CRITICS GROUCH OVER OSCAR

Sunday night's Oscar telecast received about a B-minus grade from TV critics. The Associated Press's Frazier Moore called host Ellen DeGeneres "pleasant company" and the telecast itself "easygoing, comfortable and reliably unsurprising. That is, when it wasn't just dull." Tom Shales in the Washington Post applauded DeGeneres for "doing a crisp and unpretentious job" but remarked, "Virtually everything about the Oscarcast, except for a few mercifully brief features, was entirely, punishingly too long." Robert Bianco in USA Today also faulted the production for being "exceedingly pokey," but added, "A general aura of good feeling pervaded the evening, and much of it stemmed from the night's unfailingly sunny host, Ellen DeGeneres." Likewise, David Bianculli commented in the New York Daily News: "Ellen DeGeneres brought an easy, breezy informality to the show that turned out to be one of its biggest assets. When pacing seemed slow and every good new element was offset by a bad one, DeGeneres was a reliable, likable constant." Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times: "The Academy Awards are the one night when Hollywood struts and preens as if nothing is bigger or more powerful than the movie business. Yet the selection of Ms. DeGeneres, the first daytime talk-show host to serve as the master of ceremonies, was a reaffirmation of television as the dominant water-cooler medium."

OSCAR RATINGS ARE HUGE, BUT CAN'T MATCH IDOL'S

ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards presentations, which usually is second only to the Super Bowl in attracting viewers, averaged a 20.1 rating and a 30 share during the primetime hours Sunday night -- or 33.7 million viewers, about what it recorded a year ago, according to preliminary overnight Nielsen figures. However, the return of Fox's American Idol in January drew more viewers this year -- 37 million. Earlier in the evening, ABC also scored strongly with the Barbara Walters Oscar night interview special, which drew a 12.0/19, representing 19.7 million viewers. (The show aired following the Oscar telecast on the West Coast.)

DISCOVERY CHANNEL MAY HAVE FOUND JESUS'S TOMB

Just when it seemed that the controversy over The Da Vinci Code's premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and produced a child had faded, Discovery Channel announced Sunday that it plans to air a documentary on March 4 that suggests that it has found possible proof of that hypothesis. The documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, executive produced by Titanic director James Cameron, tells of the discovery of a 2,000-year-old tomb in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem in which 10 ossuaries, or bone boxes, were found bearing the names Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Matthew, Mary Magdalene and "Judah Son of Jesus." In a news release, Cameron said, "It doesn't get bigger than this. We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."

YOUTUBE UNHURT BY VIACOM'S MONKEY WRENCH

Viacom's decision to yank 100,000 clips from its cable TV shows from YouTube has apparently had no effect on the video website whatsoever. In fact, according to research from Hitwise, YouTube traffic has soared 14 percent since the beginning of the month when Viacom demanded that the clips be removed. Moreover, according to the study, the number of people accessing YouTube exceeded the number accessing all of the television network websites combined, excluding the separate sites for individual programs like American Idol.

INDIE CAMERAMAN FILMS RATS AT KFC-TACO BELL OUTLET

An independent TV news cameraman who spotted 30-50 rats frolicking inside a KFC-Taco Bell restaurant in New York's Greenwich Village grabbed his camera gear, caught the rats in action, and sold his footage to local and network broadcast and cable outlets, Newsday reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that as videographer Rafael Garcia shot the scene during the wee hours Friday morning, "the rats came to the front window as if playing to his camera." Health inspectors, who had checked out the restaurant only the day before, shut down the restaurant Friday after Garcia's footage appeared on morning talk shows. A spokesman for Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC and Taco Bell, issued a statement saying that conditions in the restaurant were "completely unacceptable" and "an absolute violation of our high standards."

HUGE FINE TO BE METED OUT TO UNIVISION OVER KIDS SHOWS

Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language TV network, is expected to be fined $24 million for violating FCC rules requiring TV stations to air at least three hours of educational shows aimed at children every week, published reports said Sunday. The commission is expected to act on complaints filed against Univision by the United Church of Christ.

Brian B.