FRASIER LEAVES THE TV SCREEN
NBC may not be investing in the kind of marketing send-off that it gave the Friends finale last week, but it is devoting two hours of its most valuable real estate on Thursday night to its farewell to Frasier. To frustrate the competition, it is running a clip show from 8:00 p.m. until 8:54 p.m. tonight, then the series finale from 8:54 until 9:59. (TiVo users, be advised!) Many critics are writing doleful obituaries about the death of the series, most of them noting that few other sitcoms have so successfully dared to blend smartness and farce. "Intellectual, elitist, disgusted at the sight of a Barcalounger, [Frasier] has embodied everything people say TV comedy isn't," writes Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe. Comments Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Sun-Times: "It was unabashedly theatrical and could rely on pure farce, but it also used operas and literature for punch lines. It milked elitism, intellectualism and snobbery for laughs." John Doyle comments in the Toronto Globe and Mail: "Few shows in the history of American television have been as deliciously effervescent and arch as Frasier." In an interview with the Associated Press, Kelsey Grammer, who portrayed Frasier Crane for 20 years on Cheers and Frasier, said, "I'm proud of it. I have something I can look to, point out and say, 'Well, I did that.' ... There is an audience for these guys. We proved that. Most of America, frankly, is much smarter than television assumes they are."

"GOODNIGHT, SEATTLE"

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer television critic has paid special tribute to Frasier, which was set in her city. In today's (Thursday) edition, Melanie McFarland writes: "Along with Microsoft, Starbucks and other recognizable symbols of Seattle's prosperity, Frasier blew away notions of our city being an out-of-the-way backwater burg. This was the first TV series that showed a cosmopolitan Seattle, worlds away from the logging town of 'Here Come the Brides.' A world that experienced Seattle through the lives of Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Martin and Roz now know us as a city of fine dining, a winning baseball team, a first-class symphony, and, yes, a few great coffee shops. Its main characters quoted poetry, lived for the opera and generally reflected our proud intelligence." The final episode, using Frasier Crane's radio sign-off, is titled, "Goodnight, Seattle."

MARK CUBAN SET TO GIVE $1 MILLION AWAY THIS SUMMER

The Benefactor , the planned ABC reality show in which Internet entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will give away $1 million to the winner, will be launched on July 11, Cuban told CBS MarketWatch Wednesday. The show, he said, will involve 16 people competing in "a series of intellectual, creative and character tests," which Cuban will judge. Asked how much he is investing in the show in addition to the $1 million prize money, Cuban declined to reply. Asked if he thought reality shows could be mounted on the Internet, where he earned his fortune (when he sold his Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in 1999), Cuban replied, "It could be entertaining on the 'Net. But it wouldn't be financially feasible. There are no hits on the Internet."

NBC HEAD PREDICTS SITCOMS WILL MAKE A COMEBACK

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly has insisted that, despite the current trend, new sitcoms can become hits for the networks again. "The entertainment business is cyclical and we all sort of feast on one genre ... and then we get our fill and move on to the next thing," he told today's (Thursday) Newsday. The genre that the audience is now feasting on, he suggested, is the reality show, but he expressed confidence that the upcoming Friends spinoff, Joey, with Matt LeBlanc will be a strong Thursday-night contender. He said that it was plain from the original pilot "that Matt LeBlanc can center his own show." He added, however, "This is not a Friends knockoff, but a brand-new show that the audience is going to be happy with."

NBC ADDING A FOURTH LAW & ORDER

NBC plans to add a fourth hour of Law & Order to its schedule next fall, this one subtitled "Trial by Jury," the network announced Wednesday. It will star Jerry Orbach, who has played Det. Lennie Briscoe on the original series since 1992. Asked whether four hours of Law & Order might be pushing things, particularly at a time when the show's ratings are declining, Kevin Reilly told Newsday that the network was putting the spinoff on the air on a trial basis. Nevertheless, he said, the show "is the most distinctive one yet."

BROKAW SIGNS 10-YEAR RENEWAL WITH NBC

NBC Entertainment President Tom Brokaw may be stepping down as anchor of NBC Nightly News following the presidential elections, but it became clear Wednesday that he will still be seen during election coverage for many years to come. NBC announced that it had signed a new 10-year contract with Brokaw and indicated that he will continue to front news specials for the network as well as its sibling cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, and serve as an analyst during coverage of major news events.

AMERICANS MAY RECEIVE NEWS FILM ON THEIR PHONES

Within the next few years, most people will be receiving news via enhanced mobile phones rather than newspapers and television, according to the director of The Media Center at the American Press Institute. Addressing the Interactive Media Conference and Trade Show in Atlanta, Andrew Nachison said that the challenge the news media have to face is how to deliver their product effectively in an age of expanded mobile communications.

EMPIRE WON'T FALL, BUT WILL DECLINE

ABC's newly appointed programming bosses, concerned about worrisome budget overruns on its planned $30-million epic series Empire, have cut the number of episodes from eight to six, published reports said today (Thursday). Earlier reports had suggested that the network might decide to pull the plug on the project. "ABC's Empire has shrunk a bit, but at least it sill exists," the Los Angeles Times observed in reporting on the development. The film, set during the Roman empire, is being produced by ABC's corporate sibling, Touchstone TV.

NBC-UNIVERSAL MARRIAGE COMPLETED
Closing on its merger with Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets, which include Universal Studios, NBC said Wednesday that it is considering the additional acquisition of MGM. NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright said that he had waited until the Universal deal was closed before looking into a deal to buy MGM. Just last week, MGM postponed its annual board meeting, saying that it wanted to consider "strategic alternatives." Some analysts have suggested that MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian would prefer a stock deal with NBC's parent company GE, which would essentially be tax free, rather than the cash deal offered by Sony. The NBC-Universal combination will give NBC a library of more than 5,000 titles. An MGM acquisition would essentially double the size of that library, plus give the new company the James Bond movie franchise, which it could also incorporate into its theme park business or perhaps even its television business. Meanwhile, today's (Thursday) Orlando Sentinel reported that even before the finalized deal was announced Wednesday, workers had installed "NBC Universal signs" including the peacock logo at the Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure theme parks, and a spokeswoman said that the company had begun to explore ways to incorporate NBC properties into the parks.

OFFBEAT CANNES OPENER

The Cannes Film Festival opened on an offbeat note Wednesday with a 12-member delegation of protesting part-time actors and technicians joining celebrities on the red carpet. After the celebrities filed in, about 100 protesters staged a demonstration nearby, calling for a reform of unemployment and pension regulations affecting them. They were later dispersed by police, without major incident. Inside the Palais de Festivals, Quentin Tarantino, who will preside over the jury in this year's competition, took the stage to introduce Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose film, Bad Education, opened the 57th annual event. He dedicated the evening to those who died in the March terrorist train bombing in Madrid. When it was over, the film received a standing ovation from the audience -- in sharp contrast to the lukewarm response to last year's festival opener, a remake of Fanfan la Tulipe.

DISNEY HAS SMASHING QUARTER DESPITE MOVIE MISSTEPS

Despite the dismal box office returns for such films as The Alamo, Home on the Range, Hidalgo and The Ladykillers and the continued downslide in the ratings for ABC, Disney was able to report a 71-percent surge in profits during its second quarter, helped by strong performances by its ESPN cable network, impressive DVD sales for such titles as Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Brother Bear, a roaring comeback in its theme park and resorts business, and unexpected strength in sales of consumer products. "We believe we are headed toward a return to the kind of strong and steady earnings growth our shareholders have every right to expect," Disney CEO Michael Eisner said in a conference call.

DISNEY ALLOWS WEINSTEINS TO BUY FAHRENHEIT 911

Disney has reportedly changed its mind and will now allow Miramax's Bob and Harvey Weinstein go buy back Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 911 for $6 million, essentially what it cost Disney to produce, published reports said today (Thursday). The film is due to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday. Although the Weinsteins have reportedly arrived in Cannes, they have been keeping a low profile, published reports said. In addition to discussing a deal with another independent distributor for Fahrenheit, they are negotiating a new contract with Disney. Some reports have suggested that Disney's handling of the Moore film has so soured the Weinstein's on the studio that they are likely to accept a proposal by a group of private investors to set up a new independent film company.

WRITERS AND PRODUCERS ADJOURN TALKS

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have agreed to adjourn their negotiations over a new contract in order to study each other's latest proposals. They said that they expect to resume their talks on June 1. Both sides have agreed not to discuss the nature of their proposals publicly.

THE PIRACY OF THE CHRIST

It hardly seems like the most Christian-like thing to do, but online movie pirates set a record in April by downloading Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ 36,693 times in April, according to the piracy tracking firm BayTSP. According to CEO Mark M. Ishikawa, copies of the movie have been circulating on several Internet file-sharing sites. However it took two full days after the film's theatrical release before the movie showed up online. (Ordinarily movies are posted within hours after they're screened.) Ishikawa told today's (Thursday) Wall Street Journal that he wasn't sure if the delay stemmed from beefed-up security at theaters, or a breakdown of Christian resolve.