FALLEN IDOL?

ABC aired its much ballyhooed Primetime Live special, "Fallen Idol," Wednesday in which a former American Idol contestant claimed to have received special treatment from judge Paula Abdul, ranging from coaching to sex. It remained to be seen how "explosive" -- the word used by ABC to hype the program -- the exposé would prove to be, either for Abdul or Idol itself. On Wednesday's program, Corey Clark described not only a three-month affair with Abdul but produced telephone tape recordings and cell-phone records to back up his claims. His parents appeared on the program to tell interviewer John Quiñones that they were aware of the affair and expressed their disapproval at the time. Several former contestants who lost out to Clark expressed outrage. One of them, Patrick Fortsen, said, "If these types of things are going on behind the scenes, there's really no point to American Idol." Earlier in the evening, the five American Idol finalists presented Abdul two floral bouquets, apparently as a gesture of support. There was no mention of the Primetime special on the show. Most analysts predicted that, far from being "explosive," the Primetime telecast will amount to barely a pop. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, commented: "Watching Idol now will be like watching Melrose Place. ... It's a great soap opera. Everything will have a subtext." Likewise Roy Peter Clark, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute in Florida, told the newspaper: "This show seems to have more than a little Teflon on it. ... Even when things go, quote, wrong, it generates more interest and broadens the audience." Besides, he observed, even if Clark's allegations are true, "it doesn't seem to have benefited anybody. Paula doesn't vote. The viewers vote." However, Thompson disagreed, noting that the biggest beneficiary will be Primetime, which has slipped badly in the ratings following the departures of its former regular hosts, Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer. (Sawyer still makes occasional appearances on the show.) Calling the Primetime special "parasitic journalism," Thompson remarked that Idol "is powerful enough to run up ratings on the network that has it, and on the network that doesn't." Indeed, the strategy paid off in spades. Primetime Live posted a 10.8 rating and a 16 share in overnight ratings, beating both CBS's CSI:NY (9.6/15) and NBC's Law & Order (9.3/14).

IDOL DRAWS A BIGGER CROWD

American Idol contestant Scott Savol, who had remarkably remained on the show during past weeks while seemingly more accomplished contestants were voted off, finally reached the end of the line Wednesday night. (Earlier, it was reported that Savol had been convicted of assaulting the mother of his toddler son.) The results episode seemed to indicate that the Primetime exposé helped rather than hindered the ratings as it posted an enormous 17.3 rating and a 25 share. A scandal of a different sort failed to pay off for CBS. At 8:00 p.m., Dr. Phil's interview with The Insider host Pat O'Brien about his recent substance abuse problem managed to draw only a 5.7/9, slammed by ABC's hit Lost, which recorded an 11.9/19 and NBC's Dateline, which pulled a 6.0/9.

RATINGS FOR SOAPS WASH AWAY

During the first three months of the current season, the combined ratings for soap operas airing on each of the three major networks dropped a whopping 18 percent among the target audience of female adults 18-34 years old, according to Nielsen Research. Bloomberg News reported today (Thursday) that the results so dismayed CBS ratings tracker David Poltrack that he asked Nielsen to recheck its data, which it did only to conclude that no error had been made. "Soap-opera ratings don't usually change that dramatically," Poltrack told the wire service. "They're usually fairly stable." Peter Butchen of ad-buyer Initiative Media commented that the audience flight is "a huge concern to advertisers." Lyle Schwartz of Mediaedge:cia added: "I don't recall ever seeing this type of decline."

PRESEASON NFL GAMES TO AIR ON THREE NBC STATIONS

NBC has given no indication whether it intends to go to its affiliates with hat in hand asking them to help pay for the costs of acquiring Sunday-night NFL football. But three of the network's owned-and-operated stations got word Wednesday that they will be able to air several pre-season games this summer. WNBC (New York), WMAQ (Chicago), and WCMH (Columbus, OH) will begin carrying the pre-season contests of the Giants, Bears, and Bengals beginning in early August.

INDECENCY CRUSADE: THE BACKLASH

Attempting to head off legislation that would tighten regulations regarding indecency on broadcast and cable television, a coalition backed by NBC, Fox, and CBS released a study that found that adults, by an 8-1 margin, oppose intended government programming controls. The coalition, dubbed TV Watch, issued a statement, quoting its executive director, Jim Dyke, as saying, "The debate has been dominated by advocates of increased government control. TV Watch speaks for most Americans who today are not represented in the debate over rising government regulation of television programming and who want to protect their favorite shows from censorship. The only way to balance the public's competing interests and values is for concerned viewers to use the ratings and other parental controls, and our mission is to help them do it." The group is mustering support from a broad political spectrum, including the American Conservative Union, which describes itself as the nation's oldest conservative lobbying organization. It is likely to clash with other conservative groups, particularly Brent Bozell's Media Research Center/Parents Television Council, which has been pushing for tighter government controls over program content.

FANS LEFT CRYING AT CHAPPELLE'S SUSPENSION

In a surprise announcement, Comedy Central said Wednesday that it had halted production of its hit sketch comedy show starring Dave Chappelle. In a terse statement, the cable network said that it was "optimistic that production [of Chappelle's Show] will resume in the near future and that the third season will not premiere as scheduled on May 31. Neither the channel nor Chappelle would discuss the announcement. Not only does the show attract nearly 3 million viewers, a huge number by cable standards, but a boxed DVD set of the show's first season sold 2 million copies, making it the best-selling comedy title in DVD history. Today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times quoted sources as saying that the show had been pushed back because the network was concerned about whether Chappelle could complete the season's 10 episodes. He reportedly complained of exhaustion recently and took time off.

RIVERA SEEKING OTHER OUTLETS

Geraldo Rivera wants to be traded. In an interview appearing in the Atlantic Monthly, Rivera expressed unhappiness over being relegated to weekends on Fox News Channel but said he realized that the network has no where else to put him, given its success with other personalities elsewhere on its schedule. Nevertheless, he told the magazine, "I could go to the lamest cable network, I could go to Court TV, I could go to Trio, I could go to Bravo -- make one up, and I know my show will do respectably against the competition. And I know that. And they know that. In a sense, I'm like a franchise ball player at the end of my career. I'm like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens. That's who I identify with: Old guys who can still throw 95-mile-an-hour fast balls."

REVENGE OF THE SPIDER-MAN

It now appears that Spider-Man will be for director Sam Raimi what Star Wars was for George Lucas -- a series of six films that will engage Raimi's talents for years to come. Raimi told the website Sci Fi Wire that Sony Motion Picture Group Chairman Amy Pascal had told him that she wants to make six Spider-Man pictures. "So I think she's a woman of her word. And if she says there'll be six, there'll be six. ... If they were to ask me, and if I felt as passionate as I feel now about the character and had this great hunger and desire to tell the story, which I really do now, you couldn't keep me away from it."

MURDOCH WANTS SOME OF MALONE'S STAKE IN NEWS CORP

Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday that he was "at a very sensitive point in our negotiations" with John Malone's Liberty Media, which has accumulated an 18-percent stake in Murdoch's News Corp. Speaking during a conference call with securities analysts, Murdoch said that he expected the negotiations with Liberty, in which he is trying to regain some of the News Corp shares, to be completed "before we come back to you again in three months." Meanwhile, News Corp reported earnings of $400 million during its third quarter, down 7.8 percent from the $434 million that it reported during the comparable quarter a year ago.

MORE MOVIES COMING UP ON PSP

Two companies that primarily provide short films for legal downloading over the Internet announced Wednesday that they will begin making them available for Sony's PlayStation Portable device. San Francisco-based AtomShockwave Corp. said that it will introduce Mobile Movie Theater, offering three independent films, Football, In God We Trust, and Rockfish. And New York-based Heavy.com said that it will make its entire library of thousands of hours of shorts available for free download on the PSP.

SATURN AWARDS HANDED OUT

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films has awarded Spider-Man 2 its Saturn Award for best picture (fantasy) and Kill Bill - Vol.2 for best picture (action/adventure/thriller). Sam Raimi received the best director award for Spider-Man 2, while Tobey Maguire received the best actor award for the same film. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind won a Saturn for best science-fiction film, while Shaun of the Dead won for best horror film. The Saturn for best animated film went to Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles.

STAR WARS PREVIEW AUDIENCE WARNS: LEAVE THE KIDS HOME

A select group invited to attend a screening of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith have come away praising the film but expressing doubts that it will attract the huge family audiences that its predecessors did. USA Today cited numerous examples of graphic violence, including one scene in which a character "catches fire, screaming in agony while the flesh peels off his body." The newspaper quotes Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader) as saying that he is unable to predict how audiences will react to the violence. "The first two [episodes] did a lot to create a young fan base," he remarked. "I'm not sure how they're going to react to some of these scenes if they see them."

LOTS OF ACTION ON COLLECTIBLE STAR WARS ACTION TOYS

Commenting that "the Force is stronger than the Nasdaq," USA Today observes that while the Nasdaq has dropped 2 percent since 1998, the price of a 1978 Darth Vader action figure in its original packaging is now worth $600 versus $205 dollars seven years ago, a jump of 193 percent. A 1978 Luke Skywalker action figure in original packaging can now be sold for $800, twice what it was worth in 1998. The action figures originally sold for about $5.00.