GOOD WEEK, BAD MONTH FOR ABC
Despite offering the 76th annual Academy Award show and the return of Regis Philbin in a richer version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, ABC is expected to remain the fourth-place network in the February sweeps, which officially ends tonight. "We have been able to build a foundation of shows, but none is a hit," ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne told the Associated Press Tuesday. "That's what's keeping us in fourth place right now." Nevertheless, the network did win the final full week of the sweeps by a hefty margin, averaging 14.4 million viewers, a figure pumped up significantly by the 43.5 million who watched the Oscars Sunday night. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. The 76th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 26.0/40; 2. Countdown to the Oscars 2004, ABC, 17.3/27; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.1/25; 4. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.0/23; 5. Friends, NBC, 14.6/22; 6. E.R., NBC, 14.3/23; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.2/21; 8. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 12.9/20; 8. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 12.9/19; 10. The Apprentice, NBC, 12.5/18.

TV REVIEWS: KINGDOM HOSPITAL

Newspaper TV critics are expecting tonight's Stephen King miniseries Kingdom Hospital to draw big ratings for ABC, even while they are deriding the 15-hour drama. (It begins with a two-hour episode tonight, switches to an hour-long format next week, then ends with a two-hour finale for the 13th episode.) Robert Bianco in USA Today writes: "Kingdom does have a few frightening moments, but they don't compensate for the lackluster performances, the absence of character development, humor or pacing, or the wild fluctuations in tone." Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe finds the series to be about "as scary as a child's jack-in-the-box." Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times concludes: "Hard-core Stephen King fans may well find enough thrills to hold their attention over 13 weeks. For the rest the uneasy ground of Kingdom Hospital is easily left untouched."

WILL THE DONALD TRUMP FRIENDS?

Apparently abandoning all hope of finding a new sitcom to replace Friends, NBC announced Tuesday that it plans to focus its attention on developing Donald Trump's The Apprentice as its big audience-grabber on Thursdays. Speaking to reporters during a conference call, NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker remarked that The Apprentice represents "a huge game-changer for us." He added: ""I feel a lot better sitting here today than I did three months ago facing the prospect of losing Friends and Frasier," Zucker said. "There's no question that the strength of The Apprentice has changed that equation." However, in a separate telephone conference, CBS chief Les Moonves predicted that "without Friends, they're going to be at a loss."

WILL CBS LOVE A SMALLER PACKAGE OF RAYMOND?

Reports circulated on numerous Internet sites Tuesday, including TV Guide Online, that CBS was close to signing a deal to bring Everybody Loves Raymond back for a final season next year. Speaking to reporters during a telephone conference, CBS chief Les Moonves indicated that he's "very guardedly optimistic" that a deal will be concluded. "We're talking, which is good," Moonves said. "It's better than not talking." USA Today predicted that if the show does return next season, it will be with fewer episodes, following the example of Friends this season. "We are in the process of right now deliberating whether we should continue or not," the show's creator and producer, Phil Rosenthal, told the newspaper. He said that a series finale has already been written but that it could be postponed until next year if necessary.

JANET MAY RETURN TO TV ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Janet Jackson is "penciled in" for an Arpil 10th appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live, MSNBC.com gossip columnist Jeannette Walls reported today (Wednesday), citing an unnamed insider. Jackson will reportedly host the show and participate in a sketch spoofing the uproar over her Super Bowl breast-baring. The aim, the source said, is to encourage "everyone to chill about this whole thing." NBC said only that Jackson's appearance is "not confirmed at this time." Meanwhile, Walter Cronkite, once regarded as "the most trusted man in America" has spoken out on the Jackson incident. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Cronkite remarked: "I was terribly disappointed. (Pause.) I was really disappointed because I was out making popcorn. I spent a lot of time in the next couple days hoping to see a replay. And then in the replays I didn't see anything at all of interest."

YANKS AND RED SOX TO OPEN BASEBALL'S TV SEASON EARLY

To exploit the current fierce rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, Fox Sports has decided to air the first meeting of the season between the two clubs on April 16 from Fenway Park, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday). The game had originally been scheduled to air only in New York and Boston. Last year's meeting of the two teams during the American League championship playoffs produced a ratings' home run for the network. The ratings potential this time around is enhanced by the Yankees' $250-million acquisition of MVP Alex Rodriguez. "We started thinking about this at some point after the Yankees closed the deal with A-Rod," Fox Sports President Ed Goren told the Times, adding: "Opening day is exciting every year, and this is sort of a relaunch of the season in the middle of April. This is going to be an event."

D-DAY FOR EISNER?
Following a shareholders meeting in Philadelphia today (Wednesday), the Walt Disney Co. board of directors may vote to split the chairman and chief executive positions, currently both held by Michael Eisner, leaving Eisner as chairman and appointing board member George Mitchell CEO, according to published reports. Mitchell, who served as U.S. senator from Maine from 1980-1994, currently serves as Disney's presiding director. Today's Los Angeles Times reported that results of a shareholders' vote on Eisner's reelection are not expected to be announced until late today. His opponents are hoping that at least 30 percent of the shareholders present will withhold their votes from him. But they have also indicated that they will be satisfied with nothing less than Eisner's ouster from the company. The Times quoted Roy Disney, who is leading the campaign against Eisner, as saying: "We need to find him a new job in a galaxy far, far away."

AND NOW, THE PIRATED DVD BOX

Demonstrating the difficulty of keeping anything under wraps in Hollywood, box art work for the upcoming DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy began circulating on the Internet this week. However, one website, digitalbits.com, claimed Tuesday that the artwork is merely "work in progress." Three different sets of packaging art work are being shown, all of them the apparent product of Santa Monica-based Neuron Syndicate. Citing sources "in the know," the website observed: "These are apparently very early concepts -- stuff that we weren't meant to see -- and the final packaging is likely to be quite different."

WERE STARSKY AND HUTCH GAY?

The creator of the Starsky and Hutch TV series has indicated that he was bemused by numerous scenes in the upcoming Starsky and Hutch feature film that the two characters are gay. William Blinn, who also has a producer's credit on the movie, which stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and opens on Friday, told today's (Wednesday) New York Post that he didn't understand the gay references in the script at first. "The way that read on paper, it was really bizarre," Blinn said, "[The writers] seemed to be implying this gay thing had been there" in the TV series. While Blinn denied that there were ever such implications, Henry Jenkins, a professor of pop culture at MIT, told the Post: "I think you can see the writers were in on the joke -- they were playing a wink-wink game with the audience." The Post said that the TV scenes generated numerous homoerotic stories about the duo that have been posted on nearly a dozen Internet sites.

A NEW INVASION FOR THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasións Barbares), which won the Oscar Sunday night as the best foreign-language movie of the year, has thus far failed to attract moviegoers, earning only a tepid $1.2 million in North America and $22 million worldwide since its release. (The Canadian movie swept the top awards at France's César Awards, won the best actress and best screenplay awards at Cannes and received the best foreign-language film award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association.) "I think it was a problem that it was released before Christmas in both the U.S. and English Canada, just when all the big pictures came out," Producer Denise Robert told today's (Wednesday) Toronto Star. The film was expanded to 56 screens in the U.S. early this month and will add 19 more on Friday. Canada will be moving the film into 82 theaters.

CORRECTION:
In 1948, the late Canadian exhibitor Nat Taylor opened the world's first multiplex in Ottawa (not Toronto, as indicated here on Tuesday).