PEACOCK PLOPS

NBC's ratings last week were its worst during a regular season since Nielsen's "people meters" were introduced 20 years ago -- and may have been the network's worst ever. Not a single NBC show was listed in the top 20, and only two, the Monday edition of Deal or No Deal and the once unbeatable E.R., made it into the top 30. ("You know things are bad at NBC when Howie Mandel is the main attraction," TV columnist John Maynard wrote today in the Washington Post.) Fox held on again to the top two positions on the Nielsen list with its two editions of American Idol, but it was also hit by a two-hour ratings misfortune on Sunday night with the premiere of Drive, which attracted only 6 million viewers. CBS once again emerged as the highest-rated network of the week with an average 7.3 rating and a 12 share. Fox placed second with a 6.2/10, edging out ABC, which rook third with a 6.1/10. NBC was far behind with an average 4.5/8. Among the nightly newscasts, ABC's World News With Charles Gibson increased its lead slightly as it averaged a 6.0 rating and a 12 share. NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams placed second with a 5.7/12, while the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric continued to shed viewers, posting a 4.6/9.

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

1. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 16.5/25; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.6/24; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 13.5/21; 4. House, Fox, 12.8/20; 5. Dancing With the Stars (Monday), ABC, 12.2/19; 6. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 11.5/17; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.5/17; 7. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 10.5/16; 9. Shark, CBS, 9.4/16; 10. NCIS, CBS, 9.2/14.

COWELL LAYS INTO SANJAYA

Simon Cowell was not about to make merely a terse, dismissive comment about American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar Tuesday night. After Malakar sang Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About," the Idol judge described his performance as "utterly horrendous." He underlined his remarks with the words, "I'm being serious" and added that Malakar's rendition was as bad as anything he had seen since the auditions for the show began. When host Ryan Seacrest attempted to come to the 17-year-old's defense, Cowell told him to shut up, then remarked, "I know this has been funny for a while. Based on the fact we are supposed to be finding an 'American Idol,' it was hideous." Still, the personable teenager's supporters have become legion, and, allied with pranksters who are backing the votefortheworst.com website, might even make him a winner of the contest. And while some critics have suggested that a Malakar victory could damage the popularity of the show, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of Fremantle Media North America, which produces it, disagrees. "He's incredibly charming. I can name a number of pop stars who are not necessarily the best singers but are well-packaged and marketed, and they've done well for themselves," she told the Associated Press. But Orlando Sentinel TV critic Hal Boedeker, who called Malakar's performance Tuesday night "tepid, tentative and terrible," commented in his column today (Wednesday), "Yes, go ahead and swoon over his eyes, his hair, his sweetness and his playing to the camera. It's still a singing contest." Tuesday night's Idol telecast once again dominated ratings for the night with a 16.1 rating and a 21 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour. House retained 90 percent of Idol's viewers with a 14.5/21 at 9:00 p.m.

ARMY COMMANDER PRAISES NEWS MEDIA'S IRAQ REPORTING

An active-duty Army lieutenant colonel who commanded an armored reconnaissance squadron in Baghdad in 2006 has praised the U.S. news media for giving "a reasonably full, fair and balanced picture of what is happening in Iraq." Writing in the Army Times, Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile, said that he spent two hours every day reading and watching the U.S. media's reporting on the war and concluded that "the stories told by the American press, for the most part, matched what I saw happening on the ground." Gentile acknowledges that his view of the media's coverage "is not a common one within the American military; in fact, it is a radical one." But, he concludes, that the military's condemnation of the press has come about "because the American military fears so deeply the loss of support of the American people over Iraq."

IMUS OFF MSNBC BUT ON EVERYWHERE ELSE

The Don Imus controversy was the most heavily covered story of the year on cable news networks, accounting for 48 percent of their content, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. By comparison, the Anna Nicole Smith story, while making up 50 percent of cable content two days after her death, never exceeded 26 percent for a full week. On broadcast news, only the President's announced troop increase in Iraq received greater coverage.

FORMAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST GERE, SHETTY FOR KISSING

Following a day of protests by Hindu fundamentalists throughout India on Monday, formal complaints were filed against Richard Gere and Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty for committing "an obscene act" by publicly kissing during a televised AIDS awareness event in New Delhi. In Jaipur, a local magistrate ordered a TV news channel to provide videotape of the incident. But a Bollywood website posted a message asking whether the protesters had "forgotten we are the land of the Kama Sutra, which taught the art of sex? ... If people are offended by such gestures, they should go live in Afghanistan with the Taliban." Reporting on the criminal filings, the Associated Press commented today (Wednesday) that they "are common in conservative India. They add to a backlog of legal cases in the country that has nearly crippled the judicial system."

Brian B.