IDOL TRIUMPHS IN SEASON DEBUT

One day after the CEO of the Fox Network predicted that American Idol would experience a decline in the ratings this season, the talent contest bowed with its best-ever season-debut ratings. Tuesday's night's overall 18.2 rating and 27 share was well above last year's 15.5/23. Among 18-49-year-old adults, it was nothing short of a sensation: a 14.0 rating (compared with last year's 12.5) that was larger than the other five networks' combined. The show peaked in the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 19.5/28. Speaking about the outlook for this season's Idol on Monday, Fox chief Gail Berman told TV critics at their annual winter tour, "We can expect to see audience dispersion and some declines. I think that is only natural."

CBS PLANS TO ELIMINATE SINGLE ANCHOR

In the wake of its embarrassment over Dan Rather's discredited report about President Bush's National Guard service and Rather's subsequent decision to step down in March, CBS is planning a radical overhaul of the CBS Evening News and is likely to eliminate the role of a "voice-of-God, single anchor," CBS chief Les Moonves said Tuesday. Speaking with TV critics at their winter tour in Los Angeles, Moonves indicated that changes to the nightly news program will not be gradual, as it might have been had the "memogate" scandal not occurred. "Obviously when something like this happens it makes you examine a little further and perhaps go even further. In fact, as opposed to an evolution, maybe we're dealing with a revolution," he told the writers. Moonves said that he would even consider hiring Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, as a nightly contributor to the news program. (Viacom, CBS's parent company, of which Moonves is co-president, also owns Comedy Central.) Moonves suggested that he was considering a formal break-up of the "church and state" wall that has traditionally permitted the news division to decide what will be incorporated into its programs without interference from the entertainment division. At one point he remarked, "Maybe it is reinventing the wheel to a certain extent. And I think that is what we're trying to do."

WWE HELPING BRITISH PRODUCERS TRAIN CELEBRITY WRESTLERS

British celebrities will be instructed in the fine art of wrestling by WWE trainers from the U.S., dressed in Lycra outfits, and given gladiator-type names for a new primetime series, Celebrity Wrestling, due to launch on Britain's ITV. Among those who have been signed up for the Saturday-night show are James Hewitt, Princess Diana's former lover, and Playboy playmate Victoria Silvstedt. Former WWE star Rowdy Roddy Piper has been signed to host the show, which will begin taping at the Elstree studios outside of London on Feb. 14. An ITV press release said, "This is wrestling as it's never been seen before with the celebrities being taught real skills to win real bouts. The celebrities are not just competing for fun. There are points and pride at stake and ultimately there can be only one King and Queen of the ring."

TV ACADEMY MAY ELIMINATE EMMYS FOR TV MOVIES AND MINISERIES

In what could represent a painful blow to HBO, which has dominated the annual TV Emmy awards in recent years, the TV academy is considering eliminating awards for original movies and miniseries, Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday). The trade paper said that the academy is concerned about the plunging ratings of the awards telecast and blamed much of the problem on the fact that some of the HBO programs that dominated the nominations had not been seen by many TV viewers. Variety also reported that there has been talk of a separate awards telecast featuring only programs airing on the broadcast networks.

HATCH CHARGED WITH FAILING TO REPORT SURVIVOR WINNINGS

Richard Hatch failed to report on his tax return for 2000 the more than $1 million he earned as the winner of the first season of Survivor in 2000, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island charged on Tuesday. He also allegedly failed to report his earnings at a Boston radio station at the time.

JOHNNIE CARSON WRITING FOR DAVID LETTERMAN

Peter Lassally, a onetime producer of both Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's late-night shows, disclosed Tuesday that Carson occasionally contributes material for Letterman's monologues. Speaking to TV critics attending their annual winter tour in Los Angeles, Lassally, who now acts as a consultant to Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company, said that what Carson misses the most since retiring 12 years ago is doing his monologue. "He reads the newspaper every day and might think up five good jokes that he wishes he had an outlet for. Once in a while he sends jokes to Letterman, and Letterman will use his jokes in the monologue and he gets a big kick out of that."

CHARTER CABLE COMPANY FIRES ITS CEO

Reeling from subscriber defections, competition from satellite providers, and the costs inherent in upgrading to HDTV and cable-Internet services, Charter Communications announced Tuesday that its CEO, Carol Vogel, has resigned and had been replaced on an interim basis by Robert May, a member of Charter's board. May told the Dow Jones News Service that the board was not satisfied with the progress the company had made since Vogel was appointed. "We thought change in leadership was needed to reorient company fundamentals," May said. "The time seemed right to be correct to launch that initiative and get the organization focused on customer service and fundamentals." Shares in Charter, which is controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, plunged more than 6 percent on news of the shake-up.

WEBBER FIGHTING PHANTOM LOSSES

Andrew Lloyd Webber, who reportedly contributed at least $7.5 million of his own money to the production costs of the film version of his The Phantom of the Opera and may be unlikely to see any of it returned, is selling his businesses, including his music copyrights, the London Daily Telegraph reported today (Wednesday). Last month, the composer acknowledged in an interview that his finances had taken a beating. "Everyone thinks we've got a fortune hanging around, but in actual fact the company's got a big debt," he said. "I'm a very, very bad businessman and I don't think I've always been very well advised."

COACH A BIG WINNER AT BOX OFFICE

Although critics had called Coach Carter a paint-by-the-numbers sports flick, the numbers looked mighty good to hit-challenged Paramount, which saw the movie earn $24.2 million over the weekend and add another $3 million on Monday, the Martin Luther King holiday. It replaced Universal's Meet the Fockers in the top spot, as Fockers slid to second place with $19.3 million for the three-day weekend and $22.7 million for the four-. The live/animated Racing Stripes from Warner Bros. debuted in third place with $13.9 million/$18.6 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date and include receipts for Monday, Martin Luther King Day):

1. Coach Carter, Paramount, $24,182,960, 1 Wk. ($29,168,180); 2. Meet The Fockers, Universal, $19,316,095, 4 Wks. ($234,308,680); 3. Racing Stripes, Warner Bros., $13,920,052, 1 Wk. ($18,862,432); 4. In Good Company, Universal, $14,289,750, 3 Wks. ($17,138,097); 5. Elektra, 20th Century Fox, $12,804,793, 1 Wk. ($14,792,335); 6. White Noise, Universal, $12,067,290, 2 Wks. ($42,852,325); 7. The Aviator, Miramax, $5,057,536, 5 Wks. ($51,528,137); 8. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Paramount, $4,040,709, 5 Wks. ($112,421,617); 9. The Phantom of the Opera, Warner Bros., $3,669,147, 5 Wks. ($27,512,033); 10. Fat Albert, 20th Century Fox, $2,800,707, 4 Wks. ($45,618,010).

BLOCKBUSTER MAY STILL ATTEMPT HOLLYWOOD VIDEO TAKEOVER

Blockbuster said Tuesday that it is disappointed that Hollywood Entertainment Co., which operates the Hollywood Video rental chain had agreed to be taken over by rival Movie Gallery "without giving Blockbuster a fair opportunity to participate in the auction process." Blockbuster indicated that it may still make an offer for Hollywood, even though it would be required to pay a break-up fee that could amount to more than $27 million.

THORNTON BADGERS THE BADGE DIRECTOR

Billy Bob Thornton is still steaming over his experience making the movie The Badge with writer-director Robby Henson. The British website ContactMusic.com quotes him as saying that he agreed to appear in the movie because he thought the script was "hilarious." However, once on the set, he almost immediately clashed with Henson. "Literally, at the end of the first week, I had to call the guy out," Thornton said. "I said, 'First of all you don't know how to operate a set, you don't know what a camera is, you don't know anything about movie directing. Second of all, you wrote a f**king thing that I thought was a comedy and you're trying to make this into a thriller. It ain't a thriller. You're an a**hole, I'd like to f**king kill you but I'm gonna finish this piece of s**t.'" Promoting the film, which aired on the Starz channel recently, Henson told an interviewer who asked him about his experience working with Thornton: "Billy Bob is a very talented actor. He was wonderful to want to be involved with this. He even showed up on set without getting his upfront money, and was very dedicated. He also can be a little difficult and temperamental. So there were good things and others that were a little more difficult." Asked whether Thornton would be promoting the movie, Henson replied that Thornton was "focusing on his music."

B.C. OFFICIAL MAY PROVIDE TEMPORARY HELP TO VANCOUVER FILMMAKERS

The finance minister of British Columbia has assured Vancouver film companies that the government would be providing it with some "interim help" by the end of the month in order to halt the flight of film and TV production to Toronto. Colin Hansen said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that while the provincial government was still studying whether to match the augmented tax incentives that the Ontario government had tendered, "We are optimistic that we are going to be able to do something to buy them some breathing room."

THAI FILMMAKERS URGED TO TEAM UP AND LOBBY GOVERNMENT

Participants in a discussion at the Bangkok Film Market, which is being held in conjunction with the Bangkok Film Festival, urged Thai government leaders Tuesday to do more to support the local film industry. Although leaders have talked about plans to turn Thailand into the "Hollywood of Asia," Pantham Thomgsang of the Tifa production company, said that the government has not done enough to support growth of the local film industry. According to the Bangkok Post, Christopher Knight of the Thailand office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers urged Thai producers to team up to lobby for state subsidies and to form ties with producers in China and Hong Kong.