IDOL NEARLY WINS THE TRIFECTA

Recalling the days when multiple episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire dominated the Nielsen ratings list, Fox's American Idol accounted for three of the top ten shows last week. With an extra episode on Thursday hastily mounted because of a voting snafu earlier in the week, the talent show placed first, third, and fifth places. Things also looked up for ABC, as Desperate Housewives returned to its lineup and the debut of its medical drama, Grey's Anatomy, attracted big numbers. Nevertheless, CBS, thanks to a huge boost from the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which produced its best ratings since 1994, continued to dominate the list and attract the most viewers overall. For the week, CBS averaged an 8.8 rating and a 9 share, well above second-place Fox, which scored a 6.3/10. NBC placed third with a 5.7/9, a notch above ABC's 5.6/9.

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

1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.9/24; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 14.4/22; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 12.3/19; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.3/20; 5. American Idol (Thursday), Fox, 12.1/19; 6. Survivor: Palau (Wednesday), CBS, 10.9/17; 7. CSI: NY, CBS, 10.7/18; 8. CBS NCAA Basketball Tournament, CBS, 10.4/22; 8. (Tie) House, Fox, 10.4/16; 10. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Wednesday), CBS, 10.0/15; 10. (Tie) Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 10.0/17.

BIG BIRD FLIES TO AD-SUPPORTED TV

Comcast plans to announce on Monday that it will introduce a new commercial 24-hour digital cable channel aimed at preschoolers that will feature reruns of many of the programs for tots currently airing on PBS, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday). Comcast is partnering with PBS, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment, producer of Barney and Friends and Bob the Builder. In an interview with the newspaper, Sesame Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney remarked: "I don't like pitching products to young children and I never have. ... But to some degree that is nostalgia for a time that is past. The whole society, the whole business is so commercialized, even public television. This is another way of getting PBS's excellent programming to children." Education professor Nancy Carlsson Paige, who is a consultant for PBS flagship station WGBH Boston, told the Times: "We aren't adequately funding public television and public programming for children. PBS doesn't have enough funds and so they are doing this."

SHOWDOWN BETWEEN LOST AND IDOL

In a decision that is likely to boost the sales of TiVos and other digital video recorders, ABC plans to air the season finale of Lost as a two-hour special on May 25, the last night of the May sweeps and the 2004-05 season, opposite the two-hour season finale of American Idol.. In an interview with Daily Variety, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said that the decision "was driven by the creative," TV jargon for content, adding that the show's producers and writers "have worked really hard to deliver for this first season, and to have it come to this great climax. They've delivered at the highest level, and it made sense to put it on regardless [of the competition]." Fox said that it had always planned to air the Idol finale on May 25.

MALONE SAYS HE WON'T DUMP NEWS CORP SHARES

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone appeared to squelch industry rumors Tuesday that he plans to pull out of News Corp in exchange for cash and some of News Corp's overseas assets. Speaking to a Banc of America Securities investors conference in New York, Malone said that he was not rejecting such a deal out of hand, "but the timing would have to be quick and the generosity from the News Corp side would have to be compelling. Rupert is a great guy, but I've never found him to be compellingly generous."

LIBERAL CONGRESSMEN DEMAND GOOD MORNING AMERICA DROP WAL-MART

Television broadcasters, who have been besieged with complaints by conservative politicians, suddenly found themselves under fire from the opposite direction Tuesday as 21 members of Congress issued a statement calling on ABC to drop Wal-Mart as a sponsor of Good Morning America's "Only in America" segment. In a letter to ABC News chief David Westin, the Congressmen wrote that in they were making the demand in the "name of honesty and accuracy in the media." Their letter was distributed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. A news release by the union quoted New Jersey Rep. Bill Pacrell, one of the cosigners of the letter, as saying, "It is a sad day when ABC News would allow itself to be used by Wal-Mart to sell a corporate image based on lies and myths. One only has to look at the real Wal-Mart record to realize the severe damage this company has done to American families and communities." ABC responded that the legislators should take up their grievances with Wal-Mart directly and not use ABC as "an intermediary." And on his talk radio show Tuesday, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh asked, "Is Congress to be getting involved in who can or cannot sponsor a morning news show on a television network?"

EBERSOL BACK ON THE JOB

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol has returned to work for the first time since he was seriously injured last November in a private plane crash that took the life of his 14-year-old son Edward. Another son, 21-year-old Charles, was also aboard the plane but escaped serious injury.

BBC COMPLAINTS BOARD REJECTS SPRINGER PROTEST

Complaints Committee ruled today (Tuesday) that the publicly supported broadcaster did not breach content guidelines when it aired Jerry Springer: The Opera last January. The telecast, which included hundreds of uses of the F-word (and variations) and featured a showdown between Jesus Christ and the devil over Springer's body, drew 55,000 complaints, more than any other program ever broadcast by the BBC. Nevertheless, the GPCC said, "the outstanding artistic significance of the program outweighed the offense which it caused to some viewers, and so the broadcasting of the program was justified."

BREAKING UP WAS HARD TO DO

After months of tug-of-war negotiations, the Walt Disney Company and Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein finally announced an agreement Tuesday, ending their 12-year relationship. It boiled down to this: Disney gets the Miramax name and library; the Weinsteins reportedly get $130-140 million, Miramax's Dimension Films subsidiary, and several films that they've been developing (although they must pay Disney a fee for each of them). Today's New York Times reported that the Weinsteins intend to combine the money with whatever their investment bankers, Goldman Sachs, line up to start a new film company. For the time being, it's being called "The Weinstein Co." In an interview with the Times, Harvey Weinstein implied that things might have gone differently if the new regime at Disney had been in place earlier. Weinstein ticked off numerous "entrepreneurial deals" that Disney, under Michael Eisner and chief strategist Peter Murphy had rejected. "At the new Disney," Weinstein told the newspaper, "I think that those entrepreneurial efforts will be met with a stronger response. So that's the irony of this deal." Separately, he told the Wall Street Journal: "I could have built a $5 billion company, rather than a $2 billion one." Analysts expressed doubt that the Weinsteins will be able to enjoy more autonomy with their new company than with their old. Veteran media analyst Jeffrey Logsdon with investment bankers Harris Nesbitt said in a Los Angeles Times interview: "Clearly, they've had enormous financial flexibility under the Disney umbrella, which is not likely to continue no matter how they design their independent company." The Weinsteins are due to remain with Miramax until September 30. Thus far, there has been little speculation about who will replace them. (Disney said Tuesday that their successors will be named in July.) Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Paramount Pictures Co-President Ruth Vitale remarked, "To me the biggest curiosity factor is who's taking over Miramax and what will that look like? That's more interesting to me. Harvey and Bob will be Harvey and Bob wherever they are."

HIGH COURT HEARS P2P CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether peer-to-peer Internet companies like Grokster and StreamCast ought to be shut down. Attorneys representing the major motion picture studios and record companies argued that the court's 1984 Betamax decision -- which held that VCR makers could not be held liable for copyright infringement because the VCRs could be used for noninfringing purposes -- did not apply. "There is no commercially significant non-infringing use" of the P2P technology, plaintiffs' attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court, which prompted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to remark, "But there could be." Justice David Souter later asked, "How will inventors know in advance whether they'll be sued because their product might be used in some part for infringement?" Attorneys for the defendants also received a grilling. After arguing that their technology was different from Napster's, because "Napster helped people find files for copying," Justice Scalia asked whether Grokster and StreamCast weren't developed "solely to get around the Napster ruling?"

BLOCKBUSTER PAYS FINE FOR "NO LATE FEES" PROMOTION

Blockbuster on Tuesday reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 47 states to settle charges that it misled consumers with its "no late fees" promotion. The video rental company agreed to pay $629,000 to reimburse legal costs and to reimburse customers who were misled by the promotion. The case centered around Blockbuster's policy of charging a $1.25 restocking fee if customers returned rentals after eight days. "A fee by any other name is still a fee," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "This case is important to remind advertisers that catchy slogans can be misleading and even violate the law." Blockbuster, however, did not do away with the fees, saying only that it intends to post more signs in its stores that the describe them and to print the information on sales receipts.

MOVIE REVIEWS: BEAUTY SHOP

Beauty Shop, starring Queen Latifah, appears virtually certain to become the latest comedy with African-American stars to rise to the top of the box office. It follows this year's Are We There Yet?, Hitch, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and Guess Who. The film, which opens wide today (Wednesday) is attracting mostly positive reviews. On the positive side, many reviewers indicate that the force of Queen Latifah's charisma and the accomplished performers of her costars, may well offset a relatively weak script, loose editing, and even looser direction. As Chris Kaltenbach puts it in the Baltimore Sun: "Just like in the Barbershop films, the main attraction is watching and listening as those who work in the shop interact, playing off one another, dissing one another, working out that fragile (but one hopes appealing) chemistry that can make a workplace seem more like a home than a place to collect a paycheck." Ty Burr in the Boston Globe observes that there are so many talented performers in the cast that the film resembles "a crowded backyard picnic, and I mean that as a compliment. ... What there isn't much of is a plot. You may not miss it." Similarly, Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News comments, "The cast is ready, willing and able, but the material's not there." But Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune figures it doesn't really matter. He writes: "There are times when you can enjoy a picture that's packed full of cliches, formula plot lines, recycled jokes, and populated with big, brassy, in-your-face characters and a few caricatures. For me, that was the case with Beauty Shop." The film does receive a handful of out-and-out negative reviews, like Bruce Kirland's in the San Francisco Chronicle, who describes it as "an ugly little movie that is an insult to its origins and a waste of the Queen's considerable talents."