MALONE TO TAKE OVER DIRECTV

News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Liberty Media Chairman John Malone have privately agreed on an asset swap in which Malone will receive Murdoch's 39-percent stake in DirecTV, plus other smaller assets, and Murdoch will get Malone's 19 percent voting stake and 15 percent nonvoting stake in News Corp, published reports said today (Thursday). The deal represents a financial u-turn for both men. Until now, Murdoch had tirelessly sought to create a worldwide satellite distribution system of which DirecTV would serve as the American nexus. Malone, on the other hand, quit the TV distribution business in 1998 when he sold Tele-Communications, Inc., the nation's largest cable system, to AT&T for $52 billion. He has since focused on investing in and developing cable networks, including Discovery and QVC. Ironically, his move into satellite comes at a time when many satellite subscribers are switching back to cable to take advantage of package plans that include TV, Internet, and phone services, which DirecTV does not provide.

FCC DEFENDS CRACKDOWN ON INDECENCY

In a filing in federal court on Wednesday, the FCC defended its tougher enforcement policies on indecency, insisting that previous court decisions had recognized limitations of broadcasters' First Amendment rights. The commission also appeared to invalidate the V-chip as a tool to allow broadcasters to air programs unsuitable for children. It pointed out, for example, that the Billboard Awards broadcast in which Bono uttered the phrase "f*****g brilliant" would not have been caught by the V-chip because it was "misrated." In fact, the FCC held, the networks routinely apply inaccurate ratings to programs, and even when they are correct, they are often misunderstood by parents. "The V-chip is ineffective," the commission remarked. Moreover, it argued, it has an "independent and compelling interest" in seeing to it that children are not exposed to indecency on TV.

SIRIUS RADIO TO PROVIDE TV -- TO BACK SEATS OF AUTOS

Sirius Satellite Radio is getting into the TV business in a very limited way, CEO Mel Karmazin told a Credit Suisse Media conference in New York Wednesday. As reported by Broadcasting & Cable magazine's website, Karmazin revealed that Sirius is working on a service that will transmit kids videos to family vehicles with TV screens in the back seat. Karmazin said that the antenna needed to receive the video is about "the size of a hockey puck." Karmazin played down the value of such a system to Sirius, however.

LORD OF CABLE?

The TNT channel is virtually certain of pulling in record numbers of viewers when it becomes the first outlet to televise The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King next week. TNT said that it plans to air the hit movie in its entirety on three consecutive weekend nights beginning Friday, December 15. The Sunday showing will mark the end of an 11-hour marathon telecast of all three LOTR features. TNT also said that each of the films will become available via video on demand (VOD) beginning December 24.

TWO COMEDIANS CENSURED FOR USING N-WORD

Damon Wayans and Andy Dick have become the latest comedians to utter the N-word in public and receive their comeuppance for doing so. TMZ.com, the website that first reported on the incident involving Seinfeld star Michael Richard last month, said Wednesday that Dick, the former costar of NewsRadio, stunned patrons at The Improv in Hollywood Monday night when he shouted at the crowd, "You're all a bunch of n*****s. Dick apologized the following day, issuing a statement saying, "In an attempt to make light of a serious subject [the Richards matter], I have offended a lot of people, and I am sorry for my insensitivity." Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times said that Wayans was banned for three months from the Laugh Factory, the site of Richards' racial tirade, when he opened his routine Tuesday night by remarking, "Give yourselves a big round of applause for coming down and supporting n****r night." The newspaper said that he repeated the word 15 times during his appearance.

FIRED EARLY SHOW CO-ANCHOR REVEALS SHE HAS BREAST CANCER

Rene Syler learned that she was being let-go as co-anchor of CBS's The Early Show as she was preparing to produce a series of reports about her battle with breast cancer, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today (Thursday). The newspaper said that Syler is scheduled to undergo a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy next month and that her bosses were aware of her medical condition when they informed her that they were planning to take the morning show "in a different direction." Syler said that she was surprised by the network's decision but that there was an upside to it. "This gives me time to recuperate," she said.

FRANCE LAUNCHES ITS OWN VERSION OF CNN

France on Wednesday launched a French-language all-news satellite network that will compete worldwide with CNN and the BBC World Service. The channel is the brainchild of French President Jacques Chirac, who complained at the outset of the Iraq war about how the French view of the war was being presented internationally. The channel's slogan is "All the news you're not supposed to know."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.