ESPN's Monday Night Football is the new champ of cable TV. Monday night's telecast of the New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game averaged a record 17.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The figure was 300,000 higher than the audience for the previous cable ratings champ, Disney Channel's High School Musical 2, which averaged 17.2 million viewers on August 17. Monday's game peaked in the final half hour with 23.87 million viewers tuning in to see the Patriots win by a score of 27-24. The 1993 debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot carried on CNN's Larry King Live scored higher ratings, but a far smaller audience (11.2 million), since it aired at a time when cable had lower penetration in U.S. households.


Word that CBS might rebroadcast edited versions of adult-oriented shows that aired originally on its sibling Showtime cable network touched off the wrath of the Parents Television Council Wednesday. In a statement, PTC President Tim Winter said, "These Showtime programs contain some of the most explicit content on television, period. ... These shows are better left on premium cable where children cannot have as easy access and where families are not forced to pay for them in order to get other basic cable networks." On Tuesday, CBS CEO Les Moonves had indicated that some Showtime shows might land on the broadcast network in the event of an extended writers' strike. In a statement, CBS noted that if the Showtime programs do air they would be edited in much the same way as theatrical movies are edited for broadcast. Also on Wednesday, NBC announced that it plans to reuse sketches from Saturday Night Liveas 90-minute primetime specials airing on -- when else? -- Saturday nights beginning Dec. 8.


The Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers each issued optimistic statements on Wednesday about their current negotiations, with the writers calling Wednesday's talks "substantive" and the studios saying that it appeared the two sides were finding common ground on the issue of payment for programs distributed on the Internet. However, L.A. Weeklycolumnist Nikki Finke, who has been closely following the negotiations on her Inside Hollywood Today website, suggested that producers were taken aback when the WGA introduced another issue before the matter of Internet payment was resolved -- a demand for jurisdiction over story editors and producers of reality TV shows, many of whom are already represented by another union, IATSE. Finke wrote that "network CEOs expressed disbelief and anger that the WGA would try to put Reality TV on the table today. I swear one mogul was going to have a coronary, sputtering as he charged that today's talks were 'going backwards.'"


NBC President Jeff Zucker is planning to downsize the network's news division, carving $20-40 million from its payroll, the New York Postreported today (Thursday), citing sources inside or close to the network. NBC News and MSNBC staffers are expected to bear the brunt of the cutbacks, while CNBC employees are said to be "shielded" in order to remain at full strength as the cable network battles the nascent Fox Business Network. MSNBC's primetime programming chief, Bill Wolf, and its editorial director, Davidson Goldin, are among those who will lose their jobs, the Postsaid. An official announcement is expected within days.


With mostly repeats airing on rival networks, a two-hour edition of NBC's Deal or No Deallifted the network to a ratings win Wednesday night. The two-hour Howie-Mandel-hosted game show averaged a 7.2 rating and an 11 share between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., peaking in the final half-hour with an 8.0/12. A repeat of CSI: New York gave CBS the win during the 10:00 p.m. hour with a 6.9/12. NBC's Life was in second place with a respectable 5.0/8.