IDOL'S A GIANTAccording to Nielsen Research, 42.94 million viewers tuned in Wednesday night to see 29-year-old, gray-haired Taylor Hicks of Birmingham, AL crowned the new American Idol,beating out 22-year-old Katharine McPhee of Los Angeles. Ryan Seacrest, host of the Fox talent contest, shouted out that more than 63 million votes were cast -- "more than any president in the history of our country has received." (President Bush received 49 million votes in the last election; 104 million were cast.) Clearly, however, since the vote for Hicks alone totaled far more than the number of people who watched the show, many people must have voted numerous times. Still, despite the fact that this year's contest lacked much of the weekly drama of previous shows, ratings were up significantly over last year. In Hicks's home territory of Alabama, recent Idolbroadcasts have drawn bigger ratings than the Super Bowl. They have also produced a bonanza for local newscasts on Fox stations in the state whose ratings have reportedly risen 63 percent this season. Nationally, Wednesday night's finale averaged a 21.5 rating and a 32 share between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. according to Nielsen overnights. That compares with a 19.0/27 for the season finale of Idollast year. Among adults 18-49, the show grew to a 13.8/35 from last year's 12.5/31.


Despite American Idols enormous success Wednesday night, loyal fans of ABC's Loststill turned out in big numbers, as the season finale of the ABC hit drew 17.57 million viewers and an overall 11.4 rating and a 17 share. Nevertheless, the figure was down from last year's Lostfinale, which scored a 13.6/20. Meanwhile, the summer season officially begins tonight (Thursday), with CBS and NBC airing a full slate of repeats, while ABC runs the movie Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, followed by Primetime Live and Fox presents the season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance.


The audience flood to Fox TV for this week's season finale of American Idol not only pulled viewers away from traditional network programming but also away from cable in general and cable news channels in particular. TVNewser noted that the Fox show cannibalized Fox News Channel's ratings, which were down some 20 percent from the previous day and the April average. CNN's ratings for Paula Zahn's news show were also down about 20 percent. "For some reason," TVNewser observed, ratings for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC "didn't move an inch."


Contestants on NBC's summer series Last Comic Standingwill get a second chance on the Internet after they are eliminated on the television show, according to MediaPost's MediaDailyNews. The contestants will compete in subsequent rounds on, with viewers casting votes online. NBC also plans to test an interactive feature in the network broadcast as well, thanks to a deal with Time Warner Cable to introduce the feature in ten markets.


Former Detroit TV anchor Emery King, who was fired by WDIV-TV more than a year ago, has told a charity luncheon in the city that his firing was racially motivated. As reported by the Detroit News,King, a 19-year veteran reporter and anchor for the station, told the audience that management had accused him of being "arrogant" -- a word he equated with "uppity" and suggested that a white reporter who had had a similar track record at the station would have been called "accomplished." He described the hiring of a young, white, female reporter who had been hired to do an airborne story about renovations to a safe house that had once been part of the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad. She later called the newsroom, remarking, "We found the house, and we found some railroad tracks, but I can't find the place where the tracks went underground."


A planned ABC sitcom produced by Elton John and his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, about a gay rock star will apparently never see the light of a TV tube. According to Fox News, the show, titled Him & Us,which was to have starred Anthony Head as Max Flash and Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as his manager Samantha, was not picked up despite initial favorable reaction to the pilot. In an interview with The Stagemagazine, Cattrall remarked, "It would have been a great series. Perhaps the subject matter might have been too much for some people."ANIMATED MOVIES FOR ADULTS?Director Richard Linklater has suggested that the animation process called rotoscoping, in which artists trace over live-action scenes frame by frame, then add subtle alterations, may provide a low-cost method to bring complicated, adult-oriented science-fiction tales to the screen. Linklater, whose rotoscoped A Scanner Darklyis screening out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival (his Fast Food Nation is also screening in competition, making him the only director ever to have two films at the festival simultaneously), told a news conference that while the film was shot in just 23 days, the artists took more than a year and a half to complete it. Nevertheless, its total budget came to just $20 million, despite the lengthy post-production and the fact that its cast includes Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. At a news conference, Reeves and Downey indicated that they agreed to appear in the film because they were fascinated by the script, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, and because they were intrigued by the rotoscoping process. Reeves commented that it allowed him to work "without limitations," while Downey noted that he could jot down his dialogue on Post-It notes and stick them to objects on the set, knowing that they could be removed by the artists later. The film is due to be released in a handful of theaters on July 7. But when Linklater remarked, "I had no delusions about it being a mainstream film," Reeves interjected, "I did."


Director Sofia Coppola had originally hoped to cast legendary French movie star Alain Delon to portray Louis XV in Marie Antoinette, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival this week. "I had a meeting with him and he told me he didn't want to be in the movie," Coppola told the newspaper Metro. "He thought it was not a good idea for an American to make a movie about a French story. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and I was not going to let him stop me from making the movie." Ironically, the film appears to have found greater acceptance among the French public than among international film critics and reporters gathered at the festival. Daily Varietyreported today (Thursday) that the film drew 5,569 admissions at a 2:00 p.m. screening on 44 screens in and around Paris on Wednesday and estimated that it would eventually draw 2 million ticket buyers in the country. The film is set to debut in the U.S. in October.


Paul Newman says that he wants to make one last movie, and he wants to make it with Robert Redford. The 81-year-old Newman told reporters Wednesday at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC, where he is attending Friday's premiere of Disney-Pixar's Cars, "Redford and I are working on something, but it's not by any means a slam dunk. ... We're working on a script very hard." He emphasized that it was not going to be a sequel to the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid since the characters that he and Redford played die at the end. Asked by one reporter which of his films he would recommend to a kid who wasn't acquainted with his work, he replied, "The Silver Chalice," his 1954 debut. "Then he'd know what bad really was."


Despite earlier reports that Lucasfilm would be re-releasing the original unedited theatrical versions of the first three Star Warsmovies on DVD, it now turns out that they will be copied from the laserdiscs of the films released in the mid'90s, formatted for the conventional TV screen and not wide-screen "letterbox" versions. The revelation has provoked anger among Star Warsfans, expressed on such Internet sites as, and quoted Lucasfilm spokesman John Singh as saying. "We hoped that by releasing the original movies as a bonus disc, it would be a way to give the fans something that is fun. We certainly didn't want to be become a source of frustration for fans."


Sri Lanka is the latest country to cross swords with Sony Films over The Da Vinci Code. According to the state-run Colombo Daily News, President Mahinda Rajapakse has banned the film following an appeal by the Catholic Bishops Conference. While calls for the film to be banned in such Asian countries as the Philippines, Thailand and India have arisen in recent weeks, Sri Lanka appears to be the first to issue an order halting the screening of the film. The bishops had charged that The Da Vinci Code was the product of a "totally perverted mind and ... adversely affects the most sacred beliefs of our people."