RIVERS PEAKS NBC'S RATINGS

The season finale of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, spread out over three hours on NBC Sunday night, produced some fireworks between the final contestants (the winner was Joan Rivers) and some solid ratings. While starting off in the first hour with just 6.76 million viewers, the Donald Trump-hosted reality show attracted 10.75 million in the final hour. ABC's Desperate Housewives was again the top-rated show of the night with 12.13 million viewers in the 9:00 hour, but its numbers have fallen steeply over the past two seasons. CBS was the most consistent performer of the night, drawing top ratings in the 7:00 hour with 60 Minutes (9.97 million viewers) and at 8:00 p.m. with the season finale of The Amazing Race with 10.43 million viewers.

AMERICAN IDOL: RATINGS AREN'T EVERYTHING

The companies behind American Idol are borrowing a page from the National Football League in developing ancillary markets for the program that have resulted in mounting profits even as ratings for the show have fallen, the New York Times reported today (Monday). An examination of the public financial statements of 19 Entertainment by the newspaper indicated that the producers have developed marketing arrangements and partnerships that have resulted in enormous profitability for Fox Television, 19 Entertainment, and co-producer FremantleMedia. Despite the fact that the average show's audience has fallen from around 30 million viewers three years ago to about 25 million this year, advertising revenue alone rose to $903 million million last year, about twice what it was three years earlier. Revenue from the show at 19 Entertainment grew to $96 million last year from $67 million two years earlier. Moreover, the Times observed, there seems little likelihood that the show's profits will drop significantly in the years ahead. Mike Darnell, who oversees unscripted entertainment programming for Fox, told the Times that Idol could lose 12 percent of its audience every season and remain among the top-10 TV shows in 2016.

TV WRITERS FACING HARD TIMES

It is becoming increasingly clear that whatever gains the Writers Guild of America made following its 100-day strike last year are being offset by cost-cutting measures by the studios and networks. Daily Variety reported today (Monday) that studios are cutting the writing budgets of returning shows by 10-15 percent and that new shows will start out with fewer writers than in recent seasons. "Where [series] once had as many as 10-12 writers ... the new norm is becoming six to eight," the trade publication said. It pointed out that NBC's new police drama Southland has just four writers, including creator/exec producer Ann Biderman. Moreover, experienced writers who command greater fees are likely to take the brunt of the budget cuts, Variety observed, quoting one literary agent as saying, "If you're a low writer and you're good, you'll probably survive because you don't cost that much. For a lot of high-paid writers, it's going to be, 'We're sorry but we're letting you go,'"

LIBERTY MEDIA MAY SAY GOODBYE TO DIRECTV

Liberty Media, which last week said that it would combine its DirecTV home satellite company with its entertainment unit and spin them off as a separate company, is now suggesting that it would like to sell DirecTV, which it acquired from News Corp in a stock swap last year. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei told the Associated Press Friday that he expected traditional phone companies, most of which have been unable to offer TV to compete with cable (which are now offering phone services), may be interested in buying DirecTV.

OBAMA: COULD HE REPLACE LENO?

President Obama demonstrated on Saturday that he could hold his own with the top late-night comedy hosts as he addressed the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington. He took no issue with Republican claims that the national press had favored his election over Republican rival John McCain, saying at the outset of his spiel, "Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me." Then, after waiting for the laughter to subside, he remarked, "Apologies to the Fox table." But Obama turned serious as he he concluded his talk, referring to the current uncertainty faced by those working in the news media. "You know, Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter," the president said. "Clearly, Thomas Jefferson never had cable news to contend with," he quipped. "But his central point remains: A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America."

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