RATINGS DIP FOR IDOL FINALE The two remaining contestants on Fox's American Idoldelivered their final performances Tuesday night, but ratings for the show dipped significantly below those for the showdown between finalists Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken last year. The 14.5 rating and 24 share for Tuesday night's contest, which pitted Fantasia Barrino against Diana DeGarmo, was well below the 20.3/37 recorded for the previous final contest. (The winner will be announced tonight.) Nevertheless, the show gave Fox a win for the night as it averaged an 11.3/18, well above second-place CBS's 7.4/12. ABC placed third with a 6.2/10, while NBC trailed with a 5.2/8.


With NBC all out of series finales, CBS returned to the top of the Nielsen ratings list last week with a commanding 8.0 average and a 14 share. Fox, thanks to the penultimate airings of American Idol, placed second in the overall ratings with a 6.4/11 (and first among the key 18-49-year-old group). NBC was third with a 6.3/11. ABC trailed with a 5.5/9. The biggest surprise of the week was the second-place performance of CBS's CSI: Miami,which recorded its highest numbers since its premiere two years ago. The episode introduced the stars of next season's CSI: New York. (The 2003-04 season officially ends tonight. Ratings analysts predicted that CBS will score its biggest victory over its competitors in 14 years.) The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.2/26; 2. CSI: Miami, CBS, 14.7/24; 3.American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.3/23; 4.American Idol(Wednesday), Fox, 13.3/20; 5. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.9/22; 6. Law and Order, NBC, 12.8/20; 7. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 12.2/20; 8. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 10.5/16; 9. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 9.9/15; 10. Law & Order: SVU (Tuesday), NBC, 9.8/15.


Viacom is expected to leverage the popularity of its other broadcasting units, including CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, and Comedy Central, to procure cable carriage of its gay network, LOGO, due to be launched on Feb. 17. The newly announced network reportedly has already locked in deals with Time Warner Cable in several of the country's top markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco. The Philadelphia Inquirerreported that the network is also in talks with Comcast, the country's leading cable company, but that no deal has yet been signed. A Comcast spokesperson, confirming the talks, added that it "applauds" the new network, the Inquirerreported. At a news conference on Tuesday, MTV Networks Chairman Tom Freston, who's overseeing the new network, maintained that the network will not be offering sexually explicit fare but that it does plan to launch a separate video on demand channel that will include such material. Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, hailed the announcement, telling the Inquirer that the promise of cable has always been to serve niche audiences. "Our niche has been a conspicuous absence," she said. "How can they have a channel for golfers and not for gays and lesbians?" One reason became apparent after Tuesday's announcement, when the 43,000-member Traditional Values Coalition warned that it plans to boycott companies advertising on LOGO.


One of television's most successful sitcom production companies, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, is exploring the possibility of putting itself up for sale or partnering with another production company. Some analysts cited broadcast television's increasing reliance on reality shows and dramas as a probable rationale for the planned move. Currently the company, whose past output has included The Cosby Show, Roseanne, and 3rd Rock From the Sun,has only two shows airing on the networks, That '70s Showon Fox and Grounded for Lifeon The WB. CWM is the only remaining independent TV production studio in Hollywood.


The Reuter News Agency on Tuesday released a transcript of interviews it conducted with three of its television journalists who were arrested with an NBC cameraman by U.S. forces in Iraq on Jan. 2 while filming the aftermath of a crash of a U.S. helicopter near Fallujah. They said that their interrogators accused them of firing at the helicopter and beat them when they denied being involved. One of the journalists recounted: "When I was knocked over they helped me up again. But if I fell down again they would come and hit me more. There was a shoe on the ground and they told me to chew and lick it. They made me suck my middle finger. They told me to stick my finger in my anus and then lick it." The journalists told of being hooded, deprived of sleep, and physically abused. Reuters released the interviews after the Pentagon said that U.S. military investigators had found no evidence to support claims that the men had been abused and pronounced the matter closed. A spokesman for the news agency said that in light of recent revelations of torture techniques employed at the Abu Ghraib prison, "it is unconscionable that they would not reopen the case." HARRY POTTER AND THE ADVANCE OF TIME Despite widespread published speculation that the young stars of the Harry Potter films will eventually be replaced by younger actors, director Alfonso Cuarón is predicting that they will stay in their roles for the entire planned series of seven films. Cuarón, who directed them in the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which opens on June 4, told the BBC Tuesday, "It would be amazing to have the whole series with the same kids. ... It would be something very special, for the ages." Cuarón pointed out that they've already begun working (with British director Mike Newell) on the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. "So far, they're holding up very good, the way that they are aging," the director remarked. Nevertheless, producer David Heyman told the New York PostTuesday, "There will come a point when one, two or all three of them will move on. I don't know when that will be -- with the fifth, sixth or seventh movies -- but it's inevitable."


Shrek 2 continued to haul in the green on Monday, just about equaling the take for its Wednesday premiere and exceeding Thursday's figures. The film grossed $11.5 million, just shy of the $11.8 million that it earned on opening day and well ahead of the $10.1 million on Thursday. Going into Tuesday, its gross stood at $140.4 million. Meanwhile, DreamWorks indicated Tuesday that it is now planning to produce two more Shreksequels, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy. Some reports indicated that Antonio Banderas, who received strong notices for his vocal characterization of Puss in Boots in the current installment, will return for the third film.


In an effort to obstruct the continued inroads of Netflix into its core video rental business, Blockbuster on Tuesday announced a monthly subscription plan called Movie Pass that will permit customers to rent an unlimited number of movies at its stores during the month and keep two or three out at a time without incurring penalties. A similar plan is offered by Netflix, which operates through the mail. Blockbuster said that it will charge $24.99 a month for customers who want to keep two movies and $29.99 for those who want to keep three. Netflix charges $21.99.


Middle-school children who watch movies showing grown-ups drinking alcoholic beverages are more likely to try them themselves, unlike kids who have little exposure to such movies, according to a study by the Dartmouth Medical School. Barbara Harrington of the Massachusetts unit of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), commented in the Boston Herald that such movies represent "a completely unregulated form of advertising." She said that the message of most films depicting alcohol use is that drinking "is all about fun and socializing. ... It shows none of the negative effects." Several other researchers disagree, maintaining that peer pressure is a far greater influence in promoting teenage drug abuse.


HBO has pulled the plug on a movie version of Sex and the City after being unable to reach an agreement with costar Kim Cattrall, according to Daily Variety. A spokeswoman for the actress told the trade publication, "She would have loved to have done the movie and made a deal to do the movie, but waited as long as possible with no script or start date and felt she had to take other offers that were presented to her after the hold period had passed. Kim would of course love to do the film and would be happy to revisit the project in the future." Nevertheless, Varietyindicated that the delay may have been caused by Cattrall herself, who had insisted on script approval and a pay check equal to that of Sarah Jessica Parker.