GOOD NIGHT, FRASIERFrasierleft the building Thursday night with a potent if unremarkable 20.0 rating and a 28 share, translating to 25.44 million viewers, according to Nielsen overnights. It was the highest-rated show of the evening and even beat the competing CSI: Crime Scene Investigationon CBS. A clips show titled Frasier: Analyzing the Laughter,which preceded the finale, scored a 14.6/22 versus a 12.2/19 for Survivor: America's Tribal Council,but the Survivorfeature outdrew Frasieramong adults 18-49. The figures for Frasierwere well below the 29.2/42 share posted by last week's Friendsfinale, but Frasier' elicited far more appreciative comments from critics, many of whom compared the two broadcasts. "Frasier in its finale Thursday left no doubt that it has been, at its best, far superior to that other NBC sitcom that just went off the air," wrote Chicago TribuneTV critic Steve Johnson. Across town, Chicago Sun-TimesTV critic Phil Rosenthal wrote: "Take note, friends: This is what a great series finale is supposed to be like." David Bianculli commented in the New York Daily News: "It was a brilliant final episode. It provided closure to the relationships and story lines, but opened up new vistas and possibilities. And throughout, when it wasn't tugging slightly and smartly at the heartstrings, it was laugh-out-loud funny." Oddly, one of the few negative reviews of the finale came from Kay McFadden of the Seattle Times, who had given the show a hearty send-off the day before. "The producers," she wrote, "couldn't resist caving to sitcom convention."


Michael Ovitz has testified that the $140 million severance payment that he received after he was fired by Michael Eisner was justified because he saved the company more than that by putting out fires for the company, including, in particular, persuading Tim Allen to return to work after he had walked off the set of Home Improvement. Ovitz said that Eisner had come to him and asked him to use his skills as a onetime agent to win over the star of what was then ABC's top-rated sitcom. He said that he hosted a party for Allen and gave him a Roy Lichtenstein artwork. "I got Tim Allen back to work," he said. "He never missed another episode." Allen, Ovitz contended, represented a $250-million asset to Disney, nearly twice what he received when Eisner fired him. Ovitz's remarks were made during a deposition for a lawsuit by shareholders who claim that the Disney board failed to scrutinize Eisner's hiring and firing of Ovitz and are seeking to reclaim the money that he was paid.


CBS has received the approval of the Elvis Presley estate for a four-hour movie about the singer, thereby allowing it to use Presley's recordings, Daily Varietyreported today (Friday). The use of the original masters, instead of singers imitating Presley, is expected to give the movie, tentatively titled Elvis, a kind of authenticity lacking in similar projects in the past, producers of the film told the trade paper. "When our Elvis actor opens his mouth, it'll be Elvis' voice that comes out," Co-executive producer Robert Greenblatt told Variety.


Ted Koppel has defended television's continued coverage of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal against criticism by conservatives that it is all part of an anti-Bush political agenda and could endanger U.S. troops. Koppel told a commencement convocation at the University of California, Berkeley on Thursday: "Yes, it must sadden our troops to see these accounts, it must make them angry. Maybe it does expose them to greater danger," but, he said, freedom the press "is part of what they're fighting for. Our forefathers wanted an informed electorate." Koppel declared that while he himself was not opposed to the war, "I have many questions and reservations about how that war is being conducted."


Saying that "the issue of using graphic images and sound is one of the most difficult decisions journalists must face," the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) has called to their attention a list of nine "guidelines" that it previously set down. The list was distributed to broadcast reporters in the wake of the prisoner abuse and Nick Berg stories. Topping it: "What is the journalistic purpose behind broadcasting the graphic content? Does the display of such material clarify and help the audience understand the story better? Is there an issue of great public importance involved such as public policy, community benefit or social significance?"


The Smoking Gun website has posted a copy of an NBC internal report distributed to program executives in 1994 showing that the pilot for Friendsreceived poor marks in audience tests. The show received 41 out of 100 points and was graded "weak," according to the research. "Overall reactions to this pilot were not very favorable," the report began. "Most viewers felt the show was not very entertaining, clever, or original," the report continued and said that "viewing intentions for a series based on this pilot were not encouraging." While teens and young adults "seemed to connect slightly better with the individual characters," older adults found them to be "smug, superficial, and self-absorbed ... and felt they were not really like people they would want to know."


Fox TV has apologized for some of the language it used in a press release Thursday promoting a reality special called Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay.In the show, set to air on June 7, two heterosexual men will "immerse themselves in 'the gay lifestyle' in West Hollywood, then proceed to convince friends and family that they're gay, even going out on a romantic blind date with another man. It would be, in the words of the press release, "a heterosexual male's worst nightmare." Finally, the contestants will be judged by a panel of gay men -- a "jury of their queers," in the words of the press release -- will judge the contestants' performance, with the winner receiving $50,000. Only hours after distributing the release, Fox followed up with an edited version and an apology in which it said, "Our failed attempt at humor was ill-chosen and inappropriate." Some critics thought that the premise for the show was also. Wrote, Washington PostTV writer Lisa de Moraes: "If Fox wanted to do a really interesting reality series in which two heterosexual men experience what it is like to be a gay man in America, they ought to also send them someplace like Laramie, WY," referring to the city where University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was tortured and killed in 1998.THEATERS BRACE FOR THE INVASION OF TROY Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom will muscle onto 3,411 screens this weekend, as Warner Bros. launches Troy,a film that Daily Varietydescribed today as a "beefcake battle epic." It is expected to dispatch Van Helsingfrom the top-spot at the box office with ease, but questions have been raised about whether it will top the horror flick's $51.7-million opening, given its R rating and a nearly three-hour running time, which will limit the number of screenings at each theater showing it. Several analysts are predicting an opening-weekend gross of between $40 million and $45 million. (The film reportedly cost $175-200 million to make.) If so, it would exceed the similarly themed Gladiator,which debuted with $34.8 million in 2000.


The question is: Can all the soldiers in Troywithstand the onslaught of just about all the movie critics in America? Noting that the film is based n Homer's The Iliad,Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "Homer's estate should sue. The movie sidesteps the existence of the Greek gods, turns its heroes into action movie clichés and demonstrates that we're getting tired of computer-generated armies." Ty Burr in the Boston Globeminces few words as he lays into "this surprisingly lumbering $200-million disappointment." John Anderson in Newsdaydescribes it as "a big slab of cheese." But what most of the critics particularly object to are the performances of the three male leads. "The worst casting in recent Hollywood history," comments Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post.Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun describes the casting as going "woefully awry." Indeed, the only real praise being dished out by the critics in their reviews goes to Peter O'Toole, who plays Priam. His performance, writes Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "should earn O'Toole the competitive Oscar he has thus far been denied." Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning Newscomments that "it is Mr. O'Toole's heartbroken Priam whom you'll remember most vividly." Several critics, strangely, appear to take a neutral stance towards the film. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, for example, gives it "a split decision." A. O. Scott in the New York Times comments that "for what it is -- a big, expensive, occasionally campy action movie full of well-known actors speaking in well-rounded accents -- Troy is not bad." In fact, Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribuneis among the handful of critics who found it to be quite good. Troy, he writes: "is a huge, all-star sword-and-sandals epic, but it has all kinds of compensating rewards: flair and sweep, raging excitement, intriguing characters, visual grandeur--and a scenic force and dramatic intelligence." And Claudia Puig in USA Todaycalls the movie "entertainingly epic eye candy ... a gripping, well-told adaptation of one of the oldest human dramas."


Going up against Troy this weekend is the low-budget Breakin' All the Rules, starring Jamie Foxx. By and large it's getting more enthusiastic reviews than the $200-million epic. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesgives the film three stars (he gave Troytwo) and concludes that it "is not a comic masterpiece, but it's entertaining and efficient, and provides a showcase for its stars. It's on the level of a good sitcom." Bob Townsend writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: ""Breakin' All the Rules is a funny movie. Ha-ha funny sometimes, but more frequently amusing in a good-natured, make-you-smile way." Elizabeth Weitzman comments in the New York Daily News: "You won't remember much in the morning, but it's an easy way to pass the time until something better comes along." Foxx is receiving particularly good notices. Stephen Holden in the New York Times says that "the actor's deft touch lends the flighty story of mistaken identities and romantic mix-ups among mostly African-American characters in Los Angeles the kind of saucy bounce that Cary Grant lent to similar roles six decades ago." Karen Heller comments in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The cast, headed by the divine Jamie Foxx, is better than the material." Likewise Glenn Whipp comments in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Foxx's likable presence and the natural chemistry he has with co-star Gabrielle Union save the film from being completely unwatchable, but earnest fans of the actors are likely to be the only ones mildly satisfied by this tepid comic offering."