NO STOPPING CBS ON THURSDAYSFiguring that it would probably be up against a fifth game of the World Series on Thursday night, CBS aired a rerun of its hit drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But with the baseball series settled after four games the night before, the rerun ended up attracting almost as big an audience as a new episode, drawing a 16.0 rating and a 23 share. By contrast, NBC's competing The Apprentice drew an 8.8/13. Once again, CBS dominated the entire night, winning each half-hour of primetime, beginning with Survivor: Guatemala and ending with Without a Trace,each of which captured about twice the audience of NBC's competing shows. ABC's lineup went virtually unwatched, with Alias drawing a 4.9/8; Night Stalker, a 3.9/6; and Primetime Live, a 4.8/8.


This year's World Series drew the lowest TV ratings ever for the Fall Classic, averaging an 11.1 rating and a 19 share, representing 30 percent fewer viewers than watched a year ago. Today's (Friday) Wall Street Journalpointed out that the Fox network was unable to meet the ratings guarantees it promised advertisers and will force the network to give them "make goods" -- that is, free advertising time. However, the Journalobserved that when a Series turns out to be a four-game sweep -- as happened this year -- Major League Baseball contractually agrees to provide a discount on rights fees the following year.


Newly appointed CBS News President Sean McManus said Thursday that "priority number one" for him is producing a nightly news program "that's more appealing and relevant." Appearing to respond to questions raised by critics about his qualifications to run a major news operation, McManus, who is CBS Sports president (and will retain that title) and has no experience outside of sports, said in an interview with, "Good storytelling is the basis of sports -- and news. ... That is a skill I've developed."


The ABC nightly news program World News Tonight, which had been anchored by Peter Jennings until April, when he was forced to bow out to fight a losing battle against lung cancer, is planning to air a series of reports in November giving "unprecedented attention" to the dangers of smoking. In an announcement on Thursday, ABC said that the series will be called "Quit to Live: Fighting Lung Cancer." It will kick off Tuesday night with a feature fronted by ABC's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Timothy Johnson. In a statement, World News Tonightexecutive producer Jon Banner said, "Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in this country, but it doesn't receive nearly the attention that other cancers do. We are dedicating November to this subject, but these issues will continue to be our priority for a long time to come."


The liberal TV watchdog FAIR has raised an eyebrow over remarks made by MSNBC talkshow host Keith Olbermann on his program Tuesday night in which he disclosed that he had been chastised by an unnamed company vice president two years ago for interviewing two liberal entertainers, Janeane Garofalo and Al Franken on consecutive nights. He said that the executive told him, "Hey, we don't mind you interviewing these guys, but should you really have put liberals on, on consecutive nights?" In a statement, FAIR said, "This incident is consistent with the phobia MSNBC executives have displayed about hosts featuring too many left-of-center views. Phil Donahue's talkshow was canceled in February 2003--despite being the channel's highest-rated show at the time--explicitly for his left-of-center political views. An internal management memo worried that his program could become 'a home for the liberal antiwar agenda.'" It further noted that the cable network currently features two conservative hosts, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough, and that neither of them has been admonished to interview liberals.


The BBC may be about to court renewed national controversy with its announced plans to produce a biopic about Saddam Hussein that, according to Britain's Guardiannewspaper, will be told from the point of view of the former Iraqi leader's inner circle, rather than from a western perspective. The drama, tentatively titled House of Saddam, will primarily focus on his fall in 2003, writer Alex Holmes told the newspaper. "He had a vision, which was to create a great Arab nation and write himself into the history books as a great leader who would be remembered in hundreds of years time," Holmes said. But Saddam's own flaws, said Holmes, prevented him from achieving his vision "an instead dragged his country into misery and pain." He said that he had been able to interview, directly and indirectly, several members of Saddam's inner circle, including those who have been captured by coalition forces. "It's surprising how many aren't [in custody]," Holmes added. "We've been working on this for nine months, building relationships with people, building their trust. We are trying to understand their world and reassure them that we want to tell the story from their perspective -- from the inside out, not a western viewpoint." The film is being co-produced with America's Discovery Channel.BOX OFFICE PREPARES TO BE SPOOKEDIt's the weekend before Halloween, and Lions Gate's Saw IIis here to usher it in. The movie is expected to wind up as the box-office's top performer, analysts predict, even if reviews for it have proved to be mostly frightful. Saw II is expected to exceed the original's opening take of $18.3 million, probably coming in at around $22-24 million. Sony's The Legend of Zorro, which is also attracting mostly negative notices, is expected to give the horror movie a run for the money. The 1998 Mask of Zorro,starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones,earned $22.5 million in its debut, and analysts expect the sequel to do about the same. Also opening this weekend are two comedies (sort of) that have received mixed reviews, Universal's Primeand Paramount's The Weather Man. Analysts predict that neither film will earn more than $6 million.


The Weather Manis making as much of an impression on critics as real-life weather men make on their audiences, that is, not very much at all. Most find it amusing in spots, but not enough to produce strong word-of-mouth, which a film like this depends on. "This is a movie you might be able to put up with if you're in a certain mood or be put off by if you're not," writes Mike Clark in USA Today. "Like the chilly winds that blow throughout it, The Weather Man is cold, grim, erratic and eventually just relentless," writes Peter Howell in the Toronto Star.Kyle Smith in the New York Postcalls it, "Perhaps the most bitter studio film of the year." To Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal,it's "a guaranteed downer that's devoid of any upside." However, like many of his colleagues, Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune has nice things to say about star Nicolas Cage. "Cage's big, sad, soulful eyes and volatile personality make him ideal for offbeat types like this," he writes. The film itself does have several admirers. Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Timescalls it "a surprisingly wry, contemplative movie." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesspends most of his review excoriating his fellow critics who have negatively reviewed Weather Man,concluding, "The Weather Man seems to offend some critics because it doesn't know its place [as an art film], and wants to be good even though Paramount made it with a star."


The critics have their swords out for The Legend of Zorro.Even many who liked the original. One of them, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, calls it "pretty bad, a long way from the dash and satisfactions of the earlier picture." Indeed, most critics compare the old Zorrowith the new. Comments Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Like the New Coke and numerous other commercial products, The Legend of Zorro, theoretically a new and improved Zorro movie, is not as satisfying as the old and unimproved version." Stephen Holden says the new movie is "busier, sloppier, less coherent and more frantic" than its predecessor. Ty Burr in the Boston Globecomments: "The stars and director are back but the thrill is gone, replaced by a muttonheaded script and slapstick comedy that starts in hectic mode and quickly strips its gears." On the other hand, Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning Newsconcludes that the movie accomplishes its mission. He writes: "If a good, old-fashioned movie is what you seek, The Legend of Zorro is what you get. Good, it mostly is. Old-fashioned, it definitely is. This family-friendly opus features a handsome, humorous hero, a ravishing, feisty heroine, an adorable moppet and a magnificent horse. As for the villains, most of them are ugly as sin.On these simplistic terms, the movie succeeds stylishly."


Reviews for Prime, starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep fly in every direction. For example, there's Claudia Puig, who writes in USA Today: "Despite its title, Prime is not a cut above. This romantic comedy's predictability and rather dull love story make it the cinematic equivalent of a slightly stale hamburger." Then there's A.O. Scott in the New York Times, whodismisses it as "pleasant, but not very memorable." On the other hand, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timescalls the movie flawed, "yet I must recommend it, because in its comedy of errors are actors who bring truth at least to their dialogue. Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman have line readings that work as delicate and precise adjustments of dangerous situations." And Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News gives the film a primo review, writing that it's "often a riot, with laughter growing out of identifiable human behavior. Unlike many contemporary romantic comedies, it even ends with a warm, satisfying glow."


Ordinarily films like Saw IIare not screened for critics. And for good reason. John Anderson's review in Newsdayis typical. He writes: "To borrow the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's celebrated definition of pornography, I know it when I see it, and I think I've just seen it. Saw II -- better-acted than its predecessor, which isn't saying much - is so gratuitously, sadistically violent, and to such little end, that it finally falls over dead on the far side of obscene." (Come to think of it, that may be just the kind of review that will send hordes of people to see the movie.)


Talk about delivering what theater owners want -- writer-director M. Night Shyamalan delivered a speech to the ShowEast convention Thursday that articulated the owners' sentiments concisely. Taking aim at proposals to eliminate the window between the time a movie is released in theaters and the time it is released on DVD, Shyamalan warned that such plans could result in the demise of movie theaters. "If this thing happens, you know the majority of your theaters are closing. It's going to crush you guys," he said. For filmmakers like himself, he suggested, the result would be equally devastating. "When I sit down next to you in a movie theater ... we become part of a collective soul," he said. "That's the magic in the movies." He added: "We have been seduced by the DVD and what will sell the DVD. It has been the worst year in cinema for quality." Later, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Shyamalan remarked, "If I can't make movies for theaters, I don't want to make movies. ... I hope this [simultaneous release of movies in theaters and home video] is a very bad idea that goes away."


Paramount has agreed to remove billboards advertising director Jim Sheridan's Get Rich or Die Tryin' which show star 50 Cent's bullet-scarred back and his arms outstretched holding a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other. The ads had provoked protests in the Los Angeles area, culminating on Wednesday with a rally in the Hyde Park area at which speakers charged that the billboards celebrated violence. They particularly objected to Paramount's decision to purchase the billboards near schools. In a letter to Paramount chief Brad Grey, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich wrote that they convey "a disturbing message actively promoting gun violence, criminal behavior and gang affiliation." Star 50 Cent, born Curtis Jackson III, famously survived an attack in 1999 in which he was shot nine times, including twice in the head.