i>DANCING DANCES AWAY WITH RATINGS HONORS

An hour and a half of Dancing With the Stars gave ABC an overwhelming victory over its rivals Monday night as it averaged an 11.6 rating and an 18 share, peaking in the final half hour at 9:00 p.m. with a 12.4/18, representing more than 18 million viewers. ABC's Samantha Who?, which followed, was unable to ride its coattails, as it lost half of Dancing's audience and fell to second place behind NBC's game show, Deal or No Deal. Falling farther still was ABC's The Bachelor: London Calling, which dropped to a third-place 4.3/7, representing fewer than 7 million viewers.

TIM ROBBINS CHASTISES TV EXECS FOR ELEVATING BRITNEY OVER IRAQ

In a keynote speech that former New York Daily News TV columnist David Bianculli likened to Edward R. Murrow's "wires and lights in a box" and Newton Minow's "vast wasteland" criticism of the TV industry, actor Tim Robbins castigated broadcasters during his appearance before the NAB convention in Las Vegas Monday. Robbins challenged his audience to "see themselves as part of a larger picture ... to pursue stories past their headlines." He asked rhetorically, "Haven't criminal acts occurred in government? Shouldn't there be accountability for inept policy decisions? Shouldn't someone be fired? And you know something? I didn't hear any of that, because I am still thinking about that starlet getting out of the car without the panties." In an article appearing on the Broadcasting and Cable website, Bianculli wrote that before appearing before the broadcasters, Robbins had been asked not to deliver his speech (he didn't say by whom) and that he would therefore post it "in some other medium." At that point, he wrote, a voice in the audience yelled "speech," the audience applauded, and Robbins pulled out his prepared text. In it, he noted that at the outset of the Iraq war conservative TV and radio broadcasters "told America ... that I was a traitor, a Saddam lover, a terrorist supporter, undermining the troops. I was appealing at the time for the inspectors to have more time to find those Weapons of Mass Destruction. [To critics], I was a naïve dupe of left-wing appeasement." Then, with acid sarcasm, he continued: "If I had known then what I know now, if I had seen the festive and appreciative faces on the streets of Baghdad today, if I had known then what a robust economy we would be in -- the unity of our people, the wildfire of democracy that has spread across the Mideast -- I would never have said those traitorous, unfounded and irresponsible things." In his article about the speech, Bianculli, who moderated Monday's affair, observed: "A few people walked out. At the end, the majority of the crowd gave Robbins a standing ovation."

AMERICAN JOURNALISTS FREED -- ONE BY IRAQIS, THE OTHER BY THE U.S.

Iraqi troops loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Miliki raided a house in Basra Monday, freeing CBS News cameraman Richard Butler who was abducted by insurgents on February 10. Butler, appearing jubilant as he appeared on Al Iraqiya TV, said that the troops had stormed the house where he had been held captive. "They burst through my door. I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time. They shouted something at me and I pulled my hood off. They ran me to the road outside." Butler, who is English, was handed over to British troops, who have been primarily responsible for controlling the Basra area. In a statement, CBS said, "We are incredibly grateful that our colleague, Richard Butler, has been released and is safe." Also on Monday, U.S. military officials agreed to release AP photographer Bilal Hussein, who had been held for two years after an Iraqi judicial panel dismissed the last charges against him. He had been accused by the U.S. of conspiring with insurgents. In a statement, Maj. Gen Douglas M. Stone said, "We reviewed the circumstances of Hussein's detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security."

MEDIA MOGUL BERLUSCONI TO TAKE OVER AS ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER

Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi won Monday's parliamentary elections in Italy, returning him to the post of prime minister two years after he was toppled by reformist Romano Prodi, who had accused him of using the post to silence critics on state-run broadcaster RAI and to boost his own media empire. Berlusconi controls Italy's largest commercial broadcasting group Mediaset. His other media interests include the film studio Medusa and the Mondadori publishing company. (His principal opponent in the recent elections, former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni, also has media connections. He is a cofounder of the Rome Film Festival and his friends include several Hollywood stars.) In a telephone call to an RAI talk show, Berlusconi asked Veltroni to join him in pushing through needed reforms. "We are always open to working together with the opposition," he said.

Brian B.