SHOULD ABC HAVE BROUGHT BACK DICK CLARK?

Dick Clark returned to the New Year's Eve festivities Sunday night, just over a year after suffering a stroke. It was, the Washington Post's media critic Tom Shales said, "a gesture likely to strike some observers as courageous and others as morbid." Indeed, TV critics seemed divided into each camp. In an article entitled "Twilight of a Year and an Old Teenager," Virginia Heffernan wrote in today's (Monday) New York Times: "Mr. Clark seemed, in short, old. He missed words and, seated at a desk, kept atypically still. Sometimes his impaired speech seemed comical; mostly it was touching. The adolescence of America's Oldest Living Teenager -- Mr. Clark's hyper, chipper, fun-loving persona - had, in his 76th year, finally abandoned him. In its place was another, more ambiguous holiday figure: the couchbound relative who, maudlin and exhausted, weeps at how lucky he is to be around his family one more year." ABC News reported Sunday that a promotional photograph of Clark with co-hosts Ryan Seacrest and Hilary Duff distributed by ABC had been digitally altered with an image of Clark from before his stroke inserted into the frame. But Joe Gandelman, who presides over a blog called themoderatevoice.com, commented, "Realistically, ABC wasn't going to gain a ton of rating points by putting Clark on. Clark's appearance was a testament to the never-say-die human spirit. He was going to be on no matter what this year. And it's a testament to ABC's willingness to air, ever-so-briefly, a fellow human being's act of personal courage and grit and let a bit of reality intrude on New Year's Eve."

NEW YEAR'S EVE RATINGS FALL LIKE BALL IN TIMES SQUARE

ABC's Times Square coverage Saturday night featuring Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest, and Hilary Duff posted an 8 rating and a 15 share during the 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. half hour but surprisingly dropped to a 5.5/10 in the second half hour, according to overnight Nielsens.

ECHOSTAR PULLS LIFETIME OFF ITS SATELLITE SERVICE

EchoStar Communications announced Sunday that it had yanked the Lifetime Television channel and Lifetime Movie Network from its DISH network satellite service, saying that Lifetime was demanding a 76-percent price increase and was refusing to extend its contract to permit continued negotiations. The contract expired on Saturday. Lifetime shot back with a statement on its website saying that "DISH is totally misleading their subscribers" and maintaining that "DISH unilaterally pulled Lifetime Networks off the air."

VIACOM: THE SPLIT IS NOW OFFICIAL

Viacom on Sunday announced that it has completed the spinoff of its broadcasting units, which include CBS-TV, UPN, CBS Radio, CBS.com, CBS Outdoor, the Viacom and Paramount-owned TV stations, syndicator King World, publisher Simon & Schuster, pay-TV channel Showtime and theme-park operator Paramount Parks. The new company is called CBS, Inc. and is led by CEO Les Moonves. Viacom Inc., headed by CEO Tom Freston, will now preside over Paramount studios (recently augmented by DreamWorks), the MTV Networks (MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick at Night, Comedy Central, and CMT). Sumner Redstone will remain as chairman of both companies. They will begin trading separately on the NYSE on Tuesday, when the market reopens following the holiday weekend. Investors have been given one CBS share and one Viacom share for every two shares they had previously owned of Viacom.

REPORT: BILL BENNET TO JOIN CNN

Former Secretary of Education and drug czar Bill Bennett is close to signing an agreement to join CNN as a political analyst, replacing the departing Robert Novak, mediabistro.com reported Saturday. CNN declined comment on the report. Earlier this year, Bennett touched off an uproar when he declared on his daily radio talk show on Salem Radio Network: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country." Previously, Bennett had been a commentator for the Fox News Channel.

APE FALLS

Unless those celebrants who packed Times Square and poured out of New Year's eve parties Saturday night also decided to sober up during post-midnight screenings of the three-hour King Kong, it looks as if The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will be the ... er ... top dog at the box office this weekend. Although holiday weekend estimates will not be released until later today (Monday), actual figures for Friday and Saturday show that Narnia pulled in $17.5 million for the two days, while Kong drew $15.9 million. Fun with Dick and Jane and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 remained in third and fourth place with $10.5 million and $9.8 million respectively for the two days.

BOX OFFICE EXPERIENCES WORST DROP SINCE 1985

Despite a box-office surge in December thanks to the success of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and King Kong, total revenue for the year is expected to fall below $9 billion for the first time since 2001 and finish 5 percent below last year's total, with attendance down 6 percent, the Associated Press reported Sunday. The wire service said that the drop was the largest in 20 years. In Europe, the drop was even more severe. The German publication Deutsche Welle reported Sunday that the box office was down a whopping 20 percent in Germany and 10 percent in France, Spain and Italy. However, it said, ticket sales in the U.K. were about the same or slightly higher than in 2004, thanks in large part to a heavy output of locally produced movies.

DAVID SAYS HE WON'T SEE BROKEBACK; FINDS SUPPORTERS

In a satirical Op-Ed piece appearing in Sunday's New York Times, Seinfeld co-creator and writer Larry David, lampooned straight male moviegoers who have remarked that they will not see Brokeback Mountain because they don't want to witness two gay cowboys in love. In the piece, David represents himself as one of them, writing, "Who's to say I won't become enamored with the whole gay business? Let's face it, there is some appeal there. I know I've always gotten along great with men. ... And gay guys always seem like they're having a great time. At the Christmas party I went to, they were the only ones who sang. Boy that looked like fun. I would love to sing, but this weighty, self-conscious heterosexuality I'm saddled with won't permit it. I just know if I saw that movie, the voice inside my head that delights in torturing me would have a field day. 'You like those cowboys, don't you? They're kind of cute. Go ahead, admit it, they're cute. You can't fool me, gay man. Go ahead, stop fighting it. You're gay! You're gay!' Not that there's anything wrong with it." On Arianna Huffington's liberal blog, huffingtonpost.com, one writer wrote, "My opinion is much the same, gays don't bother me, I just don't understand why there is this new push towards coming out, in your face, mainstreamification."

CHINESE COMPUTER MANUFACTURER "SPONSORS" BOLLYWOOD FILM

Lenovo, China's largest manufacturer of personal computers, is "sponsoring" a Bollywood movie in advance of making a push into the Indian PC market, published reports in India said today (Monday). The reports indicated that Lenovo had reached an agreement with director Madhur Bhandarkar to sponsor his forthcoming movie Corporate, in which the leading character will be seen endorsing Lenovo's products. It was not clear, however, whether the giant computer manufacturer -- the eighth largest in the world -- would be paying a product-placement fee or financing the entire film. A Lenovo Indian exec was quoted as saying that his company may become the first PC vendor in India to take the "movie route" to reach a mass audience in that country.