CABLE SETS RATINGS RECORD

ESPN's Monday Night Football telecast registered the largest audience in the history of cable TV and beat nearly every program carried by the broadcast networks with the exception of CBS's CSI: Miami. According to the cable sports network, the game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys averaged 11.8 million households, beating the previous record of 11.2 million held by the 1993 NAFTA debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot carried on CNN's Larry King Live. In total households, CSI: Miami attracted 12.6 million, but the ESPN telecast led among the key demographic group of adults 18-49 (tying for first place with NBC's Heroes). The figure is particularly striking inasmuch as ESPN can be seen in only 86 percent of TV households. Meanwhile NBC and the NFL announced that the first game to air under the new "flex" schedule for NBC Sunday Night Football will be the Chicago Bears-New York Giants contest on Nov. 12. The flex schedule is designed to assure the network that it will be able to televise important games as the season comes to an end.

GREY'S PULLS AHEAD

ABC's Grey's Anatomy has widened the distance between itself and CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, both of which share the same 9:00 p.m. time period on Thursday nights. According to Nielsen Research Grey's drew 22 million viewers to CSI's 20.5 million. CSI, in fact, dropped to third place among the top ten for the week as ABC's Dancing With the Stars moved into second place with 21.2 million viewers for its Tuesday-night telecast. For the week, CBS remained ahead in overall household ratings with an 8.0 rating and a 13 share. Fox, thanks to post-season baseball, was close behind with a 7.8/13, just ahead of ABC, which recorded a 7.3/12. NBC trailed with a 5.7/9.

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

1. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 14.4/21; 2. Dancing With the Stars, ABC, 13.6/21; 3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 12.7/19; 4. Dancing With the Stars (Results), ABC, 12.5/20; 5. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 12.4/18; 6. CSI: Miami, CBS, 11.6/18; 6. World Series Game 2, Fox, 11.6/18; 8. MLB National League Championship Game 7, Fox, 10.8/18; 9. Criminal Minds, CBS, 10.6/16; 9. Deal or No Deal (Monday), NBC, 10.6/16.

CABLE NETWORKS BALK AT NIELSEN RATINGS PLAN

Most of the major cable networks said Tuesday that they won't participate in a plan by Nielsen Research to track the number of people watching national commercials. The cable companies maintained that the preliminary tests of the system were seriously flawed. Nielsen has said that the cable networks should regard the initial results as what it called evaluative. But Turner Broadcasting released a copy of a letter that its chief research officer, Jack Wakshlag, wrote to Nielsen saying, "You know the data is not ready. I am distressed that you will be releasing it anyway, even as 'evaluative,' and strongly urge you to reconsider."

E! FIRES PRODUCER AND CAMERAMAN

E! Entertainment channel said Tuesday that it had fired a producer and a cameraman who allegedly trespassed onto property owned by Brad Pitt and began filming construction workers building a mansion on the site. According to the TMZ website, the construction crew attempted to confiscate the E! cameraman's equipment but he ran into a nearby van and drove off with the producer. In a statement to TMZ, E! said, "E! Networks did not instruct or authorize anyone working on its program to improperly intrude onto private property, and the individuals involved have been terminated. While neither Mr. Pitt nor his family were at the property when the incident took place, the network in no way condones or encourages such behavior and would like to offer its most sincere apologies to Mr. Pitt and his family."

NO DRAMAS OR SITCOMS AT 8:00 ON NBC NEXT SEASON? DON'T BET ON IT

NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly has backed off further from NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker's announcement that the network intends to fill the 8:00 p.m. hour with low-cost reality shows. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Zucker said, "It's not a light-switch thing or absolute thing." He said he considers Zucker's scheme "a target" that the network will aim for between now and next May when network schedules are presented to advertisers. "Ultimately," he added, "it's formalizing something that essentially is going on now, anyway. Nonscripted shows pretty much dominate that hour."

DIANE SAWYER, IN N. KOREA, BOOSTS ABC'S AUDIENCE

Indicating that TV news audiences have a greater interest in overseas news than is generally believed, ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, which last week featured reports by Diane Sawyer from North Korea, beat NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams among adults 25-54. Although the NBC telecast was No. 1 in overall households, with 8.7 million viewers, ABC was close behind with 8.5 million. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric remained well behind in third place for the fourth straight week with 7.6 million viewers.

Brian B.