TRIUMPHANT HOUSEWIVES

The season finale of Desperate Housewives -- in which viewers learned the "secrets" about the death of narrating character Mary Alice Young, played by Brenda Strong -- drew the show's biggest ratings yet, an 18.5 rating and a 28 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour. (The show also left behind numerous cliffhangers, virtually guaranteeing it equally huge ratings when it returns in the fall.) ABC remained in first place during the 10:00 p.m. hour as the season finale of Grey's Anatomy drew a 14.1/23. The back-to-back victories gave ABC a victory for the night as it averaged a 12.3/20 -- far ahead of second-place CBS, which had to settle for a 7.7/13. Fox placed third with a 5.3/9, while NBC tanked with a 4.3/7.

CBS ENTERTAINMENT MAY HAVE SAY IN RATHER'S SUCCESSOR

Breaking with tradition and what some would call its legacy, CBS is calling upon "people well outside the news division" to advise it on finding a permanent successor to Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, the New York Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper, citing three anonymous sources (one of whom reportedly expressed disappointment that people from the entertainment side of the company were being given a voice in the affairs of CBS News), said that among those attending a meeting on the matter last week were: Terry Wood, who developed the Dr. Phil show and The Insider; Larry M. Rickel, a TV news consultant based in San Antonio; and David Sirulnick, a news exec at corporate sibling MTV. The others were CBS News President Andrew Heyward and execs Marcy McGinnis and Jim Murphy.

GMA PRODUCER MAY LAUNCH HIS OWN MARKETING EFFORT

With ratings figures indicating that ABC's Good Morning America now draws just 40,000 fewer viewers than NBC's Today, GMA exec producer Ben Sherwood says that he has figured out how to put his show ahead. "I'm going to set up phone banks and cold-call 40,000 people," Sherwood quipped during an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'll say, 'Hello, my name is Ben, and I'd like to invite you to watch GMA.'" According to the latest Nielsens, GMA is up 9 percent among total viewers from the same period last year, while Today is down 4 percent.

ELLEN IS BIGGEST WINNER AT DAYTIME EMMYS

Ellen DeGeneres was clearly the star of the Daytime Emmy Awards Friday as she won for best talk-show host and The Ellen DeGeneres won for best talk show. General Hospital, which debuted in 1963, received its eighth daytime Emmy as the best drama series -- setting a record. Christian Jules LeBlanc of The Young and the Restless was named best actor, while Erika Slezak of One Life to Live was named best actress. Jeopardy was chosen best game show, while Meredith Vieira won for best game show host for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

STRIKE HAMSTRINGS BBC

The BBC was hit today (Monday) with a one-day strike as members of three unions representing the overwhelming majority of BBC staff demanded that the public broadcasting corporation scratch its plan to cut about 4,000 jobs. At midday, the National Union of Journalists, one of the three striking unions, said that the work stoppage had "dealt a major blow" to the BBC. Another union official, Luke Crawley of BECTU, told the Guardian newspaper: "It's a shame that it's come to this, but there's no question that Mark Thompson's cuts will cause huge damage in the short and medium term. We realize there will be disruption for viewers but believe it is for the greater good." However, the BBC said that about 60 percent of its staff reported for work today (Monday). "The service we have been able to offer on live programs, and the number of staff reporting for duty, is slightly better than expected," it said in a statement.

VETERAN COMEDIAN HOWIE MORRIS DIES AT AGE 85

Howie Morris, best remembered as the perennial "third banana" on the seminal 1950s variety show Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, died Saturday in Hollywood at age 85. On his website, his son David wrote, "He was without a doubt the most amazing father. In show business, Howard Morris 'the star' was one in a trillion, a true genius, and an entertainment dynamo. So many "greats" in this business followed his career with incredible admiration and respect. I for one am one of his biggest fans!"

SWEETEST REVENGE

Box office records fell to the Sith this weekend, as the latest episode of George Lucas's grandiose Star Wars serial took in an estimated $158.5 million over four days, pulverizing the previous four-day record of $134.3 million, set by The Matrix Reloaded in 2003. It might have set a record for an ordinary three-day weekend as well, if it hadn't taken in more than $50 million on opening day Thursday (itself a record). As things turned out, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith earned an estimated $108.5 million for the three days, somewhat less than Spider-Man's $114.8 million and about the same as Shrek 2's $108 million. (Final results are due to be announced later today.) Overseas, the movie recorded $144.7 million in ticket sales, smashing more records in 105 countries (the widest international roll-out in history) and eclipsing the $129.7-million overseas opening record set by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

ALSO-RANS DID PRETTY WELL, TOO

Surprisingly, some hold-over pictures performed relatively well despite the Sith attack. New Line's Monster-in-Law, which was last weekend's box-office winner, dropped only 38 percent in its second weekend, winding up with $14.4 million. Universal's Kicking & Screaming, regarded as the alternative family film for parents with very young children, took in $10.5 million for third place. Lions Gate's Crash lost only 22 percent in its third week, placing fourth with $5.5 million. Nevertheless, analysts agreed that it will take more than Star Wars to reverse the three-month-long slump that the box-office had experienced before the Sith arrived. "One movie cannot change the whole course of events over one weekend," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told today's (Monday) New York Times. "This indicates a resurgence. People will come back to the movie theaters, but one film - that's a lot of pressure to turn everything around. We could not reverse three months of downward with one film. We're way down."

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, $108.5 million; 2. Monster-in-Law, $14.4 million; 3. Kicking & Screaming, $10.5 million; 4. Crash, $5.5 million; 5. Unleashed, $3.8 million; 6. Kingdom of Heaven, $3.4 million; 7. House of Wax, $3.2 million; 8. The Interpreter, $2.8 million; 9. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, $2 million; 10. Mindhunters, $909,049.

BELGIAN BROTHERS WIN SECOND PALME D'OR

Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne took the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or Saturday for L'Enfant (The Child), about a thief who sells his infant son. In a kind of display of Franco-Hollywood unity, the Dardennes received their award from recent Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. It was the second Palme d'Or for the Dardennes; they won in 1999 for Rosetta. They dedicated their prize this year to French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi assistant, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, who have been held hostage in Iraq since January. The festival's Grand Prize (regarded as the second-place award) went to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray. The director's prize went to Austrian Michael Haneke for the French film Caché (Hidden). Though his film had been the favorite of critics to win the top award, Haneke said that the important thing for him was that it was picked up at the festival by distributors all over the world. He added, "That doesn't mean that it'll be on the same footing as Star Wars." Tommy Lee Jones, who competed at Cannes with The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, his directorial debut, won the best actor award for his role in the movie. The film also won for best screenplay (by Guillermo Arriaga). Israeli actress/comedian Hana Laszlo took the best actress award for Free Zone. The Jury prize went to Wang Xiaoshuai's Shanghai Dreams.

ADS IN THEATERS MORE EFFECTIVE THAN ADS ON TV, SAYS STUDY

Preshow advertising in movie theaters may be far more effective than advertising on television, according to a study by TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, conducted for Screenvision, an in-theater ad broker. As described in today's (Monday) New York Times, the study indicated that moviegoers are more than three times more likely to remember ads than their counterparts watching TV at home. In 2003, the last year for which data are available, revenue was up 37 percent for in-theater ads, the researchers observed.

THEATERS TARGETED BY BOMBERS IN INDIA

Security has been boosted at movie theaters in New Delhi, India following the explosion of several bombs at theaters showing the Hindu-language film Jo Bole So Nihal, which was denounced as offensive by Sikh leaders. Dozens of people were said to have been injured and at least one, killed (although some New Delhi news reports put the fatality figure at seven).

STOP PIRACY, OR..., SAYS MPAA'S GLICKMAN

MPAA chief Dan Glickman has warned China of unspecified trade "consequences" unless it steps up its efforts to fight piracy, Reuters reported on Sunday. Interviewed by the wire service in Shanghai, Glickman, who made his first visit to China last week as head of the MPAA, remarked: "We said [to the Chinese] the U.S. Congress...is becoming increasingly agitated about piracy. ... We said they need to do something or there would be trade-related problems. ...There's consequences if they don't get it down."