NBC CONTINUES TO FADE

Without football in the picture, NBC was unable to place a single show in the Nielsen top ten last week. CBS again emerged as the most-watched network overall, while Fox -- thanks mostly to American Idol -- was the most-watched network among viewers 18-49, the demographic group that has the most appeal to advertisers. Although its numbers are down from last year, American Idol nevertheless trounced everything in sight. Wednesday's "results" show was the highest-rated show of the week, with 25.9 million viewers. Tuesday's "performance" show, which ordinarily draws more viewers than the Wednesday outing but had to compete with inauguration coverage on the other networks, placed second with 22.8 million viewers. CBS placed six shows in the top ten, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation behind the Idol episodes. With Laurence Fishburne making his debut as a cast regular, CSI drew 17.6 million viewers. ABC placed one show in the top ten -- Grey's Anatomy at No. 7. It captured 14.4 million viewers.

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

1. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 14.3/22; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 12.1/18; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 10.6/16; 4. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 9.8/14; 5. House, Fox, 8.8/13; 6. CSI: Miami, CBS, 9.3/15; 7. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 9.4/14; 8. 60 Minutes, CBS, 8.9/15; 9. Criminal Minds, CBS, 8.7/13; 10. Cold Case, CBS, 8.2/13.

IDOL FACES TOUGH CHALLENGE FROM NCIS

American Idol did not have to compete with inaugural activities Tuesday night, but it did have to go against a new episode of CBS's NCIS, one of the network's strongest shows. While Idol averaged 25.2 million viewers, NCIS also finished strongly with 19.1 million. Following Idol, Fox's Fringe performed decently, garnering 12.1 million viewers, but that was a 52-percent drop from Idol's numbers, and it came in second to a repeat of CBS's hit new series, The Mentalist, which averaged 15.23 million viewers. CBS remained in first place in the 10:00 p.m. hour as its Without a Trace drew 12.77 million viewers -- more than the combined total of ABC and NBC. (Fox does not air programs at 10:00 p.m.)

NBC NOT GETTING TOP PRICE FOR SUPER BOWL SPOTS

NBC will reap a bonanza in ad dollars from the February 1 Super Bowl game -- but it just won't be as big as it hoped it would be. At a news conference on Tuesday NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said that the network had only been able to sell 12 of the Super Bowl's 67 spots for the network's original $3-million asking price -- a figure that was 11 percent higher than the $2.7 million that Fox charged a year ago. The others, he said, had fetched sums in the "high 2 millions," Ebersol said. Several top Super Bowl advertisers -- most notably General Motors and Fedex -- have pulled out of the game's sponsorship because of the current economic downturn. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins said, "Super Bowl spots are not selling like they have in past years. ... Demand has not materialized." Ebersol said that the network has four spots remaining to be sold for Sunday's game.

NEW MOVIE CHANNEL DEBUT -- FIRST ON THE WEB

The internecine battle between Viacom's Paramount Pictures and CBS's Showtime Networks heated up Tuesday as Paramount, along with Lionsgate and MGM, announced the formation of a new movie channel, called Epix. Last year, the three studios failed to reach an agreement with Showtime, which has remained the Avis of movie channels, perennially taking a back seat to Time Warner's HBO. The new channel is expected to launch on the Internet first -- probably in May -- and then add cable in October. The New York Times reported today (Wednesday) that thus far the Epix founders have not reached a deal with any cable or satellite company. (Moreover, the Times reported that cable executives it had contacted said that they have little interest in carrying the channel.) Besides being able to feature a library of some 15,000 titles, with some being offered just nine months after their theatrical run, the company also plans to produce original programming. Access to the channel will require a monthly subscription.

SARANDON AND CLOONEY TO APPEAR DURING E.R. WRAP-UP

Susan Sarandon, who has made few appearances on television, will appear in one of the final episodes of E.R. with the returning George Clooney, E! Entertainment reported on its website Tuesday. According to the report, Sarandon has already filmed her scenes with Clooney on the E.R. set at the Warner Bros. Burbank studios last week. Although neither NBC, Warner Bros. nor Clooney has confirmed that he will return to the series that launched his career as a star, a crew member working on the show told E! that Clooney "was charming" on set. "Everyone had a great time with George, and he told some great stories about the old days. He really enjoyed himself and was glad he did it."