TOWELGATE BOOSTS HOUSEWIVES' RATINGS

Demonstrating once again that there's nothing like a bit of controversy to boost ratings, ABC's Desperate Housewives delivered its biggest audience yet Sunday night as it recorded a 17.5 rating and a 24 share in the 9:00 hour, delivering the worst defeat ever to NBC's competing Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which settled for a 9.7/14. CBS's movie, Back When We were Grownups, placed third with a respectable 8.3/12. But Fox's My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss trailed with a skinny 2.9/4. Housewives createda national brouhaha last week when, during a cross promotion, one of the show's stars turned up in a Monday Night Football teaser, wearing only a towel and seducing a player. Overall, ABC averaged a 9.8/15 for Sunday night and held a comfortable lead over CBS's second-place 8.9/14. NBC placed third with a 7.3/11, while Fox wound up with a 5.0/8.

STERN AND LETTERMAN TOGETHER BEAT LENO

Howard Stern's appearance on CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman Friday night produced a rare ratings win for the show over NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. While nationally the Letterman show with a 5.7 rating barely edged out Leno who garnered a 5.4, in New York, Letterman drew 80 percent more viewers than Leno, according to the New York Post, which cited Nielsen figures.

ABC WON'T CARRY BOWL GAMES

Signaling that it may be having second thoughts about using expensive football telecasts as a loss leader to attract viewers, ABC on Friday withdrew from negotiations to continue carrying college football's Bowl Championship Series. Currently ABC pays about $25 million to air a bowl game but reportedly offered about $17 million during negotiations. Meanwhile, Fox has indicated that it would like to take over the ABC telecasts when the ABC contract expires after the 2006 bowl games.

MCCARTNEY TO HEAD SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW, WON'T SHOW NIPPLE

Paul McCartney, who, unlike many teen idols of his time, was never known to shed his shirt for a publicity photo -- and is unlikely to do so now at the age of 62 -- has been signed to head the lineup at the Super Bowl halftime show next year. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy promised that there would be no repeat of the controversy that erupted this year when Janet Jackson's breast was bared for an instant during the show. In an interview with Reuters, McCarthy said, "We're very cognizant we'll be under spotlight with this year's halftime show and we've looked at all facets of the show including talent selection, song selection and costume selection, to ensure we wouldn't have a repeat of what happened last [February]."

TIVO USERS REMEMBER SPONSORS EVEN WHEN SKIPPING ADS

CBS audience researchers have discovered that although most users of digital video recorders (DVRs) such as TiVo fast forward through 75 percent of the commercials, 23 percent are nevertheless able to recall the names of the sponsors. "You wouldn't get that kind of recall if you asked people to watch a regular TV commercial," CBS's research chief, David Poltrack, told MediaPost's online MediaDailyNews on Friday. His explanation: "They have to look at them to fast-forward through them." MediaPost reported that some ad agencies at experimenting with a system that would show a six-second spot, representing the amount of time it takes to fast-forward through a 30-second ad.

ADVOCACY GROUPS TAKE AIM AT CABLE

The family advocacy group Parents Television Council has condemned the FCC for refusing to address the issue of sex, violence and profanity in a new report on "A La Carte" cable TV programming, which would allow cable subscribers to determine which channels they would like to allow into their homes. In a statement, Tim Winter, executive director of the PTC, said, "Why should people be forced to pay for anal sex on FX when they want the Disney Channel? ... Our own research proves that cable television is in the sewer and that parents want the power to choose their stations. If the cable industry won't do it, then we'll take our fight to our elected officials and demand that they give American families the freedom to choose smut-free television." The FCC study concluded that allowing consumers to pick and choose cable stations would result in higher bills to subscribers and force smaller cable networks off the air.

OSCAR IS SLIGHTLY MORE GOLDEN THAN LAST YEAR

More than three months before it is scheduled to air, ABC's telecast of the 2005 Academy Awards ceremonies is almost sold out, TV Week reported today (Monday), citing unnamed media buying executives. According to the execs, ABC will probably rake in $87-90 million, slightly more than last year's $84 million. Only one or two spots remain to be sold, the trade publication said.

FILM OF FALLUJAH SHOOTING RAISES WAR COVERAGE ISSUES

The foreign affairs editor of London's Sunday Observer has commented that the release of footage by Kevin Sites, a freelance cameraman working for NBC, showing a U.S. marine killing a wounded and apparently unarmed man in a Fallujah mosque "raises important questions about what the media does in war zones, what it is appropriate to show, and -- more seriously -- whether it is morally defensible to censor or self-censor." In an article appearing in Sunday's edition, Peter Beaumont wrote that when he himself was in Fallujah, "I came across the office of a local businessman and tribal sheikh that had been vandalized by US soldiers. His pictures had been smashed, his sofas had been ripped open with a combat knife and 'F*** You' had been carved on his door." When he asked a colonel commanding the unit about what he had seen, Beaumont wrote, the colonel asked him not to write about it. The newsman added, "It is perhaps surprising that Sites was able to successfully broadcast his footage at all." Meanwhile, Sites himself has said on his personal website that he has been surprised to see himself depicted "as some kind of anti-war activist" by some conservative publications, insisting that he has gone to great lengths "to play it straight down the middle." Writing about what he saw, he said that when he entered the mosque, he saw the bodies of three wounded men whom he had seen the previous day. One had died, the other two were still alive. He then saw a Marine approach one of the men and say, "He's f***ing faking he's dead," then raise his rifle in the direction of the wounded man. Sites said there were "no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging" before the Marine pulled the trigger.

TREASURE CREATES BOX OFFICE TROVE

Box office analysts and critics alike nursed wounded egos as moviegoers controverted the former and confounded the latter over the weekend. Disney's National Treasure, starring Nicolas Cage, which received mostly poor reviews and was expected to earn $20-25 million, wound up as the weekend's most popular movie, earning an estimated $35.3 million. Paramount's hand-drawn animated feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was expected to earn $25-30 million, came in second with $33.5 million. The Incredibles, which many analysts figured would retain its No.-1 position, fell to third place with $26.8 million, but still earning a little more than the $25 million that analysts thought it would take in. Warner Bros.' The Polar Express chugged along with $15.2 million, although it was playing in 3,650 theaters. Especially noteworthy was the fact that the movie packed the 60 IMAX theaters where a 3D version was showing. In those theaters, the film grossed $2.05 million. In other words, 1.6 percent of the theaters where Express was playing accounted for 13.5 percent of its entire earnings. Overall, the box office took in about $150 million, about 11 percent more than it did over the comparable weekend last year.

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

1. National Treasure, $35.3 million; 2. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, $33.5 million; 3. The Incredibles, $26.8 million; 4. The Polar Express, $15.2 million; 5. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, $10.1 million; 6. After the Sunset, $5.3 million; 7. Ray, $4.6 million; 8. The Grudge, $3.8 million; 9. Seed of Chucky, $3.1 million; 10. Saw, $3 million.

KINSEY UNDER ATTACK

Conservative "pro-family" and religious groups are attempting to develop a strategy to battle Fox Searchlight's critically acclaimed Kinsey about the controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, whom one detractor accuses of unleashing "AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, child sexual abuse, incest and pornography." However, Robert Knight, director of the conservative Culture and Family Institute in Washington, told today's (Monday) Washington Post that some critics of the film may not want to do battle with a film company owned by Rupert Murdoch. "Fox has a schizophrenic personality," Knight told the newspaper. "Conservatives appreciate Fox News Channel for bringing balance, but the Fox entertainment network, on the other hand, has clearly been the leader in driving TV into the sewer with its non-stop sexual emphasis." Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight said on Friday that it was shocked by the decision of New York public TV station WNET to reject an underwriting spot for Kinsey. Marketing chief Nancy Utley said in an interview with the Associated Press, "New York is the most sophisticated city in the country. It would never occur to me that a censorship issue would come up in New York." An official of the station called the spot "too commercial and too provocative."

SONY HIT HARD BY DECLINING DOLLAR

Shares in Sony slumped today (Monday) on the Nikkei and NYSE after the dollar continued to plunge to its lowest level against the yen in nearly five years. Koichi Seki, an equity manager at Chuo Securities Co. in Tokyo told Bloomberg News that the rapid decline of the dollar places Japanese companies doing business in the U.S. at substantial risk. "Exporters are the most vulnerable to the dollar's slump because they have based their earnings forecasts at much lower rates than the current level," of the yen," he said.

HOLLYWOOD VIDEO IS WOOED BY MOVIE GALLERY

The Hollywood Video rental chain suddenly has another suitor. Only a week after Blockbuster offered to buy the chain for about $700 million plus the assumption of $350 million in debut, another movie rental company, Movie Gallery has said that it has made a "superior" proposal, although it did not disclose its terms. The addition of Hollywood's video stores to Movie Gallery's would effectively double the size of the company to 4,000 stores (versus Blockbuster's 5,500 stores).

GREEK LAWYERS MAY SUE OVER ALEXANDER'S GAY SCENES

A group of Greek lawyers, maintaining that no historical document mentions that Alexander the Great ever engaged in homosexual acts, has threatened to sue director Oliver Stone and Warner Bros. unless the title credits mention that the film is fiction. "We are not saying that we are against gays," Yannis Varnakos, one of the lawyers, told Britain's Guardian newspaper. "But we are saying that the production company should make it clear that the film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander." In the film, Alexander, portrayed by Colin Farrell, is depicted as having lovers of both sexes.