RED-LETTER DAYS FOR BASEBALL
Baseball fans were seeing a lot of red, but Fox accountants were recording a lot of black Saturday as ratings for Game 1 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals soared 36 percent above the comparable opener a year ago between the New York Yankees and the Florida Marlins. The game recorded an average household rating of 13.7 and a 25 share, representing 24 million viewers -- the biggest audience to watch a Series opener since 1995, when the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves drew 25.2 million viewers. On Sunday night, baseball continued to rule, scoring an average 13.6/21 and peaking in the 9:00 hour with a 14.4/20, even though airing against ABC's hit Desperate Housewives, which drew a 13.3/19. (The drama remained the biggest draw for the night among 18-49-year-olds.)

SINCLAIR DOCUMENTARY NOT SO CONTROVERSIAL AFTER ALL

Instead of broadcasting its planned documentary accusing Senator John Kerry of betraying his fellow GIs and prolonging the Vietnam war in the early 1970s, Sinclair Broadcast Group on Friday aired a news special that examined the controversy surrounding its plans to air the program. Called A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media, the program wound up airing only about five minutes of the anti-Kerry movie Stolen Honor. David Zurawik, TV critic of the Baltimore Sun, located in Sinclair's hometown, commented: "This was not a program worth risking stockholder earnings or firing a respected journalist, as Sinclair did this week. The show seemed more an attempt by Sinclair to dig its way out of controversy than an examination of the Vietnam War record and anti-war protests of Democrat John Kerry, as promised."

NBC EXPECTS RATINGS FOR NIGHTLY NEWS TO DROP

NBC News executives are expecting that its NBC Nightly News will suffer at least a temporary downturn in its audience once Brian Williams takes over anchor duties from Tom Brokaw in December. NBC News President Neal Shapiro told today's (Monday) Washington Post: "In the long term, I'm optimistic. ... In the short term, I expect there to be some flipping. People look around whenever there's a change made." Nevertheless, he added, "We're changing the driver, but people also like the car." The news program will not be revamped when Williams takes over, the Post reported, unlike ABC's two magazine programs, Primetime Live and 20/20, each of which has added new hosts this season. Williams, however, said he plans to present the show from various parts of the country. "I want to keep traveling and take the broadcast on the road so we remain a good mirror of the country," he told the Post.

SATURDAY NIGHT (NOT SO) LIVE

A technical glitch on Saturday Night Live has unleashed a torrent of controversy over how "live" the program actually is. Coming on to the stage to perform a second number, singer Ashlee Simpson could be heard singing the first lines of the number she had sung earlier. Her band, however, appeared to be playing the backup for the second tune. Simpson began dancing, then simply walked off stage. At the end of the show, host Jude Law remarked to Simpson, "Live TV." "Exactly," said Simpson. "I feel so bad. My band started playing the wrong song." Reporting on the incident, the Associated Press commented that the recording of Simpson's voice "sounded suspiciously like a guide vocal ... [which makes] the voice sound more powerful than it is." FoxNews.com's Roger Friedman maintained that Simpson "had obviously lip synched the first song" and referred to her as a member of a group of singers "who have been manufactured by managers and record companies" who are unable to sing without "technological augmentation."

NO BEGRUDGING THE GRUDGE'S SUCCESS
Moviegoers embarrassed box office analysts once again by packing theaters showing Sony's The Grudge over the weekend and buying $40-million worth of tickets, about twice what the analysts had predicted. The movie eclipsed the fourth week of DreamWorks' Shark Tale, which took in an estimated $14.3 million, bringing its total to date to $136.9 million. Even Sony executives were astonished by The Grudge's successful opening. "I wish I could say I had any inclination that we were going to hit the ball so far out of the park," Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer told Daily Variety. The rest of the movies highlighted on theater marquees over the weekend all drew skimpy business, and the overall box office -- about $107 million -- was down 18 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. Among the losers was Ben Affleck's critically derided Surviving Christmas, which opened in seventh place with just $4.5 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. The Grudge, $40 million; 2. Shark Tale, $14.3 million; 3. Shall We Dance?, $8.6 million; 4. Friday Night Lights, $7 million; 5. Team America: World Police, $6.6 million; 6. Ladder 49, $5.4 million; 7. Surviving Christmas, $4.5 million; 8. Taxi, $4.25 million; 9. The Forgotten, $3.4 million; 10. I (Heart Symbol) Huckabees, $3 million.

IS AFFLECK'S CAREER OVER?

"What's left for the one-time golden boy?" the New York Daily News asks following Ben Affleck's Christmas-in-October turkey, Surviving Christmas, which did only slightly better at the box office than his previous debacle, Gigli, with Jennifer Lopez. "There have been other stars who have had career ups and downs, but with Affleck there's been an amazing confluence of factors," Exhibitor Relations chief Paul Dergarabedian told the newspaper. "He's had a lot of negative attention paid to his private life, and at the same time he's had so many bad movies. It's a double whammy." Most analysts, the Daily News suggested, aren't quite ready to write Affleck off yet. "He's not quite box-office poison, but he's also not the opposite -- he can't get people into the theater," writer Douglas Brode told the newspaper. Meanwhile, Affleck has defended his rewrites and adlibs in Surviving Christmas in an interview with Paul Fischer for DarkHorizons.com. "If you had a Tom Stoppard script you would be wise not to try improvising much, you know, you just like speak the words as they are written precisely," he said. But if you have a dog-s*** script or even something that is decent but requires some fixing, then you just do that."

LAW SCHOOL PROF CLAIMS OVITZ FAILED AS DISNEY PRESIDENT

Yale Law School professor John Donohue gave Michael Ovitz failing marks on Sunday for his yearlong performance as president of the Walt Disney Co. Testifying on behalf of shareholders who are demanding that Ovitz's $140-million severance be paid back to the company, Donohue said that Ovitz "seemed to have no understanding at all" of what the president of a major corporation was expected to do and that there were ample grounds for firing him. Donohue cited Ovitz's alleged expense-account padding (amounting to $5 million), gift-taking and refusal to carry out directions from Michael Eisner, then the company's chairman and CEO.

PIXAR IN "HOLDING PATTERN"

Pixar Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs has put negotiations with Hollywood's major studios on a distribution contract into "a holding pattern" while waiting to see how well Pixar's upcoming The Incredibles performs at the box office, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). The newspaper observed that should the superhero film exceed earnings of other Pixar animated features, it would "boost Mr. Jobs' leverage in negotiations for a future distribution partner." Pixar is intentially aiming at an audience older than the small children that flocked to the company's earlier movies like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, the newspaper suggested, pointing out that the film is rated PG, rather than G, as all of Pixar's previous features were. "This will appeal to a large segment of the population that won't go to see what they think is a 'kid's film,'" Incredibles director Brad Bird told the Journal.