SEASON GETS OFF TO ANOTHER SLOW START

The major broadcast networks together saw their audience decline 7 percent during the first week of the fall season compared to the same week a year ago or 15 percent compared to the same week in 2005, according to figures from Nielsen Research. NBC, which placed last among the networks for the full season last year, got off to an even worse start this year as its household ratings fell 13 percent from the same week a year ago. However, the network was helped somewhat by the strong showing of the Bionic Woman premiere, which placed 17th on Nielsen's rankings.

JUDGE BARS BOSTON TV REPORT

A Boston judge has ordered a local television station not to reveal autopsy findings that two firefighters who died fighting a fire in August were legally intoxicated, in the case of one, and under the influence of cocaine, in the case of the other. After learning that WHDH-TV planned a report on the autopsies Suffolk Superior Court Judge Merita Hopkins issued an injunction prohibiting the station from doing so, saying autopsy results are exempt from disclosure under state public records law and can only be released with permission from next of kin. The station, calling the judge's ruling "prior restraint" and saying that it had learned of the results from confidential sources, said that it would appeal. News of the autopsy results appeared today (Friday) in Boston newspapers. UPDATE: An appeals court judge later vacated the injunction, saying that he would explain his ruling later.

HARDBALL HOST MATTHEWS CRIES FOUL

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, charged Thursday that White House officials have frequently complained about his broadcasts to his bosses at the cable network. Speaking at a dinner honoring him on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his program, Matthews maintained that the administration officials, particularly those in Vice President Cheney's office, had attempted to influence the editorial content of his program. "They will not silence me!" the Washington Examiner quoted him as saying. He then charged that the Bush "crowd" has "finally been caught in their criminality." (He was not specific.) Matthews is due to act as one of the moderators at Tuesday's Republican debate in Dearborn, MI.

RUSSIA ALLOWS ABC TO RETURN TO MOSCOW

Two years after it was kicked out of Russia for airing an interview with a Chechen rebel leader, ABC is being allowed to send a reporter back to Moscow to head up its bureau there. The new reporter is Clarissa Ward, a former correspondent for Fox News. Reports said that ABC had been negotiating with Russian officials in Moscow and Washington since the 2005 broadcast. It was unclear whether the network had agreed to avoid interviewing Chechen rebels as a condition for its being allowed to return. The 2005 interview with Chechnya's Shamil Basayev, conducted by Andrei Babitski of Radio Free Europe, aired on ABC's Nightline.

SEX AND CITY STAR NOTH DISCOUNTS MOVIE SPOILERS

Actor Chris Noth is pooh-poohing spoilers that appeared earlier this week on numerous gossip websites and in the New York Post suggesting that Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie will be getting married in the movie version of Sex and the City. Photos of Parker in a wedding dress had been circulating on the websites. "They're already making wrong observations based on a piece that actually isn't what they think it is," Noth told the syndicated Access Hollywood. "As soon as you start thinking what [the Post's gossip column] "Page Six" says is true, you should go the opposite direction." Noth's further advice: "Anything you read in the papers, take with a healthy, healthy dose of skepticism."

BBC JOURNALISTS WARN BUDGET CUTS COULD DAMAGE NETWORK

Several of the leading journalists at the BBC have signed their names to a letter to management expressing dismay at proposed cutbacks at the publicly funded network. The letter, signed by almost 100 staff members, said in part, "We believe the cuts as outlined would make it impossible for us to maintain the editorial standards for which BBC News is famous. BBC News is considered by the public to be the most important service the corporation provides. We urge you to safeguard it and reject these proposals." In its response, the BBC said that its future plans "are designed to strengthen BBC News in the long term and preserve the quality of our journalism, as well as meeting the financial challenges the BBC faces."

Brian B.