DOMINATING HOUSEWIVES

Desperate Housewives continued to snare enormous audiences Sunday night, scoring a 15.6 rating and a 22 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour. However, CBS, fueled by an NFL overrun combined with 60 Minutes at 7:00, won the night with an average 10.4/17, beating ABC's 8.0/13. NBC finished third with a 6.5/10, followed by Fox, with a 3.3/5.

APPRENTICE FINALE WINS TIME SLOT, BUT RATINGS PLUNGE

With just under 13.4 million viewers tuning in, Thursday night's The Apprentice finale was far from the sensation it was in April when the first rendition of the series was watched by more than 28 million. Thursday's telecast, while easily winning the night for NBC, averaged a 13.2 rating and a 20 share versus a 19.3/28 for its predecessor. Marc Berman, who writes "The Programming Insider" column for Mediaweek, commented Friday: "If the continued losses remain this severe, by next season the Donald may be hearing those famous two words from NBC: You're fired!"

COURIC TO REPLACE RATHER?

CBS is prepared to offer Katie Couric $20 million per year to replace Dan Rather as anchor of the CBS Evening News, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine. Couric's current contract at NBC, which pays her $15 million a year, has only 15 more months to run. The magazine commented: "Virtually everyone in the news pantheon who's younger than 60 is tied up even longer than Couric or simply doesn't want the gig." Moving to the evening newscast would relieve Couric from the drudgery of having to rise well before dawn in order to prepare for the morning magazine show. The trade magazine said that under the plan, an interim anchor would be appointed to take over the job in March when Dan Rather is due to leave the newscast -- most likely either Early Show co-host Harry Smith, Face the Nation moderator Bob Scheiffer, or 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley.

TIVO GIVES AWAY 2000 RECORDERS IN BAY AREA

Taking advantage of cable provider Comcast's inability to deliver promised digital video recorders to its customers in the San Francisco Bay area, TiVo on Friday gave away nearly 2,000 of its sets to Comcast users who showed up at its Silicon Valley headquarters with Comcast bills in hand. The sets ordinarily sell for around $200 and require a $13 monthly service charge. Comcast ordinarily charges $5.00 per month for use of the receiver/recorder plus $10.00 per month for the service.

BUSCH WINS SKIRMISH IN BEER WARS WITH MILLER

CBS and NBC have sided with one of their biggest advertisers, Anheuser-Busch, in a dispute with one of its other leading advertisers, Miller Brewing, and have agreed not to air three of Miller's ads, calling them "unduly disparaging" to Busch and questioning the validity of a taste-preference test alluded to in the spots. Anheuser-Busch exec Michael J. Owens told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the company regarded the networks' action as significant. "Very rarely do people win these claims," he said. ABC and Fox will apparently continue to run the disputed Miller spots.

NORVILLE LEAVING MSNBC; CARLSON COMING?

Deborah Norville is leaving her low-rated MSNBC primetime program next month after failing to lift its audience above its current average of 266,000 viewers, the smallest of the channel's primetime lineup. In a statement, Norville said that the program competed for her time with King World's Inside Edition, which she anchors, and with her responsibilities to her family. "There simply are not enough hours in my day to do justice to my colleagues at MSNBC and the program we aspire to do," she said. Her resignation immediately touched off widespread speculation that she will be replaced by Tucker Carlson, CNN's conservative Crossfire co-host.

SITCOMS, AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

Reality TV shows have contributed to the annihilation of TV sitcoms by presenting "identifiable human behavior and a suspense-filled outcome" thereby exposing the fact that "people in sitcoms behave one way -- the way people behave in sitcoms," according to comedy writer Earl Pomerantz, whose credits include The Cosby Show, Cheers, and The Bob Newhart Show. In an Op-Ed article appearing in today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times, Pomerantz suggests that audiences for sitcoms may have become aware that they have become "tiresome ... overly predictable." He also questions the role of the networks as partners in their production, asking, "Is their input inspiring comic innovation or blanded-out conformity?"

"DEAN OF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS" FENTON RETIRES

CBS newsman Tom Fenton, at 74 the dean of TV foreign correspondents, retired Friday after 34 years with the network. Except for a period from 1994 to 1996 when he was based in Moscow, Fenton has been headquartered at CBS's London news desk since 1979. "Tom is the embodiment of the wise and worldly CBS News correspondent," CBS News President Andrew Heyward said in a statement. "He is equally at home dodging bullets on a battlefield or prowling the corridors of power in London or Moscow or Jerusalem. In a world where civility is increasingly a casualty of competitive pressures, Tom holds steady to that most old-fashioned of virtues: He's a true gentleman."

SEC TRAPS MOUSE

Rapping the Walt Disney Co. for overly cozy relations with its board of directors, the Securities and Exchange Commission today (Monday) charged the company with numerous violations of its disclosure rules and said that Disney had settled them by agreeing to a cease-and-desist order. The SEC accused Disney of failing to report that it had employed three children of its directors at salaries ranging from $60,000 to more than $150,000 annually. It said Disney also did not disclose that the spouse of another director received a salary of more than $1 million dollars from a Disney subsidiary. In addition, the agency claimed that Disney did not disclose that it made regular payments to a corporation owned by a Disney director that provided air transportation for him, and that it also failed to reveal that another Disney director received office space, secretarial services and a car and driver, valued at over $200,000 annually. "Failure to comply with the SEC's disclosure rules in this area impedes shareholders' ability to evaluate the objectivity and independence of directors," said SEC Deputy Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen.

BOX OFFICE TURNS LEMONY

The box office was lemony sour over the weekend and represented a kind of unfortunate event in its own right. Although the Jim Carrey family movie Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events came in at No. 1 with $30.2 million, the figure was well off analysts' forecasts and was particularly disappointing compared with the performance of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which debuted during the comparable weekend last year with $72.6 million. Even more frustrating was the lackluster debut of the Adam Sandler comedy Spanglish, directed by James Brooks, which debuted in third place with $9 million, less than half what analysts thought it would bring in and way below the average of a typical Adam Sandler comedy (which this was not). A third newcomer, Flight of the Phoenix, remained in the ashes, taking in only $5.3 million, to place eighth. Despite a 3.8 percent increase in ticket prices since last year, the top 12 films took in an estimated gross of just $100.2 million, down nearly 25 percent from the $133.4 million grossed by the top 12 films during the comparable weekend a year ago. The only bright spots on the box-office account sheet were the terrific performances in limited release of Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, starring Hilary Swank. Aviator grossed about $831,000 in 40 theaters, or $20,775 per theater; Baby took in $178,000 in eight theaters, or $22,250 per theater. By contrast, Snicket averaged just $8,300 per theater. Also holding up strongly in its sixth week was Warner's Polar Express, which earned $8.6 million to place fourth and bring its gross to date to a respectable $123.6 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, $30.2 million; 2. Ocean's Twelve, $18.3 million; 3. Spanglish, $9 million; 4. The Polar Express, $8.6 million; 5. Blade: Trinity, $6.6 million; 6. National Treasure, $6.1 million; 7. Christmas With the Kranks, $5.7 million; 8. The Flight of the Phoenix, $5.1 million; 9. Closer, $3.5 million; 10. The Incredibles, $3.3 million.

INDEPENDENT BLOCKBUSTER OUTLETS IGNORING NO-LATE-FEE PLAN

Some independent Blockbuster franchises have indicated that they will not participate in the company's plan to do away with late fees. El Paso, TX television station KVIA reported over the weekend that all 12 Blockbuster stores in the city, franchised by Border Entertainment, do not plan to follow the corporate lead. A spokesperson for company said, "The no late fee program would place intense pressure on Border Entertainment's ability to keep prices low." The Journal News, in Westchester County, NY reported that the nine independent franchises in the county, operated by Stamford, Connecticut-based New York/New England Video, are not likely to observe the no-late-fees policy.

HOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES TO LECTURE IN CHINA

China's state-run China Film Association said today (Monday) that it had signed Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie and Oliver Stone to deliver lectures at the Beijing-Hollywood World Movie Masters Forum 2005, which will take place in the Chinese capital from February 20 through July 16. A spokeswoman for the association told the French news agency Agence France Presse that it was negotiating with more than 20 other Hollywood celebrities to present talks on acting, directing and producing.