IDOL RAISES FOX FROM LAST TO FIRST

Fox's American Idol rolled over the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday, posting a 15.7 rating and a 24 share on Tuesday and a 15.1/23 on Wednesday. No other TV shows came close on either night. Even though they lost nearly half of Idol's audience, Fox's The Simple Life on Tuesday and House on Wednesday were the winners in the 9:00 hour following Idol. Those numbers gave Fox a big ratings win on both nights. On Tuesday it averaged an 11.7/18. CBS placed second with an 8.4/13, followed by ABC with a 6.7/10 and NBC with a 5.8/9. On Wednesday Fox averaged an 11.8/18, well ahead of second-place CBS with a 7.6/12. NBC placed third with a 6.4/10, followed by ABC with a 5.8/9.

WRESTLING HITS THE MAT AT UPN

UPN plans to drop WWE wrestling from its schedule when its contract with the wrestling organization expires next year. Les Moonves, who heads both UPN and CBS, told the Oakland Tribune that he plans to change the network's image and that wrestling "doesn't fit into the overall strategy." WWE Smackdown remains one of the highest-rated shows on the network and "still makes us a decent amount of money," Moonves said.

HAWAII MAY LOSE LOST

Touchstone Television is likely to move production of Lost out of Hawaii unless the state comes up with tax credits to keep it there, the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported Wednesday. "Nobody wants to move," Lost producer Jean Higgins told the newspaper, "but this is a business and we must consider options to cut expenses." She said that the series is currently losing $500,000 per episode. the Star Bulletin said that considerable savings could be achieved by moving production to other states on the mainland that have actively been courting producers. Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said that state officials "have had many discussions with ABC about these issues and possible solutions."

DOCUMENT EXAMINER IN 60 MINUTES DEBACLE CLAIMS HE WAS DEFAMED

Marcel Matley, a document examiner consulted by CBS News before it broadcast the now-discredited 60 Minutes report about President Bush's National Guard service, has charged that he was defamed by the independent panel that investigated the report. The trade publication Editor & Publisher reported Wednesday that Matley is demanding 18 corrections in the report, calling it "derogatory and/or damaging to me professionally." In an interview with the publication, Matley said that it has already damaged his reputation, citing a court appearance last week in which he was described as "the one who made the mistake in the 60 Minutes case. ... I've already had this thrown at me."

BUSH SAYS DEPT. OF EDUCATION WAS "WRONG" TO PAY COMMENTATOR

President Bush said Wednesday that it was wrong for the Department of Education to have paid commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote his No Child Left Behind act. At a White House news conference, the president said that he had told other federal agencies "to make sure that that practice doesn't go forward." The president insisted that "we didn't know about this in the White House. And, you know, there needs to be a nice, independent relationship between the White House and the press." Asked what would happen to the people at the Department of Education who made the deal with Williams, he replied, "We've got new leadership going to the Department of Education. But all our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

NEW REVELATION OF GOVERNMENT PAYMENT TO WRITER

Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher admitted Wednesday that she had signed a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the $300-million "Bush marriage initiative," the Washington Post disclosed today (Thursday). She also received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration for writing a report titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?" for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative, the newspaper said, adding that at the same time Gallagher appeared on TV and was interviewed in print to defend the administration's proposal for a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage. Contacted by the Post, Gallagher commented: ""Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing [the payments]? ... I don't know. You tell me." Later, the newspaper observed, Gallagher filed a column in which she apologized to readers and said, "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative."

NEW EDUCATION SECRETARY BLASTS PBS KIDS SHOW

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has lashed out at PBS for using funds from the federal Ready-To-Learn program to produce an episode of a cartoon series featuring lesbian characters. "Sugartime!," an episode of the series Postcards from Buster, shows the title character, a bunny, traveling in Vermont and learning about how maple sugar is made. During his travels, he encounters two lesbian couples. (Vermont recognizes same-sex civil unions.) In a letter to PBS chief Pat Mitchell, Spellings wrote: "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode. ... Congress' and the Department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television." She demanded that PBS refund the money spent on the episode. The show's producer, WGBH in Boston, pointed out that the show's grant specifies that "diversity will be incorporated into the fabric of the series to help children understand and respect differences" and that it has dealt with children who live in fundamentalist Christian and Muslim families as well as children who have only one parent and those who live with grandparents. PBS said later that it had decided not to distribute the episode but it denied that the letter from the education secretary was a factor in its decision. Gay organizations expressed outrage. In a statement, Winnie Stachelberg of the Human Rights Campaign said, "The secretary's first act in office denies children an education about the diversity of American families. ... Secretary Spellings is sending the message that differences should be concealed. This creates a dangerous environment for children's growth."

FCC'S COPPS PUSHES FOR MORE INDEPENDENTLY PRODUCED SHOWS

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on Wednesday called on the TV networks to set aside 25 percent of their primetime hours for programs from independent producers. Speaking by closed-circuit TV to a convention of TV programmers in Las Vegas, Copps said that the disappearance of independent producers has resulted in a lack of diversity in programming. "Most observers are telling me that the doors of opportunity are fast closing and that we won't have a new generation of Norman Lears and Marcy Carseys and Ted Turners because the opportunities they had are gone," he said. With networks taking direct aim at the white, 18-34-year-old audience, he added, children, the elderly, and minorities are being neglected.

ONE DAY LATER ... HE'S BACK!

Only a day after he was forced out as president of Japan's NHK network, Katsuji Ebisawa on Wednesday was appointed as an advisor to the network, Kyodo News reported. Ebisawa quit the publicly funded network following embezzlement scandals involving its staff and reports that it had knuckled under to politicians and agreed to censor a controversial film about the behavior of Japanese troops during World War 2. Writing on a message board on the English-language Japan Today website, one wag remarked: "Ebisawa was as surprised as anyone to get home on Tuesday night to find a letter from himself appointing himself advisor starting the next day. 'Dear Me...'"

TICKET PRICES SLASHED IN CANADA

Citing a decline in movie attendance in Canada's largest province, exhibitor Famous Players Inc., has dropped the price of tickets there by a whopping $4.00 (US$3.25). Beginning Friday theater tickets in Ontario, which includes Toronto, the country's most populous city, will go for $9.95 (US$8.00), down from $13.95 (US$11.25). Children and senior prices will remain at $8.50 (US$7.00). Essentially, Famous Players is returning to the ticket prices that were in effect in 1998. In a statement, company president Robb Chase said, "Box office is up, prices are up, but attendance is what drives the health of the theater business." In an interview with the Toronto Globe & Mail, Howard Lichtman, president of the marketing consulting firm The Lightning Group and a former spokesman for the Cineplex Odeon chain, said: "It's a gutsy but business-savvy move," said Howard Lichtman, president of The Lightning Group, a marketing consulting firm. What Famous Players is trying to say is, 'Come to the movies. We've made it more affordable.' A dollar or two price cut wouldn't have ignited the attendance they're looking for. Now the $100-million question is will the strategy work to stimulate attendance?"

ACADEMY CHANGES DOCUMENTARY RULES

The motion picture academy has changed its rules applying to documentaries, allowing them to qualify for Oscar consideration even if they are shown on television, provided that they are given a minimum of 25 commercial theatrical exhibitions in 15 states. Previous rules had barred films from being considered in the documentary category if they were shown on television within nine months after they appeared in theaters. Had these rules been in effect last year, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 would almost certainly have received a nomination in the documentary category. It was disqualified when it was shown on cable TV on election eve.

TOP HOLLYWOOD PUBLICIST QUITTING TO WRITE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL

Bumble Ward, a top Hollywood publicist whose clients include many of the industry's leading directors, is planning to shut down her office following the Oscars in order to devote time to writing novels, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday), describing her decision as "a stunner." Ward told the trade paper that she will help her clients find representation at other agencies and continue to consult with some of them. They include Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Marc Forster, Tony Scott, Stephen Gaghan, James Mangold, Mira Nair, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson. Ward said that she has been writing fiction in her spare time and that she "discovered writing is where my heart is, and I am going to give it a shot."

MPAA FILES MORE SUITS AGAINST ALLEGED PIRATES

The MPAA has filed a second round of lawsuits against persons who it claims have illegally downloaded movies onto their computers from file-sharing Internet sites. "We cannot allow people to steal our motion pictures and other products online, and we will use all the options we have available to encourage people to obey the law," MPAA chief Dan Glickman said in a statement. The MPAA did not indicate how many people were targeted. At the same time, it released free software that it said would help parents scan their computers to find file-swapping software and pirated films.

CLINT EASTWOOD SAYS HE'S NOT WORRIED ABOUT SPOILERS

Clint Eastwood has said that "spoiler" discussions about the plot twist in his Million Dollar Baby are not likely to hurt the film. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Eastwood said, "Any movie ... is better when you don't have someone spilling the beans on it. ... But they may end up building curiosity. Knowing the ending certainly didn't hurt The Passion of the Christ." [NOTE: The following information reveals the plot twist in the film, and those who have not seen it may wish to skip the remainder of this item.] The film has been attacked as a thinly disguised argument in favor of euthanasia, since the title character, a female boxer, is allowed to die after suffering a catastrophic spinal injury. The National Spinal Cord Injury Assn. on Wednesday joined the critics. A spokesman commented, "The movie is saying 'death is better than disability.'" In his interview with the Times, Eastwood responded: "I'm just telling a story. I don't advocate. I'm playing a part. I've gone around in movies blowing people away with a .44 magnum. But that doesn't mean I think that's a proper thing to do."

MOVIE GALLERY DENIES IT WILL INTRODUCE PORN AT HOLLYWOOD VIDEO

Claiming that the Movie Gallery video rental chain is planning to introduce adult-oriented sections at Hollywood Video stores if a merger with Hollywood is completed, Mark Wattles, the CEO of Hollywood said he intends to step down should that occur. "I'm not willing to work for a company that carries adult movies," Wattles told the Deseret Morning News, adding that he is a Mormon. Earlier the American Family Association said that it had been informed by a Movie Gallery official of plans to place adult sections in Hollywood video locations. A spokesman for the AFA said, "American families will not allow this kind of toxic perversion and its resulting atrocities to invade their small towns." But Thomas Johnson, a senior VP of Movie Gallery, told the Deseret Morning News that the speculation was unfounded, saying that his company has no intention of "changing the family-oriented mix that has made Hollywood Video so successful."