3-HOUR SURVIVOR FINALE ROUTS RIVALS

A three-hour Survivor finale Sunday night, combined with the always potent 60 Minutes, which reported on the capture of Saddam Hussein, easily put CBS ahead of its rivals in all time periods Sunday night. The Survivor contest, won by Sandra Diaz-Twine, averaged a 12.9 rating and a 20 share over the three hours, scoring a 13.2 20 in the first hour, a 13.4/20 in the second, then dropping to a 12.0/19 in the third as the winner was announced, followed by a reunion. 60 Minutes recorded an 11.8/19 at 7:00. Both NBC and ABC mounted news specials dealing with the capture of Saddam, with NBC pulling a 5.4/9 at 7:00 for its special edition of Dateline and ABC pulling the identical rating at 8:00 for its news special.

SUNDAY WITH SADDAM

The capture of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, Iraq was announced late Saturday, too late to be included on the front pages of most home-delivered Sunday newspapers, resulting in many people learning about the event by word of mouth or from their children who found their Sunday-morning kiddie fare replaced by news reports. Many viewers quickly gravitated to CNN, which first reported the capture at 5:03 a.m. (Its reporter, Alphonso Van Marsh, equipped with a videophone, had accompanied the unit involved in the capture but was not present when Saddam was nabbed.) CNN also had two reporters assigned to Tikrit, while other broadcast news organizations were forced to send their correspondents scrambling some 100 miles from Baghdad to Tikrit. CBS's Dan Rather was the first broadcast anchor to appear on the air -- at 6:15 a.m. Eastern time. NBC's Tom Brokaw followed about 45 minutes later. Peter Jennings, working on a story on the West Coast, never did make it on the air. (He was replaced by George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson.

KUTCHER PUNKS MTV -- BUT IT'S FOR REAL

Ashton Kutcher, considered one of the hottest personalities on cable TV, said Friday that he is shutting down MTV's hit series Punk'd. In a statement issued with co-producer Jason Goldberg, Kutcher said, "We have had an incredible time doing the show and have decided to stick with the old adage of 'leave 'em wanting more." Not only may the audience have wanted more of the series that featured young celebrities being hoaxed by Kutcher and his friends, but so did MTV, which reportedly had ordered a third season of the series. "This was something that came out of the blue," an MTV spokeswoman told The Hollywood Reporter.

MINORITY WRITERS JOINING STAFFS OF NON-ETHNIC SHOWS

For the first time, minority writers have begun joining the writing staffs of non-ethnic shows in significant numbers, according to a report issued Thursday by the Writers Guild of America West. The WGA said that minority writers accounted for 13 percent of primetime writers in 2002, up from 10 percent in 2001. Minority writers accounted for 6 percent of the writers on non-ethnic sitcoms, up from 4 percent in 2001, and for 12 percent on dramas, up from 9 percent in 2001. Vic Bullock, head of the Hollywood branch of the NAACP, said in a statement, "We are very encouraged by these numbers and the efforts that the networks continue to make in regards to the diversity initiatives that we started three years ago."

CABLE NETS TOASTING AD BUYS BY LIQUOR COMPANIES

Although a national uproar arose two years ago when NBC indicated that it planned to accept liquor ads during the late-night time periods, ads for distilled spirits have now become virtually commonplace on cable TV, the New York Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that liquor ads now appear on two dozen cable networks, more than 140 local cable systems and 420 local broadcast stations. In an interview with the newspaper, George A. Hacker, director for the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, commented: "At this point, liquor ads have saturated cable. ... We're satisfied that at least the barrier against broadcast remains, but it's very hard to have a big enough thumb in the dike."

N.Y. CRITICS RUSH TO CROWN KING

New York Daily News film critic Jack Mathews, who aroused consternation among the studios in 1999 when he broke a newspaper embargo with an early review of Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, is no doubt doing the same again with an early review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Unlike the Star Warsmovie, which he greeted with a lukewarm notice, Mathews has hailed the final movie of Peter Jackson as a "masterpiece." The trilogy itself, he writes, represents "one of the greatest achievements in film history." Not allowing itself to be beaten by its chief rival, the New York Post also has released a glowing review of the film from critic Lou Lumenick, who calls it Jackson's "crowning achievement" and goes on to write: "Artistically delivering beyond anyone's imagination on one of the biggest gambles in Hollywood history, this $330-million masterpiece takes its rightful place among such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia."

SOMETHING'S GOTTA WIN

Defying common Hollywood wisdom that audiences are not interested in seeing romantic comedies involving middle-age characters, Sony's Something's Gotta Give,starring 66-year-old Jack Nicholson and 57-year-old Diane Keaton, won the top spot at the weekend box office with ticket sales of about $17 million. The figure, which exceeded industry expectations, knocked last weekend's winner, Warner Bros.' The Last Samurai, into second place with $14.1 million. Debuting in third place was the latest film from the Farrelly brothers, 20th Century Fox's Stuck on You, with ticket sales estimated at $10 million. Fourth place was held by Warner's Love Don't Cost a Thing, an urban comedy that was not screened for critics. It earned about $13.7 million. Rounding out the top five was Disney's Haunted Mansion, which added $6.3 million to its previous gross of $47.3 million. Sales for the top 12 films together grossed $83 million, down 7 percent from last weekend and 8 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Something's Gotta Give, $17 million; 2. The Last Samurai, $14.05 million; 3. Stuck On You, $10 million; 4. Love Don't Cost a Thing, $6.5 million; 5. The Haunted Mansion, $6.3 million; 6. Bad Santa, $6.21 million; 7. Elf, $6.2 million; 8. Honey, $5.1 million; 9. Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, $4.2 million.

S.F. CRITICS NAME TOP FILMS

The San Francisco Film Critics Circle has named Lost in Translation the best picture of 2003 and picked its star, Bill Murray, as best actor. The low-budget ($4 million) film, distributed by Focus Features, received mostly enthusiastic reviews but earned only $29 million during its run. The San Francisco critics honored Peter Jackson with its best director award for the final installment of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Charlize Theron was voted best actress for her portrayal of a serial killer in the upcomingMonster.

WILL TIME WARNER BUY DISNEY?

With Time Warner's fortunes rising again and company Chairman/CEO Richard Parsons indicating that it may once more explore major acquisitions, a "long-shot scenario" has emerged that the company might buy the Walt Disney Co., Newsweek reports in its current issue. The magazine quotes an unnamed senior Time Warner exec as saying, "The easy thing would be for Parsons to buy cable. ... 'Is he going to buy Walt Disney?' is the more interesting question." The magazine also quotes other Time Warner execs as saying that Parsons is likely to make a bid for Disney only if an expected hostile-takeover attempt by Comcast materializes.

KEIKO THE WHALE DIES

Keiko, the killer whale who starred in three Free Willy films and was later the poster child of animal activists campaigning to return captured killer whales to the sea, died suddenly of pneumonia in Norway Saturday. It is believed that as much as $20 million may have been spent on efforts by animal rights groups to reintroduce Keiko to conditions of the wild, all of which seemed to fail as he appeared to shun his own species in favor of human companionship. The death of Keiko at the age of only 27 appeared to be a final embarrassment for those who had sought to "free" him, since one of their primary arguments had been that orcas living in captivity die at a younger age than those in the wild. While some news reports indicated Sunday that orcas live an average of 35 years, their longevity is the subject of scientific debate -- with some studies indicating that they may live to be at least twice that age in the wild.