CBS HAS ITS UPS AND DOWNS

Shares of CBS Corp. may be way down in the overall market slump -- they had dropped 4.30 percent at midday trading today (Wednesday) -- but the company's Nielsen ratings have rarely risen higher this year than they did last week. CBS captured four of the top-five programs, including No. 1, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which drew 23.5 million, and, for the first time, beat ABC rival Grey's Anatomy among adults 18-49. In fact, CBS, often regarded as the old-folks network, drew more younger viewers than any other network last week. ABC managed to provide some solid competition with Dancing With the Stars and its new sci-fi drama Life on Mars, but NBC continued to trail, failing to place a single show in the top ten. (It's highest-rated program was Sunday Night Football, which came in at No. 13.) For the week, CBS averaged a 6.9 rating and an 11 share. ABC placed second with a 6.3/10. Fox placed third with a 5.0/8, while NBC trailed with a 4.4/7.

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

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 13.9/21; 2. Dancing With the Stars (Monday), ABC, 12.0/18; 3. Criminal Minds, CBS, 10.2/16; 4. CSI: NY, CBS, 10.1/17; 4. NCIS, CBS, 10.1/15; 6. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 10.0/15; 7. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 9.8/15; 7. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 9.8/15; 9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 9.2/15; 10. The OT, Fox, 9.0/15.

DEBATE PUTS FOX NEWS ON TOP OF CABLE RATINGS

Thanks to its coverage of the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, Fox News Channel became the most-watched network on cable last week, boasting an average primetime audience of 3.44 million viewers for the week, according to Nielsen Media Research. Some 8.77 million viewers watched the channel's debate coverage, with 7.05 million staying tuned for a special edition of Greta Van Sustern's On the Record, which followed. FNC also scored strongly among adults 25-54, coming in fourth among that demographic group. TBS was the second most-watched network during the week, thanks to its coverage of the baseball playoffs. It averaged 3.33 million total viewers for the week. However it ranked first in the key demographic groups, 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54.

HEROIC PERFORMANCE BY HEROES -- ON PIRATE SITES

NBC's Heroes may have hit a season low for the second week in a row last week, but it was the most downloaded show on BitTorrent sites, according to TorrentFreak.com, which says that its data are collected "from a representative sample of BitTorrent sites." According to the data, the second most-downloaded show was Fox's Prison Break, which has also seen a significant audience downturn this season. Each show was downloaded more than a million times, mostly from outside the U.S., TorrentFreak said. Coming in third was Showtime's Dexter, followed by Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, whose ratings have been so low this season that several analysts have predicted imminent cancellation. Rounding out the top five was ABC's hit drama Grey's Anatomy.

POLITICAL ADS GIVE TV STATIONS A BAILOUT

Softening the blow of advertising cutbacks by local businesses on TV stations throughout the country, political ad buying reached a new intensity last week -- particularly purchases by the Barack Obama presidential campaign on local TV. According to Politico.com, which cited figures by Nielsen Media Research, the Obama campaign has spent about $195 million on ads since the primaries versus $99 million by John McCain's campaign. The Obama campaign is funded by individual contributions; McCain's, principally by the $85-million allotment from the Presidential Campaign Financing Fund. Evan Tracey, COO of Campaign Media Analysis Group, told Politico.com that Obama is currently spending $3.5 million a day on TV ads. "If he does that through Election Day, it will be more than McCain got from the government for his entire general election campaign." Added Politico.com: "Republicans are using every wrinkle and loophole in -- ironically -- the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law to try to keep pace."

RATHER SAYS DEBATES ARE NOT DEBATES

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather insisted Tuesday that the "so-called" presidential debates are not controlled by the journalists presiding over them but by the two political parties. He accused his colleagues of showing too much deference to the candidates and operating in general in a "defensive posture" and imposing self-censorship on themselves. "These so-called debates are not for the people, by the people," Rather said Tuesday at Time Warner's Politics 2008 Summit. "They are for the parties, by the parties. That's what's wrong with them."

FCC MEMBER PREDICTS "MESSY" TRANSITION TO DIGITAL

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell predicted Tuesday that the switch from analog to digital TV on February 17 "will be messy .. but we will get through it." In an interview with Reuters, McDowell urged TV stations to step up their informational campaigns to alert owners of analog TV sets who receive programming over the air that their sets will go dark next February unless they purchase a converter box. Not mentioned in any of the discussion is that owners of battery-operated portable TV sets, who depend on them in case of emergencies, such as floods, fires and earthquakes, will see those devices become useless -- since no battery-run converter boxes have been manufactured.