CBS SMASHES RIVALS AGAIN

CBS closed the final days of the November sweeps and entered December showing solid strength in all key areas -- overall households, total viewers, and adults 18-49. With ABC's Desperate Housewives replaced by a made-for-TV movie, CBS was also able to claim the top spot on the Nielsen ratings list with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Nevertheless, the movie that replaced Housewives, Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, grabbed the ninth position on the ratings list and helped land ABC into a virtual tie with NBC for second place. (In a ratings anomaly, ABC averaged slightly more viewers than NBC, but its overall rating was two-tenths of a point lower). Overall, CBS averaged an 8.4 rating and a 13 share for the week. NBC scored a 7.0/11, followed by ABC with a 6.8/11. Fox remained far behind with a 4.2/7.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 15.5/23; 2. CSI: Miami, CBS, 14.5/23; 3. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 12.3/18; 4. E.R., NBC, 12.0/20; 5. Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS, 11.7/18; 5. Without a Trace, CBS, 11.7/19; 7. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.6/17; 8. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 11.5/18; 9. ABC Movie: Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, ABC, 11.2/17; 10. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.8/17; 10. (tie) Apprentice 2, NBC, 10.8/16; 10. (tie) Lost, ABC, 10.8/17.

FIRST, RUDOLPH; NOW, CHARLIE BROWN

A week after CBS scored big ratings with the 1964 made-for-TV cartoon Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which finished at No. 15 on the Nielsen list for the week), ABC pulled off a similar victory Tuesday night as A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired in 1965, placed first among adults 18-49 in the 8:00 p.m. hour. (Overall, it placed second to CBS's NCIS.)

AD SALES SOAR AT BROADCAST AND CABLE NETS

Thanks in large part to the Olympic Games and the presidential election, the major television networks saw a 14 percent growth in advertising during the first nine months of 2004 over the same period a year ago. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, ad spending on network TV rose to $16.5 billion from $14.4 billion in 2003. Advertisers boosted spending on cable TV 16.1 percent to $10.5 billion from $9 billion.

NEW LATE LATE SHOW HOST PLUGGED FOR THE JOB

Craig Ferguson, who was named Tuesday to succeed Craig Kilborn as host of CBS's The Late Late Show, has told the Chicago Sun-Times that he had never thought about hosting a talk show until he was asked to guest-host last October. In an interview with TV critic Phil Rosenthal, Ferguson said that "about 30 seconds into my guest-hosting shot, I thought, 'I don't want to do anything else in my life but this.' It's like show-business crack to me. It just hit me, and that's all I could think about." He said that he knew he remained a contender for the job because, when he phoned the producers every three or four days, they took his calls. "In Hollywood," he said, "that means you're doing OK."

COMEDY CENTRAL TO GO INTERNATIONAL

MTV Networks is considering rebranding one of Viacom's Paramount cable networks overseas as an international version of Comedy Central, Chairman/CEO Judy McGrath has told a media conference in New York. As reported by Advertising Age's online site, McGrath told the conference that Comedy Central had experienced "the most extraordinary year" and had become "the gold standard for talk." As a result, she said, "There's a lot of interest in Comedy Central for it to travel internationally."

BBC SAYS SAVINGS TO GO INTO PROGRAMS

The BBC plans to plow back into its programming most of the money it will save as a result of thousands of job cuts, administrative budget reductions, and increased use of new technology, the public corporation's director general, Mark Thompson, told its staff Tuesday. He promised fewer repeats, fewer reality programs, and "more quality, more ambition, more depth." The BBC, he said, would focus on the kinds of distinctive dramatic and information programming that "the public expects from us." The cutbacks, however, were denounced by the three trade unions representing the majority of BBC employees, who issued a joint statement, saying in part, "We are committed to working together to oppose the effects of the savaging of staff in the biggest cuts in BBC history."

POITIER GRILLED AT DISNEY TRIAL

Seventy-seven-year-old actor Sidney Poitier, ordinarily treated publicly with deference, fended off antagonistic questioning by a lawyer for shareholders who are suing the Walt Disney Co. and who claim that the company's board, of which Poitier is a member, failed in its fiduciary duties to them. Lawyer Joshua Vinik, attempting to establish that Poitier, like other members of the board, had been asked to serve on it to act as yes men for Disney chief Michael Eisner, pummeled Poitier with questions about his qualifications and boardroom experience, forcing the actor to comment at one point, "You are confusing me intentionally, are you not?" The Oscar-winning actor acknowledged that he relied on fellow members of the board to help guide him through his duties. Asked about his reaction when he learned that Michael Ovitz, head of the CAA talent agency (of which he was a client), was being considered for the position of president of the company, Poitier said: "I thought it was a good idea. This was a very, very powerful man in the business; he understood the film business; he was an innovator." He attributed Ovitz's downfall a year later to a "mismatch between what the culture of the company was and Mr. Ovitz's style."

FORMER VIVENDI UNIVERSAL CHIEF FINED

Former Vivendi Universal chief Jean-Marie Messier was fined 1 million euros ($1.3 million) by the French financial-markets regulator Autorité des Marches Financiers (AMF) Tuesday and the company fined an identical amount for issuing "inaccurate and excessively optimistic" information about the company in order to boost the price of its shares and allow it to borrow vast sums of money to make spectacular acquisitions, including Seagram and the Universal Studios entertainment empire. A lawyer for Messier said he would appeal.

CARS FLAGGED OFF THE TRACK

In an industry often famous for "fast-tracking" films that are likely to perform well at the box office, Disney and Pixar announced Tuesday that they were pushing back the release of their next computer-animated film from November 2005 to June 2006. Ironically, the film is titled Cars. The decision to pull the movie out of the fast lane follows comments by Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs last month that the studio's films should be released in the summer, when kids are out of school, then released on DVD during the Christmas season. The delay would also allow Jobs additional time to resume negotiations with Disney when Michael Eisner steps down from the studio (and also to package Cars in any renewal deal). Nevertheless, Fulcrum Global Partners analyst Richard Greenfield told Reuters: "We are surprised that Disney was interested in pushing out a very important part of its fiscal '06 earnings." Disney also said that it would delay the release of its own computer-animated feature, Chicken Little, pushing it from July 2006 to November 2006.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: BLADE: TRINITY

Critics seem to agree that the new Blade movie, which opens today, is not exactly cutting edge. Stephen Holden in the New York Times writes that Blade: Trinity "is a choppy, forgetful, suspense-free romp that substitutes campy humor for chills." Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post observes that watching the movie "is like being rolled down a marble staircase in an oil drum. The movie is loud, dark, bumpy and not even a little fun." Several reviewers fault star Wesley Snipes, who portrays the "hybrid" title character, who is half-human, half vampire. "Snipes doesn't act -- he never delivers more than one simple sentence at a time -- as much as pose and swagger," writes V.A. Musetto in the New York Post. "Snipes punches the clock here, going through the wire-work somersault motions but delivering his hokey dialogue in a basso profundo drone," comments Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. Even critics who cheered the first two Blade movies are clearly disappointed in this one. Geoff Pevere, in the Toronto Star opens his review by remarking: "It's an irrefutable rule of franchise movie logic that, sooner or later, it's going to suck. ... The Blade series has most decidedly not sucked -- until now. ... Alas, with the third installment ... the suck principle is making up for lost time. It's almost bad enough to implicate its predecessors." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, who also liked the first two Blade film, calls this one "a mess," explaining: "It lacks the sharp narrative line and crisp comic-book clarity of the earlier films, and descends too easily into shapeless fight scenes that are chopped into so many cuts that they lack all form or rhythm."