News Corp is planning to double the license fee it charges cable and satellite operators to carry the Fox News Network, Broadcasting and Cablereported on its website Thursday. Currently the fee averages about 25 cents per month per subscriber. The trade publication said that News Corp President Peter Chernin disclosed the company's intentions during a conference with analysts and reporters on Tuesday that focused on the company's quarterly earnings report. Previously unreported were Chernin's additional remarks that a doubling of the license fee would be "worth $250 million to the bottom line." He added: "Trust me, we think we're worth a hell of a lot more than that." B&Cpointed out that rival CNN commands 40 cents per subscriber although it trails FNN significantly in the ratings. "We invested a lot of money and worked really hard to achieve this over the ten years, and we believe we should get an appropriate payback," Chernin said.


A poll of media buyers and planners by Media Lifemagazine indicates that NBC is likely to fall behind CBS during the upfront sales period this year. Fewer than a third of those polled said that they believed NBC will retain its lead. Responding to a request by the magazine to state what they believe the biggest story of the upfront will be, one writer commented: "The biggest story will be the one NBC tells to explain their ratings drop off and why we should still invest in the network at the prices they will be asking." Respondents said that while advertising rates for the other major networks are likely to go up, those for NBC are likely to go down.


CBS led in every half-hour period of primetime Thursday night, leading off with an 11.7 rating and a 20 share for Survivor: Palau, about twice the ratings for NBC's Joey (5.2/8) and Will & Grace. At 9:00 CBS continued to dominate with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which pulled a 15.8/25 versus an 8.7/13 for second-place The Apprentice.At 10:00 p.m. CBS's Without a Trace, with a 12.3/20, trounced onetime ratings leader E.R., which drew a 10.5/17. ABC's Primetime Live, which had promised more on the Corey Clark/Paula Abdul affair, averaged only a 5.3/9.


ABC's Primetime Live special Wednesday, which alleged that American Idolcontestant Corey Clark had an improper relationship with one of the show's judges, Paula Abdul, was described by a prominent TV historian as evidence of increasingly "cutthroat" competition between the major networks. Steven Stark, author of Glued to the Set, told the Boston Globe: "I don't think you would have seen this 10 years ago." ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider dismissed Stark's comments, remarking, "Obviously American Idol is a cultural phenomenon that attracts millions of viewers, and we thought the claims warranted further investigation." (New York Postcolumnist Linda Stasi thought that the entire controversy appeared contrived, writing that if Abdul did have an affair with Clark, "it's not criminal, it's pathetic." As for advising him about what to wear and how to style his hair, Stasi remarked, "Her makeover made him look like the demon love-child of Justin Guarini and Lionel Richie.") Former NBC News president Larry Grossman told the Globe that the Primetimespecial is "characteristic" of what passes for news investigations on network magazine programs. "They are nonfiction entertainment rather than dealing with the major issues of our time," he said. Other critics of the broadcast were not quite so cordial. Washington PostTV writer Lisa de Moraes wrote: "Nearly 14 million people had to stick their heads in a vat of lye to disinfect their eyes and ears" after watching the show. On Thursday, Fremantle Media and 19 Entertainment, producers of Idol, issued a statement saying: "We have concerns about the motives behind last night's purported news special, as much of it was filled with rumor, speculation and assertions from a disqualified contestant who admitted during the special to telling lies." Nevertheless, it said, it would look into Clark's allegations. In an interview with today's (Friday) New York Times, Bill Koenigsberg, president and chief executive of Horizon Media, which buys ads on Idol commented that the controversy merely "makes the show more attractive. ... I think the ratings are going to go up." Nevertheless, he said, he expected that the producers and Abdul will issue an apology. "I think the public is very forgiving," he added.


It has been a long while since a cast-of-thousands epic has performed strongly at the box office. The poor showing of Oliver Stone's Alexanderlast year, preceded by a dreadful performance for King Arthur suggested to some analysts that the historical spectacle might be traveling down the same road as hand-drawn animation. But some critics are predicting that Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven may revive the genre. "Equally at home in the future and the past, Mr. Scott seems born to direct epics," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "His ravishing visual style, characterized by a fetishistic attention to surface detail and unrelenting beauty, can work wonders with big subjects, but this is also a director who needs actors powerful enough to shoulder narrative and emotional extremes." She suggests that the actors in this film, led by Orlando Bloom and Eva Green, don't make the grade. Likewise Jack Mathews writes in the New York Daily News: "For all its scale, grandeur, historical context and political brass, Kingdom is no more compelling a period drama than last year's Alexander - and Kingdom's star, Orlando Bloom, would have trouble filling even Colin Farrell's sandals." Bloom, a classically trained British actor who achieved stardom as Legolas in the Lord of the Ringstrilogy, takes the brunt of most of the critical complaints about the movie. "It might be because he is buttressed by so many manly, vital performances that Bloom comes off all the more boyish and withdrawn, a Shetland pony among stallions," writes Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer. But Bloom also has his supporters. "Is Orlando Bloom enough of a star to sustain a $100 million costume drama?" asks Stephen Hunter rhetorically in the Washington Post."The answer turns out to be yes. ... He is able to dominate the second half of this film in the old-fashioned movie-star way." Although several critics dismiss the movie, set during the Crusades, as "politically correct," Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times suggests that Scott deserves a great deal of credit for taking on such a controversial subject. "Few people will be capable of looking at Kingdom of Heaven objectively," Ebert writes. "I have been invited by both Muslims and Christians to view the movie with them so they can point out its shortcomings. When you've made both sides angry, you may have done something right." And Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Timeswrites that Scott has been able to deliver "that rare big-star blockbuster ... that still manages to have something relevant to say." Moreover, Turan concludes, "Scott and company have gotten so accomplished at recreating history that the results have a welcome offhanded quality, making them spectacular without seeming to be showing off. No matter what we're looking at, we're thinking, "It must have looked like that." For a film like Kingdom of Heaven, a better compliment would be hard to find."


House of Wax, a remake of the 1953 3-D horror flick, reportedly cost about a third of the $120 million that was reportedly spent on making Kingdom of Heaven, yet box office analysts say it has a good chance at emerging as the top film at the box office this weekend. Many of the reviews suggest that it's worth the price of admission just to see Paris Hilton's character get knocked off. "The murder of Hilton's character is beautifully gratuitous and utterly without mercy," writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post. "When she does the strip 'n' scream and the 40-yard horror-dash in red panties and bra, you have to smile at her willingness to essay the classics. No better use for her talents has yet been devised. She is looking at a long and happy career of being chased, menaced and bloodied." Joanne Kaufmann in the Wall Street Journal assures moviegoers: "For the record, [Hilton] looks great in her red bra and matching thong. For the record, that's the most significant of her contributions." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Postis not averse to placing an out-and-out spoiler at the top of his review, writing: "At a certain point in "House of Wax," Paris Hilton catches what appears to be four feet of sharpened spear through the front of her skull. She backs off a few feet with the unwelcome protrusion extending before her, then topples to her knees, falling forward, driving the shaft through more brain matter. The skull itself cracks. The audience cheers wildly. But that's not the scary part. The scary part was the elderly gentleman sitting in the seat behind the guy in front of me: He cheered, too. I think he sorta kinda liked it. That's House of Wax, one of those guilty pleasures that result from creativity on the part of people who should have gotten adult supervision at a young age. They didn't, and went on to make profane, even blasphemous, treats like this one." On the other hand, Peter Howell in the Toronto Starrecalls that the original film starred Vincent Price, featured an original story, and 3-D technology. "How weird to think that, 52 years later, the best Hollywood can muster for the remake is a celebrity famous only for being famous, buckets of gore and computer-generated special effects that are so chintzy they deserve their own category at the Razzie Awards."


Paul Haggis, the screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, makes his directorial debut in Crash, which he also wrote, and which stars, among others, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ludacris, and Brendan Fraser. The effort is receiving mixed reviews. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News writes, "It's good to see a movie that views its characters as mixed bags instead of merely saints or sinners. And there's some very fine acting on display. Crash wants to be taken seriously as a meditation on our anxiety-plagued times, but the coincidences are too pat, the tugs on the heartstrings too insistent." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post also reveals some mixed feelings about the film: "This ambitious directing debut ... is uneven and its interlocking stories rely heavily on coincidence, but the acting is uniformly fine and there are some stunning sequences." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe describes the film as "one of those multi-character, something-is-rotten-in-Los Angeles barnburners that grab you by the lapels and try desperately to shake you up." However, he adds, "its characters come straight from the assembly line of screenwriting archetypes, and too often they act in ways that archetypes, rather than human beings, do." But Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution praises the film as a "literate, engrossing and occasionally funny look at race relations in Los Angeles" and says it's "blessed with a splendid cast and a smart script." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timespraises it as "a movie of intense fascination." He adds: "Because we care about the characters, the movie is uncanny in its ability to rope us in and get us involved." Finally, Ebert concludes: "Not many films have the possibility of making their audiences better people. I don't expect Crash to work any miracles, but I believe anyone seeing it is likely to be moved to have a little more sympathy for people not like themselves."


Symbolically launching him on course to challenge Titanicfor box-office supremacy, the Cannes Film Festival will bestow its prestigious Festival Trophy on George Lucas aboard another gigantic liner, the Queen Mary 2, on May 15. Lucas's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sithwill be screened (out of competition) on the same day. Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, accompanied by festival president Gilles Jacob and managing director Veronique Cayla, will make the presentation aboard the luxury liner, which will be docked in Cannes harbor. Meanwhile, the two primary Hollywood trade dailies, Daily Varietyand The Hollywood Reporter, have reviewed the latest Star Warsepic and assessed its likely box-office performance. "Stratospheric B.O. is a given," writes Todd McCarthy in Daily Variety, predicting that it will reflect the pattern of the initial trilogy, which saw the third film bounce back after the second dipped below the original. In The Hollywood Reporter,Kirk Honeycutt remarks: "Needless to say, international box office will register in the hundreds of millions. The real question is how much money the entire series, now ready for packaging and repackaging for all sorts of formats and media, will eventually take in. Let's just say a lot."