THE PEACOCK IS MOLTING

NBC's ratings continued to plunge last week, particularly among 18-49 year olds, according to Nielsen Research. The network has lost 16 percent of its young-adult audience -- with Friends replacement Joey losing 48 percent; Law & Order, 26 percent; and The Apprentice, 19 percent. At the same time, CBS is up 11 percent in the key demo and ABC is up 3 percent. (Fox is down 34 percent, but many of its new programs won't debut until post-season baseball concludes.) The network has also seen its numbers lowered by two out-and-out flops, LAX and Hawaii. (ABC's life as we know it also bombed in its debut against Thursday competition last week, and the network has also recorded miserable numbers for Benefactor, although it was preempted last week for a special about the death of Christopher Reeve.) NBC Universal TV President Jeff Zucker told USA Today that his network's fall-off had been anticipated. "We're just under where we expected to be," he told the newspaper. "The only surprise for us is instead of a two-way race, it's a three-way race." Nevertheless, Steve Sternberg of ad buyer Magna Global commented, "Anytime you fall out of first place, there's reason for concern."

ABC IS LESS DESPERATE

ABC's Desperate Housewives and Lost continued to keep the long-hibernating network in the action last week and were a decisive factor in holding NBC at bay. Housewives, in particular, smothered NBC's once-top-rated Law & Order: Criminal Intent. CBS beat two other NBC stalwarts last week, as Without a Trace continued to trounce E.R. and CSI: NY clobbered another version of Law & Order.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.4/26; 2. Without a Trace, CBS, 13.9/22; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.5/22; 4. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 12.1/18; 5. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4/17; 5. Survivor: Vanuatu, CBS, 11.4/18; 5. E.R., NBC, 11.4/18; 8. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 11.2/19; 9. CSI: NY, CBS, 110./18; 10. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 10.8/16.

FREE CARS -- THE NEW REALITY?

The Ford Motor Company indicated on Tuesday that it intends to increase spending on product placements in TV shows and has signed an agreement with ABC to give away several vehicles on the network's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The ad strategy by Ford comes in the wake of vast publicity for last month's episode of Oprah, in which the talk-show host gave away 276 new General Motors-made cars to members of her audience. In the case of Makeover, the automaker is planning to customize the vehicles to the family's circumstances. "We're actually looking at the family's situation," Richard Stoddart, Ford Division marketing communications manager, told the Detroit News. "What are their unique needs?"

LIBERAL GROUPS DEMAND THAT VIACOM SELL THEM ADS

Thirteen liberal advocacy groups announced on Tuesday that they had formed a coalition, Let US Decide, aimed at pressuring Viacom to sell them ad time on its cable channels. The coalition said that it will immediately launch a petition drive and has set up a toll-free hotline that will direct callers to Viacom's main switchboard. Viacom President Sumner Redstone recently said that although he personally favors many of the positions taken by Senator John Kerry, he intends to vote for President Bush, since Republican policies better serve Viacom's interests.

FOX FINED $1.18 MILLION FOR 2003 REALITY EPISODE

An episode of the Fox reality series Married by America that aired in April of last year has drawn the wrath of the FCC, which is seeking to fine each of the Fox owned and affiliated stations $7,000 for airing it -- a total of $1.18 million. The commission unanimously voted to fine the stations after receiving 159 complaints. Although nude shots of the participants were intentionally blurred ("pixelated") for the broadcast, the FCC complaint said that "even a child would have known that the strippers were topless and that sexual activity was being shown. The material is gratuitous, vulgar and clearly intended to pander to and titillate." Fox indicated that it would appeal the action, calling the program "not indecent." Today's (Wednesday) Washington Post quoted an unnamed TV executive who works in reality TV as saying, "The FCC is wasting time, and they should recognize that as adults we can be responsible for our children. They should monitor things we don't have control over. ... It's a Fox show, and people should know what they're getting themselves into."

A $2.64-MILLION CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK

James Murdoch was paid $2.64 million in his first eight months as CEO of BSkyB, the British satellite broadcaster controlled by his father Rupert's News Corp, according to the company's annual report. He is also due to receive $350,000 per year for three years to cover "relocation" expenses and, in addition, free non-business flights for himself, his wife, and daughter and "all school and education fees" for his children. Additionally, he will receive the usual perks, including such things as medical insurance, use of a company car, and pension payments.

SHARK GIVES IPO A LEG UP

With its Shark Tale continuing to display fearsome jaws at the box office -- it took in $92.6 million in its first 11 days -- DreamWorks filed papers with the SEC Tuesday saying that it plans an IPO of its animation unit with an offering price of $23-25 per share. Proceeds, it said, would be used to finance additional productions and to repay early DreamWorks investors, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who plans to sell 4 million shares. The IPO could raise between $575 million and $625 million for the animation company and $92-100 million for selling shareholders, principally Allen.

DISNEY SHAREHOLDERS WANT TO NAME DIRECTORS

Disney shareholders could have a greater say in selecting members of the Walt Disney Co.'s board of directors under a non-binding resolution that four major pension funds say they intend to put before next year's annual shareholders meeting. The pension funds, led by CalPERS, the nation's largest, want shareholders to be able to nominate two independent directors to the 11-member board. In a news release, CalPERS President Sean Harrigan said: "The first step in restoring investor confidence was for Michael Eisner to step down, the second step was to search for a successor as the CEO, but the third step -- getting independent directors to serve next year and in the years ahead -- is the most important step of them all." Meanwhile, a Delaware judge on Tuesday granted a two-day delay in the trial of a Disney shareholders' lawsuit challenging the $140-million severance paid to former company President Michael Ovitz. Lawyers for shareholders had sought a postponement after the company turned over a batch of documents related to Ovitz's work during his tenure as second-in-command at the company.

WRITER WANTS NAME REMOVED FROM DARIN BIOPIC

Writer-director James Toback (Bugsy) is demanding that his name be removed as one of the writers of the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, starring Kevin Spacey. Toback told the New York Post's "Page Six" column that he spent a month in 1996 working with Barry Levinson on the screenplay. "I was a Bobby Darin fanatic and Warner Bros. was willing to pay me an astronomical fee, $150,000 a week. ... It was a miracle of collaboration. We were about to proceed." That's when it was learned that the rights to Darin's life story were owned by a Connecticut movie theater owner, Arthur Friedman, according to Toback, and the film was subsequently rewritten. But when Toback read the final version, he told the Post, "I felt I can't have my name on a movie with this dialogue. It's almost unheard of for a writer not to fight for credit, but I don't want someone 300 years from now thinking, 'Toback wrote that line.'" The Post column quotes a Spacey publicist as saying, "There's no way for him to ask for his name to be taken off because he was never on." (His name, however, currently appears in the Internet Movie Database's listing for the movie.)

ASHCROFT UNVEILS ANTI-PIRACY ATTACK

Saying that the U.S. is embarking on "the most aggressive legal assault against intellectual property crime in our nation's history," the U.S. Department of Justice has unveiled plans to establish five anti-piracy offices across the U.S., with an additional number placed in Asia and Eastern Europe. In a statement, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "We are trying to interrupt a massive hemorrhaging [of film revenue] occasioned by significant networks of organized individuals who are stealing billions of copies of copywritten (sic) materials on a regular basis."

BROSNAN SAYS BOND PRODUCERS AREN'T INTERESTED IN HIM ANYMORE

Pierce Brosnan's days as James Bond are over. Appearing to end speculation about whether he will return to the role, Brosnan has told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet: "I had a contract for four Bond films. ... I did them and told them that I'd like to continue. But suddenly, in the middle of negotiations, they changed their minds. They said that they weren't interested any more. I was shocked, perplexed. I loved Bond. He's given me so much, mostly a face out in the international market. Afterwards, I was happy. Now it feels like a relief."

DISNEY MAKES CHANGES IN HONG KONG DISNEYLAND

The Walt Disney Co., which initially made few concessions to French sensibilities in the design and operation of Euro-Disney -- and paid the price for its adamant stand -- has agreed to several changes in Hong Kong Disneyland, due to open on Oct. 14, 2005, to reflect Chinese culture, the International Herald Tribune reported today (Wednesday). (Among other modifications, the entire park was reportedly rotated several degrees in the design stage in accordance with recommendations by a feng shui consultant.) Company president Robert Iger told the newspaper that Disney is making a broad effort to recognize national differences globally. "We know if we're too U.S.-centric, the products won't be too relevant to those markets. ... That's particularly true as it relates to Hong Kong Disneyland."