WHO SAYS THE NETS ARE DYING?

The broadcast networks drew one of the biggest primetime audiences of the decade last week as viewers turned out en masse for CBS's coverage of the AFC championship on Sunday, which attracted the biggest audience for an AFC title game in 21 years, and for the first two nights of the season of Fox's American Idol. According to Nielsen Research, the game drew 46,695,000 viewers (compared with the 47,500,000 who tuned in for the New England-Miami contest on NBC in 1986). Fox also drew gargantuan ratings for American Idol -- exceeding every previous season opener for the show. Tuesday's premiere captured 37,441,000 viewers, while Wednesday's lost hardly any at all as 36,936,000 tuned in. ABC and NBC also had plenty to boast about as ABC's Grey's Anatomy produced season-high numbers (perhaps fueled by the homophobic name-calling incident involving Isaiah Washington and his openly gay castmate, T.R. Knight). In addition, the network's Desperate Housewives landed in the top ten, while Ugly Betty placed twelfth. NBC's coverage of the Golden Globe Awards produced the highest ratings for that awards show in three years, claiming 20,036,00 viewers. In a statement, the network observed that it is the only network that has seen an increase in both total audience and adults 18-49 this season. For the week, CBS averaged a 10.0 rating and a 16 share. Fox placed second with an average 8.7/13. NBC settled for third place with a 6.1/9, while ABC trailed with a 5.7/9.

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

1. AFC Championship Post-Game, CBS, 27.0/39; 2. AFC Championship New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts, CBS, 26.4/39; 3. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 20.3/29; 4. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 20.1/30; 5. AFC Championship Post-Game 2, CBS, 17.4/26; 6. Grey's Anatomy (Thursday), ABC, 14.1/21; 7. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 13.3/20; 8. 64th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 13.2/20; 9. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 11.0/15; 10. NCIS, CBS, 10.2/15.

IDOL REMAINS UNTOUCHABLE

Ratings for American Idol slipped a bit in its second week but nevertheless registered a huge 17.2 rating and a 25 share for Fox at 8:00 p.m., according to overnight Nielsens. That translated to 31.17 million viewers, versus 36.94 million who tuned in last Tuesday for the two-hour season premiere. Viewers who watched President Bush's State of the Union speech at 9:00 p.m. mostly stuck with Fox, which drew 10.49 million. NBC's coverage of the speech attracted 8.52 million, just ahead of CBS's 8.43 million. ABC claimed 7.02 million. Meanwhile, when final figures came in Tuesday, NBC's Heroes turned out to be the winner of the contest with Fox's 24 for ratings supremacy in the 9:00 p.m. hour on Monday night. According to Nielsen Research, Heroes drew 14.9 million viewers versus 14.47 million for 24. Earlier, overnight ratings had reversed the standings.

ABC'S NEWSCAST GAINS ON NBC'S

A neck-and-neck race appears to be developing between the ABC and NBC nightly newscasts as ABC's World News With Charles Gibson continues to gain viewers and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams continues to shed them. According to last week's Nielsen figures, the NBC newscast remains in the lead with 9.8 million viewers, while ABC's is close behind with 9.07 million. Among viewers aged 25-54, the race is tighter still with the NBC show registering 2.82 million and ABC's 2.72 million. The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric has shed the most viewers year-to-year and now attracts a total audience 7.37 million and 2.37 million younger viewers. In an interview with the Readers Digest, Couric said she remains "blissfully unaware" of the ratings, "but I am not exactly living under a rock, either. The bottom line is that seven and a half million people are watching us." She concluded, "I am just glad that I took a risk. And if I can inspire one little girl, then I feel great about that."

CUOMO NEARLY INJURED IN IRAQ

Good Morning America's Chris Cuomo narrowly missed becoming the latest journalist to join the wounded in the war in Iraq. On Tuesday a roadside bomb ripped into the armored Humvee in which he was riding, but the shrapnel missed him. "I got very, very lucky," Cuomo said in a telephone interview with the Washington Post. The incident, Cuomo suggested, was regarded as routine by the American soldiers with whom he was riding. "They go out day after day while people are trying to blow them up," he said. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said that Cuomo had volunteered for the Iraq assignment. "It reminds you once again that Iraq is a terribly dangerous place, but a place where we owe it to our audience to tell the story of what soldiers go through on a daily basis," Schneider said.

MAUI TEENS IN A FEVER OVER MAUI FEVER

MTV's latest reality series Maui Fever is drawing flak from local teenagers who say that the show gives a distorted impression of life on the Hawaiian island, suggesting that it's a place where young people are always partying and hooking up for sex. Sixteen-year-old Nathan Ugale of Lahaina told the Maui News, "I don't want [tourists] to come to Maui and think that people are going to come up to their daughters, so 'I better keep them away.'" Another Lahaina sixteen-year-old, Abcde [sic] Shibao, told the newspaper, "They just show partying ... but [young people are] active in school, community and sports." Several objected to the fact that all of the people selected for the show are white -- or "haoles," to use the local epithet.

SHOULD GREY'S WASHINGTON "COME OUT?"

ABC has brushed aside proposals by gay activists that Grey's Anatomy costar Isaiah Washington's character should become gay. The actor was recently called on the carpet by producers of the show, fellow actors, and network executives for using an anti-gay slur on the set of the show and repeating it at the Golden Globes awards. An ABC spokesperson told today's (Wednesday) Philadelphia Inquirer: "That is not part of his story line, and it wouldn't make sense for the character." Larry Gross, director of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, added, "ABC won't do it. ... It would be a constant reminder of this incident and would keep it fresh in the minds of viewers." Washington has previously played a gay man -- in Spike Lee's 1996 film Get on the Bus.

Brian B.