ABC IS LESS DESPERATE

ABC appeared to be well on its way to making a comeback Sunday as its drama, Desperate Housewives, drew a 13.4 rating and a 20 share in its debut, the best ratings for any new drama of the year. Given a number of other strong showings for series and season debuts, including Lost, Wife Swap, Boston Legal,Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Monday Night Football, analysts have begun predicting a "turnaround year" for the network. "It's premature to declare victory [for ABC], but it's not too early to declare that progress is being made," Tom Wolzien, media analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times. Steve Sternberg of ad buyer Magna Global USA remarked in an interview with the Miami Sentinel, "ABC must be doing handstands." Housewives, which attracted 21.3 million viewers, represented the biggest series debut for ABC since Spin City launched eight years ago. It also helped ABC win the night as it averaged an 8.9/15, edging out CBS, which averaged an 8.8/14. NBC placed third with a 6.6/11, while Fox trailed with a 3.6/6. Reporting on ABC's upswing, today's New York Times observed: "What has made the improvement at ABC somewhat unusual was that the shows that have led the way for the network so far were all developed under a management team that was fired last spring because they had not found enough successful shows to turn the network around."

ABC STILL MUST CONTEND WITH SHOWS LIKE THE CONTENDER

ABC still shows pockets of conspicuous weakness in its schedule, which were especially apparent Monday night as its new reality show The Benefactor, drew a fourth-place 4.3/7 rating in the 8:00 p.m. hour. The network roared back at 9:00 with an average 12.2/19 for Monday Night Football, but the damage was done. With the poor lead-in, ratings for the game were lower than usual and CBS, with strong numbers for Everybody Loves Raymond and CSI: Miami, finished first for the night with an average 10.5/16 for the night, while ABC came in second with an 8.6/13. NBC wound up in third place with a 5.6/10. .

WATCH THE DEBATES, THEN SEE THE COMICS

CNN observed Monday that following last Thursday's presidential debate, viewers decided to get their analyses and commentary not from the major network anchors but from the late-night variety and comedy shows, many of which posted some of their best numbers. The news channel noted that Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recorded its highest rating ever, nearly 2.5 million viewers. Two nights later, NBC's Saturday Night Live pulled its highest ratings for a season premiere in three years as the show's cast recreated the debate. (Sample: Moderator: "When you say crush the terrorists, how exactly do you plan to do that?" Bush: "By working hard." Kerry: "The fact of the matter is, I have consistently supported the war in front of pro-war audiences, and condemned it when speaking to groups that opposed it. That is not flip-flopping, that is pandering, and Americans deserve a president who knows the difference.") .

FOX YANKS BOXING SHOW, HANDS IT TO FOX SPORTS

After taking a pounding in the ratings with its boxing reality series The Next Great Champ, Fox has yanked the series and handed it to its corporate sibling, Fox Sports Net. The cable channel plans to begin airing the show on Oct. 10, when it will present a "marathon" of the four original programs. In a statement, Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said: "The Next Great Champ is a compelling, well-produced series. Unfortunately, despite its loyal core audience, the underlying boxing theme of the series has proved too narrow for us. In the end, it belongs on an outlet better suited to serve the boxing fan, and it's great that we can keep it in the family on FSN." NBC plans to launch a similar reality series called The Contender in January.

SHARK ATTACK AT BOX OFFICE

The actual box office for DreamWorks' Shark Tale fell somewhat short of the $49.1 million that the studio had originally forecast. (The film did not, as previously reported, break the record for the best October opening, which remains held by last year's Scary Movie 3, which grossed $48.1 million.) Nevertheless, the movie's $47.6 million debut buoyed the studio's spirits as it prepared to go forward with a $650-million IPO for its animation unit. The success of the film also helped push ticket sales for the top 12 films to $104.4 million, up 30 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago...

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Shark Tale, DreamWorks, $47,604,606, (New); 2. Ladder 49, Disney, $22,088,204, (New); 3. The Forgotten, Sony, $11,820,733, 2 Wks. ($38,085,523); 4. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Paramount, $3,278,417, 3 Wks. ($30,590,216); 5. Mr. 3000, Disney, $2,526,420, 3 Wks. ($19,101,298); 6. Shaun of the Dead, Focus Features, $2,481,020, 2 Wks. ($6,933,441); 7. Woman Thou Art Loosed, Magnolia, $2,325,474, (New); 8. Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Screen Gems, $2,310,267, 4 Wks. ($47,027,651); 9. First Daughter, 20th Century Fox, $2,158,637, 2 Wks. ($7,125,371); 10. Cellular, New Line, $2,014,074, 4 Wks. ($28,157,508). .

GOODBYE GIRL ACTOR SAYS GOODBYE TO MOVIE ACTING

Richard Dreyfuss is quitting films. The actor, whose movies include American Graffiti, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mr. Holland's Opus, and The Goodbye Girl (for which he won the best actor Oscar), told the BBC's Radio Times magazine, "I've made 40-plus films and there are only four I didn't enjoy, and, without denigrating it, I want to do something else." Dreyfuss indicated that whenever he has told friends of his plans, they have responded, "Are you OK? How do you feel about being a failure?" However, he insisted, "I just got bored." Last July, Dreyfuss reacted angrily when he learned that PBS had bleeped his dialogue in a TV play titled Cop Shop. He is currently appearing in preview performances of Mel Brooks's musical, The Producers, in London. .

TRAVOLTA LAYS RUMORS TO REST

John Travolta has dismissed rumors that he will star in a prequel to Pulp Fiction or a sequel to Grease. According to several websites, Quentin Tarantino is planning the prequel, tentatively titled The Vega Brothers, and wants Travolta to star. Travolta himself stoked the rumors at the Venice Film Festival last month when he said that Tarantino calls him regularly about the project. However, in an interview with the Australian website Moviehole, Travolta remarked that The Vega Brothers is "only in Quentin's imagination. That's never been presented to me." He indicated that he had been approached to do Grease 3 but that it was something "I just don't want to do. ... I didn't do [Grease] 2. Why would I do a 3?" .

NETFLIX SAYS EARNINGS ROSE WHEN IT DIDN'T RENT MOVIES

Netflix, the online film renter, said Monday that it expects its net earnings for the third quarter to rise substantially above its earlier forecast, largely due to distribution savings as its subscribers rented fewer movies. Netflix attributed the downturn in rentals to subscriber interest in the Olympic Games and predicted they could return to normal in the fourth quarter. Netflix also said that it now has about 2.23 million subscribers, versus 1.29 million a year ago, a 73-percent gain. .

PANELISTS SAY MPAA CAN'T WIN BATTLE AGAINST FILE-SHARING SITES

The motion picture industry is waging a losing legal battle against peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks and ought to be working on ways to profit from them instead, panelists at the Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica, CA agreed. As reported by Video Store magazine, Buymusic.com's Elizabeth Brooks pointed out that entertainment companies ought to take a closer look at the P2P community. She told the conference that a downloaded file is not necessarily equal to a lost sale. And Morpheus.com's CEO, Michael Weiss, observed that P2P users are already among the most voracious packaged media consumers as well. .

DEADLINE TONIGHT FOR BLOCKBUSTER SPIN-OFF DECISION

Blockbuster CEO John Antioco has been attending numerous investor meetings attempting to persuade Viacom shareholders to swap their shares for Blockbuster's by tonight's (Tuesday) midnight deadline. Viacom is splitting off its 81.5 percent stake in the video sales and rental company. Today's Dallas Morning News reported that Antioco is telling investors that Blockbuster is being transformed into "a brand where you rent, buy or trade movies and games, new or used, instore or online." The newspaper reported that by the end of 2005, all Blockbuster stores will buy back DVDs and video games and is now strongly pushing its online rental feature, hoping to win back customers it has lost to Netflix.