E! NETWORKS CHIEF OUSTED
E! Networks chief Mindy Herman resigned Thursday following a report appeared in the Los Angeles Times earlier in the dayin which company staffers accused her of abusive behavior and financial improprieties. Both Herman and Comcast exec David Cohen denied that she had been fired. "I decided for a lot of reasons that I was going to try something fun, something new," Herman told today's (Friday) Daily Variety. "Historically, I tend to spend three to five years at a business and then try to reinvent myself." Today's Los Angeles Times said that Herman will receive a $20 million golden parachute upon her exit, a figure that led one disgruntled staffer to tell the newspaper, "We should all get raises if they can afford to pay her that kind of money." Cohen told the Times that under Herman, "The network has much more focus. She put together a great team." Comcast and the Walt Disney Co. are co-owners of the channel.

UNSAID: "THIS NEWS REPORT WAS PRODUCED AND PAID FOR BY YOUR DRUG COMPANY"

This summer, major market TV stations are expected to begin carrying regular health-news features within their local newscasts for which they will be paid by the pharmaceutical companies whose brands are featured in the segments, MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews reported Thursday. The feature package, titled "Headline Health," produced jointly by the syndicated Daily Health Feed and health publisher MediZine, will appear to viewers as a typical medical segment of their local newscast, or as MediaDailyNews observed, it "will rely on consumer perceptions that the segments are genuine news, not a marketing pitch." The publication predicted that such commercial deals for news programming placements will have "consumer advocates up in arms."

STUDIOS BUY UP SPOTS IN UPFRONT MARKET

Movie studios quickly became the most active buyers during the upfront TV market, particularly lining up time on Thursday-night shows in order to trumpet weekend debuts and grabbing spots on other network shows that draw younger viewers. Advertising Age reported on its website Thursday that the Fox network had already completed deals with all the major studios as they rushed for exclusive positions on Fox's younger-skewing programs. Media buyer Bill McOwen of the MPG agency told AdAge: "The movie studios are the serious negotiators. ... Autos will come next." The trade publication also reported brisk business at the top 10 cable networks. A USA Network exec was quoted as saying, "We're seeing the biggest spending increases in movies/DVDs, which are up 30 percent year to year; fast food and autos are also up, though pharmaceutical is seeing a downward trend after a couple of years of increases."

MTV ALLOWS SPOTS FOR SUPER SIZE ME TO AIR

MTV, saying that a "junior-level employee" had made a mistake when he rejected an ad for the theatrical documentary Super Size Me, announced Thursday that the decision had been overruled and that the spot will begin airing tonight (Friday). The channel indicated that the spot would air during a time period when ads for fast-food restaurants were not being carried. A spokesman for distributor Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films said that the companies were "thrilled" that MTV had "made this course correction."

NIGHTLINE TO READ MORE NAMES

To follow its controversial tribute to U.S. war dead in Iraq, Nightline plans to read off the names of 122 people who have been killed in the war on terror since Oct. 2001 when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The reading of the names will come at the end of tonight's (Friday) broadcast, which concerns the Army guards at Arlington Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. As of Thursday, Sinclair Broadcasting, which had refused to carry the original tribute on the grounds that it was motivated by an anti-war agenda, had not indicated whether it would carry tonight's program.

CINCINNATI PULLS PLUG ON COPS

After a raucous Cincinnati City Council session on Wednesday in which several council members demanded that Police Chief Tom Streicher stop allowing camera crews for the Fox reality series Cops to ride along in police vehicles, Streicher reluctantly withdrew the invitation to the show's producers, Langley Productions, on Thursday. "Personally, I think it's the loss of a golden opportunity to showcase the police department,'' he told today's (Friday) Cincinnati Inquirer. "But why be in the midst of another controversy?" As reported by the newspaper, at one point Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that no one needed to see local police "hogtying" African-Americans, a remark that led an official of the Fraternal Order of Police to reply that Cincinnati officers don't hogtie suspects and that Smitherman should apologize for his remarks. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece commented: "I don't know if we want to put our fate in the hands of an editor in California." Streicher told the newspaper that Cops producers were furious about the decision, saying it was the first time that any city had ever withdrawn an invitation. Crews had filmed in Cincinnati for two days and had planned to remain for eight weeks.

NBC REPORTER COLT AND CREW RELEASED BY IRAQI GUNMEN

Iraqi gunmen released three NBC journalists including veteran reporter Ned Colt early today after they, along with an Iraqi freelancer, were captured in Fallujah. NBC said that local Iraqi leaders had mediated the men's release. Accompanying Colt were his cameraman and soundman. In a statement, the U.S. Marines said that they had warned the NBC crew not to enter Fallujah and called their decision to do so "irresponsible." The statement added, "Luckily, it did not cost them or anyone else their lives." In recent weeks Colt had been reporting on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, interviewing former detainees who claimed that they had been tortured.

SONY TV'S CREATIVE DIRECTOR IN INDIA QUITS

The creative director of Sony Entertainment Television India (SET) has resigned after nearly eight years, suggesting that he felt hamstrung in his job. Saurabh M. Vanzara told the website IndianTelevision.com, "Since the past one and half years, one feels that there hasn't been much freedom to do anything." In the interview, Vanzara, who is credited with launching numerous popular programs on SET, indicated that his sense of frustration reached a peak during the past four or five months. "The channel has undergone quite a few changes," he said. "And different looks means different outlook, so I thought I needed to change." He said he plans to return to work as a director.

WILL SHREK BE A DISASTER FOR TOMORROW?
Ordinarily it would have been regarded as a certainty that a blockbuster disaster movie from the maker of Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla would wind up at the top of the box office in its premiere weekend. But not even its distributor, 20th Century Fox, is predicting a win for Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow. Virtually all box-office analysts are forecasting that last week's winner, DreamWorks' Shrek 2, will repeat in its second week as it expands into 4,223 theaters for the big Memorial Day weekend. Nevertheless, as last week's results certainly indicated, trying to predict the behavior of movie audiences is a dicey endeavor, and while analysts surmise that Shrek 2 ought to wind up with about $80 million and Tomorrow with about $50 million, those figures could very well become reversed. Certainly Tomorrow has performed well beyond expectations in overseas markets, according to the studio, which said Thursday, without providing actual numbers, that the film had outperformed the openings of Troy and Van Helsing earlier this month in France, Belgium and Australia.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

At the end of its reviews, the New York Times each week provides the film's rating and the probable reason why it received it. In the case of A.O. Scott's review of The Day After Tomorrow, it observes that the film is rated PG-13, then notes: "Millions of people die, but nobody swears, copulates, undresses or takes drugs." Most of the reviewers give the film relatively high marks for special effects and low ones for story. Indeed Jan Stuart in Newsday comments that director Roland Emmerich "crams the film with enough digital wizardry to make you wish he had jettisoned the script altogether and simply paraded the visual effects with chapter titles such as 'Snow Over New Delhi' and 'The Hollywood Sign Gets Totaled.'" In fact, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes: "The special effects are on such an awesome scale that the movie works despite its cornball plotting." And Megan Lehmann in the New York Post agrees, writing: "This is mindless popcorn fun for moviegoers who get a vicarious thrill from seeing stuff get wrecked -- and have a high pain threshold for tin-eared dialogue." Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News also agrees that the film "has very little emotional pull, not even in the purportedly heroic sequences featuring citizens banding together to stay alive. But let's face it: You're gonna go to see the tidal wave, and the tornadoes. And for those moments when they're onscreen, you'll be swept away by sights that you'll never be able to see on The Weather Channel." But several critics don't buy the argument that the script is inconsequential when you're making a disaster epic. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post argues that Emmerich destroys all that he has accomplished visually "with a trite plot, banal dialogue, clunky sentimentality and, worst of all, a sort of narrative arbitrariness by which he's shunting his paper-thin characters this way and that to shoehorn in as many effects as possible." Likewise, Michael Wilmington writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Global warming may be one of the great dangers facing our planet. But cliched scripts are still the No. 1 peril for the big Hollywood blockbuster."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: RAISING HELEN

Many critics conclude that Raising Helen, starring Kate Hudson, might work as a TV sitcom (or as the Chicago Sun-Times' critic Roger Ebert put it, "a pilot for a TV sitcom"), but is hardly worth the price of a movie ticket. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star suggests that "even those who seek the undemanding entertainment of life troubles being bravely dealt with might end up wishing they were given more than just sitcom resolutions." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe writes that the movie "works so hard to be inoffensive that you may well be offended." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post concedes that he has a certain fondness for Hudson. "It's hard to frown upon her, even when the material seems thin and spun out for too long. She immediately took my heart hostage with that crinkly smile and the utter decency she conveys, and so I want to please her somehow. Too bad the movie won't let me," he writes. Jack Matthews in the New York Daily News, however, comments that "Hudson hasn't done a worthwhile thing since Almost Famous. You get the impression she's reading scripts with more thought given to her billing than to any acting challenge." And a few critics suggest that even if Raising Helen had made it to TV, it would have been canceled. Comments Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It's one of those bogus 'sincere' pictures -- a schmaltz-ridden mediocrity without an honest moment in it."

PAY-ON-YOUR-PHONE MOVIE SERVICE BEGINS IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Cesky Telecom (CT) has begun offering an exclusive movie download service to its customers in the Czech Republic that allows them to pay for the movies on their phone bills. According to Thursday's English-language Prague Post, a selection of 130 movies is currently being offered for fees ranging from $1.30 to $2.30 via CT's broadband service called Internet Express. However the movies-on-demand feature, called Starzone, has already encountered opposition from other ISPs, which have filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that the exclusive deal with CT violates fair competition rules. But David Duron, CT's chief marketing officer, told the publication that other ISPs "have all the means and the contracts to offer a competitive service."