i>IDOL OFF ITS PEAK AND SIMON'S PIQUE

American Idol roared back onto the air Tuesday night with an 18.6 rating and a 27 share -- putting it well above every other regular series airing this season. Nevertheless its total audience of 33.2 million was down significantly from its peak season debut last year with 37.3 million and also down from 2006's 35.5 million. Several critics expressed surprise that the usually dyspeptic and sometimes cruel Simon Cowell reacted mildly even to some of the more deplorable performances. "The King of Mean was replaced by the Prince of Nice," wrote Adam Buckman in the New York Post. Craig Berman on MSNBC.com suggested that perhaps airing the show from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, brought out the judges' "kinder, gentler" side.

FOX LEAPS FORWARD

Fox began making its annual mid-season move to the front ranks of the Nielsen ratings last week, scoring strongly among adults 18-49 with NFL football and the debut of its sci-fi drama Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. CBS, however, remained on top overall, drawing big numbers for the miniseries Comanche Moon and its old stand-by, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Overall ratings were down significantly from last year, following a pattern that began well before the writers' strike. Only CBS remained flat with last year. Overall, the network wound up with an average 8.2 rating and a 13 share for the week. Fox placed second with a 7.9/12. NBC followed with a 5.1/8, edging out ABC with a 5.0/8.

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

1. NFC Playoffs, Fox, 18.8/29; 2. AFC Playoffs, CBS, 17.9/30; 3. BCS National Championship, Fox, 14.4/22; 4. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 11.6/17; 5. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 11.2/17; 6. Terminator: Sarah Conover Chronicles, Fox, 11.1/16; 7. Law and Order: SVU, NBC, 9.9/17; 8. Comanche Moon Pt. 1, CBS, 9.4/14; 9. Without a Trace, CBS, 9.3/16; 10. Criminal Minds, CBS, 8.9/14.

KEATON USES "F" WORD; FCC SILENT

During an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's Good Morning America Tuesday, Diane Keaton blurted out the "f" word, then apologized. The incident might have triggered action by the FCC, but FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said later that a recent court decision overturning the FCC's policy on the fleeting use of such expletives tied the commission's hands. The FCC is appealing the decision. An ABC news spokesman called the incident "unfortunate" and said that that word had been bleeped in later feeds to time zones in the West.

RECORDING ACADEMY IN PLEA TO WGA

After at first seeming to slam the door shut on a plea by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to allow its annual Grammy show to proceed without pickets and with writers, the Writers Guild of America West appeared to open it a crack Tuesday, saying that the academy's latest request "will be referred to the WGAW Board of Directors for decision." The Screen Actors Guild indicated Tuesday that if pickets are posted at the awards show, it expects to show solidarity with the WGA and not participate in the ceremonies scheduled to take place in Los Angeles on February 10. However, most singers and musicians are members of AFTRA and the American Federation of Musicians and are expected to fulfill contractual obligations to perform on the show or act as presenters. The two unions released a joint statement Tuesday urging the WGA to allow the Grammys to proceed, pointing out that proceeds from the even sustain "important educational, charitable, and advocacy activities" of NARAS. The Grammys are scheduled to air on CBS.

WINFREY HAS NETWORK OF HER OWN

The Oprah Winfrey Network -- or OWN -- will take over what is now the Discovery Health Channel, currently carried by cable systems serving 70 million households, it was announced Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what form the new channel would take, although, in a conference call with reporters, Winfrey said that she pulled out of the women's-oriented Oxygen Network, in which she was an investor and co-founder, because it "did not reflect my voice." In the case of OWN, Winfrey said, "I will have editorial control." She said that the network would use "the platform of The Oprah Winfrey Show but would not air reruns of the show itself, at least not initially. She has a contract in place with CBS Television Distribution (the show is carried mostly on ABC-TV outlets) through the 2010-11 season, at which time she would be free to negotiate a new contract allowing OWN to rerun past shows or move the show to the new network. No money exchanged hands in the deal. Winfrey's Harpo productions will own a 50-percent stake in the cable network with Discovery owning the other 50-percent stake. The new network is expected to launch in late summer.

HYUNDAI, CITING COST, MAY PULL ADS OUT OF SUPER BOWL

Hyundai, which announced in October that it had bought ad time to air two 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl game on February 3, is now considering pulling out. Given the worsening U.S. economy, which has hit the automobile industry hard, Hyundai said that it is "reviewing whether or not we want to advertise on the Super Bowl" at a reported cost of $2.7 million to $3 million for each spot. In an interview with Automotive News, Hyundai spokesman Chris Hosford said, "A lot of economic indicators clearly show the economy is slowing. ... Is this the best thing to do with our advertising funds in the first quarter?"

KUCINICH OUSTED FROM NEVADA DEBATE

Democratic presidential contender Dennis Kucinich flew to Las Vegas Tuesday, betting that the Nevada Supreme Court would uphold a lower court order requiring MSNBC to include him in Tuesday's presidential debate. As it turned out, he would have had better luck at the roulette wheel, as the state's high court decided that the lower court had exceeded its authority and that the network had never signed a legally binding contract with the Ohio congressman (although it had previously invited him to appear). In the end, the program was limited to the top three Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.