NBC SCORES ITS FIRST WIN OF SEASON

Demonstrating yet again what a difference a single program can make in the ratings race, Sunday's NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, which attracted 27 million viewers, pushed NBC into first place. CBS had led every previous week of the current season. The victory, although razor thin (NBC drew 11.5 million viewers, just 40,000 more than CBS), was particularly impressive since NBC had essentially been out of the football game since 1998 when it refused to renew its contract with the NFL. At the time, NBC chief Bob Wright said that he had done so because he couldn't continue to take a $150-million annual loss that the NFL deal represented. However, NBC's victory this week would appear to demonstrate football's importance to the network's overall ratings health. Indeed, three football games landed in Nielsen's top 20 last week, including the college Fiesta Bowl at No. 7 and Sugar Bowl at No. 12. (Football returned again as a force to be reckoned with on Monday as the BCS National Championship Game between the Florida Gators and the Ohio Buckeyes on Fox dominated the night.)

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

1. NFL Playoff, NBC, 16.4/27; 2. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 15.8/24; 3. NFL Playoff Pregame, NBC, 12.6/23; 4. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 11.7/17; 5. NFC Wildcard Postgame, Fox, 10.6/16; 6. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 10.0/16; 7. Sugar Bowl, Fox, 9.3/16; 8. Without a Trace, CBS, 9.2/15; 9. Shark, CBS, 9.1/15; 10. Cold Case, CBS, 9.0/13; 10. Law and Order: Criminal Intent, NBC, 9.0/14.

AT 60, MEET THE PRESS STILL GOING STRONG

For the ninth straight year, Meet the Press was the No. 1 Sunday morning public affairs program in 2006, averaging 3.77 million viewers, NBC said Tuesday, citing Nielsen Research data. Meet the Press, the longest-running show on television (this year marks its 60th anniversary), posted an average 2.8 rating and an 8 share. CBS's Face the Nation was in second place with 2.84 million viewers (2.1/6), followed by ABC's This Week with 2.5 million (1.9/6). Fox's News Sunday trailed with 1.33 million (1.0/3).

CBS HAS A FLING AT SLING

CBS chief Les Moonves, in an apparent effort to show how his network is embracing new technology rather than resisting it, has demonstrated a new technique by Sling Media that will allow viewers to clip favorite segments from a TV show and immediately send them to friends. The technique, dubbed Clip+Sling, does not send the actual video directly to the recipient but instead to a Sling portal, where it is stored. Recipients receive a link to the portal, from which the video is streamed to them. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Moonves called on Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian to demonstrate the technique by sending him a clip from Two and a Half Men. He said that such developments represent "experiments" that currently provide much promotional value to CBS, although, he noted, the network has yet to find a way to monetize them.

NOW IT'S GERALDO AND OLBERMANN TOSSING BRICKBATS

On the heels of the name-calling donnybrook involving Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell comes a new one involving Geraldo Rivera of Fox News and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. It began two weeks ago when Rivera, interviewed on a New York radio talk show, blamed Olbermann for exaggerating the 2003 controversy over his report from Iraq in which he drew a diagram in the sand that allegedly revealed U.S. troop positions. Among other epithets, Rivera called Olbermann a "midget," "punk," and a "slimeball." He then challenged him to a fight saying, "I would make a pizza out of him." Olbermann responded Tuesday, taking special exception to the first epithet. "I'm nearly 6'4", Geraldo more than a half a foot shorter," he told the TVNewser website. On his own show, Olbermann commented, ""Geraldo, you should not give me a hard time. I can still remember when you were a big deal -- back when I was a kid."

COLBERT AND O'REILLY TO MEET ON EACH OTHER'S TURF

Comedy Central and Fox News Channel jointly issued a statement Tuesday announcing: "A colossal media event a year-and-a-half in the making will unfold when Stephen Colbert ventures into the 'No Spin Zone' to make his debut guest appearance on Fox News Channel's (FNC) The O'Reilly Factor on Thursday, January 18th at 8:00 p.m. Later that evening Bill O'Reilly will grab his American passport and head over to 'Colbert Nation' for his debut appearance on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report airing at 11:30 p.m." The news release included this comment from Colbert: "I look forward to the evening. It is an honor to speak face-to-face with a broadcasting legend, and I feel the same way about Mr. O'Reilly." And this from O'Reilly: "I'm really looking forward to speaking to a man who owes his entire career to me!"

THAILAND JUNTA ORDERS TV TO HALT COVERING FORMER P.M.

A high-ranking member of Thailand's ruling military junta has ordered broadcasters in the country to cease quoting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been traveling abroad since his government was overthrown on Sept. 19. The Bangkok English-language newspaper The Nation said that in a meeting with "50 editors of the broadcasting media," Winai Phattiyakul, secretary-general of the Council for National Security, ordered a halt to further reporting of Thaksin's activities. "You guys should know that if we allow representatives of the former premier to make statements every day, the public will be confused," Winai told them. The new order angered journalists, many of whom had privately supported the coup. Spinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, told The Nation: "It's all about stifling any opposition. ... The CNS is no different from Thaksin in this regard. Today it is only messing with broadcast media; there is no guarantee it will not try to control the press tomorrow." Last week, the junta, without naming Thaksin directly, appeared to point the finger at him for a series of bombings that rocked the country. Thaksin denied that he or anyone associated with his political party was involved.

Brian B.