NO STOPPING HOUSEWIVES

ABC's Desperate Housewives continued to snowball in the ratings, becoming the most-watched show among total viewers and among the key demographic group of 18-49 year-olds last week, according to Nielsen Research. ABC also placed two other new shows in the top ten, Lost and Grey's Anatomy. And Fox took the second and third positions on the top-ten list with the Wednesday and Tuesday editions of American Idol. Still, CBS drew more viewers overall and more adults 18-49 than any other network, helped by a strong performance by the NCAA basketball championship game Monday night, which produced ratings that were 22 percent higher than last year. Once again, NBC was unable to place a single show among the top ten. Meanwhile, Nielsen figures indicated that about 9 million American viewers watched the funeral of Pope John Paul II from 3:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Friday on the three major broadcast networks and eight cable networks. By contrast, 27 million U.S. viewers tuned in for the funeral of Princess Diana during similar hours on Sept. 6, 1997.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.9/24; 2. NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament: North Carolina vs. Illinois, CBS, 15.0/23; 3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.7/24; 4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 14.4/22; 5. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.3/22; 6. Survivor: Palau, CBS, 11.8/19; 7. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11.7/19; 8. Lost, ABC, 10.6/17; 9. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.3/17; 9. Without a Trace, CBS, 10.3/17.

MISS USA CONTEST PLUMMETS

NBC had no better luck attracting an audience for the Miss USA pageant Monday night than CBS did three years ago when it dropped the show. Overnight figures released Tuesday indicated that only 8.1 million viewers tuned in, a figure that was just 6.6 percent higher than the 7.6 million who watched CBS's last telecast of the beauty pageant. The figure was down 37.7 percent from last year's 13 million. Meanwhile, Tuesday continued to be dominated by Fox, which recorded a 14.5/23 for American Idol in the 8:00 p.m. hour and an 11.0/17 for House at 9:00. No other network's programs even came close.

WHO CARES ABOUT RATINGS? IT'S DVD SALES THAT COUNT

In what may prove to be a new model for determining the fate of ratings-challenged television shows, Fox has decided to return the animated series Family Guy to its schedule based on its success at selling DVDs and merchandise and drawing license fees from cable. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, DVD industry analyst Ralph Tribbey said that in the future, "shows eventually may be designed for their DVD potential. The broadcast network will almost act like a promotional platform for the entire package." The Times noted that Fox has ordered 35 new episodes of Family Guy although it has committed to airing only 13. Gary Newman, president of 20th Century Fox Television, told the newspaper, "Even if it doesn't work for the Fox network, the Cartoon Network wants them. By producing new episodes we will be able to keep this thing alive." All-new episodes are due to begin airing on May 1.

BLOW A WHISTLE; LOSE YOUR UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

The former Sinclair Broadcasting reporter who was fired after criticizing Sinclair's plans to air an anti-John Kerry documentary prior to last November's election, has been turned down for unemployment benefits in Maryland. Jon Leiberman was axed after claiming that the film amounted to "biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election." The Maryland Department of Labor held that Leiberman's statements represented "a deliberate and willful disregard of the standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect" and therefore amounted to "gross misconduct," sufficient grounds to deny him unemployment insurance. Sinclair had challenged his claim after he collected about $1,000 from the state over three weeks. He was ordered to pay back the money.

CHANNEL SAYS GOVERNMENT PR VIDEO WAS DISGUISED

A 24-hour news channel in Syracuse, NY that aired a video "report" that was actually produced by the Department of Health and Human Services says that it did so in error. The channel's use of the video, about Medicare drug benefits, was first mentioned by the New York Times last month in an investigative report about TV stations that use video news releases funded by the government without attributing the source -- or in some cases giving the impression that they were produced by the stations themselves. In the case of the video shown on Syracuse's News 10 Now channel, a local newscaster substituted his own narration, but the copy remained the same. Ron Lombard, the channel's general manager, told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he believes the video wasn't clearly flagged as a news release by CNN Newsource, which distributed it. "Our policy is not to run stuff like that," Lombard said. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of Congress, which has criticized government spending on such news releases, has noted that the Medicare release was "not strictly factual" and was intended to present the Bush administration's view of the drug benefit favorably.

BET NETWORK TO DROP ITS NIGHTLY NEWSCAST

Viacom-owned BET, the black counterpart to MTV, said Tuesday that it is canceling its nightly newscast and instead will offer news updates when warranted. In an interview with the Associated Press, BET President and COO Debra Lee said, "With 24-hour news networks and everyone getting news off the Internet, our audience doesn't want to wait until 11 p.m. to find out what the news is."

JAPAN'S DAVID AND GOLIATH CALL A TRUCE

Shares in the Internet company Livedoor soared 13 percent on the Tokyo stock exchange today (Wednesday) as newspapers reported that it had reached a truce with Fuji Television Network. As part of a reported compromise agreement, Livedoor had agreed to sell shares of Nippon Broadcasting System to Fuji, thereby giving up its effort to use its controlling stake in the radio network as leverage to force a merger with Fuji into a combined Internet, TV and radio business. Nippon holds a 22.5-percent stake in Fuji TV. The saga of 32-year-old Livedoor chief Takafumi Horie's struggle to gain the upper hand against Japan's biggest television network has been compared with AOL founder Steve Case's acquisition of Time Warner in 2001.

MOVIE, RECORD INDUSTRIES SUE MORE STUDENTS

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have filed hundreds of new lawsuits against college students who they claim are using a super-high-speed network known as Internet2 to download movies and music. MPAA President Dan Glickman also announced that the organization would name the individuals it had identified as John Does in lawsuits filed last November. "Our goal is to let thieves know they are not anonymous and they will be held accountable. ... You can click but you cannot hide." But Jon Newton, who runs the website p2p.net.net denounced the action, saying that the industry "can never succeed but until it recognizes it has to embrace modern technologies and practices instead of trying to sue them, and their users, into seeing things the Hollywood way, men, women and children portrayed as hard-core criminals will continue to be subjected to this kind of legally sanctioned terrorism." Stewart cited a study that claimed that in the past year, the number of peer-to-peer users worldwide at any given moment rose from 7.4 million to 8.3 million. He also pointed out that none of the individual downloaders sued by the industry has ever gone to trial. "Record companies and movie studios artificially inflate the cost of distribution by enforcing their copyright monopoly on distribution," he concluded. Nevertheless, students named in the lawsuits expressed trepidation. A Columbia University student told the student newspaper, The Spectator, "I'm just really scared about it. These aren't rich people, these are people with student loans." A targeted student at Princeton told the Daily Princetonian: "I alternate between making fun of myself about going to federal prison and realizing that I'm probably going to have to pay a whole lot of money." Edward Blaguszewski, a spokesman for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where 25 students are being sued, commented: "Many young people do not understand the violations of the copyright law. ... Part of this is an educational process."

CUSSLER WON'T SETTLE WITH STUDIO OVER SAHARA

Famed entertainment attorney Bert Fields says he cannot see any possibility of a settlement being hashed out between his client, best-selling author Clive Cussler, and Crusader Entertainment, which produced the film version of Cussler's Sahara. "They just didn't give him the rights that they promised him," Fields told Court TV. Cussler has claimed that Crusader breached its contract with him by making changes in the movie's plot without his approval. He is seeking $10 million in damages. (Fields said that Crusader made 15 significant changes in the story.) Although Sahara, which cost $130 million to produce,opened at the top of the U.S. box office last weekend, it took in only $18.1 million. "If this film diminishes the value [of Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels], that could be an enormous loss," Field said. Crusader has filed a countersuit alleging that "Cussler's public campaign to disparage and harm both Crusader itself and its film Sahara ... [has] reduced Sahara's current value, its profitability and its appeal to Crusader's potential business partners."

TEXAS CLOSE TO ENACTING CAMCORDER LAW

Texas appears likely to join other states that have enacted laws that call for stiff penalties to be meted out to persons using camcorders in movie theaters. Under a measure introduced by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, first offenders would be charged with a misdemeanor, while repeat offenders would charged with a felony. His bill also would allow a theater employee to apprehend anyone suspected of recording a movie and to detain him until police arrive.

GOBLET OF FIRE MOVIE, GAME TO BE RELEASED ON SAME DAY

"See the movie, then buy the video game." That may well be the message Warner Bros. will be delivering when it releases Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire theatrically in November. The studio and video game maker Electronic Arts said Tuesday that a video game based on the movie, formatted for most major systems, will be released simultaneously with the theatrical premiere.