Today's News: Our Take


CBS' Michael Jackson Number Ones special finished No. 3 in its time slot Friday night with 10.6 million viewers. The network, meanwhile, denied talk that it paid the embattled singer an extra $1 million to dig his hole deeper on 60 Minutes. In other ratings news, Fox's World Idol finale — in which Norway's Kurt Nilsen beat America's Kelly Clarkson — attracted 7.7 million viewers. read more


Actor-filmmaker Clint Eastwood — whose latest directorial effort, Mystic River, is an Oscar shoo-in, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association on Saturday. read more


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King topped the box office for the third consecutive weekend, grossing $30.8 million for a total of $292 million. Cheaper by the Dozen ($21.9 million), Something's Gotta Give ($12.5 million), Cold Mountain ($11.7 million) and Paycheck ($10 million) rounded out the top five. Meanwhile, Hollywood rang up $9.27 billion in ticket sales for 2003 — off 0.5 percent from the previous year. It was the first downturn in more than a decade. read more


Former Today coanchor Deborah Norville is headed back to NBC as the host of a primetime show on MSNBC. Her program — which will replace the recently axed Buchanan & Press — will debut later this month. Norville will continue hosting Inside Edition. read more


American Splendor, an indie comedy-drama about the life of comic book author Harvey Pekar, was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. Bill Murray won best actor for Lost in Translation and Charlize Theron was named best actress for Monster. read more


Crocodile Hunter loon Steve Irwin — who provoked Jacko-like outrage over the weekend when he dangled his infant son Robert in front of a 13-foot crocodile — appeared on the Today show this morning and told Matt Lauer, "If I could relive Friday, mate, I'd go surfing." In response, Jaws told TV Guide Online: "I hope he brings along lil' Bobby. He looks tasty, um, I mean, I'd like to meet him." read more


Michael J. Fox will guest-star on two February episodes of NBC's Scrubs, USA Today reports. He'll play a "superdoc" coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder — a parallel to Fox's own battle with Parkinson's disease. The gig reunites Fox with Scrubs exec producer Bill Lawrence, who cocreated Spin City. read more


Britney Spears is not a girl, not yet a woman — but she's definitely off her rocker. Less than 12 hours after marrying childhood pal Jason Allen Alexander in Las Vegas, the 22-year-old pop tart arranged Saturday to annul the whole thing. In court papers posted at, Spears said her marriage should be dissolved because she "lacked understanding of her actions." Her record label was more blunt, saying in a statement that the pair "took a joke too far." For the record, the bride wore torn jeans and a baseball cap — neither of which I assume were white. read more


Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow announced today that he is stepping down to form his own 20th Century Fox-based production company. "This was a very complicated decision for me to make," he said. "I've accomplished more than I ever thought possible [at Fox] — from helping to launch a network that no one thought would ever succeed, to leading the television studio to industry prominence, to leading the network to a record three consecutive second-place season finishes, including two historic sweeps victories." Now that's modesty for ya. read more

Question: I know the new ...

Question: I know the new Dragnet's been cancelled, but since it revived the Joe Friday character I got to thinking. Wasn't there already a Joe Friday comeback in the late '60s or early '70s? — Denise H., Mandan, N.D.

Televisionary: That there was, Denise. And it was with Jack Webb, the original model, in the same role, too, doing the same sort of show he'd done in the series' initial run.

Webb, a Santa Monica, Cal, native and former World War II B-26 pilot, launched Friday and Dragnet as a radio show in 1949, and it almost didn't make it past its first broadcast. Network execs hated the slow pacing, flat delivery and lack of violence and were screaming for changes — until New York Herald Tribune critic John Crosby weighed in with a column that listed everything the suits hated as the show's strong points.

Dragnet stayed, and in January 1952 it launched on NBC's TV sc read more

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