CBS BACK ON TOP -- DESPITE NBC'S FRASIER FINALE
CBS regained the ratings crown last week after NBC had nabbed it for the past couple of weeks with the season finale of The Apprentice and the series finale of Friends. NBC also drew big ratings last week for the series finale of Frasier, but it was not enough to offset the strong numbers pulled for some of CBS's top dramas including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,CSI: Miami, and comedies including Everybody Loves Raymond and 2 1/2 Men. Fox, meanwhile, continued to show strength with American Idol. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. Frasier Finale, NBC, 16.3/25; 2. E.R., NBC, 15.7/25; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.2/22; 4. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 13.7/23; 4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 13.7/21; 6. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.5/22; 7. Frasier Clipshow, NBC, 11.8/20; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 11.7/19; 9. Survivor: All-Stars, CBS, 11.6/19; 10. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 110./17.

ABC TO FORSAKE SITCOMS, RELY ON DRAMA

ABC, which has experienced virtually no success in launching new sitcoms for several years, is planning to lean heavily on reality shows and dramas during the 2004-2005 season, it indicated Tuesday while unveiling its proposed lineup. The network said that it will introduce seven new dramas, two comedies and two "unscripted" shows next fall. Acknowledging that ABC has been unable to come up with a hit dramatic series in years, as well (its last dramatic hit was The Practice, which launched in 1997) Steve McPherson, the network's new president for primetime entertainment, said that he believes the seven freshman shows could become "a strong asset." However, today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times quoted several advertisers as saying that network appears to be relying too heavily on dramas. But media analyst Hal Vogel of Vogel Capital Management said that he considered the approach reasonable given the fact that comedy shows appear to have become "really tapped out."

VARGAS REPLACING WALTERS ON 20/20

ABC also announced several changes in its news programming, the sole standout in its current lineup. Elizabeth Vargas will replace the semi-retiring Barbara Walters as co-host of 20/20. British celebrity interviewer Martin Bashir, best known for his controversial interview with Michael Jackson last year, will become a regular correspondent for the magazine show. And Thursday night's Primetime show, featuring Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, will return to live broadcasting and at the same time return to the name Primetime Live. The network previously announced that it would also begin airing a weekend edition of Good Morning America. It said that Bill Weir a onetime sports reporter for the network's owned station in Los Angeles, would become co-host of the weekend show. A female cohost has not yet been selected.

PVR'S MAKING A STRONG IMPACT ON VIEWING, SURVEY SAYS

In a new survey assessing the impact of personal video recorders (PVRs or DVRs) like TiVo, 72 percent of respondents said that they were "extremely satisfied" with their TV viewing experience after acquiring the recorders, while 7 percent said they were extremely satisfied before they acquired them. As reported by Video Store magazine, the results crossed all demographic groups. Steve Hoffenberg, director of electronic media research for Lyra Research, which conducted the survey, commented: "Based on the results of this survey, we consider the DVR to be a rare, genuine breakthrough product that will significantly impact people's lives. However, given the frequent use of DVRs for fast-forwarding past commercials, the TV advertising industry needs a breakthrough of equal magnitude."

NBC RETURNING TO SPORTS -- TO AIR NHL

Grabbing the puck away from ABC, NBC reportedly has reached a deal with the National Hockey League to carry six or seven regular-season games on Saturdays next season and to broadcast the league's playoff games. The two-year deal will bring hockey back to NBC during a regular season for the first time in 29 years. Citing unrealistically high costs, NBC has gradually dropped out of the bidding for all of the four major sports. "It's a big win for NBC, which puts the network back on the map as far as the major sports," Sean Badding, a media analyst with market researcher Carmel Group in Monterey, CA, told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. "The NHL isn't the top ticket, but it's up there after football, baseball and basketball." Today's Wall Street Journal reported that the NHL will receive no rights fee but instead will receive a cut from NBC's advertising revenue. Meanwhile, NBC also announced that it would continue to broadcast Arena Football through 2006. The network observed that at the beginning of the season Arena Football scored better ratings than the NHL when the two sports went head-too-head.

BASKETBALL'S BARKLEY MAY BECOME COLOR MAN FOR FOOTBALL

A senior ABC Sports executive has acknowledged that he has had talks with former basketball star Charles Barkley about joining the announcing team on Monday Night Football. Mike Pearl told Bloomberg News that he had engaged in "casual chatter" with Barkley, who is renowned for his witty remarks on TNT's Inside the NBA, about providing color for the games.

FOUR JOURNALISTS ALLEGE BEATINGS BY ARMY IN IRAQ

Three Iraqi journalists working for Reuters and one working for NBC have revealed publicly that they were arrested, beaten, and otherwise abused by U.S. forces last January. The journalists said that while they reported their mistreatment to their employers, they did not go public with their complaints because of the "degrading" nature of their abuse. Reuters, which asked for an investigation of the matter, said that it had received a letter on Monday, dated March 5, from Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez denying that the Reuters men had been tortured or abused. Reuters expressed indignation that the men were never interviewed during the course of the military inquiry. NBC said that, despite several requests for an investigation into the treatment of its stringer, "we have yet to receive the results."

DISNEY AND WEINSTEINS STILL FIGHTING, SAYS ATTORNEY
High-profile entertainment attorney Bert Fields, who is representing Miramax chief Harvey and Bob Einstein in their contract renewal talks with the Walt Disney Co., has denied recent reports that the talks have reached an impasse and that the two brothers are in talks to form a new company with an investors group that includes Comcast chief Brian Roberts. "I would not characterize them [the talks] as near a breakdown, although a breakdown is always a possibility," Fields told Reuters. "You are talking about one organization and two individuals who are not afraid of a fight."

SONY'S STRINGER NEGOTIATING TO BUY CBS

Sony Vice-Chairman Howard Stringer has appeared to confirm reports that the company has secured an exclusive 20-day period to examine MGM's books and otherwise perform due diligent before making a formal bid for the studio. Stringer said at the company's annual strategy meeting in Tokyo Wednesday that Sony Films is "preparing an exclusive analysis" of the contemplated purchase.

SAG PRESIDENT ASKS MEMBERSHIP FOR STRONG WIL.

Screen Actors Guild President Melissa Gilbert has asked the guild's membership to approve a proposed increase in membership initiation fees and regular dues. "We have put our financial house in order. Now it's time to invest in our future," Gilbert said in an email message to members on Tuesday. Besides using the funds to help build a war chest in case of a strike, Gilbert said that they would also be used to create an online casting site "that will provide you direct access to the people that hire SAG members."

GODARD CHIDES MOORE

Legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard became one of the few persons in attendance at the Cannes film festival who had negative things to say about Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 film (although he admitted that he had not seen it). Godard, who described Moore as "halfway intelligent," told reporters that films like Fahrenheit "help Bush more than harm him ... in a very vicious way that [directors like Moore] are not conscious of." Bush, he said, "is less stupid than [Moore] thinks." Godard is visiting Cannes to support his latest film, Our Music, which is being screened outside of the competition. Like Moore's film, Our Music explores the conscience of nations in conflict. At one point in his news conference, he invited Olivier Derousseau, a leader of the part-time actors and technicians who have been staging a demonstration at the festival to protest cuts in unemployment benefits, to say a few words to the reporters.

HANKS: MEET THE PRESS

Major film festivals like Cannes often attract hundreds of "journalists," whose ties to the profession are tenuous at best and sometimes merely include writing fan items in local publications. During a news conference for Tom Hanks in Cannes on Tuesday, one Chinese writer displayed a poster for the 1989 movie Turner & Hooch, in which the actor starred, and asked him to autograph it. "I have no recollection of that film," Hanks quipped. "Was it a comedy?" the reporter asked, trying to help. "I think that's still being debated in cinemas throughout the world," Hanks replied. Later, after an Australian reporter asked him a question, Hanks remarked, "I'm sorry. I don't speak Australian." He is in Cannes to promote his latest film, The Ladykillers, which is in competition for the Palme d'Or prize. When one reporter asked whether he had seen the original version, which starred Alec Guinness, he replied that he had deliberately avoided it, "so I could hide behind an aura of ignorance and obliviousness." Hanks concluded: ""I'm just having fun here. Not only am I having fun but somebody else is paying for it. That's the key. I have a very lovely hotel room and they provide me with a boat every morning and I don't have to pay a dime, so, hey man, I'm on a bus man's holiday."