FOX OUTFOXES RIVALS
More than 33 million viewers tuned in to the Tuesday performance episode of Fox's American Idol Tuesday night, and, together with Wednesday's results episode of the show, almost single-handedly gave the network a victory for the week among the key 18-49-year-old demographic group. Fox also produced solid ratings with the debut of its new reality series Unanimous, as well as 24, Prison Break, and The Simpsons. Nevertheless, CBS remained the leader among overall households with coverage of the the NCAA basketball tournament, as well as continued strong numbers for its various transmogrifications of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. March Madness coverage was down 6 percent in the ratings versus the similar week last year (but up 2 percent over 2004). For the week, CBS wound up with an average 7.8 rating and a 13 share. Fox was a close second with a 7.2/11, while ABC and NBC tied with a 6.2/10. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 19.2/28; 2. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 15.9/24; 3. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 13.5/20; 4. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.0/21; 5. 60 Minutes, CBS, 110./17; 6. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 10.5/15; 7. Deal or No Deal (Monday), NBC, 9.8/15; 7. The Unit, CBS, 9.8/14; 9. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 9.7/16; 9. Lost, ABC, 9.7/14; 9. The New Adventures of Old Christine, CBS, 9.7/14.

AND THE STEAMROLLER CONTINUES TO ROLL

A one-hour edition of Fox's American Idol Tuesday night produced numbers that were down only slightly from the previous week's. Idol recorded an 18.3 rating and a 27 share in the overnights, representing 31.5 million viewers. The show once again provided a strong lead-in for House, which dominated the 9:00 p.m. hour with a 14.3/21. CBS's new drama The Unit, meanwhile, drew a strong 10.2/15. Meanwhile, the debut of the critically panned Teachers on NBC produced a third-place 5.3/8, slightly better than its lead-in Scrubs, which managed a 5.1/7.

WHEN NEWSCASTS SHILL FOR OWNERS

The Fox-owned TV station in New York City has featured a story about the Fox series 24 on its local newscast every Monday night since the second week of the series this season, the Columbia Journalism Review observed on its website Tuesday. Ordinarily, the publication noted, the feature has aired at three-quarters past the hour in the newscast -- except for Feb. 20 when a feature about 24 became the lead story. On March 13, the Fox newscast also promoted the new 24 video game. The CJR story concluded: "A suggestion for Fox 5: Why not just put Jack Bauer [the primary character in 24] in the anchor's chair?"

LAUER LANDS INTERVIEW WITH SURVIVOR OF MINING TRAGEDY

The Today show's Matt Lauer has scored the second big "get" of the month by landing an interview with Randall McCloy, the sole survivor of January's West Virginia mining disaster. The interview is scheduled to air Thursday on Today. Last week Lauer became the first to interview Michael Schiavo about his battle with his late wife Terri's parents, which aired on Today and on the NBC magazine show Dateline. There was no word about whether the McCloy interview would also air on Dateline.

CBS NEWS CRITICIZING NBC NEWS?

The CBS blog Public Eye, which was originally set up to provide "transparency" for the operations of CBS News in the wake of the Dan Rather memogate debacle, has taken rival NBC News to task for the methods used to expose sex predators on its magazine show, Dateline. According to Public Eye, the NBC program has reportedly paid members of the group Perverted-Justice.com to pose on the Internet as sexually active teenagers and entice older men to a home wired with hidden cameras, where, instead of meeting the youngsters, they encounter Dateline correspondent Chris Hansen, who upbraids the men on camera. When they leave, police are waiting to arrest them. On Tuesday, Public Eye published excerpts from an article appearing in the Dayton Daily News (the latest -- as-yet-unaired -- Dateline sting took place in Darke County, OH), in which Poynter Institute ethics instructor Al Tompkins commented: "In this case, there would not have been a crime if there wasn't a deception when they set these up. Journalists should be very reluctant to deceive. It should be a last resort, not the first. And it ought to be rare." On its own blog devoted to the TV business, Channel Island, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Scott Collins, who runs the blog, commenting: "This would seem a fairly significant breakdown in news division detente. Typically networks have refrained from publicly criticizing rivals' coverage."

VOICE-OVER ACTORS ON CABLE CARTOON SHOWS TO GET RAISES

Actors providing voice-over work in cartoons produced for cable will be receiving a 20-percent hike in their residual checks under a new pact agreed upon by Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiators during their current talks with producers. Although the deal is similar to one rejected by SAG for live performances, a spokesman for the union pointed out that animated episodes are generally rerun more often than live episodes. "The performers who work under this contract have waited a long time for these well-deserved gains," SAG President Alan Rosenberg said in a statement. "The Guild achieved this important victory by standing together as a united group of actors."

INDY TO RETURN, PLUS A NEW GAME
Barely a week after published reports disclosed that George Lucas had approved a new script for a fourth Indiana Jones movie and had passed it on to the Steven Spielberg, the filmmaker's Lucasarts and Industrial Light and Magic units announced that they would jointly produce a new video game for Sony's PlayStation 3, which is now due to hit the shelves in November, and Xbox 360. The announcement, made at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, appeared to be the first official indication that the popular character was being resurrected.

HIT BY STRIKE, PRODUCTION COMPANY CROSSES THE BORDER

Demonstrating a novel form of runaway production, the makers of Home of the Brave, in which Samuel L. Jackson and 50 Cent play veterans of the war in Iraq, have pulled up stakes in Spokane, WA after four days of shooting and crossed the border to complete the film in Vancouver. The Associated Press reported that the production had been hit by a strike by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) because producers of the low-budget ($12 million) film had employed both union and non-union crew members.

ACTORS MAY SHUN STUDIOS' ART-HOUSE UNITS, SAYS PRODUCER

Independent producer Ira Deutchman, president of Emerging Pictures, has indicated that the lawsuit filed last week by actor Randy Quaid in which he claimed that he was misled into accepting a small fee for appearing in Brokeback Mountain, could have dire consequences for the art-house divisions of the major studios. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) New York Times, Deutchman suggested that actors are now becoming aware that when they agree to appear in a film for low pay and a piece of the net profits, there's generally not going to be any net profits because of high marketing and distribution costs. Deutchman told the Times that that realization could lead to actors becoming reluctant to appear in art-house films for studio specialty units. "If, in fact, the smaller movies don't pay off for talent even when they hit, the studio arthouse divisions will stop being able to make the movies," he said. "They'll fall into the same trap as the parent companies: if no one believes there's a back end, then actors will want higher and higher salaries to be in those movies."

CHINESE FILMS TOP HOLLYWOOD'S AT MAINLAND BOX OFFICE

China has not only survived what it once described as the cultural invasion of Hollywood, but it apparently is eminently holding its own. Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday) that six of the top-10-grossing films in China last year were locally produced, marking the first time local films outgrossed imports since China began allowing foreign films to be shown in 1994. The biggest earner was also China's costliest ($30-40 million), Chen Kaige's The Promise, which took in $18 million in China and is set to be released in the U.S. on May 5. The No. 2 film was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with $11.5 million.