IDOL IS A MILLIONAIRE FOR FOX
American Idol continued to do for Fox just about what Who Wants to Be a Millionaire did for ABC a few years ago. Although the talent contest remained pretty much a one-hit wonder for the network, it nevertheless kept Fox on top among 18-49-year-olds in Nielson ratings last week. In total households and viewers, however, CBS continued to dominate as it averaged a 7.8 rating and a 13 share. NBC was in second place with an average 6.9/11. Fox placed third with a 5.9/10, while ABC trailed with a 5.1/8. With Friends in rerun mode and E.R. preempted by a documentary about Princess Diana, NBC's highest-rated show was The Apprentice with Donald Trump, which placed sixth.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.8/25; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.5/22; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 13.0/20; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 13.0/22; 5. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 12.6/20; 6. The Apprentice, NBC, 12.3/18; 7. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 10.8/17; 7. Friends, NBC, 10.8/17; 9. Will & Grace, NBC, 10.4/16; 10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.3/17.

HERZOG RETURNS TO COMEDY CENTRAL

Doug Herzog, largely credited with bringing the kind of programming to Comedy Central that made it one of the most-watched cable channels (South Park, The Daily Show), is returning to the channel as president, taking over from Larry Divney, who is retiring, MTV Networks President Judy McGrath announced on Tuesday. Herzog is leaving his position as president of USA Networks after it became clear that he would not be chosen to run the joint cable operation being created by the merger of Vivendi Universal's channels and NBC's. "Getting Doug Herzog to run Comedy is an opportunity that only comes twice in a lifetime," MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston said in a statement. Herzog told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes to put new life into the situation-comedy format and introduce new reality programming as well. "I think we can find a way to do more unscripted stuff, but not follow. We've got to find a way to lead," he said.

AFTRA LAMBASTES NEW DECENCY RULES

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) has sent a letter to U.S. senators calling on them to remove a provision of a new bill that would fine on-air talent $500,000 for airing indecent material. "Notwithstanding the current outcry, we believe the public understands that free speech is fundamentally threatened when standards are vague and penalties are both excessive and misdirected as in the case of this bill," AFTRA President John Connolly and National Executive Director Greg Hessinger wrote the lawmakers.

FOUR EPISODES ARE BETTER THAN NONE, STAR OF NEW SERIES SAYS

Emphasizing the stiffening resolve by television programmers to present series programs that perform well out of the gate, ABC plans to present four episodes of the drama The D.A., starring Steven Weber, on four consecutive Fridays beginning this week. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't mind," Weber told the Scripps Howard News Service. "Everybody would like an order for 22 new shows. But we only get four episodes, and I'm happy to be working." Weber is familiar with short-lived TV projects, having had starring roles in the 2000 NBC sitcom Cursed and the 2001-02 ABC drama Once and Again.

BRITAIN HAS ITS OWN TV SEX SCANDAL

Only weeks after British tabloids were scoffing at the American reaction to Janet Jackson's breast-baring at the Super Bowl, they are now tut-tutting over a gay sex scene in a raunchy TV series called Footballers' Wives -- that ended up on the cutting room floor (on its way, no doubt, to the Internet). "Most Shocking TV Sex Scne Ever" headlined the London Star. Despite the fact that, as the Guardian observed today (Wednesday) the show "is renowned for its explicit sex scenes and features more naked breasts and full frontal nudity than any other mainstream ITV drama," the scene showing a star soccer player having sex with a male prostitute touched off an uproar after the Star got hold of an unedited cut of the show and expressed its editorial horror. An ITV spokeswoman, explaining the decision to cut the controversial scene, said, "Everyone knows what Footballers' Wives is like. ... but we have to be responsible and remain within the bounds of taste and decency."

SHOOTING STARZ?
The studios' pricetag on pay-TV movie packages has risen so drastically that they may be pricing themselves out of a major customer. Analysts have taken note of a disclosure in a filing by John Malone's Liberty Media on Monday that the cost of film rights, which are expected to rise by 45 percent to $170-190 million this year, will skyrocket by another $125-175 million in 2005. Liberty operates the Starz Encore group of premium channels. On Monday, Malone indicated that he planned to focus on growing the company via its international operations. Of Starz, he said that it had to "prove itself operationally" if Liberty is going to be able to include it in a projected asset swap with another media group.

THEATER OWNERS SING HALLELUJAH OVER PASSION

After weeks of disappointing ticket sales, the sensational performance of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has lifted the spirits of North American exhibitors. "Thank God, Jesus is back!" a spokeswoman for Canada's Famous Players chain told the Toronto Globe and Mail. She said that not only had the chain had more than 450 bookings of entire theaters by church groups, but also, "this movie appeals to a certain group of people who are not going once, but twice. And they're going with friends and family. And they're seriously interested in the subject matter. And they're discussing it. It's a very powerful film," she adds. "It's something you will definitely have an opinion about, and it makes you feel something. People feel there's a lot of force behind this film." [In Korea, distribution officials for 20th Century Fox said today (Wednesday) that they will be screening the film for Protestant and Catholic groups later this month. In addition to clergy, it was reported that "entertainers and celebrities with religious beliefs are scheduled to be invited to the previews."] Meanwhile, Los Angeles science fiction writer J. Neil Schulman has launched a website called jewsforgibson.com in which he argues that Jews today have little in common with Jews of Jesus's time who stoned blasphemers to death and engaged in animal sacrifices. "That's not the Jewish religion I was bar mitzvahed into," Schulman writes. "Mel Gibson's movie wasn't about modern Jews. It doesn't have anything to do with me." Moreover, he praises Gibson for putting his money where his convictions are. "Mel Gibson risked his own money to make this film ... [and] could easily have ended up broke and blacklisted in Hollywood. Instead, he's proved that an independent quality film can make a ton of money and sent a message to the studios that you can make money without making (and usually remaking) crap." Schulman expresses the hope that as a result, the studios may look favorably on his own screenplay, Escape from Heaven, based on his fantasy novel in which a modern-day Jesus is a leading character.

THE MARTIANS ARE COMING! (AGAIN)

Even as the Earth's invaders of Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, continued to beam down pictures of their progress in reconnoitering the red planet, word was being circulated in Hollywood Tuesday that Steven Spielberg is planning to direct a new movie version of H.G. Wells's 1998 classic The War of the Worlds, in Martians invade Earth. (More famous than Wells's sci-fi classic is the 1938 radio dramatization starring Orson Welles, which is said to have touched off panic in some parts of the country.) The Spielberg drama will reportedly star Tom Cruise, bringing the two together for the first time since 2002's Minority Report.

WAS DRAFT OF A.G.'S LEGAL NOTICE PREPARED BY MPAA?

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer reportedly forwarded to fellow attorneys general a draft of a legal notice intended to be eventually sent to distributors of peer-to-peer software, commonly used for downloading music and movies from the Internet, Wired News reported Tuesday. Calling the software a "dangerous product" the notice chastises the software makers for not warning consumers of the dangers and threatening to cite them for deceptive trade practices. The publication indicated that, although bearing Lockyer's signature, the letter was actually drafted by Vans Stevenson, an MPAA senior official. Fred von Lohman, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Wired: "It's one thing for the MPAA to come up with a theory like that, but it would be quite another for a state attorney general to adopt it. The principle has no limit -- you can use Internet Explorer to violate the law ... so does he want to suggest that Microsoft is also breaking the law?" Hal Bringman, a spokesman for the Grokster file-sharing site commented: "It's deeply troubling that an industry as monopolistic as this can manipulate the public via top law enforcement officials."

ARCAND NETS NEW HONORS IN CANADA

Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions , which won the Oscar last month for best foreign-language film, led the field Tuesday as nominations were announced for Canada's annual Genie Awards, presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. Invasions was nominated for best film, and Arcand, for best director and best original screenplay. The awards presentations, hosted by Scott Thompson, are scheduled to be held on May 1st.