ABC BECOMES A REAL CONTENDER

CBS continued on its winning ways last week, easily winning in the overall ratings, but for the second straight week, ABC captured the audience that advertisers prize the most -- 18-49-year-old adults. Not only did it show strong results from last year's new hits Desperate Housewives, Lost, and Grey's Anatomy, but it also drew strong ratings for newcomers Commander in Chief, Night Stalker, and Invasion. Still, in the overall ratings, CBS took five of the top-ten shows, including the No. 1 show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It finished the week with an average 8.3 rating and a 13 share. ABC, with four of the top-ten shows, placed second with an average 7.2/12. NBC, which has failed to create much excitement with any of its new shows, followed in third place with an average 6.2/10, with only one program sneaking into the top-ten: Law and Order: SVU. Fox, which is treading water until after post-season baseball concludes, finished fourth with a 4.8/8.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.4/26; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 16.7/24; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 13.8/22; 4. Lost, ABC, 13.7/20; 5. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11.5/18; 6. CSI: Miami, CBS, 11.4/18; 7. Commander In Chief, ABC, 11.0/16; 8. Cold Case, CBS, 10.9/17; 9. Survivor: Guatemala, CBS, 10.6/17; 10. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 10.5/16.

NBC NEWSCAST PULLS WAY AHEAD

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams increased its lead over the competition last week, scoring its best ratings against ABC's World News Tonight since the week of January 3. The newscast posted a 6.4/13, 14 percent above second-place ABC, which pulled a 5.6/12. Meanwhile, the CBS Evening News plunged to a 4.7/10.

MARTHA PLANS THIRD TV SERIES

Even as the latest ratings showed that Martha Stewart's return to TV with a new version of The Apprentice tanked last week (it ranked 73rd out of 117 shows), her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia company announced that she is working on a new home-improvement series that is due to debut next year. The company said that the series will feature six women who are either coming off welfare, recovering from bankruptcy, or being released from rehab who will work together to renovate a 125-year-old house in Norwalk, CT. In a news release, Stewart said that the series "will inspire and inform, while mentoring and teaching valuable life skills, from repairing brickwork, laying flooring, painting rooms and installing a functional and lovely kitchen." The as-yet-untitled series will be Stewart's third since her release from prison. Her daytime talk show Martha has been sliding in the ratings since its debut three weeks ago but is nevertheless drawing more viewers than her previous syndicated show, Martha Stewart Living.

CLOONEY PLANNING ANOTHER LIVE DRAMA

George Clooney is planning to produce a live TV version of the 1976 movie Network on CBS, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, noting that the idea for the show originated with CBS Chairman Les Moonves, who approached Clooney, whose fascination with live TV drama is well known. (He persuaded E.R. producers to broadcast a live episode in 1997 and produced and starred in a live version of the novel and movie Fail Safe in 2000.) In an interview with the wire service, Clooney said that he plans to leave Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 script as is, except to update it a bit. He did not indicate whether he will play the lead role made famous by Peter Finch in the film. In an interview last week with Diane Sawyer on ABC's Primetime, Clooney disclosed that he is currently being treated for a condition that has affected his short-term memory.

CANADIAN NETWORK PRACTICING "CUTTHROAT" TACTICS

Canadian TV network CTV decided to shell out big bucks for the new ABC drama Commander in Chief in order to prevent rival Global Television Network from picking it up -- and CTV only decided to put it on the air after the show received critical raves in the U.S., the Canadian newsweekly Maclean's reported Tuesday. Such are the "cutthroat" tactics of CTV chief Ivan Fecan, the magazine observed. The tactics have been enormously successful, it added, noting that CTV has replaced Global as the top television network in Canada and now airs 18 of the top-20 shows in Canada. Maclean's also credits CTV programming chief Susanne Boyce for "her uncanny ability to pick winners" -- pointing out that when ABC was attempting to sell Lost, none of the other Canadian TV networks showed any interest. Ellen Baine, programming chief at CHUM TV, commented: "Everybody was saying, 'This is the stupidest thing we've ever seen,' ... I don't know one programmer -- from around the world -- who liked it. People hated it." (Lost became as big a hit in Canada as it did in the U.S.)

UNIVERSAL TO PUT ITS MOVIES ONLINE

Universal expects to be able to offer movies online by the end of the year or early next year, company chairman and CEO Bob Wright said Tuesday. Speaking at a conference on piracy in London, Wright described the studio's entry into online movie services as "something we have to do." However, he cautioned, the studio's entry into the Internet sphere must be accompanied by fail-safe methods to prevent the films from being copied and redistributed. "These movies are so expensive, we have to be careful," he said.

UNIVERSITY STUDENT PLEADS GUILTY TO PIRATING FILMS

A 23-year-old man living in the California wine-country community of Rohnert Park, has become the second person to plead guilty to charges of illegally uploading copyrighted material onto the Internet. Ryan Zeman entered a plea on one count of copyright infringement as part of a plea bargain that also required him to forfeit his computers. Zeman, who admitted copying 14 titles an posting them on the Internet over a three-month period this year, faces a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sonoma State University lists him as president of the campus golf club and a member of its tennis club.

SQUEAKY-CLEAN BAND'S DVD REPLACED BY SOFT-PORN FLICK

Fans of the Mormon boy band Everclean were taken aback (and affront, it would seem) when they popped the video of the group's Sons of Provo into their DVD players and discovered a movie entitled Adored: Diary of a Porn Star instead, the Salt Lake City Deseret Morning News reported today (Wednesday). Deseret Book Co. told the newspaper that it had removed the film from its shelves. Apparently the mix-up occurred after the producers of Adore and Sons of Provo each hired the same Los Angeles-based company to produce the DVD copies and distribute them. "This is hugely damaging," said George Dayton, head of business affairs for HaleStorm, the company that produced Son of Provo. Although Adored was described as a "heartwarming film about a porn star" and not a porn film itself, Dayton said that it matters little "whether it's some soft-core title or whatever. ... This title doesn't lend itself to good, clean family or LDS [Church of Latter Day Saints] -centered entertainment."

DISNEY INVESTORS GIVE IGER WARM RECEPTION

Walt Disney shareholders, apparently reacting favorably to a letter sent to them by new CEO Robert Iger on Monday, boosted shares in the company 2.3 percent Tuesday to $24.56. The business website MarketWatch said that the letter outlined "a strategy to emphasize creating quality content and using 'cutting-edge' technologies to showcase that material." It was Iger's first letter to company shareholders since taking over the reins of the studio from Michael Eisner on Saturday.

HIGH DEF DVD'S COMING SOON -- BUT HOW WILL THEY BE PLAYED?

Toshiba Corp. and other members of the HD DVD camp announced Tuesday that 10 Japanese movie makers will release 35 movies "and other image content" for the high-definition DVD format at the end of the year. The announcement, published by the Kyodo News Service, mentioned only one title -- 2004's The Aviator, which was not produced by a "Japanese movie maker" but by the U.S. studios Warner Bros. and Miramax. Making the announcement seem even more peculiar is the fact that the films will apparently be released before hardware is available on which to play them. Toshiba said last week that it does not expect to deliver HD DVD players to retailers until sometime early next year.

BENIGNI OFFERS COMEDY ABOUT IRAQ WAR

Roberto Benigni, who managed to make a comedy about the Holocaust -- and turn it into a critical and commercial hit -- is hoping to do the same with a comedy about the war in Iraq. Benigni, whose Life Is Beautiful is the most successful foreign-language film in box-office history (not counting Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), screened his latest film, The Tiger and the Snow, to reportersin Rome on Tuesday. Reuters commented: "Benigni masterfully creates room for comic release in otherwise tense moments, making audiences laugh during a slapstick dash into a minefield and an uncomfortable run-in with soldiers at a U.S.-manned roadblock." At a news conference, Benigni denied that the film was anti-American. "It is not an ideological film," he said. "Many modern works on war -- not just modern ones -- try to speak to the mind. They are documentary works. They have a very powerful point of view. This film speaks to the heart." The film is due to open in Italy next week but does not yet have a U.S. distributor.