CBS, FOX HOLD LEAD AS MAY SWEEPS BEGIN

CBS and Fox got off to strong starts in the May sweeps with CBS once again capturing the eyes of the most viewers overall, while Fox held onto its lead among the key 18-49-year-old demo for the 10th consecutive week. While only Thursday through Sunday figured in the sweeps tally, analysts were predicting that the remainder of the sweeps month would play out pretty much the way the past week did. CBS won the week with an 8.6 rating and a 14 share. Fox took second place with a 6.3/10. NBC finished third with a 5.9/10, while ABC trailed with a 5.4/9. Meanwhile, today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal observed that American Idol has increased its ratings by more than 10 percent over last season, while other reality shows, including CBS's Amazing Race and Survivor and NBC's The Apprentice have seen significant ratings erosion. The most improved show of the year, the Journal noted, is NBC's The Office, whose audience has grown nearly 50 percent over last year.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 17.1/27; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 16.7/26; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 16.6/25; 4. House, Fox, 14.8/22; 5. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 13.3/20; 5. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 13.3/21; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.4/20; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.2/20; 9. NCIS, CBS, 10.2/16; 10. Survivor: Panama, CBS, 10.1/17.

AMERICAN IDOL REMAINS STRONG ON TUESDAY

American Idol again posted overwhelming numbers on Tuesday -- a 16.2 rating and a 25 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour, serving as a strong lead-in for House, which followed with a 13.6/20.

BOOK REVEALS WHY THERE'S NO IDOL IN FALL

In his new book, Desperate Networks, New York Times TV writer Bill Carter discloses that Fox pays American Idol panelist and co-producer Simon Cowell $36 million a year and that the reason that it doesn't run Idol in the fall has little to do with its post-season baseball coverage and more to do with the fact that Cowell produces a high British reality series called the X-Factor in which he also appears. The book also reveals that in just the four months that it does air, it offers 45 hours hours of programming, while other hit shows air about 24 hours for an entire season.

NBC NEWS SHOW PULLS WELL AHEAD OF ABC

NBC Nightly News

continued to widen its lead over ABC's World News Tonight last week. Nielsen figures indicated that the NBC news program attracted 8.64 million viewers versus 7.53 million for ABC's, a difference of 1.11 million. Just a week earlier the difference had been half that number -- 550,000. Meanwhile, CBS continued to gain viewers, winding up the week with 7.04 million, just 490,000 fewer than ABC.

NO TV NEWS ON DARFUR, BUT E.R. WILL TAKE IT UP

Although the three network evening newscasts combined have devoted less than 10 minutes to the horrendous conflict in Darfur, NBC's E.R. plans to devote its entire hour to that subject on Thursday. The Associated Press today (Wednesday) described the episode, "There Are No Angels Here," as "urgent drama aimed at jolting viewers into recognition of the immense suffering taking place." The wire service quoted Kris Torgeson, a spokeswoman for the international organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), as saying "There is so little space on regular network news for coverage of underreported humanitarian stories that it's really great when a popular TV show like ER can put resources into trying to show the challenges of a situation like we're seeing in Darfur."

ABC IMPEACHES COMMANDER IN CHIEF

After witnessing approval ratings falling lower than those for the real president, ABC has pulled Commander in Chief from its Thursday night slot effective immediately and will return Primetime to the 10:00 period beginning this week. The decision marks one of the quickest crashes of a hit TV show in recent memory. The series, starring Geena Davis, had opened the season as the highest-rated new drama, only to drop following two changes of showrunners. ABC indicated that it may air the remaining three episodes of the series in June.

SPELLING BEE TO GET LIVE COVERAGE ON ABC

Get ready for the sport of spelling. After airing for 12 years on sports channel ESPN and recently getting the sports-movie-like treatment in Akeela and the Bee, ABC announced Thursday that it plans to air the final rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee live on Thursday, June 1 from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Earlier rounds will be carried by corporate sibling ESPN. Spelling bees have also become the subject of a best-selling novel, Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, and a Tony-winning Broadway musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

LOUIS RUKEYSER DEAD AT 73

Louis Rukeyser, the source for many Americans' stock-market knowledge for more than a generation, died of cancer on Tuesday in Greenwich, CT at the age of 73. The always dapper and pun-loving Rukeyser hosted Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser on PBS from 1970-2002, then moved to CNBC in 2002 when Maryland Public Television attempted to revamp the show. Eighteen months later, Rukeyser said that doctors had found cancer in his back while performing surgery and that he had selected several substitutes to sit in for him while he recovered. He never did, and a year later he shut down the show. New York Daily News columnist Kay Gardella once said of him that he had "popularized a subject once considered too dull to print, let alone broadcast. He gives you just enough, gets to the heart of the matter quickly and keeps your interest at a peak. He's a broadcasting dynamo and has become the economic guru of the industry."

MPAA URGES COLLEGE CRACKDOWN ON PIRACY

Having determined that some of the most flagrant movie piracy occurs on college campuses, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have sent blistering letters to the presidents of 40 universities in 25 states, demanding that they take action against illegal sharing of copyrighted material. The letter observed that several file-sharing sites promise security and confidentiality, giving "many students incentive to engage in activity they have otherwise learned is illegal and unacceptable." The two groups said that they intend to "prioritize our focus" on campus piracy and asked the schools to install blocking and filtering software in their network systems. Meanwhile, today's (Wednesday) Wall Street Journal reported that a study commissioned by the MPAA concluded that the industry is losing $6.1 billion annually worldwide as a result of piracy in all forms, $1.3 billion of that total in the U.S. alone. The study indicated that Mexico ranks as the world's largest market for pirated DVDs followed by China and Russia. At a conference at the Tribeca Film Festival on Monday, BitTorrent co-founder Ashwin Navin said that users of BitTorrent download 700,000 films each day.

FOUNDER OF WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES FORCED OUT

Despite the success of such films as March of the Penguins and Good Night, and Good Luck, Mark Gill has been forced out as president of Warner Bros.' arthouse unit, Warner Independent Pictures, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Wednesday). The newspaper said that Gill's departure came after he clashed with his boss, Warner Bros. production President Jeff Robinov, over a number of issues, including the company's direction.

RANDY QUAID DROPS SUIT AGAINST BROKEBACK PRODUCERS

Randy Quaid, who had accused Focus Features of duping him into appearing in Brokeback Mountain for a fraction of his regular salary, said Tuesday that he had dropped his lawsuit against the company after it agreed to pay him an unspecified bonus. Six weeks ago, Quaid maintained that he had agreed to take the role in the movie because studio execs had described it as an arthouse film that had little chance at the box office. It has thus far earned $160 million worldwide. On Tuesday Focus indicated that it was bewildered by Quaid's latest statement, saying that it had "never negotiated, offered or agreed to any settlement with Mr. Quaid or his attorneys, but we are happy to put this behind us, and do wish Mr. Quaid all the best."

WILL DALLAS BE SHOT IN DALLAS?

Texas and Louisiana are duking it out over which state will become the shooting location for Dallas: The Movie. Dallas TV station KTVT reported on Tuesday that the Dallas Film Commission believes that while Louisiana currently has the edge, Texas is gaining ground. But the TV station quoted the head of Louisiana's Film Department as saying that a scout for the movie is currently looking at several locations in that state. A reporter for the station commented: "Louisiana continues to steal movie projects from Texas because Louisiana rebates 20 percent of almost a film's entire budget back to the studio."

GROUP SAYS IT FORCED COORS TO PULL OUT OF SCARY PROMOTION

A San Rafael, CA-based group, the Marin Institute, has claimed that it stopped Coors Brewing Co. from going forward with a marketing campaign that would have seen product placements for Coors beer included in Scary Movie 4 and in a subsequent nationwide marketing campaign for the film. The group said that Coors had carried out a similar marketing program with Scary Movie 3. "Coors learned a scary lesson," Amon Rappaport, a spokesman for the institute, said in a statement. It maintained that young people themselves had engaged in a "counter-marketing campaign" that resulted in Coors's decision. "Coors, Anheuser-Busch and other alcohol companies like to say they don't target kids with advertising," said Rappaport, "but then they promote their brands in PG-13 movies where millions of teens are watching."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.