BASEBALL SOX IT TO THE COMPETITIONTelevised baseball last week made almost as big a comeback as the Boston Red Sox did in the American League Championship Series as they won four games in a row after losing the first three. A huge 31.5 million viewers tuned into Fox for the final game of the series, making it the highest-rated program of the week. Moreover, the first two games of the World Series last weekend averaged 24.2 million viewers, representing the best start of the Series since 1995. The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:1. Major League Baseball American League Championship Series Game 7, Fox, 19.4/30; 2. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.8/25; 3. World Series Game 2, Fox, 15.9/24; 4. Major League Baseball American League Championship Series Game 6, Fox, 15.6/25; 5. World Series Game 1, Fox, 13.7/25; 6. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 13.4/19; 7. Major League Baseball National League Championship Series Game 7, Fox, 13.0/20; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.6/20; 8. CSI: Miami, CBS, 12.6/19; 10. World Series Game 2 Pre-Game Show, Fox, 11.5/19.


CBS may have taken a giant leap forward in sales during the third quarter, but that performance is likely to be neutralized by poor performance by its Infinity radio unit when Viacom's earnings are reported, according to analysts. Bloomberg News quoted Credit Suisse First Boston analyst William Drewry as saying in a note to investors: "The biggest problem with Viacom has been the continued lackluster local advertising market, particularly in radio. ... The radio sector is still suffering from too much inventory and lackluster ratings that have driven ad declines in top markets." Larry Haverty, an analyst with State Street Research & Management, told the wire service: "In radio, the company's growth rate is half what the rest of the industry's is." Analysts also noted that radio would take a hit of about $50 million annually in 2006, when Howard Stern departs for Sirius Radio. Viacom earnings could also be impacted by results of the independent probe of Dan Rather's report about George W. Bush's National Guard service. Bloomberg quoted Ken Bode, visiting professor of journalism at DePauw University as saying that Rather "put his network's reputation for unbiased coverage in jeopardy."


FCC Chairman Michael Powell participated in a heated verbal duel with Howard Stern when Stern called into a San Francisco radio talk show Tuesday while Powell was being interviewed. "Is this who I think this is?" talk show host Ronn Owens of ABC station KGO asked. (Later, he insisted that he had no inkling that Stern would be calling in.) "Does it make you nervous to talk to me?" Stern asked Powell. "You kind of sit there and you're the judge, you're the arbiter, you're the one who tells us what we can and what we can't say on the air." Maintaining that Oprah Winfrey had made some of the same comments that he and his stations had been fined for, Stern told Powell: "Make the statement you made originally, which was that Oprah is a beloved figure and I'm not." Powell insisted that he had never made such a statement, adding, "My argument was we are going to enforce things fairly, regardless of the notoriety of the personality involved." Stern replied: "OK, Michael, that's why I've received the largest fines in history and I've said the identical thing that Oprah Winfrey has said." Stern accused Powell of doing the bidding of George W. Bush, saying that if he were a friend of the president, "you'd back off of me." "That's ridiculous," Powell shot back. "I don't think we've made a crusade against The Howard Stern Show."


Saying that it was reacting to "the dramatic changes in the retailing, distribution and production of digital home entertainment," the trade publication Video Storemagazine announced Tuesday that it will change its name to Home Media Retailing beginning with its Jan. 16 issue. Publisher Don Rosenberg observed that in recent months the magazine has expanded its coverage to include the online home entertainment business as well as electronic games and music DVDs.


In a case of compounded irony, the hit London musical Jerry Springer: The Opera may be forced to close any day now because of the legal costs of bringing a defamation lawsuit against a London newspaper that published a gossip item last year saying that the show was in trouble and may be forced to close. Playbill, citing an unnamed source close to the show,reported in its online edition Tuesday that it "is on a knife-edge." Moreover, the publication noted, the producers of the show are at odds over the lawsuit against the London Daily Mail, which acknowledged that its original article was incorrect and printed a full apology. One group of producers insisted that it was not a party to the lawsuit and insisted that the costs of the action should be borne by the other group of producers and not charged to the production. Meanwhile, Playbillsaid that plans to bring the musical to Broadway are on hold, noting that one of its writers recently said that potential backers regarded it as "too commercially risky." COURT IS ALL EARS AS EX-MOUSE HEAD TESTIFIESFormer Disney President Michael Ovitz on Tuesday fought back against charges of malfeasance during his 1995-96 tenure, maintaining that he was overruled and undercut by Michael Eisner nearly every step of the way. Testifying in a shareholders' lawsuit in Delaware, Ovitz insisted that "Michael had the final say on everything" and that was driven home to him early on when he first was introduced to the company's chief financial officer and chief of corporate operations for the first time. The two men, he recounted, informed him that they would report to Eisner directly and not to him. "This was an interesting way to start my career at the Walt Disney Company," Ovitz said, noting that he was "flabbergasted" by their remarks. Later, he said, he was blocked by Eisner from making a deal to sign Janet Jackson to a recording contract, buy a 50-percent stake in Yahoo and acquire EMI Records, and build a football theme park in Los Angeles. Eisner, he said, told him the deals were too expensive. "He did not want me to pursue any of this." At one point, Ovitz said, he was close to settling Jeffrey Katzenberg's lawsuit against Disney for $85-90 million, but Eisner rejected the deal. In the end, Ovitz claimed, Eisner was forced to settle for "north of $250 million." The trial is being broadcast over the Internet (for a $200-per-day fee). In an article headlined "Streaming Schadenfreude," today's Wall Street Journalquotes an observer as remarking: "There were a lot of people in Hollywood who were subjected to discomfort if not outright humiliation by some of the people at the center of this trial and they're enjoying seeing them squirm."


Six of the eight major movie studios have agreed to remove a clause in their pay-TV operator contracts that the European Union had charged limited competition and kept prices artificially high. Under the clause, described as "the most favored studio" clause (a pun on the typical "most favored nation" phrase in trading contracts), pay TV companies in Europe are required to make the best terms in a contract with one studio available to all the rest. The effect of the clause, the EU claimed, was to raise the rates for all pay-TV companies any time any of them agreed to a price increase. The two studios that have not agreed to the settlement are Paramount and Universal.


A flood of detailed Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith "spoilers" has hit Internet chat sites following screenings of a rough-cut version of the film. (Typical: "Does Yoda really fart in the movie?" "In the rough cut, he did." "Will we see Yoda use his lightsaber any time beside the fight with Sidious?" "Heck, yes. Yoda even cuts someone's head off!") Those who have seen the rough-cut have been unanimously enthusiastic about it. The film is scheduled to be released on May 19, 2005.


The Ontario [Canada] Human Rights Tribunal was due to open hearings today (Wednesday) into a complaint filed by three deaf persons aimed at requiring studios, film distributors and theaters to provide captioning for the country's 310,000 deaf people. The Canadian Postobserved today (Wednesday) that the requirement could cost the industry millions of dollars in theater upgrades. One system, "Rear Window Captioning" (RWC), using the seats' cup-holder area, is already in place in a small percentage of theaters, the newspaper observed. A spokesman for Universal observed that the studio already provides RWC-coded films to theaters and also conventional subtitles on its prints if the theaters want to display them.


Rumors have begun circulating on British websites that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards will appear in the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: Treasures of the Lost Abyssas Johnny Depp's father. There was no confirmation of the rumors from Disney, the film's producer. In interviews after the original film was released, Depp said that he had modeled his character after Richards. The sequel to due to start production in February.