IDOL STILL SHINES FOR FOX

One week after ABC's Primetime exposé, Wednesday's American Idol results show appeared as strong as ever, posting a 17.3 rating and a 23 share (11.1/27 among 18-49-year-olds). Tuesday night's performance show drew a 14.6/24 (10.2/29 in the younger demo). Although Idol put Fox on top Wednesday night at 9:00, ABC also scored strongly with Lost at 8:00 p.m., nabbing a 12.4/19. Opposite it, CBS's Elvis miniseries left the building with a disappointing 6.8/10.

NBC'S ZUCKER: "NOT A GOOD YEAR"

A news conference called on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the NBC-Universal merger Wednesday quickly became devoted to a litany of mea culpas recited by NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker. "We did not have a very good year," Zucker conceded at one point. "We lost Friends and didn't replenish the schedule with newer, fresher hits." NBC's problems extended to the morning hours, he indicated, and while Today remained in the lead, Zucker said, "We haven't really innovated at the Today show in the last three or four years." A former exec producer of Today, Zucker added, "You need a sense of freshness, and I don't think we've given that." In April Zucker and NBC News chief Neal Shapiro fired Today exec producer Tom Touchet and replaced him with sports producer Jim Bell.

GEORGIA'S NO LONGER ON CNN'S MIND

CNN, once the pride of Atlanta, is moving a huge block of its programming from the Georgia city to Washington D.C., it said Wednesday. The Time Warner-owned news network, attempting to overcome a drubbing in the ratings by News Corp's Fox News Channel, announced plans to produce a three-hour afternoon news program anchored by Wolf Blitzer in the capital that will replace the last half hour of Live From, as well as Inside Politics, Crossfire, and Wolf Blitzer Reports.

FIRST, THE NFL; NOW CNN DROP-KICKS DENNIS MILLER

After airing talk shows hosted by the likes of Tom Snyder, John McEnroe Geraldo Rivera and Charles Grodin during primetime for some 12 years, CNBC on Wednesday indicated that it plans to return to carrying financial news at night. The decision will result in the departure of the current primetime talk host, Dennis Miller, whose final telecast is due to air on Friday. The program currently attracts an average of just 114,000 viewers. Although the network does not intend to revive business news in primetime until later in the year, Miller reportedly asked to step down as soon as he was informed of the cable network's plans, according to an internal memo by CNBC President Mark Hoffman that was leaked to the press.

ABC GETS OUT ITS BLACK INK PENS

Thanks primarily to the success of Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, ABC will likely post a profit for the first time in eight years, Disney CEO-designate Robert Iger said Wednesday. Speaking during a conference call with analysts, Iger remarked, "With ABC prime-time ratings up 15 percent versus last year, we are seeing a greatly improved prime-time marketplace for ABC in the current quarter. ... Given that ABC's ratings levels have exceeded our expectations this season and the positive signs we are seeing in the marketplace, we continue to believe that the network will be profitable in fiscal '05." The company on Wednesday said that its broadcast and cable networks had posted a 6 percent jump in revenue to $3 billion. Iger also disclosed plans to launch a video-on-demand product under the ABC banner with cable and satellite operators later this year. He provided no details.

GROUP HAS ALLERGIC REACTION TO NEW FONDA MOVIE

Joining stutterers, alcohol and drug-abuse organizations, bald people, and overeaters, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has condemned Hollywood for making fun of the unfortunate. Igniting the group's ire is the upcoming Jane Fonda movie Monster-in-Law, which it calls "an insensitive and vindictive portrayal towards individuals with food allergies." The group objects to a scene in the film, in which Fonda's character attempts to derail her son's marriage by serving a gravy mixed with nuts to his fiancée, who is allergic to nuts. FAAN said that the scene "sets the stage for 'copycat' incidents where kids may think food allergies are just a funny subject matter" and expose their friends to a similar situation. FAA noted that the recent movie Hitch featured a similar scene as well as a recent episode of The Simpsons.

COMPANY TO RIDE TROJAN HORSE INTO PRIMETIME

Church and Dwight, the giant consumer products company that accounts for an estimated $60 million in ad spending annually, indicated Wednesday that it plans to use its leverage to persuade the major television networks to carry spots for its Trojan-brand condoms during primetime. Speaking with analysts during a conference call, CEO James Graigie said that he is in discussions with the major networks to air "health oriented" ads for the product after 9:00 p.m. Reporting on the announcement, Advertising Age observed on its website Wednesday that in February, CBS and ABC said that they were considering airing condom ads outside of the late-night hours, where they currently air. A spokeswoman for Fox told the trade publication that primetime ads for Trojan condoms would be considered on a case-by-case basis but would in no event air on American Idol.

BBC STAFF SETS WALK-OUT DATES

Vowing to force the BBC off the air, unions representing the BBC staff announced today (Thursday), following a membership vote, that they plan to stage 24-hour walk-outs on May 23 and 31 and on June 1. The unions are protesting against the public broadcasting corporation's plans to cut some 3,780 jobs, primarily by contracting for programming with outside producers. In a statement, the BBC said, "Given the scale of the changes that the BBC needs to make, and that the unions have not allowed us to talk to them in order to address their concerns, we are not surprised by the ballot result."

CANNES DEUX

Hollywood marketers have targeted the Cannes Film Festival, ostensibly the premiere showcase for world cinema, with an excess of billboards for current product plastered on hotels and buildings from one end of town to another. The billboards, said Agence France Presse, the French news agency, "signaled that Hollywood was determined to make its dominance of world commercial cinema felt." The festival opened Wednesday with a screening of the French thriller Lemming, directed by Dominik Moll, already regarded as a favorite to win the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or. Although no British film was selected for the competition, Woody Allen, an idol of European cinéastes, gave the British film industry a significant endorsement at a morning news conference today (Thursday). Allen, whose film Match Point, starring Scarlett Johansson, premieres at the festival later today, suggested that he was happier filming in London than he usually is filming in New York. After first noting that the London weather suited his films better than New York's -- he prefers cloudy and cold weather, he suggested -- Allen said that he also appreciated not having to have studio representatives breathing down his neck during the production process. In London, he said, "they give me the money. A month later, I give them a movie." He also noted that his films cost little to make because actors whom he approaches are generally willing to work in them for "nothing." Match Point was partly funded by BBC Films.

DISNEY'S EISNER TO GO OUT A WINNER

Michael Eisner appeared assured of being able to make a triumphant exit as CEO of the Walt Disney Co. on Sept. 30 after the company reported a 30-percent jump in earnings for its second quarter. In its SEC filing, Disney reported profits of $698 million -- beating analysts' estimates -- compared with $537 million a year ago. Revenue increased 9 percent to $7.8 billion. Much of the increase was attributed to rising ratings for the company's ABC television network, which was able to boast of two major hits this season, Lost and Desperate Housewives. The company was also helped by strong DVD sales for the animated hit feature The Incredibles. In a conference call on Wednesday, Eisner sounded especially upbeat, reminding analysts that he had predicted such a turnaround two years ago. "We're roaring back," he said.

CORPORATE RAIDER WINS LATEST BATTLE

Billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn savored victory again Wednesday as he and two other executives that he had handpicked won election to the board of struggling video-rental giant Blockbuster. Although the election had the effect of ousting CEO John Antioco and two other directors from the board, Antioco was likely to be reinstated on the board of the company later this week, news reports indicated, in order to avoid paying him a "golden parachute" said to be worth $54 million. Whether Icahn would accept the appointment remained a subject of debate among analysts. Although a close vote had been predicted, early results indicated that 77 percent of the votes were cast for Icahn and his two candidates, former music exec Strauss Zelnick and former Warner Bros. exec Ed Bleier.

AUSTRALIAN MOVIE REVIEWS: REVENGE OF THE SITH

A flood of reviews of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith poured out of the Australian press today (Thursday). Most were favorable overall but far from exuberant. Philippa Hawker in Melbourne called the movie "a considerable improvement" over the first two prequels. "The bad news," she wrote, "is [that] there aren't too many surprises left. It's just a matter of time before glowering, impatient Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) decides to join the Dark Side, and about 80 minutes in, we hear the line we've been waiting for: 'Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth Vader.'" Garry Maddox in the Sydney Morning Herald also regarded the movie as "stronger" than Episodes 1 and 2. "It is a movie you want to love and almost do, but not quite," he commented. "As Yoda would say again: an out-and-out triumph it is not." Lawrie Zion in The Australian considered it "far more entertaining" than the last two but she criticized the performances of the leads, particularly Christensen, who, she writes, is "disappointing" and "fails to engage the audience."