TRUMP WINS IN SPADES
The Donald Trump reality show The Apprentice, facing NCAA basketball rather than CSI, drew its biggest audience to date last week -- 23 million viewers -- and moved up to second place on the Nielsen ratings chart. Only Fox's American Idol topped it as the Tuesday edition of the talent show drew nearly 27 million viewers. (It repeated that accomplishment last night.) CBS won the week -- but barely -- as it averaged a 7.6 rating and a 13 share versus NBC's 7.2/12. Fox, thanks to Idol, placed third with a 6.0/10, while ABC remained well behind with a 5.2/9. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.6/24; 2. The Apprentice, NBC, 14.6/23; 3. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.4/22; 4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 12.2/19; 5. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.8/18; 6. 60 Minutes, CBS, 11.1/18; 7. Friends, NBC, 110./18; 8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 10.9/17; 9. Will & Grace, NBC, 10.6/17; 10. Law and Order, NBC, 10.4/18.

CNN LOSES THE PEACE

CNN, which saw its ratings rise some 40 percent in the first quarter of last year during the buildup to the war in Iraq and especially during the invasion, saw them plummet in the first quarter of 2004, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today (Wednesday). According to the newspaper, CNN's average viewership for the entire day fell 52 percent to 458,000, while in primetime it fell 48 percent to 806,000. Fox News also experienced a less dramatic decline -- 36 percent for both the entire day and for primetime.

REMEMBER THE V-CHIP?

The major TV networks and the Advertising Council pledge Tuesday to produce and broadcast public service announcements to inform viewers about V-chip technology, which allows parents to control what kids see on TV. In a statement the Ad Council indicated that its own studies have indicated that fewer than 10 percent of families with V-chip-equipped sets use them and that 80 percent of those who have the chip are unaware of it.

GLAAD IS NOT CONTENTO ABOUT SPANISH TALK SHOW

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has denounced a talk show that aired on the Spanish-language network Univision in which the show's host suggested that homosexuals developed their sexual preference as a result of being abused as children. During the March 25 telecast of Casos De Familia, host Judith Grace went on to say, "Let's stop our relatives from touching/abusing our own children so they do not end up like this." GLAAD told the Los Angeles Times that it is encouraging a letter-writing campaign to Univision after officials of the network failed to return calls. The group's media director, Monica Taher, told the newspaper that the talk show "reflects the reality of a great deal of Spanish-language media coverage" of gay issues.

WILL MINUS GRACE

Will & Grace will be Grace-less for the final four episodes of the season after her doctor ordered her to remain off her feet during her last month of pregnancy. An NBC spokesman said Tuesday that her character has been written out of the episodes, including a one-hour season finale, being filmed this week, featuring a guest appearance by Jennifer Lopez.

VIACOM PLANS MAJOR MOVES IN MEXICO

After meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and other senior Mexican officials, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone on Tuesday said that his company intends to expand further into Latin America with Mexico as its primary focus. Meeting with reporters, Redstone remarked, "Mexico is one of the top five priorities of Viacom for years to come. ... Mexico is the world's 10th largest economy. ... It has a growing, vibrant advertising business. ... Fifty percent of the population is under age 24, which is music to our ears." Redstone did not spell out Viacom's plans for expansion. The company owns the CBS television network, the MTV networks, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. Reuters reported that although the company already has introduced versions of some of its cable networks in Latin America (it is launching VH1 Latinoamerica on Thursday) it would also like to sell some of its programming to existing over-the-air stations as well.

AL-JAZEERA ANCHOR SAYS CHANNEL ENCOURAGES FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

An anchor and senior editor of the Arab news channel al-Jazeera has told a media group in New Delhi, India that the channel represents a "nascent freedom of expression" that is developing in the Middle East. As reported by the Indo-Asian News Service on Tuesday, Jamal Azar told the Media Foundation that al-Jazeera has had to deal with Arab governments that have attempted to stifle it and with Western officials who have denounced it as a propaganda platform for terrorists. Nevertheless, he remarked, al-Jazeera has begun earning the respect of many of those who initially criticized it. "CNN and BBC are now not only freely using footage from our channel but are paying for these services," he said.

PASSION IS A SAVIOR
Without Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the box office would have been down 5 percent during the first quarter of 2004 compared to its performance last year; with the controversial religious epic, it's up 15 percent, analysts observed Tuesday. Indeed, Passion's ticket sales of $318 million represent 18 percent of the total box-office take of $1.78 billion for the quarter. Total ticket sales for the quarter amounted to 290 million versus 250 million tickets sold in 2003 and 305 million sold in 2002. The only other film besides Passion to earn more than $100 million in the quarter was the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy 50 First Dates.

A MEMORABLE ALAMO, SAYS HISTORIAN

The curator and historian of the Alamo has given his blessing to the new Disney movie about the historic battle. "It's probably the most accurate portrayal of the Alamo story to date," Bruce Winders told today's (Wednesday) San Antonio Express-News. "That's not saying it couldn't be more accurate," he added, "but it goes far beyond the John Wayne film" of 1960. Winders said that he was especially surprised by the accuracy of the film "after all the negative pre-release press it's gotten. I thought they were able to tell a fairly interesting and comprehensive story." The Alamo is scheduled to open on April 9.

POLICE RAID GOVERNMENT REGULATOR IN VIVENDI PROBE

In what one French lawyer described as a "very unusual" act, French police swooped down on the government offices of the Financial Markets Authority, seizing evidence in their probe of possible manipulation of Vivendi Universal's stock in 2001. The raid followed an admission by Vivendi's former CEO, Jean-Marie Messier that he ordered two company employees to buy back $1.22 billion in Vivendi shares after the stock plummeted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The Financial Markets Authority said afterwards that it had decided not to take action against Vivendi at the time "given the exceptional nature of the period in question." But Sophie L'Helias, a corporate governance lawyer, told Bloomberg News: "A raid on a regulator's headquarters is very unusual. It indicates people want something to be done about the excesses of that whole Vivendi era."

PARAMOUNT PREPARED TO CLIMB MOUNTAINS AGAIN, LANSING INDICATES

Paramount Chairman Sherry Lansing is spreading the word that Paramount intends to change its image as a penny-pinching outfit intent on turning out formulaic, safe product. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) New York Times, Lansing indicated that given the mediocre performance of most of the studio's output in recent years, "my model had to change." Lansing made no reference to remarks made by Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom, Paramount's corporate parent earlier this month, that he intended to relax "risk aversion" policies that had been imposed on the studio and to make more money available to it to finance more challenging productions. Lansing told the Times: "We want to send a message to the creative community that we will pay $125 million for a movie. We're not afraid of it. We're starting to change the image of the studio, which was always thought of as playing it safe."

REVIEWER CALLS 5-MINUTE SEINFELD FLICK FUNNIEST MOVIE THIS YEAR

New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick has reviewed a five-minute "movie" starring Jerry Seinfeld and has extolled it as "the year's funniest new movie so far." A Uniform Used to Mean Something is being screened only on the Internet site www.americanexpress.com/jerry and is in fact a promotion for American Express featuring Seinfeld and an animated Superman, but Lumenick dubs it a "small masterpiece" and concludes that there are more laughs in the five-minute film than there are in most feature-length comedies. It is directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Wag the Dog).

SPECIAL EFFECTS TEAM AUCTIONS ITSELF OFF

A team of motion picture special effects artists who worked on Mission Impossible, The Matrix, and The Last Samurai is actioning itself off on eBay after their jobs were outsourced overseas by their company, Discreet, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Wednesday). In their ad on the eBay site [we were unable to find it], the group members said, " "We've been like a family for more than a decade so we are focusing our energies on keeping our team intact. ... Now you have the opportunity to negotiate a contract with the most cohesive and passionate people in the industry."