NCAA HOOPS SCORE IN RATINGS
March Madness made a strong return Friday night, with ratings for night two of the NCAA Basketball Championships drawing an audience that was 31 percent above those for last year's second game. Nevertheless, the 6.3/10 for CBS's basketball telecast came in second to NBC's two-hour Dateline (8.8/11) and Crossing Jordan (9.1/15), although the hoop tournament edged out the NBC programing among adults 18-49. On Saturday, CBS forged ahead with the college contest, registering an average 7.2/12, up 44 percent from the third game a year ago. Thus far, the NCAA games have attracted more viewers than any since 1997. While Sunday's basketball telecast dipped into primetime by about 15 minutes, actual figures for the entire game were not available. (A combination of the overrun and CBS's 60 Minutes was first in its time period with an 11.9/19.) Meanwhile on Friday, ABC's hope of launching the new primetime drama The D.A. against the hoops telecasts got off to a rocky start in terms of both ratings and reviews. The Steven Weber starrer nabbed only a 5.3/9, to place third in 20/20's usual timeslot. Robert Bianco in USA Today commented that The D.A. ought to be called DOA.

NO ADS ON MASTERS GOLF TELECAST AGAIN

Faced with the possibility again of women's organizations mounting protests and boycotts of sponsors' products, the men-only Augusta National Golf Club and CBS have agreed to televise The Masters golf tournament next month without commercials for the second year in a row. Augusta National Golf Club Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson told Advertising Age: "There were many aspects of last year's broadcast that were favorable. The response from our TV viewers about the ability to watch strictly golf was very positive." The trade publication reported that the Augusta club has also decreased the amount that CBS must pay in rights fees to televise the event. However, the network has not indicated whether it will continue to present the event commercial-free after this year. CBS Sports spokeswoman Leslie Anne Wade told Ad Age: "We're televising The Masters this April. I can't speak to anything beyond that."

TV SHOWS FOR GAME BOYS

Majesco Sales, a video game publisher, has begun converting episodes of animated kids shows to the Game Boy Advance Video (GBA) technology and will begin releasing them in May, Video Store magazine reported today (Monday). Some 20 million Game Boy Advance units have been sold thus far. Using proprietary technology, the company has begun turning out GBA cartridges containing episodes of the Nickelodeon features SpongeBob Squarepants, Jimmy Explorer, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron and others. "We're initially targeting kids 8 to 12 years of age to establish retail space and the GBA Video brand, but we're [also] talking to licensors of TV and movie content that will focus on an older audience," Majesco exec Liz Buckley told the trade publication, adding: "We have big plans for this holiday."

A NIGHTLY CSI?

CSI creator Anthony Zuiker says it is his hope to put a different version of the drama on CBS every night of the week. (With the upcoming CSI: New York, the franchise will occupy time slots on three nights.) Zuiker told today's (Monday) Philadelphia Inquirer that CSI "has a formula that works. We're just beginning to tap different avenues. As long as 50 percent feels fresh and 50 percent feels like where we came from, we're always going to be successful." Zuiker's comments are at odds with those of CSI star William Petersen, who recently complained that CBS and CSI executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer are diluting the value of the show and his work and predicted a CSI: Toledo. "I mean, what are we, McDonalds?" he asked.

LAWYERS TRY TO BLOCK FILM ABOUT TOWNSHEND'S PORN ARREST

Lawyer's for The Who's Pete Townshend attempted to prevent a BBC documentary from being broadcast that featured his arrest and questioning on charges of viewing child pornography, the Independent on Sunday reported. The film, due to air Tuesday, shows detectives interviewing Townshend in January 2003. The newspaper described the scene this way: "The rock star appears shell-shocked and at times close to tears as the police, following standard procedures, ask if he needs help reading, or would like to see a drugs counselor." In rambling on-camera comments, Townshend said that he had accessed the site, using his own name, to conduct research for a campaign against Internet kid porn.

ARAB JOURNALISTS STORM OUT OF POWELL'S NEWS CONFERENCE

Iraqi journalists on Friday confronted Secretary of State Colin Powell in Baghdad and denounced the U.S. military for allegedly shooting to death two staff members of the Dubai-based news channel al-Arabiya. A representative of the journalists demanded an "open investigation" of what he called the "murder" of the two newsmen, Ali Khatib, a reporter, and Ali Abdul Aziz, a cameraman. The Iraqi journalists then walked out of the news conference. Powell later responded that the "free press" that they had spoken about had not existed under Saddam Hussein, then added: "Yes, there will be difficult days ahead; yes, we will have challenges with the security situation." He promised an investigation, but observed that when troops are having to deal with terrorist acts, "mistakes happen, tragedies can occur."

THE BAD GUYS WIN
The cross was unable to hold off the zombies at the domestic box office over the weekend as Dawn of the Dead shoved Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ out of first place for the first time in four weeks. The walking-dead horror flick debuted with an estimated $27.3 million versus Passion's $19.2 million. (Weekend figures are based on the actual take for Fridays and Saturdays and an estimated take for Sundays; Gibson's film has exceeded estimates in each of the preceding three weeks.) Passion has now grossed $295.3 million since its Feb. 25 opening, putting it on track to pass the $300-million mark before next weekend. The Angelina Jolie-Ethan Hawke starrer Taking Lives opened in third place with about $11.4 million. The only other new film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey, opened in sixth place with $8.6 million, but, because it opened in fewer than half the number of theaters as its rivals, its per-theater average ($6,333) was exceeded only by Dawn of the Dead ($9,954). Nevertheless, Michael O'Rorke of HSX Research, a market research firm, told Bloomberg News that he doesn't expect to see it becoming a big money maker. "It's a Jim Carrey movie, yes, but this is obviously a more serious art house Jim Carrey,'' O'Rorke said. "This is not Ace Ventura III. This is a different audience. ... It's a tough sale. It's an unusual film, Carrey or not." Overall, the top 12 movies grossed $109.7 million, up a whopping 33 percent from the same weekend a year ago (when theater attendance was down due to the invasion of Iraq). The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Dawn of the Dead, $27.3 million; 2. The Passion of the Christ, $19.2 million; 3. Taking Lives, $11.4 million; 4. Starsky & Hutch, $10.7 million; 5. Secret Window, $9.6 million; 6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, $8.6 million; 7. Hidalgo, $8.5 million; 8. Agent Cody Banks: Destination London, $6 million; 9. 50 First Dates, $4.3 million; 10. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, $1.5 million.

DIGITAL PROJECTION IS TALK OF SHOWEST

Several manufacturers of digital projection products are showcasing their products at the annual ShoWest Conference in Las Vegas. Among them are several relatively low-cost systems aimed at presenting pre-show advertising and promotions, including Kodak's Digital Cinema Operations Center, which delivers ads, videos and short features via the Internet, and Regal Cinemedia, which offers ad content, sports programming and concerts on 394 Regal screens via cable and satellite. Missy Koehler, Director of Operations for Cinema Screen Media, which uses the Kodak service, said in a statement today (Monday): "We design our pre-show content to enable people in the audience to socialize and be entertained at the same time. Our goal is to add to the enjoyment of the cinema guests while we create expanded revenue opportunities for exhibitors."

FAMILY ACTIVISTS IN AUSTRALIA PROTEST FRENCH FILM

The critically praised Irreversible , often described as part of the current wave of French "shock cinema," is facing the possibility of being shut down in Australia following protests by family- and religious-activist groups, who object to a nine-minute rape scene. The Australian Associated Press quoted the Rev. Fred Nile, founder of the Christian Democratic Party, as saying: "The high impact of the violence in this film was so great that large numbers of people walked out during screenings, despite being warned of the content in advance." But Dean O'Flaherty, acquisition manager for Accent Film Entertainment, which is distributing the film in Australia told AAP: "It is not just the film we are in the position of defending, and this is not just about banning one film, this is about an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression."

GODZILLA WILL DESTROY AUSTRALIAN LANDMARKS IN "FINAL" FILM

For his last act, Godzilla will crush the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today (Monday). "Everyone remembers those grainy black and white images of Godzilla attacking Tokyo office workers ... and millions of Japanese people -- and potential tourists -- will see Godzilla stomping his way across our beautiful country," acting New South Wales premier Andrew Refshauge told the newspaper. Toho films, which has said that it will retire the giant lizard after completing the upcoming Final Wars, says that it plans to use the NSW town of Broken Hill to stand in for an Arizona town, while Sydney will play the role of New York City.

NEW ZEALAND TOWN ATTRACTS FILMMAKERS WITHOUT MAJOR MARKETING

Queenstown, New Zealand said today that it earned $27 million from the film industry last year and expects even higher levels next year. The figure compared with $17 million in 2002. Four years earlier the figure was only $6 million. The Queenstown Lakes District council noted in a report that the steady rise in revenue from filmmaking in the area was accomplished with only a small council staff that devotes just 14 hours a week to attracting production companies.