CRITICS' FAVE CRUSHED IN THURSDAY BATTLE

Original episodes of NBC's E.R. and CBS's Without a Trace, which air opposite one another at 10:00 p.m. on Thursdays, both wound up in the Nielsen top ten last week. The two networks utterly dominated the Thursday ratings, with NBC's The Apprentice making its best showing to date against CBS's powerhouse CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (and in fact, beating CSI for the first time ever in the 18-49-year-old demographics). The two networks' dominance was so overwhelming that the critically acclaimed Fox drama Wonderfalls, after being shunted to Thursday night, wound up near the bottom of the Nielsen list and was canceled. (Meanwhile, horror writer Stephen King has expressed his horror over ABC's decision to switch his Kingdom Hospital to Thursday nights at 9:00. "It's kind of like where shows go to die," he told today's New York Daily News.) For the week, CBS remained on top with an average 8.5 rating and a 14 share. NBC placed second with a 7.4/12. Fox followed with a 5.1/8, while ABC trailed with a 4.8/8. (Among adults 18-49, however, NBC took top honors.)

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research: 1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.2/25; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.2/24; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 13.1/21; 4. The Apprentice, NBC, 12.9/20; 5. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.8/21; 6. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 12.6/20; 7. E.R., NBC, 12.5/21; 8. Law and Order, NBC, 12.3/21; 9. Without a Trace, CBS, 11.7/19; 10. NCAA Basketball Championships (Saturday), CBS, 10.5/20.

Responding to widespread complaints -- coming from groups ranging from minority organizations to the Fox TV network -- Nielsen Media Research, the TV industry's primary ratings provider, has postponed introducing its "local people meter" system for two months. In a statement on Tuesday, Nielsen said that it would use the period to look into allegations that use of the computerized meters would result in undercounting minority viewers. Nielsen said that the launch of the computerized system, originally set for this week, would be put off until June 3. In an interview with Reuters, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus suggested that threats by News Corp's Fox Broadcasting unit were principally responsible for the postponement. "They told us they would do everything they could do to discredit us, raise hell in the marketplace and go to the Hispanic and African-American communities," Loftus said.