OLYMPICS RATINGS HOP, SKIP, JUMP

Ratings for NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics slipped slightly on Wednesday from Tuesday's record level for a non-U.S. competition, but they remained well above the levels of 2000. NBC averaged a 17.0 rating and a 28 share in primetime versus a 16.4/27 for the comparable night of the Sydney Olympics. Tuesday's ratings were the highest thus far, averaging a 17.7/28. The Olympics scored relatively tepid ratings in the 8:00 p.m. hour Wednesday, averaging only a 13.6/24, but they rose from a hop to a skip at 9:00 when they averaged an 18.3/29 and to a jump at 10:00 when they produced a striking 19.1/31. Once again, NBC's overall ratings remained greater than those of its five network competitors combined. CBS placed second for the night with a 5.0/8. Fox, with a 3.2/5, edged out ABC's 3.0/5. UPN averaged a 1.7/3 and The WB, a 1.4/2.

DREAMWORKS, BURNETT LOSE FIRST ROUND TO FOX

A Santa Monica Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to issue an injunction barring Fox TV from airing its planned reality series The Next Great Champ, scheduled to launch on Sept. 10. The injunction had been sought by DreamWorks TV and producer Mark Burnett, who claim that the show is a replica of their own reality series for NBC, The Contender. Judge Linda Lefkowitz set a hearing about their case on Sept. 8, two days before Champ is scheduled to air. Fox hailed Lefkowitz's ruling Wednesday as "a significant victory." But the Contender producers quickly countered that Fox has "a very different set of standards [for victory] than we do."

NIPPLEGATE MAY COST VIACOM $550,000

The FCC is expected to fine Viacom $550,000 for broadcasting Janet Jackson's breast baring during the Super Bowl halftime show last February, Broadcasting & Cable reported on its website today (Thursday), citing an unnamed FCC source. According to the publication, the fine is expected to be leveled against the media giant, which owns CBS, the network that carried the program, and MTV, the cable channel that produced it before Aug. 30. Viacom Co-President Les Moonves has vowed to challenge such a fine.

CNN CHIEF DISPATCHING ANCHORS AROUND THE COUNTRY

CNN chief Princell Hair is literally taking the show on the road, posting several anchors in various cities around the country between now and the November elections, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday. "This is a populist approach," Hair told the newspaper. "We had been looking at ways we could differentiate ourselves in the election." The road-show coverage kicked off Wednesday night with a town hall meeting in Canton, OH, where local residents will question leaders of the Bush and Kerry campaigns under the watchful eye of primetime anchor Paula Zahn. The AJC said that incoming weeks, Lou Dobbs will host his show in Washington; Aaron Brown, in Seattle; and Judy Woodruff, in Philadelphia. The strategy was praised by Joe Angotti, the former executive producer of NBC Nightly News, who told the newspaper, "Not enough [journalists] are going out to see what is happening. ... People are relying on polls. They aren't going out and walking the beat and talking to people."

CHARLEY BLOWS UP A STORM FOR WEATHER CHANNEL

Hurricane Charley blew in some impressive ratings for the Weather Channel last week as it attracted an average of 1.4 million viewers on Friday. By contrast, Fox averaged 1 million viewers and CNN 642,000. On Saturday, as the damage from the twister was being appraised, Fox pulled into the lead with an average of 1.1 million viewers. CNN was second with 942,000, and the Weather Channel dropped to third with a competitive 844,000.

WINFREY DECIDES TO CONVICT KILLER, TALK ABOUT IT ON TV

Predictably Oprah Winfrey has decided to devote an upcoming episode of her talk show to her experience this week as a juror in a Chicago murder trial. The episode is set to air on Monday; however, Winfrey had much to say about the experience to reporters who gathered around her Wednesday after she and her fellow jurors convicted Dion Coleman of fatally shooting Walter Holley over a counterfeit $50 bill in February, 2003. "This trial is not about Oprah Winfrey," she told reporters. "I don't regret that I did it," she added. "For all of us [jurors], it was a reality check."

MURDOCHS: WE'RE NOT LIKE TIME WARNER OR VIACOM

Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan attempted to assure Australian institutional investors in News Corp today (Thursday) that they are shifting the corporate home of the company to the U.S. for strategic purposes only. Rupert Murdoch told the Sydney Daily Telegraph (a News Corp newspaper), "News Corp does have what we would loosely call an Australian culture. You see that in the people that come up in the company." Lachlan, the deputy COO of the company, added: "It's crucially important for us ... to continue our Australian culture. Otherwise we just become a bureaucracy like Time Warner or Viacom."

RUSH DISQUALIFIED FOR OSCAR

Although The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, starring Geoffrey Rush, will have a theatrical release in the U.K. and Australia, it will be shown in the U.S. first on HBO, thereby disqualifying Rush from Academy Award consideration -- a situation that Rush says lends a "schizophrenic quality" to his assignment. In an interview with the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Rush, whose performance as the late comic actor has received strong advance buzz, remarked that he is not disappointed at being eliminated from the Oscar contest: "In American cinemas, it may reach that ceiling where it doesn't become huge, whereas in the six weeks it plays on HBO it might play to 50 to 80 million people, which is Spider-Man figures," he said. As Sellers himself did in several movies, Rush plays numerous roles in the biopic -- not only Sellers' film characters but also seven family members and friends.

DIESEL MAY BE SPIKE LEE'S CHOICE TO PLAY JOE LOUIS

Despite the fact that he bears virtually no resemblance to boxing legend Joe Louis, Vin Diesel may be Spike Lee's top contender to play Louis in his forthcoming feature film about him. The New York Daily News's "Rush & Molloy" column reported today (Thursday) that Lee and Diesel met for two hours last week to discuss the role. Ninety-year-old writer Budd Schulberg (What Makes Sammy Run, On the Waterfront), who attended the meeting (as Lee's co-writer) told the newspaper, "I came away impressed with [Diesel's] knowledge of Joe Louis. He's got the intellect, and he's done some boxing."

PRODUCER ZAENTZ WANTS $20 MILLION FROM NEW LINE

Producer Saul Zaentz is suing New Line Cinema claiming that the studio has reneged on a deal calling for him to be paid a percentage of the adjusted gross profits of the three Lord of the Rings films, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). Zaentz, who bought the rights to the Tolkien novels in 1976, claims that he has been paid a percentage of the film's net receipts instead -- and that he is currently owed $20 million.

THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH COUNTRY TO SEE ANTI-BUSH FILM

The Australian distributor of Fahrenheit 9/11 said today (Thursday) that the film will be offered to theaters in sparsely populated "outback" areas of the country, where box-office returns are likely to be negligible. Troy Lum, managing director of Hopscotch Films, told Melbourne's The Age newspaper, "We are not looking at the bank balance any more. ... We just feel that people in regional areas have the right to see another opinion, another perspective." Australia contributed about 1000 troops to the coalition forces in Iraq. The Age said that Hopscotch has received a request to screen the film from a group of residents in the town of Seymour, where the only movie theater is located at the local military base. It also sent a letter to the base commander, saying in part that the issues posed by the film "are essential topics for citizens, especially army personnel, to be discussing in these times of obfuscation on international affairs."

PROLIFIC FILM COMPOSER ELMER BERNSTEIN DEAD AT 82

Film composer Elmer Bernstein, whose credit list on the IMDb website includes 253 movies and TV series over a period of more than half a century, died in his sleep Wednesday at his Ojai, CA home at the age of 82. He had been nominated 14 times for an Oscar (as recently as 2002's Far From Heaven) but won only once -- for the movie version of 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie. His most memorable film scores include The Magnificent Seven, The Man with the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape, Animal House, and Walk on the Wild Side. He won an Emmy in 1964 for the TV documentary The Making of the President: 1960.

Cinemark Movie Club