contestant William Hung, arguably the least-talented entrant to appear on the show, may be on his way to becoming the Tiny Tim of the current generation. Fuse Music Network and Koch Records announced Monday that it had signed the 21-year-old to a recording contract and that it would release his first CD, featuring his rendition of "She Bangs" and "Rocket Man" on April 6. In a statement, Fuse President Marc Juris said, "He may not be the next American Idol, but he is definitely a star and inspiration to everyone who sings in the shower."

BROKAW FOR VICE PRESIDENT?

Following an Op-Ed article in the Wall Street Journal in which staffer John Fund suggested that John Kerry ask Tom Brokaw to become his running mate, Brokaw issued a statement Monday saying that he's not interested. "As I have said repeatedly, I have no intention of pursuing a political career," Brokaw said. "Any speculation to the contrary, however flattering, is simply wrong." Steve Capus, exec producer of NBC Nightly News, suggested that the ticket ought to be Brokaw-Kerry instead of the other way around, but he added: "I know Tom very well, and I don't think it's in the cards. ... He has no desire to go into the political world." Added NBC President Jeff Zucker: the vice presidency "would be such a step down for Tom."

BRITAIN'S CHANNEL FIVE SWITCHES NEWS PROVIDERS

In a devastating blow to ITN, Britain's leading independent television news provider, the Channel Five network has decided switch to Rupert Murdoch's Sky News. The deal is reportedly worth $65 million.

SAUDI JUDGE CONDEMNS U.S.-BACKED CABLE NEWS CHANNEL

A senior Saudi Arabian Supreme Court judge has denounced the U.S.-backed Al-Hurra channel and barred Arabs from watching it, participating in its programs, or contributing to it in any way. "The objective of the channel is to facilitate American hegemony over the world in the religious, political and social fields," Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Khudairi told the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. He said that the channel was part of "the ongoing ideological war ... aimed at destroying the Arab identity." However, the English-language Arab News, which published excerpts from the Al-Hayat interview, observed today that the TV outlet also airs criticism of U.S. policy, including recent remarks by Lebanese journalist Sate Nuruddin, who accused the Bush administration of lacking credibility on every Arab issue.

SECOND COMING BIGGER THAN EXPECTED
For the second week in a row, Sunday ticket sales for The Passion of the Christ proved to be bigger than originally expected. The final weekend tally totaled $53.2 million, some $1.8 million more than Newmarket Films, its distributor, had predicted. Its total domestic gross now stands at $213.9 million, with some analysts now predicting that the film could surpass $350 million and total more than $1 billion worldwide, even before sales of DVDs and other ancillary items are taken into account. Starsky & Hutch, a movie versions of the 1970s TV series, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, debuted in second place with $28.1 million, about $1 million less than what was forecast. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. The Passion of the Christ, Newmarket, $53,246,801, 2 Wks. ($213,888,740); 2. Starsky & Hutch, Warner Bros., $28,103,367, (New); 3. Hidalgo, Disney, $18,829,435, (New); 4. 50 First Dates, Sony, $7,637,128, 4 Wks. ($99,348,370); 5. Twisted, Paramount, $5,126,387, 2 Wks. ($16,483,793); 6. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Disney, $4,045,006, 3 Wks. ($21,803,186); 7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New Line, $3,037,822, 12 Wks. ($368,210,170); 8. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Lions Gate, $2,962,008, 2 Wks. ($10,149,976); 9. Miracle, Disney, $2,543,422, 5 Wks. ($59,822,969); 10. Monster, Newmarket, $2,123,915, 11 Wks. ($29,954,254).

CANNES EXIT TO BE DE-LOVELY

The Cannes Film Festival announced Monday that Irwin Winkler's De-Lovely will close the 57th annual edition on Saturday, May 22. The film, a biography of composer Cole Porter, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, is to be given its world premiere at the festival, following the announcement of the prize winners by jury president Quentin Tarantino. After the screening, a fireworks show, an award party, and a live concert are scheduled. (The festival concludes on Sunday with a screening of the film that won the Palme d'Or.) The festival opens on May 12th with a screening of Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education (La Mala Educación].

EISNER RALLIES THE TROOPS

With reports mounting of increasing discontent and anxiety among the ranks of the Walt Disney Co.'s 70,000 employees, CEO Michael Eisner dispatched an email Monday in which he attempted to rally the troops. Referring to last week's shareholders meeting at which those assembled withheld 43 percent of their votes from Eisner, the Disney chief said: ""As is appropriate at any shareholder meeting, ours was an occasion to hear from people who are both complimentary and critical of your company and its management." But he added that "even on the most contentious issues, a majority of shareholders endorsed our current course."

L.A. NEWSPAPER "FINDS" DISNEY'S RESTING PLACE

Disney CEO Michael Eisner's credibility was again being challenged today (Tuesday), this time by the Los Angeles Times over what it called "a grave matter." The Times took Eisner to task for his remarks on CNN's Larry King Live on Feb. 20 that Walt Disney was buried in an unmarked grave "and not available to anybody to ever find out." Eisner, who acknowledged that he had never met Disney, said that although the studio founder "wanted his privacy forever," he had found the place and visited the grave. "It's a beautiful little spot and nobody could ever find it," he added. The Times, however, remarked that it's "not that difficult" since Disney is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, his grave is marked, and various websites offer detailed maps of the location. A Disney spokesman told the Times that when Eisner visited the grave 10 years ago, it was unmarked.

SCREENWRITERS STRUGGLING OVER NEXT BOND MOVIE

Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, who wrote the James Bond movies The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, have acknowledged that they have found writing the script for a third Bond movie rough going. They told the British magazine Empire that they started work on what is now being called Bond 21 two weeks ago. "I don't think there's a more difficult task," Wade told the magazine. "It's all been done. The 20th film was harder than the 19th. It's very difficult to think of new ways to blow things up! But character is the thing -- it's finding new ways to explore the character." The two said that they expect that Pierce Brosnan will be back to play Bond.

Cinemark Movie Club