ABC DISPLAYS "SOLD OUT" SIGN

ABC, whose ratings ballooned during the 2004-05 season with such new hits such as Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy, but which asked advertisers for a rate increase of only about 5 percent, announced Tuesday that it had sold out all its available primetime spots for the 2005-06 season which begins in September. (In its report about the network's sales achievement, the Wall Street Journal said in its lead, "ABC learned last year that it pays to take risks in programming. Yesterday it showed it also pays to be conservative in ad sales.") ABC said that it had booked commitments of $2.1 billion, its best upfront sales figure since 2000, when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was red-hot. (Like other networks, ABC holds back about 20 percent of its commercial inventory to sell during the season itself. It could get higher rates for those spots if its ratings continue to grow, or lower rates if they fall.) Last year the Disney-owned network booked $1.6 billion during the upfront sales period. "Our rate increases reflect how we were reading the market," Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times. "We are really comfortable with where we ended up." Reuters, meanwhile, reported that advertisers were willing to plunk down as much as $1 million for an ad on the season finale of ABC's Desperate Housewives next year.

ABC ROPES IN CMA AWARDS

Continuing its aggressive comeback effort, ABC announced Tuesday that it had lassoed the CMA Awards away from CBS, which had carried it for more than 30 years. ABC said that it had signed a six-year deal with the Country Music Association to air the popular awards telecast, which posted an 11.5 rating and an 18 share when it aired on CBS last November.) As part of the deal, ABC will also air a two-hour variety special on Aug. 2 titled: CMA Music Festival: Country Music's Biggest Party.

CONTENDER KNOCKS OUT TOYOTA

The failure of the boxing reality show The Contender to become a contender for big ratings has turned out to be a big blow for Toyota, which signed a $16-million media and product-placement deal with the series' producers, Mark Burnett Productions, Advertising Age reported in its online edition Tuesday. Since the deal did not involve NBC directly, the advertiser was unable to get any audience guarantees and will not be able to demand "make goods" from the network for its failure to deliver eyeballs to the show. Toyota ad exec Mark Simmons was philosophical about the situation, telling AdAge: "The terms of the deal were positive for us since we had premier sponsorship and ringside signage. The key point is if it had huge ratings and was one of the top 10 shows like American Idol, we would have had more value for the money. It was a good brand association for us. Would I have loved it to have been an American Idol? Absolutely."

MEDIA COMPANIES ASK NIELSEN TO HOLD OFF ON PEOPLE METERS

Seventeen major media companies want Nielsen to postpone expansion of its Local People Meter ratings system until an independent group appraises the system in markets where it's already being used. In particular, the companies indicated that they want to know whether the system underreports the viewing preferences of the black and Hispanic audience, as some minority groups have claimed. In the letter, the companies said, "Accurate and reliable viewing data are the bedrock of the television industry. ... Without it, the currency on which billions of dollars in advertising and programming expenditures rely will be needlessly devalued, to the public's detriment." Among the companies signing the letter were NBC, CBS, and Fox. ABC was conspicuous by its absence.

FAMED ISRAELI ANCHOR ANGERS VIEWERS WITH DOCUMENTARY

An Israeli news anchor, regarded as the Walter Cronkite of his country, has ignited a firestorm of controversy with a documentary condemning as a crime the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian lands. Haim Yavin, founder of Channel One and its chief anchor for more than 30 years, says during the documentary: "Since 1967, we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people." Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Wednesday) that Channel One had refused to air the documentary and that it will be shown on a rival channel that recently lost its license and is about to shut down. The documentary includes an interview with an Israeli soldier in Hebron who speaks of the "horrors" the army commits and refers to settlers who ask him why he's not shooting (presumably) protesting Palestinian children. One Israeli woman demands that the Palestinians get out of the territory. "Otherwise we should just bomb and kill them." Settler leaders, angered by Yavin's documentary, have called for him to be removed as anchor of Channel One.

WANNA BET THEY'LL HAVE SEX?

The British betting agency Ladbrokes gave even odds Tuesday that a couple on the British version of Big Brother will be seen having sex on the reality show this season. The British advertising trade journal Brand Republic said that Ladbrokes cut its odds from 5-2 after a 23-year-old female contestant told a 24-year-old male, "You'd be good in bed," while he replied, "Well, you've seen me in the shower." While several contestants have been seen in steamy situations on the series in the past, all have denied that sexual intercourse took place.

BOX OFFICE CAN'T END SLUMP

Final results for the Memorial Day weekend indicated that the top three films did not quite earn as much as had been estimated. (Only two films wound up with more than $60 million, instead of the record three, as originally reported.) And, although the total box office did not outperform last year's for the holiday (and entered the 14th week of its current slump), it did rank as the second-highest total in history -- some $231.8 million, down 6 percent from 2004's $247.6 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The top-performing film was 20th Century Fox's Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, with $70 million over the four-day weekend. In second place was DreamWorks' Madagascar with $61 million. The film opened relatively slowly on Friday, and did not pass the third-ranked film, Paramount's The Longest Yard, until Sunday. Yard earned $58.6 million over the four days.

The top ten films over the regular three-day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date and include Memorial Day receipts for May 30.):

1. Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, 20th Century Fox, $55,205,972, 2 Wks. ($270,489,794); 2. The Longest Yard, Paramount, $47,606,480, 1 Wk. ($58,613,245); 3. Madagascar, DreamWorks, $47,224,594, 1 Wk. ($61,012,130); 4. Monster-in-Law, New Line, $10,242,898, 3 Wks. ($62,445,081); 5. Kicking & Screaming, Universal, $5,131,195, 3 Wks. ($44,123,965); 6. Crash, Lions Gate, $4,658,473, 4 Wks. ($36,197,686); 7. The Interpreter, Universal, $2,072,670, 6 Wks. ($69,198,735); 8. Unleashed, Focus Features, $1,886,465, 3 Wks. ($22,103,027); 9. Kingdom of Heaven, 20th Century Fox, $1,691,570, 4 Wks. ($45,028,751); 10. House of Wax, Warner Bros., $1,304,602, 4 Wks. ($29,861,321).

Totals for the four-day weekend:

1. Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, $70,047,055; 2. Madagascar, $61,012,130; 3. The Longest Yard, $58,613,245; 4. Monster-In-Law, $12,789,837; 5. Kicking & Screaming, $6,510,385; 6. Crash, $6,059,909; 7. The Interpreter, $2,605,475; 8. Unleashed, $2,491,913; 9. Kingdom of Heaven, $2,204,520; 10. House of Wax, $1,628,319.

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION SHARES TANK

Shares in DreamWorks Animation headed in the direction of Madagascar Tuesday as investors expressed disappointment with the performance of the company's first theatrical release since it was spun off by its parent last October. Shares in the company closed at $29.40, up slightly from their IPO price of $28, but down 30 percent from their December high of $42.60. Investors appeared to be particularly upset with Madagascar's $61-million Memorial Day total, well off the $95.6 million earned by DreamWorks' Shrek 2 over the same period a year ago. However, analysts pointed out that last year's animated release had only one major competitor, The Day After Tomorrow, while Madagascar had two -- Sith and Longest Yard. Moreover, Madagascar will have the family-film market all to itself for nearly a month. While it is not expected to pull in the enormous results that Shrek 2 did, analysts say it could pull in between $325 and $400 million globally, a big hit by anyone's reckoning.

L.A. POLICE MOUNTING CAMERAS TO CATCH VIDEO PIRATES

Los Angeles police have mounted surveillance cameras in an area of the city where DVD bootleggers are believed to be doing business, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Wednesday). The newspaper said that the camera equipment, worth $186,000, was donated by the MPAA and will monitor movie piracy in the Fashion District. According to the Times, similar installations have already been made around Hollywood Boulevard and MacArthur Park. There was no word on whether any of the earlier installations had resulted in the arrest of any pirates.

VSDA ASKS MEMBERS TO ENFORCE RATINGS

The Video Software Dealers Association is asking its members to toughen-up their enforcement of the MPAA's motion picture ratings by making sure that R-rated DVDs are not rented to minors. Home Media Retailing magazine reported Tuesday that the VSDA has asked its members to designate one employee in each store as a "ratings compliance officer" to oversee the policing of adult-rated home videos. VSDA President Bo Andersen told the trade publication: "While the best control of entertainment is parental control, home video retailers do have a role to play in helping parents ensure that their children do not gain access to movies and video games the parents deem inappropriate for them."

WESTMINSTER ABBEY WON'T ALLOW FILMING OF DA VINCI CODE

Officials of Westminster Abbey have refused to permit Ron Howard to film part of the movie version of The Da Vinci Code in London's Westminster Abbey. In a statement, the Abbey said, "We cannot commend or endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions made in the book -- nor its views of Christianity and the New Testament." The book has also been roundly condemned by members of the Catholic Church. Howard told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he plans to use Lincoln Cathedral in Eastern England as a stand-in. The Abbey is regarded as an independent church within the Church of England, owing no allegiance to any diocese.

BOLLYWOOD FILMMAKERS SMOKING FOLLOWING SMOKING BAN

Indian filmmakers have expressed outrage over a government plan that would effectively ban smoking in Bollywood films. The rule, which would go into effect on Aug. 1, would also require older films to display a health warning when an actor who is smoking appears. The Times of India quoted producer-director Mahesh Bhatt as saying that the ban was "ridiculous, a joke taken too far."