NOW YOU SEE THEM; NOW YOU DON'T

Magician Penn Jillette was forced to perform a disappearing act on ABC's Dancing With the Stars Tuesday night as he and tennis star Monica Seles became the first pair to be eliminated from the competition. In the ratings, the telecast itself danced rings around most of the competition, averaging an 11.4 rating and a 17 share, peaking in the final half hour with a 12.7/19. It also provided some sturdy coattails for the ABC magazine Primetime, which drew a solid 7.2/12 at 10:00 p.m. Nevertheless, the top-rated show of the night remained American Idol, which averaged a 14.3/22 from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., peaking in the final half hour at 9:00 p.m. with a 15.1/22 (making Dancing With the Stars' 10.0/10 in the same half hour seem all the more impressive).

SO HOW WOULD A SONG AND DANCE CONTEST DO?

Two episodes of Fox's American Idol followed by two episodes of ABC's Dancing With the Stars topped last week's Nielsen ratings. Once again, the week was won by Fox, which averaged a 6.0/10, but ABC was close behind, averaging a 5.8/10. CBS's numbers continued to slip as it placed third with a 5.5/9, and NBC came in a distant fourth with a 4.8/8 and would have lagged even further behind had it not been for old standby Law and Order and game show Deal or No Deal.

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

1. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 15.3/24; 2. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 15.2/23; 3. Dancing With the Stars (Monday), ABC, 13.3/21; 4. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 10.8/16; 5. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 8.5/13; 6. 60 Minutes, CBS, 7.3/13; 7. Law and Order, NBC, 7.1/12; 7. The New Adventures of Old Christine, CBS, 7.1/11; 9. Lost, ABC, 7.0/11; 9. (Tie) Moment of Truth, Fox, 7.0/11.

DAVID MARASH QUITS AL-JAZEERA ENGLISH

Former award-winning ABC Nightline correspondent David Marash is among some 15 mostly high-profile staff members who have quit al-Jazeera English, the international counterpart of the Arab all-news television service, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today (Wednesday). Marash had been the network's U.S. anchor in Washington. Steve Clark, formerly of Britain's ITN news service and Sky News, who was instrumental in launching al-Jazeera English, also has quit, the newspaper said. Al-Jazeera English had received much critical praise, particularly for its coverage of a part of the world that U.S. and British TV news networks traditionally disregard. However, it has failed to find large cable outlets in the U.S. willing to carry it, particularly since the original Arab service had been condemned as a mouthpiece for terrorism by Bush administration officials. Marash, who is Jewish, had been criticized in 2006 for his decision to join the Qatar-based service but had insisted that it was not anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, anti-American or anti-Western. "People's anxieties and fears [about AJE] are based on mostly hostile statements by American public officials, in error," he had said when the channel launched. It was unclear whether editorial strategy played a role in the resignations. The Guardian cited complaints by workers of a lack of clarity over the network's direction, contractual disputes and speculation over a planned relaunch later this year.

BBC AMERICA TO AIR INTERVIEW WITH WMD INFORMANT

Stepping up its competition with U.S. cable news networks, BBC America announced Tuesday that it plans to air an interview Friday night with the Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," whose false claims that he worked for an Iraqi factory developing biological weapons gave the Bush administration a principal justification for launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The man reportedly sold his information to German intelligence, which passed it along to Washington. It formed the centerpiece of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech on Iraq to the U.N. in early 2003, even though some senior officials in the CIA had reportedly warned Powell that the man was "unstable, immature and unreliable." Friday night's program will also feature an interview with Powell's chief of staff at the time, Lawrence Wilkerson.

WHEN DIGITAL SWITCH COMES, ANALOG OWNERS WON'T MOVE TO CABLE

Most people who own analog TV sets and receive programs over the air will not switch to cable after next February 17, when analog TV transmissions shut down and are replaced by digital. According to a survey by the Association of Public Television Stations, only 10 percent of the 14.5 million households who currently receive free over-the-air programming will opt for cable or satellite, while the rest plan to buy a converter box or a new digital TV set between now and then. Meanwhile the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has reported that as of March 19, it had received requests for 8,067,272 discount coupons for the converter boxes from 4,267,828 households.

SOUTH PARK: ALL THE SHOWS, ALL THE TIME

For reportedly the first time, every episode of every season of a TV series will be streamed online in its entirety with the official launch Tuesday of the new South Park website at southparkstudios.com. In a statement, Comedy Central said that since a beta version was launched last Wednesday, it had delivered more than a million streams of full South Park episodes. The show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, said in a statement that they had pushed for the site because "we got really sick of having to download our own show illegally all the time so we gave ourselves a legal alternative." Due to contractual issues, the episodes will not be available in the U.K., Australia and a few other countries, "but we're not far off from making that happen," South Park Digital Studios General Manager Anne Garefino said.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.