NAUGHTY ABC WINS XMAS GIFTS

The Christmas week brought cheer and cheers to ABC, which claimed the top spot in the Nielsen ratings, the No. 1 spot among adults 18-49, and a close No. 2 spot in the overall ratings. (The Associated Press also pointed out that of the 30 top-rated shows last week, 13 aired on CBS and 12, on ABC.) ABC's Monday Night Football was the big winner for the week as it scored a 10.9 rating and a 19 share. Strikingly, CBS's competing Everybody Loves Raymond, which airs opposite MNF, was the second-highest-rated show of the week, scoring a 10.5/16. Two and a Half Men, yet another CBS show airing opposite MNF, placed fifth with a 9.8/15. During a week that traditionally sees a huge drop in viewers, the networks aired mostly reruns, with CBS landing on top with an average 6.4/11, closely followed by ABC with a 6.0/11. NBC was a distant third with a 4.6/8, while Fox remained virtually out of the race with a 3.6/6.

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

1. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 10.9/19; 2. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 10.5/16; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.1/17; 4. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 10.0/17; 5. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 9.8/15; 6. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.5/15; 7. NFL Monday Showcase, ABC, 8.3/13; 8. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 8.1/14; 9. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.8/14; 10. Fox NFL Sunday Postgame, Fox, 7.6/14.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LOSES YARDAGE

Despite landing in first place last week, Monday Night Football's ratings for the season fell to an all-time low average of 11.0, USA Today reported today (Wednesday). The figure was 4 percent below last year's 11.5, which itself was a tad above the previous record low of 11.4, set in 2002. ABC did not appear to be fazed by the decline. "In sports and in TV the object is to beat your competition," ABC vice president Mark Mandel told the newspaper. "The fact that MNF is once again in the top 10 reflects that it's still in its prime."

FOX NEWS OVERWHELMS RIVALS

Among cable channels, Fox News continued to dominate its rivals and for the first time drew higher ratings than CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Headline News combined. Fox News was also able to claim all of the top-ten-rated cable news shows with the exception of CNN's Larry King Live, which came in at No. 6. It remains to be seen whether the News Corp-owned channel will continue to dominate this week as it competes with coverage of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Ordinarily, viewers return to CNN for coverage of breaking (and non-political) news.

SUPER PRICES FOR ADS SET SUPER BOWL RECORD

Fox TV is charging an average of $2.4 million for a 30-second commercial on the Feb. 6 Super Bowl game, 6.7 percent more than spots sold for last year, Bloomberg News reported today (Wednesday). As usual, the biggest buyer will be Anheuser-Busch, which has purchased 10 of the game's 58 spots. Bloomberg reported that 90 percent of the available spots on the telecast have already been sold.

CANON TO ENTER TV MANUFACTURING BIZ

Canon Inc., the Japanese camera and printer company, plans to enter the large-screen TV market in the second half of next year, the Japanese TV network NHK reported today (Wednesday). According to a news report appearing on the network, Canon is planning to introduce both a conventional rear-projection TV set with a five-foot wide screen as well as 50-inch models using a technology called surface-conduction electron-emitter display, or SED. SED screens are reportedly thinner and lighter than other flat-panel TV models, consume less energy, and produce their own light.

TIME-WARNER SWIMS BY DISNEY

Aided by its December hit Ocean's Twelve, it appears that Time Warner's movie studios will be able to reclaim the box-office championship for the first time since 2002. According to an analysis of Nielsen EDI figures by Bloomberg News, the Time Warner movie companies had together produced films that had taken in $1.5 billion domestically, a tad above Disney's $1.43 billion. (Its biggest release was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which took in about $249 million.) Disney has led the field since 2003. Chuck Viane, Disney's distribution chief, conceded in an interview with Bloomberg that the studio was unlikely to catch up during the final week of the year. Ironically, News Corp's 20th Century Fox is likely to be the most profitable company this year, although it placed fourth in ticket sales, according to Bloomberg, which cited a separate analysis by J.B. Hanauer analyst David Joyce.

DISNEY SHAREHOLDERS ANGERED OVER SEC REVERSAL

Some of the Walt Disney Co.'s biggest shareholders expressed outrage Tuesday over a decision by the SEC to reverse a previous opinion that, in effect, would have forced the Disney board to vote on a proposal by shareholders allowing them to nominate as many as two independent directors. "It's extremely unusual," Richard Ferlauto, director of pension and benefits policy for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times. "This had been vetted extremely closely by the SEC. There must have been a huge lobbying effort on the part of Disney to overturn this."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG

Critics could not form a chorus for A Love Song for Bobby Long, the new John Travolta movie vying for end-of-the-year Oscar consideration. Some are singing its praises; others find it dissonant and off-key. Among the latter is Stephen Holden of the New York Times who writes that "it dawdles along aimlessly for nearly two hours before coming up with a final revelation that is no surprise." He calls Travolta's performance "hammed-up, scenery-chewing." Likewise, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post describes the movie as "endless and pretentious" and says that "Travolta hams it up mercilessly." On the other hand, Gene Seymour in Newsday finds the movie entirely "watchable" largely because of the "magnetic" performances by Travolta, Scarlett Johansson and Gabriel Macht. "Travolta's greasy, gristle-laden performance is pure hambone," Seymour writes, apparently meaning it as a compliment. (Indeed, at one point in the story, a character says to Travolta's character: "You are such a shameless ham.") Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News is clearly charmed by Travolta's performance. "The title role provides John Travolta a rare opportunity to masticate reams of literate dialogue while pretending to be drunk and drawling. He has a high old time with the material, and makes a viewer feel like an honored guest at his play-acting party," he writes. Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times also writes enthusiastically about Travolta's performance: "There's something hard to pinpoint about Travolta that suits the character of Bobby perfectly: glibly, hammily self-aware, he seems to revel in his own magnetism and facile charm, and dislike it in equal measure."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: IN GOOD COMPANY

Remember the name Topher Grace, the critics all seem to be suggesting in their reviews of In Good Company (even if the name is the least likely to be lifted onto theater marquees since Arnold Schwarzenegger). "A star is born," writes Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, adding that Grace (from TV's That '70s Show) "is charming, funny and involving throughout." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times begins her review this way: "The 26-year-old actor Topher Grace has the narrow build and jumpy bones of a young man still growing into his adult body, so much so that even when standing at rest, he seems poised to take a leap forward. That makes him an ideal fit for the nimble, engagingly lightweight drama In Good Company." Dennis Quaid is also nabbing some fine critical notices for his performance in the movie. "Quaid's performance is amazingly good in a movie that won't set the world on fire," comments Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News. And Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Daily News concludes that the movie "belongs to Quaid, masterful in his comic timing, reaction shots and scenes of physical comedy. It's one of the year's great acting turns."

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON

The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which turned up at the Cannes Film Festival last May but has rested on studio shelves ever since, finally makes its debut today, in an apparent attempt to capture the kind of serious reviews that will bolster its Oscar hopes. But several critics appear reluctant to oblige. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times faults the film for having "no discernible point ... no sense of larger purpose ... only craft and technique to recommend it." V.A. Musetto in the New York Post suggests that may be enough. He particularly praises Sean Penn for his "mesmerizing portrayal" of the real-life Samuel Byck, who attempted to hijack an airliner and crash it into the White House. Penn, writes Musetto, "allows us to understand his character's pain without approving of his actions." Jan Stuart in Newsday concludes that the film "is a triumph for its star and the writers, who make us cringe with empathy for a man who taps into the latent loser in all of us." But that's hardly a recommendation to Mike Clark in USA Today, who comments: "Even if audiences can get by the tasteless shock title, it's tough to figure who will ever watch this movie -- even when it's on cable."