ABC, CBS IN SWEEPS PHOTO-FINISH

Ratings results in the November sweeps for the key 18-49-year-old demographic group are awaiting a photo-finish examination, with most analysts now calling it a dead heat. (CBS led in overall household results by a wide margin.) Overnight figures for Wednesday, the final night of the sweeps, showed ABC with a 5.4 rating in the demo, edging out CBS with a 5.3. Nevertheless, CBS led in overall households, averaging a 9.5 rating and a 15 share for the night versus an 8.2/13 for ABC. NBC remained far behind with a 6.4/10, while Fox trailed with a 4.1/6. Posting a surprisingly strong 8.5/13, CBS's annual airing of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer showed that there was still plenty of life in the 41-year-old cartoon. Also showing surprising strength was CBS's Criminal Minds, which drew a 10.0/15 against ABC's hit Lost, which pulled a 12.2/18.

FOX WON'T SHIFT IDOL

Despite much media speculation that Fox was planning to shift the American Idol results shows to Thursdays, Fox announced Wednesday that it will do no such thing -- it will not tamper with success. As Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori told today's (Thursday) Daily Variety: "We decided to follow what we announced at the upfronts and stick to our knitting. Why move it, why play with it when it's the No. 1 hour and No. 1 half-hour on television? You don't mess with a good thing."

BIGGEST LOSER IS BIGGEST WINNER

NBC, which has frequently been described as the biggest loser among the major networks this year, scored a big victory Tuesday night thanks to a show titled, ironically enough, The Biggest Loser. Along with Law & Order: SVU, the two-hour conclusion of the reality series, which averaged a 10.14 -- peaking in the last half hour at 9:30 p.m. with an 11.1/16 -- produced NBC's best Tuesday ratings in five years in both households and adults 18-49. The strong showing pushed ABC's Commander in Chief, the network's biggest hit this season, into second place in the 9:00 p.m. hour as it registered a 10.0/14, a season low. In fact, it was upstaged by a Barbara Walters interview special at 10:00 p.m., which drew a 10.1/16.

AD SALES COLD FOR WINTER OLYMPICS

Reports that NBC is way behind in advertising sales for the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy may be the source of new headaches for besieged network executives. The online MediaDailyNews.com reported today (Thursday) that NBC still has $150-200 million of spots that have yet to be sold, with the Olympics only two months away. Moreover, the trade publication observed, the Olympics could represent a worrisome problem for other broadcast and cable outlets, as advertisers shift spot buys from them to NBC. Lyle Schwartz, an executive with media planners Mediaedge: cia, told MediaDailyNews.com, "Since the Olympics is more expensive than other programming, it's going to chew up more of the available money." Moreover, he noted, "The other broadcast networks are not going to put on their best programming against the Olympics," resulting in lower average ratings for all of them.

JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT TO JUMP FROM PBS TO FNC

The Wall Street Journal-produced Journal Editorial Report, the conservative-oriented talk show that figured in the scandal that brought down Kenneth Tomlinson as chairman of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, has found a new home at Fox News Channel. The Journal said that the half-hour show will air on Saturday and repeat on Sunday beginning January. A timeslot has not been set. Earlier this month a CPB internal investigation concluded that Tomlinson may have violated federal law by piloting the Journal program onto PBS as a way of politically balancing a program hosted by Bill Moyers. The report, written by CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz, observed that while federal law bars CPB board members from involvement in programming decisions, Tomlinson was closely involved in both the development of the program and efforts to find funding for it. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times, Paul Friedman, its executive producer, charged that there had been "a concerted campaign to destroy the program on ideological grounds." Fox programming exec Bill Shine told the paper that the program "adds to our strength."

U.S. PAYING FOR FAVORABLE NEWS ON IRAQI TV, NEWSPAPERS

The U.S. military has been secretly paying Iraqi newspapers and television stations via a defense contractor to run news stories favorable to the United States, the Los Angeles Times disclosed today (Wednesday), citing unnamed U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the newspaper. The Times said that the articles were planted in the Iraqi media by the Washington-based Lincoln Group, whose staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to the media outlets. One senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice told the Times: "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it." The newspaper noted that besides its contract with the military in Iraq, Lincoln Group also won a $100-million contract with U.S. Special Operations Command to help "develop a strategic communications campaign."

WHITHER GOETH EISNER?

Although his precise plans have yet to be formulated, Michael Eisner has told friends that he plans to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to buy or create a company that will create movie, TV and Broadway productions, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). As the former Disney chief develops his plans, he has talked to Disney production chief Nina Jacobson and former head of strategic planning Peter Murphy about joining him, the newspaper said, citing Eisner acquaintances who asked not to be named. However Jacobson said that in her talks with Eisner, "No way did he approach me about working at his company. ... We talked about maybe someday working together again in the distant future. But there was not a specific intention." Murphy told the Times that it was premature for him to comment.

NOW YOU CAN BUY MOVIE TICKETS ON YOUR TV

TiVo is teaming up with online Fandango, the movie-ticketing service, to allow users of its digital video recorders to buy movie tickets by clicking on TiVo's remote unit. The enhancement to the TiVo service is part of a slate of services being introduced today, which will also allow TiVo users to share photos , listen to podcasts, play videogames and check weather and traffic. Today's (Wednesday) USA Today said that TiVo eventually wants to link the Fandango service to movie trailers so that those watching them on their DVRs can instantly buy a ticket. Since the service requires an Internet link, it won't automatically be available to the 2.7 million TiVo users who also subscribe to DirecTV.

NEW REPORTS OF VIOLENCE FOLLOWING 50 CENT MOVIE

Police in Syracuse, NY have blamed the 50 Cent movie Get Rich or Die Tryin' for an increase in gang shootings in the city. In an interview with the Associated Press, police Lt. John Brennan remarked, "The movie glorifies gang life. ... I think it may have opened up some of the wounds between gangs that had been feuding with each other." Two of the shootings occurred in a mall where the movie was being shown, one of them following a fight that took place inside the theater as it was being screened, police said.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING TO HEAD BERLINALE JURY

Veteran British actress Charlotte Rampling, who made her film debut in 1965 in The Knack ... and How to Get It and who went on to appear in some 68 TV and theatrical film dramas, has been named head of the Berlin Film Festival's (Berlinale) 2006 jury. In a statement, festival director Dieter Kosslick remarked that Rampling "has come to stand for unconventional and memorable cinema."

SONY FILMS TO USE OLD TECHNOLOGY FOR HI-DEF DVD'S

Online techies were expressing surprise Wednesday at Sony's announcement that it will release its first movies on high-definition Blu-ray DVDs using the 11-year-old MPEG-2 system. Commented Nick Farrell of Britain's The Inquirer: "MPEG-2 was the codec which Noah used in the ark to watch old episodes of William Hartnell's Dr. Who during those long 40 days and 40 nights of rain." A writer for News.com observed, "By using either AVC or VC-1 [two other formats that are supported by the Blu-ray system], Sony could have achieved even better picture quality for the movies." But Don Eklund, senior vice president of advanced technology for Sony Pictures, responded: "Advanced formats don't necessarily improve picture quality. ... Our goal is to present the best picture quality for Blu-ray. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, that's with MPEG-2." Some writers saw the decision as inevitably pitting key members of Sony's film division against the parent company's Japanese electronics developers, who had reportedly pushed for employing the more advanced standards for Blu-ray.