CBS ROLLS OVER RIVALS

CBS has won another sweeps week -- big time -- as it placed six shows in the top ten last week. By contrast, NBC, which was the dominant primetime ratings winner a year ago, couldn't place a single show in the top ten. Its top-rated show was E.R., which ranked 13th. (Particularly worrisome for the network may have been results for the morning hours which showed that the Today show's lead over Good Morning America had narrowed to about 70,000 viewers, putting GMA closer to Today than at any time since 1995.) Fox's American Idol captured the top position among adults 18-49 for the week with its Wednesday results episode. ABC's Desperate Housewives succeeded in beating out the Survivor finale on Sunday night. Overall, CBS averaged a 9.3 rating and a 16 share for the week, representing about 14.8 million viewers. All of its rivals were gathered far behind, averaging about 9 million viewers each.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.2/25; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.8/23; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 15.5/23; 4. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.6/24; 5. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.1/21; 6. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 12.7/19; 7. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.1/20; 8. Survivor: Palau, CBS, 11.7/19; 9. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11.6/19; 10. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.5/17.

IDOL LEADS FOX TO ANOTHER TUESDAY VICTORY

Tuesday night's penultimate episode of the current American Idol talent contest scored a mighty 14.5 rating and a 24 share Tuesday night. The medical drama House hung on tightly to its coattails at 9:00 p.m., drawing a 10.9/17. The two shows easily gave Fox a strong lead over its rivals on Tuesday. Fox's 12.7/20 average far outpaced second-place CBS's 7.7/12. NBC was close behind with a 7.1/11, while ABC tanked with a 4.5/7.

CBS TAKES NO CHANCES -- REPLACES LOWER-RATED SHOWS

In what several analysts described as a bold move, ratings leader CBS has unveiled seven new shows that it plans to add to its schedule next season, including three comedies and four dramas. Two of the dramas were described as "supernatural" or "sci-fi." One, Ghost Whisperer, stars Jennifer Love Hewitt as a newlywed who, well, whispers to ghosts. The other, Threshold, concerns a scientific group that makes contact with aliens who have landed in the Atlantic Ocean. More notable is the cancellation of two high-profile programs that created a lot of stir but failed to attract substantial ratings. They include the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, which presented Dan Rather's controversial report about President Bush's National Guard service. The elimination of the show effectively turns Rather out to pasture. Also canceled was Joan of Arcadia, which received high praise from critics and was honored with an Emmy nomination. CBS Chairman Les Moonves said today that the failure of the show was one of his biggest disappointments. Taking over the Everybody Loves Raymond slot on Monday nights will be Two and a Half Men. Joining it will be two new shows, How I Met Your Mother, from two of David Letterman's former writers, and Out of Practice, from the writers of Frasier.

FORGET RATINGS -- HOW MUCH DO VIEWERS EARN?

Making the point that ratings aren't everything in today's ad market, today's (Tuesday) Wall Street Journal observes that NBC at its upfront presentation to advertisers this week decided to keep The Office but yank Committed, which drew higher ratings this past season. The reason, according to the network, is that The Office draws a higher percentage of wealthy viewers than Committed. The Office, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told the newspaper, "was the most upscale comedy on any network this season. ... That's the type of product we want on our network." In its report, the Journal concluded, "What viewers with higher incomes watch on TV is becoming more important to the broadcast networks as they try to set themselves apart from the pack and sell their fall schedules to advertisers." However, the newspaper also quoted ad buyer exec Laura Caraccioli-Davis of Starcom Entertainment as saying, "Overall television is not a very upscale marketplace. ... The pool of TV advertisers seeking narrow, wealthy audiences is comparatively small."

BBC TO PUT ITS PROGRAMS ONLINE

The BBC, which doesn't have to worry about whether viewers who record its programs skip commercials -- it doesn't have any -- said today that it is planning a three-month test of its Interactive Media Player, which will allow users to download programs to their computers up to seven days after they are broadcast. The test is scheduled to begin in September with about 5,000 broadband users participating.

THE FORCE STRIKES

Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith is set to open nationwide at midnight tonight, with numerous theaters reporting sellouts throughout the wee hours. Twentieth Century Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told the New York Times that he can't recall ever seeing advance sales for any movie running so strong. Analysts are predicting that the film could earn $120 million or more by the end of the weekend. Making the ticket sales even more extraordinary, he noted, is the fact that "it's not exactly summertime." The George Lucas film is certain to lift the box office out of one its longest-running slumps of recent years -- nearly three months long. Total box office is now down 8 percent for the year, with actual admissions down some 10 percent.

Movie PictureMOVIE REVIEWS: STAR WARS: EPISODE III -- REVENGE OF THE SITH

Call it the critics' war over Star Wars. Seldom have reviews clashed as remarkably as they have with Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post praises director George Lucas not only for the remarkable special effects in the film but for his willingness to address the fundamental question, "What makes man evil?" The issue, he says, is "what drives the movie ahead -- it starts fast, gets fast and angry and ends fast and furious. And I do mean furious. Fury is its fuel, its raison d'etre and its destiny." Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun calls it "a pop masterpiece." A.O. Scott in the New York Times concludes that it is the best of all the "episodes," including the original Star Wars (renamed Episode IV -- A New Hope). Scott does mildly criticize the dialogue and the performances, but, he adds, "nobody ever went to a Star Wars picture for the acting. Even as he has pushed back into the Jedi past, Mr. Lucas has been inventing the cinematic future, and the sheer beauty, energy and visual coherence of Revenge of the Sith is nothing short of breathtaking." But clearly Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News was expecting something more. "The dialogue is astonishingly feeble, the acting unforgivably wooden," she writes. To paraphrase Yoda ... Bored I am." Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle writes similarly: "The picture is laden with plot and difficult to follow, even for someone who has seen every Star Wars installment. The action scenes are overlong and unexciting, and if anyone needs to take a bathroom break, go during a light saber duel. They'll still be fighting when you get back." Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes the dialogue as "ponderous hooey" that "crashes and burns like an X-wing zapped out of the sky by a star destroyer." Many reviews fall somewhere between those two forces. Gene Seymour writes in Newsday, "The characters speak fluent billboard. The battle scenes, especially the ones at the very beginning, steal the show. And acting honors threaten to go, by default, to a 3-foot-tall special effect." Many of the critics conclude that Episode 3 is a major improvement over the other two prequels and that the special effects work is particularly impressive. Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Episode III has more action per square minute, I'd guess, than any of the previous five movies, and it is spectacular. The special effects are more sophisticated than in the earlier movies, of course, but not necessarily more effective." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times remarks, "It's a tribute to the power and durability of the universe Lucas and company created in the first three Star Wars movies that we want to see this episode despite the tedium of the previous two and despite knowing exactly what will happen in it." But Turan concludes that the special effects in the movie make it worth the wait. "It's not just in warfare that Revenge's visuals excel. The film is frankly overwhelming in its ability to create a spectacular variety of alternate worlds."

WHEN LESS IS MORE IN FILMMAKING

By keeping his film budgets relatively low, director Robert Rodriguez indicated with a touch of irony today (Wednesday), he has been allowed greater freedom than directors who work with bloated budgets. Appearing at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival where his latest film, Frank Miller's Sin City, is competing for the Palme d'Or, Rodriguez commented that a low budget also "makes you more creative." Moreover, he told reporters, it also has allowed him to get his film projects approved quickly. Sin City was approved within minutes by former Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein, he said. (Made for $45 million, it has taken in $73 million domestically.) Making his films in Austin, TX (he is wearing a cowboy hat at Cannes), he also indicated, has allowed him to remain "under the radar" and keep studio executives at arms' length. He added that the liberty that he had been granted by the Weinsteins had been "extraordinary" and expressed no concern about their departure from Disney to form a separate company. "Disney was their bank," Rodriguez said. "Now, they're going to get another bank." He suggested that he plans to make his next film for the Weinsteins. "I'm going to follow them wherever they go," he said.