NBC ICES RATINGS VICTORY AT TURIN
Like some returning Olympic medalists, NBC's coverage of the Torino Games performed strongly between Friday and Sunday (Friday's ratings were the best the network had recorded in more than a year, and Saturday and Sunday's were up slightly more), but they were well off the marks set by the Salt Lake City Games four years ago. Some fall-off had been expected, but the telecasts drew fewer than half the number of viewers that the 2002 Olympics did, and they were down about 22 percent compared with the 1998 Games from Nogano, Japan. Analysts pointed out that the problem lay not only in the fact that the games were being televised with a time delay, but also that NBC was unable to promote them on top-rated shows this year as it could four years ago. In the four-year interim, the network has fallen from a strong No. 1 position, to a weak No. 4. Moreover, there was the loss to the telecast of the American favorite, Michelle Kwan. As Los Angeles Times writer Paul Brownfield observed today (Monday): "It left the network without a leading lady amid all those semi-obscure sports to telecast." In a desperate attempt to keep her in front of the cameras, NBC quickly offered her a job as a color commentator on the figure-skating events. She said no. In the Washington Post, columnist Tony Kornheiser observed; "NBC caught a huge break when last weekend's snow kept everybody in the Northeast housebound Saturday and Sunday nights. But snow melts. Without Kwan, who's going to keep people watching the Olympics later this week?"

OLYMPICS BEATS HOUSEWIVES, LOSES TO ANATOMY

On Sunday night, NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics edged out ABC's Desperate Housewives in the 9:00 p.m. hour, as the Olympics scored a 14.7 rating and a 21 share versus a 14.5/20 for Housewives. But the real surprise came at 10:00 p.m., when ABC's Grey's Anatomy registered a 15.4/24 to beat out the Olympics' 12.4/19. Anatomy, which received a big boost after it aired following the Super Bowl, also drew bigger ratings than its lead-in, Housewives, for the first time ever. Overall, NBC averaged a 13.2/20 for four hours of Olympics coverage Sunday night, beating ABC's average of 11.3/17 for the night. CBS fell well behind with a 6.0/9, while Fox trailed with a 3.4/5.

NBC'S RATINGS DOWN FOR OLYMPICS; PROFITS UP

NBC Universal, which paid $613 million for broadcast rights to the two-week Winter Olympics from Turin, Italy, will gross about $900 million from ads broadcast during its telecasts, company chairman Bob Wright has told Bloomberg News. "This is the biggest thing that we do," Wright said in the interview. "It's the showpiece of all of NBCU's television programming." If the figures pan out, it would put the company's profits ahead of those for the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City. Although the company is expecting fewer viewers on its NBC broadcast network, the company this year is able to televise the games over 418 hours on six networks, including Spanish-language Telemundo. Moreover, corporate sibling GE Energy Systems is reportedly earning an additional $50 million for generators producing enough power in Turin to light the city of San Francisco, Bloomberg observed.

ABC LIKELY TO LOSE BOTH ANCHORS FOR WORLD NEWS TONIGHT

Talk about a "complicated pregnancy" -- ABC is now facing the question of who will replace Elizabeth Vargas on World News Tonight when she gives birth to her second child sometime in August. The Philadelphia Inquirer observed today (Monday) that when Vargas had her first child, she took a maternity leave lasting 12 weeks. Her co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, was seriously injured in Iraq last month and is not expected to return to the program for many months -- if he is able to return at all. In an interview with the Inquirer, World News Tonight producer Jon Banner said, "We've been thrown a lot of surprises in the past. We are adept at dealing with them. ... The great thing is, we have the best team in the business here. The product and content won't suffer. ... We'll go on. We'll succeed."

GIANTS BT, VIRGIN, MICROSOFT TO PROVIDE TV TO HANDSETS

The British telephone company BT Group, along with British cell-phone provider Virgin Mobile and Microsoft, is reportedly teaming up to launch the first digital television broadcast service for cell phones in Europe, the London Financial Times reported today (Monday). An announcement of the joint venture is expected to be made at a mobile-phone conference in Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday. According to the FT, Virgin will offer at least five TV sations and access to a number of radio channels on its service. A similar service was launched in South Korea last year.

SONY TICKLED PINK BY PANTHER WIN
In a shot-in-the-dark surprise, the Steve Martin version of The Pink Panther opened with $21.7 million over the weekend, well above estimates. It even beat Final Destination 3, a poorly reviewed horror film but one which -- given the strong recent performances of the genre -- was nevertheless expected to eviscerate its rivals. As it was, Final Destination 3 took in about $20.1 million, well above its two predecessors. (The original Final Destination opened with $20 million, while Final Destination 2 took in $16 million.) Another film debuting well above expectations was the hand-drawn animated feature Curious George, which earned $15.3 million, nearly all of it from families with small children. On the other hand, the Harrison Ford starrer Firewall grossed a lacklusster $13.8 million, about what analysts had predicted. In the second weekend following their best-film Oscar nominations, Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck saw ticket sales halved from the previous week. Brokeback Mountain, however,endured the smallest fall, 30 percent, as it landed in eighth place in its tenth weekend, with $4.2 million. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. The Pink Panther, $21.7 million: 2. Final Destination 3, $20.1 million: 3. Curious George, $15.3 million: 4. Firewall, $13.8 million: 5. When a Stranger Calls, $10 million: 6. Big Momma's House 2, $6.8 million: 7. Nanny McPhee, $5.2 million: 8. Brokeback Mountain, $4.2 million: 9. Hoodwinked, $2.502 million: 10. Underworld: Evolution, $2.5 million.

WINNING BY CENSORING

In order to gain a PC rating for the new Pink Panther movie, Sony movie chief Amy Pascal ordered numerous cuts in the film, including references to oral sex and erectile dysfunction, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). She also approved an additional $5 million to reshoot certain scenes and reedit others. In an interview with the Times, Sony distribution chief Jeff Blake gave the changes credit for the unexpected victory at the weekend box office. "We were hoping for the widest possible audience, and the PG really gave us an advantage," he said. Director Shawn Levy conceded the point, saying that until the cuts were effected, the film was "not clearly for families and it was not clearly for an adult audience.... The tinkering that Sony requested of me made the movie so much better."

WHAT DOES OVITZ KNOW ABOUT THAT DEAD FISH?

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch has subpoenaed former super agent and Disney President Michael Ovitz to give a deposition in her lawsuit against private detective Anthony Pellicano. Pellicano and an associate have been implicated in an incident in which a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a sign saying "Stop" were left in Busch's car while she was investigating a story about possible Mafia links to actor Steven Seagal. An attorney for Busch said Sunday that he suspected that Pellicano was acting on behalf of one of his clients. In a magazine interview in 2002, Ovitz alluded to the dead-fish incident in discussing two of his former lieutenants at the Creative Management Agency with whom he had had a falling-out, Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane.

ALTMAN'S HOME COMPANION BECOMES BERLINALE FAVORITE

The Berlin Film Festival on its fourth day already had a clear front-runner in the competition for its top Golden Bear award -- Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, starring the ensemble cast of Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Tommy Jones, and Lindsay Lohan. The film received enthusiastic applause after it was screened Sunday night at the festival. In a review, Daily Variety described it as "rib-ticklingly funny at times and genial as all get-out." At a news conference following the screening Altman was asked about how he felt about being selected to receive an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. "I'm very, very happy, very proud about that. I can't think of a better award," Altman said. "To me, it is better to be recognized for all my work than just for a couple of things." Altman has been nominated five times for best director by the motion picture academy, but has never won.

MONTREAL FILMFEST FADES OUT AFTER ONE YEAR

The New Montreal FilmFest, which launched last September with the intent of stealing the thunder away from the long-established Montreal World Film Festival -- but found itself scorned by critics, audiences and filmmakers alike -- has gone out of business. FilmFest's producer, Spectra, issued a statement saying, "Considering the 2005 experience, we want to avoid at all costs that Montreal once again projects an incoherent image on the international scene with several concurrent festivals."

Cinemark Movie Club