IDOL WORSHIP PREVAILS AGAIN
Fox's American Idol continued to steamroll the competition last week, with all three episodes of the talent contest placing in the Nielsen top ten, including Tuesday's, which attracted more than 25 million viewers and wound up as the top-rated show of the week. NBC, which is revamping its Thursday-night programming, produced strong numbers with the reality show The Apprentice and with Pt. 1 of a Jane Pauley-hosted documentary, Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes. Still, CBS held on to first place in the overall household rankings for the week, averaging an 8.2 rating and a 13 share. NBC followed in second place with a 7.4/12. Fox remained in third with a 6.0/10, while ABC fell to fourth (after landing in first place last week, thanks to Super Millionaire and the Oscars) with a 5.6/9. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.5/22; 1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.5/22; 3. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 13.6/21; 4. The Apprentice, NBC, 12.9/19; 4. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.9/20; 6. Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes, NBC, 11.8/19; 7. Without a Trace, CBS, 11.5/19; 8. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 11.4/18; 8. American Idol: Uncut, Fox, 11.4/17; 10. Friends, NBC, 11.2/18. (Note: Although American Idol tied with CSI for first place in the ratings, it actually attracted far more viewers -- 25.5 million to CSI's 22.7 million. The seeming anomaly is explained by the fact that more people were watching television at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, when Idol aired than at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday when CSI aired.

ECHOSTAR STILL REFUSES TO DISH OUT VIACOM OUTLETS

Viacom's cable and broadcast channels continued to be blacked out on EchoStar's Dish satellite service today, replaced by a tape of company founder Charlie Ergen discussing his dispute with the giant media company. Responding to claims that Viacom's fee demands amounted to only six cents per customer, Ergen said, "I'm telling you we're not stupid here at Dish network. If it was six cents price increase per customer, we would already have signed that deal." While saying that the end of the dispute could "happen in an hour and it can happen in a month and it can never happen," Ergen, seemed to suggest that a resolution might be near. "I can only say that people at Viacom, including their chief executive officer [Sumner Redstone], said that they want to do a deal, they want to do a fair deal. I certainly reiterated that on our part, and typically when you get the highest levels of companies talking, they can kind of overcome some of the things at the lower levels and get things done."

IGER INDICATES HE KNOWS HE'D BE THE FALL GUY FOR ABC

Walt Disney Co. President and COO Robert Iger acknowledged Tuesday that his future with the company depended on his ability to turn around the performance of ABC. Asked at an investors conference in Palm Beach, FL about reports that he might succeed Michael Eisner as CEO of Disney when and if Eisner steps down, Iger responded: "If we deliver [at ABC] ... I think my chances improve dramatically. If I don't, I shouldn't get the chance. It's that simple." Several publications have suggested that Iger's days at the company are numbered if ratings at the network don't rise. And Iger himself acknowledged Tuesday, "I do take responsibility for ABC. It's performance in primetime has been disappointing." Reporters attending the conference took note of the fact that while Iger praised the work of ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, he failed to mention ABC Network President Alex Wallau or ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun. Later, however, Disney spokesperson Zenia Mucha said that by excluding any reference to Wallau and Braun, Iger "wasn't sending any message."

SEX AND THE CITY PRODUCERS WRANGLE OVER CUTS

Three of the ten executive producers of HBO's recently concluded Sex and the City have expressed mixed reactions about the show's imminent syndication on broadcast TV stations. "It's going to be three girls [instead of four] in the city, basically," exec producer Cindy Chupack told today's (Wednesday) Chicago Sun-Times. "We joke there will be no Samantha," she said, referring to the seductress character played by Kim Cattrall. "We're very sad to even think about it or to watch it." But Sarah Jessica Parker, both a star and an exec producer on the series, told the newspaper that "I don't want to hear the words 'makes me sad'" and insisted that even "if you remove the stuff that is ... not acceptable by [broadcast] standards, I still think the show will hold up." Another exec producer, Michael Patrick King, however, expressed concern about the possible cuts, maintaining that "we were never dirty or pornographic. ... We were funny, wry and clever[ly] outrageous. If you start taking out certain comic words and start putting in other words, it's not as sharp."

TV REVIEWS: GAME OVER

Tonight's debut of UPN's Game Over , being billed as the first computer-animated primetime show on broadcast TV, is receiving a mostly chilly reception from critics, several of whom suggest that the network ought to have pressed the delete key before putting it on the air. Although most seem impressed with the animation and the vocal characterizations, many find the script, about what video-game characters do after the games are over, wanting. "Shows about video-game characters, like the games themselves, ought to be fun," writes David Bianculli in the New York Daily News. "Game Over never gets to that level. Not even close." Glen Garvin in the Miami Herald writes that the show feels "like being eaten alive by Ms. Pac-Man: slow and exceedingly painful." "About as interesting as watching other people play on their Xbox. Or PlayStation2. Or PlayStation 1, for that matter," writes Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Sun-Times. But Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times finds the show to be "equally the product of futuristic graphics programs and good old joke writing." And Noel Holston in Newsday calls it "clever and colorful" and "UPN's best hope ever for a fresh new hit." Robert Bianco in USA Today suggests that the show will probably turn out to be a "modest success," then adds: "Still, considering the generally dismal slate of offerings the networks have planned for the spring, merely avoiding catastrophe counts as a victory."

VIACOM CHIEF UNFAZED OVER JACKSON FUROR

After weeks of abject ... er ... breast-beating by other Viacom executives, including President and COO Mel Karmazin (once credited with unleashing Howard Stern on the airwaves), 80-year-old Chairman Sumner Redstone commented Tuesday that he didn't understand what the fuss over the Janet Jackson incident was all about. Speaking to an investors conference in Palm Beach, FL, Redstone remarked: "I don't know about you guys, but to me a woman's breast is not such a big deal." Viacom's CBS televised the Jackson performance. Meanwhile, in contrast to the reaction by FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who condemned CBS for allowing the incident to be aired, Britain's new TV watchdog, OFCOM, rejected some 100 complaints touched off by a stream of obscenities let loose by John Lydon, the former Sex Pistol, on the ITV show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here. "There is no absolute ban on bad language on television," the commission said in a statement. It noted that the program host had warned viewers that strong language might occur on the live broadcast.

DISNEY EXPECTS COMCAST TO UP ITS BID
Walt Disney Co. President and COO Robert Iger predicted Tuesday that Comcast will sweeten its bid to buy the entertainment giant. "I think Comcast comes back," Iger told an investors conference in Palm Beach, FL. "I don't know how or when." His remarks came a day after Comcast officials maintained that they have no intention of raising their bid. Some analysts suggested that both sides may be trying to influence the market. If enough investors believe that Comcast will offer a significant premium for Disney shares, they are likely to push up the price of the shares -- benefiting Disney shareholders. If, however, they accept Comcast's assertion that Disney is not crucial to them and that they will not pay an expensive price for it, then shares in the company might descend, increasing the value of the Comcast bid.

DISNEY'S DAUGHTER WANTS EISNER OUT

Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, has joined critics of Michael Eisner in calling for his resignation as the company's chief executive. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, Miller said, "It's time to step down and let someone else come in for the future. ... New leadership is necessary. I think Michael Eisner did some great things for the company but there also are some not so great things." In reporting on her remarks, the Times commented, "Given her lineage, Miller's comments are certain to add to the increasing pressure on Eisner" to resign. Miller was also critical of her cousin Roy Disney's campaign to oust Eisner, suggesting that it touched off Comcast's hostile takeover bid. She called Roy Disney's efforts "vicious and personal," and added: "Roy's move was ill timed, and it helped put the company in play ... Roy loves the company as much as I do, and he wants to see it remain independent too. But what he has done has put it in jeopardy."

PRINCE'S CONCERT TO BE SHOWN LIVE IN MOVIE HOUSES

The Regal Cinema theater chain is planning to present the live kick-off of Prince's "Musicology" tour at 32 theaters capable of projecting high-definition TV images. Originating at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 29th, the concert is being beamed mostly to smaller markets but will also include Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New York and San Diego. A $15.00 ticket purchased online at www.RegalCM.com will entitle buyers to a free copy of Prince's new Musicology CD.

STUDY WANTS MOVIE INDUSTRY TO REGARD SMOKING LIKE SEX AND VIOLENCE

The motion picture ratings board should regard smoking in movies the same way that it does sex and violence, according to a study by the University of California, San Francisco. The study, which examined 775 U.S. films made over the past five years, concluded that smoking is depicted in 80 percent of films rated PG-13 and in 50 percent of those rated G and PG. At a Los Angeles news conference on Tuesday, Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the university, said that while he would not advocate a ban on smoking in movies, films like Matchstick Men, Seabiscuit, and Chicago -- all rated PG-13 -- should have been rated R. Several other studies have indicated that there is more smoking depicted in films today than there was before warning labels were required to be displayed on cigarette packaging. In recent interviews, writer Joe Eszterhas, who is battling throat cancer, indicated that smoking scenes are often instigated not by a film's writers but by cigarette-addicted actors.

DISNEY ANIMATORS HEADING TO AUSTRALIA

Virtually all of the Walt Disney Co.'s hand-drawn animation is currently being produced in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald observed today (Wednesday), noting that Disney Toons Studio Australia is currently working on Bambi, the Sequel and Lilo and Stitch 2. "We are now [Disney's] primary traditional animation studio in the world, and that just shores up our future," Philip Oakes, the studio's general manager, told the newspaper. Oakes indicated that he has been hiring talent laid off by Disney in Paris, Tokyo, Toronto, Florida, and California during its recent rounds of retrenchment.