OLYMPICS RATINGS TURN GOLD

After a slow start, NBC's Olympics coverage picked up speed Monday night as it averaged a 16.4 rating and a 26 share in primetime, well above the 15.3/24 for the comparable night in 2000. (The Sydney Olympics aired in September four years ago, and Monday's events faced competition from ABC's Monday Night Football.) The comparable night in 1996, when the Olympics originated in Seoul, pulled a 16.4/30, about the same as this year's. However, the Barcelona competition in 1992 claimed a 17.4/33 on the first Monday night. Still, as NBC has taken pains to point out, it is offering the games this year on seven platforms (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Bravo, Telemundo and NBC HDTV affiliates), something it has never done in the past. No audience figures are yet available for the alternate coverage. In any event, the Olympics coverage drew more viewers than all of NBC's five network competitors put together. Monday night's coverage peaked at 9:00 with a 7.7/28 for the swimming competition in which favored Michael Phelps settled for a bronze medal, losing his chance to equal Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals.

THE OLYMPICS ON NBC HDTV -- CLEARLY LATE

Consumers who purchased HDTV sets to watch the special NBC HDTV feed of the Summer Olympics are expressing disappointment at some of the long tape delays -- as long as a day past the actual live events. While picture quality was generally regarded as striking, the delays appalled TV critics, who noted that while America's Natalie Coughlin was receiving her gold medal in swimming competition Monday NBC HDTV was showing her first heat a day earlier. Seattle Times writer Jayda Evans faulted the overall production of the HDTV telecast, writing: "I wanted to see some competition but was given interviews with basketball analyst Steve Jones, still shots of water as a voiceover of analyst Dara Torres critiqued a swim, and enough sweeping landscape clips to make me feel like I was watching someone's vacation slideshow."

WILL FOOTBALL HOLD DESERTING CABLE SUBSCRIBERS?

Seeking to halt the erosion of its subscriber base, Comcast said on Monday that it intends to launch the National Football League Network on its digital tier as a video-on-demand choice later this month, offering 54 preseason games, historic games and other related programming. Meanwhile, Comcast also said that it is trying to determine how on Saturday several minutes of a hard-core porn movie wound up on one of its proprietary channels on its East Coast system, which serves 6.2 million subscribers. The cable giant issued a statement Monday apologizing for "this unfortunate situation" and saying, "We ... have a team in place investigating the cause and taking all measures to ensure that his never happens again."

PAULEY SUMMONS SISTER FOR HELP WITH NEW SHOW

Indicating that she feels somewhat daunted by the prospect of fronting an hour-long syndicated talk show on her own, Jane Pauley says she insisted that her sister Anne be included in the deal. "It's just too big to do without her," Pauley told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I've never carried a show on my own. ... Having my sister as support -- intellectually, creatively and emotionally -- makes me comfortable." The newspaper observed that Anne Pauley, a former president of a high-tech manufacturing firm, has no official title. (Jane Pauley refers to her as "sister-in-chief.")

CRONKITE QUITS AS NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST

Walter Cronkite, who was forced out of the anchor's chair at CBS in 1981 by a mandatory retirement policy in effect at the time, has decided to step down on his own as a columnist for King Features Syndicate after just one year. In his final column, appearing today (Tuesday), Cronkite writes that while he considers his years as Evening News anchor "rewarding," they were "not entirely satisfactory" since it was not possible to devote sufficient attention to complicated events and issues. In an interview with Reuters, Cronkite remarked: "It's patently impossible to do an adequate job of covering the major stories of the day, around the world, in 17 minutes," referring to the actual amount of time devoted to news coverage in an Evening News broadcast. He chastised the networks for devoting its hour-long news magazines primarily to "sex and Hollywood and crime."

FOOD NETWORK FOUNDER CREDITS JULIA CHILD FOR ITS SUCCESS

CNN co-founder Reese Schonfeld, who launched the Food Network cable channel after leaving the cable news network, has credited Julia Child, who died over the weekend at the age of 91, with helping to make the channel a success. "Her appearance gave the Food Network credibility in the food world. She made us respectable," Schonfeld wrote on his website meandted.com. He said that because Child was featured on the channel, most of the country's top chefs and restaurant critics agreed to appear on it. "She was one of the grandest women I've ever known," Schonfeld wrote.

BBC VIEWERS TO GET EARLY EDITION OF SOME PROGRAMS

The BBC said today (Tuesday) that it will begin testing a system that will allow TV viewers to download some of its programs as early as a week before they are aired and play them for up to a week after they have been broadcast. The British broadcaster said that the system, called the interactive media player, will avoid copyright issues because of the relatively brief window in which the downloaded programs may be watched. One thousand viewers are expected to test the system during the next three months.

MONSTER SMASH

Predictions that the Olympic Games telecasts would keep moviegoers at home over the weekend failed to materialize as the box office outperformed analysts' expectations. The No. 1 film, Alien Vs. Predator, from 20th Century Fox, seized a truly monstrous $38.3 million, far more than any Alien or Predator film had garnered in its opening weekend in the past. The No. 2 film, Disney's counterprogrammed The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, took in $23 million (combined with its Wednesday and Thursday receipts, the film earned $37.1 million), and DreamWorks' Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, held its own with $15.2 million in its second week. Even the kids film Yu-Gi-Oh! far surpassed expectations, as it nabbed $9.5 million. Still, the overall box office was down more than 8 percent from the comparable week a year ago, as the top 12 films took in $121.8 million.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Alien Vs. Predator, 20th Century Fox, $38,291,056, (New); 2. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Disney, $22,956,453, 1 Wks. ($37,140,203 -- From Wednesday); 3. Collateral, DreamWorks, $16,174,309, 2 Wks. ($52,560,520); 4. Yu-Gi-Oh!, Warner Bros., $9,485,494, (New); 5. The Bourne Supremacy, Universal, $8,600,575, 4 Wks. ($139,697,965); 6. The Village, Disney, $7,157,635, 3 Wks. ($99,862,707); 7. The Manchurian Candidate, Paramount, $6,013,857, 3 Wks. ($47,989,278); 8. I, Robot, 20th Century Fox, $3,866,317, 5 Wks. ($133,967,480); 9. Little Black Book, Sony, $3,784,115, 2 Wks. ($14,644,825); 10. Spider-Man 2, Sony, $3,512,027, 7 Wks. ($360,973,268).

FAHRENHEIT TO RISE ON OCT. 5

Sony's Columbia-Tristar Home Entertainment confirmed Monday that it will release Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on DVD and video on Oct. 5. The suggested retail price will be $28.95, the company said. Several scenes have been added, including "Homeland Security, Miami Style," and "Outside Abu Ghraib Prison." The DVD will also include a featurette about the controversy surrounding the film's release, a featurette titled "Arab-American Comedians: Their Acts and Experiences After 9/11," as well as Condoleezza Rice's appearance before the 9/11 commission and President Bush's press conference after his appearance before the commission.

BOSTON COLUMNIST CONDEMNS BIRTH OF A NATION PROTEST

The pop culture columnist of the Boston Globe has sharply criticized the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP for spearheading a protest that forced an L.A. silent movie theater to cancel a screening of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Renée Graham, who is black, observed that she first saw the film when enrolled in a class on the African-American image in film and was revolted by the images. "Still, even though it's unlikely I'll ever sit through this film again, I do not believe it should be consigned to some dusty closet, never to be shown in public again," she wrote in today's (Tuesday) editions. Responding to the claim that the film could inflame racial hatred, Graham commented: "If a film, especially one made nearly 90 years ago, can send this nation into racist convulsions, then we're in a lot more trouble than we think." Moreover, she writes, banning the film "also discards any chance to discuss early 20th-century representations of African-Americans in popular culture and to assess what progress has been made -- yes, we now have Denzel Washington as the hero in The Manchurian Candidate, but how do we rectify the stereotypical buffoonery of Soul Plane or the modern-day minstrel act of the Fox TV show Method and Red? (And why aren't people protesting those current images, instead of a near 90-year-old film few have seen?)"

CAMERAMAN KILLED WHILE SHOOTING MOVIE

Cinematographer Neal L. Fredericks, who shot The Blair Witch Project, was killed Saturday in the Florida Keys while filming scenes aboard a private aircraft for the movie Cross Bones. Writer-director Daniel Zirilli, who was also aboard the plane, escaped. He told reporters later that Fredericks was pinned beneath his camera equipment and was unable to free himself from his seat before the plane submerged in the sea. Fredericks, who also shot the upcoming indie Black Dahlia, was 35.

BRITISH THEATERS TO GET FREE DIGITAL PROJECTORS

The British Film Council confirmed on Monday that it has agreed to equip 150 theaters across the country with digital projection equipment on condition that the theaters agree to use the equipment in part to exhibit independent, foreign, and classic films. "The evidence is clear that audiences want a greater range of films at their local cinema. They don't always want to go ad see the Hollywood blockbuster," a Film Council spokeswoman told Reuters.