LOST LOSES VIEWERS

ABC's Lost, facing stronger competition from Major League Baseball on Fox and CBS's Criminal Minds, lost some of its audience Wednesday night, posting a 12.6 rating and a 19 share, versus a 13.1/20 a week ago. Nevertheless, it remained by far the top-rated show of the evening. Fox and ABC's sitcoms tied in the 8:00 p.m. hour with an average 5.7/9, only slightly ahead of NBC's Jerry Bruckheimer drama E-Ring with a 5.6/9. At 9:00, CBS's Criminal Minds posted a strong 8.6/13 against Lost, to take second place over Fox's MLB coverage, which drew a 6.6/10. NBC's The Apprentice: Martha Stewart remained in fourth place with a slightly improved 5.1/8. At 10:00, CBS led with a 9.7/16 for CSI: NY. ABC placed second with a 7.7/12 for Invasion, ahead of NBC's Law & Order, with a 7.2/12. Baseball scored a 6.7/11.

WAS ABC'S STING STUNG?

University officials were highly critical of ABC News's undercover tactics used during the production of a Primetime Live report due to air tonight (Thursday) on alleged security lapses at campus nuclear reactors. The program sent college interns -- all Carnegie fellows -- to visit 25 college campuses and see how easy it would be for them to gain access to guards and control rooms. Today's (Thursday) Kansas City Star reported that when two interns visited Kansas State University, the FBI was already aware of the ABC sting and had alerted the reactor staff. Hoping to prove his suspicions about the two young women, the newspaper said, reactor operator Evan Cullens asked them to pose for a photograph. "They were playing the flirt card to get information," he said. "We wanted a picture of them for the FBI, so we flirted back." Earle Holland, director of research information at Ohio State University, said that when the same two women began acting suspiciously during a public tour of the reactor at that school, they were asked to leave. "I believe in investigative journalism," Holland said. "We're willing to take our lumps when we deserve them. But this was a cheap shot." Ted Frederickson of the University of Kansas, who teaches journalistic ethics, told the Star that ABC could have found much of the information it wanted on reactor security in other ways -- in federal reports, for example. "When we're supposedly in the truth business, being untruthful hurts."

STEWART LOSING AFTERNOON AUDIENCE, TOO

Ratings for Martha Stewart's new daytime syndicated show fell again last week to a 1.6, about what her old show averaged a year ago. It had originally got off to an auspicious start three weeks ago but dropped in its second week by 15 percent, then an additional 6 percent last week. On the other hand, the new Tyra Banks Show has been showing steady audience increases and now virtually equals the audience for Martha in households and beats her among adults 18-49.

THE SIMPLE LIFE IS DEAD (PROBABLY)

Fox has confirmed a report appearing in Us Weekly that it has been forced to cancel the Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie reality series The Simple Life because, it said, it could not find a time period for it. The network did not mention the fact that the two stars had had a public falling-out, with Hilton issuing a statement in April saying that it was "no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends." Nevertheless, Fox had picked up options on their contracts for a fourth season, and the network hinted that it may now try to place the show with "a new network partner."

NBC CHIEFS DEFEND ZUCKER

New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove has called a Radar magazine report that Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television, may be on his way out "a magazine hatchet job." NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright, who was described in the Radar article as being "alarmed" at the way Zucker handled the firing of NBC News President Neal Shapiro, told Grove: "Jeff is a good leader, very competitive and focused. His spirit of innovation is a vital part of the present and the future of NBC Universal." And Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of NBC parent, GE, was quoted as telling employees in a video chat on Tuesday that Zucker has delivered "the best pipeline of shows we've probably had in the last four or five years."

COURT ACTS QUICKLY ON DISNEY REQUEST

A federal appeals court has ordered the FCC to respond by Oct. 25 to a request by Disney that the court force action on a petition filed by the TV industry that the FCC relax rules governing kids TV. The court acted within hours after Disney filed the request.

JOBS, IGER SMOKE PEACE PIPE OVER IPOD

It what appeared to be the beginnings of mutual back-scratching, Steve Jobs, the chairman of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation and Robert Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Co., appeared together Wednesday to announce that Disney would contribute content to Apple's new video iPod. Although Iger made it clear that the deal was with "Apple -- not Pixar," he quickly added, "That'll be for another time." Still, it appeared clear to many analysts that Iger was now using Disney's library of television and film programs as leverage in renewal negotiations with Pixar. If Jobs wants to be able to offer Pixar feature films on the video iPod -- so far, he's only able to offer a few shorts -- he may have to soften his previous demands. For his part, Iger appears already to have made a consequential concession -- making available episodes of three ABC shows (Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Night Stalker) and two Disney Channel shows (That's So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) on Apple's iTunes Music Store the day after they are broadcast for $1.99. (No iPod needed; they can be viewed on virtually any home computer using iTunes software.) "We think this is a real breakthrough," Jobs said. "It's never before been done, where you can buy hit prime-time TV shows the day after they're broadcast." Industry analysts agreed. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times, Van Baker, a media analyst with Gartner Inc., called the deal "astounding." He added: "I didn't think [Apple would] be able to line up the content, and without the content, [the video iPods are] useless." Iger made it clear that the limited content that Disney was offering represented only "the first giant step in terms of making content available to more people in more places." USA Today quoted Jefferies & Co. analyst Robert Routh as saying that after Wednesday's joint announcement, it appeared certain that Disney will strike a deal with Pixar. Other analysts noted, however, that while the deal opened a new revenue stream for Disney, there existed the possibility that it could cannibalize other sources of company revenue. Would consumers, for example, buy DVDs of movies and TV shows that they could download? (While the video iPods can use an inexpensive cable to transmit their content to TV sets, the picture reportedly lacks the crispness of DVDs.) Will TV viewers watch series reruns during the summer or on cable if they can download them any time they want? Deb McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting and a former head of the ABC affiliates board, told the Associated Press: "We want to be sure it doesn't affect over-the-air viewing" including reruns. And media buyer Dene Callas of MediaCom told A.P.: Of course it will erode ratings." Investors also appeared skeptical. Apple shares plummeted 4.5 percent Wednesday (after falling 10 percent on Tuesday), while Disney fell 2 percent.

WEINSTEIN CREATED "ILLUSION OF PROFITS" AT MIRAMAX, SAYS REPORT

Harvey Weinstein engaged in budget manipulation while running Miramax that enabled him to "create the illusion of profits" at the company, while in reality it was losing millions, according to Edward Jay Epstein, writing in the online Slate magazine. According to Epstein, Disney had agreed to pay Harvey and brother Bob a performance bonus of 30-35 percent of their film profits, calculated each fiscal year and also to tie Miramax's budget to annual performance. However, to ensure a profitable year, Epstein claims, Harvey Weinstein shifted to future years films that he believed would lose money, many of which were released just this year -- the year of the Weinsteins departure -- with losses expected to exceed $120 million. "And to add insult to injury," Epstein writes, "the Weinsteins' exit package, reported to be between $130 and $140 million, was partially based on what turned out to be Miramax's phantom profits in prior fiscal years."

NEW JAMES BOND TO BE ANNOUNCED ON FRIDAY

Sony Pictures Entertainment said Wednesday that it will disclose on Friday the name of the actor who will star in the next James Bond movie, Casino Royale. The announcement is due to be made at a news conference in London, where presumably the producer and the actor himself will take questions. Earlier this week, British tabloids disclosed that the new Bond will be Daniel Craig, known mostly from tabloid reports as the man who took up with Sienna Miller after she broke off her engagement to Jude Law. The New York Daily News reports that the announcement had been delayed while Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson conducted a final screen test with Craig. Meanwhile, it was also reported that Warner Bros. has agreed to back a film about the life of Bond creator Ian Fleming, written by Damian Stevenson and produced by Andrew Lazar.

TUCSON MAN SUED FOR ALLEGEDLY DOWNLOADING MOVIES

A Tucson man is about to find out that when he used the Kazaa peer-to-peer site to download movies, the Motion Picture Association of America as well as federal and local authorities were looking over his shoulder. "A lot of times people who are doing this think that they are anonymous, but we can subpoena the Internet service providers, which gives us evidence," MPAA spokeswoman Michelle Greeno told Wednesday's Arizona Daily Star. A lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday accuses Steve Streeter of Tucson of downloading Alien Vs. Predator and Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World using the Kazaa site. Damages could be assessed by the courts at as much as $150,000 for each movie. In a statement, MPAA Chairman/CEO Dan Glickman said, "We won't stand by while people steal valuable copyrighted material with no regard whatsoever for the law or for the rights of creative people to be paid for their efforts."

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL EXTENDED

After shortening the run of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival by one day in order to allow overseas film execs to get back to their offices by Monday, festival president Gilles Jacob said Wednesday that the 2006 edition will once again end on a Sunday, rather than on Saturday. (Opening ceremonies are set for May 17; closing ceremonies, for May 28.) The additional day will allow for more screenings. "People attending the festival complained that the competition schedule was too tight a squeeze," Jacob told Daily Variety in Paris.