UPRFRONT NETWORK SALES PLUNGE 22 PERCENT

The upfront buying season for the networks' fall primetime programs has ended, with sales down 22 percent to $7.2 billion from $9.25 billion a year ago, according to trade reports. But given the fact that only a few weeks ago they were indicating that hardly any sales at all were being being made, a 22-percent drop may bring a sign of relief to many in the industry. Mediaweek even suggested that the weaker sales figures resulted from the networks' own strategy -- that rather than lower their rates, they simply held back inventory in the hope that the economy will improve by next fall, when they can raise their rates in the so-called scatter market, that is, the period closer to actual air time. There were also several unique sales situations this year, the trade reports indicated. For example, the networks negotiated far more product-integration packages this year than last. And NBC, with its Jay Leno Show representinga big question mark for advertisers, decided not to sell spots on the show separately and instead included them in package deals. As the last-place network, it also reportedly packaged its cable and digital inventory together with its broadcast availabilities and wound up with sales down 21 percent -- in line with its rivals' sales drop. Incidentally, in its own report about the upfront sales figures, Advertising Age cautioned: "The numbers shouldn't be taken as gospel. Each year, various TV-industry sources quietly whisper upfront results to the media. ... The numbers are inexact. ... Even so, the numbers are often read as a barometer of the relative health of broadcast TV, and even the economy as a whole."

ABC READY TO DANCE WITH PAULA ABDUL

Paula Abdul received an indirect invitation to appear either as a judge or a performer on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The invitation was extended over the weekend by ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson as he met with television critics at their annual summer tour in Pasadena. McPherson said that he was "stunned" by Fox's inability to sign Abdul to a new deal. "I think she's a huge talent," he said, "and we'd love to get a piece of that. It would be great." (The Los Angeles Times said that McPherson and Abdul "once dated.") The ABC exec's remarks came even as a report was released noting that users of the TiVo digital recorders fast forward through Abdul's comments more than those of any other judge. Somewhat surprisingly, the study by Media IQ, shows that Randy Jackson is the most popular judge, but the number of TiVo viewers slips when Kara DioGuardi appears, slumps further when Abdul does, then spikes again for Simon Cowell's remarks.

AFTRA PREZ SAYS UNION WILL UNITE WITH SAG ONLY WITH STRENGTH

The Unite for Strength faction may now dominate the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild, but the president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, SAG's sister union, isn't sure that now is the time for unity. In an interview with Daily Variety, Roberta Reardon said, "We're interested in merging when the time is right, but we should not merge out of fear or fatigue or in interests of unity." In the past AFTRA has led the movement towards the union of the two performers unions, but the smaller union has been spurned by the membership of SAG, which twice voted down merger proposals. "Merger can only be pursued from a position of strength," Reardon told Variety. Her remarks came at the close of the union's annual convention in Chicago, which, among other things, adopted a resolution calling for an increase in the standard initiation fee to $1,600 from $1,300.

WAS RAMSAY RESTAURANTS' NIGHTMARE?

Of the 13 restaurants that Gordon Ramsay and his TV crews visited during the first two season of his Kitchen Nightmares series, eight have gone out of business and only five survive, the New York Post reported today (Monday). The series places Ramsay in the role of savior of failing restaurants, but, commented Post media columnist Michael Starr, "The truth is a little harder to swallow." Indeed several of the owners of restaurants that failed following Ramsay's visit blame the TV host. Dave Leonard, the owner of Black Pearl, remarked in a letter that was reprinted by thefeedbag.com, a restaurant blog: "We should have taken a page out of history, revolted and sent him packing and bleeding back to King George." But Ramsay blames the restaurants themselves, insisting that they did not follow his advice: "Chefs are so proud and filled with martyrism that they would rather sit there and sink than think out of the box and fix it," he told the Post.

FASTER BROADBAND WON'T INCREASE ONLINE TV VIEWING, SAYS STUDY

Watching TV shows that are streamed via broadband to personal computers or TV sets may still suffer from numerous glitches due to relatively slow broadband speeds, but increasing those speeds would not affect online viewing habits, according to a study by Deloitte and YouGov for the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. According to the study, 53 percent of viewers in the U.K. said that they would not watch more TV online with a faster, more reliable broadband connection. And some 29 percent indicated that being able to watch TV shows online was "of little importance" to them.