Catching many TV critics off guard, race-car driver Helio Castroneves danced off with the mirrorball trophy on Tuesday night's season finale of ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Most writers had predicted that Melanie Brown, the former Spice Girl, would win, and several suggested today (Wednesday) that she was robbed. Writing for the Associated Press, Sandy Cohen commented, "As a pure dancer, Spice Girl Melanie Brown was easily the most polished finalist, consistently wowing the judges with her versatility and flair." But, she said, "Fan support is just as critical as fancy footwork," oddly suggesting that the race-car driver had the fans and the Spice Girl didn't. What the show itself had, however, was massive ratings. It averaged a 16.3 rating and a 25 share between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., peaking in the final half-hour with a 17.0/27. That translated to 25.8 million viewers, the most for any entertainment show this season.


Last week's penultimate Dancing With the Starscompetition show on Monday night hoofed it to the top of the ratings as 22.85 million viewers tuned in. It marked the fourth time in the last five weeks that the show had topped the Nielsen list (and Tuesday night's finale is virtually certain to do the same when this week's results are tallied). Nevertheless, CBS once again remained the most-watched network overall for the November sweeps week, even though none of its shows finished higher than fifth. Thanksgiving week, during which ratings usually decline, thereby signaling a plethora of repeats, actually saw relatively little ratings erosion. NBC's Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles drew 21.8 million viewers -- even as ABC's Desperate Housewiveson the same night attracted 18.6 million. Ratings for the evening newscasts were actually up significantly for the week, with NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams attracting an average of 9.91 million viewers. ABC World News With Charles Gibsonfinished second with 9.03 million viewers, while CBS Evening News With Katie Couric placed third with 6.94 million viewers.

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

1. Dancing With the Stars(Monday), ABC, 14.7/22; 2. Sunday Night Football: New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NBC, 13.4/21; 3. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 13.0/19; 4. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 11.5/17; 5. NCIS, CBS, 10.8/17; 6. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.5/16; 7. CSI: Miami, CBS, 10.4/17; 8. House, Fox, 10.0/15; 9. Criminal Minds, CBS, 9.6/16; 10. Samantha Who?, ABC, 9.5/14.1.


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was forced to admit defeat Tuesday when it became apparent that even his fellow Republican commissioners would not support his efforts to tighten regulations on the cable industry. The principal issue centered around a report prepared by FCC staff members that concluded that 70 percent of households are now able to connect to cable systems and at least 70 percent of those are subscribers. Such a state of affairs would have triggered a rule passed by Congress in 1984 that would have permitted the FCC greater authority to regulate the cable industry. But the industry claimed that the report was misleading, insisting that it was losing subscribers to competing satellite, telephone, and Internet services -- not gaining them. And Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told the Los Angeles Times, "There was an attempt to cook the books on this report." In the end, Martin acknowledged that the study may not be precise enough to trigger his proposed regulations. The commission did pass a new regulation Tuesday that will require cable companies to provide complete data on how many subscribers they have. The Tuesday meeting of the commission was delayed several times as items pertaining to the cable industry that Martin had sought to put to a vote were dropped from the commission's agenda. Analysts said that the resounding defeat will increase Martin's difficulties in pushing through other pet proposals, including one that would allow media companies to own a broadcast station as well as a newspaper in the top 20 markets.


Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers were due to return to the bargaining table again today after two day of talks that reportedly showed little forward motion. L.A. Weeklycolumnist Nikki Finke reported on her Deadline Hollywood Daily Internet site today (Wednesday) that the studio representatives have spent the last two days rehashing the proposals that they had on the table when the writers walked out, adding only two relatively insignificant new items for the WGA to consider. She quoted one source as saying, "You can look at this as some really sophisticated and interesting negotiating tactic, or as stonewalling. But it's also paralysis. It's one thing to go back but another to not move at all." Meanwhile, today's Los Angeles Timesobserved that even if the strike were settled before Christmas, normal operations could not be resumed for three to five weeks. "Resuming production isn't something that can happen overnight," Pam Veasey, an executive producer of CSI: New York, told the Times. "You have to write scripts, you have to find locations, you have to do casting. It doesn't just take one week to prepare 200 crew members to film a single episode of a drama."


Britain's three biggest broadcasters, the BBC (its Worldwide unit), ITV, and Channel Four have agreed to set up a video-on-demand Internet service that will contain more than 10,000 hours of their programs. The service, curiously titled Kangaroo, will provide some programming via download, other programming via streaming. Some programs will be free. Others can be purchased. Still others can be rented. In a joint announcement, the three companies said that they plan to launch the service next year but gave no specific target date. Reporting on the agreement, today's (Wednesday) London Financial Times commented that it "represents a giant leap for the traditionally combative broadcasters as they come to terms with changing customer behavior and the growing importance of on-demand content."