COARSE TRUMPS WHOLESOME
The Walt Disney company capped a Thanksgiving holiday to be thankful for -- it had the top two films at the box office -- by watching an episode of its ABC-TV drama Desperate Housewives produce the series' highest ratings to date -- a 16.0 household rating and a 23 share. By comparison, the utterly wholesome specials offered by the two major rival networks in the 9:00 p.m. hour fared poorly. The CBS movie When Angels Come to Town drew a 10.2/15, and the first hour of NBC's musical version of A Christmas Carol with Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, pulled a humbug 6.1/9, finishing third. Repeats of Fox's The Simpsons and King of the Hill in the same hour averaged a 3.9/6. Nevertheless, despite Housewives' performance, ABC, with a 10.4/16, was edged out by CBS, which averaged a 10.7/16. NBC was well behind with a 6.2/9, while Fox trailed with a 4.6/7. CBS retained its slim lead on Monday, thanks in large part to a 15.9/23 scored by its 10:00 p.m. drama, CSI: Miami. But ABC, thanks to Monday Night Football (St. Louis vs. Green Bay), which averaged a 12.1/19, remained a close second. A much-hyped Dateline special about Princess Diana that aired in the 10:00 hour drew a 7.3/10. Overall, CBS won the night with an average 11.7/17, with ABC close on its heels with an 11.4/16. NBC was far behind with a 7.6/11, while Fox wound up with a 5.9/8.
RUSSERT NOT LIKELY TO SUCCEED RATHER, SAY REPORTS
Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert laughed off reports Monday that he and the Today show's Matt Lauer are on CBS's wish list to replace Dan Rather as anchor of the CBS Evening News. "Matt and I worked it out - he'll do Monday and Friday, and I'll do Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," he quipped in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. But Russert picked up backing from Bob Schieffer, moderator of CBS's rival Face the Nation and the weekend anchor of Evening News. Russert, Schieffer told the Inquirer, "would be a terrific Evening News anchor. ... He's smart, obviously industrious, and has built up a great reputation." However, he added, "There's no way NBC would let him leave. Meet the Press is making a lot of money."
NBC SPORTS CHIEF EBERSOL LIKELY TO SURVIVE PLANE CRASH
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol is expected to survive serious injuries that he sustained when a corporate jet in which he was a passenger crashed on takeoff at Montrose, CO Sunday. On NBC Nightly News Monday, anchor Tom Brokaw reported that Ebersol's injuries were "serious but treatable." A statement issued by the network said that Ebersol and his son Charles, 21, a film major at Notre Dame, were being treated in Grand Junction, where they were "in stable condition and are expected to make a full recovery." The body of another son, Edward, 14, was found in the plane's wreckage.
UNIVISION DROPS LAWSUIT AGAINST NIELSEN
The Spanish-language Univision Network has dropped its lawsuit against Nielsen Research, which it filed last June in an effort to prevent the ratings company from introducing "local people meters," electronic devices to gather viewer data. It argued at the time that the devices would unfairly represent minority viewership. In a news release, the two companies said that they are in negotiations to resolve their differences. Meanwhile, a group of minority activists calling themselves the Don't Count Us Out Coalition insisted that they would not give up their battle against the devices. "Our deep concerns about Nielsen's position as an unregulated monopoly have not abated," the group said in a statement. "This is just another example of Nielsen using its monopoly power to strong-arm critics who raise questions about the company's fairness and accuracy."
WILL TODAY BE KEN JENNINGS' FINAL JEOPARDY?
Rumors circulated widely over the Internet Monday that today (Tuesday) will see the end of Ken Jennings' roll on Jeopardy, which began last June 2 and which has netted him more than $2.5 million, the biggest take in game-show history. The rumors appeared to be backed by what sounded like an audio clip from the show posted on the website Kottke.org. In the clip, after Jennings fails to come up with the final answer (or question, as is the case with this show), host Alex Trebek is heard to remark: ""All good things have to come to an end, don't they? ... Well, too bad for Ken, but he's going home with a lot of money -- 2 1/2 million dollars. Congratulations, young man."
CBS DENIES "PRELIMINARY" FINDINGS ON RATHER WERE REACHED
CBS has denied a report by Internet gossip Matt Drudge that Dan Rather resigned shortly after the independent commission assigned to investigate his discredited account of President Bush's National Guard service submitted a preliminary report to top network managers. Drudge's report, which he attributed to "immaculate sources at CBS," also claimed that CBS News President Andrew Heyward "is now in the bull's eye" of the panel, which is headed by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburg and former Associated Press chief Lou Bacardi.
DISNEY GIVES THANKS
The Walt Disney Co., which earlier this year experienced one of its biggest box-office slumps ever, enjoyed its best Thanksgiving weekend ever as two of its releases finished in first and second place. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced National Treasure took in $46.2 million over the holiday ($32.1 million between Friday and Sunday), and the fourth week of the Pixar-produced The Incredibles raked in $33.2 million ($23.6 million between Friday and Saturday). Also performing strongly was the critically scorned Christmas With the Kranks from Sony, which wound up with $32 million over the five-day period and $21.6 million over the three-. A big loser, however, was Warner Bros.' Alexander, a hugely expensive film costing nearly $300 million to produce and market, which could only manage to earn $21.8 million over the holiday and $13.7 million over the weekend.
The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. National Treasure, Disney, $32,156,917, 2 Wks. ($87,270,875); 2. The Incredibles, Disney, $23,580,279, 4 Wks. ($214,294,035); 3. Christmas With the Kranks, Sony, $21,570,867, (New) ($30,818,212 -- from Wednesday); 4. The Polar Express, Warner Bros., $19,389,297, 3 Wks. ($81,479,861); 5. The SpongeBobSquarePants Movie, Paramount, $17,844,331, 2 Wks. ($58,793,169); 6. Alexander, Warner Bros., $13,687,087, (New) ($21,837,517 -- from Wednesday); 7. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Universal, $6,231,960, 3 Wks. ($31,963,405); 8. Finding Neverland, Miramax, $4,670,177, 3 Wks. ($7,753,315); 9. Ray, Universal, $3,976,685, 5 Wks. ($65,126,870); 10. After the Sunset, New Line, $3,101,979, 3 Wks. ($24,320,526).
WAS FORMER DISNEY DIRECTOR A "RUBBER STAMP?"
A former member of the Walt Disney board of directors, which has been charged with acting as a rubber stamp for Disney chief Michael Eisner, acknowledged Monday that he deferred to Eisner's decision to fire Michael Ovitz and hand him a severance package worth $140 million. Richard Nunis, who at the time was in charge of Disney's theme parks, told a Delaware court, "It was reason enough for me that the chief executive had decided he had to make a change." Later: "If the CEO of the company wanted to make a change, I was going to support that decision." He also said that he did not examine any documents related to Ovitz's contract before Ovitz was hired. Nunis' testimony is certain to become critical to the shareholders' case. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Robert Zito, a New York-based lawyer who defends companies involved in securities litigation, commented: "This is just the kind of testimony that a shareholders' lawyer could build his whole case on." Nevertheless, Nunis said that he agreed that it was necessary to get rid of Ovitz quickly. "When you have turmoil at the top of a company, it permeates down the entire organization,to stockholders and eventually to the stock," he said.
KAZAA OWNERS TO BE REVEALED, SAYS REPORT
The actual owners of the company that makes the software for the Kazaa peer-to-peer network, used to download millions of movies, CDs, and other software, are expected to be identified during a trial currently underway in Brisbane, Australia, Wired magazine reported on its website Monday. Although registered in the tax haven of Vanuatu, where the principals of corporations need not be disclosed, Sharman Networks, which developed and distributes the Kazaa software, is based in Sydney, Australia. According to Wired, which cited an unnamed music industry insider, it will be alleged that Nikki Hemming, the CEO of Sharman, and Kevin Bermeister, the CEO of Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Altnet, own and control the company. The lawsuit, which charges copyright infringement and conspiracy, was filed by the major record labels; the MPAA is not a party to the suit. In its report, Wired commented: "If the recording industry can prove its case, Kazaa could be history."
BOND PRODUCERS MAY MAKE CASINO ROYALE THEMSELVES
On the heels of recent speculation that Quentin Tarantino was considering the possibility of remaking the James Bond thriller Casino Royale with Pierce Brosnan in the starring role, published reports in the U.K. now indicate that Eon Productions, which has produced the Bond films for MGM, has decided to make Casino Royale on its own -- without the involvement of either Tarantino or Brosnan. The original film version of the Bond novel was actually a spoof starring numerous actors playing Bond "in disguise," including David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen. However, the actual "Casino Royale is a very interesting choice because it was probably [Bond creator Ian] Fleming's most literary work," Andrew Lycett, Fleming's biographer, told the London Sunday Times.
ICAHN WOOS HOLLYWOOD VIDEO
Hollywood Entertainment, the parent company of the Hollywood Video rental chain, has another suitor, billionaire Carl Icahn. The Associated Press reported Monday that Icahn's firms have purchased 5.1 million shares of Hollywood stock over the past two weeks, giving Icahn an 8.4-percent stake in Hollywood. Other suitors include Blockbuster, Movie Gallery and the buyout firm Leonard Green & Partners.