Titan Landing!
UFO Reports! Gay Penguins!
Electric Snowmobiles, Dreams,
Killer Asteroid, Pale Male
& More!
Titan Landing!

Saturn's moon Titan as photographed by the Cassini
orbiter in a recent flyby. (NASA)
European Space Agency News Release

December 25, 2004 - The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe was successfully released by NASA’s Cassini orbiter early this morning and is now on a controlled collision course toward Saturn’s largest and most mysterious moon, Titan, where on 14 January it will make a descent through one of the most intriguing atmospheres in the solar system to an unknown surface.

The separation occurred at 02:00 UTC (03:00 CET): A few minutes after separation, Cassini turned back to Earth and relayed back information about the separation. This signal then took 1 hour and 8 minutes to cross the 1.2 billion kilometers separating the Cassini spacecraft and Earth.

“Today’s release is another successful milestone in the Cassini/Huygens odyssey”, said Dr David Southwood, ESA’s Director of Science Programs. “This was an amicable separation after seven years of living together. Our thanks to our partners at NASA for the lift. Each spacecraft will now continue on its own but we expect they’ll keep in touch to complete this amazing mission.

"Now all our hopes and expectations are focused on getting the first in-situ data from a new world we’ve been dreaming of exploring for decades”.

Final stage of a seven-year odyssey

Artist's impression of the Huygens probe
entering the upper layers of the moon
Titan's atmosphere at 22, 000 kilometers
per hour. (ESA /D. DUCROS)

The Cassini/Huygens mission, jointly developed by NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency (ASI), began on 15 October 1997, when the composite spacecraft were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a Titan 4B/Centaur vehicle. Together, the two probes weighed 5548 kg at launch and became the largest space mission ever sent to the outer planets. To gain sufficient velocity to reach Saturn, they had to conduct four gravity-assist maneuvers by flying twice by Venus, once by the Earth and once by Jupiter. On 1 July Cassini/Huygens eventually became the first spacecraft to enter an orbit around Saturn.

On 17 December, while on its third orbit around the ringed planet, the Cassini orbiter performed a maneuver to enter a controlled collision trajectory towards Titan. As planned, a fine tuning of the trajectory took place on 22 December to place Huygens on its nominal entry trajectory. While Huygens will remain on this trajectory till it plunges into Titan’s atmosphere on 14 January, the orbiter will perform a deflection maneuver on 28 December to avoid crashing onto the moon.

Today’s separation was achieved by the firing of pyrotechnic devices. Under the action of push-off springs, ramps and rollers, the probe was released at a relative velocity of about 0.3 m/s with a spin rate of 7 rpm. Telemetry data confirming the separation were collected by NASA’s Deep Space Network stations in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, when the telemetry playback signal from Cassini eventually reached the Earth.

The Huygens probe is now dormant and will remain so for its 20-day coast phase to Titan. Four days before its release, a triply-redundant timer was programmed in order to wake-up the probe’s systems shortly before arrival on Titan.

The Huygens probe slows to about 1400
kilometers per hour in less than two
minutes, thanks to the friction of the
front heatshield with the atmospheric
gas. The temperature of the gas in the
shock wave in front of the heatshield
may reach 12 000°C, with the shield
itself reaching 1800°C. (ESA /D. DUCROS)

Exploring Titan’s atmosphere

Huygens is scheduled to enter Titan’s atmosphere at about 09:06 UTC (10:06 CET) on 14 January, entering at a relatively steep angle of 65° and a velocity of about 6 km/s. The target is over the southern hemisphere, on the day side. Protected by an ablative thermal shield, the probe will decelerate to 400 m/s within 3 minutes before it deploys a 2.6 m pilot chute at about 160 km. After 2.5 seconds this chute will pull away the probe’s aft cover and the main parachute, 8.3 m in diameter, will deploy to stabilize the probe.

The front shield will then be released and the probe, whose main objective is to study Titan’s atmosphere, will open inlet ports and deploy booms to collect the scientific data. All instruments will have direct access to the atmosphere to conduct detailed in-situ measurements of its structure, dynamics and chemistry.

Imagery of the surface along the track will also be acquired. These data will be transmitted directly to the Cassini orbiter, which, at the same time, will be flying over Titan at 60 000 km at closest approach. Earth-based radio telescopes will also try to detect the signal’s tone directly.

After 15 minutes, at about 120 km, Huygens will release its main parachute and a smaller 3 m drogue chute will take over to allow a deeper plunge through the atmosphere within the lifetime of the probe’s batteries.

The descent will last about 140 minutes before Huygens impacts the surface at about 6 m/s. If the probe survives all this, its extended mission will start, consisting in direct characterization of Titan’s surface for as long as the batteries can power the instruments and the Cassini orbiter is visible over the horizon at the landing site, i.e. not more than 130 minutes.

Equipped with a variety of scientific sensors, the Huygens probe will
spend 2-2.5 hours descending through Titan's dense, murky atmosphere
of nitrogen and carbon-based molecules, beaming its findings to the
distant Cassini orbiter overhead. (NASA)

At that time, the Cassini orbiter will reorient its main antenna dish toward Earth in order to play back the data collected by Huygens, which will be received by NASA’s 70-m diameter antenna in Canberra, Australia, 67 minutes later.

Three playbacks are planned, to ensure that all recorded data are safely transmitted to Earth.

Then Cassini will continue its mission exploring Saturn and its moons, which includes multiple additional flybys of Titan in the coming months and years.

A probe deep into space and time

Bigger than Mercury and slightly smaller than Mars, Titan is unique in having a thick hazy nitrogen-rich atmosphere containing carbon-based compounds that could yield important clues about how Earth came to be habitable.
The chemical makeup of the atmosphere is thought to be very similar to Earth’s before life began, although colder (-180°C) and so lacking liquid water.

The in-situ results from Huygens, combined with global observations from repeated flybys of Titan by the Cassini orbiter, are thus expected to help us understand not only one of the most exotic members of our Solar System but also the evolution of the early Earth's atmosphere and the mechanisms that led to the dawn of life on our planet.

European Space Agency - http://www.esa.int

NASA Space Quiz

Hey, spaceman! NASA has a new, neat space quiz on their homepage in Flash and HTML versions.

Find out how much you really know about outer space and how much you just think you know from watching Star Trek reruns!

NASA Space quiz - http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/PQquiz_launch_page.html

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Peace On Earth If You Want It

John Lennon and Yoko Ono displayed this message in major cities around the world on December 15, 1969 in each city's major language. Full-page ads with the same message appeared in print media. After two number one dance hits this year, Yoko is reportedly working on a new mix of their song "Give Peace A Chance" for release in 2005. (LENONO PHOTO ARCHIVE, New York)

Best of NUFORC UFO Reports

(Photo: eXoNews)

By FLAtRich

December 25, 2004 (eXoNews) - NUFORC (THE NATIONAL UFO REPORTING CENTER) recently posted a list of their coolest "potentially UFO-related, cases and sighting reports" on their site.

If you have seen a UFO recently (or if you're planning to see one on New Year's Eve), you may want to check out the Best of NUFORC page to see what others have seen before you.

The NUFORC Most Noteworthy Cases list is here http://www.nuforc.org/CBBest.html

The list starts with a short description from 1936:

 "Two men hitchhiking to Anchorage witness a very bright light approaching their location at high speed. The object hovers above them, causing them to dive into a snow bank to escape."

From there on out it is anybody's guess what decades of UFO's were (or where they were from), but reports range from "an extremely bright, yellow and blue disc" flying down the coast of New England in 1995 to F-16 fighters scrambled at Andrews AFB in 2002 in pursuit of a "red ball of light" to an airline crew report of four disc-shaped objects flying in front of their plane in 2004.

Makes for fun reading amidst the rather dull holiday fare between now and the New Year.

NUFORC - http://www.nuforc.org

Planets Align This Week

Mercury, Mars and Venus

DES MOINES December 24, 2004 (AP) - Three planets will align over the weekend, giving Iowans a glimpse at something they haven't seen for at least 100 years, astronomy experts said.

Mercury, Mars and Venus will be able to be seen in the southeastern part of the sky before sunrise from Saturday through Wednesday, said Michael Bakich, associate editor at Astronomy Magazine.

"Next to the sun and the moon, (Venus is) the brightest in the sky, so it'll be brilliant," he said.

Mars will be to the upper right of Venus and Mercury will be noticeable at its left.

It's been at least 100 years since the planets have aligned this way, Bakich said.

He speculated that the bright star the Bible says wise men followed to Bethlehem to find Jesus may have been a similar grouping of planets.

"Nobody really knows what's called the Star of Bethlehem was," he said.

Penguin News!

Penguins at Toky's Ueno Zoo (AFP/
Toru Yamanuka)

Gay Penguins?

TOKYO December 25, 2004 (AFP) - Researchers have found a number of same-sex pairs of penguins at aquariums in Japan, with an imbalance between the numbers of male and female birds suspected to be the cause, a report said.

A research group led by Keisuke Ueda, professor of behavioral ecology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, found about 20 same-sex pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos, Kyodo news agency said.

Penguins in captivity "may be more likely to form same-sex pairs" due to the difficulty of finding partners of the opposite sex because breeding facilities in Japan only have an average of 20 birds, the agency quoted Ueda as saying.

It is not known if the frequency of homosexuality is higher than in the wild, where telling the sexes apart is tough, he said.

Many of the gay male pairs and two of the female pairs were seen performing mounting behavior, it said.

Ueda was not available for comment on the report.

Mystery Illness Kills Penguins

A mystery disease is killing off yellow-
eyed penguin chicks in New Zealand.
(Dave Gandy/ Birdlife International)

JOHANNESBURG December 23, 2004 (Reuters) - A mystery disease is killing off yellow-eyed penguin chicks in New Zealand in a fresh blow to efforts to conserve the world's rarest member of the penguin family, a conservation group said on Thursday.

BirdLife International said the disease, which has baffled local scientists, had killed up to 80 percent of this spring's chick's in the worst affected areas on New Zealand's South Island.

"Most penguin chicks have been found dead at nests on Otago Peninsula and North Otago, with other outbreaks on Stewart Island and the Catlins coast," BirdLife said.

"With a global population of just under 5,000 birds, the yellow-eyed penguin is classified by BirdLife as endangered and is considered to be the world's rarest penguin species," it said. BirdLife said New Zealand's Department of Conservation was running tests to try and pinpoint the extent and nature of the illness, which is thought to be caused by a strain of cornynebacterium.

It said there are more than 50 strains of this type of infection, one of which causes human diphtheria.

It said that the infection did not seem to be causing any harm to adult birds.

"This latest die-off is bad news for the world's rarest penguin species," said Barry Weeber, a senior conservation officer with BirdLife in New Zealand.

"Subpopulations on the southeast coast of the South Island and Stewart Island are already in decline and this will only add to the pressures this endangered species faces," said Weeber.

The main threats to yellow-eyed penguins include introduced predators such as domestic cats and loss of habitat.

BirdLife classifies three of the world's 17 penguin species as endangered -- meaning they are threatened with extinction -- and seven of them as vulnerable.

Indoor Nudity Banned
MEXICO CITY December 23, 2004 (AP) - Alarmed by glimpses of sweaty citizens in the buff, the city council in the southeastern city of Villahermosa has adopted a law banning citizens from allowing themselves to be seen nude by the public, even while in their own homes, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The regulation, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2005, calls for as much as 36 hours in jail or a fine of 1,356 pesos ($121, euro90) for offenders in the Tabasco state capital, 655 kilometers (410 miles) east of Mexico City.

"We are talking about zero tolerance ... for a lack of morality," said city councilwoman Blanca Estela Pulido of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, which governs the state and city.

Opposition party councilman Rodrigo Sanchez said in an interview that the measure, part of a larger series of prohibitions, "tramples on the rights of the citizens by taking laughable measures such as contemplating penalties for citizens who walk around nude inside their houses."

"I have no idea how you detect the naked. You'd have to have a big operation to try to bring it under control," he added.

The law does not actually ban citizens from being nude in their homes, but from "displaying themselves nude intentionally in public and private areas or inside the home, in the latter instances when it is in a way that is obvious to the public or to adjacent homes."

Pulido said she was confident that citizens who catch a glimpse of offenders would report them to police - though the law also threatens jail for peeping Toms.

The city on the southern Gulf of Mexico is noted for its swelteringly hot, humid climate.

"The majority of houses have a lot of ventilation and we give ourselves the luxury of going naked," Pulido said. "Because we walk past the windows, you see a lot of things."

Electric Snowmobiles - Clean and Quiet

The McGill team and their electric snowmobile
prototype. (McGill University)

McGill University News Release

December 21, 2004 - As the snow falls, many look forward to the thrill of a day spent snowmobiling, but this sport is not eagerly anticipated by all. Some find the noise and gas emission levels unbearable. McGill University researchers are at the forefront of looking for solutions to these concerns by making snowmobiles and other power-sport recreational vehicles clean and quiet.

"People associate snowmobiles with noise and gas pollution" said Simon Ouellette, project manager of the McGill University Electric Snowmobile Team. "For this reason, there has been a recent move to legislate the use of these vehicles both in Canada and the USA. We are hopeful that we can build a snowmobile where these issues are not a concern."

For the past year the McGill University Electric Snowmobile Team has been developing an electric snowmobile prototype. This prototype, using batteries instead of fuel, will be quieter and have no gas emissions.

A second prototype is also being designed in a joint project with an international research organization. Withstanding arctic weather is the main factor to be overcome by this second prototype.

This project is part of a major graduate research project: the McGill University Electric Recreational Vehicle Research Project. The four year project will look at three major recreational vehicles types: snowmobiles, personal watercraft, all-terrain vehicles.

"The potential for this project is enormous," said Professor of Engineering, Peter Radziszewski. "Once we have the prototype, we can use the same technology for other vehicles. A number of provincial organizations are interested in participating in this project and we continue to look for other partners."

McGill University Electric Snowmobile - http://www.electricsnowmobile.mcgill.ca

Bush Changes Forest Rules

By Matthew Daly
Associated Press

WASHINGTON December 23, 2004 (AP) — Managers of the nation's 155 national forests will have more discretion to approve logging and other commercial projects without lengthy environmental reviews under a new Bush administration initiative.

The long-awaited rules, announced Wednesday, overhaul application of the landmark 1976 National Forest Management Act, which sets guidelines for managing 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands and protecting wildlife there.

Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins said the new rules will allow forest managers to respond more quickly to changing conditions, such as wildfires, and emerging threats such as invasive species.

The complex forest management rules were last updated in the 1970s, and officials long have complained that detailed analyses required under the law take up to seven years to complete. Under the new rule, forest plan revisions could be completed within two to three years, officials said.

Environmentalists reacted with skepticism, saying the administration was catering to the timber and paper industries and weakening standards for protecting endangered or threatened species.

"The president's forest regulations are an early Christmas gift to the timber industry masquerading as a government streamlining measure," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The new plan gives regional forest managers more discretion to approve logging, drilling and mining operations without having to conduct formal scientific investigations known as environmental impact statements.

Forest Service officials say the idea is to make forest planning more responsive to changing conditions by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and relying on assessments by local and regional managers rather than one-size-fits-all federal requirements.

"We really have a process that takes way too long, that really isn't as responsive ... as it should be," Collins said.

But environmentalists say the plan eliminates analyses required under the National Environment Policy Act, scraps wildlife protections established under President Reagan and limits public input into forest management decisions.

"We can't imagine it's going to be satisfactory for replacement of the wildlife safeguards and public involvement that the public has enjoyed for the last 25 years," said Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society.

The new approach could cut costs by as much as 30 percent, Collins said. She also noted the new rules require independent audits of all forest plans.

The audits, to be conducted in some cases by private firms and in others by federal employees, are based on standards frequently used by the timber industry to address environmental issues and ensure compliance with the law, Collins and others said.

Environmentalists said there is no evidence a corporate model will ensure accountability.

They also expressed concern that the plan relaxes a requirement to protect fish and wildlife in national forests so species do not become threatened or endangered. Instead, the rules assert an overarching goal to "maintain healthy, diverse and resilient" ecosystems and species native to forest lands.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said the new rules are "a lot more responsive" than the current rules, which he called cumbersome and counterproductive.

The rules take effect after they are published in the Federal Register, which is expected next week.

All You Need To Do Is Dream

The Dream by Henri Rousseau (1910; Oil on canvas;
Museum of Modern Art NYC)

University of Alberta News Release

December 21, 2004 - The advice to 'sleep on it' for a while isn't a bad idea, according to a new study done in part by University of Alberta researchers.
Findings published in the December Journal of Sleep Research show that there may be an advantage to dreams that occur for up to a week after a memorable emotional event.

A study conducted by the University of Alberta and the University of Montreal of 470 psychology students revealed that not only do remembered events influence dreams on the following night; they also color dreams that occur six to seven days later.

And, compared to dreams on the night immediately after the remembered event, the 'delayed incorporations' more often reflected interpersonal interactions, problem resolution and positive emotions, suggesting that these delayed incorporations help the person work through personal difficulties.

"This suggests an ongoing effort to resolve a problem in dreams during the week following the emergence of that problem. The dreams themselves are a kind of treatment," said Dr. Don Kuiken, a psychology professor at the University of Alberta.

"Something is going on there that at least touches on and alters the resolutions that people come up with," Dr. Kuiken said.

The students were asked to recall dreams at home for one week, then to select their most recent dream and to recall events related to it from one to seven days prior to the dream. They then rated the extent of correspondence between the events and the dreams.

The researchers, in turn, evaluated whether the dreams that incorporated those events reflected problem-solving activity.

University of Alberta - http://www.ualberta.ca

Microwavable Toys Might Be Dangerous
BOULDER December 23, 2004 (AP) - Whole Foods Markets is reconsidering whether to continue selling a line of microwaveable stuffed animals that an educator said could lead children to believe there is nothing wrong with putting their pets in household appliances.

Scott Simons, regional manager of the Texas-based organic foods market, said Wednesday that officials will consult with buyers to determine if the Toasty Tots products should be sold in their stores.

"We listen to our customers," Simons said. "They bring up great points, and we are a very sensitive company."

The soft plush animals can be heated in the microwave to become warm dolls.

Mike McBreen, who teaches family education classes in Boulder, said he raised the concerns because he believes the toys could give children the wrong idea. He said he has had clients whose children have put cats and dogs in the washer, dryer and even oven.

"Little kids, preschoolers, and kids even in first grade don't realize that you can't do things like that," he said. "It's beyond their levels of comprehension. Older kids, when they start getting into mischief, don't need any more suggestions."

Whole Foods Market: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com
Earth Killer Asteroid in 2029

In the unlikely event that it did hit,
it would be quite serious. (USA Today)

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES December 23, 2004 (AP) - There's a 1-in-300 chance that a recently discovered asteroid, believed to be about 1,300 feet long, could hit Earth in 2029, a NASA scientist said Thursday, but he added that the perceived risk probably will be eliminated once astronomers get more detail about its orbit.

There have been only a limited number of sightings of Asteroid 2004 MN4, which has been given an initial rating of 2 on the 10-point Torino Impact Hazard Scale used by astronomers to predict asteroid or comet impacts, said Donald Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

No previously observed asteroid has been graded higher than 1.

On Friday, April 13, 2029, "we can't yet rule out an Earth impact," Yeomans said. "But the impact probability, as we call it, is 300-to-1 against an impact."

The asteroid was discovered in June and rediscovered this month.

"This is not a problem for anyone and it shouldn't be a concern to anyone, but whenever we post one of these things and ... somebody gets a hold of it, it just gets crazy," he said.

"In the unlikely event that it did hit, it would be quite serious. We're talking either a tsunami if it hit in the ocean, which would be likely, or significant ground damage," Yeomans said.

Its estimated size has been inferred from its brightness, which assumes that its reflectivity is similar to other asteroids that have been observed. At about 1,320 feet in length, it would have about 1,600 megatons of energy, Yeomans said.

Asteroid 2004 MN4 takes less than a year to go all the way around the sun and on each orbit it passes by Earth's orbit twice, Yeomans said. It is also nearly on the same plane as Earth's orbit.

The asteroid will be visible for the next several months and the NEO program has alerted its network of ground-based observers to include 2004 MN4 in their searches.

Yeomans said there have now been about 40 observations, first from the observatory at Kitt Peak, near Tucson, Ariz., and this month from Australia and New Zealand.

Near-Earth Object Program: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov

[Update January 2, 2005: The excitement is over for now. Scientists announced this week that Asteroid 2004 MN4 will miss us after all. Ed.]

Fart Toy Banned
HONG KONG December 22, 2004 (AP) - Hong Kong officials are pulling "Fart Bomb" toys from the shelves because the gag gift — a metallic bag that gives off a stench — produces a dangerous chemical reaction, the government said.

The sulfur-acid mixture produced by the toy can cause nausea, headaches and eye irritation, the government said in a statement Tuesday.

Customs officers have seized 263 "Fart Bombs" and are urging parents to hand in their unused toys to a consumer protection bureau, it said.

The toy includes a silver-colored bag containing sulfur compound powder and an inner plastic bag of diluted acid, the government said.

When the inner bag is broken, the chemicals mix producing hydrogen sulfide and "giving off a disgusting smell," the statement said.
Pale Male and Lola Win Nest Battle

Pale Male, right, watching his mate Lola land on
their 12th floor nest while their offspring, center,
awaits the arrival of his mother in New York.
Workers installed new underpinnings for the hawk's
nest Thursday, which were ordered removed by
building management earlier in the month,
triggering public outcry that was heard far beyond
the borders of New York City. (AP Photo/
Palemale.com / Lincoln Karim)

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK December 23, 2004 (Reuters) - Two of New York's most-famous birds will be home for Christmas after all.

Red-tailed hawks Pale Male and Lola, whose nest atop a ritzy Fifth Avenue apartment building was removed on December 7 by order of the tenants' board, were welcomed back on Thursday.

An architect-designed stainless-steel cradle complete with spikes to support a new nest was being installed for the hawks on the landmark building, bringing a happy ending to a saga that spawned angry protests from bird lovers.

"Today a fairy tale has come true for the birds and New Yorkers who love parks and love birds," said city parks commissioner Adrian Benepe.

The National Audubon Society was given credit for helping broker a deal with the apartment tenants, who had been fed up with bird droppings and pigeon remains falling from the 12th-floor penthouse nest and littering the elegant building's entrance.

Noisy protests from naturalists across the street in front of Central Park and intense media attention helped bring negotiations that ended in an agreement to restore the roost and satisfy safety concerns.

The design includes a guardrail that extends beyond the spikes to keep debris from dropping to the street.

"We've had an overwhelming response from all over the world," Audubon Society President John Flicker said about the tale of Pale Male and Lola. "We've had people from Europe, Jordan, Australia and from all across the country contacting us in an unbelievable outpouring of hope, support and concern."

Flicker was confident the hawks, who have been circling the building every day, would return to the site where Pale Male first built a home in 1993 and became a local legend.

Pale Male, named for his unusual light coloring, has been the subject of a book and a documentary film.

Architect Dan Ionescu declined to divulge the cost of the project but said the job presented a unique challenge.

"You don't get a call every day asking for a design for a nest for a bird on top of window of a landmark building," he said. "The birds have been circling and the whole world was watching us, putting on a lot of pressure."

Flicker said response to the hawks' plight showed concern about the environment. "We've pushed nature so far out of our lives they are living on a little window ledge on Fifth Avenue. And then we almost pushed them off there as well," he said.

Genre News: Ben Browder, Michael Shanks, Smallville, Point Pleasant, 24, Marilyn Munster & More!
Farscape's Ben Browder and SG-1's Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks

Vancouver December 22, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Stargate SG-1 star Michael Shanks told SCI FI Wire that he was pleased to hear that Farscape's Ben Browder would be joining the cast of the SCI FI Channel series when it kicks off its ninth season next year.

"I'm a big fan of stirring the pot," Shanks said in an interview.
"Not that we've become complacent, but I'm a big fan of introducing new elements."

Browder joins the cast as a new character, a seasoned lieutenant colonel who becomes the latest member of SG-1.

"We've worked on the show for many years, and we've worked with the same three other actors," Shanks said, referring to co-stars Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Richard Dean Anderson.

"If it's just those four people on the screen, yeah, we could have a great rapport, but when you introduce a new element you always have that inhale of breath. It's like, 'Ooh, what's this going to do?' That's what guest stars are for. You get complacent when you sit on your butt too long and you work with the same group of people. You get used to the dynamic, and you get spoiled and lazy.

Ben Browder on Farscape

"I think introducing a new element tests you, and it also shakes it up a little bit. And I think, without taking anything too much away, the introduction of a new person is going to up the stakes and sort of have everybody doing a tap dance to figure out where this is all going to fit."

SCI FI no doubt hopes that Browder's presence will both attract new viewers to the show and keep SG-1 fans—particularly those who've bemoaned the decreased presence of Anderson—in the fold.

But Shanks insisted that that end of the equation was not his concern.

"Whether Ben brings a SF cachet to the table, ... I don't care," he said. "That's not my business to worry about whether or not he's going to bring in viewers. My job is to find out how we can work together and how it's going to be positive and what kinds of good stories we can tell. If his reputation in that regard is spot-on, that's all I care about, and it sounds like he's got a positive reputation."

The remaining new episodes of Stargate SG-1's eighth season kick off Jan. 21, 2005, in a new Friday 8 p.m. ET/PT timeslot, followed by the new episodes of Stargate Atlantis at 9 p.m. and the new original series Battlestar Galactica at 10 p.m.

The ninth season of SG-1 will begin airing in the summer.

Stargate SG-1 - http://www.scifi.com/stargate

Farscape Official - http://www.farscape.com

WB Smallville Sweepstakes

Win Clark and his pals (WB)

December 24, 2004 (eXoNews) - The WB doesn't want you to forget Smallville while your favorite TV superhero and his pals are on holiday so they have launched a new Smallville Sweepstakes with a Season 3 DVD Box set as part of the grand prize.

The DVD Sweepstakes began on November 12, 2004 and ends December 30, 2004.

To enter the Smallville DVD Sweepstakes, go to www.smallvilledvd.com/sweeps

25 grand prize winners will receive each of the following: a Smallville Season 3 DVD; Smallville 2005 Wall Calendar; Smallville: "City" by Warner Books; Smallville Comic Book by DC Comics; The Official Smallville Magazine (Issues #1&2) by Titan Books; and The Official Season #1 Smallville Companion Guide by Titan Books.

Smallville Official - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||126,00.html

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

CBS Finds Elvis

NEW YORK December 22, 2004 (AP) - Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who played the soccer coach in 2002's "Bend It Like Beckham," will star as Elvis Presley in a four-hour miniseries to air on CBS.

The fact-based drama will also star Camryn Manheim ("The Practice") as Presley's mother, Gladys, and Randy Quaid ("LBJ: The Early Years") as his manager, Col. Tom Parker, the network said Tuesday.

Rose McGowan ("Charmed") will play Ann-Margret, the actress who co-starred with Presley in the 1964 film "Viva Las Vegas."

The miniseries, titled "Elvis," is being made with the cooperation and participation of the Elvis Presley estate and will include actual master recordings of Presley's most famous hits, CBS said in a statement.

Point Pleasant and More New Genre Shows Ahead

Marti Noxon's Point Pleasant
premieres in January on Fox

Hollywood December 20, 2004 (Variety) The Big Six are getting ready to unleash a slew of skeins designed to scare the hell out of viewers.

With ABC's creepy-crawly drama "Lost" already a ratings hit, next year promises to bring at least three new network dramas designed to produce chills.

Next month, Fox unleashes "Point Pleasant," a sort of "Omen" meets "The OC" centered around a teen girl whose dad just happens to be Satan.

Also in January, Glen Gordon Caron ("Moonlighting") returns to TV with "Medium," which features Patricia Arquette as a psychic cop who sees dead people.

And later this season, NBC will unleash "Revelations," a six-hour end-of-days biblical thriller that could become a series.

Webheads are forging ahead with scream machines even though the genre's track record on the small screen is, well, scary.

"That whole thing about comedy being the hardest thing is true, but doing scary television is also pretty difficult," says former "X-Files" exec producer Frank Spotnitz.

Indeed, except for "The X-Files," there have been few successful straight-ahead spine-tinglers on network TV in the past decade.

The producers behind "The Blair Witch Project" tried to translate their style to the small screen with "Freakylinks," but it bombed. Ditto shows such as "Wolf Lake," "American Gothic" and "Prey," not to mention "X-Files" spinoff "Millennium."

Patricia Arquette as a psychic cop
in NBC's Medium

And while movie auds seem to flock to any title in a horror franchise --- ergo, "Jason X" --- brand names don't guarantee success in TV. Two reinventions of "The Twilight Zone" have failed in the past two decades, while a remake of "Dark Shadows" couldn't get past the pilot stage at the WB earlier this year.

Compared with horror features, "It's doubly hard to do something scary when it's on a TV (production) schedule and a TV budget," Spotnitz argues. The producer remains committed to bringing back scary TV, however: He's developing a new take on "The Night Stalker," the cult classic that inspired Chris Carter to create "X-Files."

Former ABC drama chief Thom Sherman, who developed "Lost," believes making primetime fright-time is tough because audiences aren't as willing to suspend disbelief with a weekly skein.

"There's no real natural franchise to a horror show," says Sherman, who now runs "Lost" exec producer J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Prods. "People want to step into the shoes of characters who live in a real world place. The LAPD doesn't have a horror crimes division."

TV producers also can't simply resort to the blood-and-guts formula that packs 'em in at the multiplex.

For one thing, most advertisers don't want to hawk their wares in shows filled with bloody corpses. Audiences can also grow bored with shows that feature nothing but the cheap frights many horror features serve up so successfully.

"It's very easy to go, 'boo,' but if you go 'boo' all the time, it becomes routine," says NBC exec VP Ghen Maynard. "Stabbing someone in the heart doesn't work on TV."

Can TV horror work without her? Sarah
Michelle Gellar in hit movie The Grudge

Not to mention that in this era of FCC scrutiny, some things could have a tough time getting by network censors. Most TV series also can't match the big budget special effects viewers are used to seeing on the big screen.

"Because you don't have a lot of time or a lot of money, it becomes about scaring people with what they can't see (and) leaving things to their imagination," says Spotnitz.

"Lost" has used just that formula to find success this season, and the new breed of scary skeins seems to be taking a similar tact.

Rather than emulate the "Halloween" or "Friday the 13th" franchises, nets are hoping to tap into the aud that made moody thrillers like "The Ring" and "The Grudge" big hits.

No surprise then that Dawn Parouse, one of the exec producers of "Point Pleasant," says her show plans to stay far away from the monster-of-the-week format.

"One of our rules is you'll never see latex in this show," she says. "There aren't going to be people in makeup for a long time. The subtle stuff is much scarier."

Official Fox Point Pleasant site - http://www.fox.com/pointpleasant

20th Century Fox Point Pleasant Site - http://www.foxnow.com/pointpleasant

Mummy Meets 24

Arnold Vosloo (AFP)

LOS ANGELES December 21, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - South African-born actor Arnold Vosloo, best known for his role as villain Imhotep in the "Mummy" movies, has landed a recurring role on Fox's "24," playing the leader of a terrorist plot against the United States.

Also recurring on "24" this coming season is Jonathan Ahdout. The actor, who played Shohreh Aghdashloo's son in last year's feature "House of Sand and Fog," will once again play the actress' son on "24." On the show, Aghdashloo plays the wife of a Middle Eastern businessman (Nestor Serrano).

The fourth season of "24" kicks off on Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT with a two-hour episode that will be repeated the next day.

24 then begins its regular Monday night run on Fox January 17th.

Who's Your Daddy Now?
By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES December 22, 2004 (Reuters) - Plans to air a television game show in which an adopted woman picks out her father from a panel of impostors have thousands of people deluging Fox TV with letters and e-mails to get the show shelved.

The "Who's Your Daddy?" show, in which a young woman given up for adoption as a child gets a $100,000 prize for picking out her biological father from a line-up, is the latest in America's obsession with reality TV programming.

News of the show sparked both a grass-roots campaign among adoptive parents and protests from national adoption organizations who called the idea offensive, voyeuristic and exploitative. Six episodes have been filmed but so far only one has been scheduled for broadcast, on Jan. 3.

Fox, a unit of News Corp. Inc., has yet to respond directly to its critics but said in a statement that although the title was "attention-grabbing" it was not indicative of the content.

Deborah Capone, a single mother with a 5-year-old adopted daughter, is behind an e-mail campaign that has generated more than 5,000 messages to Fox in a week asking for a meeting and for the show to be axed.

Daddy hosts Finola Hughes (L) and T.J. are
shown in a publicity photo. (Fox via Reuters)

"By turning adoption reunions into a game show, 'Who's Your Daddy?' takes an intensely personal and complex situation ... and transforms it into a voyeuristic display," Capone said.

Capone said she was astounded at the response although she has heard nothing from Fox. She next plans to encourage her supporters to target potential advertisers and Fox TV affiliates to persuade them to abandon the show.

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, wrote to Fox describing the show as "destructive, insensitive and offensive" to the tens of millions of Americans with adoption in their families.

"The very idea of taking such a deeply personal, complex situation and turning it into a money-grubbing game show is perverse, destructive and insensitive to others," he wrote.

Kevin Healey, one of the show's executive producers, said he was taken aback by the reaction given the fact that the participants, their biological parents, and their adoptive parents were all willing and informed.

"Knowing what we did and the lives that we changed for the positive, I was very surprised. I expected there to be a reaction to the title but I felt people would watch it and then make their decisions," Healey told Reuters.

Healey said the idea was inspired by a friend who is adopted. "It came from a very pure place not from a place of trying to embarrass or harm anyone," he said.

Reality programming, in which ordinary people put themselves in embarrassing or emotionally charged situations, has dominated American television for the past three years, producing efforts such as "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," "Survivor," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

UK Variety Shows Get Top Ratings

Bruce Forsyth hosts BBC's Strictly Come Dancing (BBC)

London December 20, 2004 (Variety)- Mass-appeal Saturday night TV, apparently killed off by the lure of digital media and the reality boom, is back from the brink after years of high-profile expensive flops.

The reason? An old-fashioned cocktail of wholesome entertainment that has more in common with the golden age of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers than today's abrasive and often voyeuristic forms of popular entertainment.

The weekend before last, a third of the U.K. population (21 million plus) tuned in to watch the final episodes of two new shows that have confounded the expectations of industryites and commentators alike.

"When I told colleagues that I wanted to do a show that revolved around couples competing in a ballroom-dancing competition, they thought I was mad," says BBC entertainment topper Wayne Garvie.

But Garvie and the fancy footwork of his show, "Strictly Come Dancing," based on a format first screened in 1950, has provided a much-needed hit for BBC1, the pubcaster's faltering terrestrial flagship.

In the show, which bowed last summer, celebrities including soap stars and comedians team up with professional dancers, with the pairs voted off by audiences week by week.

Hosted by septuagenarian Bruce Forsyth, who cut his teeth in legit variety shows before breaking into TV in the 1950s, the show has appeal that has stretched across a broad demographic.

The extraordinary thing about what pundits have hailed as the return of the TV variety show is that "Strictly Come Dancing's" success has been matched by another Saturday night vehicle, ITV1's "The X Factor," a talent show that, too, harks back to a more innocent age.

Pub and club singer Steve Brookstein

"'The X Factor' is a great big entertainment spectacular that contains elements of the old variety shows," says executive producer Claire Horton. "People say it's a reality show (viewers vote 'Idol'-style for their favorite act), but I think it's a traditional entertainment show."

As proof of the show's diversity, pub and club singer Steve Brookstein beat classical quartet G4 in the final to win a £1 million ($1.9 million) recording contract.

Co-produced by Simon Cowell's Syco TV and Fremantle Media subsidiary Talkback Thames, "The X Factor" is one of ITV1's few shows that are popular for 16-35 year olds.

At its peak, 11.2 million viewers tuned in to see "EastEnders" star Jill Halfpenny and her pro partner Darren Bennet win "Strictly Come Dancing" with 10.5 million opting for "The X Factor."

In Blighty "Strictly Come Dancing's" popularity has even led to a boom in dance classes.

But could the show work outside the U.K.?

"We've sold it in Australia, but it's not something that can succeed in every market," Garvie admits. "Ballroom dancing is huge in Japan, so I think it could work there, but I don't think it's right for the French. It might work in the States, and I know people are interested there.

"When you get audiences like we've got for these two shows, it gives everyone who works in telly a real lift," he adds.

The X Factor Official - http://www.xfactor.tv

X Factor fan site - http://www.xfactorwatch.co.uk

New Tek for Couch Potatoes
By Paul J. Gough

Don't miss anything on TV!

NEW YORK December 23, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Time Warner Cable is working on a way to solve a channel surfer's nightmare: Missing the start of a show.

The new service, tentatively called Startover, will allow viewers to run back to the beginning of any program that's currently on the air. Say a viewer happens upon a crime drama halfway through the hour, Startover provides the chance to see the show from the start. Running late? Start the show from its opening, as long as it's still being aired.

A test is planned in a TWC market sometime next year, a company spokesman confirmed Wednesday. But significant hurdles still remain for the project, which Time Warner Cable hopes can be overcome.

If launched, Startover would fall somewhere between the capability of a digital video recorder and video on demand for live TV. It would differ from a DVR in several ways. There wouldn't be a way to fast-forward through commercials or programming. And unlike a DVR that stores hours of programs on a hard drive in a viewer's home, Startover would store shows currently on the air at the cable head-end.

That would raise copyright issues that helped sink a high-profile Time Warner project, Maestro. That network-based DVR project came to an end last year; content providers were concerned about piracy of their programs from cable company servers, hurting sales of DVDs for instance. But some of Maestro's ideas live on in Startover.

"It's an outgrowth of some of the Maestro technology and the on-demand, VOD technology," a TWC spokesman said.

TWC would need to secure rights to be able to show individual programs not only in the current hour but the next hour as well because Startover could potentially begin playback of a show in the last minute of its televising. Plans call for only making Startover available on the shows where rights could be acquired. That could limit some of the programs available for rewinding; the identity of some rights-holders can be murky.

But that might not kill Startover. Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson, in a note published this week, said that TWC is likely to go ahead with the service with whatever shows it receives permission.

"Given Time Warner's Warner Bros. is the largest producer of TV shows, we would expect TWC should have reasonable success getting a critical mass of product for Startover," Mitchelson wrote. An icon would alert viewers to whether the service would apply.

Not every TWC customer would be a candidate for Startover, either. TWC, like a lot of cable providers, has been going full speed ahead with the introduction of DVRs. The first TWC DVRs were introduced in summer 2002 in two markets; the last rollout was in September in Houston. There were 709,000 DVRs deployed among TWC subscribers at the end of the third quarter.

The non-DVR households who might be candidates for Startover would need two-way addressable set-top boxes. Deutsche Bank said that would be just under half of its basic-cable customers.

Marilyn Munster Sues

Debbie Watson (Taylor) back
in the day.

LOS ANGELES December 23, 2004 (Reuters) - The actress who played Marilyn Munster in the 1966 movie "Munster Go Home" is suing slot machine maker International Game Technology and others for using her image and voice without permission.

The actress, Debbie Watson Taylor, is seeking damages and attorney's fees as well as profits from sales related to the gaming machines. The lawsuit also names as defendants Universal Studios and Monaco Entertainment.

IGT spokeswoman Connie Fox said company executives had no comment on the lawsuit. Officials at Universal Studios, which is owned by General Electric Co., and Monaco Entertainment could not be immediately reached for comment.

In "Munster Go Home," like the popular TV sitcom on which it was based, the winsome character of Marilyn was the only normal member of an otherwise ghoulish suburban family headed by Frankenstein monster look-alike Herman Munster.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Nevada by three actors from the "The Munsters" television series: Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster), Patrick Alan Lilley, whose stage name was Butch Patrick (Eddie), and Pat Priest, who also played Marilyn. It was settled out of court last year.

Reno, Nevada-based IGT is the largest slot machine maker. In recent years, the company and rivals have increasingly turned to themes from television and movies for slot machines, including titles such as "Star Wars" and "The Addams Family."

In the movie, which features characters from the television show, Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne, discovers he is the new lord of Munster Hall in England.

[Debbie went by just Watson in the 1960s and was also known for her role as  TV's "Tammy". Ed.]

Musters Official site - http://www.munsters.com

International Game Technology - http://www.igt.com

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