THE BIG LOSER IN THE DEBATES: THE NETWORKSThe four major networks are together losing between $120 and $150 million in advertising revenue in order to provide commercial-free coverage of the presidential debates, CNN reported Friday, citing a study by independent research analyst Jack Myers. The study also observed that the figure does not include losses from coverage of the vice-presidential debates, nor losses sustained by the cable networks that are carrying all four debates -- including CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.


More viewers tuned in to NBC to watch the second presidential debate Friday night than any other network, according to Nielsen Research. The network averaged a 6.6 rating and an 11 share as it came in ahead of ABC's 5.5/9 and CBS's 5.1/9. Surprisingly, the WB edged out Fox 2.2/4 to 2.1/4. Cable figures were not available. On Saturday, baseball ruled in the ratings, as the Dodgers-Cardinals divisional championship contest averaged a 5.1/10 for Fox, putting it ahead of CBS's 4.7/9 and ABC and NBC's tying 4.1/8. However, the final and deciding game of the Dodgers-Cardinals series on Sunday came in third, averaging a 7.1/10, while ABC won the night with 9.4/14, followed closely by CBS's 9.1/14 and NBC's 7.3/11. ABC was helped by the second week of Desperate Housewives, which remained the most-watched show of the night with a 14.9/21 rating.


NBC Nightly Newsanchor Tom Brokaw has predicted that all television networks will be far more cautious than they were four years ago about predicting the outcome of the presidential race during election coverage next month. In a guest column appearing in Newsweek,Brokaw writes: "Four years ago, well after midnight, after first declaring Vice President Al Gore the president-elect, then Gov. George W. Bush the winner, then announcing the election results were on hold, I looked into the camera and said, 'I not only have egg on my face, I have an entire omelet all over my suit.' This year I hope and expect to keep my suit-and the reputation of NBC News-stain-free."


In the latest incident calling into question the objectivity of the mainstream news media, a memo from ABC political director Marc Halperin to the news staff has been leaked which critics suggest indicates that ABC journalists have been directed to take a harder look at distortions made by President Bush than by John Kerry. The conservative-leaning New York Poston Saturday published excerpts from the memo in which Halperin was quoted as saying, "Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win. ... [But] the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done. ... We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that." The Post'sitem was headlined: "'Slanted' ABC Takes the Heat." The newspaper also damned the memo in an editorial.


Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest owners of television stations in the country, has decided to preempt its regular network programming days before the Nov. 2 election to air an anti-Kerry film, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, the Los Angeles Timesreported Saturday. David Wade, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, told the newspaper: "It's beyond yellow journalism; it's a smear bankrolled by Republican money, and I don't think Americans will stand for it." Sinclair either owns or programs 62 television stations throughout the country. The same company ordered several of its stations last April not to air ABC's Nightlineroll call of military dead in Iraq, calling it a political statement "disguised as news."


Louis Rukeyser, the patrician figure who pioneered business journalism on public TV in 1972 with Wall $treet Week in Review, then took it to CNBC (as Louis Rukeyer's Wall Street) in 2002 after a bitter dispute with his co-producer, Maryland Public Television, is calling it quits. CNBC said Friday that the program will conclude at the end of the year, with its current anchor, Consuelo Mack, remaining at the helm until then. Last May, Rukeyser disclosed that doctors had discovered "a low-grade malignancy" while treating him for a chronic back problem. On Friday, he wrote: "This is the most difficult letter I have ever written. I am still recuperating from serious complications that have taken much longer than seemed reasonable over the past year -- and I can no longer predict when I will be ready to rejoin you here." TALE PERFORMS SWIMMINGLYMoviegoers could not escape the jaws of Shark Tale over the weekend as the DreamWorks animated feature took an estimated $31.7-million bite out of the box office total of $98 million, representing about a third of the total spent, and, since many were half-price children's admissions, nearly half of the tickets sold. It was the second week in a row that the movie, which had received mostly negative-to-mixed reviews, held the top position. Its total gross now stands at $87.7 million. In second place was Universal's debuting Friday Night Lights, a critically praised film that took in a better-than-expected 20.6 million, according to studio estimates. Another newcomer, 20th Century Fox's Taxi,starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon, garnered an OK $12.1 million. But a third new film, New Line's, Raise Your Voice,starring Hillary Duff, took in a muted $4.6 million. Meanwhile, I(love symbol) Huckabees, continued to astound in limited release. Expanding to 42 theaters, it earned an additional $940,000, or a per-screen average of $22,400. It is due to open wide (about 1,000 screens) on Oct. 22. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:1. Shark Tale, $31.7 million; 2. Friday Night Lights, $20.6 million; 3. Ladder 49, $13.3 million; 4. Taxi, $12.05 million; 5. The Forgotten, $7.5 million; 6. Raise Your Voice, $4.6 million; 7. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, $2.3 million; 8. Shaun of the Dead, $1.6 million; 9. The Motorcycle Diaries, $1.4 million; 10. Resident Evil: Apocalypse, $1.25 million.


The MPAA and other entertainment groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to reverse an appellate court's decision that allows peer-to-peer networks to operate freely. Last August the court ruled that such networks cannot be charged with copyright infringement because they can also serve legitimate purposes. However, in its filing, the MPAA maintained that "over 90 percent" of the material being exchanged on P2P networks is copyrighted.


In a development certain to give movie execs a new case of dyspepsia, Orb Networks of Union City, CA is expected to unveil a service that will permit users to access virtually any video or audio file on their home computers or, potentially, personal digital recorders remotely -- on cell phones, laptops, or PDAs. "We think of this as a personal media portal," Orb CEO Jim Behrens told the Associated Press. "Your media is always with you." Asked whether the service raises new copyright-protection issues, Behrens remarked, "We want content creators to get paid for their content, but once users have paid for it, they should be able to play it on whatever device they want and wherever they want." In order for users of the service to access recorded material from TiVo-type devices or satellite and cable settop boxes, Orb must receive permission from the companies that produce and distribute them to include its software in those boxes.


Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose Team America: World Police will no doubt draw much fire from supporters of President Bush when it is released next week, have found themselves under attack from a far different source. Sean Penn has written the pair an angry letter after they ridiculed Sean "P.Diddy" Combs' "Vote or Die!" campaign to encourage young people to vote. ("If you don't know what you're talking about, there's no shame in not voting," Stone remarked in a Rolling Stoneinterview, essentially advancing the cause of an informed electorate.) "You guys are talented young guys, but alas, primarily young guys," Penn wrote in a letter to the South Parkcreators. "It's all well to joke about me or whomever you choose. Not so well to encourage irresponsibility that will ultimately lead to the disembowelment, mutilation, exploitation and death of innocent people around the world."


Eleven years after their surnames were used in Richard Linklater's 1993 indie Dazed and Confused, three of his former high school classmates have sued the writer-director, claiming that he lifted their names without their permission and that they have been ridiculed and embarrassed as a result ever since. "There is nothing true about that movie, yet I am having to deal with it all the time," Richard (Pink) Floyd, whose first name was changed to "Randall" in the movie, told the Associated Press Saturday. The other two plaintiffs are Bobby Wooderson ("David" Wooderson in the movie) and Andy Slater ("Ron" Slater in the movie). AP said that the suit was filed in New Mexico because it has a longer statute of limitations than other states for such claims.


Superman star Christopher Reeve died Sunday from a systemic infection at the age of 52. The infection was reportedly caused by a pressure wound, often described as a "bed sore," a common complication for immobile patients. Reeve was paralyzed in a riding accident on May 27, 1995. As recently as Tuesday, he was campaigning in Chicago on behalf of embryonic stem cell research, and his efforts to persuade the Bush administration to reverse its policy on such research were alluded to by Senator John Kerry during Friday night's presidential debate. Reeve celebrated his 52nd birthday on Sept. 25.