ELECTION RETURNS: TV NEWS CALLS IT CLOSE

Almost as if they were each waiting to see who would make "the call" first, all of the major broadcast and cable networks reported at about the same time Tuesday night that the Democrats had regained the House of Representatives. NBC was the first to do so, at 10:54 p.m. Eastern Time, followed by sister cable news network MSNBC two minutes later. ABC, CNN, and CBS each made their announcements a minute or so afterwards. Fox News Channel didn't officially make the call until 11:18, but it had earlier been reporting that a Democratic takeover was a "foregone conclusion." Media critic Tom Shales wrote in the Washington Post: "Many an anchor or reporter seemed irked that he, like the public, would have to wait for genuine results before declaring winners." A.P. television writer Frazier Moore commented, "After past botched calls on winning candidates, the networks approached gingerly even early exit polls on basic issues." Similarly, Bill Carter in the New York Times remarked that they "exercised an unusual degree of caution ... apparently chastened by previous miscalculations based on exit poll information."

GIBSON DANCES AWAY WITH ELECTION VIEWERS

Although Brian Williams's nightly newscast on NBC has continued to outdraw Charles Gibson's on ABC and Katie Couric's on CBS, it was Gibson whom most viewers turned to Tuesday night for the climactic election results. ABC smartly scheduled its coverage to begin at 9:30 p.m. following the "performance" episode of Dancing With the Stars. That gave Gibson a big lead-in and a half-hour jump on his competitors at 10:00 p.m. In the head-to-head battle, Gibson scored a 6.6 rating and an 11 share for the hour. Williams, who corralled Tom Brokaw to assist him for election-night coverage, was well behind in second place with a 5.3/8. Couric was back substantially further with a 4.5/7. Even so, while Gibson was talking about one House at 9:30 p.m., viewers were watching another House. Fox's drama House registered a solid 11.4/16 in the 9:00 hour.

HOUSEWIVES, FOOTBALL IN SWEEPS VICTORY

A lot of couples must have watched television in separate rooms Sunday night. According to Nielsen Research, 22.65 million people watched Desperate Housewives on ABC, while 21.94 million watched Sunday Night Football on NBC. The two programs wound up as the most-watched of the past week, the first of the November sweeps. Although CBS came out ahead in total viewers, NBC drew the most viewers among adults 18-49, the demographic category most prized by advertisers. Except for the Winter Olympics telecasts, it was NBC's best showing since January 2005.

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

1. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 14.3/21; 2. Sunday Night Football, NBC, 13.9/22; 3. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 13.8/20; 4. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 13.2/21; 5. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 12.9/19; 6. Dancing With the Stars (Wednesday Results), ABC, 12.6/20; 7. Criminal Minds, CBS, 10.8/16; 8. CSI: NY, CBS, 10.6/18; 9. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.3/16; 9. (Tie) Deal or No Deal (Monday), NBC, 10.3/16.

VARGAS RETURNS FROM MATERNITY LEAVE

Following a 12-week maternity leave, Elizabeth Vargas will return as co-host of ABC's 20/20 with a feature about the plight of working mothers, the Washington Post reported today (Wednesday). According to the newspaper, she will describe her own experiences as well as those of three other working women with children. Vargas continues to deny that she was forced to leave ABC's World News because of her condition, insisting that the decision for her to step down was a mutual one. "Having had the baby, I can't imagine going back to that demanding job right now," she told the Post.

Brian B.