NBC RUMBLES TO FIRST PLACE
It took an earthquake for NBC to become the ratings champ again after a season dominated, in overall households, by CBS. But the first part of the miniseries 10.5 drew impressive ratings Sunday, producing the best numbers for the network's movie-of-the-week in five years. (Part 2, which aired on Monday, also produced impressive ratings that will be included in next week's figures.) The penultimate episode of Friends was the network's highest-rated show of the sweeps week. In fact, the Thursday night rivalry between CBS and NBC was so intense that ABC and Fox drew audiences whose size resembled those for cable broadcasters. ABC's Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital, was watched by just 2.6 million viewers and was ranked 105 out of 115 primetime broadcasts. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.2/24; 2. Friends (8:00 p.m.), NBC, 15.5/25; 3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.4/23; 4. E.R., NBC, 14.3/23; 5. Will & Grace, NBC, 13.3/20; 6. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 13.1/21; 6. Friends (8:30 p.m.), NBC, 13.1/20; 8. NBC Movie of the Week: 10.5, NBC, 12.4/19; 9. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 12.2/19; 10. Law and Order, NBC, 11.4/19.

AL GORE BECOMES A MEDIA MOGUL

Al Gore has confirmed that he is leading a group that is buying the cable news network NewsWorld International from Vivendi Universal with the intention of turning it into channel providing new programming aimed at 18-34-year-olds. Currently the network receives most of its programming from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. The group of buyers also includes Bradley Whitford, who plays deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman on The West Wing; Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Hyatt Legal Services and was Ohio Democrats' nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1994; Rob Glaser, founder of RealNetworks Inc.; Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; Bob Pittman, former COO of AOL Time Warner and co-creator of MTV; and former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb. On Tuesday Gore maintained that the cable outlet "isn't going to be a liberal network, a Democratic network or a political network." Thus far, NWI has had sparse distribution and media execs have expressed skepticism that having Gore and colleagues aboard will help in that regard.

FOX FORMS A LOW-BUDGET TV PRODUCTION COMPANY

Twentieth Century Fox television announced Tuesday that it has created a separate unit, called Fox 21, designed to produce new shows at significantly lower cost. However, industry observers interviewed by the New York Times expressed skepticism that the company's plan -- to use unknown actors and making deals with writers for profit participation rather than outright payments -- will work. "The studios always say they want these cost efficiencies and then at the end of the day, they will always, I mean always, 100 percent of the time, say let's do it, but let's add that big actor,'' a senior executive at a talent agency told the Times. He added: "Or let's spend more money and make it really good. If they like it, they always come up with the money."

GIULIANI DEFENDS STERN

Howard Stern has found an unlikely defender -- former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican. In an interview with the New York Observer, Giuliani strongly criticized FCC Chairman Michael Powell for his current campaign against indecent language on television and radio, saying in the case of the crackdown on Stern: "Everyone knows what Howard is like. They listen to his show and then they've made a decision that they enjoy his kind of humor. I think the F.C.C. or regulatory agencies have better things to look at than that. And I think it does get very close to inhibiting free speech." Giuliani said that he couldn't understand the reluctance of most politicians to speak out in support of Stern. Moreover, according to the Observer, wish cited sources familiar with the situation, a National Press Club committee recently voted down a proposal for Stern to appear as a guest speaker. And Senator John Kerry's camp has turned down an invitation for the Democratic presidential candidate to appear on an ABC special in which Stern would interview him. The show's producer, Lee Hoffman, commented: "If any other person in America called and said, 'I want to do a one-hour interview with John Kerry, in prime time, on one of the four big networks,' the answer would have been, 'Yes, when can we do it?' So why is it that it was a no for us?"

POWELL STICKS TO HIS GUNS

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has indicated that he has no intention of relenting in his determination to rid the airwaves of indecent language. Asked by the Christian Science Monitor, about the fines imposed on stations carrying Howard Stern's syndicated radio show, Powell replied: "I've felt quite comfortable with virtually every decision we've made in this area. But ... you listen to the debate, and [people] act as if I'm just sort of on my own discretion doing all this stuff, and I always bristle a little about that. ... Any chairman in my position who wouldn't enforce these [indecency] cases is in dereliction of their responsibilities, plain and simple."

"TECHNOCRAT" POWELL MEETS "LUDDITE" KING

Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Tuesday that he is an inveterate user of modern technological tools, including the controversial TiVo personal video recorder, which allows users to skip commercials easily. Interviewed by CNN's Larry King, who said that he had learned that Powell was a "technocrat" [actually a person who favors a society headed by engineers, technicians, and scientists], Powell remarked, "Yes, I like TiVo, I like computers." King: "Why?" Powell: Because it makes work easier for me. ... And I understand that you are an absolute Luddite?" King: "What's a Luddite?" Powell: "Never mind." [Actually, a person who resists technological change.] King: "No, I don't ..." Powell: "You don't do any of this stuff." King: "I don't like computers, I don't ..." Powell: "How can you not like computers?" King: "I don't like email. Because it's scary. ... " Powell: "TiVo would change your whole way of viewing television." King: "My wife likes it." Powell: "Yes, we don't want to get into product endorsement here. ..." King: "Larry King Live -- you TiVo me?" Powell: "Yes, Larry, every night."

IS FAHRENHEIT 911 TOO HOT FOR DISNEY?
In what some TV columnists were depicting as a battle that could signal a parting of the ways between Disney and Miramax, Harvey Weinstein is butting heads with Michael Eisner over Eisner's decision not to distribute Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 911. The Moore documentary links President Bush with Arab oil moguls, some of whom, Moore alleges, are supporting Osama bin Laden. The film is scheduled to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in two weeks. In a statement, Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said: "We're discussing the issue with Disney. We're looking at all of our options and look forward to resolving this amicably." However, Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, told today's (Wednesday) New York Times that Eisner asked him not to try to sell the film to Miramax because "there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation [in Florida, where the president's brother Jeb is governor] and that's why he didn't want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn't want a Disney company involved."

WGA-PRODUCERS RESUME TALKS

Writers Guild negotiators will be meeting with those for the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers today (Wednesday), following a two-day break in which they weighed each other's proposals. Their previous contract expired on Sunday. Several reports indicated that WGA officials have become agitated over what they claim is the producers' footdragging and their reluctance to budge from their refusal to consider upping DVD residuals. However, negotiators are barred by a self-imposed gag order barring them from discussing progress -- or lack of it -- in the negotiations. But Peter Arnold, chairman of the entertainment law firm Lord, Bissell & Brook, told today's Los Angeles Daily News: "You had a certain element of the Writers Guild get out there and take a pretty aggressive position on the whole issue of DVD residuals and also on the issue of jurisdiction over reality programming. ... I think both those issues are going to be very difficult to resolve.

NEW YORK TIMES CONFIRMS MITCHELL IS OUT AS FILM CRITIC

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller confirmed Tuesday that Elvis Mitchell had resigned as film critic for the newspaper. Keller did not respond directly to reports that Mitchell was miffed by the newspaper's decision to appoint A.O. Scott lead film critic, saying in an internal memo: "Despite what you may have read elsewhere, it is an amicable parting on both sides, a little wistful but not acrimonious." Keller also did not respond to reports that Mitchell had been talking to Columbia Pictures President Amy Pascal about running the studio's New York office even while he was reviewing the studio's films. Keller concluded in his memo: "Elvis has brought our readers (and shared with his colleagues) a profound knowledge of film, an original and exciting voice, and a great deal of fun. As one of the editors who hired Elvis, I will miss him a lot, and so will everyone who worked with him."

JOBS, LASSETER: MOST INFLUENTIAL

Steve Jobs, the chairman of both Apple Computer and Pixar Animation, has, along with John Lasseter (whom Jobs calls his "creative sidekick"), been placed a the top of the list of Premiere magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in Hollywood. Last year's No. 1, Steven Spielberg, moves down to No. 2. Jobs is Disney dissidents Roy Disney and Stanley Gold's favorite candidate to replace Michael Eisner as chairman of Disney. Meanwhile, the New York Post's "Page Six" column is reporting today (Wednesday) that a "consortium of mysterious European investors" is planning a takeover of Disney and wants Mel Gibson to head the company if it succeeds.

DEPP WANTS KEITH RICHARDS TO PLAY HIS FATHER

Johnny Depp wants Rolling Stone Keith Richards to play his father in the upcoming sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, according to a report on Britain's ITV. Depp had previously told interviewers that he modeled his character in the original movie on Richards and the cartoon character Pepe LePew. Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Treasures of the Lost Abyss is currently scheduled for a 2006 release.

SPIDER-MAN CASTS HIS WEB OVER BASEBALL

Baseball purists, who had fretted over the possibility that players would begin wearing patches on their uniforms to promote various commercial products, now have a new commercial ploy to anguish over. According to today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal MLB has agreed to decorate the bases of all 15 MLB teams playing at home on June 11 with a spider-web patter as part of a promotion for Sony's June 30 release of Spider-Man 2. NBC and HBO sports broadcaster Bob Costas complained in an interview with the Journal that the decorations on the bases will "take away that whole beautiful vista of a ballpark. ... It isn't a matter of treating the game like it's religion. But I think people have lost the understanding of what the dignity of something is. Not everything is for sale." Sony marketing chief Geoffrey Ammer said that originally Sony had wanted to decorate the netting behind home plate, but that idea was scrapped because it might have distracted pitchers and fielders. The WSJ, citing a person familiar with the deal, said that Sony's Columbia/TriStar is spending $3-4 million on the promotion.