FOX DRAWS FANTASIAC RATINGS FOR IDOL
Wednesday night's American Idol on Fox, featuring the crowning of Fantasia Barrino as this year's winner, averaged a 16.0 rating and a 26 share Wednesday night, peaking in the second hour with an 18.0/26, according to overnight Nielsen figures. The other networks were left far behind. CBS was second with a 7.2/12, followed by NBC with a 6.5/10 and ABC with a 5.8/9.

FOX "CLOSER TO NO. 1" THAN EVER

Fantasia Barrino was not the only big winner on American Idol Wednesday night. The two-hour finale also ensured that Fox would place second in the key 18-49-year-old demographic bracket for the season -- its highest finish ever -- and only a fraction of a rating point away from NBC, the perennial winner in that category. Fox anticipated that if would finish the season with an average 4.1 rating and an 11 share in the demo, versus an expected 4.3/12 for NBC. Speaking to reporters during a conference call on Wednesday, Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman remarked, "We are closer to No. 1 than at any other time in the history of our network. ... It's an extraordinary moment in our history."

YOUNG MALES RETURN TO THE TUBE

The young male audience who seemed to have staged a massive exodus from primetime network viewing in the fall appears to have returned, according to Nielsen data cited today (Thursday) by the Wall Street Journal. According to the newspaper, during the just-concluded May sweeps, the number of men aged 18-34 who tuned into primetime programming was about the same as the number who tuned in during the same period last year. "That's a huge reversal," NBC Universal TV Group President Jeff Zucker told the Journal. Nielsen attributed the turnabout to programming changes, noting that hit shows like NBC's The Apprentice and Fox's American Idol, which were particularly attractive to young men, were not airing when the initial audience surveys were conducted. Zucker disputed the claim, however. "I don't think [young men] ever went anywhere," he told the newspaper. "It was a clear measurement issue."

E! CHANNEL CHIEF FACING OUSTER, SAYS REPORT

E! Channel chief Mindy Herman is expected to be handed her walking papers -- plus a $20-million severance package -- as early as today (Thursday) following complaints by rank-and-file employees and executives, the Los Angeles Times reported today, citing well-placed sources. The newspaper said that her "potential undoing" was instigated by two anonymous letters sent to E! Channel's co-owners, Comcast Corp. and the Walt Disney Co., that accused Herman of such behavior as using company funds to throw two lavish baby showers for herself (the money was reportedly later repaid after Herman learned about the letter) and using an E! show, Guess Who's Coming to Decorate, to secure an expensive remodeling at her Malibu home. The Times article indicates that Herman's dismissal came despite enormous gains by the channel during her tenure.

SITCOMS ARE IN "A CHALLENGED STATE" SAYS NBC EXEC

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly has acknowledged that the traditional television sitcom is in "a challenged state." The network, which will air only two sitcoms next season -- Scrubs and Will & Grace -- has few comedy shows even in development, and Reilly concedes that there are few time slots that can be given up to showcase them. "There's no need to offer viable comedies in bad time slots that will guarantee failure," he told the Hartford Courant. "Ironically, the best way to put comedy on is to keep it off in the short term."

BRIAN ROBERTS TAKES OVER AS CHAIRMAN OF COMCAST

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will also become chairman of the country's largest cable company following the announcement Wednesday that former AT&T head Michael Armstrong will leave that position a year before the end of his contract. Reports said that Armstrong's position had become virtually ceremonial following Comcast's takeover of AT&T Broadband last year. The two men, speaking to investors Wednesday, complimented one another for engineering a seamless consolidation of the two cable companies. Comcast's effort earlier this year to acquire the Walt Disney Co. received little attention at the meeting. "On Disney, we've moved on," Roberts said, adding: "There's been a lot written suggesting that we need to make a content deal as the cable industry is not in great shape. There's nothing further from the truth."

HEWITT CHIDES NETWORKS FOR PROMOTING SHOWS ON NEWSCASTS

60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt said Wednesday that he finds it "shocking" that the networks are using news and magazine programs "to promote reality television, quiz shows." Appearing on PBS's NewsHour, Hewitt, who is stepping down as producer of the long-running CBS series after this season, observed that he is not likely to influence the network's programming policies. "It's their network. If that's what they want, I'm in no position to do anything about it, except to make sure that they don't use 60 Minutes for that," he said.

PALTROW TO PLAY DIETRICH
Gwyneth Paltrow has agreed to produce and star in a DreamWorks feature based on the life of legendary film icon Marlene Dietrich, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). According to the trade publication, Dietrich's daughter and grandson, Maria Riva and Peter Riva have approved Paltrow's involvement, although Paltrow's low-key public and screen persona would appear to clash with the flamboyant glamour that was Dietrich's trademark. Dietrich was also perhaps the most outspoken anti-Nazi exile among Hollywood's German community in the 1930s and '40s and was denounced as a traitor in her country when she traveled to the front to entertain U.S. troops during World War II. (In 1998 a new square in Berlin was named after her. The Merlene Dietrich Platz is the site of the annual Berlin Film Festival, which Paltrow attended in February.)

BANNED IRANIAN FILM TO BE SHOWN IN U.S.

A Los Angeles judge on Tuesday dismissed an effort by a film distributor in Iran to prevent U.S. independent distributor Atlantis Enterprises from releasing a film that was banned in Iran. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Jamavs rejected claims by Iranian distributor Kamal Mosafaye Tabrizi that any distribution deal for director Manuchehr Mohammadi's The Lizard (Marmoulak) required approval by Iranian authorities. The film, which won the best film award at Tehran's international film festival in February, earned about $1 million in its first month in Iran before being yanked after Iranian clerics objected to the satirical manner in which the religious leaders were depicted. The film describes a thief who escapes from prison disguised as a mullah.

BUYERS WALK AWAY FROM DEAL WITH DISNEY FOR STORES

The Walt Disney Company's attempt to find a buyer for its European retail stores has collapsed after potential buyers rejected Disney's conditions for a sale, including restrictions on the types of products that could be sold, the London Times reported today (Wednesday). The newspaper suggested that Disney negotiators were indecisive when rival bidders raised questions about the company's proposed controls and said that they were reluctant to depend entirely on Disney's ability to create appealing merchandise tied to its movie fare. A source close to the talks told the Times: "The whole process has been a complete nightmare and in the end they couldn't decide what they wanted to do."

SUPER SIZE ME DISTRIBS CAN'T BUY TIME ON MTV

Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn films have accused MTV of refusing to air commercials for Super Size Me, the award-winning documentary which landed in the top-ten box-office attractions last weekend, something rare for a documentary. The two companies said in a statement that they were told that the ads were "disparaging to fast-food restaurants," which are big advertisers on the youth-oriented cable outlet. MTV disputed the charge, saying that the distributors balked at a deal.

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTORS OF MOORE FILM SAY THEY'VE BEEN THREATENED

The Australian film distribution company that secured rights to release Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has received threatening emails, mainly from the U.S., in the wake of the deal, the Melbourne newspaper The Age reported today (Thursday). A spokeswoman for Hopscotch Films told the newspaper that the emails warned that if the company went ahead with its planned release of the movie, it would do so "at our own peril." Hopscotch has asked Internet providers to try to track down the threatening writers. Meanwhile, the director of the Melbourne International Film Festival announced today that the movie will be given its Australian premiere at the festival on July 22. He expressed hope that Fahrenheit will be able to "sustain the inevitable scrutiny" of its content between now and then.

Cinemark Movie Club