FOOTBALL SCORES FOR ABC

Football made ABC a big winner last week as Thursday's NFL season kickoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots drew 18 million viewers, making it by far the highest-rated program of the week. It marked the first time in 14 weeks that CBS had not landed at the top of the Nielsen ratings list. On Monday, ABC again pulled big numbers with its NCAA football telecast of the University of Miami/Florida State game, which drew 9.7 million viewers and Saturday's University of Texas/Ohio State game, which drew 9.9 million. A football overrun on Sunday on Fox also boosted ratings for the 17th season opener of The Simpsons, which, with its 357th episode, returned to the Nielsen top ten (at No. 9), with 11.1 million viewers. ABC averaged a 5.4 rating and a 9 share for the week, topping CBS's 5.1/8. Fox placed third with a 4.7/8, edging out NBC, which placed fourth with a 4.4/7.

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

1. NFL Football Opener: Raiders vs. Patriots, ABC, 11.7/21; 2. 2005 NFL Showcase, ABC, 10.2/17; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 8.8/14; 4. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.0/14; 5. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.7/13; 6. CSI: Miami (Monday 10:00 p.m.), CBS, 7.6/12; 6. Sunday Football Overrun, Fox, 7.6/14; 8. Two and a Half Men (9:30 p.m.), CBS, 7.2/11; 9. The Simpsons, Fox, 6.8/11; 9. Two and a Half Men (9:00 p.m.), CBS, 6.8/10.

BENEFIT CONCERT DRAWS LARGEST AUDIENCE

The most-watched show of the week was Friday night's benefit concert, Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, which attracted 22.2 million viewers tuning in on 27 broadcast and cable channels. The concert, a series of mostly downbeat and religious performances, attracted fewer than half the number of viewers who tuned into a similar program that aired three years ago to benefit the survivors of 9/11. However, unlike that program, Shelter from the Storm followed other benefit concerts that aired earlier on NBC and on Viacom's MTV network channels. (BET aired its own, longer concert on the same night, attracting 1.2 million viewers.) None of the concerts was rated, since Nielsen does not rate commercial-free programs.

LARROQUETTE TO JOIN LEBLANC FOR JOEY SEASON OPENER

Hoping to revive its flagging ratings, NBC has hired five-time Emmy winner John Larroquette to play an award-winning actor in two episodes of Joey, starring Matt LeBlanc. TV Guide Online said Tuesday that the Larroquette character will appear on the season opener of the series on Sept. 29, playing Joey's co-star in a new movie, Captured.

ABC AND NBC PLAY NICE OVER HOUSEWIVES

On Sept. 25, the same night that ABC airs the season premiere of Desperate Housewives, rival NBC will air a Dateline feature in which host Stone Phillips interviews Housewives costar Eva Longoria. An NBC spokeswoman told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, "We always feel great when one of TV's biggest 'gets' chooses to come to us." At the same time, an ABC spokeswoman comment, "We love it when a competing network promotes ABC and our programming." Earlier, George Clooney disclosed that he had been bumped from the Dateline broadcast, where he had been invited to discuss his controversial new film, Good Night, and Good Luck, about TV newsman Edward R. Murrow's confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, in order to make room for Longoria.

FCC TO HOLD SESSION ON KATRINA IMPACT

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a meeting tomorrow that will be focused on Hurricane Katrina's impact on the telecommunications systems of the Gulf Coast area. The FCC has said that Katrina knocked off the air at least 50 TV and radio stations and perhaps as many as 100 and that many of them are now operating in temporary structures. Many stations in the area are airing without commercials since many businesses were shut own or destroyed. Although TV and radio stations have resumed operations in New Orleans, their audiences are pitifully small. It was once the 43rd largest TV market in the U.S. FCC members Kevin Martin and Michael Copps, who toured the area last week, later issued a statement saying that "we need to learn from this event and work together to improve the reliability, survivability and security of our nation's telecommunications networks." In addition, the storm left three million people without telephone service.

GIBSON TELLS WHY MSNBC FIRED HIM

John Gibson, anchor of Fox News's The Big Story, said Tuesday that he had received several email messages from viewers when, at the end of a commentary on Monday, he remarked that the president should "fire some people" in the wake of the relief debacle in New Orleans. "I've been fired a few times. It's not the end of the world. So George, fire somebody," Gibson concluded. Afterwards, he said, he received one message saying, "The whole world wants to know, why did you get fired way back when?" The writer was referring to Gibson's previous job as host of MSNBC's talk programs, Newschat and Internight. Gibson replied: "The president of the network [Erik Sorenson] hated me -- that would pretty much do it." (Sorenson himself was fired in 2004 and was replaced by Rick Kaplan, who was fired by CNN in 2000.)

DEGENERES "WORKS BLUE" ON LENO SHOW

Ellen DeGeneres, guesting on NBC's The Tonight Show Tuesday, startled Jay Leno, when, during a discussion of diets, she gave "the finger" to diet mavens. "I've never seen you working 'blue.' Oh, my God, this is the X-rated Ellen show," a bemused Leno remarked. "This is unbelievable." DeGeneres replied that she had surprised herself, "but when you get so little food, you get angry."

VIDEO DEALERS CONDEMN MICHIGAN LAW

The Michigan state legislature has passed a bill that would ban the sale of violent video games to anyone under the age of 17 after removing a provision that would also have included violent motion pictures in the ban. The law would also restrict ad displays for such games. Governor Jennifer Granhom is expected to sign it. The bill was passed despite strong opposition from the Video Software Dealers Assn., which objected to its "subjective standards" in determining violent content. The VSDA also opposes a similar bill that has passed the California state legislature and is awaiting signature by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. On Tuesday, the VSDA dispatched a letter to the governor urging him to veto the law, insisting that it would fail a First Amendment court challenge.

NEWS CORP LOOKING FOR SYNERGY BETWEEN FILM AND INTERNET PROPERTIES

News Corp hopes to leverage its new Internet holdings to boost the performance of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Fox Co-chairman Tom Rothman indicated Tuesday. Speaking at a media investors conference in Pasadena, Rothman pointed to the performance this month of Transporter 2, which surprised box-office analysts by taking in far more than even studio executives had hoped for. He noted that the marketing campaign for the movie employed Fox television, the FX cable network, and the recently acquired IGN Entertainment Internet sites. "A significant part of our ongoing business are movies for male gamers -- a perfect demographic overlap," Rothman said. (IGN's FilmForce site gave the original Transporter a negative review; in its review of Transporter 2, it said: "Gleaning enjoyment from Transporter 2 is all about where you set your expectations. If you go in knowing that the interpersonal dynamics are hoky and forced, and that nearly every dramatic scene ... clunks mightily, you will get a lot more out of it.")

BURTON FILM CORPSE BRIDE EXPECTING A LUCRATIVE HONEYMOON

Reporters and critics attending the Toronto International Film Festival are predicting that Tim Burton will have his second big hit in two months (the other was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) with the animated Corpse Bride, which opens domestically on Sept. 23. The film uses stop-motion animation, which today's (Wednesday) San Jose Mercury News described as "probably the most labor-intensive form of filmmaking ever invented." However, Burton suggested that if the film turns out to be a hit, other films using the process will follow. He told the newspaper: "In Hollywood, they think drawn animation doesn't work anymore, computers are the way. They forget that the reason computers are the way is that Pixar makes good movies. So everybody tries to copy Pixar. They're relying too much on the technology and not enough on the artists. The fact that Disney closed down its cel animation division is frightening to me. Someday soon, somebody will come along and do a drawn-animated film, and it'll be beautiful and connect with people, and they'll all go, 'Oh, we've got to do that!' It's ridiculous."

SMOKE CLEARS OVER SMOKING DEAL

Fox Searchlight has apparently won the battle with Paramount Classics over who bought Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking, reporters attending the Toronto International Film Festival reported today (Wednesday). Smoking producer David O. Sacks issued a statement Tuesday denying Paramount's claim that it had a handshake deal to buy the film. "I want to be clear that only one studio, Fox Searchlight, bought the movie," Sachs said. "Although we had negotiations with Paramount Classics, no deal was ever concluded ... I am also a lawyer and have run a large public company. We know when we have closed a deal, and when we haven't." In any case, the Toronto Star reports that the estimated $6.5 million paid for Smoking may be overshadowed by Fox Searchlight's $8 million payment for Bart Freundlich's romantic comedy, Trust the Man, which screened at the festival on Monday. The new Miramax team reportedly had been bidding against Fox Searchlight for the film.