CBS SHOUTS HOORAY FOR RAY!
Ray Romano has agreed to return for a ninth and final season of CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond but will follow the example of Friends in its final season and produce only 16 new episodes. "The decision about coming back was always about maintaining the quality, and not feeling like we've overstayed our welcome," Romano, the show's producer and star, said in a statement. "I look forward to being a hapless, sexless husband once again in year nine." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Romano currently receives about $1.8 million per episode; the other actors on the show have also received substantial raises during the past year. The deal was signed just three days before CBS was to unveil its fall season. Meanwhile, NBC is due to be the first to announce its fall lineup today (Monday). According to today's New York Daily News, Whoopi Goldberg's sitcom will not be on it.

FRASIER GETS A SECOND CURTAIN CALL

In an unusual move that failed to pay off, NBC rebroadcast the Frasier finale Friday night, only a day after its initial airing. The rerun drew a measly 4.0 rating and an 8 share and ranked third during the 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. hour. Meanwhile, Saturday night's highest-ratings were recorded not during primetime but by the late-night Saturday Night Live, which scored a 7.0/17, its best numbers for a season finale since May 20, 2000 when the show was hosted by Jackie Chan. Saturday night's show was headlined by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Earlier in the day, NBC's coverage of the Preakness horse race in Baltimore scored a 7.2/18.

CNN MOVES INTO NEW DIGS

Anderson Cooper 360 and Paula Zahn Now are due to begin broadcasting from the new Time Warner Center in Manhattan tonight (Monday), completing the transition of all of CNN's New York-based shows to the new facilities. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted New York Bureau Chief Karen Curry as saying that the consolidation will result in a better "exchange of information when stories are breaking. ... It's really going to improve things tremendously." Ken Jautz, executive vice president of CNN business news, added: "The whole facility here allows us to get information, gather it and get it on air more quickly and allows for a better-looking product." The new studios cover 250,000 square feet on five floors, twice the previous space.

FRIENDS CAST REUNITING ON THE SIMPSONS?

In an article that was immediately greeted with skepticism, the British tabloid the Daily Star reported today (Monday) that the cast members of Friends will soon reunite -- not as their Friends characters but as the voices of guests at a gay resort on an upcoming episode of The Simpsons. A source told the publication: "The writing team has worked overtime to produce the perfect script. ... It's funny but shocking, with all six playing gay characters."

CALL FOR AN IDOL RECOUNT?

American Idol voting is increasingly being controlled by a relatively small number of "power dialers" and others who have figured out ways to bypass overtaxed phone lines, according to a report in Broadcasting & Cable appearing today (Monday). Questions about the voting system have been raised in recent weeks when some of the more talented performers have been dumped from the show after losing out in the audience vote even after receiving much praise from the show's judges. Broadcasting quoted one fan of the show as saying, "I had my phone set on speed dial for Latoya and never once got through. And I dialed and dialed!!!! Something is wrong with the voting system and it needs to be corrected or the country will [lose] complete interest in the show!!" The trade publication observed that on the night that Ruben Studdard defeated Clay Aiken last year, the show announced that 24 million votes were recorded, even though Verizon and SBC each recorded surges in phone use by about 115 million.

AIDE TO COLIN POWELL ATTEMPTS TO HALT INTERVIEW

An aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to pull the plug on his appearance on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. Afterwards, host Tim Russert told the New York Times: "I've been doing this program for 13 years and nothing like that has ever happened. ... I remember sometimes in countries around the world this happens, but not in America. This is a free press, and political figures can always say 'I don't want to answer.'" A State Department spokeswoman later said that the interview had gone on longer than scheduled and that personnel accompanying Powell had "made very attempt to get NBC to finish up." In the end, Powell overruled his aide and continued
the interview.

TROY STORY AT THE BOX OFFICE
As expected, Troy, starring Brad Pitt, muscled its way to the top of the box office over the weekend, but analysts debated whether it would have enough strength to continue to attract enough business in the weeks ahead to justify its nearly $200 million budget. The film earned an estimated $45.6 million (and an additional $54.8 million overseas), putting it ahead of the similarly themed Gladiator, which earned $34.8 million in its opening in 2000. Such epic productions, analysts pointed out, usually exhibit much staying power. Gladiator earned $187.6 million domestically in its initial domestic run. By contrast, horror films ordinarily show little strength after their opening, and last week's winner Van Helsing proved to be no exception as it plummeted 60 percent to $20.1 million, to bring its total to $84.5 million. The big surprise may have been the strong performance of Lindsay Lohan's Mean Girls, which saw only a 26 percent drop in its third week as it earned $10.1 million. The only other new film to open wide over the weekend was the Jamie Foxx comedy Breakin' All the Rules, which earned only $5.3 million to finish fourth. Ticket sales for the top 12 films totaled $100.2 million, 35 percent below the year-ago figure. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Troy, $45.6 million; 2. Van Helsing, $20.1 million; 3. Mean Girls, $10.1 million; 4. Breakin' All the Rules, $5.3 million; 5. Man on Fire, $5.2 million; 6. 13 Going on 30, $4.2 million; 7. New York Minute, $3.7 million; 8. Laws of Attraction, $2 million; 9. Kill Bill -- Vol. 2, $1.6 million; 10. Godsend, $1 million.

MOORE SAYS HIS CAMERA CREWS WERE EMBEDDED IN IRAQ

Michael Moore, who reportedly had been editing his Fahrenheit 9/11 film up to the last moment, claimed Sunday that he was able to get his crews embedded with American troops in Iraq "without them knowing that it was Michael Moore." Speaking at a news conference in Cannes on Sunday, Moore once again predicted that the film would bring down President Bush -- if he is able to secure a distributor before the November election. He added, however, "People will see this film, by hook or by crook. I will get this out if it means breaking the law or committing an act of civil disobedience." He did not indicate what sort of act he was prepared to commit. Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported Sunday that Republican officials plan to file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, charging that by backing Moore's film, Miramax co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein had violated campaign-finance laws. The newspaper quoted an unnamed GOP source as saying, "This is a blatant political ad in the guise of a documentary.

DISNEY TO BASE NEW MOVIE ON JUNGLE CRUISE RIDE

The Walt Disney Co. is planning to turn another one of its theme-park attractions into a movie -- this time, it's the Jungle Cruise. "It's completely inspired by and relates to the ride and will contain elements of the ride in the story," producer David Hoberman told today's (Monday) Hollywood Reporter. Disney has had mixed results in converting theme-park rides into movies, scoring strongly with Pirates of the Caribbean, but drawing relatively small crowds with films based on its Haunted Mansion and Bear Country attractions.

VIDEO STORES BUYING FROM WAL-MART INSTEAD OF DISTRIBUTORS

Video rental outlets are discovering that they can purchase new movies from mass merchants like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Best Buy at a lower cost than what distributors charge, Video Store magazine reported today (Monday). It quoted one "rentailer" as saying that he could cut his budget by 27 percent simply by buying from Wal-Mart and other discount chains. The trade publication disclosed that a survey that it coordinated showed that more than 41 percent of rental outfits are purchasing from mass merchants.

OVITZ CLAIMS IGER WANTED TO QUIT

Additional testimony revealed in Michael Ovitz's deposition in the shareholders' lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. indicates that before Ovitz was fired by Michael Eisner he persuaded Robert Iger, who succeed him as president, from quitting by using the negotiating skills he had acquired as an agent and sending him a gift of a $7,000 Breguet Aeronavale watch. Ovitz said that Iger had become angered over Eisner's "micromanaging" the company. A Disney spokeswoman described Ovitz's testimony as "completely ridiculous." But Saturday's Los Angeles Times, which reported on Ovitz's deposition, observed that "rumors of tensions between Eisner and Iger have circulated for years, especially in recent months as the ABC network continues to falter."

FILE SHARING NETS PLANNING TO HIDE USERS FROM SUERS

At least two new file-sharing networks are being developed that will allow users to "camouflage" themselves to prevent music and film companies from discovering who they are and suing them, according to the online publication The Inquirer. One of the new networks attaches multiple IP addresses to the users, and the movie and film files are "disguised" so that they cannot be easily spotted by copyright holders, the publication said. Another online network plans to encrypt the identity of users.

PROTESTERS OCCUPY CANNES THEATER

In what could be a preview of things to come at this year's Cannes Film Festival, protesting French actors and technicians occupied a theater on Saturday, touching off a response from police that ended with at least six people injured, according to published reports. The apparently more militant group of 100 protesters had reportedly broken off from a larger demonstration of about 500 who had engaged in a peaceful march earlier in the day.