DEAL OR NO DEAL? IT'S THE LATTER
NBC's hope for big ratings this week with last December's hit Deal or No Deal went up in smoke Wednesday as the game show, airing Monday through Friday this week, was clobbered for the second night in a row by Fox's American Idol. The talent contest registered a 16.0 rating and a 25 share at 8:00 p.m. versus a 6.5/10 for second-place Deal. The last half-hour of Idol zoomed to a 17.4/26, far ahead of ABC's Lost, which recorded a 9.9/15 and CBS's Criminal Minds, which was competitive with an 8.0/12. Fox's premiere of the sitcom Free Ride at 9:30 p.m. drew an 8.6/13.

DID ABC CHICKEN OUT ON KFC AD?

KFC's strategy to counter TiVo users who skip commercials suffered the equivalent of bird flu Wednesday when it was rejected by ABC. KFC had planned to run a secret message in a chicken sandwich ad on the network that could only be seen if it was played back slowly. The message described how to get the sandwich free. The message could not be seen when the ad was played at normal speed. But ABC said it can concluded that the commercial amounted to subliminal advertising and therefore violated ABC's policies. KFC denied that the ad was anything of the sort, noting that the intent of subliminal advertising was to elicit a subconscious response. The ad has already been running on other networks, and KFC said that 70,000 people have already discovered the message and applied online for the free sandwich coupons. In an interview with the Associated Press, Jamie King, an exec at ad agency Publicis & Hal Riney, said that he was surprised by ABC's action. "I would think the networks would look to partner and encourage experimentation with techniques that involve the viewer and discourage them to skip the commercials," he said.

ROB LOWE TO RETURN TO THE WEST WING

Rob Lowe, who probably never expected to be invited back to the White House -- the fictional one, that is -- after he angrily departed The West Wing in 2003, will be returning for the show's final two episodes, published reports said Wednesday. Lowe reportedly quit the show after costar Martin Sheen received a salary boost to $300,000 per episode while his salary remained at $75,000. News reports did not indicate how much he would receive for his final two appearances. Several other former cast members are also due to make appearances after the drama returns from hiatus on March 12.

CHAPPELLE MAY NEVER RETURN TO COMEDY CENTRAL

Dave Chappelle has vowed never to return to Comedy Central if the cable network goes ahead with plans to piece together new episodes of Chappelle's Show from material taped before he walked away from the series. "I think if they air that stuff, I can't see how I'm going to be able to [return]. That will damage our relationship," he told the Dayton Daily News. He called Comedy Central's plans to do so "a bully move," adding that "if people don't watch it, then I'd be more than happy." Chappelle, who lives in nearby Yellow Springs, OH, was in Dayton for the red-carpet premiere of his concert film, Dave Chappelle's Block Party. (He was escorted to the premiere by the Central State University marching band.)

CBS DENIES IT ENGAGED IN CHECKBOOK JOURNALISM WITH BASKETBALL TAPE

CBS News has decided to pay high-school student Marcus Luciano $500 for using his tape of Jason McElwain, an autistic Rochester, NY teen basketball player, scoring 20 points in four minutes in his team's last game of the season. Correspondent Steve Hartman told the CBS blog Public Eye that neither Luciano nor the school's basketball coach asked for payment for the tape. CBS Evening News executive producer Rome Hartman (apparently not related) told the blog: "It seemed right that we should pay the kid for the use of the video. ... It seemed like a nice gesture, given that we've used the video so much. Think of this guy as a freelance cameraman. That's what he was. He just didn't know he was." The payment was approved by CBS News's new ethics watchdog, Linda Mason.

YAHOO BACKS AWAY FROM PRODUCING TV SHOWS FOR INTERNET

Yahoo Media chief Lloyd Braun has had second thoughts about producing exclusive network-type programs for the Internet and instead will seek content from other media companies, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). Braun, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment, told the newspaper, "I didn't fully appreciate what success in this medium is really going to look like. ... This is not about creating one-off hits like in my old business. That is not going to create a sustainable competitive advantage over the long term." He indicated that he is particularly fascinated by video material created by amateurs and shared online. "I now get excited about user-generated content the way I used to get excited about thinking about what television shows would work," he told the Times.

PRODUCERS CLASH OVER CRASH
Two rancorous lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles Wednesday by persons involved in the production of Crash, which is nominated in six Oscar categories, including best picture. One the the lawsuits was filed by Bob Yari, an independent film financier, who charged that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America unlawfully denied him a producer's credit on the movie, thereby preventing him from receiving "the ultimate professional acclaim, and the accompanying creative and economic benefits, to which his labors entitle him." Yari was reportedly the first person to agree to invest in Crash and to arrange other financing. Neither the academy or the Producers Guild would discuss the lawsuits. Separately Cathy Schulman and Tom Nunan, two of the producers of Crash, charged that Yari failed to pay them more than $2 million in fees connected with the movie. ""This action arises from the dark underbelly of Hollywood," their lawsuit said, "where an outsider, armed with enormous wealth from a career in another field, can insinuate himself into position to take recognition and money away from the people actually responsible for the creation and execution of profitable and award-winning entertainment content." Yari called the complaint "a shameful misrepresentation of the facts."

STAR TREK CAUGHT IN BLACK HOLE

Plans to revive Paramount's Star Trek movie franchise have come undone after a screenplay for Star Trek: The Beginning by Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers) was rejected, according to Dreamwatch magazine. In an interview with Doug Mirabello, the personal assistant to longtime Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman, the magazine also asked about reports that Patrick Stewart had agreed to appear in the next Star Trek film. Mirabello replied, "From what I've heard, Patrick wouldn't do another Trek movie unless they paid him Professor X money," referring to the character Stewart plays in the 20th Century Fox X-Men movies. (His salary for those films has not been publicly disclosed.)

DIRECTV TO LAUNCH MOVIE-ON-DEMAND SERVICE

Satellite service DirecTV is planning to launch a movie-on-demand service by the end of the year that will rely not on satellite delivery but on Internet downloads, published reports said on Wednesday. The service will deliver about 50 hours of movies and other special programming that can be accessed for a fee on TiVo digital video recorders already installed in homes of subscribers and on DirecTV's proprietary DVRs that are now being rolled out.

OSCAR NOMINATION GOOD FOR BOTTOM LINE

Helped by publicity generated by its inclusion among the five films nominated for a best-film Oscar, the DVD for the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line has quickly become the top-selling video of the week. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment said Wednesday that the DVD sold more than 3 million copies on Feb. 28, its first day on the shelves. "We're thrilled with this sales velocity and expect all of the activity around the Oscars to further boost sales and awareness this week and well into next," company spokesman Steve Feldstein said.

CNBC TO AIR THE BUSINESS OF HOLLYWOOD FROM OSCAR SITE

Former Disney chief Michael Eisner is among the guests scheduled to appear in a CNBC two-hour special, The Business of Hollywood, airing Friday at 12:00 noon, the channel said Wednesday. The special will originate at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on the set of Sunday's Oscar ceremonies and host Bill Griffeth is due to receive a behind-the-scenes tour from Gil Cates, executive producer of the Oscars telecast. Veteran director Richard Donner is also scheduled to be interviewed for the program, which, according to a network press release, will explore "everything from movies that take on social issues and stigmas to what theater owners are doing to lure movie-lovers away from DVD releases and into the theaters."

Cinemark Movie Club