NBA HEATS UP XMAS RATINGS

As expected, the highly hyped meeting of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in Saturday's Miami Heat/Los Angeles Lakers NBA contest drew the highest ratings for a regular-season game in nearly seven years -- back when Michael Jordan was the sports superstar of the moment. The game, which the Heat won in overtime by a score of 104 to 102, scored an 8.0 rating and a 21 share. (In Los Angeles it pulled a 17.0/44; in Miami, a 13.7/21.) In this case, the game drew big crowds hoping to see some display of bad blood between former teammates O'Neal and Bryant. Commented studio analyst Bill Walton: "This is bigger than a basketball game. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of a totally polarized basketball universe." In the end, there was no flare-up of tempers between O'Neal and Bryant, but viewers were treated to a close and exciting contest. Palm Beach Post sports writer Charles Elmore congratulated ABC for letting "Kobe, Shaq and their teammates deliver something the NBA hasn't seen often enough lately -- more reasons to watch what is happening on the court than off of it." The telecast certainly performed better in the ratings than any program in primetime. CBS averaged a 5.3 rating and an 11 share, its numbers boosted by a football overrun in the 8:00 p.m. hour. ABC was second with a 4.3/9. Fox placed third with a 3.7/8 and NBC (which stuck with Christmas tradition and aired It's a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time) trailed with a 3.0/6. On Sunday night, CBS retained the lead as ABC aired all reruns, including the pilot episode of Desperate Housewives. (Housewives did win its time period, though.) CBS finished Sunday with an average 7.3/13. ABC placed second with a 6.7/12. NBC finished third with a 5.3/9, while Fox trailed with a 4.1/7.

HOUSEWIVES HOLDS OFF CABLE INTRUDERS

Cable-TV viewing rose against broadcast TV in every half hour period of prime time this season -- except one: 9:00 p.m. on Sundays, when ABC's new hit Desperate Housewives airs, USA Today reported today (Monday), citing an analysis of Nielsen ratings research. Nevertheless, the newspaper observed, the audience of 18-49-year-olds, the demographic group most prized by advertisers, was down only 1 percent this season for the broadcast networks, versus 7 percent last year. Cable made its biggest gains among adults 50 and older, according to the study.

TRIO ON LIFE SUPPORT FOLLOWING DIRECTV CANCELLATION

Once again demonstrating the power of News Corp's DirecTV over the fortunes of wobbly cable networks, the pop-culture channel Trio is reportedly facing extinction following the announcement that DirecTV will no longer carry it after Jan. 1. DirecTV accounts for nearly two-thirds of the 20 million homes where it can be seen, according to today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times. "It's just a matter of time" before it goes off the air, media analyst Larry Gerbrandt told the Times. "Right now, the hardest thing to come by is distribution on cable and satellite," Gerbrandt added. "There are a couple hundred channels that are looking for carriage, or to launch in the first place." The newspaper itself observed that it was ironic that the channel's signature show is titled Brilliant But Cancelled, which presents cutting-edge shows and pilots that received short shrift from the networks. "Now the irreverent channel may be getting the hook itself," the Times commented.

CHURCH LEADERS CONDEMN BBC FOR POTTER TELECAST ON XMAS

Several British religious leaders have condemned the BBC for its decision to air Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or, as it is known in the U.K., "...the Philosopher's Stone) on Christmas day. The London Daily Sun quoted a Church of England spokesman as saying, "The BBC has picked the least suitable time to show it. Harry Potter portrays witchcraft and black magic in a fictional way, but it is capitalizing on the supernatural." Andrew Carey, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, pointed out that the Potter stories contain material "that we associate with the occult -- and we see the occult as something dangerous." The movie attracted 7.9 million viewers, far fewer than the 12.3 million viewers who tuned in to the long-running soap EastEnders and the 11.3 million who watched ITV's soap Coronation Street on Christmas day.

THE MOTHER OF ALL FOCKERS

Universal's Meet the Fockers was well met at the box office over the holiday weekend, racking up $44.7 million, including $19.1 million on Saturday -- the most ever earned by a film on Christmas day. (By contrast, the original Meet the Parents opened in October 2000 with $28.6 million.) Twentieth Century Fox's Fat Albert appeared to win a tight race for second place with last week's winner, Paramount's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Albert's estimated take was $12.7 million (it opened on Saturday), about $200,000 more than Lemony's. Miramax-Warner Bros.' The Aviator, which expanded on Saturday, landed in fourth place with $9.4 million. Other newcomers included the Miramax/Dimension horror flick Darkness, which debuted in sixth place with $6.4 million, and Warner's The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in 622 theaters with $4.2 million, to place tenth.

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

1. Meet the Fockers, $44.7 million; 2. Fat Albert, $12.7 million; 3. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, $12.5 million; 4. The Aviator, $9.4 million; 5. Ocean's Twelve, $8.6 million; 6. Darkness, $6.4 million; 7. The Polar Express, $6.3 million; 8. Spanglish, $5 million; 9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, $4.8 million; 10. Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera, $4.2 million.

DARKNESS SEES THE LIGHT

Darkness was a last-minute addition to the Christmas mix, having sat on Miramax/Dimension's shelves for some three years. It was not screened for critics, and few bothered to turn out on Christmas day to give it a look. Those who did loathed it. "The real mystery is why such a mangled film was not junked altogether," wrote Ned Martel in the New York Times as he congratulated Miramax for slipping the movie into theaters with "little time left to qualify for worst-of-the-year lists, one honor it richly deserves."

ROY E. DISNEY REJECTS PLAN FOR A DISNEY TO SIT ON COMPANY BOARD

Roy E. Disney, a nephew of the founder of the Walt Disney Co., has written an open letter to Disney shareholders, urging them to reject a proposal that would reserve one seat on the board for a Disney heir. The proposal was initiated by Frank Wierenga, a Pennsylvania shareholder and will be voted on at the next shareholders' meeting. In his letter, Disney thanked Wierenga "for his kind words," but added that "in the interest of good corporate governance, no one should have the right to a seat on the board merely because of his or her last name."

EMMERICH TO HEAD JURY AT BERLINALE

Producer-director Roland Emmerich, whose films include such Hollywood blockbusters as Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, and The Day After Tomorrow, has been named to head the jury at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, which opens on Feb. 10. Emmerich, who was born in Germany, traces the rise of his own career to the 1984 Berlin festival, where his sci-fi drama The Noah's Ark Principle was selected for the competition. In addition, it was announced that Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Terry George's Hotel Rwanda and Marc Rothemund's Sophie Scholl -- Hope and Resistance would be among those competing for the festival's Golden Bear award.

COMING NEXT MONTH: MOVIES ON A CHIP

Opening yet another ancillary revenue stream for Hollywood, a British company called Rok Player is planning to begin selling movies next month on Digital Video Chips that can slip into new-generation cell phones, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Monday). The movies will be stored on the card and not transmitted over mobile-phone frequencies, although customers will be able to download ringers and games and buy merchandise associated with the movie via their phones. Jonathan Kendrick, the company's CEO, said that he does not expect people to view movies on their cell phones in one sitting. "But they might watch half an hour on the bus in the morning, then another 20 minutes at lunchtime." He said that he has reached agreements with three Hollywood studios and will announce details next month.