APRIL MADNESS?

With all No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, CBS is hoping that ratings for March Madness will be given a significant lift in April. They are down an average of 7 percent from the same number of games a year ago. In a conference call on Monday, CBS Sports officials blamed the number of "blowout" games that appeared settled long before the end of the broadcasts for the audience erosion -- something that is not expected to happen with the top teams vying for the championship. Meanwhile, without basketball Monday night, CBS scored strongly with its old stalwarts Two and a Half Men, which drew an 8.7 rating and a 13 share, and CSI: Miami, which posted a 10.1/17. The New Adventures of Old Christine also had one of its best nights, drawing an 8.1/12. But a 90-minute edition of ABC's Dancing With the Stars wiped out all the competition as it averaged a 12.9/20. In the end, ABC drew the most viewers overall for the night; CBS drew the most viewers among adults 18-49.

"BLOODBATH" AT CBS STATIONS

Major city newspapers and local TV blogs were reporting what appeared to be coordinated layoffs at CBS-owned stations all over the country Monday. The New York Daily News reported that WCBS-TV had laid off veteran correspondents Scott Weinberger and Andrew Kirtzman as well as "behind-the-scenes staffers and freelancers." It quoted station general manager Peter Dunn as saying, "The strategic realignment of our team will allow the station to continue to invest wisely in the people and infrastructure that will drive future growth in ratings, revenue and community service." Chicago Sun-Times TV writer Robert Feder referred to the cutbacks at WBBM as a "major bloodletting," saying that at least 17 persons had been let go, including anchor Diann Burns and sports anchor Mark Malone. Station spokesperson Elizabeth Abrams issued a statement that seemed a near-verbatim copy of the one issued by WCBS. "We will continue to invest in the people and in the infrastructure that will drive our future growth in ratings, in revenue and in community service," the statement said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "several" reporters had been let go at KPIX, including "Bay Area icons" Bill Schechner and Manny Ramos. "When I walked in, they told me it was going to be a bad day in the newsroom," Ramos told the newspaper. "Then they told me it was going to be a bad day for me, too." The Boston Herald reported that 30 employees were fired at WBZ-TV "on what station insiders instantly dubbed 'Black Monday.'" On his L.A. Observed blog, writer Kevin Roderick dashed off a note saying, "Bunch of people let go" at KCBS, Los Angeles. "If I get details I'll pass them on," he wrote.

AD PRICES TUMBLE AT TV NETWORKS

The average 30-second spot on a network TV show during the first three months of this year cost $125,634, down 12 percent from the same period a year ago, according to New York media shop TargetCast and reported in today's (Tuesday) online edition of Advertising Age. ABC, CBS and Fox saw ad rates tumble between 9 and 12 percent, while NBC's dropped nearly 25 percent. The decline was attributed to lower audience numbers during the writers' strike.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, AMERICAN-IDOL STYLE

A casting competition for a new version of Disney Channel's High School Musical will be among eight unscripted series that ABC says it will carry this summer. High School Musical: Summer Session is scheduled to premiere on Sunday, July 20 and air on Sundays and Mondays for three weeks, then continue on Mondays only until the fall season begins in September. The contest is based on popular British competitions in which the winners receive starring roles in musical revivals. (An American version, Grease: You're the One that I Want, aired on NBC last year.) Meanwhile, actor Kevin Spacey, has spoken out against such programs, saying that they provide a huge amount of largely unjustified publicity for theatrical productions that draw away audiences from other, more deserving fare. Spacey, who's appearing in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic, remarked in an interview with the London Times, "Where's our 13-week program?"

Brian B.