WITH NFL GONE, NBC LOSES YARDAGE

In its first Sunday night of the season without football, NBC recorded disappointing results for the debut of Grease: You're the One That I Want and the season premiere of The Apprentice. The 90-minute Grease special recorded an unimpressive 7.2 rating and a 10 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour to place third. It edged up a bit to a 7.7/11 in the 9:00-9:30 p.m. segment, but remained in third. Donald Trump's move to California saw a corresponding move downward in the ratings as the first half hour of The Apprentice recorded a 6.1/9, the reality show's worst ratings ever. The 10:00 p.m. hour didn't fare much better, averaging a 6.7/10. Earlier in the evening, Deal or No Deal, with a 5.7/8, was trounced by a football overrun on Fox that recorded a spectacular 23.1/23 and CBS's 60 minutes, which registered a 7.8/12.

IDOL IS GOLDEN

The American Idol franchise is already "conservatively" worth $2.5 billion, Advertising Age estimated in its current edition, while remarking that it is involved in numerous deals that could push the value of the franchise still higher for owner Fremantle Media. AdAge said the TV show alone brings in $500 million in ad revenue and additional revenue could come from plans to stream every episode of next season's Idol after it airs. McDonald's and MasterCard have already signed on as sponsors of the Internet version. In addition, said the trade publication, Idol chocolate bars, ice cream, Monopoly games, a theme park attraction, and a "Sims"-style video game are also in the works, many of them with sponsors' names attached. "There is an inordinate amount of extensions around the show," an unnamed executive at a major agency told AdAge. "Because the show has evolved, there are now more opportunities. That's where it starts to get sticky; you've got competitive issues."

FRANCE'S CANAL PLUS IS MORE "PLUS"

As of today (Monday), there is now no longer two giant satellite pay TV companies operating in France. Instead, Vivendi's Canal Plus and TF1's TPS have united to become Canal Plus France, with more than 8 million subscribers in a country of about 62 million people. Vivendi will control the new entity, a veritable monopoly in the French pay-TV market, with a stake of about 65 percent. In a statement, the company said, "The new entity represents a pay TV player comparable in size to the largest groups in Europe, one that can effectively operate on the new competitive playing field and energize the television market."

NETWORKS OK TV ON CELL PHONES

The cell phones of the immediate future will also be miniature television sets, several wireless companies have indicated at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. On Sunday, Verizon unveiled its V Cast Mobile TV service that it said will stream full-length TV programs from each of the four major networks to subscribers on their cell phones. Qualcomm's MediaFLO USA also announced that it had signed a licensing deal with 20th Century Fox subsidiaries that will bring programs from Fox TV, Fox News Channel, and Fox Sports to users of cell phones serviced by several wireless operators. A separate, similar deal was signed with Viacom's MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central channels. Meanwhile, Apple computer is expected to introduce a cell-phone/entertainment device at its MacWorld convention in San Francisco on Tuesday.

STEVE IRWIN'S FINAL TV ADVENTURE COMPLETED

Producer John Stainton and Philippe Cousteau, the 26-year-old grandson of famed marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, have completed production of the Animal Planet documentary Ocean's Deadliest, Steve Irwin's final project, scheduled to air on Jan. 21. In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Stainton said that at the time of Irwin's death last Sept. 4, many parts of the film had not been completed, including on-camera and voice-over narration, a task that Irwin and Cousteau were to have shared, "and if we didn't finish it, then our last few weeks with Steve would've been in vain." Cousteau subsequently took over alone. Stainton said that there will be only a fleeting reference to Irwin's death -- at the very end of the 90-minute film. "This film isn't about his death," Stainton said. "It's about the animals we set out to film."

CNN BRINGING BACK LONG-FORM TV DOCUMENTARIES

Hoping to revive the moribund long-form investigative documentary on television, CNN said it will launch CNN: Special Investigations Unit on Saturday, Jan. 20. It said that the program will feature reports by Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Soledad O'Brien, John Roberts, John King, and Candy Crowley. In an interview with today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times, CNN President Jonathan Klein said, "I think cable news in general fell a little too in love with the latest breaking developments and not enough with the explanation and context. ... There's really no true investigative journalism going on on a regular basis in cable news. People call some of their shows documentaries, but they're really just tawdry true crime stories. We're going to do real reporting."

Brian B.