i>IDOL RETURNS -- BIGGER THAN EVER

Defying TV critics' predictions that it would not be able to sustain its enormous popularity, American Idol returned to the air on Fox Tuesday with ratings that exceeded those for its season debut a year ago. According to Nielsen Research 37.3 million viewers tuned in to the two-hour premiere versus 35.5 million last year. The 8:00 p.m. hour recorded a rating of 18.8 and an audience share of 28. The second hour at 9:00 p.m. averaged a 21.3/32. CBS's NCIS once again proved to be a solid competitor at 8:00 p.m. as it delivered a 10.2/15. But NBC's Dateline and ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos were barely blips on the ratings chart. At 9:00 p.m., CBS remained in second place with The Unit, which recorded a 7.6/11. But a rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent drew only a 5.5/8 for NBC, while a second hour of Videos drew a 3.8/6 for ABC. With Idol out of the competition at 10:00 p.m., NBC moved to the top with a 9.2/15 for Law & Order: SVU. ABC's Boston Legal placed second with a 6.4/10, while CBS's 48 Hours Mystery finished third with a 5.6/9.

THE RETURN OF THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE?

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have indicated that they plan to introduce legislation this year that would require the FCC to restore the Fairness Doctrine, a rule that once compelled broadcasters to present all sides of controversial issues. Kucinich said that he will chair a new House subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee that will hold hearings on the role of the FCC and consider reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Most analysts agreed that the rule would have little effect on broadcast television networks, which generally attempt to observe at least the spirit of the Fairness Doctrine, which was overturned in 1987 during the Reagan administration. But it would play havoc with talk radio stations, which currently are dominated by conservative hosts. Today's (Wednesday) New York Daily News quoted Rush Limbaugh as saying that the calls for reinstatement amount to a "hush Rush" campaign. Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, told the newspaper that the Fairness Doctrine "did nothing except chill free speech." He added, "Talk radio owes its explosive growth over the last 20 years to the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine." Other experts doubted that it could be reinstated, noting that President Bush would almost certainly veto any legislation to do so.

FOX APOLOGIZES FOR F-WORD ON A T-SHIRT

Fox TV has issued an apology for showing a fan wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "F**k da Eagles" during its primetime coverage of last Saturday's NFL playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints. A Fox Sports spokesman said that the program aired live, without the usual 3-5 second delay. "It was unintentional, inadvertent, and we apologize," Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell said in response to complaints from numerous religious and conservative family-activist groups, including Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council, which has spearheaded the battle against indecent speech on television. On Tuesday, Tim Winter, executive director of the PTC, issued a statement saying, "There is no doubt that this was an intentional airing of patently offensive language on the public airwaves." He added: "We are calling on our members across the nation to file formal indecency complaints with the FCC, and we urge the commission to take swift and decisive action to protect the public airwaves from those who are abusing their privilege to use them."

THAILAND CENSORS CNN, BLOCKS CNN AND BBC WEBSITES

The military junta ruling Thailand has come under new attack by domestic human rights organizations and international journalists groups after it censored CNN's broadcast of an interview with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra conducted in Singapore. A spokesman for the Human Rights Committee of Thailand called the censorship "a freedom of expression blockade." In New York the Committee to Protect Journalists also issued a statement condemning the action. During the interview Thaksin denied claims by the junta that his supporters were responsible for a series of bombings that rocked Bangkok on New Year's Eve. He also said that he planned to quit politics and return to civilian life. Last week the Thai government ordered local broadcast stations not to air any statements by Thaksin. Today's (Wednesday) Bangkok Post and The Nation, the two leading English-language newspapers, reported that the government also shut down access to CNN's and the BBC's websites. "The irony was that neither featured any news of the Thaksin interview, although numerous other websites did," the Post said. In the interview Thaksin also said that when he was informed that a coup was taking place while he was in New York last Sept. 19, he attempted to go on Thai television to address the country but was unable to do so. He remarked that he didn't "believe that this can happen again in the 21st century." In Thailand viewers saw still photos of Angelina Jolie and Cameron Diaz in place of the CNN interview.

CNN TO AIR IN HDTV

CNN will become the first cable news network to broadcast in high definition when it launches CNN-HD this fall, the network announced Tuesday. Home satellite operator DirecTV immediately announced that it will carry the HDTV broadcasts. DirecTV was acquired last month by John Malone's Liberty Media from News Corp, which owns the Fox News Network, CNN's principal rival.

Brian B.