OLYMPICS RATINGS REACH A PEAK -- ON THE NETThe number of viewers watching the Winter Olympics on NBC may be down significantly from the levels of 2002, but the numbers visiting NBCOlympics.com are up not only in comparison with the Salt Lake City games but also the Summer Olympics in Athens two years ago, NBC said Monday. According to the network, page views between Saturday and Monday totaled 18.7 million -- 63 percent higher than the figure for Athens and 400 percent higher than Salt Lake City. Google is being credited with driving much Internet traffic to NBC's Olympics website. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) Washington Post, Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff observed that the online video presence of the Olympics benefits both NBC and Google. "Part of what Google is trying to do is reinforce the idea that there is Internet video on Google. ... Today, it's the Olympics -- next it will be the elections or anything else that has a lot of video with it." Meanwhile, NBC continued to draw strong, if not spectacular, ratings for its coverage of the fourth night of the Olympics, as it averaged a 12.8 rating and a 19 share. CBS, which aired mostly reruns, was well behind in second with a 7.5/11. ABC and Fox tied with a 6.2/9.


Bryant Gumbel, who currently hosts a show on HBO called Real Sports, has concluded that the Winter Olympics events are not real sports at all. During the former Todayshow host's commentary on the HBO program, Gumbel remarked that he never watches them and pointed out that the ancient Greeks never heard of skating or skiing. "So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention," Gumbel commented. "And try to blot out all logic when announcers and sports writers pretend to care about the luge, the skeleton, the biathlon and all those other events they don't understand and totally ignore for all but three weeks every four years. Face it, these Olympics are little more than a marketing plan to fill space and sell time during the dreary days of February."


A verbal slugfest took place at the White House Monday between White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and NBC News Chief White House correspondent David Gregory. Today's (Tuesday) Chicago Tribune and the Washington Postreported that when Gregory posed a question about why the White House relied on a Texas rancher to get out the word of Vice President Cheney's hunting accident -- and then accused McClellan of "ducking and weaving" in his original reply, McClellan shot back, "David, hold on, the cameras aren't on right now." The remark appeared to anger Gregory, who shot back, "Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras. ... Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question." McClellan then said, "You don't have to yell," a remark that seemed to infuriate Gregory even further. "I will yell," he said, "If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong." A moment later McClellan commented, "I'm sorry you're getting all riled up." "I am riled up," Gregory said, "because you're not answering the question." Said McClellan, "The vice president's office was the one that took the lead to get this information out... I don't know what else to tell you... That's my answer."


NBC, which drew its best entertainment ratings of the season with its one-week premiere of Deal or No Deal, hosted by Howie Mandel, is bringing the game show back for a second week-long outing on Feb. 27 -- and will be raising the prize money. On Tuesday, the top prize will be $1.5 million, rising by $500,000 each night, so that by Friday, the winner could take home $3-million. DID EISNER TRY TO SHOOT DOWN IGER'S PIXAR DEAL?Michael Eisner lobbied members of the board of the Walt Disney Co. as part of an effort to scuttle CEO Robert Iger's $7.4-billion acquisition of Pixar Animation, the New York Postreported today (Tuesday), without citing sources. The newspaper's report did not indicate which board members had been contacted by Eisner, or even how many. It said that he attempted to make the case that the deal was too expensive. In reporting on Eisner's alleged activities, the Postcommented that "his open lobbying against [the deal] so soon after passing the reins to Iger is a remarkable breach of corporate decorum and served to undermine his own handpicked successor." A spokesman for Eisner was quoted as saying, "Mr. Iger has Mr. Eisner's complete support in sustaining the growth of Disney."


The son of Viacom and CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone has filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve National Amusements, the family-owned company that holds 71 percent of the voting shares of both Viacom and CBS. In the lawsuit, filed last week but reported first in today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times, Brent Redstone accuses his father and sister, Shari Redstone, of "misappropriating millions of dollars" from National Amusements and removing him from the board of Viacom in 2003 because he failed to act as a rubber stamp for his father. Previously, the lawsuit alleges, Sumner Redstone had promised that one day Brent and Shari would jointly run the company, but that he had been shunted aside for challenging his father on matters affecting the company while his sister was rewarded with ever loftier positions for supporting him. In a statement, National Amusements said, "It is unfortunate that Brent Redstone is abusing the court system in an attempt to extract a financial settlement in a family dispute."


Hoping to put what amounts to a virtual Blockbuster store next to the TV sets of American consumers, the Walt Disney Co. said Monday that it plans to revive MovieBeam, the on-demand movie service that it suspended last year after a two-year trial. The MovieBeam service allows 100 movies to be delivered to and stored on a settop box. Each week the box is updated. The movies are beamed to the box piggy-backed on conventional TV signals, not via the Internet, as is the case with similar on-demand services. Each time users access a movie they're charged $3.99 for a new release ($4.99 in high definition) or $1.99 for older titles. Some analysts expressed skepticism that the service will be adopted by the public. "It has to be a tremendously compelling offering for you to stack another box in your component set," Bruce Leichtman, an independent media researcher in Durham, NH, told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times. "Combined with something else, it has an opportunity. When it's a stand-alone device, it's very challenged."


All four films that had their premieres over the weekend lined up at the top of the box office when final ticket sales were tallied on Monday. Leading the pack was Sony's The Pink Panther, starring Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, the role created by Peter Sellers more than 40 years in the original Pink Panthermovie. The film earned $20.2 million, narrowly beating out the horror flick Final Destination 3from New Line Cinema, which took in $19.2 million. (Destinationactually beat Panther on a per-theater basis, earning $6,657 on 2,880 screens. Panther, which played on 3,477 screens posted $5,518 per theater.) The hand-drawn animated film Curious Georgetook third place, earning $14.7 million, topping the Harrison Ford starrer Firewall, which brought in $13.6 million. All six other films in the top ten saw drops of around 50 percent from last week, with the exception of the Oscar favorite Brokeback Mountain, which dropped 33 percent as it recorded $4 million and brought its ten-week total to $66.5 million. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. The Pink Panther, Sony, $20,220,412, (New); 2. Final Destination 3, New Line, $19,173,094, (New); 3. Curious George, Universal, $14,703,405, (New); 4. Firewall, Warner Bros., $13,635,463, (New); 5. When a Stranger Calls, Sony, $9,111,820, 2 Wks. ($33,958,222); 6. Big Momma's House 2, 20th Century Fox, $6,931,437, 3 Wks. ($54,908,725); 7. Nanny McPhee, Universal, $4,940,395, 3 Wks. ($32,956,035); 8. Brokeback Mountain, Focus Features, $4,025,031, 10 Wks. ($66,460,791); 9. Underworld: Evolution, Sony, $2,608,793, 4 Wks. ($57,354,686); 10. Hoodwinked, Weinstein Co. $2,406,005, 5 Wks. ($47,269,225).


Today's Daily Varietycompared some of the weekend Oscar campaigning for Brokeback Mountainwith the advertising for student council elections and lost-pet ads, as it took note of a poster for the movie that went up on a street lamp post in front of the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles. Focus Features, which distributed the movie, told the trade paper that it was not responsible for putting the flier there, suggesting it might have been the work of "some rabid fans ... repurposing [the ad] guerilla-style."


British director Michael Winterbottom told a news conference at the Berlin Film Festival today (Tuesday) that he hopes his film, The Road to Guantánamo,will expose the U.S. prison in Cuba as a "P.R. front" -- an effort by the U.S. to show that it has captured al-Qaeda terrorists and prevented them from carrying out plots against the U.S. Those actually believed to be terrorists, Winterbottom charged, have been removed from Guantánamo and shunted to secret prisons overseas for further interrogation. The film tells the story of three British citizens who were captured in Afghanistan and spent two years at Guantánamo before being released without charges ever being filed against them. Two of the men, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhel Ahmed, appeared at today's press conference and said that they continue to face ostracism from many members of the British Muslim community who regard them as traitors. They suggested that they hope the film will clear their names. Winterbottom said that it will be screened first on Britain's Channel 4, which funded it, in March and that he is still looking for theatrical distributors.