LENO: LET THE WOOING BEGIN

Executives of Sony Pictures Television have let it be known that they are prepared to make a lucrative offer to Jay Leno in November, when he is permitted to enter negotiations regarding his future plans, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday). Leno has agreed to step down as host of the Tonight show and be replaced by Conan O'Brien in 2009. The Times said that Sony is prepared to make him an offer that would boost his salary above David Letterman's (NBC currently pays Leno $25 million annually; CBS pays Letterman $30 million), put his name on a new theater on Sony's lot in Culver City, and give him a financial interest in Sony Music performers who appear on his show. The newspaper said that ABC and Fox have also "discreetly" informed Leno that they, too, are prepared to make "financial overtures" to him in November.

IDOL: MORE GOLDEN THAN OSCAR

Although ABC had the Oscars last week, Fox had three nights -- count 'em, three nights -- of American Idol, and that's all it took to come out on top of the Nielsen ratings for the final full week of the February sweeps. Moreover, the Oscars telecast was the lowest rated since Nielsen began keeping track in 1974. (The low ratings also affected those for ABC's Good Morning America. GMA often beats NBC's Today show the day after the Oscars simply because millions of people leave their TV sets tuned to the ABC channel when they go to bed.) Fox wound up the week with an average 8.6 rating and a 14 share. ABC placed second with a 6.1/10. CBS came in third with a 5.1/8, while NBC trailed with a 4.6/7.

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

1. Academy Awards, ABC, 18.7/29; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 16.4/25; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 16.1/24; 4. American Idol (Thursday), Fox, 13.4/21; 5. Oscar's Red Carpet 2008, ABC, 13.3/21; 6. Deal or No Deal, (Monday), NBC, 10.0/15; 7. Without a Trace, CBS, 8.0/13; 8. Barbara Walters Oscars Special, ABC, 7.7/13; 8. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 7.7/12; 8. Lost, ABC, 7.7/12; 8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 7.7/12.

CANDID CAMERA-LIKE NEWS SHOW A RATINGS WINNER

A news magazine that employs actors and uses hidden cameras much the way Candid Camera once did may hardly seem to qualify as a news program at all, but ABC's Primetime: What Would You Do? nevertheless earned a first-place 6.0 rating and a 10 share at 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night. (Over at NBC, the debut of the Internet drama Quarterlife in the same time period hardly registered at all on the Nielsen scale, drawing a 2.5/4 or just 3.86 million total viewers.) The top-rated show of the night, of course, was Fox's American Idol, which posted a 16.3/24 between 8:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

COMCAST ACCUSED OF PACKING FCC HEARING

Cable giant Comcast was accused Tuesday of hiring people off the street in Boston to pack an FCC hearing on Internet neutrality at Harvard University on Monday. Among other things, the commission was looking into charges that Comcast routinely slows down or blocks access to peer-to-peer networks. Critics of the cable provider posted pictures on the Internet of the alleged seat-fillers sleeping during the hearing; others acknowledged on audio tape that they were being paid to fill seats and didn't know what the hearing was about. The company later acknowledged that it had paid some people to act as placeholders for Comcast employees who wanted to attend the hearing. Meanwhile, on another matter, the NFL was celebrating the decision by a New York appellate court that overturned a lower court ruling that Comcast was in its rights to put the NFL Network on its sports tier rather than include it among its basic cable channels.

CBS CHIEF SAYS IN EFFECT: "WE WON, THEY LOST"

CBS chief Les Moonves said Tuesday that his network "was not affected negatively" by the recent writers' strike but strongly implied that the writers themselves were. During a conference call with investors, Moonves said that the network was "able to manage operating costs" by terminating costly writing contracts, slashing the number of scripts for programs that it will produce this season, cancelling development deals and doing away with pilots for some new shows. Moreover, he said, the economic overhaul put in place during the strike has "changed the way we do business and will allow us to operate more efficiently going forward." Asked about the fact that the company's television revenue fell 4 percent during the last quarter, Moonves attributed the drop to the fact that it had sold some of its stations, which now no longer contributed to its revenue picture. Operating income for the quarter, however, grew 7 percent. Moonves said that he has seen no sign of the widely debated recession at CBS. "Fortunately, the hardest-hit sectors like home building and real estate are not significant advertisers on our air," he said.

DISH FAILING TO LAND NEW SUBSCRIBERS

Satellite provider DISH network saw a 12-percent increase in revenue and a 14-percent jump in net income during the fourth quarter over a year ago, but slow subscriber growth caused analysts to erect warning signs. DISH added just 85,000 new subscribers during the quarter, representing a 76-percent plunge from the same period during the previous year. One analyst, Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein and Associates, linked the slow subscriber growth to weakness in the housing market. New subscribers, he suggested, were often people moving into new homes.

CNN'S RATINGS SOAR DURING PRIMARIES

The presidential race has been particularly good to CNN. During the February sweeps the cable news network beat its arch rival, Fox News Channel, by a whopping 36 percent among the key demographic, adults 25-54. CNN, which aired three primary debates during the Jan. 28-Feb 22 period, averaged 750,000 viewers in that demographic bracket, while Fox News drew 550,000. This marks the first time that CNN has beaten Fox in the key demo since 2001. Fox, however, remained ahead in total viewers, attracting an average of 2.22 million in primetime to CNN's 2.03 million, a lead of 9 percent.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.