HOOPSTERS NO MATCH FOR HOUSEWIVES
March Madness -- an overrun of the NCAA basketball tournament -- got things off to a fine start for CBS Sunday night, combing with the start of 60 Minutes to give the network a 9.8 rating and a 17 share in the 7:00 p.m. hour. The network's ratings even climbed to an 11.3/17 in the 8:00 p.m. hour for the conclusion of 60 Minutes and the beginning of Cold Case. But that's all she wrote. At 9:00 p.m. Desperate Housewives scored the top numbers for the night, a 13.5/20 for ABC, leading into a repeat of Grey's Anatomy at 10:00 p.m., which drew a 9.8/16. In the end, ABC won the night with an average 9.1/14, outscoring CBS's 8.8/14. NBC placed third with a 6.2/10, while Fox trailed with a 3.9/6.

VIEWERS OF NCAA WEBCASTS DRIBBLE DOWN

The number of viewers of CBS's webcasts of the college basketball tournament steadily declined during the first week of "March Madness," according to Nielsen Research figures reported today (Monday) by MediaPost's OnlineMediaDaily. While the first day of the tournament on March 16 drew more than 3.6 million online viewers, the number slowly fell to 1.7 million by March 21. Nevertheless, Advertising Age commented today that the initial rounds of the NCAA tournament were "arguably the most successful demonstration to date of TV on the web," while noting that the number of simultaneous streams -- 260,000 -- prevented many fans from watching. Meanwhile, TV ratings for the tournament are down about 3 percent from a year ago.

CABLEVISION TO OFFER SUBSCRIBERS NEW VOD SYSTEM

Cablevision, the nation's fourth largest cable company (despite the fact that all of its customers are located in the New York metropolitan area), has launched a test of a new service that allows subscribers to record programs on Cablevision's own servers rather than on digital video recorders (DVRs) at home. The so-called headend recording is intended to reduce the costs of providing subscribers a means to watch their favorite programs on demand, while virtually eliminating home service calls and drastically reducing equipment costs. The test is being carried out in Long Island, NY, where about 1,000 households will be permitted to record about 80 gigabytes of data -- equivalent to 25 one-hour TV programs -- on Cablevision's servers. Those participating in the test will not be charged for new remote controls that will enable them to select, pause, rewind, and fast-forward programs just the way they would with a settop DVR. Meanwhile, today's (Monday) New York Times reported that Time Warner Cable is in talks with CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC about testing a service that would allow viewers to watch any of the top-20 rated programs on demand for a fee of $10 a month.

CBS IRAQ REPORTER RESPONDS TO BUSH, CHENEY

CBS correspondent Lara Logan reacted angrily over the weekend to comments by President Bush and Vice President Cheney that the news media are not reporting on progress on the rebuilding of Iraq and are focusing on violence there instead. Interviewed in Baghdad for the CNN program Reliable Sources, Logan said, "I really resent the fact that people say that we're not reflecting the true picture here. That's totally unfair and it's really unfounded." She said that it is generally difficult to report on reconstruction because reporters are hamstrung by the increasingly difficult security situation preventing them from moving about the country. Indeed, Logan indicated that reporters like herself have exercised restraint in reporting negative stories about the conduct of U.S. military personnel. "If you had any idea of the number of Iraqis that come to us with stories of abuses of U.S. soldiers and you look at my coverage over the last few weeks, or even over the last three years, there's been maybe two or three stories that have related to that." Besides, she said, she has been under increasing pressure from CBS editors to show more positive stories, but when she asks the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to allow her to film them, she has been turned down in almost every instance because "security dominates every single thing that happens in this country."

INSIDE MAN IS TOPSIDE
Inside Man not only garnered the best reviews of any film released this year, it also came close to rolling up the best box-office results. The Spike Lee film, starring Denzel Washington, earned an estimated $29 million, just behind the $30 million posted for Madea's Family Reunion last month. Two other new films -- which were not screened for critics -- registered so-so results. The horror flick Stay Alive debuted with $11.2 million, somewhat better than most analysts had predicted, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector took in $7.1 million, somewhat worse than most analysts had predicted. Meanwhile, in its second week, V for Vendetta got an F, as its gross fell 52 percent to $12.3 million. The film, which several analysts predicted would become the first big blockbuster of the year, grossed only $12.3 million to bring its total to $46.2 million. Nevertheless, with the top 12 movies grossing, $98.9 million, the box office was able to break out of its latest slump; the figure was up 10.6 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Inside Man, $29 million; 2. V for Vendetta, $12.3 million; 3. Stay Alive, $11.2 million; 4. Failure to Launch, $10.8 million; 5. The Shaggy Dog, $9.1 million; 6. She's the Man, $7.4 million; 7. Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, $7.05 million; 8. The Hills Have Eyes, $4.25 million; 9. Eight Below, $2.7 million; 10. 16 Blocks, $2.2 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: LARRY THE CABLE GUY AND STAY ALIVE

Both Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector and Stay Alive received the predictably awful reviews after critics viewed them at regular screenings over the weekend. "This is a virtually unwatchable and laugh-free vehicle for the stand-up redneck comedian Daniel Whitney," wrote Lou Lumenick in the New York Post about Cable Guy. Remarked John Anderson, writing in Newsday and the Los Angeles Times: "The only thing more depressing than the idea that someone thought there was an audience for Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector is that there may actually be an audience for Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector." As for Stay Alive, Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News commented that "the biggest challenge facing the audience is simply to stay awake." Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel concluded: "It's not frightening or affecting or even titillating." And Jason Anderson in the Toronto Globe and Mail administered the final blow, "Here's a movie that tries to be a video game," he wrote, "but is less entertaining than a vending machine."

MORE LEGAL PROBLEMS FOR PRIVATE EYE PELLICANO

Former private eye Anthony Pellicano is figuring in new legal actions that could lengthen his time in prison and deplete his remaining bank account. Actor Keith Carradine has become the latest to sue him, charging that he was hired by his ex-wife Sandra to wiretap his phone line while she was engaged in divorce proceedings against him. She has already pleaded guilty to perjury charges for denying to a federal grand jury that she knew anything about wiretapping activities by Pellicano. Meanwhile, today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times reported that federal investigators have found no convincing evidence that actor Steven Seagal was involved in the incident in which a dead fish was placed on former Times reporter Anita Busch's windshield together with the one-word threat "Stop!" The newspaper suggested that Busch may have been on an enemies list of persons who had an "unpleasant history" with former superagent and Disney President Michael Ovitz. The Times said that Ovitz has acknowledged that Pellicano was hired by a law firm working for his management company but denied that he had any knowledge of any wiretapping allegedly conducted by Pellicano.

AUDIENCE COMPLAINS ABOUT TARZAN THEATER STAGING

Walt Disney Co. watcher Jim Hill has suggested that the company may have a serious -- and unsolvable -- problem with the Broadway production of Tarzan, which opened for preview performances on Friday. Hill says that most of the aerial production tricks in which characters swing out over the audience and perform above the stage cannot be seen by audience members seated in the orchestra section below the balcony. Although holders of tickets in that section had the words "obstructed view" stamped on their tickets, Hill writes on his website, jimhillmedia.com, "Several angry audience members confronted the general manager of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the lobby, insisting that they had paid good money for seats that would only allow them to see a third of Tarzan's first act. Which meant that the deliberately vague term 'obstructed view' didn't even come close to describing how truly awful these seats were."

VETERAN DIRECTOR RICHARD FLEISCHER DEAD AT 89

Director Richard Fleischer, whose films included 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Dr. Dolittle (1967), The Boston Strangler (1968), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and Soylent Green (1973), died Saturday in Los Angeles at age 89. His father was Max Fleischer, the animation pioneer responsible for the Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons.

Cinemark Movie Club