IDOL MUDDLE

In a bizarre snafu, Fox admitted early today (Wednesday) that it had posted the wrong phone numbers for three contestants, Mikalah Gordon, Anwar Robinson and Jessica Sierra, at the conclusion of Tuesday's program. As a result, it said, it will air another live, one-hour show tonight to enable a re-vote. "This new show will combine new live elements with encores of Tuesday's performances," the network said, adding that it will preempt programming on Thursday to present an unscheduled third edition of Idol in which the results of the voting will be disclosed. It was the second major embarrassment for the Idol producers in the past week, after Mario Vazquez, regarded as one of the front-running contestants, decided to quit the show "for personal reasons."

FOX SHAKEN BY BERMAN EXIT

The expected departure of Fox Broadcasting Entertainment President Gail Berman to become president of Paramount (see item in Film section) has rattled executives at Fox -- particularly because it comes less than two months before the network is to unveil its programs to advertisers for the 2005-06 season. "Heading into the upfront [season] with no network chief is a risk financially for News Corp.," David Gibson, an analyst at Macquarie Securities, New York, told today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal. Most reports mentioned Dana Walden, co-president of 20th Century Fox TV, or Peter Liguori, president of the FX cable network, as Berman's probable successor.

FOX RACKS UP EIGHTH RATINGS WIN

For the eighth week in a row, Fox TV has won the competition for the eyes of 18-49 year-olds, the demographic group most coveted by advertisers, thanks mostly to the undiminished popularity of American Idol. CBS, however, continued to hold the lead in total viewers, invigorated by the best ratings in more than a decade for the men's NCAA basketball championship tournament. The top-ten list was dominated by CBS and Fox, with NBC placing only one show on it, its new drama Medium, and ABC none at all. In overall averages for the week, CBS led with a 7.7 rating and a 12 share. NBC placed second with a 6.4/10. Fox finished third with a 6.0/9. ABC trailed with a 5.5/8.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 16.2/25; 2. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 15.1/23; 3. Cold Case, CBS, 110./17; 4. Survivor: Palau (Wednesday), CBS, 10.8/17; 5. House, Fox, 10.6/16; 6. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.2/17; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.0/16; 7. Medium, NBC, 10.0/16; 9. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 9.8/14; 10. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 9.6/14.

60 MINUTES PRODUCER FINALLY STEPS DOWN

Two months after he was asked to resign over his role in the 60 Minutes "memogate" scandal, Josh Howard, the executive producer of the Wednesday edition of the newsmagazine, did so on Tuesday. A 20-year veteran at the network, Howard presumably received a substantial severance fee; it was not known whether a confidentiality clause was included in the settlement. The announcement of the resignation came on the same day that St. Martin's Press announced that it had signed a book deal with Mary Mapes, the producer of the disputed report that reportedly guarantees her more than $500,000. In a statement, the publisher said: "She will chronicle what really happened at CBS and reveal the corporate, political and ideological agendas that threaten the integrity of journalists and the news."

TV REVIEWS: THE OFFICE

TV critics are delivering mixed notices to the American version of the hit British sitcom The Office, which is scheduled to debut on NBC Thursday. David Bianculli in the New York Daily News finds it "neither daring nor funny" and, compared to the original, "NBC's version is so diluted, there's little left but muddy water." Paul Brownfield in the Los Angeles Times, while admiring its "intelligent writing" says that it can only "simulate the heart and wit" of the BBC original. On the other hand, Austin American-Statesman TV writer Diane Holloway concludes, "The show captures the original essence," adding that "it's oddly, slyly funny, a thoroughly wicked take on office culture." Likewise, Joanne Ostrow in the Denver Post comments that "it retains the quiet, desperate, hilarious mock-umentary style of the original. More surprisingly, it respects the intelligence of the American audience." And Mike Duffy in the Detroit Free Press describes it simply as "a slaphappy minor miracle."

JAPANESE ENTREPRENEUR MERGING INTERNET AND TV

The day when Japanese television viewers will be able to watch their favorite programs, current and past, on demand by accessing them on the Internet moved closer today (Wednesday) as a Japanese court knocked over the last obstacle blocking Internet entrepreneur Takfumi Horie from gaining a controlling interest in Nippon Broadcasting System. NBS, an AM radio broadcaster, is the largest shareholder (22.5 percent) in Fuji TV, Japan's largest commercial TV network. Today's (Wednesday) Asahi Shimbun said that the 32-year-old Horie plans to capitalize on Fuji TV's library once the takeover is completed. Reporting on the financial maneuvering, the International Herald Tribune, said in Thursday's edition that it was "being followed in Japan with a media blitz befitting a celebrity murder trial, with the spike-haired Horie portrayed as the representative of a young, more Westernized Japan that is taking on the country's clubby business elite."

BERMAN TO SCALE MOUNTAIN

Paramount on Tuesday confirmed trade and Internet rumors that it is in final negotiations to bring on board Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman. Today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times said that she is expected to be named president of Paramount "with a possible additional title" under its new chairman, Brad Grey. In a statement, the studio described Berman as "one of the most talented executives in the entertainment industry, with great relationships, exceptional taste and an amazing creative track record." It added: "She would be a great addition to the Paramount team." Daily Variety reported that executives at both Fox and Paramount were stunned at the development. It quoted an insider at Fox as saying that execs there were "shell-shocked" over the news. At Paramount, it said, there was "uniform amazement" that the studio would try to land someone without movie-making credentials. "It's surreal," an unnamed Paramount producer told the Los Angeles Times. "They totally want to break from the status quo in a major way." Former ABC Co-chairman Lloyd Braun told the newspaper. "Gail is as good as it gets." Several executives took note of the fact that Fox is currently into its best season ever and likely to win the ratings crown among adults 18-49 for the first time in its history. Former NBC President Warren Littlefield told the New York Times that Berman was "pulling a Seinfeld," a reference to Jerry Seinfeld, who left the network when his show still ranked #1.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MELINDA AND MELINDA

Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda, which opened in a single theater in New York to big business last weekend, is opening in another 17 theaters tonight (Wednesday) and in 66 more on Friday. How wide it will eventually open presumably depends a great deal on how it fares in its limited release. It is faring only so-so with critics. The film -- two takes, one funny and one tragic, on an anecdote about a woman named Melinda -- certainly is generating a lot of sophisticated appraisal. A. O. Scott in the New York Times writes that as Allen interweaves the two versions, "it becomes apparent that his notions of comedy and tragedy do not quite correspond either to scholarly dogma or to everyday usage. You might, for instance, expect the tragic tale to purge your unruly emotions through pity and terror, rather than through bafflement and ennui. You might also expect the comic half of the movie to be funny, in which case the joke is on you." It's hard to tell whether Scott liked the movie or not. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal seems to like it -- sort of, writing: "The movie itself wears thin from time to time, and the lightly parodic dialogue sometimes borders on prosaic. But Melinda and Melinda is full of entertaining vignettes that eventually make a happy mockery, as they're meant to do, of the tragedy vs. comedy dialectic." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times seems to like it more, calling it "a movie about the symbiosis of the filmmaker and the audience, who are required to conspire in the creation of an imaginary world. He shows us how he does it and how we do it. In its complexity and wit, this is one of his best recent films." Similarly, Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune concludes that the film "has exactly what we want in a Woody Allen movie: wit, eloquence, irreverence, New York, jazz/classical on the soundtrack music, a glittering all-star ensemble. ... And Allen's writing is as good and sharp as anything he has done recently." But Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star turns those observations into the faintest of praise: "Viewed with a generosity of spirit even the most ardent admirer must now struggle to muster, you could call Woody Allen's new movie his most ambitious in years," he writes. Pevere, like many other critics, suggests that Allen hasn't really made an ambitious film in years. Indeed, virtually all of the reviewers compare Melinda and Melinda with other Allen films, most of them placing it about in the middle between his best and worst, although Stephen Hunter writes in the Washington Post: "It's hard to place the film in the Allen canon because so much of his recent work is so unmemorable." This one included, he suggests.

CANNES TO PRESENT NEW INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASE

The Cannes Film Festival announced Tuesday plans to present a showcase of films that, as described by Variety, have become popular in their own country but are relatively unknown elsewhere. "Each of the countries invited will present a selection of films which reflect its cultural identity and the uniqueness of its expression," the Festival said in a statement. The "Tous les Cinémas du Monde" will be presented in a temporary theater that will be constructed near the Palais, the hub of the Festival, and "equipped with excellent technical capabilities," according to the announcement.