OPRAH IS THE REAL DEAL IN PRIMETIMEABC got off to a solid start Monday night with Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball, which came in first in the 8:00 p.m. hour with a 9.9 rating and a 15 share, beating the usual winner of the time slot, NBC's Deal or No Deal, which placed second with an 8.5/13. However, ABC quickly sank with a two-hour series finale of Alias, which averaged a lowly 5.1/8. CBS again won the night thanks in great part to the indomitable CSI: Miami, which drew the night's nighest ratings at 10:00 p.m. with a 13.6/21.


CBS is getting out of the theme-park business, selling its six parks for $1.245 billion to Cedar Fair LP, best known for its Knott's Berry Farm park in Southern California and its Cedar Point park in Ohio. CBS's Paramount Parks includes Kings Dominion in Virginia and Great America in Santa Clara, CA. The sale provides an infusion of cash to the company which, like most other media conglomerates, has been struggling to boost its stock price. Theme parks are notoriously expensive to operate, since to attract additional visitors they must continually add new and ever-more-expensive rides. "Each ride costs $8 million to $12 million," CBS Chief Financial Officer Fredric G. Reynolds told today's (Tuesday) Washington Post. "We don't spend that in five years at a TV station."


In an eyebrow-raising announcement, NBC said Monday that it has established a new foreign bureau in Beirut, Lebanon and has installed Richard Engel as its bureau chief there. Engel has been one of the network's principal correspondents in its Iraq war coverage. The announcement came as most network news divisions were reducing their overseas staffs and closing up bureaus. In a message to staff, NBC News President Steve Capus said Monday, "Opening an office is not enough and we intend to follow through with a commitment to cover this region aggressively, fairly and with open eyes. It's a fascinating part of the world, and the news that comes out of there will dominate the headlines for most of our lifetimes." Capus's announcement was made on the same day that former ABC Nightlineanchor Ted Koppel told Broadcasting & Cablemagazine that the current attitude of the networks about expanding overseas coverage is, "Never mind. It's too expensive, and would anything that anyone's hatching overseas have any kind of impact on us?"


American Idolis expected to score the highest ratings of any regularly scheduled show of the season tonight (Tuesday) and Wednesday night with the performances tonight of finalists Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks and the results announcement on Wednesday. In what may well be considered an appropriately named movie that will compete with tonight's program, ABC is airing Stephen King's Desperation over the entire three hours of primetime.


Two prominent gay groups in the U.S. have praised the handling of the killing of gay mobster Vito Spatafore, played by Joe Gannascoli, on Sunday night's The Sopranos. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) New York Daily News, Damon Romine, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD), remarked, "This was a story that laid bare the ugliness of prejudice and bigotry of so many characters on the show." The episode, said Romine, demonstrated how cable -- in this case, HBO -- presents "multidimensional" gay characters, unlike the broadcast network. Likewise, Matt Farber, president of Wilderness Media and founder of the gay cable channel MTV Logo, told the newspaper, "In many facets of America today, people are still not accepted for who they naturally are. Being killed for it, obviously, is an extreme -- though a few people have been."


Deadwoodcreator David Milch is hoping to raise enough money to continue his critically praised HBO western. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirer,Milch said, "I'm doing what I can. ... Any financial participation could take the pressure off. HBO hasn't said no. ... If I were a gambling guy, which I am, I'd say odds are less than even money." Milch acknowledged that the show never became "the next big thing" for HBO as it had hoped. "They need a number of eyes we weren't providing them" in order to justify a budget of some $5 million per episode, he noted. HOLLYWOOD LAWYERS MAY NEED LAWYERSSome of Hollywood's leading attorneys are likely to find themselves under indictment for routinely hiring private detective Anthony Pellicano to use illegal means to dig up information that would help their clients' cases, the New York Timesreported today (Tuesday). George S. Cardona, the acting United States attorney for the Pellicano case, told the newspaper: "To the extent that people in various positions have felt that they were immune from prosecution ... hopefully, the case will send to those people the message that they're not immune, and if their conduct is uncovered, they will be prosecuted just like anybody else." Legal experts interviewed by the Timesindicated that the attorneys who hired Pellicano are not likely to effectively make the case that they did not know that he was engaging in illegal wiretapping. John C. Coffee Jr., a Columbia Law School expert on white-collar prosecutions, told the newspaper, "If the lawyer has himself hired Pellicano repeatedly, and if Pellicano, essentially, usually engages in wiretapping, I think the government is going to be able to prove something." He added: "When lawyers are receiving wiretap transcripts, which they have no colorable basis for believing were lawful, it's no different than if lawyers were holding onto 10 bags of cocaine for their clients while they were in jail."


Sony's The Da Vinci Code actually earned $8 million more at the overseas box office than the studio had estimated Sunday, bringing its total overseas gross to $154.7 million, a record for a three-day opening. The film did $17.1 million in business in the U.K. alone. Germany, which has seen a huge drop in movie attendance during the past year, was the film's second-biggest market with $13.3 million in tickets sold. The U.S. total came to $77.1 million. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1.The Da Vinci Code, Sony, $77,073,388, (New); 2. Over the Hedge,DreamWorks, $38,457,003, (New); 3. Mission: Impossible III, Paramount, $11,349,570, 3 Wks. ($103,535,579); 4. Poseidon, Warner Bros., $9,224,340, 2 Wks. ($36,801,887); 5. RV, Sony, $5,003,489, 4 Wks. ($50,320,183); 6. See No Evil, Lionsgate, $4,581,233, (New); 7. Just My Luck, 20th Century Fox, $3,384,371, 2 Wks. ($10,467,641); 8. An American Haunting, Freestyle Releasing, $1,478,785, 3 Wks. ($13,438,985); 9. United 93, Universal, $1,400,200, 4 Wks. ($28,256,480); 10. Akeelah and the Bee, Lionsgate, $1,006,653, 4 Wks. ($15,728,889).


The Video Software Dealers Assn., which started out as an organization of video rental dealers in 1982, is changing its name to the Entertainment Merchants Assn. The name change comes at the same time the group is merging with the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assn. In a statement, the organization's chairman, Bob Geistman, remarked that as a result of the merger, "we will have a trade association that is more efficient, more effective, and more influential than" the previous individual associations.


Pedro Almodóvar's Volver,starring Penélope Cruz, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (which screens at the Cannes film festival tonight, Tuesday),have emerged as the critics' favorites to win the Palme d'Or on Sunday. The two films, however, have not captured the kind of enthusiasm that earlier winners have ignited prior to the awards ceremony. Many critics are reserving their opinion until Thursday's screening of the much-anticipated Marie Antoinettefrom director Sophia Coppola.


Despite reports that Chinese state officials were upset over not-quite eye-appealing scenes of Shanghai streets in Mission: Impossible III,Chinese censors have given the green light to allow the movie to be shown in the country, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The wire service quoted Yuan Wenqiang, vice president of the state-owned China Film Group, as saying that while the film "passed censorship," he was unable to disclose which, if any, scenes the censors had removed from the movie.