IDOL OVERWHELMS
Ratings remained consistently strong for the penultimate competition in Fox's American Idol. Tuesday's competition show scored a 16.3 rating and a 26 share for Fox in the 8:00 p.m. hour, representing 27.7 million viewers. (Once again, CBS's NCIS gave it quite a battle, posting a 10.4/16 for its season finale.) Wednesday's results show, during which judge Paula Abdul became teary-eyed when her apparent favorite, Elliott Yamin, was bounced from the show, also pulled overwhelming ratings, registering a 16.3/24. (ABC's Lost lost viewers as it registered a below-average 8.7/13) During Wednesday's show, host Ryan Seacrest said that more than 50 million audience votes were cast, leaving finalists Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee to battle one another next week for the championship.

FOX UNVEILS FALL LINEUP

Fox announced plans today (Thursday) to introduce five new shows next season, three dramas, one competition/reality series, and two sitcoms. The dramas, Vanished, Standoff, and Justice, will air on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays respectively. The comedies 'Til Death and Happy Hour will both air on Thursdays. Duets, the competition series, will run on Thursday and Fridays for four weeks only in September. The network also announced plans for a late-night (Saturdays only) talk show, appropriately titled Talk Show, hosted by Spike Feresten, a former writer on Seinfeld and The Late Show with David Letterman. Arrested Development, Bernie Mac, Free Ride, Kitchen Confidential and Stacked will not be returning.

PRODUCERS PROMISE NO "SELL-OUT" ON WILL & GRACE FINALE

The producers and stars of Will & Grace, which airs its final episode tonight (Thursday) have been assuring gay viewers that they do not intend to "sell out" in order to go out with a ratings success. Addressing remarks by Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, that some gay men might be offended if Eric McCormack's character forsakes a relationship with another man in order to raise a baby with Debra Messing's -- as the lead-up has suggested -- producer-writer Max Mutchnick remarked that the writers have been "very careful in the finale to not sell out any of these characters." And, in an appearance on David Letterman's show Tuesday, Messing said that the episode "addresses each one of the characters and it ends in a good way for all four of us."

YOUNGER VIEWERS DESERT FOX NEWS AND CNN

Each of the two major cable news networks have seen an extensive erosion of their younger-adult audience over the past year. According to CNN cofounder Reese Schonfeld, ratings figures indicate that viewers 25-54 are deserting "the more serious" news programs and switching to the "more tabloid" programs offered by MSNBC and Headline News. Citing figures in the March edition of Sweepsbook, Schonfeld observes that Fox was down 28 percent among adults 25-54 while CNN was down 37 percent, while MSNBC and Headline News gained 16 percent. "The worst news for CNN is that its median age is back up to 65 -- still a year younger than Fox but seven years older than last March." Schonfeld, who has criticized CNN for relying heavily on sensational trivia, commented on New York Times TV reporter Bill Carter's recent prediction that CNN plans a major shake-up within the next three to six months. "I would like to think that CNN will make fundamental changes in its basic news philosophy but I'm not sure that anyone there knows how to do that."

SCHIEFFER DEFENDS NEWS MEDIA AGAINST BIAS CHARGES

Saying that journalism can be defined as "the pursuit of truth," CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer told an audience in New York Tuesday night, "The greatest defense against charges of bias is to simply get it right. If we have done that, there is not much anyone on any side can say." Excoriating the current administration for its costly efforts to track down the source of leaks to the press, Schieffer, who received Quinnipiac University's annual Fred Friendly First Amendment Award Tuesday, said, "With each of these investigations come insinuations that those who uncover government wrongdoing, mistakes, and questionable programs are somehow unpatriotic. ... Would we be better served if more attention was focused on what was leaked rather than on tracking who did the leaking? Why does the government need a list of my phone calls? And what business does a democracy have running secret prisons anyway? If the government hasn't told us they exist, how can we ever know who is being held there? Do you think anyone would have known about what was going on at Abu Ghraib if it had been left to the government to announce it? Some would argue those revelations hurt our cause. I would argue the opposite. Bringing mistakes to the fore is a strength, not a weakness. ... What weakens our cause is when the government tries to cover up mistakes, or plant phony news stories in foreign newspapers or bribe friendly columnists to take the company line."

DIRECTV MAKES DEALS TO CARRY LOCAL HDTV BROADCASTS

DirecTV today (Thursday) announced that it had begun offering high-definition broadcasts by ABC, Fox, and NBC outlets in Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and St. Louis. CBS HDTV broadcasts in St. Louis and Phoenix will also be carried by the satellite service; however, the CBS affiliates were conspicuously absent from the agreements announced in Milwaukee and Salt Lake City. CBS has previously declared that it wants to be paid by cable companies that carry its programming.

DA VINCI CODE PREMIERES AT CANNES
France, which plays a vital part in the plot of The Da Vinci Code -- it's where the story begins, with a murder at the Louvre; it's also where Mary Magdalene flees after marrying Jesus to give birth to a daughter -- played a vital part in the promotion of the movie Wednesday night as it opened at the Cannes Film Festival, with its stars and director providing the essential flash. As the BBC observed, "Premieres are not about films, they are about the stars." And indeed, things appeared to go far better at the official screening than they did a day earlier at a press preview, when many critics laughed and jeered during several serious scenes and made no attempt to disguise their contempt for it as they left the theater. But, as Daily Variety commented in today's (Thursday) edition: "The Cannes aud[ience] is a tough crowd. ... International critics and reporters often arrive on the Croisette with appetites for the latest auteur masterpiece, not a Hollywood tentpole." Meanwhile, Reuters reported that advance ticket sales have been strong in advance of Friday's official opening of the film. The online ticket seller Fandango said The Da Vinci Code accounted for 78 percent of its sales, and MovieTickets.com said it has already sold 10 times more tickets to Code than it had for Mission Impossible III at this time two weeks ago. All the while, the relentless hype for the movie continues, with television shows and newspapers running endless features about claims made in the movie about the divinity of Christ -- or lack of it -- and religious protests being mobilized in seemingly every country where movie theaters and Christian churches coexist.

CHINESE ENTRY IN CANNES COMPETITION YANKED

Summer Palace, the only Asian film selected for the Cannes Film Festival competition, is being withdrawn after being rejected by Chinese censors. The film had reportedly been accepted by festival officials before it was submitted to the country's Film Bureau. At a news conference, Nai An, the film's producer, said that director Lou Ye was returning to Beijing in hopes of winning a reversal of the film board's decision. The film, about a student couple separated following the 1989 pro-democracy protests, could still be shown out of competition. The film bureau denied that content had anything to do with the decision, saying "it has technical problems" with light and sound. In 2000 Lou was barred from making films for two years when he entered his film Suzhou River in several film festivals without receiving state approval.

THEATERS WARNED TRAILER FOR 9/11 MOVIE MAY BE TOO INTENSE

A controversial trailer for Oliver Stone's World Trade Center will unspool for the first time preceding screenings of The Da Vinci code this weekend. Producers reportedly sent theater owners a warning that some members of their audiences might find the images upsetting. Co-producer Stacey Sher told CBS News, "They wanted the theatre owners to know that people might inquire at the box office whether or not the trailer would be shown and then it would be their decision whether they wanted to see it or not." Michael Shamberg, another producer of the film, said, "I think it's an intense recreation of what happened that day and that might be disturbing for people." The trailer has also been posted on the Internet at http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/wtc.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE DA VINCI CODE

Initial reviews in the U.S. and Canada of The Da Vinci Code appear less damning than those overseas. But all the critics appear to take pains not to offend angry Christians who appear ready to pounce on anyone giving aid and comfort to the filmmakers. And nearly all of them knock Dan Brown's phenominally successful novel on which the movie is based. A.O. Scott concludes his review in the New York Times by remarking that in the cinema such matters as the divinity of Christ and the search for the Holy Grail "are best left to Monty Python. [Indeed one British critic called it "Spamalot without the jokes."] In any case [Director Ron] Howard and [writer Akiva] Goldsman handle the supposedly provocative material in Mr. Brown's book with kid gloves, settling on an utterly safe set of conclusions about faith and its history, presented with the usual dull sententiousness. So I certainly can't support any calls for boycotting or protesting this busy, trivial, inoffensive film. Which is not to say I'm recommending you go see it." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes the movie as "an airplane read turned into a perfectly good airplane movie. The film is less interested in putting the very roots of Christianity up for grabs than it is in giving audiences an old-fashioned summer movie thrill ride. And if in doing so, it bumps into matters of individual faith, so much the better." Lou Lumenick's review in the New York Post is the most enthusiastic of any American critic's."The Da Vinci Code," he writes, "is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that's every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown's controversial bestseller." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times begins his review by remarking that Brown's novel "is utterly preposterous; Ron Howard's movie is preposterously entertaining. ... Luckily, Ron Howard is a better filmmaker than Dan Brown is a novelist." On the other hand, Jami Bernard's review in the New York Daily News reaches the opposite conclusion. "Director Ron Howard's adequate adaptation of the book everyone's talking about isn't nearly as thrilling as Dan Brown's best seller about murder and revisionist Christianity," she writes. Clearly some American reviews are as utterly contemptuous of the movie as those appearing overseas. For example, Steven Rea's in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "This seemingly interminable hash of holy huggermugger takes the thrill out of thriller, and then some."