NO RECORD TV CROWD, BUT SUPER BOWL STILL A WINNER

Ratings for Sunday's Super Bowl game on Fox appeared short of super -- especially in light of the record ratings that the game attracted when it was carried by CBS last year. Preliminary indications are that it scored an average 43.4 rating and a 63 share. The figure contrasts with the 44.2/63 that the game averaged last year. Nevertheless, Fox observed that the numbers were 2 percent higher than the average of the past five years. Ratings of competing shows were virtually invisible. At 7:00 p.m., for example, the closest any other network got to Fox's ratings was CBS's 3.3/5. Only ABC's Desperate Housewives, in the 10:00 hour, gave the Super Bowl a run for the money, scoring a 6.2/10 as the game ended and The Simpsons came on.

ASIDE FROM THE REAL SORT, HALFTIME SHOW LACKS FIREWORKS

The Super Bowl's halftime show, which went out of its way to present wholesome entertainment, was generally drubbed by critics, who called it uninspired and boring. Medkeisha Madden in the Detroit News remarked that Paul McCartney, who headed up the show, "didn't flash a mammary gland, a la Janet Jackson, but more jaded viewers might have preferred that than the boredom they endured." David Bianculli in the New York Daily News described it as "your father's Super Bowl halftime show." But the New York Times observed that the 63-year-old McCartney had an unenviable assignment. "It's just what no rock musician dreams of," it said, "a guarantee that he'll be innocuous."

NIGHTMARES FOR CAST OF AMERICAN DREAMS

Commenting that "It's nightmare time for American Dreams," Philadelphia Inquirer TV writer Gail Shister observed today (Monday) that NBC appears to be on the verge of cancelling the critically praised but ratings-challenged drama, which is filmed in Philadelphia. One of the stars of the series, Tom Verica, told Shister: "It's very clear we're on the bubble. ... It's really demoralizing." Last week NBC cut its season order for the drama from 19 episodes to 17 and yanked it from the February sweeps. He observed that the final episode of the season was designed as a cliffhanger to be resolved in next season's debut. "It would be a tremendous disappointment if this is how the show ends," he said.

NIGHTLINE TO HANG IT UP?

The Walt Disney Co. has ordered ABC executives to begin looking for a replacement to Nightline, the news feature that airs opposite Jay Leno and David Letterman in the late-night period, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday), citing sources familiar with the plans. The newspaper said that ABC News shot a pilot for a possible replacement, including one co-hosted by Jake Tapper and Bill Weir, in which one of the pilot's top stories concerned Michael Jackson -- "exactly the kind of tabloid-friendly fodder that the generally sober-minded "Nightline" has tended to avoid," the Times commented. It reported that ESPN is also developing a pilot for a nightly sports program to air in the Nightline slot.

ABC NEWS NOW TO RETURN LATER

ABC intends to revive its digital channel ABC News Now within weeks and plans to make it available to users "on demand" via cable, personal computers, and cell phones, Broadcasting & Cable reports in its current edition. The channel had originally been set up to provide viewers with additional coverage of the nominating conventions last August but was extended to include coverage of the presidential campaigns and finally the inauguration.

TOP EXECS HANDED PINK SLIPS AT PAX TV

Paxson Communications has fired the president of its struggling Pax TV Network and dozens of other high-level executives, the Hollywood Reporter reported today (Monday), citing unnamed sources. The firing of company president Bill Scott and the others shocked Pax TV affiliates, the trade paper observed, quoting the Cleveland affiliate's sales manager as saying, "We certainly recognize that Pax has been struggling, but we've been doing well here." A similar comment came from the sales manager of the Denver affiliate. However, Paxson reported a net loss of $58 million for its third quarter, about on par with the $54-million loss it reported for the comparable period a year ago.

WARNER'S TO INSERT "VIRTUAL" PRODUCT-PLACEMENT IMAGES IN OLD SHOWS

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution is offering to place "virtual images" of products in nearly all of its syndicated shows. TV Week reports in its Monday edition. Although the virtual product images may appear with greater frequency in syndicated product, it's not likely, given the limited technology, that they will see much interaction with cast members, the trade publication observed.

SUDDENLY EISNER'S HEIR IS NOT SO APPARENT

Former ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun in Nov. 2003 accused Disney President Robert Iger to his face of "lack of character; incompetence; taking credit for things you had nothing to do with; and running away from decisions you made," the Los Angeles Times disclosed today (Monday), citing a draft of James B. Stewart's upcoming book DisneyWar that the newspaper had obtained. The Times indicated that the book paints an entirely unflattering portrait of Iger, who has been regarded by most analysts as the heir apparent to Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The newspaper commented that the book "couldn't come at a worse moment for Iger" and quoted industry analyst Harold Vogel as remarking, "The timing isn't good at all." According to the Times, the book also contains a description of a Disney board meeting in Sept. 2002 at which Eisner complained about Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold's efforts to oust him. "Stanley and Roy are trying to get rid of me. They don't think I can run this company. But who do you think can? Bob? [Turning to Iger:] Bob can't run this company." (Eisner has reportedly disputed this account.)

FOXX, SWANK HONORED BY SCREEN ACTORS GUILD

Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray brought him the ultimate recognition from his peers Saturday, when the Screen Actors Guild handed him its award for best male actor of the year. SAG named Hilary Swank best female actor for her performance in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. The two had both won the acting awards at last month's Golden Globes presentations. The SAG honors would therefore make them frontrunners for the Oscars in the actor categories. Supporting honors went to Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby and Cate Blanchett for The Aviator. The ensemble award went to the cast of Sideways.

FRIGHT FLICKS CONTINUE HOLD ON BOX OFFICE

Cheap, critically reviled horror films continued to do a land-office business at the box office over the weekend as Sony's Boogeyman wound up with an estimated $19.5 million. If the figure holds up, it would be all the more impressive for having defied conventional wisdom that no film can attract big business on Super Bowl weekend. It had cost only $7 million to produce. "Sony's done it again -- they have a real knack for making hits out of these moderately budgeted horror films," Exhibitor Relations President Paul Dergarabedian told Bloomberg News. Universal's The Wedding Date, which debuted in just 1,694 theaters, also performed above expectations. The female-oriented movie, about a woman who hires a male escort to accompany her to a wedding, earned an estimated $11 million. It had reportedly cost about $10 million to make. Meanwhile, Sony's Are We There Yet? continued to travel well, as it picked up $10.4 million, while Fox's Hide and Seek dipped to fourth place with $8.9 million -- slightly ahead of Warner's Million Dollar Baby with $8.8 million. Ticket sales for the top 12 films totaled $88.8 million versus $75 million for Super Bowl weekend last year.

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

1. Boogeyman, $19.5 million; 2. The Wedding Date, $11 million; 3. Are We There Yet?, $10.4 million; 4. Hide and Seek, $8.9 million; 5. Million Dollar Baby, $8.8 million; 6. The Aviator, $5.4 million; 7. Meet the Fockers, $5 million; 8. Sideways, $4.8 million; 9. Racing Stripes, $4.43 million; 10. Coach Carter, $4.4 million.

FILM STAR ARRESTED IN JAPAN FOR THREATENING PRODUCER

Japanese film star Kenichi Hagiwara has been arrested in Tokyo on charges of attempting to blackmail the producer of a movie he was making in 2003. According to reports at the time, Hagiwara suddenly quit after spurs of violent behavior towards the crew and cast. According to today's Mainichi Shimbun, Hagiwara's telephone conversations between himself and the producer had been secretly taped. In them, he reportedly demands that he be paid his full salary for the movie, then threatens to sic gangsters on the production crew if he is not. Experts who analyzed recordings of the allegedly intimidating calls confirmed that they had been made by Hagiwara.