IDOL IS AGAIN IDEAL FOR FOX
Demonstrating again how one or two shows can make a network, the final two broadcasts of American Idol were enough to give Fox a rare ratings win last week, according to Nielsen Research. The network took the crown as the most-watched network overall and the most-watched among adults 18-49. The season finale of the show on Wednesday captured a 16.4 rating and a 26 share, while the penultimate episode ranked second with a 15.0/25. Overall, Fox averaged a 7.0/13 for the week. CBS placed second with a 6.3/11. NBC was well behind with a 5.0/9, while ABC trailed with a 4.4/8.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 16.4/26; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.0/25; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.7/22; 4. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.8/18; 5. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 11.7/18; 6. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 10.0/17; 7. Law and Order, NBC, 8.7/14; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.6/15; 9. Still Standing, CBS, 7.8/13; 10. Super Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 7.6/12.

IDOL DEPENDS ON RECORD SALES, SAYS COWELL

After viewers at home voted down some of the most talented contestants on the recent season of American Idol, producer-judge Simon Cowell said that he found himself praying that Fantasia Barrino would win the final vote, because, he observed, the contest depends on a "huge record sales at the end." In an interview with the online edition of TV Guide, Cowell said that he still marvels at the terrible singers who appear at auditions for the program. "They're crap and they all think they're good," he told the magazine. "William Hung's an exception. He's the only one of the terrible people [from] our show who sort of revels in being terrible again. What's astonishing about William is he doesn't understand that people are taking advantage of him because he's useless."

NBC AND ABC TIE IN NEWS RATINGS

After ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings inched ahead of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw for two weeks in a row, the two news programs wound up in a dead heat this week. NBC attributed the ABC surge to an increase in the audience for Oprah Winfrey, which precedes the Jennings newscast in many key markets. But an ABC spokesperson maintained that only half of the network's affiliates carry Oprah and many of those who do present local newscasts before the network one. "There's no relationship," the spokesperson told the Associated Press. "They make this up because this is their thing to cling to."

POLL: GAY VIEWERS FLOCK TO GAY SHOWS BUT WATCH OTHERS, TOO

Although the favorite programs of gay and lesbian viewers are those with gay themes, they also rank mainstream programming -- particularly "soft" news magazines -- among their top choices, according to the Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census, which polls about 8,000 gay consumers. "Gay themes influence pop culture, and there is no greater manifestation of this than in today's television programming. It is an incorrect generalization, however, to assume that gay consumers are only interested in gay-themed television," Jeff Garber, President of OpusComm Group, which with Syracuse University conducts the poll for G/L Census, said in a statement. The poll places NBC's Will & Grace at the top of the list, followed by Showtime's Queer as Folk. Also included on the list are ABC's 20/20 at No. 8 and NBC's Dateline at No. 9. CBS's 60 Minutes, which outranks its competition in Nielsen competition, did not make the top-ten list.

OPPONENTS GO TO COURT TO HALT LOCAL PEOPLE METERS

An advocacy group called Don't Count Us Out, likely allied with Viacom's CBS, News Corp's Fox TV, and Jerry Perenchio's Univision, is expected to seek an injunction to block Nielsen Media Research from rolling out its local people meter service in New York today (Thursday). In a last-ditch attempt to forestall the legal action, Nielsen announced that it would keep its older system in place for three months while the new one was being launched, effectively providing two different sets of ratings (which some advertisers complained would be confusing). Critics contend that the people meters undercount minority viewers.

HBO HOPES TO CREATE CLASSIC SITCOMS

While the traditional broadcast networks appear to be shunting aside comedy shows during the upcoming season, the pay-TV channel HBO appears to be embracing them. Today's (Thursday) New York Times reports that the network has brought in former Fox exec Tracy Katsky to run HBO Independent Productions with the mandate to develop three-camera, live-audience sitcoms that could eventually vie for classic status. "We're not in this to do R-rated sitcoms," HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht told the newspaper. "We want a show that has a point of view, a show that is about something, something about life," citing Roseanne as an example. He said that he wants to take advantage of the fact that a number of top comedy writers have become available as a result of the network cutbacks. And Katsky predicted that these writers will probably be intrigued by the possibility of working for HBO. ""It's a smaller place," she said. "There is more creative freedom, and you don't have nine layers of people giving notes."

DOWNHILL RACER REDFORD LOOKING TO SELL SUNDANCE CHANNEL

Hoping to offset serious personal financial setbacks, Robert Redford is looking to sell his $60-80 million stake in the Sundance Channel, the New York Post reported today, citing unnamed sources. The newspaper indicated that Redford has particularly been hurt financially by his floundering ski resort in Utah. "He's extremely involved in restructuring his investment portfolio," said the Post's source, "and is working on restructuring his resort. He's had huge financial problems over the years." The newspaper reported that Redford, who owns 20 percent of the network, hopes to sell his stake to either Viacom, which owns 30 percent, or NBC, which owns 50 percent. The channel operates independently of the non-profit Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival.

DOLGEN FALLS FROM MOUNTAIN
Faced with the decision by Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone to place the company's new Co-president and COO Tom Frestone in charge of its movie operations, Paramount Co-chairman Jonathan Dolgen resigned Wednesday, saying that the new management structure effectively wiped out his job. (Les Moonves will oversee the operations of Paramount TV, which had also been a part of Dolgen's bailiwick.) Dolgen was regarded as a tough negotiator who was responsible for Paramount's sweeping retrenchment in recent years. But recently Redstone had indicated that the studio may have cut back too extremely. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Daily Variety, Redstone remarked, "Risk-averse is good, but too much risk-averse is bad." (Today's Wall Street Journal commented: "Jonathan Dolgen became a Hollywood rarity yesterday: the studio chief who lost his job because he didn't spend enough money making movies.") For the moment, it would appear that Sherry Lansing, who becomes sole president and COO of Paramount, will be given greater freedom to greenlight costlier productions. She will report directly to Freston.

WRITERS REJECT PRODUCERS' "FINAL" OFFER

Portents of a possible strike by Hollywood writers loomed Wednesday as the Writers Guild of America West resoundingly rejected a final contract offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers, calling it "inadequate and unacceptable on every issue of concern." For its part, the AMPTP said through a spokeswoman, "We've gone as far as we can go." The WGA had agreed to work under its previous contract, which expired on May 2 and said Wednesday that it currently does not plan to ask its membership for strike authorization. In a message to members, the negotiating committee said that "since the DGA and SAG face the same issues in their upcoming negotiations, a delay in our negotiations, which could put the WGA more in synch with our sister guilds, is to our advantage."

EISNER WANTS TO REOPEN TALKS WITH PIXAR

Disney CEO Michael Eisner intimated Wednesday that he would like to reopen negotiations with Pixar Animation Studios to bring the company back in its fold. "I will not believe it is over until it is over," he told a Sanford Bernstein & Co. investor's conference. He suggested, however, that the ball was in Pixar's court. "I have always felt from day one that it is in Pixar's best interests to continue with the Disney company," he said. "We can only make half the deal. I am just an eternal optimist." Eisner showed no such optimism about hand-drawn animation, however. "The 2-D [hand-drawn] business is coming to an end, just like black and white came to an end," he said.

SHREK 2 SURPASSES GROSS OF ORIGINAL SHREK

In its first 15 days, Shrek 2 has already surpassed the $267.7 million that the original film took in domestically in its entire run, DreamWorks indicated Wednesday. Today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times reported that the film was expected to have taken in at least $270 million by the end of the day.

RECORD BOX OFFICE IN U.K. FOR AZKABAN

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban captured the biggest opening-day box office in British history Monday. Opening on a bank holiday, the third film in the Potter series grossed an estimated $8.75 million, surpassing the previous record of $7.5 million set by the original film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's in the U.S.) Stone in 2001. The film had received lavish acclaim from British critics. Kevin O'Sullivan in the London Daily Mirror wrote: "If you're not a Potter fan by now you never will be. But for the millions of admirers who remain under this bespectacled hero's mesmerizing spell, The Prisoner of Azkaban delivers the goods in spectacular fashion." James Christopher in the London Times singled out director Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también, A Little Princess) for particular praise. "Cuarón's appointment to this franchise is the most inspired Hollywood gamble of the year. He is not a proven director of blockbusters or indeed sequels, but any misgivings about his ability to bring home the lucrative bacon evaporate frame by lavish frame," he wrote. Those sentiments were echoed by Anthony Quinn in the Sun: "A great move, I think, was to bring talented Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron in to direct the movie. He gives it a depth and sense of danger the others didn't have (and, obviously weren't supposed to have)." Similarly David Gritten observed in the Daily Telegraph: "The third in the Potter series, released on Monday, has a new director, the Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, and it marks a huge stride forward. The Prisoner of Azkaban is far more visually striking than its predecessors. Finally, here is a film that does justice to [author J.K.] Rowling's soaring imagination."