CSI EPISODE PULLS SEASON'S TOP RATINGS
Last Thursday's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation recorded an 18.3 rating and a 27 share (30.9 million viewers), making it the most-watched episode of any regular TV series this season. It also helped CBS win the overall ratings championship for the week, a 9.2/15 average versus an 8.1/13 for second-place NBC. Fox, thanks to strong ratings for American Idol, finished in third place with an average 5.6/9, while ABC trailed with a 5.4/9. NBC, however, could claim first-place bragging rights when it came to 18-49-year-olds, scoring strongly in that demo with Friends, The Apprentice, Fear Factor and the Sunday night movie Shrek. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 18.3/27.0; 2. Friends, NBC, 16.3/25.0; 3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.8/22.0; 4. E.R., NBC, 14.5/23.0; 5. CSI: Miami, CBS, 14.0/22.0; 6. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 13.8/210.; 7. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 13.0/19.0; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.7/20.0; 9. The Apprentice, NBC, 11.8/17.0; 10. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.7/17.

HOME SCHOOLERS DECRY LAW & ORDER EPISODE

The Home School Legal Defense Association said Wednesday that it is "considering its options" following an episode of NBC's Law & Order: SVU, which depicted a paranoid and abusive mother who home schools her two sons. The HSLDA called the episode, "There's No Place Like Home," a smear. "It is blatantly unfair to negatively portray a minority and tar every homeschooler with the same brush," the group said in a statement. It warned that the show, which featured guest appearances by Marlo Thomas and Dixie Carter, could encourage people to use the anonymous tip procedure described in the drama to point the finger at home-school families without factual basis for their complaints, resulting in "unwarranted harassment" by authorities.

KAPLAN SAYS HE PLANS TO "FINE TUNE" MSNBC

Newly appointed MSNBC President Rick Kaplan has no major changes in mind to lift MSNBC from its perennial third-place position among the cable news channels. Although joking in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that he intends to "fire everbody," he told the New York Daily News separately: "What [MSNBC] needs is time and fine-tuning. ... It's a matter of taking something really good and making it better." He maintained that he has no intention of changing the channel's primetime lineup. "They have an established set of anchors and programs. A lot of the problems in the past had to do with not giving things a chance to grow." He did not specify which programs he believes were prematurely canceled, but the cable channel's decision to yank Phil Donohue's talk show last year after only six months on the air was widely criticized by media analysts. Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington Bureau Chief, told the Tribune that Kaplan "is volatile but brilliant. ... He is capable of electrifying a room, and people will work their butts off for this guy."

WHAT IF THERE ARE SEVERAL $10-MILLION PAYOUTS ON SUPER MILLIONAIRE?

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire producer Michael Davies has admitted that he's losing sleep worrying about the possibility that several contestants might claim the $10-million top prize when the revamped primetime version of the show, Super Millionaire, debuts on Sunday. "I want it to be close and I want someone to have a shot, but I don't want too many people staring at that $10 million question,'' Davies told the Associated Press. "My heart can't take it." ABC Entertainment chief Lloyd Braun acknowledged that he has been hearing about the possible $10-million payouts "every day," but he told the A.P. "We concluded it's a viable business to do this or otherwise we wouldn't do it." In any event, Davies said, the $10 million would not be paid out as a lump sum but as an annuity over 20 years.

STERN SIDEKICK TO BECOME NEW TONIGHT SHOW ANNOUNCER

"Stuttering John" Melendez, a Howard Stern sidekick for 15 years, will become the new announcer on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, published reports said today (Thursday). Melendez, best known for the outrageous questions he poses to celebrities who appear on Stern's show (he once asked Paul McCartney, "What's the most girls you've had in bed at once?" and Frank Gifford, "Does your son ever accidentally call you 'grandpa'?"), is set to replace Edd Hall in late March.

RATINGS TUMBLE FOR BRITISH MUSIC AWARDS

Tuesday night's audience for the Brit Awards, Britain's version of the Grammys, dropped form 7.3 million a year ago to 6 million this year. Nevertheless, the figure represented a 25.4 percent share of the audience (versus a 29.4 percent share last year). The London-based rock group The Darkness won for best British group, best British rock act and best British album (Permission to Land). Justin Timberlake won for best international male artist and best international album (Justified).

DISNEY PREPARES FOR CORPORATE WAR
The Walt Disney Co. has hired corporate lawyer Martin Lipton, famed for developing strategies used by companies to avoid hostile takeovers, Bloomberg News reported today. Lipton is credited with developing the "poison pill" defense, a corporate strategy aimed at inflating the cost of a takeover, usually by issuing new shares or allowing shareholders to sell their existing stock at a premium. New York lawyer Ken Lefkowitz told Bloomberg that Lipton "is being brought in because they want a strong, experienced M&A [mergers and acquisitions] guru to add respectability to the board's decisions."

VETERAN ANIMATORS HOPE ROY DISNEY WILL WIN OSCAR

Many veteran animators are rooting for Roy Disney to win the Oscar for best animated short film and use the awards platform to champion their art form against the man they regard as their nemesis, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday). Roy Disney's Destino, a work that began nearly 60 years ago, when Walt Disney brought Salvador Dali to the studio to design a surrealist animated art work, reportedly faces stiff competition from Pixar's computer-animated Boundin'. Kevin Koch, president of the animation guild's Hollywood local, told the Times: "I think people are relishing the potential sight of Roy getting up and giving the acceptance speech at the Oscars." Disney himself told the newspaper that he had already written "487" acceptance speeches, but when asked whether his final version would include a condemnation of Eisner, he replied: "I honestly think it will be implicit. I will leave it up to my own mouth." Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt, has launched a campaign to oust Eisner, citing in particular Eisner's apparent efforts to phase out hand-drawn animation at the studio and replace it with computer animation.

SAG AND AFTRA AGREE TO EXTEND CONTRACTS FOR ONE YEAR

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists agreed Wednesday to extend their contract with movie and TV producers for one year past the current June 30 expiration, thereby checking any potential labor crisis this year. The agreement would result in a 2.5-percent increase in minimum pay and an 0.5-percent increase in producers' contributions to the unions' health plans. Both sides had expressed concern that if a new contract could not be negotiated by the beginning of April, studios would begin halting work on any production that might be shut down by a strike.

MGM SEES BIG PROFIT FROM DVD SALES

The boom in DVD sales helped lift MGM's net profit 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter to $60.3 million versus $58.7 million for the comparable period a year ago. The company in particular cited strong home-video sales for Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, as well as sales of older movies from its vast library that were revived in the DVD format. It said that DVD shipments soared 41 percent in the quarter. In a conference call with analysts, MGM's COO Chris McGurk also acknowledged that MGM has had talks with Pixar "and we do intend to speak with them again very soon. ... We would love to be in business with them." CEO Alex Yemenidjian added: "I believe we are the best fit for Pixar in terms of a worldwide distribution deal versus the other studios."

WILL "CURSE" REMAIN IN GIBSON MOVIE?

It remains unclear whether Mel Gibson has removed a scene in his The Passion of the Christ in which the Jewish high priest Caiaphas declares, following the crucifixion, "His blood be on us and on our children." In an interview Monday night on ABC's Primetime, host Diane Sawyer indicated that the line is spoken in Aramaic but is not translated in the subtitles. However, today's edition of The Australian newspaper reports that the line remained in a director's cut screened for Australian Jewish leaders Wednesday night. The screening was reportedly coolly received. Gary Hardgrave, the Australian Multicultural Affairs Minister who arranged it, told the newspaper afterwards, "I don't think there has ever been a movie made about the life of Jesus Christ that hasn't stirred up some controversy along the way. ... But I don't see this movie as causing any harm or division in the community."