DEAL CUTS IDOL'S NUMBERS
A one-hour results edition of American Idol that began at 8:30 Wednesday night was predictably the highest-rated show of the night. But the first half-hour, which faced NBC's game show Deal or No Deal, could hardly have lived up to the Queen theme "We Will Rock You," despite the Queen theme of the previous night's performances. It posted a 10.4 rating and a 17 share -- good for most other shows but well below Idol's usual numbers. The second half-hour was another story, however, as Idol improved to a 15.5/24, beating ABC's Lost with a 9.3/14 and CBS's Criminal Minds with a 7.8/12. Together they robbed NBC's Heist, which drew a 3.8/6,of any hope of survival. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported today (Thursday) that all sorts of merchandise tied to each of the Idol contestants have been hot sellers on the eBay auction website. TV columnist Lisa de Moraes observed, "Turns out, when Idol contestants finish performing Tuesday nights, viewers aren't just hitting their land lines and cellphones to call in and text-message votes; they're hitting the Internet to buy junk with the name and face of their favorite singer on it." According to de Moraes, contestant Taylor Hicks is far outselling rivals.

COURIC'S DEPARTURE WILL AID ABC, ANALYST SAYS

Katie Couric's deal with CBS is likely to benefit ABC more than her new employer, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen wrote in a message to clients Wednesday. In her words: "The departure of Ms. Couric could present an opportunity for CBS to improve. However, we think ABC would be the major beneficiary of Ms. Couric's departure." Cohen pointed out that, with Couric gone from NBC's Today show, it was likely that morning TV viewers would be sampling ABC's Good Morning America and, to a lesser extent, CBS's The Early Show. Several TV columnists have predicted that GMA will take over the morning lead when Couric leaves Today at the end of next month. Cohen said that Couric will have to boost ratings of The CBS Evening News 11 percent in order for the network to break even on her contract, which reportedly calls for her to receive $15 million per year.

COURIC AND SCHIEFFER CO-ANCHOR ... LUNCH

Several gossip columnists reported today (Thursday) about a friendly get-together between Katie Couric and Bob Schieffer, the man she is replacing on the CBS Evening News, at Michael's restaurant in New York Wednesday. New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove reported that Schieffer brought Couric an orchid wrist corsage. Schieffer told Grove, "She's the best thing that ever happened to CBS News." Couric responded, "After all, it is our first date." Apparently managing the CBS Evening News was not on the luncheon agenda. "We talked about a thousand things, but we really talked about our parents. She is very close to her mother, and I was very close to my mother," said Schieffer. Other columnists noted that Barbara Walters was dining nearby with Tipper Gore and daughter Karenna.

WILL & GRACE FINALE TO FLY TO VIDEO STORES

NBC, which already is making episodes of Will & Grace available online at Apple's iTunes Music Store on the day after they air, is now planning to deliver DVDs of the 45-minute finale to retailers on May 23 -- five days after it airs. They will be distributed by Lionsgate Home Video. A press release on Wednesday did not indicate whether any DVD "extras" would be included on the disks. It quoted Lionsgate President Steve Beeks a saying, "We are well aware that this final episode will become an instant must-have piece of television history, and we jumped at the opportunity to be able to bring it to DVD so soon after its television airing."

CBS POSTS ACCOUNT OF CAMERAMAN HELD IN ABU GHRAIB

The CBS blog Public Eye has posted a detailed account of the wounding, arrest, and one-year detention in Abu Ghraib prison by the U.S. military of Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a 25-year-old cameraman working in Iraq for CBS News. U.S. authorities had maintained that the videotape in Hussein's camera showed that he had participated in an insurgent demonstration in Mosul that he was covering. However, Public Eye reported, when Hussein was finally brought to trial before an Iraqi court earlier this month, it turned out that the tape was less than 20 seconds long. "The multiple pieces of evidence against Hussein on it [that the U.S. military had alleged] did not exist," the blog observed. It quoted Hussein's lawyer, David Horton, as saying, "It was not an innocent misinterpretation. ... It's very disturbing." Public Eye also observed, however, that apparently as a result of the Hussein case, the military has now instituted a rule in which journalists who are taken into custody will have charges against them addressed swiftly. "Hussein may be out of journalism by age 25," the CBS blog concluded, "but he can perhaps take some small comfort in the fact that he has left a legacy."

COMING SOON: INSTANT MOVIE DOWNLOADS
Euclid Discoveries, based in Concord, MA, claims to have developed a technology that can compress a feature film into a file so small that it can be downloaded over the Internet in five minutes. Euclid Discoveries chief Richard Wingard told the Boston Globe that the system employs "object-based compression" that remembers recurring objects and stores them in memory. As a result, he said, a movie requiring 700 megabytes of storage with the established MPEG-4 compression technology uses just 50 megabytes under the new one.

DISNEY'S BIGGEST PREMIERE EVER?

At least 30,000 people are expected to turn out for the premiere of Disney/Pixar's Cars at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, NC on May 26, according to the JimHillMedia.com website. The website, which tracks the activities of the Disney company, said that the event is already nearly a sell-out. All tickets are being sold at $10 with no reserved seating, the website said. It posted pictures of Turn 2 of the speedway, where four screens, 50x115 feet, will be erected. Local promoters maintain that it will be the biggest premiere in Disney's history.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL ATTRACTING MAJOR STUDIOS

After debuting as a small festival focusing on independent films and intended to attract people to lower Manhattan following the trauma of 9/11, Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival is turning into a showcase for major studio releases. On Wednesday, the festival announced that it will premiere the Tom Cruise thriller Mission: Impossible III on May 3. In a statement, Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the festival, said, "Having the support of Tom Cruise and Paramount is a gift to us and the community." The festival had previously announced that it would open with Universal's United 93, about the 9/11 flight that crashed in Pennsylvania before reaching its target in Washington, and that it would also screen Warner Bros.' big-budget Poseidon on May 6. In reporting on the big-budget films' presentation at the festival, Daily Variety commented today (Thursday) that it reflects the "fact that de Niro and Rosenthal, while Gotham [New York]-based, are Hollywood power players who can use clout to get pics that other fest programmers can't." The previous Mission: Impossible sequel opened in 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival, which this year runs almost in tandem with Tribeca.

SMELL-O-VISION RETURNS

In the apparent belief that if music can enhance emotional scenes in movies, odors can only intensify the experience, a Japanese company is adding seven different smells to parts of The New World when it opens in Tokyo next month. Unlike Mike Todd Jr.'s Smell-o-Vision, which had critics holding their noses when it was introduced in 1960, the new service from NTT Communications Corp. will not try to match the fragrances being emitted under theater seats to the objects on the screen. Instead, the scents are intended to enhance the senses, a floral perfume to accompany a love scene, a mixture of peppermint and rosemary for a sad one, etc. (One wag suggested that the entire movie ought to be accompanied by the smell of roast turkey.) The company is also producing a $620 home version that can be synchronized with DVDs.

BLU-RAY COMPUTERS -- CONSPICUOUS BY THEIR ABSENCE

Raising new questions about when Sony will actually release hardware that can play high-definition movies recorded on Blu-ray disks, the company on Wednesday announced a range of new PCs that did not include any Blu-ray models. Sony has said that it has been working to finalize Blu-ray's copy-protection technology. It had recently said that it plans to begin shipping the Vaio RC300 series with a Blu-ray drive that can both record and play the disks by "early summer." Rival Toshiba has announced that it plans to introduce a laptop computer equipped with its incompatible high-definition HD DVD drive next month.

INDIAN MOVIE STAR'S DEATH TOUCHES OFF RIOTS

Raj Kumar, one of India's most enduring film stars -- he appeared in more than 200 films over a career spanning five decades -- died Wednesday in Bangalore of cardiac arrest at age 77. The Press Trust of India reported that his death touched off riots in the city after hundreds of fans who attempted to force their way into Kumar's home were turned back by police. The body was later moved to a public park to allow fans to pay their last respects.