MISS UNIVERSE SETS NEW RATINGS LOW

Donald Trump's Miss Universe contest slumped to a new record ratings low Sunday night, registering a 5.6 rating and a 9 share in the 9:00 p.m. hour and a 6.4/11 in the 10:00 p.m. hour. Its previous ratings low was set last year, its first on NBC after it was dumped by CBS, when the contest averaged a 6.9/11. The contest was won by 18-year-old Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza of Puerto Rico who has said that she dreams of becoming a movie actress. On a low-rated summer's night (the 2005 Miss Universe contest was staged in May) the contest nevertheless allowed NBC to tie with CBS for the Sunday-night lead with identical 5.3/10 ratings. ABC followed with a 3.5/6, while Fox trailed with a 2.9/5.

JOURNALISTS DECRY ISRAELI ATTACKS ON TV STATIONS

The current hostilities in the Middle East swept up journalists over the weekend. The International Federation of Journalists on Saturday condemned the Israeli attacks on Lebanese television stations, which killed at least one employee of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. The statement was issued following the resignation of several Israeli journalists from the Brussels-based organization, accusing it of accepting members of Hezbollah as members. Referring to the attacks on the TV stations, the IFJ said that they represent "an appalling threat to press freedom and to the safety of media staff." It appeared to reject statements by Israeli member Yaron Anosh, who said, "A terrorist is not a journalist, and if an international organization prefers to have terrorists as members, then count us out."

ACCESS HOLLYWOOD SAYS IT REGRETS JIBE AT COURIC

The website for the syndicated tabloid show Access Hollywood expressed regrets Friday for an earlier story about TV anchors who have been covering the current hostilities in Israel and Lebanon. "The big question remains: what about Katie?" the original report asked, then went on to say that Couric had told Access Hollywood "that at this point she would not venture into the Middle East hot spot. 'I think the situation there is so dangerous, and as a single parent with two children, that's something I won't be doing.'" CBS promptly objected to the item, pointing out that Couric had made the remark last May after its correspondent Kimberly Dozier was critically wounded and her film crew was killed, and that she had remarked only a week ago that "of course I would want to be there" when asked about the current Middle East fighting. After receiving the complaint, Access Hollywood edited its story and noted that it "regrets that the earlier version ... was misleading."

NBC PREXY PROMISES NETWORK WON'T WIND UP AGAIN IN FOURTH PLACE

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly vowed Friday to improve the network's primetime line-up next season. "I'm not going to make any hard predictions about what our ratings will be or what our ranking will be next season," he told TV critics at their semi-annual tour in Pasadena, "but I will commit to this: our ratings will definitely be better. We will not be mired in fourth [place] week after week. "I feel we are headed into the autumn with a tailwind, and we are about to get this thing going again," Reilly said. "We are headed into the autumn with a tailwind, and we are about to get this thing going again," Reilly said. He disclosed that the network plans to air a two-hour musical special in November starring Madonna at Wembley Stadium in England. "Madonna is one of the greatest artists of our time and never fails to generate excitement," Reilly said. "We think this is going to be a big event for television." He said that each of the network's new serialized dramas will have its own website, so that viewers will be able to go online for a recap or to learn what occurred during the previous episode.

TINA FEY LEAVING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Tina Fey, the head writer of Saturday Night Live and "anchor" of the show's "Weekend Update" feature, is leaving the show to devote more time to 30 Rock, next season's primetime series in which she plays the head writer of a fictional comedy show. Appearing alongside SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, Fey remarked, "I do not understand the train that is about to hit me." Michaels himself suggested that he had already been hit by the train, even though he's also producing 30 Rock. "If you're asking if I'm happy about it, no," he said. "Tina disappearing is a huge hole in the [SNL] writing staff." 30 Rock is scheduled to debut on Oct. 11.

PIRATES' TREASURE GROWS

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest outran every film in history to the $300-million mark over the weekend as it piled up an additional $35 million to bring its total to $321.7 million according to industry estimates issued Sunday. In 17 days, the Pirates sequel has already taken in more than the original film did in its entire six-month run in 2003. Of four new challengers, only the animated Monster House, which received mostly positive reviews, made a significant challenge to Pirates, as it chalked up $23 million, including $2.6 million from premium-priced tickets at 163 3-D screenings. Meanwhile, the failure of two other newcomers may have given former Disney exec Nina Jacobson and ABC film critic Joel Siegel a case of schadenfreude. M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water, which received Jacobson's negative appraisal when the writer-director took his script to her (he subsequently made the film at Warner Bros.), drew an estimated $18.2 million. Kevin Smith's Clerks II, while costing only a fraction of Lady, earned only $9.6 million. Although the film reportedly cost about $5 million to make, it cost about $20 million to market. Clerks II received reams of free publicity when ABC film critic Joel Siegel walked out of a press screening, announcing loudly that it was the first time he had done so in 30 years. (Smith told the Comic-Con meeting in San Diego that Siegel's action particularly stung since "I grew up watching him on TV." He added that Siegel had been so much a part of his childhood that when he engaged in an on-air radio debate with him last week, "it was like arguing with my father ... if my father had a big, f***ing mustache.") The weekend's biggest flop was veteran director Ivan Reitman's My Super Ex-Girlfriend with ticket sales of just $8.7 million. (On Friday, New York Post writer Kyle Smith said that it landed "KER-FLOP," while John Anderson in Newsday said that it was "one of those movies that make you ask ... why was it made? ... And, most important, why is there 10 bucks missing from my pocket?"

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, $35 million; 2. Monster House, $23 million; 3. Lady in the Water, $18.2 million; 4. You, Me and Dupree, $12.8 million; 5. Little Man, $11 million; 6. Clerks II, $9.6 million; 7. My Super Ex-Girlfriend, $8.7 million; 8. Superman Returns, $7.46 million; 9. The Devil Wears Prada, $7.43 million; 10. Cars, $4.9 million.

KEVIN SMITH SAYS HE EXPECTED NC-17 RATING FOR CLERKS II

Director Kevin Smith said Saturday that he had been prepared to fight the MPAA's ratings board if Clerks II had received an NC-17 rating. "I was getting ready to have the jihad of all jihads with the MPAA," he told the Comic-Con meeting in San Diego. "They had done it to us on [the original] Clerks," he noted, "They gave us an NC-17. We had to fight to get it turned over to an R, so I was kinda thinking we'd be facing them down this time, but oddly enough, no. We put it in front of them and they were like, 'Here you go, it's an R,' and they didn't ask for a single cut. And I was elated, it felt great, because I didn't have to work on the flick anymore. But at the same time, five minutes later, I was like, 'What's f***ing wrong with you people? There is a dude f***ing a donkey in this movie! It doesn't get any more NC-17 than this!'"

SPIDER-MAN WON'T BE JUST A TRILOGY, SAYS MAGUIRE

Fans attending the Comic-Con convention in San Diego Saturday were treated to a look at footage from next summer's Spider-Man 3 that included both animated and live-action scenes. They also were able to talk to Director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin and stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard and Thomas Haden Church. Maguire's suggestion that Spider-Man 3 will not become the final installment in the franchise was greeted with thunderous applause. "We're going to leave it open-ended," he said, "If there are stories worth telling, then we'll tell them."

VARIETY EDITOR LASHES OUT AT L.A. AND N.Y. TIMES

Variety Editor in Chief Peter Bart has criticized the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for overplaying the Anthony Pellicano wire-tapping case. In today's (Monday) edition of the trade publication, Bart writes that the two newspapers "have invested enormous amounts of journalistic real estate in the story, darkly suggesting that major Hollywood careers were about to be destroyed. The photos of [Paramount Chairman] Brad Grey and [Universal Studios Chairman] Ron Meyer were repeatedly run, as though to suggest that their positions were in jeopardy. Guess what? Nothing has happened to them or anyone else in the power structure." All of which raises the question, Bart writes, "Why would two major newspapers become so obsessed over the Pellicano affair that they would run interminable page-one stories impugning reputations and presaging corporate upheavals? In short, why did the journalists allow themselves to become the center of the story?"

Brian B.