ATHENS RULES

NBC's coverage of Summer Olympic competition wiped out competition from the other networks last week as all seven days of the network's broadcasts from Athens took the top seven positions in the weekly Nielsen ratings. In both overall households and young-adult demographics, NBC drew ratings that were nearly four times higher than its closest rival, CBS. The most-watched Olympics coverage came on Thursday, highlighted by Carly Patterson's performance in the women's gymnastics all-around competition and Michael Phelps in another gold-medal-winning performance in swimming. Oddly, the Olympics did not make much of an impression with cable viewers, despite the fact that competition was carried by NBC-owned outlets MSNBC, USA, and Bravo. NASCAR racing on TNT turned out to be the highest-rated show on cable, followed by USA's Monk. For the week, NBC outdrew its five major competitors combined, as it averaged a 16.2 rating and a 27 share. CBS was far behind in second place with a 5.0/8. ABC placed third with a 3.9/5, followed by Fox's 2.9/5, UPN's 1.7/3 and The WB's 1.6/3.

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

1. Summer Olympics -- Thursday, NBC, 19.3/32; 2. Summer Olympics -- Tuesday, NBC, 18.3/30; 3. Summer Olympics -- Wednesday, NBC, 17.3/29; 4. Summer Olympics -- Monday, NBC, 16.6/27; 5. Summer Olympics -- Sunday, NBC, 15.8/28; 6. Summer Olympics -- Friday, NBC, 14.4/27; 7. Summer Olympics -- Saturday, NBC, 13.6/26; 8. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 7.6/12; 9. Without a Trace, CBS, 6.5/10; 10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 6.4/10.

OLYMPICS STAY STRONG ON TUESDAY

Unlike previous Olympics coverage, this year's ratings are not declining significantly in the waning days. Tuesday's coverage scored a solid 15.2/24 average -- well above second-place CBS's 6.1/10. The Games coverage peaked in the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 16.5/26. By contrast, the highest-rated show on CBS was Amazing Race 5, which drew a 6.4/10. Meanwhile, reports from Japan indicated that live coverage of the Olympics is drawing massive audiences late at night and in the wee hours in that country.

HDTV OWNERS RAP NBC OLYMPICS COVERAGE

NBC's high definition telecasts of the Olympics are bearing the brunt of angry protests from viewers, many of whom bought expensive TV sets just for the occasion. One of them was the much-quoted financial analyst Larry Gerbrandt of AlixPartners, who told the Associated Press Tuesday that he had just bought a 50-inch plasma set and invited his friends over to see the Games. Instead what they saw was delayed footage, narrated by second-rate announcers, he said. NBC has been treating HDTV viewers "like throwaways," Gerbrandt told A.P. "NBC blew a chance to showcase and really sell HDTV." NBC responded that Olympic organizers had only wired a few venues for HDTV, a response that raised eyebrows among analysts, who pointed out that NBC is owned by electronics giant General Electric.

DESPITE REPORTS, NORTON WILL RETURN TO BRITAIN, SAYS PRODUCER

Reports Tuesday that British comedian Graham Norton will walk away from his contract to host a primetime show on the BBC this fall were quickly discounted Tuesday by the producer of Norton's new talk show on Comedy Central. Graham Stuart told Britain's Guardian newspaper that Norton's comments about having "no interest in going home" were "a throwaway comment that has been spun around and misconstrued." He said that Norton intends to return to Britain next month to fulfill his BBC contract.

CORRECTION:

In Tuesday's edition, we erroneously reported that Norton's Comedy Central show was a U.S. version of his earlier late-night show for the BBC. The earlier show was carried by the commercial network Channel 4.

KERRY APPEARS ON COMEDY CENTRAL FOR "INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION"

During a nearly surrealistic interview on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Tuesday, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry argued that "most Americans would like to have a much more intelligent conversation about where the country's going" -- although obviously aware that no such conversation could take place within the environs of a comedy program. At one point during the interview Stewart remarked (apropos of nothing, it appeared) "I'm all Jew. You may be 1/4. I got everything." Later: "As any good fake journalist should do, I watch only the 24-hour cable news. This is what I learned about you. ... Please refute if you will: Are you the number-one most liberal senator in the Senate?" Kerry: "No." Stewart. "OK." [End of discussion.] Later: "Is it true that every time I use ketchup your wife gets a nickel?" Kerry: "Would that it were [true]." USA Today commented that Kerry's appearance "was a coup for Stewart and showed his increasing clout on the national political stage."

TORONTO'S UNVEILS FESTIVAL FEAST

The Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 9-18, unveiled an impressive list of 328 titles to be screened in its 29th year, including several world, North American, or Canadian premieres, including Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, Spike Lee's Sucker Free City, Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries and Richard Eyre's Stage Beauty. Among the festival's "Special Presentations" will be a "work in progress" screening of Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, and John Waters' A Dirty Shame, starring Tracey Ullman. Moreover, the festival has received acceptance notes to invitations extended to (among others): Sean Penn (who rarely appears at film festivals), Charlize Theron, Orlando Bloom, Kevin Bacon, Sandra Bullock, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Dillon, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Nick Nolte, Hilary Swank, Sigourney Weaver, and Martin Short (who will appear as celebrity talk-show host Jiminy Glick).

NEW YORK OK'S TAX INCENTIVES

In an effort to lure film and TV productions companies to New York -- and keep them there -- Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday approved a series of tax incentives totally $100 million over four years for productions in the state. To be eligible, producers would be required to film 75 percent of their movies or TV shows in the state -- thereby eliminating those companies looking to use the state (particularly New York City) for exteriors. In a statement, Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, said: "New York City has always offered filmmakers the most incredible locations in the world, and this new legislation makes it more attractive to shoot interiors alongside the city's unparalleled exteriors."

MOVIE TO HAVE WORLD PREMIER IN FIJI

The Pacific island nation of Fiji will be the first to screen the new low-budget thriller Anacondas -- The Hunt for the Blood Orchid from Sony-Screen Gems. The country stands in for the troubled Indonesian island of Borneo in the movie, with many location shots filmed in the upper Navua River. Taniela Bolea, CEO of the Fiji Audio Visual Commission, said today (Wednesday) that tonight's screening of the movie represents a culmination of the country's two-year effort to lure the filmmakers to the island. "This is a great start to our efforts to grow the industry in Fiji and even though locals do not take major roles in this movie the aim is to utilize more Fiji people behind the camera and from there into central roles in the stories on screen," Bolea said. (An article in a local newspaper quoted the New York Times as calling the film "action-packed and a thriller not to be missed," a doubtful appraisal by the newspaper since the film does not open until Friday.) Following tonight's screening, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is scheduled to host a "function" for the film.

A SYMPATHETIC HITLER TO APPEAR IN NEW GERMAN FILM

An upcoming German film dealing with the last 12 days of Hitler has already begun to evoke controversy a month before it opens in German theaters. According to the London Daily Telegraph, the movie, The Downfall -- Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (Der Untergang -- Hitler und das Ende des 3 Reichs) from director Oliver Hirschbiegel features scenes in which Swiss actor Bruno Ganz portrays the dictator sympathetically, particularly in a scene in which, tears flowing down his cheeks, he shouts forlornly, "The war is over!" He is also seen treating female assistants kindly and showing fondness for his pet dog. The film was shot in Berlin, Munich, and St. Petersburg at a cost of $16 million, making it one of Germany's most expensive films ever.

Cinemark Movie Club