WILL NIGHTLINE RULE LATE-NIGHT TV?

ABC, which once hoped to land David Letterman and later Jay Leno to host a late-night talk show, has discovered that what it already has been airing in the time period is more potent than Letterman and might very well also wind up stronger than Leno's successor, Conan O'Brien. The website TVNewser.com pointed out Thursday that ABC's Nightline has been expanding its audience for 18 straight weeks and that its ratings during the week of May 4 were up 9 percent over the same week last year. By the same token, NBC's Tonight show with Leno was down 3 percent and CBS's Late Show with Letterman was down 2 percent. Nightline remained in second place with 3.66 million viewers, edging out Late Show with 3.60 million. The Tonight show remained in first place with 4.85 million.

RATINGS FOR MEET THE PRESS FALL

The loss of Tim Russert as moderator of NBC's Meet the Press continues to affect the ratings for television news's longest-running program. Sunday's ratings were its lowest since Russert's death -- 20 percent below those for the comparable day a year ago, when Russert still moderated the program, a month before his fatal heart attack at age 58. At the same time, ratings for CBS's Face the Nation which featured a provocative exchange between host Bob Schieffer and former Vice President Dick Cheney was up 17 percent in the ratings. Fox News Sunday was also up -- 15 percent.

RATINGS FOR SOUTHLAND GO SOUTH

NBC's Southland, which started out last month looking as if it could take over the lead in the 10:00 p.m. hour once held by E.R. on Thursdays has quickly faded. This week's episode marked a series low, with just 4.64 million viewers tuning in. By contrast, the season finale of Grey's Anatomy in the same hour attracted 17.12 million viewers while a Thursday edition of CSI: NY placed second with 12.84 million.

FOX RISES TO THE TOP

Two weeks before the official close of the 2008-2009 season, Fox has taken the lead in the ratings among all major age groups, while CBS leads among total viewers according to TVbytheNumbers.com. Fox was able to rise to the top despite the fact that, unlike last year, it did not air the Super Bowl game. NBC, which did, remains mired in last place, except among adults 18-34 where it is tied with ABC.

PILOT-LESS SHOWS? NETWORKS CHANGE THEIR MINDS

Despite numerous reports that the major broadcast networks were determined to put some series into production without first producing pilots, about half of the shows that they are considering for next season are "laugh track" comedies -- presumably with fully produced pilots, according to TheWrap.com. The website reported that about 20 sitcom pilots are currently being evaluated, and about half of those were shot in television studios with multiple cameras -- meaning that they were produced quickly, at lower cost, using AFTRA rather than SAG actors.

FAWCETT, NEAR DEATH, AT CENTER OF LEGAL BATTLE

Farrah Fawcett, who reportedly is close to death from cancer, is now caught in a legal dispute between her onetime producer Craig Nevius and her longtime companion Ryan O'Neal over the documentary Farrah's Story, scheduled to air tonight (Friday) on NBC. Reuters reported on Thursday that Nevius has filed a lawsuit against O'Neal claiming that he had taken over editorial control of the documentary without Fawcett's authorization and that he had included footage in it that Farrah had not approved. He also claims that O'Neal's business manager has banned him from communicating with Fawcett "under physical and professional threat." Paul Bloch, a longtime spokesman for O'Neal and Fawcett, told Reuters that the actor "finds this lawsuit deplorable and disgusting. ... We hope and pray that Farrah does not know or see this lawsuit in the condition she is in right now."