After a six-week round of repeats, ABC's Lostreturned with an original episode Wednesday and scored a peremptory ratings victory. After an hour-long clips show at 8:00 that brought viewers up-to-date on the action, the 9:00 p.m. hour pulled in 20.5 million viewers to register a 13.1 rating and a 19 share. The clips show also won its hour with a 9.8/15. At 10:00, viewers began to desert the network as Invasiondrew a 6.7/10, representing half the audience that watched Lost. (NBC won the 10:00 p.m. hour with a new episode of Law & Order, which captured a 9.6/15.) The two-hour debut of UPN's South Beachtanked, averaging only a 2.1/3.


NBC, the network that for years set the standard for young, hip programming, has suffered a steep decline in adult viewers 18-34. According to an analysis of fourth-quarter Nielsen Media Research ratings by media buying agency Magna Global reported today (Thursday) on Media Life's website, viewers in that demographic group are down 22 percent from last season. Currently NBC ranks fourth among the four major networks among 18-34-year-olds, the survey indicated. NBC's numbers among 18-49-year-olds are down 14 percent, ranking it third among the four networks. Meanwhile, the average age of its audience has risen to 49.1 years versus 46.7 years a year earlier.


CBS, which for years has flirted with CNN, may now be eying it as a possible marriage partner. As reported by Broadcasting & Cablemagazine, Viacom/CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone told an audience in Beverly Hills Tuesday night that if anyone in the crowd was able to reach Time Warner chief Dick Parsons, "Call Dick. Tell him I want to buy CNN ... because CNN and CBS would be fantastic." Oddly, while he made no such offer to buy Fox News Channel, he was effusive in his praise for it. "They may be biased, but they are dynamic and charismatic, and the result is they are doing better than CNN," Redstone said. "They are doing great because of showmanship." When asked if he believes CNN founder Ted Turner will ever stage a comeback, Redstone replied, "When he sold to Time Warner, that was the end of Ted Turner. ... Control is the thing. I'll never give it up."


Entertainment- and celebrity-related magazines reported strong increases in ad sales for 2005, according to a report by the Publishers Information Bureau. In Touchshowed the greatest gain, with a rise of 38.4 percent in ad pages. The celebrity tabloid Starshowed a 30.1 percent jump from 2004. Us Weeklywas up 10 percent, while Time Inc.'s Peopleclimbed 6.4 percent. The increases came despite an overall decline in advertising at most news weeklies. Ads in Time Inc.'s Timemagazine, for example, dropped 12.2 percent. Newsweek'sad pages dropped 11 percent.


Comcast's The Golf Channel put a Tiger in its tank Wednesday when it supplanted ABC and ESPN as broadcast partners of the PGA Tour beginning in 2007. Its new 15-year deal with the Tour includes the Tour's entire cable package and 15 full four-round events. CBS, however, will dominate golf coverage with 19 events, up from the current 16, while NBC will increase its coverage from five to ten events under six-year deals with the Tour. Financial terms were not disclosed.


Partly explaining why retailers are quicker than ever to return slow-selling DVDs to distributors, a study released today (Thursday) indicated that 12,264 DVD titles were sent to retailers in 2005, up 4.5 percent from 11,732 in 2004. The study by DVD Release Reportsaid that last year's total represented 23 percent of the 53,369 DVD titles released since the discs debuted nine years ago. Representing the biggest increase, TV DVD sets were up 37.4 percent to 613 in 2005 even as single-disc TV DVD releases fell 21 percent to 298.


Former ABC Nightline

anchor Ted Koppel has been hired by the New York Timesas a contributing columnist, the newspaper announced today (Thursday). It said that his first column will appear in its Op-Ed page on Jan. 29. In a statement, Gail Collins, editorial page editor, said, "This is an exciting, new type of relationship for The Times and I can't think of anyone we'd rather start with than one of the great journalists of our era." Collins also indicated that Koppel will be conducting interviews and producing other special features for the newspaper's TimesSelect website.


Heath Ledger, widely considered the actor to beat in this year's Oscars competition, has twitted theater owners who have refused to show Brokeback Mountain, in which he plays a gay cowboy. In an interview with Australia's Herald Sun, Ledger remarked, "Personally, I don't think the movie is [controversial], but I think maybe the Mormons in Utah do. I think it's hilarious and very immature." Meanwhile, Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, who yanked the film from a theater he owns in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, is being pounded with a barrage of criticism from local writers and columnists. Melissa Clyne, president of Scribe PR and Marketing in Salt Lake City, told the Salt Lake Tribune: "At the very least you need to explain yourself. It's his right to decide what he wants to run and what he doesn't want to run in his theaters. But if he isn't comfortable with the content of that film, he needs to say that. The 'no comment' is giving this story legs." The Deseret Morning Newsquoted Jack Foley, head of distribution at Focus Features, as saying, "The bad thing about this flap is that people will point a finger at Salt Lake City and a culture that should not be credited that way." Foley pointed out that the film has become a "smash hit" at theaters in Salt Lake City itself. Holly Mullen, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, has published letters she received from readers taking Miller to task for his decision. She prefaces them with these remarks: "Ever since Larry H. Miller suddenly decided to pull Brokeback Mountain from his theater chain, everyone from Brokeback star Heath Ledger to an Ohio film critic to Jay Leno has been painting the whole state as rubes and bigots. Yes, Miller made a personal and business decision. Yes, this is his right. Too bad the world's critics don't know my readers. Many of them see Miller's move as the knee-jerk reaction it was, and understand the depth and beauty of this film." Finally, Wayne Besen, who writes a syndicated column called "Anything But Straight," has described his meeting with a gay member of Miller's Utah Jazz basketball team. "In essence," wrote Besen, "the Utah Jazz locker room became this man's Brokeback Mountain."


Lionsgate has opened a floodgate to send "north of 130,000" screeners of its critically acclaimed Crashto members of the film industry, including all 110,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild and 13,000 members of the Writers Guild in advance of key awards voting, Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday). In addition, it will send out the usual number of screeners to voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the British Academy of Film & TV Arts, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Lionsgate President Tom Ortenberg told the trade publication that his company is unable to invite members of those groups to theaters to see the film because it is no longer playing. Moreover, there is little fear about piracy issues since the movie is already out on DVD.


Starbucks is teaming up with Lionsgate to promote the Canadian film company's Akeelah and the Beein its 5,500 North American outlets beginning in April, the Wall Street Journalreported today (Thursday). It also plans to begin selling a selection of DVDs later this year in its stores. In an interview with the newspaper, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said, "Starbucks isn't an entertainment company ... [but] we want to have an entertainment strategy that supports the foundation of the coffee experience that our customers have come to expect and enjoy." Reporting on the company's plans, the Journalcommented, "The moves represent a substantial ramping up of Starbucks's ambition to move into entertainment to differentiate itself from rivals."


During Michael Eisner's last year at Disney -- he left in October -- he received $10.1 million in compensation -- $1 million in salary; $9.1 million as a cash bonus, according to the company's annual proxy. His successor, Robert Iger, received $1.5 million in salary, a $7.7-million bonus and $500,000 in restricted stock grant. Under his new five-year deal with the company, he'll receive a $2-million salary and be eligible for a bonus of $7.25 million, a figure tied to Disney's growth. "While these payments may seem eye-popping, it seems more closely aligned with the company's performance and is less likely to raise the ire of shareholders than in years past," Patrick McGurn, senior vice president of Institutional Shareholder Services, told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times.


A Bollywood film that suggests the Indian Air Force flies Russian MiG-21s that it knows are unsafe has been given a green light to be shown in theaters beginning Jan. 20 after the government film censors asked the Defense Ministry to view the Hindi film, Rang De Basanti, and make any changes in it, according to reports in the Indian press. The Indian Air Force reportedly demanded that three cuts be made in the drama, although it was not immediately clear which scenes were deleted. The film reportedly alleges corruption involving government officials and the planes' vendors and revolves around the family of a young pilot killed in a crash. A source told the Hindustan Times: "There is a clip at the end of the film which gives figures of MiG-21 crashes and the names of their pilots. This could have ruffled a few feathers. However, the Air Force cleared it."


Filmmaker Robert Altman, 80, who has received seven Oscar nominations during his long career but has never won, will receive an honorary Oscar this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday. He was nominated seven times for directing and twice for producing. The academy's announcement said that Altman, whose films include M*A*S*H*, Nashville, The Player, and most recently Gosford Park, had "repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike."