RATINGS SINK FOR DROWNED ALIVE! SPECIALMagician David Blaine didn't drown on national television Monday night, but that couldn't be said about the ratings for his two-hour special, Drowned Alive! which saw Blaine finally pulled from an eight-foot tank in which he was submerged for a week in the middle of Lincoln Center in New York. The first hour of the special garnered only a 4.8 rating and a 9 share, tying with the series finale of 7th Heavenfor fourth place. The second hour, which culminated with Blaine extricating himself from shackles while holding his breath for more than seven minutes, saw ratings rise to a 7.5/11, good enough for third place. Although reports said today (Tuesday) that Blaine failed in his goal to set a new record for breath-holding, Blaine himself had said in interviews that he thought he would only be able to come within a minute of the record. As it was, he came within two minutes of it. (The record is 8 minutes, 58 seconds; Blaine lasted 7 minutes, eight seconds.)


Although overall ratings for CNN are down significantly from last year, those for Lou Dobbs in the 6:00 p.m. hour are up. Today's (Tuesday) Philadelphia Inquirernoted that Dobbs's commentaries on illegal immigration have been responsible for a 46-percent growth in the number of viewers for Lou Dobbs Tonight --and a 34-percent boost among adults 25-54 years old. Meanwhile CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein has told the Inquirerthat the decision by President Bush to name former Fox newsman Tony Snow as his press secretary leaves no doubt about the conservative bias of the network. "When a Fox anchor is the president's spokesperson, it might be hard for viewers to presume that it's reporting independently on the ... issues," Klein said. A spokesperson for Fox News Channel immediately shot back, "After CNN's dismal performance [in April], Jon should be more concerned with keeping his job." The CNN ratings showed a particularly steep drop in viewers for Anderson Cooper's program. Cooper averaged 710,000 viewers in April versus 907,000 for predecessor Aaron Brown during the same month a year ago. Cooper's ratings among adults 25-54 were down 36 percent, averaging just 198,000 versus 307,000 for Brown. (Ratings for Fox News Channel were also down in April -- by about 17 percent.)


CBS confirmed Monday that CNN's Anderson Cooper will be brought aboard 60 Minutesto contribute up to five features a year beginning in the fall. He will also be permitted to rebroadcast the reports once on his own Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. He apparently is not being given the title of correspondent, however, and he'll remain a full-time employee of CNN. It is not Cooper's first job as a TV news magazine reporter. He had previously been part of a rotating group of correspondents assembling tabloid-type features for ABC's now defunct 20/20 Downtown, an effort to attract younger viewers with younger reporters and more sensational subject matter. He had also contributed two reports to 60 Minutes II before it was canceled last year in the wake of the Dan Rather "Memogate" scandal.


ABC's sweeps special Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, which airs tonight (Tuesday), follows the template of most TV and movie disaster movies, critics observe -- just on a smaller scale. As Robert Lloyd observes in the Los Angeles Times: "Barring a big-screen special effects and locations budget, of course, there is no way that a little TV movie, even one from a network owned by Disney, can put on a convincing impersonation of a global pandemic." Several critics tear into the TV movie like so many infected birds attacking their prey. "This piece of weakly constructed sensationalism ... is so unscary it almost serves as a kind of promo for the poultry industry. If the avian flu is going to be this unbelievable and jerky, I choose chicken," writes Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe. David Bianculli in the New York Daily Newscalls it "a wretched disappointment ... all too cardboard to take seriously," and concludes: "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America doesn't just have the smell of death. It also reeks of failure." Tom Shales in the Washington Postfinds many of the goings-on in the film absurd, particularly a reference to a raging coffee shortage ("The horror, the horror!" he writes). He concludes: "I think I'd skip the movie if I hadn't already seen it -- maybe opting to wait for the Broadway musical" (an apparent reference to the 1997 Tony Award-winning musical Titanic). On the other hand, Alessandra Stanley observes in the New York Times: "Fatal Contact is a May sweeps movie, not a public service message, so it is hardly surprising that it errs on the side of Armageddon, but that does not mean it is irresponsible. It is a soberly and compellingly told tall tale, and quite alarming."


The ABC movie Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, which airs tonight (Tuesday), has been denounced by John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, who receives on-screen credit as the film's consultant. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) New York Times, Barry said, "To say it's overdone is an understatement." He disclosed that his "consulting" amounted to nothing more than a two-hour conference call and some comments on the script. The newspaper said that Barry compared his role to that of a lawyer whose client pays for advice -- but ignores it.


NBC has abandoned plans to bring together many of the original cast members of The West Wingto participate in a retrospective of the show's seven years after the actors made unreasonable pay demands, the Washington Postreported today (Tuesday). Instead, the network has decided to rebroadcast the show's very first episode, which aired in the fall of 1999, at 7:00 p.m. this Sunday. It will be followed by the series finale.WARNER MAKES PEACE WITH FILE-SHARING SITEUsing a good old if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em strategy, Warner Bros. announced Monday that it will use BitTorrent's file-sharing technology to sell and rent its movies and TV shows online. Today's (Tuesday) Daily Varietyspeculated that other major studios are likely to follow suit. In an interview with the trade publication, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group president Kevin Tsujihara remarked that BitTorrent now faces "a challenge of converting their users who are used to getting product for free to purchase it legitimately." BitTorrent president Ashin Navin acknowledged that it was unlikely that BitTorrent users will want to pay for just a bare-bones Internet service.


Raising the eyebrows of friend and foe alike, conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch has agreed to host a political fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton's senatorial reelection campaign. Senator Clinton is also regarded as the current front-runner among possible candidates to head the Democratic Party's presidential ticket in 2008. When she originally sought to become the junior senator from New York, Murdoch's newspaper, the New York Post, ran a strident campaign against her in which she was listed as the sixth "most evil" person of the millennium. An unnamed media lobbyist told today's (Tuesday) London Financial Times: "Murdoch will be for the Republicans but he is also smart enough to know that the Republicans might not win. At some level, whether nationally or in New York, Hillary is the future and what savvy businessman would not want to put a line of interest in someone who will be the future?"


A movie that earns $47.7 million in its opening weekend would ordinarily be greeted with rousing cheers by most studio executives. A clear exception is any film that stars Tom Cruise and, according to some reports, cost more than $200 million to make. Moreover, Mission: Impossible III opened in 4,054 theaters, one of the biggest openings in history. Reporting on the disappointing performance of the film, the Associated Press observed today (Tuesday) that 7.2 million tickets were sold for the movie, versus 10.3 million for the original Mission: Impossibleand 10.7 million for Mission: Impossible II. The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):1. Mission: Impossible 3, Paramount, $47,743,273, (New); 2. RV, Sony, $11,004,706, 2 Wks. ($30,910,618); 3. An American Haunting, Freestyle, $5,783,508, (New); 4. Stick It, Disney, $5,479,658, 2 Wks. ($17,934,291); 5. United 93, Universal, $5,347,860, 2 Wks. ($20,192,305); 6. Ice Age: The Meltdown, 20th Century Fox, $4,161,724, 6 Wks. ($183,435,937); 7. Silent Hill, Sony, $4,013,871, 3 Wks. ($40,919,014); 8. Scary Movie 4, The Weinstein Co., $3,690,454, 4 Wks. ($83,644,761); 9. Akeelah and The Bee, Lionsgate, $3,369,630, 2 Wks. ($10,632,413); 10. Hoot, New Line, $3,368,197, (New).


Silicon Graphics, a pioneering giant in creating computer-generated special effects for the motion picture industry, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. The Mountain View, CA company, which astounded audiences with the dinosaurs it created for Jurassic Park, listed $397 million in assets and $650 million in debt. In a statement on Monday Silicon Graphics said that it plans to reduce its work force by about 12 percent by the end of the year as part of a plan to cut $150 million in annual costs.