IDOL TAKES THE GOLD
Like a figure skater crashing to the ice, ratings for NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics tumbled Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The network's average for the two nights represented about half the viewers who tuned in for the comparable nights during the Salt Lake City Games four years ago. The real ratings champ for both nights turned out to be Fox's American Idol, whose own numbers declined a bit from previous weeks due to the Olympics, but nonetheless remained more than 50 percent higher than those for the contests on ice and snow. Among younger viewers (18-49) the difference was staggering -- about 170 percent. Wednesday's Idol "results" show scored a 16.2 rating and a 25 share, a virtual avalanche compared with the Olympics' 9.1/14. (Statisticians will no doubt be checking to see whether any other Olympics hour ever recorded single-digit ratings.) NBC regained the lead at 9:00 p.m. however, registering an 11.9/17. ABC was close behind, however, with a 10.8/16 for Lost (which led among 18-49-year-olds). Fox placed third with a 7.5/11 for Bones, while CBS trailed with a 6.2/9 for a rerun of Criminal Minds. Overall, Fox averaged an 11.9/18 for the night, beating NBC's 10.9/17. ABC placed third with a 7.0/11, while CBS placed fourth with a 6.4/10.

NEWS OUTLETS MIFFED BY VEEP'S FOX NEWS EXCLUSIVE

The Vice President Dick Cheney's decision to grant an exclusive interview to Fox News Channel about his hunting accident has riled the Washington news corps, especially after the story of the accident itself appeared first in a Corpus Christi newspaper, the Caller-Times. Today's (Thursday) USA Today observed, "The non-Fox press feel as if they've been hosed twice now." Media commentator Alessandra Stanley wrote in today's New York Times, "Most VIP's in trouble choose the safe waters of Larry King on CNN to do damage control. Mr. Cheney chose what this administration views as the even more secure location of a Fox News interview." In Daily Variety, reporter Michael Learmonth commented, "Carving out a cordial relationship with the administration has served Fox News well in the ratings by making it the go-to news net for conservatives." On CNN's Situation Room, commentator Jack Cafferty exploded, "I would guess it didn't exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over there to the F-word network for a sit-down with Brit Hume. I mean, that's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it?" But in an interview with the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, former Cheney aide Mary Matalin, who helped arrange the Fox interview, remarked that Cheney had considered holding a news conference but, she said, that "would have meant a lot of grandstanding" by reporters.

JUDGE BARS DIRECTV RETAILER FROM PURSUING SIGN-UP SCAM

A federal judge in Los Angeles has granted a preliminary injunction barring DirecTV retailer LA Activations from using toll-free numbers and deceptive names in order to lure potential customers away from Time Warner Cable. The ruling follows a lawsuit filed by the cable company last month alleging that LA Activations, based in Santa Ana, CA, was using such names as "Time Warned," "Time Warn" and "Time Warne" in order to put those names ahead of Time Warner Cable in phone directories. According to the lawsuit, potential customers who called the numbers would then be signed up for the DirecTV service.

BARBARA WALTERS TO FILL IN ON ABC NEWS SHOWS

Seventy-four-year-old Barbara Walters, who only last year reduced her workload at ABC News by pulling out of the weekly primetime news magazine 20/20, has been enlisted as a part-time fill-in for the critically injured Bob Woodruff on World News Tonight. She has also agreed to spell Charles Gibson and Dianne Sawyer on Good Morning America on days when they, too, fill in for Woodruff. Wednesday's New York Observer noted that the scheduled appearance of Walters together with Elizabeth Vargas on WNT Wednesday night marked the first time that two women have ever co-anchored an evening network newscast.

MEXICAN GOVERNMENT ADMITS IT STAGED KIDNAP RESCUE

The Mexican government and the country's top television network have been embarrassed by revelations that Mexican police staged a kidnap rescue at a farmhouse on Dec. 9. Attorney General Daniel Cabeza maintained at a news conference, however, that they had reenacted a raid that they had previously pulled off in order to "serve you, the media" and to "show the public that there is an institution that is working for them, that has successes and that arrests people." The reporter for the Televisa network who covered the sham raid was fired, the network said.

BUSY SIGNAL IN WIRETAP CASE
The federal wiretap case in which Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano holds the spotlight appeared to widen Wednesday when a grand jury indicted veteran Beverly Hills attorney Terry Christensen for allegedly hiring Pellicano to tap the phones of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, ex-wife of former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian. According to the indictment, Christensen paid Pellicano at least $100,000 to eavesdrop and record Bonder Kerkorian's conversations with her attorney, court mediator, and others during a paternity lawsuit. His purpose, the indictment said, was to "secure a tactical advantage in litigation by learning Bonder Kerkorian's plans, strategies, perceived strengths and weaknesses, settlement position and other confidential information. In a statement, Kirk Kerkorian said on Wednesday, "Terry Christensen is a paragon of integrity who has always done the right thing throughout the 35 years I have had the privilege of knowing him."

JOE ROTH PREDICTS PIXAR WILL "INFUSE" DISNEY

Revolution Pictures Chairman Joe Roth has indicated that although Disney is buying Pixar Animation, he expects that creatively Pixar will be taking over Disney. Roth, the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and currently a member of the Pixar board, told Fred Topel, who writes a newsletter for the About.com website: "I think what will happen is that Pixar will totally infuse Disney with its own stuff. ... If Disney can't make movies up to the quality of Pixar, they'll have to stop." Roth predicted that Disney will eventually produce two animated features a year, one original and one sequel. "By the way," he said. "I think that pays for the [$7.4-billion acquisition] themselves, the fact that these guys are doing the sequels, if they would, to Monsters, Incredibles, Toy Story, Nemo, and things like that." Pixar chiefs Steve Jobs and John Lasseter have long said that they would only agree to produce a sequel if it was better than the original, and that they would be opposed to producing the kind of direct-to-video "cheapquels" that Disney has lucratively churned out in recent years.

SCHOOL CLAIMS GLORY ROAD DEPICTED IT UNFAIRLY

The Walt Disney Co. has defended its decision in Glory Road to depict the East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce) basketball team as a group of racists, taunting the Texas Western Miners team, the first to start five black players in the NCAA championships. Texas A&M University-Commerce President Keith D. McFarland on Wednesday disclosed the contents of a reply he had received from Disney Studios Chairman Richard Cook, denying that any members of the team engaged in racial epithets against the Miners during a regular-season game as the movie alleged. In the letter, Cook observed that "Glory Road is not a documentary," and that it was necessary for the screenwriters to "consolidate events." He said it was not the intention of the filmmakers "to unfairly depict any particular group, individuals, community, or institution." In a statement, McFarland said, "Our institution and community were specifically singled out in a very negative way in the movie; therefore, to maintain the filmmakers had no intention of unfairly depicting any particular group or institution seems to be a contradiction in what the filmmakers actually did."

SLOW SALES FOR PSP MOVIES

Raising renewed skepticism about whether consumers are interested in watching full-length motion pictures on portable devices, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday) that sales of movies in the UMD format for Sony's PlayStation Portable device are falling behind expectations and that four studios which have been releasing videos in the format are cutting back. A Paramount exec said that sales have been strong for TV comedy shows -- particularly those that present relatively brief sketches and stand-up routines like Beavis & Butthead and Chappelle's Show. But Jeff Baker of Warner Bros. Home Video told the trade publication, "We are reevaluating our position on any future releases at this time. ... We're disappointed with consumer demand." And Chris Anstey, buyer for the Virgin record stores, was quoted as saying. "There is a modest demand for [new titles], but there simply hasn't been a consistent growth of this new format to justify making more space for it."

VILLAIN CAST FOR NEXT 007 MOVIE

Bearing out rumors spread by his taxi-cab driver father, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen appeared at a news conference Wednesday in the Czech Republic with the producers and leading actors of the forthcoming 007 movie Casino Royale, where it was announced that he had landed the role of the villain Le Chiffre. The role was played by Orson Welles in the 1967 spoof of the Ian Fleming book. The new film has already begun shooting, despite the fact that the so-called Bond Girl has not been selected yet. At the news conference, director Martin Campbell remarked that the choice had been narrowed down to "two or three" actresses.

NETFLIX TESTS $5.99 SUBSCRIPTION PLAN

On the heels of reports that Netflix delays shipping DVDs to its most frequent users in order to reduce the number of DVDs they can receive each month, the online rental company said Wednesday that it is testing a new $5.99-per-month subscription plan that would limit the number of discs that can be rented to three. A spokesman for the company declined to reveal details of the test.

LEDGER SAYS CLOONEY, NOT GYLLENHAAL, DESERVES OSCAR

Heath Ledger surprised a packed Berlin Film Festival news conference Wednesday night when he remarked that he believes George Clooney deserves the best supporting actor Oscar this year for his performance in Syriana. Jake Gyllenhaal, who appeared in Brokeback Mountain with Ledger (who himself was nominated for a best actor Oscar) is also one of the best supporting actor nominees. Ledger's remark came after a reporter noted that Clooney had told an earlier news conference at the festival that he did not expect to win in any of the three categories for which he had been nominated (he's also nominated in the director and screenplay categories for Good Night, and Good Luck.), adding, "There's been a lot of Brokeback Mountain stuff." Ledger, appearing at the festival to promote his latest film, the Australian-produced Candy, expressed delight that he had been able to make five films back-to-back over the past year and credited director Terry Gilliam for showcasing his talents in The Brothers Grimm, thereby opening up more "interesting choices" for him. He said that he found working in Australia on Candy "incredibly liberating in the sense that it was the first film I've done using my own accent in about eight years." When one reporter asked what the difference was for him to be making love to a woman in one film and to a man in another, he replied, "The stubble."