FOX TOPS NIELSENS; LOSES VIEWERS

Fox posted terrific ratings for its telecast of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game last week, but overall, its audience for the week shrank 13 percent from the comparable week a year ago. In fact, all broadcast networks showed some fall-off. NBC, buoyed by its America's Got Talent, was down the least with just a 3 percent decrease in viewers. CBS, the ratings leader, was down 4 percent. ABC was off 7 percent. The nightly newscasts continued to draw more viewers on average than primetime programs. NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams averaged 7.4 million viewers, compared with NBC's primetime average of 3.9 million. ABC's World News With Charles Gibson came in second with 6.5 million, compared with ABC's primetime average of 3.1 million viewers. And even the relatively low-rated CBS Evening News With Katie Couric, with 5.1 million viewers, beat the CBS primetime average of 4.7 million.

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

1. MLB All-Star Game, Fox, 8.9/15; 2. America's Got Talent (Tuesday), NBC, 8.0/13; 3. MLB All-Star Pregame, Fox, 7.0/13; 4. America's Got Talent (Wednesday 9:00 p.m.), NBC, 6.9/12; 5. NCIS, CBS, 6.7/12; 6. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 5.8/10; 7. The Mentalist, CBS, 5.6/10; 8. CSI: Miami, CBS, 5.4/9; 9. The Bachelorette, ABC, 5.3/9; 10. The Big Bang Theory, CBS, 5.2/9; 10. (Tie) CSI: NY, CBS, 5.2/10.

PAULA ABDUL: CRYING WOLF?

Whether Paula Abdul remains on American Idol may not be decided at the negotiating table but on the Internet, several newspaper, magazine and wire-service TV writers have observed. Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak wondered aloud to the Associated Press: "These people, and this show, want to be in the headlines, and this is a good way to do it. ... So you don't know: Is this another case of crying wolf ... or do they really mean it this time? Are they really through with her?" A.P. also quoted Rickey Yaneza, who blogs about the program at Rickey.org. Apparently referring to reports that Abdul is holding out for $20 million per season -- about $5 million more than what the producers have reportedly agreed to pay host Ryan Seacrest -- Yaneza said, "I think what'll happen is I think eventually whatever they'll offer her, she'll take." On the website, Starpulse. Com, contributing writer Andrew Payne commented, "Nobody can really be sure what's going through your pill-filled head, Paula, we just know that you've finally confirmed your craziness." But on the Village Voice website, gossip columnist Michael Musto remarked, "Well, I feel it's imperative that she come back to the show, especially since I don't watch it. Her 'antics' that some find so distasteful actually make for great copy, so I think it's very important to keep her around as a celebrity. And it's helpful to have a nice judge on the panel, someone not out to destroy the show biz dreams of 19-year-olds who'd rather proceed to an arena than to a mental ward." Meanwhile, Nigel Lithgow, a judge (and executive producer) on So You Think You Can Dance said that if Abdul left Idol, "We would certainly consider her as a guest judge."

REPORT: NO JACKSON TV SPECIAL

Plans for a Michael Jackson TV special next fall have apparently fallen through as all four major networks have balked at the $20-million price tag that promoters AEG Live have placed on the special, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Wednesday). The special was to have tied in with a Jackson movie that is expected to employ footage shot during rehearsals for the late entertainer's planned comeback concerts. However, none of the performance footage was to have been included in the TV show, although other singers were expected to take Jackson's role, using the same costumes and choreography that had been developed for the concert tour. "And the cost of that thing is $20 million? With no Michael Jackson? Ha!" one network source told the Times.

NORWAY DENIES NBC'S THE WANTED CLAIMS

The government of Norway has shot down a claim made at the conclusion of Monday night's The Wanted episode that it was in direct negotiations with Iraq to extradite Mullah Krekar, an alleged terrorist responsible for "killing hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans and Europeans," in the words of producer Charlie Ebersol. For its part, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained that there had been no change in its stance regarding Krekar and accused the producers of the program of dealing "with a serious matter in a superficial manner." Regarding the document that the producers obtained from a Kurdish official -- and displayed prominently on the program -- promising that Krekar would not be mistreated, the Foreign Ministry said that it did not "provide any diplomatic guarantee against abuse or against the implementation of a death sentence ... and it does therefore not change the conditions for the return of Mullah Krekar to Iraq." It said that Krekar will be expelled from Norway "as soon as the necessary conditions are met." Meanwhile, the airing of future episodes of The Wanted appears to be under a cloud after Monday night's episode drew fewer than 3 million viewers, making it the lowest-rated broadcast TV show of the night.