OLYMPICS HIT PEAK, BUT IDOL STILL WINS
With figure skaters taking the spotlight, NBC's coverage of the Turin Winter Olympics captured its biggest audience Tuesday night, scoring a 15.1 rating and a 22 share. But it was not enough to beat a two-hour special edition of Fox's American Idol, which delivered a 16.1/23 in the 8:00 p.m. hour and a 17.5/25 in the 9:00 p.m. hour. No other network was even close. CBS placed third for the night with a 6.7/10, while ABC trailed with a 4.8/7.

WINTER OLYMPICS SCORE RECORD RATINGS ON CABLE

NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics may have reached an all-time low in the ratings, but the Games have turned out to be a boon for the NBC Universal cable outlets USA Network, MSNBC, and CNBC. Several events -- in particular ice hockey and curling -- have tripled the two cable networks' usual numbers, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC Universal said Tuesday that coverage of women's curling on Saturday averaged 1.26 million viewers on MSNBC -- making it the network's most-watched Saturday broadcast since the start of the war in Iraq nearly three years ago. CNBC saw an even larger growth spurt. While it averaged just 155,000 viewers in primetime in January, it averaged 1.04 million last week for its curling coverage. USA Network was reportedly averaging 1 million viewers, up 51 percent from a year ago.

TV NEWS BLASTED FOR IRAQ POLITICAL COVERAGE

The editor of the New Republic has taken television news to task for shoddy reporting of the Iraqi political scene. In a column posted on the magazine's website on Tuesday, Peter Beinart observes that the weekend appointment of Ibrahim al-Jaafari to become prime minister, while making front-page news in Monday's New York Times and Washington Post, "almost disappeared on TV, where it received barely a paragraph on ABC's newscast and no mention at all on NBC and CBS. Beinart points out that the appointment is particularly significant since al-Jaafari is increasingly regarded as a puppet for the radical anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. Beinart notes that the cable news networks in particular now give trivia precedence over Middle East politics and he faults Fox News for its "jingoism and its isolationism" and CNN for failing to take advantage of its international breadth to nurture "the genuine curiosity about the world that existed, at least for a time, in the aftermath of the [9/11] attacks."

TV ACADEMY CHANGES VOTING RULES FOR ACTING NOMINATIONS

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has announced voting changes that would appear to enhance the chances of actors who appear on low-rated shows to receive Emmy nominations. Under new rules the nominees for best actors and actresses in comedy and drama series -- as well as the shows themselves -- will be selected by a two-tier system. Initially all of the members of the academy will cast ballots for the nominees, then a blue-ribbon panel will select the five nominees from the top vote-getters. Academy CEO Dick Askin said Tuesday that the new voting process "significantly increases the potential for the widest and most diverse selection of nominees as possible."

TRUMP TRUMPS MARTHA

The Martha-Donald feud escalated Tuesday as Donald Trump fired off a blistering letter, accusing Martha Stewart of lying in her interview with Newsweek in which she claimed that NBC's original plan was to put Trump's version of The Apprentice on hiatus and replace it with hers. Stewart had told the magazine that the plan was for her to "fire" Trump in the first episode and take over as the sole host. "Essentially, you made this firing up just as you made up your sell order of ImClone," Trump wrote, referring to the case that sent Stewart to prison for lying to federal investigators. (Newsweek reported that Apprentice producer Mark Burnett confirmed that the scenario described by Stewart was indeed discussed. "Thank God that didn't happen," he added.) Trump's letter also criticized Stewart's performance and said her show "lacked mood, temperament and just about everything a show needs for success. I knew it would fail as soon as I first saw it. ... Between your daughter, with her one-word statements, your letter writing and, most importantly, your totally unconvincing demeanor, it never had a chance -- much as your daytime show is not exactly setting records." Late Tuesday, Stewart responded: "The letter is so mean-spirited and reckless that I almost can't believe my longtime friend Donald Trump wrote it. I am very proud of the work we did." Appearing later on CBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Trump remarked, ""Of course the letter was mean spirited, but I think what she did was mean spirited."

NBC OFFERS FIRST TV PREMIERE ON WEB

In a first, NBC premiered its new Dick Wolf-produced series Conviction not on television sets but on personal computers Tuesday as it provided the initial episode on Apple's iTunes Music Store for free. It can be downloaded onto PCs or Apple's video iPod without charge until the show debuts on the network on March 3. After that, each episode of the series will be available for downloading for $1.99 the day after it airs. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, NBC Entertainment Group CEO Jeff Zucker said, "We believe we have a youthful and energetic cast that should appeal to a new audience increasingly comfortable with this downloadable format as a viewing option, and we want to reach out to these viewers."

DISNEY REVIVING HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION
The Walt Disney Co. is planning to revive traditional hand-drawn animation next year with its live-action/animated Enchanted, Disney watcher Jim Hill reported on his website today (Wednesday). A traditionally animated test sequence has already been created for the film by veteran Disney animator James Baxter, best known for his supervision of the character Belle in Beauty and the Beast, according to Hill. "And those who have seen this particular piece of rough animation say that it is 'simply stunning. A wonderful throwback to the sort of films that Disney used to make.'" Baxter, Hill said, has been secretly working on the sequence with a small crew at his own studio in Pasadena, and, he added, his work is likely to be displayed by Pixar's John Lasseter and Ed Catmull as they make their well-known case for reviving hand-drawn animation to Disney chief Robert Iger. Said Hill: "They're going to tell Iger: 'Doesn't that look terrific? People are really going to eat this picture up. They've been waiting for Disney to do a new film that features traditional animation. Which is why this movie is going to do HUGE box office next year.'"

EIGHT BELOW A HOWLING SUCCESS

Disney's top dogs were barking up a storm Tuesday as final box-office figures for the four-day President's Day weekend showed the dogs-in-distress drama Eight Below earning nearly $25 million at the box office, some $10 million more than analysts had expected. The projected winner, Fox's Date Movie came in second with $21.8 million. A third newcomer, Sony/Revolution's Freedomland ended up seventh, with a disappointing $6.7 million. The top ten films over the four-day President's Day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):
1. Eight Below, Disney, $24,968,601, (New); 2. Date Movie, 20th Century Fox, $21,812,384, (New); 3. The Pink Panther, Sony, $20,863,217, 2 Wks. ($46,548,715); 4. Curious George, Universal, $15,367,950, 2 Wks. ($33,523,265); 5. Final Destination 3, New Line, $11,538,251, 2 Wks. ($37,253,197); 6. Firewall, Warner Bros., $10,382,241, 2 Wks. ($28,700,754); 7. Freedomland, Sony, $6,707,111, (New); 8. When a Stranger Calls, Sony, $5,824,394, 3 Wks. ($42,102,350); 9. Big Momma's House 2, 20th Century Fox, $5,574,090, 4 Wks. ($62,459,610); 10. Nanny McPhee, Universal, $5,102,555, 4 Wks. ($39,251,465).

OSCAR SET TO REPRESENT MOVIE PALACES OF YORE

The most glamorous attraction at this year's Oscar ceremonies may not be any of the stars, but the stage itself. A model of the set to be erected at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood for the March 5 affair was displayed to the press Tuesday by designer Roy Christopher, who said that he wanted to create a representation of the movie "palaces" built across the country in the 1930s and '40s, including the Tower Theatre in Fresno, CA where he grew up. Christopher, who has designed the sets for the Oscars since 1979, told the BBC that "It was my idea to really take a look back, and we call it 'Retro' with a capital R." However, the creative process was well underway before the nominations were announced. "We thought it was going to be a year of very big movies like King Kong, Geisha and The Producers." Instead, the top nominees turned out to be small art-house films, not the kind associated with movie palaces. "By then we'd gone down the road of designing this tribute to going to the movies and different movie palaces," Christopher said.

CHINA BANS LIVE/ANIMATED MOVIES

Calling it "one of the more bizarre orders" from China's film and broadcast watchdog, Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday) that henceforth movies and TV shows featuring live humans together with animated figures are banned in China. The trade publication cited a report appearing in the government-operated Xinhua News Agency that referred to an order by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued on Feb. 15. The order stated that "human live-action, so-called animation pieces will not receive distribution or distribution licenses." The reason, the order said cryptically, was that such films jeopardize "the broadcast order of homemade animation and mislead their development."

CHEAP MOVIE DOWNLOAD SERVICE LAUNCHED DOWN UNDER

Australia's Telstra launched the country's first legal movie and TV-show download service today (Wednesday), offering titles for as low as US$1.45. More than 1,000 titles have been made available on BigPond Movie Downloads ranging from blockbusters like Spider-Man to classics like Midnight Cowboy. They can be viewed as often as desired during a 24-hour or weekly period. The content is then automatically deleted.

JAMAICAN WATCHDOG OKAYS BROKEBACK

The Jamaican Cinematograph Authority on Tuesday passed Brokeback Mountain, permitting the gay-cowboy romance to be shown in two theaters in a country where homosexuality is outlawed. In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Major Neil Lewis of the Family Life Ministries, one of numerous religious groups that had sought to have the film banned in the country, said that he was "distressed" by the watchdog's action. "We are allowing Hollywood to swamp us with the wrong things. It is dragging us down into the maelstrom of immorality," he said.