CABLE DRAMA NABS RECORD AUDIENCE
An astonishing 7.4 million viewers watched the premiere episode of USA Channel's sci-fi series The 4400 Sunday night, a record for a basic cable premiere. The episode in fact captured more viewers in the 18-49 demographic than any of the broadcast network competition with the exception of NBC. The previous record was held by the premiere of Stephen King's The Dead Zone in 2002. Only five episodes of the series have been ordered. Meanwhile, ratings for most network TV fare looked mighty puny last week as not a single show posted double-digit numbers. The return of CBS's Big Brother and The Amazing Race posted decent numbers, but the highest-rated show (9.8/17) of the week was a rerun of the network's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 9.8/17; 2. CSI: Miami (Monday 10:00 p.m.), CBS, 8.8/15; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.4/15; 4. 60 Minutes, CBS, 8.1/17; 5. Two and a Half Men (Monday 9:30 p.m.), CBS, 7.8/13; 6. Everybody Loves Raymond (Monday 9:00 p.m.), CBS, 7.7/13; 7. Law and Order, NBC, 7.4/13; 8. Cold Case, CBS, 7.2/13; 8. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 7.2/12; 10. Amazing Race: 5, CBS, 6.4/11.

PAT O'BRIEN WINS A LEGAL ROUND AGAINST NBC

A Los Angeles judge on Tuesday refused to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent Access Hollywood cohost Pat O'Brien from promoting his upcoming series for Paramount TV, The Insider. NBC Universal, which produces Access Hollywood, had charged that O'Brien had breached his contract, which does not expire until Aug. 28, by promoting the show. Los Angeles Superior court Judge Dzintra Janavs set a hearing for July 23 to consider NBC Universal's request for a preliminary injunction against O'Brien. During Tuesday's hearing, Judge Janavs observed that the initial announcement that O'Brien was leaving Access Hollywood was made by NBC and that news reports then indicated that he would host The Insider.

REALITY SHOW TO USE SOAP-OPERA SETS

SoapNet, the all-soap-opera cable network, is planning to introduce a one-hour reality series next fall titled I Wanna Be a Soap Star. The series will feature six young actors who will live full-time on the set of ABC's General Hospital, playing "fictional characters by day and themselves by night," in the words of the SoapNet press release. "This is a great format for reality because it is all one big real life soap opera," Eric Schotz, the show's executive producer, said in the statement. "From fight scenes to love scenes, the contestants will be tested both on and off camera around the clock." The winner will land a 13-week contract to appear as a character on General Hospital.

HOT BRITISH ROCK BAND MAY STAR IN REALITY SERIES

Busted, one of Britain's leading pop-music groups -- the members rail at being called a boy band -- will become stars of a new reality series produced by MTV, the London Daily Sun reported today (Wednesday). The newspaper said that the trio, which has shot to the top of the U.K. record charts, will be paid $1.8 million to appear in the series, modeled on The Osbournes, which will be aired worldwide. "The show could make them global stars. The boys are massive in the UK, Europe and Japan and this could widen the net to America," an insider told the newspaper. "They are young, fun and up for it -- all the ingredients that will make the show great viewing." The members of Busted have maintained in the past that if a "fly on the wall" film was to be made about their work, audiences would appreciate that it involves more effort and talent than what goes into the making of a typical boy-band recording. A spokesman for the group acknowledged that talks were in progress concerning the show but that no deal had yet been signed.

CRITICS GIVE THUMBS-UP TO UPCOMING ABC SERIES

TV critics attending the semiannual writers tour in Los Angeles are predicting that a new comedy/drama series with the improbable title of Desperate Housewives' will help thrust ABC out of the doldrums next season. Mike McDaniel of the Houston Chronicle has already called it, "the best new TV series for fall" and forecast that it will "cure what ails ratings-starved ABC." Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe observed that it "could become the most talked-about new series of the fall." David Kronke, the TV critic of the Los Angeles Daily News, called it "a sudsy, sometimes cheeky suburban satire with intrigue, infidelity and angst." In an interview with critics on Tuesday, writer and co-producer Marc Cherry indicated that the series itself represented an act of desperation -- for him. "My bank account was looking a little slim," he acknowledged. "And then my agent was arrested for embezzlement. That's not a joke. She is currently in prison."

JEOPARDY CONTESTANT CROSSES $1-MILLION MARK

Thirty-year-old Ken Jennings, a Salt Lake city software engineer, crossed the $1-million mark on Jeopardy Tuesday as his winnings rose to a record $1,004,960.

PG-13 TODAY WAS AN R YESTERDAY, SAYS STUDY
The MPAA ratings board over the past decade has relaxed its standards in judging films for violence and sex, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health. The study, released on Tuesday, described a "ratings creep" in which current films that are rated PG or PG-13 are being released with more sexual or violent content than films with the same ratings ten years ago. "The MPAA appears to tolerate increasingly more extreme content in any given age-based rating category over time," the study said. It went on to call for an overhaul of the ratings system and suggested that whatever system emerges, it apply to all forms of entertainment, including music, home video, and games. However, MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor told today's (Wednesday) New York Times: "A single body can't rate everything that comes through the pipeline. ... It's logistically unfeasible. With the volume of hours of TV and cable and film and games and music, it becomes a mathematical impossibility."

TV OR NOT TV?

Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that his company plans to introduce an online service that will allow users to download TV shows and other video onto a portable device that the company's electronics division expects to roll out within the coming year. The service was described as an extension of Sony's current online music unit, Connect, a rival of Apple's iTunes. "Sony Connect will not be just a music service but also a video business within the next year," Lynton told the London Financial Times. It was not clear how the new service would affect Sony's partnership with four other studios in Movielink, which also offers online video. Meanwhile, Microsoft founder Bill Gates predicted Tuesday that DVDs and traditional television will disappear within ten years. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Gates said that the day is nearing when consumers will be able to turn on their television sets and be able to see "what we want to see, when we want to see it."

LUHRMANN'S ALEXANDER STILL A GO, SAYS SPOKESWOMAN

A spokeswoman for producer-director Baz Luhrmann has denied published reports that he has pulled the plug on his Leo DiCaprio-starring version of Alexander the Great. E! Online quoted Maria Farmer as saying, "Baz is currently in Europe working on the final draft of his script for Alexander the Great. When he completes that draft he will decide whether Alexander is the next film on his slate." she added: "We do not know where these reports have originated from. They certainly did not come from Baz." The report originally appeared in the London Daily Telegraph and said that Luhrmann had decided to pull the plug on the movie because he wanted to spend more time with his wife, Catherine Martin, and their nine-month-old daughter. Luhrmann and Martin, a production designer, worked together last year on the Broadway version of Puccini's La Bohème, which, despite positive reviews, closed after seven months with a substantial loss to investors. Luhrmann's Alexander would bow following another epic production based on the life of the legendary warrior, starring Colin Farrell, that is currently winding up production. scheduled for release on Nov. 5.

ANTI-FOX DOCUMENTARY TO APPEAR ON 2,800 SCREENS -- IN HOMES

The liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress have lined up some 2,800 homes where screenings of Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed will be shown on Sunday, published reports said today (Wednesday). Persons wishing to attend may log on to the MoveOn.org website and enter their zip code in order to find the closest screening. The film accuses the Fox News Channel of being a mouthpiece for the Republican Party and uses interviews with former Fox reporters, internal memos, and broadcast footage to make its case. Moreover, DVD and VHS copies of the film are being sold (for $9.95) on the MoveOn.org website. Boston Globe media critic Mark Jurkowitz observed today (Wednesday) that while Outfoxed "lacks traditional journalistic balance," it nevertheless presents "some damning material."

VIVENDI SELLS OLDEST STUDIO IN EUROPE

Vivendi Universal, which is still engaged in erasing the prodigious amount of red ink staining its accounts, has agreed to sell its money-losing Babelsberg Studios in Germany for one euro ($1.23). The German group of buyers, who will assume the studio's debt, will also receive $22 million from Vivendi to pay off part of the studio's massive debt. Since Vivendi acquired Babelsberg, believed to be the oldest continuously operating movie studio in Europe -- it opened in 1912 -- it has reportedly spent more than $500 million in restorations and upgrades.