DOES IDOL HAVE CLAY FEET?

American Idol, television's biggest money maker and the underpinning of the Fox television network's programming lineup, appeared threatened today (Wednesday) following the release of excerpts from an exposé that rival network ABC plans to air as a Primetime Live special tonight. The program, airing during the May sweeps, will feature an interview with former contestant Corey Clark, who appeared during the 2002-3 season, and now claims that he received special coaching from Paula Abdul, one of the three judges on the show, that she bought him "expensive clothing," and that he had an affair with her. To corroborate Clark's claims, the network says that it will air messages left on his answering machine by Abdul. In a statement released late Tuesday, Fox said that no one connected with the show had ever been "contacted by Mr. Clark nor presented any evidence concerning his claims." Reporting on the ABC exposé, today's New York Times commented: "Mr. Clark's assertions represent a threat to the show because they undercut a fundamental reason for its appeal: the notion that it offers a fair, level playing field. While producers insist that it is viewers voting by telephone who choose the winners and losers, judges like Ms. Abdul can, at the least, help make the case (or not) for a particular contestant." In Clark's case Abdul, who generally praises most of the show's performers, seemed especially complimentary in Clark's case. However, he was booted from the show in April 2003 after producers said that he had not disclosed that he had once been arrested on charges of assaulting a younger sister. (He was allowed to plead no contest to a lesser charge.)

IDOL'S RATINGS STILL GOLDEN

The controversy over American Idol appeared to have no effect -- positive or negative -- on the show's ratings. Tuesday's edition scored a 14.5 rating and a 23 share, in line with its usual numbers. Once again, it was the highest-rated show of the night and together with House, which finished with a 10.9/16, pushed Fox well above its rivals. Its average 12.7/19 was well ahead of second-place NBC's 8.5/13 in the overall ratings. And its 8.4 rating among adults 18-49 was more than twice NBC's 4.1 in that category.

EVERYONE'S A WINNER -- EXCEPT NBC -- IN WEEKLY RATINGS

ABC, Fox, and CBS all had something to boast about following the release of last week's ratings by Nielsen Research. ABC had the top-rated show on television, Desperate Housewives, which drew a 15.8 rating and a 23 share Sunday night. Fox drew the most younger viewers, thanks to American Idol and the return of The Family Guy. CBS was the top network overall, as it averaged an 8.5/14 for the week. NBC had little to be happy about. It did manage to tie Fox for No. 2 in overall households with an average 6.1/10, but it was dead last among viewers 18-49. ABC was close behind in households with a 6.0/10.

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

1. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.8/23; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.2/24; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 15.1/23; 4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 14.8/23; 5. Survivor: Palau, CBS, 12.6/19; 6. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11.3/18; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 10.4/15; 7. House, Fox, 10.4/16; 9. Cold Case, CBS, 10.3/16; 9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.3/16.

NBC NABS TWO-THIRDS OF THE TRIPLE CROWN

NBC is again placing its bets on the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, signing a deal to air the first two legs of the Triple Crown series through 2010. However, NBC has lost the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, to ESPN, the Disney-owned cable network. The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol as saying, "We're dealing with two companies that absolutely dominate horse racing in the United States and they want to be on a national, over-the-air carrier."

HORSE DEATHS ON FLICKA RULED "UNPREVENTABLE"

An investigation by the American Humane Assn. (AHA) into the deaths of two horses on the set of Fox 2000's Flicka has concluded that they were "unpreventable accidents." In a statement released Tuesday, the AHA, which had observers on the set of the film, said that the Los Angeles City Animal Services (LACAS), which conducted a separate investigation, had reached the same opinion. Nevertheless, the AHA said in its statement, it will now require "an additional level of supervision when filming calls for intense animal action." It also said that it could not allow the usual "No animals were harmed" statement to appear in the film's end credits. The conclusions by the AHA and the LACAS were denounced by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

NO BIG BLOCKBUSTER, BUT TIME WARNER SAVED BY CABLE

It didn't have a Lord of the Rings-style blockbuster, but Time Warner said in an SEC filing Tuesday that rising revenue at Time Warner Cable offset lower performance by its film companies during the first quarter. In fact, net income was virtually flat with last year -- $963 million versus $961 million in 2004. The company also saw revenue increase 4 percent to $2.3 billion at its Turner Broadcasting division, which includes the WB network, CNN, TBS, and the Cartoon network.

RATINGS SYSTEM SCORED FOR FAILING TO WARN ABOUT VIOLENCE

The motion picture ratings system "is not working as well as it could" in warning parents about the amount of violence in movies, according to researchers at UCLA's Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center. In a study of 98 of the most popular movies in 1994, the researchers found all but three included at least one scene of violence and that some PG-13 films contained as much violence as some R-rated ones. The researchers noted that many films that were flagged primarily for language contained a greater-than-average amount of violence than those flagged for violence. Commenting on the study, University of Michigan psychology professor L. Rowell Huesmann told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times: "There are interest groups that are outraged by the sight of a breast, a la Janet Jackson, or suggestions of sex, but don't mind someone being strangled, knifed or shot to death [on screen]." The authors of the UCLA study conclude by asking the MPAA to provide "meaningful content" information about each film,

MOVIE CHAIN TO POST NOTICE ABOUT ACTUAL SHOW TIMES

Responding to complaints from moviegoers -- and the threat of legislation -- Loews Cineplex Entertainment said that beginning next week, ads listing the times for the movies being shown in its theaters will also carry a note reading, "The feature presentation starts 10 to 15 minutes after the posted show time." The note will first appear in ads for theaters in Connecticut, then two weeks later in the rest of the country. John McCauley, head of marketing for the theater chain, told today's (Wednesday) New York Times that it was only coincidence that the initial test will be held in Connecticut, where a state representative has sponsored a bill requiring real-time listings.

DISNEY REACHES OUT TO HALIFAX TO SHUT DOWN MURAL

Dopey no longer smokes dope in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Kenny Banks, owner of the Sweet Leaf Smoke Shop, has covered up a mural at his show that showed Disney's Seven Dwarfs holding a joint, bong and other drug paraphernalia. According to Canadin reports, Disney got word of the mural after neighbors complained to city lawmakers. The studio sent Banks a letter stating that the characters were its intellectual property and demanding that the mural be covered up. Banks has complied, telling the Canadian Press that he wasn't too upset and remarking that although the mural cost him $1,800, he's gained far more than that from the publicity generated by the controversy. "Sure, it worked out OK," he said.

CANADIAN AUTHORITIES ANGERED OVER FILM ABOUT SCHOOL GIRL KILLERS

Authorities in the province of Ontario, Canada said Tuesday that they have no way of blocking the release of a film about the notorious killers of two St. Catharines, Ontario school girls. Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka are the subjects of the upcoming film Deadly. "It's clear that the producer wants to have it released in Canada first because it was big news in Canada,'' Consumer Services Minister Jim Watson told the Canadian Press."I would suspect it would not make a whole lot of money south of the border. They're obviously trying to exploit the tragedy here in Ontario." Moreover, he indicated, the Ontario Film Review Board would be powerless to alter the rating of the movie based on the proximity of the crimes. Meanwhile, Michael Sellers, the Hollywood producer of the film, expressed his willingness Tuesday to show the film to a lawyer for the families of the murdered girls, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and to other concerned citizens and members of the media.

JEWISH COMEDY FAVORED TO WIN GERMAN FILM AWARDS

A low-budget German comedy about two Jewish brothers who were raised on opposite sides of the Berlin wall has become a surprise hit in the country and is the favorite to garner the most nominations for the German Film Awards, due to be announced on Monday. The film, Dani Levy's Go for Zucker!: An Unorthodox Comedy (Alles auf Zucker), is believed to be the first Jewish comedy produced in Germany since WWII, and received rave reviews. The German news weekly Der Spiegel commented: "The audience is not laughing at the Jews but together with them. This is definitely a step in the right direction." But Levy told the International Herald Tribune that it took him three years to raise the $2 million to make the film. "The mere mentioning of the words 'Jewish comedy' made people shy away," he said. The film has so far earned $5.2 million at the German box office.