THE EYE "MUST SEE"
CBS accomplished a clean sweep in the Thursday-night ratings race, winning every half-hour of primetime. Even NBC's once-reigning ratings champ E.R. was not immune as it was beaten by CBS's Without a Trace for the second consecutive week. Still more startling yet was CBS's margin of victory on the night that NBC used to call Must-See-TV night. CBS average a 14.1 rating and a 22 share, versus a 10.2/16 for NBC. Fox, thanks to the baseball playoffs, placed third with a 4.5/7, while ABC trailed with a 4.1/6. NBC's Friends replacement, Joey, fell to an 8.6/14 in the 8:00 hour, crushed by CBS's Survivor: Vanuatu, which scored an 11.4/18. CBS's CSI climbed to a 17.1/26 at 9:00, the highest-rated program of the night, beating The Apprentice's 10.5/16 on NBC. (ABC's premiere of life as we know it (sic), bombed with a 3.2/5.) At 10:00 p.m. Without a Trace pulled a 13.9/22 for CBS, beating E.R.'s 11.5/18.

EARNHARDT CRASHES LIVE TV

Race-car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have driven a nail into the coffin of live television by uttering the "S" word during a NASCAR post-race interview on NBC last weekend. NBC Sports announced that it had decide to add a 5-second delay to all of its NASCAR telecasts. The announcement followed a similar decision by ABC to delay the Academy Awards and Monday Night Football telecasts five seconds. On Thursday, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said, "We're disappointed for our viewers to have to do this, but the delay provides a level of protection against anything inappropriate going out over the air." The strategy, however, doesn't always work. Despite a five-second delay, Nicole Richie's use of two verboten words during the Billboards Awards Show, which aired on Fox last Dec. 10, made it onto the air un-bleeped. Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday scrubbed legislation that would have allowed the FCC to raise fines for stations that aired indecent material from the current maximum of $32,500 to as much as $275,000.

KERRY WANTS TO BE AN O'REILLY FACTOR

Following publication of a TV Guide article in which John Kerry described himself as a fan of Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly, O'Reilly said Thursday that he hopes the Democratic candidate can be booked on his show. In the TV Guide interview, Kerry said, "I like Bill O'Reilly. ... I think he does a terrific job. I think he's got a very good show." On Thursday, O'Reilly told the Associated Press that he had been trying to book Kerry for two months. "This would be a huge event for John Kerry, huge," O'Reilly said Thursday. "What other media forum would attract as much attention from him? Is there one?"

NBC PLANS TO WATCH VOTING IRREGULARITIES

Mindful of charges that some voters were wrongfully turned away from the polls four years ago, NBC said Thursday that it will have exclusive access to the nonpartisan Voter Alert Line, which voters can call to report irregularities at polling places on Nov. 2. In addition, the network said that it plans to focus on any "hot spots" at polling locations throughout the day.

LETTERMAN CLOSES IN ON LENO

Aided by ascendant primetime ratings, CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman has narrowed the gap with NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, with Letterman's audience up 10 percent from a year ago and Leno's down 6 percent. Leno now beats Letterman by fewer than 1 million viewers out of a total of just over 10 million who watch the two shows. "What was once an insurmountable lead is clearly shrinking," a CBS spokesman told Reuters Thursday.

NBC PULLS PLUG ON SHOW JUST BEFORE ITS FINAL EPISODE

Television analysts were left scratching their heads Thursday following NBC's announcement that it had pulled the plug on Last Comic Standing and would not air the final show in which the winner was to be announced. Although its decision followed dreadful ratings for the show last week, the decision to kill a show prior to its finale was regarded as unprecedented and was certain to infuriate its loyal fans. Even more confounding, analysts observed, was the decision by the network to fill the 8:00-9:00 p.m. time period this week with back-to-back episodes of Father of the Pride, an animated series aimed at adults. (A third episode is scheduled to air at 9:00 p.m., its regular time period.) In July, Jeffrey Katzenberg, a principal of DreamWorks, which produces the show, told reporters, "I applaud NBC for scheduling it at 9:00 p.m. There is no better signal to give to the world about what its intention is and who it is intended for."

SURVIVOR CONTESTANT IS BARRED FROM TALK SHOWS

The FBI has barred agent Brady Finta, who was kicked off Survivor Thursday night from appearing on any television show or talking to the press about his experiences, the New York Post reported today (Thursday), citing an unnamed source. The newspaper also cited a message posted on an Internet blog Thursday from a woman claiming to be Finta's fiancée, who said that the FBI is now denying that he received permission to appear on Survivor to begin with. The woman, wrote: "Most of the authority figures who signed off on his little adventure now either don't remember or simply don't believe they would ever sign anything like that and Brady must have lied his way onto the show."

AUSTRALIAN NETWORK EMPLOYEES SAY THEY'RE BEING GAGGED

Employees of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are up in arms over a draft code of conduct that they say infringes on their civil rights. The code admonishes the employees to refrain from "public comment," which it defines as "speaking engagements, writing articles for publication in any medium and conducting media interviews." Such comment -- either paid or unpaid -- "may affect the public's perception of the ABC's editorial independence and integrity," the code said. However, a spokesman for the ABC employees said it would also prevent ABC journalists who work in print and film media from fulfilling their obligations.

MOVIE REVIEWS: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Friday Night Lights, starring Billy Bob Thornton, about the pressures faced by a high-school football team in Odessa, TX, is receiving plenty of cheers from many critics. "As football movies go, it's a great one," writes Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A.O. Scott in the New York Times concludes that the film is both "uplifting and troubling, partly because it is more honest than most sports movies about the high cost and short life span of high school football glory." Robert Dominguez in the New York Daily News calls it "a rousing, action-packed sports drama." But Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the movie does not do justice to the book about the actual team on which it is based. "For all its energy, fine performances and dramatic confrontations, Friday Night Lights substitutes intensity for insight, dodging the book's harsher findings like a dazzling broken-field runner," he writes. Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star makes a similar point this way: "There's an interesting movie struggling to get out of Friday Night Lights, but every time it tries it gets rushed and tackled."

MOVIE REVIEWS: TAXI

Taxi doesn't fare well at all in the hands of the critics. Dave Kehr in the New York Times describes it as "a bland, half-finished film that seems to have been conceived as off-peak cable fodder." Calling the movie "dismal," Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times writes that appears to be made "without ambition, imagination, or purpose." Bob Townsend in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests that a line in the dialogue sums up the movie: "Crazy and stupid is my style." Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon, making his first appearance in a movie, is being ragged by critics. Peter Howell in the Toronto Star comments: "By inadvertently living up to his SNL billing as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time players, Fallon demonstrates in his first lead movie role just how difficult it is to play an idiot." Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning News is even harsher: "Jimmy Fallon wastes little time showing that when it comes to the big screen, he's strictly small screen," he writes. Michael O'Sullivan in the Washington Post observes that Fallon is funniest in the outtakes shown behind the closing credits of the movie. "It's a shame that the movie, couldn't capture that sense of joyous, on-the-fly wisecracking," he writes. Queen Latifah, who co-stars in the movie, receives mostly sympathetic comments from the critics. Jan Stuart in Newsday writes: "Queen Latifah is a persuasive screen presence, to be sure, but nothing in her bag of brassy tricks can persuade freshness and spontaneity out of a jerry-built comedy such as this."

MOVIE REVIEWS: RAISE YOUR VOICE

Raise Your Voice is another "tween" film that boxes in traditional movie critics, who generally write for adult readers. Most try to put themselves into the mindset of teenagers in assessing the film, leading to comments like this one from Anita Gates in the New York Times: "Thinking adults won't find much of Raise Your Voice worth their time, but [star Hilary] Duff's screen presence and the film's infectious high spirits will make this piece of fluff appealing to young moviegoers." The story revolves around a teenager named Terri who, against the advice of her father, enrolls in a music conservatory but, once there, is unaccountably shunned by other students and becomes depressed until an understanding teacher encourages her. All well and good, writes Leah McLaren in the Toronto Globe & Mail, except for one thing: "Hilary can't really sing, and neither can Terri, so you can't help but wonder, what's the big whoop? In the end, one suspects Daddy was right -- a girl this irritatingly talentless and unspoiled really would be better off at home, slinging pie in the family diner." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times suggests that what Duff does best is smile. "She smiles and smiles, and I love gazing upon her smile, although a still photo would achieve the same effect and be a time-saver."

MARLON BRANDO -- THE NOVELIST?

A film-treatment-turned-novel by the late Marlon Brando and Donald Cammell has been picked up by Knopf, which plans to "tidy up" the manuscript and release it in Sept., 2005, the New York Post reported today (Friday). As a film treatment, Fan-tan, was originally rejected by film studios, and Brando had reportedly dragged his feet on turning the story, described by the Post as being about "a swashbuckling sailor in the South China Sea who meets up with a Chinese woman pirate," into a novel and eventually returned a $50,000 advance that he had received from British publishers Pan Books. Knopf now intends to hire writer David Thomson to put the manuscript in order and write an afterword.

MOST CONSUMERS BUY DVD'S AT SUPER-STORES

Nearly two-thirds of consumers buy their DVD movies at Wal-Mart, Target, Costco or other mass merchant or club stores, Video Store Magazine reported Thursday in its 2004 Consumer Home Entertainment Study. In particular, the study observed, more than 70 percent of women said that they prefer to buy DVDs at such outlets, versus 57 percent of men. Only 4 percent of DVD households primarily buy their DVDs online.