ABC MAKES IMPRESSIVE GAINS AS TV SEASON BEGINS

Providing the best imaginable welcome for Robert Iger on virtually the eve of his official elevation to CEO of the Walt Disney Co. on Saturday, the company's long-struggling ABC network captured five of the top-ten positions in the Nielsen ratings list in the first week of the 2005-2006 season and was the most-watched network among 18-to-49-year-olds, the demographic group most prized by advertisers. The network's season debut of Desperate Housewives tied for first place with CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, while Lost debuted in third place. CBS remained the most-watched network overall with an average 8.3 rating and a 13 share, but its overall audience was down 7 percent from the first week of last year's season. ABC placed second with an 8.0/13. NBC was well behind in third place with a 6.6/11, while Fox trailed with a 4.1/6. Nevertheless, analysts warned that a first week does not a season make. "You can have all the buzz in the world, and all that is going to do is get viewers to episode one," Steve Sternberg, an analyst for ad buyers Magna Global, told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times. "Now a show is going to have to live and die on its own."

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.3/26; 1. (Tie) Desperate Housewives, ABC, 17.3/25; 3. Lost, ABC, 13.8/20; 4. Criminal Minds (Preview), CBS, 12.5/20; 5. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.3/19; 6. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 12.0/19; 7. Law & Order: SVU, NBC, 11.1/18; 8. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.8/17; 8. NFL Monday Night Football, ABC, 10.8/18; 10. NFL Monday Showcase, ABC, 10.3/16; 10. (Tie) Survivor: Guatemala, CBS, 10.3/16.

COMMANDER IN CHIEF ELECTED TOP SHOW TUESDAY

ABC appeared to have a new hit on its hands Tuesday as the series debut of Commander in Chief, starring Geena Davis as America's first female president, was the most-watched show of the night, scoring a 10.9 rating and a 16 share. It drew an audience far larger than NBC's highly promoted newcomer My Name Is Earl, which managed to produce a second-place 7.0/10 in its second week. (However, its lead-out, The Office, dropped to a 4.8/7.)

COURIC FINDS CBS ANCHOR JOB "UNAPPEALING"

Katie Couric seems to have taken herself out of the running to succeed Dan Rather as anchor of the CBS Evening News. In an interview appearing in the magazine of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Couric acknowledged that she had been offered the anchor's post by CBS chief Les Moonves and said that "there are some appealing things about it." However, she added, "Twenty-two minutes on the Evening News is very unappealing. I don't know if it would be too constraining for me." What she would like to find, she indicated, is a platform on television for "important journalism. I have a real appetite for smart journalism that's not being done currently. I'd like to provide some type of forum for more intelligent discussion of the issues, so it's not just one person on one side and one person on the other and a lot of screaming."

NHL SPOT CALLED "OFFENSIVE" BY WOMEN'S GROUP

The National Hockey League's return to television is getting some unexpected free publicity thanks to a controversy generated by Martha Burk, chairman of the National Council of Women's Organizations. Burk has objected to a an NHL promotional spot in which a bare-chested hockey player is dressed by a scantily clad woman. The spot, which Burk describes as "offensive" to women, is part of the "More Entertainment! More Passion! More Hockey!" campaign developed to promote the league prior to its season opener on Oct. 5. An NHL spokeswoman commented, "This ad is very respectful of women. The woman [dressing the player] is a spiritual and physical trainer for the warrior, and his mentor."

WGA-WEST OUSTS ITS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The Writers Guild of America West fired its executive director, John McLean, Tuesday, one week after its membership elected new leaders who had faulted McLean for not taking a more aggressive stance with producers. "We wanted to move this union into organizing hyperdrive," newly elected president Patric Verrone told today's (Wednesday) New York Times. "His instincts were not as prone to organizing as we wanted." In reporting on McLean's abrupt dismissal, the Times noted that together with the rise to power of a more militant faction of the Screen Actors Guild, "Hollywood could be in for an increasingly contentious period of labor relations."

BOND DECISION LIKELY NEXT WEEK, SAY WEBSITES

Rumors spread over James Bond-related Internet fan sites Tuesday that a final decision on who will star in Casino Royale, the next 007 film, will be made next week. The CommanderBond.net site claimed that Sony executives will be meeting with Eon Productions execs next week in London, where the decision will be made. It said that while Pierce Brosnan had been removed from the running months ago, he now not only is being considered to star in the 21st Bond film, but that he is regarded as the frontrunner. "A senior Sony executive has told a member of the Casino Royale production team that the new Bond will 'probably' be Pierce Brosnan," the website said. However, it also indicated that actor Daniel Craig remains the "preferred" choice of Eon, the Bond movies' producers. Today's (Wednesday) Daily Variety said that Sony and Eon are completing screen tests for the movie this week and that the frontrunners are Craig, Henry Cavill, Sam Worthington and Goran Visnjic.

PIRATES WALK THE PLANK

Million Dollar Baby may not cost SAG member Ronald Redding a million dollars, but it could cost him a big chunk of that amount. On Tuesday, Redding, a Maryland member of the actors' union, pleaded guilty to sharing a screener of Million Dollar Baby that he was given prior to voting for the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Since the copy ended up online sporting his electronic "watermark," he faces a six-month prison sentence and a $100,000 fine. He also faces a lawsuit by Warner Bros. that could cost him an additional $150,000. In a separate piracy incident, Curtis Salisbury of St. Charles, MO, entered a guilty plea to charges of using a camcorder in a movie theater where he worked to make copies of The Perfect Man and Bewitched, then uploading the copies onto the Internet. U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, who is based in San Jose, CA, said in a statement: "Because camcording in theaters accounts for a significant amount of the illegal copies of movies found on the Internet, we will continue to prosecute those who engage in this type of illegal activity." In a third case, federal charges were filed against eight people who allegedly were involved in uploading a copy of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith onto the Internet a day before it opened in theaters. One of those involved, Albert Valente, of Lakewood, CA, worked at a postproduction house where the film had been sent for language subtitling. Finally, in a fourth piracy case, Eric Wright of Bellflower, CA, a Los Angeles suburb, pleaded guilty to charges of making and selling counterfeit DVDs of The Incredibles and Friday Night Lights. He faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison.

SONY SAYS ITS HIGH-DEFINITION DVD FORMAT WILL PREVAIL

Sony on Tuesday indicated that it had little concern about its Blu-ray high-definition DVD system being overtaken by Toshiba's rival HD-DVD format following Intel and Microsoft's decision to endorse the Toshiba system. Sony maintained that Blu-ray would eventually find wider acceptance among content developers because it offered better copyright protection and because Blu-ray disc players could probably be manufactured at lower cost than those using the HD-DVD system. Analysts appeared to agree that the "Wintel" endorsement was not a fatal blow for Sony. "It's positive for Toshiba but it's not decisive," Tokyo-based electronics analyst Carlos Dimas told today's (Wednesday) London Financial Times.

DREAMWORKS-UNIVERSAL MERGER FALLS APART

For the time being, at least, the dream of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to create a modern movie studio that would outshine its time-worn rivals, will live on. DreamWorks on Tuesday ended its merger talks with NBC Universal after the GE-owned company reportedly cut its original offer of $1.5 billion. According to several reports, Universal had concluded that the value of DreamWorks had declined as a result of the recent costly failures of The Island and Just Like Heaven. In an interview with Reuters, Geffen said, "They've been trying to make a deal with us from the very beginning and came to us with a price that was acceptable to us, although Steven had many concerns about it. And when they tried to change the price at the end, we decided not to go forward." The Associated Press, citing an unnamed source, reported that Spielberg had also balked at Universal's demand for budget approval of DreamWorks movies that would cost more than $100 million. (Under the proposed deal, DreamWorks would have continued as a separate division of Universal.) Geffen told the AP that while he was sad about the breakdown of the talks, Spielberg was "happy." Some analysts expressed skepticism that a Universal/DreamWorks merger was kaput. "These things tend to go away and then come back again after they stew a little bit," media analyst Hal Vogel told today's New York Daily News.

SHARES IN MOVIE GALLERY PLUMMET

Shares of Movie Gallery Inc., the country's second-largest video rental chain behind Blockbuster, plunged to a new low of $11.45 Tuesday after Bear Stearns predicted they would eventually fall to $7.00. The brokerage company said on Monday that the chain was failing to come to grips with changed conditions in the industry -- particularly consumers' increasing desire to own rather than rent videos or to rent them from online companies like Netflix. In a report to investors, Bear Stearns analyst R. Glen Reid noted that Movie Gallery was continuing to attribute the decline in its profits to unappealing releases by the studios. ""Movie Gallery is charting a course based upon a premise that industry weakness is chiefly product related. Our view is otherwise," Reid said. Indeed, he remarked, it was not likely that video rental stores in general will be able to survive the changing market conditions without finding a way to adapt to them. At the same time, Bear Stearns raised its rating on Netflix to "Outperform," noting that it expected online video rentals to gain market share faster than expected.