THE PARTY'S OVER
Monday Night Football came to an end after 36 seasons on ABC with Don Meredith, one of the original trio of announcers, singing "The Party's Over," as he once did during blowouts. (In the final game, the New England Patriots beat the New York Jets 31-21.) It was a reminder of then-ABC Sports chief Roone Arledge's intention when he launched the seasonal telecast in 1970 -- to make the game entertaining not just for jocks but for millions of others who had only passing (no pun intended) interest in football. Indeed TV writers waxed nostalgic today (Tuesday) over the earlier incarnation of MNF, featuring Meredith, Frank Gifford (who joined in 1971, replacing Keith Jackson), and Howard Cosell. The Hollywood Reporter's Paul J. Gough recalled that "the drama went on in front of and behind the camera in the interplay between Meredith and Cosell." Richard Sandomir in the New York Times commented, "The Cosell-Meredith pairing seems frozen in showbiz amber." (More to the point, ratings for MNF for the current season have averaged about half what they were at their peak in 1981.) Commentators disagreed about the significance of MNF's fade-out. NBC is planning to air NFL football games next season on Sunday nights in primetime, and ESPN will begin carrying them on Mondays. Frank Gifford told Sandomir in the New York Times that Monday night football will be "going to cable. ... What's the difference?" AP writer Jim Litkey observed, "As the NFL's most recent check from ESPN proves -- $8.8 billion for the next eight years -- the party is still far from over." But John Madden insisted, "It is a big deal. ... And people make fun of people who make a big deal of it, so it's chic to make fun of it."

CBS STREAMS FOUR SITCOMS ON WEB -- THIS WEEK ONLY

CBS, trying like the rest of the networks to figure out how to use the Internet advantageously, announced Monday that it will offer two episodes of Two and a Half Men and two episodes of How I Met Your Mother for free via the Yahoo! website. The webcasts are being "streamed" -- that is, they cannot be downloaded onto a PC or watched on portable video players. Moreover, they will only be available for viewing for one week. CBS execs said that the experiment was an effort to attract younger viewers who spend more time at PCs than older ones. One CBS exec told Daily Variety that this week was selected because many young people may have received personal computers for Christmas presents and are out of school for the holidays. Meanwhile NBC has made available for downloading from Apple's iTunes Music Store a free Saturday Night Live parody music video featuring Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg.

NEW CNBC GRAPHICS, SOUNDERS REPORTEDLY RILE VIEWERS

CNBC has received tens of thousands of complaints about its new graphics and sounders, but executives of the financial-news cable network are telling staffers to ignore them, the TV Newser blog reported today (Tuesday), citing an unnamed network insider. "The annoying sounds they force viewers to listen to each time a stock or index ticks higher or lower...well, it's just unbearable. It seems clear from the emails that viewers are not buying it, but so far management is telling us to not acknowledge the issues or the complaints. And there appears to be no attempt to fix any of it," according to the source.

AUSTRALIAN BROADCAST MOGUL PACKER DEAD AT 67

Media mogul Kerry Packer, famous in Australia as that country's richest man -- and once famous in America as the man who won $33 million during a night of gambling at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas -- has died at the age of 67. In a statement, his longtime rival, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, said: "He was the most successful businessman of our generation. As a broadcaster, he had an uncanny knack of knowing what people across the country were thinking and this finely-tuned antenna made him the best broadcaster the country has seen. He was a man who you could truly say was larger than life. A fierce competitor who was sometimes controversial but at the same time capable of great generosity to people and organizations in need. Australia will not be the same without him."

NO ROOM AT THE (HOLIDAY) INN FOR CABLE

In his column in the Kansas City Star, TV writer Aaron Barnhart observed that on Sunday night, Christmas night, he was searching for a Christmas movie to watch. He said he surveyed 200 movies available on demand from his cable company (not identified) and another two dozen available on his digital tier. But, he added, there were: "No sightings of It's a Wonderful Life. No Holiday Inn. Not even an airing of Bad Santa. Bizarre. You can turn on the radio in any market in the U.S. of A. and hear Christmas songs from the middle of October onward. And yet you can't get a decent holiday movie when you want it? What am I missing here? Why is the federal government wasting its time pressuring Comcast and Time Warner to set up family tiers? It's the holidays -- set up a frickin' holiday tier! Right?"

APE WINS -- BUT NO CHEST-THUMPING YET
The lion and the ape ran neck and neck at the box office over the weekend, and when it was over it appeared that the ape had won -- as Universal's King Kong posted an estimated $31.4 million in ticket sales over the four-day holiday and $21.3 million for the weekend. Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe appeared to have placed second with $30.1 million for the holiday and $20.4 million for the weekend. However, the estimates were so close that analysts generally noted that the positions of the two films could be reversed when final figures are released later today (Tuesday). Meanwhile, two comedies that debuted on Wednesday did so-so business, with Sony's Fun With Dick and Jane earning about $23.5 million for the four days and Fox's Cheaper by the Dozen 2, $14.8 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. King Kong, $31.4 million.; 2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $30.1 million.; 3. Fun With Dick and Jane, $23.5 million.; 4. Cheaper by the Dozen 2, $14.8 million.; 5. The Family Stone, $10.9 million.; 6. Memoirs of a Geisha, $10.2 million.; 7. The Ringer, $8.4 million.; 8. Rumor Has It, $7.5 million.; 9. Wolf Creek, $5.9 million.; 10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, $5.7 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: WOLF CREEK

The Christmas holiday may not appear to be the most propitious -- or seemly -- time of the year to release a horror flick, but Dimension/The Weinstein Co.'s Wolf Creek performed adequately in its debut over the weekend, earning an estimated $5.9 million. The Australian-made film was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival this year for $3.5 million. It received wildly mixed reviews. Jessica Reaves in the Chicago Tribune found much to praise about the film. "As horror movies go, this is a pretty good one, at once a tense, visceral and tightly woven tale," she wrote. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post called it "gorily effective." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times gave director Greg McLean high marks for keeping "his storytelling tight and the plot admirably pared down." Likewise Janice Page in the Boston Globe writes that McLean's "tight direction deserves credit for keeping tension and dread ever-present." On the other hand, Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times wrote that "McLean admirably attempts to breathe some life into the genre by taking his time to get to the gore, but rather than yielding interesting characters it merely deflates the suspense." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News commented: "Just because Dimension considered Greg McLean's nasty exploitation flick worthy of their time and money doesn't mean it deserves yours." And Mike Clark concluded in USA Today: "There's no substitute for bad taste. And this one has it double-barreled."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE NEW WORLD

The top per-theater earner was New Line's The New World, which opened on Christmas day in three theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It took in an estimated $10,333 per theater on its first day, Sunday. No estimates were provided for Monday. The film, director Terence Malick's take on the romance between Pocahontas and John Smith, has initially received some rhapsodic reviews. "The New World is a work of breathtaking imagination, less a movie than a mode of transport, and in every sense a masterpiece." raved Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "In Mr. Malick's telling, Pocahontas is a woman whose story has the reach of myth and the tragic dimension of life," wrote Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News was equally profuse in her praise for the film, writing: "Malick is a writer-director of extraordinary vision who is like an endangered species. Sightings of him are rare. The New World is only his fourth movie in 32 years, and it's up there with Days of Heaven in terms of ravishing visuals and a story that bundles the fate of its powerfully conflicted characters with that of the land they vainly try to tame." Jan Stuart in Newsday commented that the movie "blows centuries of dust and schoolkid romanticism from the oft-mythologized tale of Pocahontas and the English settlers, relaying old news with an abundantly poetic and visually startling point of view that makes us feel as if we're bearing witness for the very first time." But Lou Lumenick in the New York Post was not among those poetically transported by the film, concluding, "This lavish coffee-table-book of a movie gradually reveals itself as an uninvolving, crashing bore."