WHAT A DEAL!
NBC's new game show Deal or No Deal, which is scheduled to air during the 8:00 p.m. hour every night this week, got off to an auspicious start Monday night as it drew an 8.1 rating and a 12 share. The show, hosted by Howie Mandel, beat the usual winners of the time slot, CBS's King of Queens, which scored a 7.1/11, and How I Met Your Mother, which registered a 6.8/10. Another mediocre match-up on Monday Night Football (Green Bay vs. Baltimore) found CBS moving into the lead at 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. to win the night. Meanwhile, in an apparent response to criticism that its new game show lacked audience interactivity of any sort, NBC on Monday quickly rolled out an at-home game that allows viewers to play along. The names of viewers who select a "lucky case" on the show using their cell phones or Internet connections are pooled together, with the winner picked from the pot. Three at-home winners will be announced each night, one for each of the time zones.

IDOL SPECIALS TO AIR ON THURSDAY NIGHTS

Just when its rivals had heaved a sigh of relief that Fox had decided not to air any episodes of American Idol on Thursday, as had been rumored, Fox turned the tables on them Monday and announced that it would air at least three hour-long specials of Idol during the 8:00 p.m. hour during the show's coming season. They will air during the last week of February and the first two weeks of March. The announcement was likely to come as an especially severe blow to NBC, which had waited for Fox to announce its plans for Idol before moving My Name Is Earl and The Office into the 8:00 p.m. hour on Thursdays.

MIAMI SEAPLANE CRASH SENDS CABLE NEWS NETS SCURRYING

CNN may not have been the first on the air with the report about a crash of a seaplane into the sea off Miami Beach Monday, but it was the only network to obtain dramatic footage of the crash, taken by an amateur cameraman. It also aired an interview with former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Francis, who remarked, "That's a truly remarkable piece of film. ... and will now allow the NTSB to prioritize, a little bit, what they're looking for in terms of the wreckage." On his blog, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams complained about the initial coverage of the accident by cable news networks. "At least one network [Williams did not identify it] zoomed in on face-down dead bodies being towed in the water by rescue divers... apparently thinking they were living people. It was gruesome. The early reporting, as is often the case, was sketchy and ill-informed, and the pictures were way ahead of the facts."

UNIVISION TO JOIN SIX OTHER NETS IN NIELSEN RATINGS

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision announced Monday that it had reached an agreement with Nielsen Research that would include the network in Nielsen's national TV ratings service beginning December 26. In a statement, Ray Rodriguez, president and COO of Univision, said, "This is a historic step for Univision, which firmly plants us among the mainstream broadcasters. ... Univision will finally be measured alongside its main competitors, the major English-language broadcast networks, and for the first time, advertisers and media buyers will be able to see the audience Univision delivers in the national charts."

U.K. TRIBUNAL RULES ABC NEWSMAN WAS UNFAIRLY FIRED

ABC said Monday that it plans to appeal a ruling by a British employment tribunal that former correspondent Richard Gizbert was unfairly dismissed after he refused to cover the war in Iraq for the network. The tribunal did not immediately rule on Gizbert's demand for $4 million in compensation but said it plans to do so early next year. ABC claims that Gizbert, who worked out of ABC's London bureau, was fired as part of a cost-cutting move and that his dismissal was not related to his refusal to go to Iraq. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said following the ruling, "ABC News's long-standing policy is and always will be that assignments to war zones and other dangerous places are completely voluntary." For his part, Gizbert said that the ruling "amounts to an indictment for one particular company, ABC News/Disney, and it's a warning to other news organizations that your voluntary war zone policy has to mean what it says."

THEATERS TO GO DIGITAL -- BY THE THOUSANDS
In a move that is likely to force the transition to digital projection in movie theaters, Carmike Cinemas, the nation's third-largest chain, said it would convert 2,300 auditoriums to digital by October 2007. The projectors will be provided by Christie Digital Systems Inc., while software will come from Access Integrated Technologies, Inc. Currently only about 100 theaters in the U.S. are equipped with digital systems. Bud Mayo, AccessIT's CEO, told the London Financial Times: "It would be hard to exaggerate the significance of today's development as a major milestone for the industry and for our respective companies." And in an interview with today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times, industry analyst Dennis McAlpine remarked, "Most of the [deals] have been bits and pieces. ... I think this is the one that says, 'OK, everyone is going to have some digital.'"

BROKEBACK GALLOPING INTO MORE CITIES

After seeing Brokeback Mountain perform strongly in a handful of conservative test cities last weekend, Focus Features has decided to accelerate its expansion schedule for the gay cowboy romance. Brokeback, which set a per-theater box-office record over the weekend for any non-IMAX movie released in more than 50 theaters, is expected to move onto 300-400 screens by Jan. 6. It currently is playing in 69 theaters and had been expected to expand to 250 on Jan. 13. Final box-office figures put the film's weekend gross at $2.5 million, with a per-screen average of $36,455. Reports about the film's surprisingly strong performance vied with reports about King Kong's tame performance in the national news media Monday. They shared a common theme -- that the weeks ahead will determine whether the opening results for each movie represents a fluke or a precursor. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. King Kong, Universal, $50,130,145, 1 Wk. ($66,181,645 -- From Wednesday); 2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Disney, $31,837,683, 2 Wks. ($113,169,644); 3. The Family Stone, 20th Century Fox, $12,521,027, 1 Wks. ($12,521,027); 4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Warner Bros., $5,952,452, 5 Wks. ($252,598,259); 5. Syriana, Warner Bros., $5,605,167, 4 Wks. ($22,462,362); 6. Walk the Line, 20th Century Fox, $3,688,031, 5 Wks. ($82,607,528); 7. Yours, Mine & Ours, Paramount, $3,511,110, 4 Wks. ($45,202,963); 8. Brokeback Mountain, Focus Features, $2,508,494, 2 Wks. ($3,474,311); 9. Just Friends, New Line, $2,080,852, 4 Wks. ($29,572,142); 10. Aeon Flux, Paramount, $1,751,220, 3 Wks. ($23,215,672).

SPIELBERG ACTS TO COUNTER ISRAELI CRITICISM OF MUNICH

After Ehud Danoch, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, slammed Steven Spielberg's upcoming Munich as "superficial" and "pretentious," Spielberg is reportedly attempting to "mollify" current and former agents of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and court other Israeli officials, Daily Variety reported today (Tuesday). (In an earlier review, the trade paper also condemned the film.) According to Variety, Spielberg has offered to screen the movie to Meir Dagan, the current chief of Mossad, and to agents who worked for it at the time of the events depicted in the film. The publication further reported that producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Tony Kushner arranged a screening for two widows of Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. One of the women, Ilana Romano, was quoted as saying, "Munich handles the terrorist attack and the plight of the Israeli victims with great accuracy."

DISNEY IN HARRY POTTER THEME-PARK DEAL?

The Walt Disney Co. is considering constructing a "site-based entertainment" complex in Singapore that would occupy a full city block and rise six to seven stories, with each story featuring one of the Harry Potter books, Disney watcher Jim Hill reported on his blog Monday. Hill quoted an anonymous source as saying that Disney has been in protracted negotiations with Potter author J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. to secure theme-park rights for the Singapore complex. Hill's source continued: "If this Harry Potter acquisition deal does fall apart, I'm told that the Imagineers have another SBE [site-based entertainment] concept that also might fly. One where each floor of this city-block-sized building would then celebrate a different Pixar film."

ARNIE, THE TERMINATOR, TERMINATES HOMETOWN DEAL

Angered by efforts of officials in Graz, Austria to mount a petition drive to rename the city's Arnold Schwarzenegger arena, the California governor on Monday fired off a letter to the mayor withdrawing his permission to use his name on the arena and demanding that it be removed forthwith. The petition drive was launched following Schwarzenegger's decision last week to deny clemency to convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams. Schwarzenegger also withdrew permission for the city where he was born to use his name "to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way," and he said that he was returning the "ring of honor" that the city had presented him seven years ago. Some observers have pointed out the evident irony: Movie heroes who kill villains by the dozen on screen are one thing, but governors who do the same thing are quite a different matter.