PETERSEN SAYS HE'LL QUIT CSI
William Petersen, star of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, has said that he will leave the series after fulfilling his contract obligations next season. Peterson, who has been critical of the show's producers and CBS for cloning the series, told Playboy magazine in its March issue: "I'll do CSI until I legally don't have to do it anymore, which I think is at the end of next year. Right now, that's as long as I can foresee doing this show." [CBS officials said Tuesday that his contract has another three seasons to run.] Reacting to CBS's recent announcement that it is planning a new series called CSI: New York, Petersen told Playboy: "Taking a blueprint of something that was organically conceived and trying to synthesize it is the difference between organic chicken and chicken jerky. There's nothing I can do about that. That's [CBS owner] Viacom, big American capitalism and ratings points."

WHERE DID ALL THE MONEY GO?

Analysts were trying to figure out why the Big 3 broadcast networks reported only a 1.5 percent rise in total primetime sales during the fourth quarter of 2003 after claiming that total upfront sales had increased 14 percent. MediaPost commented in its online edition Tuesday that data reported by Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association "seems to belie the [professed] robust nature of the 2003-04 primetime upfront sales." It noted that some network execs had attributed the slowdown to lower-than-expected scatter-market sales. However, the publication pointed out, network execs had previously claimed that the scatter market would not represent a major factor "because they had only scant advertising units available for the scatter marketplace due to higher-than-normal upfront sell-out levels."

DESPITE WOBBLY TALENT, IDOL PREVAILS

Although neither the judges nor the audience appeared to be impressed with the talent on display on American Idol Tuesday night, the contest nevertheless drew the biggest audience of the night and propelled Fox to another overall Tuesday win. Idol averaged a 15.8 rating and a 24 share between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., well ahead of CBS's Navy NCIS, which placed second with a 9.6/14. A special edition of NBC's Fear Factor placed third with a 5.9/8, while ABC trailed with a 6.4/9 for 8 Simple Rules at 8:00 p.m. and a 4.8/7 for I'm With Her at 8:30 p.m. Fox won the night with an average 11.7/17, followed by CBS with a 9.4/14. NBC took third with an 8.0/12, while ABC trailed with a 6.7/10. Meanwhile, NBC said Tuesday that its telecast of the Daytona 500 on Sunday was the second-most watched ever, exceeded only by the 2002 race, which took place during the Winter Olympics when TV viewing is ordinarily higher than usual.

BLAME IT ON CONAN

The Toronto businessman who spearheaded a drive to bring NBC's Conan O'Brien to Canada for a week of shows featuring Canadian-born talent has defended O'Brien against an avalanche of public outrage that ensued when Robert Smigel, in the guise of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, let loose with a series of barbs targeting French-speaking Quebecers. Peter Soumalias, founder of Canada's Walk of Fame told the Canadian Press wire service that he not only has no regrets about the bit but encouraged it. Soumalias said that some of O'Brien's writers did express concern about the material but that he assured them that Canada was mature enough to take it. As for protests by government figures about the skit, Soumalias said, "Government needs to stay out of the public airwaves. It's as simple as that." [Appearing with a "translator" (whose words appeared in English subtitles), O'Brien apologized on Tuesday night's show: O'Brien: "People of Quebec, I'm sorry." French translator: "People of Quebec, I'm an albino jackass." O'Brien: "We meant no harm with our comedy piece the other night." Translator: "The other night, I wet the bed like a little girl." O'Brien: "I was a stranger in a strange land and I was very insensitive." Translator: "I have a small penis." O'Brien: "Quebec, your lively and rich culture is a treasure to Canada, and your unique heritage deserves only praise, not ridicule." Translator: "I have never known the touch of a woman and I never will." O'Brien: "Again, please accept my heartfelt apologies." Translator: "Did I mention I have a small penis?"]

WILL KERMIE RESCUE MICKEY?
Kermit the Frog may not look like a white knight, but some financial analysts were commenting Tuesday that Disney's announcement that it is acquiring the Jim Henson Co., home of the Muppets, may strengthen its hand in staving off takeover efforts by other media companies. Disney's deal with Henson excludes most of the characters who appear on PBS's Sesame Street like Big Bird and Cookie Monster but includes those who have appeared in the Muppet movies like Miss Piggie and Fozzie Bear. It also includes the characters in Bear in the Big Blue House, which currently airs on the Disney Channel. Merger negotiations between Disney and the Henson company began before the death of founder Jim Henson in 1990 and have continued on an on-again/off-again basis since. Henson's children, Brian and Lisa, sold the company to Germany's EM-TV in 2000 for $680 million, then bought it back three years later for $89 million. Terms of the new deal with Disney were not disclosed.

HAS COMCAST ABANDONED ITS QUEST FOR DISNEY?

Analysts appeared unsure Tuesday about how aggressive Comcast was likely to become in its pursuit of a hostile takeover of Disney. The company insisted that it had no plans to raise its bid, even though it now is worth nearly $3.00 less than what Disney is currently trading for ($26.90) on the New York Stock Exchange. One unnamed Comcast exec told today's (Wednesday) Philadelphia Daily News: "We are not interested in Disney at the current price." Patrick McGurn of Institutional Shareholder services told today's Newsday: "The ball is in Comcast's court. ... It's unclear what Comcast will do." However, ACT II Partners chief Dennis Leibowitz said in the New York Times that he had an idea about what Comcast intends: "I believe they'll try to increase the bid with cash because of the potential dilution in issuing shares, which would worry their shareholders. And cash would assure Disney shareholders of an acceptable value regardless of the share price of Comcast stock."

SANDLER FOR PRESIDENT(S DAY)

Adam Sandler appeared to justify his $20-million-per-movie going price as his latest movie, Sony's 50 First Dates, pulled in $45.1 million dollars over the four-day Presidents Day weekend ($39.9 million between Friday and Sunday). The film set a February record for a romantic comedy. The previous weekend's top film, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, slipped to second place with ticket sales of $16.5 million ($14.5 million between Friday and Sunday). Disney's Miracle remained fairly firm, actually moving ahead of Barbershop into second place on Monday with $17 million for the four days ($14 million between Friday and Sunday). The rest of the top ten bunched together well behind the leaders. The top ten films over the three-day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. 50 First Dates, Sony, $39,852,237, 1 Wks. ($45,107,871); 2. Barbershop 2: Back in Business, MGM, $14,467,567, 2 Wks. ($44,974,742); 3. Miracle, Disney, $14,031,960, 2 Wks. ($40,050,545); 4. You Got Served, Screen Gems, $5,111,778, 3 Wks. ($33,006,206); 5. The Butterfly Effect, New Line, $5,254,335, 4 Wks. ($49,179,651); 6. Catch That Kid, 20th Century Fox, $4,465,460, 2 Wks. ($12,379,409); 7. Along Came Polly, Universal, $4,831,820, 5 Wks. ($82,011,840); 8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New Line, $4,187,000, 9 Wks. ($357,367,856); 9. Mystic River, Warner Bros., $3,687,667, 19 Wks. ($75,269,389); 10. Cold Mountain, Miramax, $3,460,854, 8 Wks. ($87,758,959).

SMOOTH SAILING FOR THE DREAMERS

In limited release, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers took in $511,236 in 66 theaters, or an average of $7,746 per location. Fox Searchlight said that, despite the film's NC-17 rating, it had had no difficulty buying newspaper ads for it. However, distribution chief Steve Gilula told today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times that a few theaters had lease restrictions barring them from running NC-17-rated films. Gilula said that the film is producing its best results in major metropolitan areas, while business was relatively weak in more conservative areas. The film is expected to widen to about 110 theaters next weekend.

FRIEDMAN VICTIMS ASK OSCAR VOTERS TO SHUN DOCUMENTARY

Two men who were among 13 persons who accused Jesse Friedman of sexually molesting them as boys have written an open letter to Oscars voters, asking them not to vote for Andrew Jarecki's documentary Capturing the Friedmans. "If this film does win an Oscar, it will be won at the expense of silencing the plaintive voices of abused children once again," the two men, now in their 20s, wrote in a letter that was sent to the Associated Press. Jarecki, the founder of MovieFone, personally financed the movie, which has won numerous awards, including the documentary grand prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival. Critics of the film, who include Abbey Boklan, the judge in the case, and Joyanna Silberg, a child psychologist, have claimed that the film presents the erroneous impression that Jesse Friedman, now 34, and his father, who died in prison in 1995, were railroaded by authorities. Jarecki denies that Saving the Friedmans is "an advocacy film."

RAY ROMANO, BUDDING MOVIE STAR

Ray Romano appears to be giving his first feature film Welcome to Mooseport a muted review, while worrying that if it does poorly, his career beyond Everybody Loves Raymond may suffer. "What if it just does abysmally?" Romano asked during an interview with Time magazine for its Feb. 23 issue. "It's a good movie, but it's not knockdown funny. ... It wound up being more of a sweet movie." However, in a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal, Romano indicated that the success or failure of the film could affect his decision about whether to return for another season of Raymond. "If it makes $100 million, I'm out of here," he said.

ANIMATED FILM VOTED FRANCE'S BEST

The animated feature The Triplets of Belleville was named best French film of 2003 at the Lumières Awards in Paris Tuesday. The film is also in competition in two categories at this year's Oscar awards, best animated film and best original song. The Lumières winners are selected by 200 foreign film journalists based in Paris.