OLYMPICS PERFORM RATINGS VAULT

NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics reached a high mark Tuesday as appearances by the U.S. women's gymnastics team -- which settled for a silver medal after being outshin?ed by Romania -- drew some of the best ratings for a non-U.S. Olympics in history. Scoring an average 17.7 rating and a 28 share in primetime, the telecast peaked at 10:00 p.m. with a 20.2/32. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright remarked: "We're running well ahead of our internal estimates and well ahead of Sydney." Moreover, he said, advertisers, who together had shelled out more than $1 billion for spots on the Olympics telecasts, were expressing satisfaction since the network had been able to make good on its audience guarantees. "I don't know of any advertiser with whom we have an agreement on audience where we are running behind."

NBC OVERTAKES CBS FOR WEEK?

CBS's combination of reruns and fresh reality shows like Amazing Race 5 and Big Brother 5, which had dominated the Nielsen ratings throughout the summer, proved to be no match for the Summer Olympics. NBC coverage of the opening-night ceremonies and the first two days of contests took over the top three positions on the ratings list for last week and will likely subsume the list by this time next week. Sunday's Olympics telecast drew an average of 25.82 million people in primetime. By contrast, the top-rated non-Olympic program of the week was CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond, which drew 11.79 million. NBC won the week with an average 9.2 rating and a 16 share, nearly twice runner-up CBS's 5.1/9. ABC followed in third place with a 4.1/7, while Fox trailed with a 3.1/5.

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

1. Summer Olympics (Sunday), NBC, 15.4/26; 2. Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies (Friday), NBC, 14.6/27; 3. Summer Olympics (Saturday), NBC, 11.8/23; 4. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 7.7/13; 5. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 7.6/13; 6. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 7.4/12; 7. AFC-NFC Hall of Fame Game, ABC, 7.3/13; 7. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 7.3/12; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 7.3/12; 10. Without a Trace, CBS, 7.1/13.

CONTENTION OVER CONTENDER

DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and reality show producer Mark Burnett took off the gloves Tuesday for a legal showdown with Fox TV. In a lawsuit filed in Santa Monica Superior Court, the two accused Fox of engaging in unlawful business practices when they decided to rush their reality series The Next Great Champ onto the air on Sept. 10 ahead of DreamWorks' The Contender, which is due to premiere on NBC in November. Calling Champ an "ersatz copycat," Katzenberg and Burnett claimed in their lawsuit that Fox mounted its own boxing series after losing out ?to DreamWorks for rights to Contender. They also cited an Aug. 12 report by outgoing California State Athletic Commission Chairman Sanford Michelman that concluded that the producers of the Fox series may have violated the state's boxing regulations. Katzenberg and Burnett also asked Judge Linda Lefkowitz to issue a temporary restraining order to block Fox from launching their show next month. She is expected to rule on the injunction as early as today (Wednesday).

SURVIVORS WILL RECEIVE TEST OF FIRE

The ninth edition of Survivor will be staged in the island nation of Vanuatu in the south Pacific beginning Sept. 16, CBS announced Tuesday. The network said that the series, Survivor: Vanuatu -- Islands of Fire, will feature a "tribe" of nine men competing with one of nine women. The identities of several of the participants had already been disclosed on numerous websites and various newspapers, and CBS has now posted bios of each? of them (omitting their surnames) on its own website for the show, <cbs.com/primetime/survivor9>.

CRONKITE SAYS NETS SHOULD GIVE MORE TIME TO CONVENTIONS

Walter Cronkite has said that he has changed his mind about curtailing the amount of time TV gives to the party conventions after seeing the result of the networks' decision to devote only three hours apiece to the Democratic convention last month. "It became obvious that when you're bringing in a fairly unknown candidate challenging a sitting president, the population needs a lot more information than reduced coverage provides," Cronkite told today's (Wednesday) Philadelphia Inquirer. He said that he became disenchanted with the convention process about 40 years ago when party leaders "decided to sweep all the debate under the rug," he says. "They put on these phony conventions, making it look like the entire party was in goosestep, with complete unanimity of positions." He sugg?ested that it was television's responsibility to probe behind the parties' façade.

TOP BRITISH SOCCER MANAGER ANGRY AT PRESS

The manager of Britain's famed Manchester United soccer team is refusing to be interviewed for any BBC news or sports program after the BBC aired a documentary last May that charged that many members of the team were represented by the manager's football agent son. Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Wednesday) that Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, is also refusing to hold post-game news conferences and that he recently let loose at a radio reporter who had asked "a seemingly innocuous question" with the following broadside: "You've been told not to f***ing ask that -- right? ... Cut that off, cut that off (pointing to tape recorder). F***ing idiots, you all are. You do that again and you won't be coming back here. You f***ing sell your pape?rs and radio shows on the back of this club."

CRITICS WILL HAVE TO PAY AGAIN

For the second weekend in a row, the film regarded as most likely to win the box office crown will not be screened for critics. Warner Bros. has decided not to subject the prequel The Exorcist: The Beginning to first-day reviews, which the studio apparently felt were likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Fox did the same last week with Alien Vs. Predator, which, as it turned out, exceeded box-office predictions. Reporting on the studios' decision to dispense with screenings for critics for the two films, New York Daily News movie critic Jack Mathews observed today (Wednesday): "The decision not to have advance screenings is invariably a reflection of how the studios feel their movies will be reviewed, and Fox was dead-on in assuming AvP would get slammed. Moviegoers eager to see the prequel to The Exorcist are hereby warned."

BLOCKBUSTER BUYS ADS ONLINE FOR ITS NEW ONLINE SERVICE

Blockbuster is rolling out its online DVD rental service with a profusion of Internet banner ads employing the tag line "The Movie Store at Your Door." Its online marketing agency, Avenue A/Razorfish, said Tuesday that it had purchased ads on such sites as Excite, iVillage, American Greetings Network and AtomShockwave. One ad, showing the cover art for Field of Dreams, urges potential customers to sign up for the season with the instruction: "If you click it, it will come." The ad indicates that subscribers will have a choice of 25,000 movies, with no return dates or late fees.

SONY GREENLIGHTS ANIMATED SURFING MOVIE

Hoping to ride the wave of box-office success for such recent computer-animated features as Pixar's Finding Nemo and DreamWorks' Shrek 2, Sony announced Tuesday that it plans to launch production of Surf's Up, a take-off on surfing documentaries, this one? featuring penguins as surfers. Ash Brannon, a former member of Pixar's development team and co-director of Toy Story 2, and Chris Buck, who co-directed Disney's Tarzan, are set to direct the film for Sony Pictures Animation. Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday) that Quiksilver, the t-shirt and shorts company that brands itself as a "surf wear" manufacturer, will act as "a creative consultant" on the feature.

CINEMATOGRPHER KOENEKAMP TO RECEIVE AWARD

Oscar-winning cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, whose credits include The Towering Inferno, Islands in the Stream, Patton, and The Amityville Horror, has been selected to receive the American Society of Cinematographers' lifetime achievement award. It will be presented at the group's annual awards luncheon on Feb. 20. In a statement, ASC President Richard Crudo said that Koenekamp had been part of " a new wave of cinematographers who entered the industry and enrich?ed the art of visual storytelling during the 1960s and 1970s." In fact, he also represented a continuum of the old wave; his father, H.F. Koenekamp, shot Keystone Kop and Charlie Chaplin shorts for Mack Sennett beginning in 1913 and was one of the movie industry's leading special effects artists from the 1930s to the '50s. He received the ASC Presidents Award in 1991 at the age of 100 (a year before his death).

CANADIAN THEATERS WARN PATRONS OF THE PERILS OF CAMCORDING

At the behest of Warner Bros., Canadian exhibitor Famous Players, Inc. began showing a slide in its theaters before screening Troy this summer warning that video recording the movie is illegal and any one caught doing so will be prosecuted, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported today (Wednesday). It also urged anyone in the audience who sees someone taping the movie to contact a member of the theater staff. Calling the slide presentation "a key moment f?or the Canadian movie industry," the Globe and Mail observed: "The industry has never before told patrons so prominently that recording, or 'camcording' as it's commonly known, could result in a criminal record, and to rat out anyone caught copying."

WAR OF THE WORLDS -- MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE EVER?

Steven Spielberg's retelling of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds will likely become the most expensive movie ever made, several British publications have reported, citing unnamed source. "No expense will be spared. Spielberg wants to make it the film of the decade," a report in the London Daily Sun said today (Wednesday). The budget for the film, reports said, will exceed that of Titanic, which was described as the current record holder for most-expensive film. (However, the Titanic budget has been surpassed by that of several films since it was released in 1997.)f