PEACOCK PLUCKED

NBC is likely to experience a 20-percent drop in ad income for the current season -- or $550 million less than last year, the New York Daily News reported today (Tuesday), citing estimates by unnamed broadcasting and media execs. The network, they said, is expected to report $2.2-2.3 billion in ad revenue, while CBS, the No. 1 network is likely to report $2.4-2.5 billion, up $150 million from last year. "It doesn't sit well with us," NBC Universal Television Networks Group president Randy Falco told the Daily News. "We're like the New York Yankees, we've been No. 1 for 12 out of the last 18 seasons. Most people go to the Hall of Fame for that record." ABC's income is likely to rise $500 million to hit $2 billion, the newspaper said, while Fox is likely to remain virtually flat with a total of $1.6 billion.

TWO UNIVERSALS MAY BECOME ONE

NBC Universal, which represents one of the few media mergers in which the acquired company (Universal) is performing better than the original buyer (GE/NBC), wants to buy back the remaining 20-percent stake that Vivendi Universal still holds in the company, the London Financial Times reported today (Tuesday). In an interview with the newspaper, NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright said, "We have the right to call their stock in 2009 to the extent they haven't sold. ... It's possible that NBC Universal could be fully owned by GE by the end of the decade."

RAY SHINES IN PENULTIMATE EPISODE

The penultimate episode of CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond recorded a 12.5 rating and a 19 share at 9:00 p.m. Monday night, helping CBS win the night by a comfortable margin. Still, Raymond was not the top-rated show of the night; CSI: Miami was at 10:00 p.m.. The crime show scored a 12.9/20, beating NBC's Medium, which drew a middlin' 8.5/13 and the ABC special Extreme Makeover: Wedding Edition, which managed only a 4.1/7. CBS won every half-hour period of primetime Monday, finishing with a 10.8/17 -- well ahead of NBC's second-place 7.0/11.

NIELSEN FINDS LOST UPN WOMEN

Nielsen Research has acknowledged that a significant percentage of UPN's audience falloff on Monday nights early this season can be attributable to adjustments it made in the 18-34-year-old female demo in its national sample audience, the Hollywood Reporter reported today (Tuesday). (Nielsen and the Reporter are corporate siblings.) Early season ratings indicated that UPN's Monday-night audience was down a whopping 18 percent from last season, although figures have now evened out. David Poltrack, who tracks Nielsen's ratings for CBS and UPN, said that last season the demo was over-represented in Nielsen's sample and that its effort to bring it more in line with the national population resulted actually in a slight under-representation early in the season.

SALEM HIT BY NEW DISSENT OVER WITCH

A nine-foot bronze statue of Samantha Stephens, the character played by Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched, and paid for by the TV Land cable channel, has divided the town of Salem, MA, which had agreed to showcase the statue in a public park. Although several episodes of Bewitched were set in Salem, where Samantha attended a witches' convention, John Carr, a former member of the Salem Historic District Commission, told today's (Tuesday) Washington Post that the plan trivializes the hanging of 19 citizens accused of witchcraft in 1692. "It's like TV Land going to Auschwitz and proposing to erect a statue of Colonel Klink," said Carr. But Mayor Stanley Usovicz noted that Salem deals with its tragic past in local museums. "Will this statue redefine Salem? Absolutely not," he told the Post. "Will it add to the experience of coming here? Definitely."

REGULATOR OK'S BBC'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL TELECAST

Despite the fact that the BBC's telecast of Jerry Springer: The Opera drew more complaints than any program ever broadcast in Britain, the TV watchdog OFCOM ruled Monday that the program "was set in a very clear context as a comment on modern TV" and did not breach broadcasting regulations. One British group, Christian Voice, organized a mammoth campaign that deluged the BBC with tens of thousands of complaints many of them directed to the homes of BBC executives, whose phone numbers and addresses the group published. The complaints alleged in particular that the depiction of Christ in the musical was blasphemous. However, OFCOM said, the scenes "these were not meant to be faithful or accurate depictions of religious figures, but a product of the lead character's imagination. Even as he lay dying, the fictional Jerry Springer still saw his life through the lens of his confessional show." (In the musical, Springer is shot and killed by an angry guest on his talk show.)

LOST CRUSADE

Last weekend's box office turned out to be significantly worse than the studios' original Sunday estimates -- which had been dismal enough in their own right. Twentieth Century Fox's Kingdom of Heaven, which is believed to have cost between $120 million and $185 million to produce, earned just $19.6 million domestically, according to final figures from Exhibitor Relations. Reporting on the downturn in theater attendance, which has produced 11 consecutive weeks of lower box-office results than last year, today's (Tuesday) New York Times asked, "Are people turning away from lackluster movies, or turning their backs on the whole business of going to theaters?" As if in reply, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told today's Los Angeles Daily News, "We always hope and expect to have a surprise hit or two in the year but we haven't had that this year. ... But our view is that it is primarily related to the product released in that period and not any cause for structural concern." Several analysts have concluded that the box office will remain in the doldrums until later this month, when the final Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, is released. "We have never needed a Star Wars movie like we do right now," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told the Daily News. "Audiences have just kind of checked out and George Lucas is just going to check them back in. Lucas is going to come in to save the day."

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Kingdom of Heaven, 20th Century Fox, $19,635,996, (New); 2. House of Wax, Warner Bros., $12,077,236, (New); 3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Disney, $9,792,648, 2 Wks. ($35,782,098); 4. Crash, Lions Gate, $9,107,071, (New); 5. The Interpreter, Universal, $7,822,950, 3 Wks. ($54,403,865); 6. XXX: State of the Union, Sony, $5,520,628, 2 Wks. ($20,902,584); 7. Sahara, Paramount, $3,427,881, 5 Wks. ($61,664,541); 8. The Amityville Horror, MGM, $3,347,651, 4 Wks. ($60,308,453); 9. A Lot Like Love, Disney, $3,156,096, 3 Wks. ($18,912,009); 10. Fever Pitch, 20th Century Fox, $2,227,184, 5 Wks. ($39,248,456).

DISNEY AND GOLD FILE NEW LAWSUIT AGAINST WALT DISNEY CO.

What author James B. Stewart has called DisneyWar in his current best-seller flared up again on Monday as dissident former directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold filed a lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court claiming that the company engaged in a phony search for a new CEO before handing the job to Michael Eisner's hand-picked successor, Robert Iger. The pair claimed that the company misled investors into believing that potential successors to Eisner were being interviewed when in fact only one other person was approached, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who quickly took herself out of consideration. The Disney-Gold lawsuit accuses the Disney board of fraud and breach of duty and asks that the company hold another election for directors. Company spokeswoman Zenia Mucha called the action a "frivolous and baseless lawsuit [that] reflects the mean-spirited, self-serving interest of two ex-board members."

MY PARENTS WENT TO SEE STAR WARS AND ALL I GOT WAS A LOUSY TOY

George Lucas has acknowledged that he expects to be on the receiving end of harsh criticism from parents following the May 19 release of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith. "There's nothing I can do about it," Lucas told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times. "That's the story." However, the newspaper observed, some critics are already faulting Lucas for making deals with toy companies that have already released products appealing primarily to the young children that Lucas recommends stay home with the baby sitter when the rest of the family sees the movie. Harold Schechter, a professor at Queens College in New York and author of Savage Pastimes, told the Times that the sale of such toys is a case of "Lucas wanting his cake and eating it too. He wants a movie that will appeal to the older teens, but he still wants this movie to be all things to all people with the retail presence." And Bruce Stein, a former president of both Mattel and Kenner toy companies, commented: "I don't think the mistake here is putting the movie out with a PG-13 rating, I think the mistake if any is in putting out a preschool line of toys." However, Brian Goldner of Hasbro, which produces a talking, breathing Darth Vader mask, told the Times, "Even if [kids] can't go to the movie, they can be part of it."

LEGENDARY ANIMATION FIGURE JOE GRANT DEAD AT 96

Veteran animation designer Joe Grant, who designed the queen/witch in Disney's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and went on to co-write Dumbo, envision Lady and the Tramp and in recent years design characters for Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Lion King, and Mulan, died on May 6th in Glendale, CA after suffering a heart attack, Disney announced Monday. He was nine days short of his 97th birthday and had been active until the very end, going to work at Walt Disney Feature Animation the day before he died, according to the studio. In John Canemaker's Before the Animation Begins; The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists, Grant was quoted as saying: "The challenge out there now is to fuse ideas and technology and make them work together. Technology is running ahead of us right now. We've got to catch up with it with some good ideas. The only thing the computer can't do for us is [tell a] good story, fortunately."