IDOL REMAINS UNTOUCHABLE

American Idol continued to dominate Wednesday nights as an episode in which the 24 semifinalists were chosen for the talent contest registered a 15.4 rating and a 23 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour. Its closest ratings rival on Wednesday was ABC's Lost, which in the 8:00 p.m. hour continues to intrigue viewers despite complaints from critics that its plot lines are becoming needlessly intricate and complicated. It captured an 11.0/17. Idol's big numbers easily put Fox ahead for the night, as it averaged a 10.5/16, well ahead of ABC's 7.9/12. CBS finished third with a 7.5/12, followed by NBC with a 7.0/11.

ESPN GIVES NHL'S SHUTDOWN AN ICY RECEPTION

ESPN reacted angrily Wednesday to the decision by the National Hockey League to cancel the remainder of the season and warned that it might very well decide that it can do without hockey on its schedule. Mark Shapiro, ESPN's executive vice president for programming and production, told today's (Thursday) Chicago Tribune that the NHL's decision represented "a dangerous strategy" and a betrayal to "the true, passionate fan." Asked directly whether ESPN would resume its hockey schedule next year, Shapiro replied, "What next year? As far as we're concerned, they're on lockout. At this point, we have to make other plans."

HOUSE PASSES ANTI-INDECENCY BILL

Despite warnings that it would have a chilling effect on free speech and encourage self-censorship, the House of Representatives on a 389-38 vote, approved a measure that could increase the fines meted out to stations violating the FCC's indecency rules by as much as $500,000. It also permits the agency to fine individuals the same amount. The handful of lawmakers who opposed the legislation pointed out that worries about how the FCC might act had already resulted in numerous television stations refusing to air Saving Private Ryan and that small broadcasters would remain fearful of airing such programming given the fact that they could be bankrupted by a $500,000 fine. In a statement, NBC said the lawmakers' action "raises very serious constitutional and free speech issues. This approach of increased government regulation and censorship is fundamentally misguided." The White House, however, welcomed the vote by the House, saying that it would "make broadcast television and radio more suitable for family viewing."

SHOWTIME AND YAHOO! TO SIMULCAST FAT ACTRESS

Blurring the line between television and Internet video further, Showtime and Yahoo! announced Wednesday that they will simulcast the first episode of Fat Actress, starring Kirstie Alley, on March 7 at 10:00 p.m. The episode will remain on the Yahoo! website tv.yahoo.com until March 12. "We are always looking for aggressive new ways to promote our shows, generate buzz and provide an opportunity for sampling, and Yahoo! is the perfect vehicle to spread the word and expose this great series to a whole new audience beyond Showtime," Showtime's president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt said in a statement.

NAB CHIEF ED FRITTS TO RETIRE

NAB President and CEO Edward Fritts, who has headed the broadcasters' organization for more than two decades, announced Wednesday that he will step down after the NAB board selects a successor. Fritts's current contract runs until April 2006. Board Chairman Philip Lombardo pledged in a statement that the board will "conduct an exhaustive search to find the right person to lead and continue the NAB as the dominant organization for the broadcast industry."

PBS STAFFERS UPSET OVER DECISION TO YANK BUSTER

Public Broadcasting Service staff members were reportedly taken aback when its president and CEO, Pat Mitchell, decided to yank an episode of the children's program Postcards From Buster after it came under attack from Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Spellings had objected to the episode, in which Buster, an animated Bunny, visits a family headed by a lesbian couple, maintaining that "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode." Today's Washington Post reported that Mitchell, who on Wednesday announced that she plans to retire, initially said through a spokeswoman that she was "personally comfortable with the episode." The spokeswoman, Lea Sloan, reaffirmed Wednesday that Mitchell had expressed that sentiment and said that she changed her mind three days later after she had been contacted by Kathleen Cox, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and John Lawson, a lobbyist for public TV stations and also Spellings' brother-in-law.

TECHNICAL WORKERS CHIDE ACADEMY OVER OSCAR PRESENTATION PLANS

Some of Hollywood's lesser known talent figure that they'll bear the brunt of Oscar producer Gil Cates's announced plans to group some of the nominees together in the audience and have the presenter open the envelope revealing the winner standing there. Three-time Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch reportedly sent an email to the motion picture academy Wednesday accusing it of applying a "People magazine index" to the nominees. And Lea Yardum, a spokeswoman for both the American Cinema Editors and the Visual Effects Society, was quoted by today's (Thursday) New York Post as saying, "There's a sense of devastation around this. They've worked so hard to get these artists the recognition they richly deserve; for the Academy to even consider taking it away is a true slap in the face."

ACADEMY FEARS SMALL AUDIENCE FOR THIS YEAR'S OSCARS

The fact that the five films nominated for the best picture Oscar have been seen by fewer moviegoers than any list of best picture nominees in 20 years has become the source of considerable worry for the movie academy, which fears a plunge in ratings, the Associated Press observed today (Thursday). Executive director Bruce Davis told the wire service, "We don't have a Titanic or a Lord of the Rings out there. I think it's fair to say it does concern us a bit." Added Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian: "Eyeballs staring at the movie screen translates to eyeballs staring at the TV screen." ABC is reportedly charging an average $1.6 million for a 30-second spot on the Oscar telecast, up from $1.5 million a year ago. There was no word whether the network had guaranteed advertisers a minimum audience.

SUPERVOLCANO NOW SET TO EXPLODE ON BBC

The BBC said Wednesday that it plans to air its postponed docudrama Supervolcano next month, after postponing it in January following the Southeast Asian tsunami. The movie, believed to have cost more than $2 million, explores the consequences of a sudden eruption of a volcano at Yellowstone Park. The public corporation said that in addition to the docudrama, will air a two-part documentary, The Science Behind Supervolcano, detailing the research that went into the production.

CROWE MAY RESCUE CANCELED MOVIE

A falling-out between Russell Crowe and Jocelyn Moorhouse, the Australian writer-director of his latest movie, Eucalyptus, resulted in the production's being shut down this week, according to Australian news reports. The Australian newspaper is reporting in its Friday editions that, although much finger-pointing has been directed at Crowe, producers of the movie blame the collapse of the project on Moorhouse. It quoted one insider as saying, "Can he be difficult? Yes, he can. But it's not fair to Russell to blame him for this whole thing. ... Jocelyn was an absolute prima donna throughout all of this. She couldn't talk to him [Crowe]. She wouldn't communicate." The standoff was particularly odd given the fact that Moorhouse is largely regarded as the person who gave the then-unknown Crowe his initial boost when she cast him in her 1991 film Proof. Although some reports have indicated that in order to save the project Crowe had agreed to direct the movie himself, the New York Times quoted a spokesman for Crowe as saying he had no plans to do so. Friday's The Australian quoted an unnamed source close to the producers as saying that Crowe is hoping that Bruce Beresford or Fred Schepisi will agree to helm the project, but Schepisi and a spokesman for Beresford said that the two directors had not been approached. If the film is remounted, it will reportedly lose its female lead, Nicole Kidman, who, according to The Australian, has prior commitments and had sided with Moorhouse.

ANTI-PORN GROUPS ATTACK PLANNED MOVIE GALLERY-HLYD. VIDEO MERGER

Although Movie Gallery has received an OK from the Federal Trade Commission to proceed with its plans to take over the Hollywood Video chain, a number of anti-pornography groups, led by the Citizens for Community Values, have mounted a campaign to block the merger, pointing out that Movie Gallery stocks pornographic videos in its stores. The CCV and allied groups purchased ads that appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post, USA Today, and the Portland Oregonian demanding that the Department of Justice investigate whether Movie Gallery is in violation of federal laws prohibiting the distribution of obscene materials. Late Wednesday, Concerned Women for America, which describes itself as the nation's largest public policy women's organization, charged that Movie Gallery's acquisition of Hollywood Video would result in an expansion of video outlets that stock pornography. Movie Gallery has said that it has no plans to introduce X-rated videos in Hollywood's outlets.

DOJ TO APPEAL OBSCENITY RULING

The Department of Justice said Wednesday that it plans to a appeal a recent federal court ruling that dismissed obscenity charges against a Northridge, CA couple, Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, and their company, Extreme Associates. They had been charged in August 2003 with sending obscene videos through the mail to addresses in Pittsburgh and transmitting them over the Internet. However, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster ruled that people have a right to view such material in the privacy of their homes. In a statement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that if the decision is allowed to stand, it "would undermine not only the federal obscenity laws, but all laws based on a shared view of public morality."