i>HOUSEWIVES HOLD THE LEAD

For the third consecutive Sunday, ABC's Desperate Housewives has beaten back the challenge of NBC's Sunday Night Football. In fact the NFL contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers and its pregame show never rose above second place at any time during primetime, averaging a 7.3 rating and a 12 share. By contrast, Housewives was easily the highest-rated show of the night, scoring a 12.9/19. But if football had a tough time competing, baseball had a tougher one, with the National League playoff game drawing only a 4.1/16. (An overrun of its NFL game at 7:00 p.m. registered an 11.9/21).

SERIAL DRAMAS BECOME A TOUGH SELL

Serial dramas are suddenly finding audiences steering away from them, with CBS yanking Smith, starring Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen, from its schedule, NBC moving Kidnapped to the graveyard of Saturday night and ABC losing five million viewers for Lost. San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman observed today (Monday) that ABC's plan to put Lost on hiatus for 13 weeks beginning next month in order to avoid repeats might backfire. (It's being replaced during that period by yet another serial drama, Day Break, starring Taye Diggs.) "What if five million more people don't come back?" Goodman asks.

LATE NIGHT VARIETY SHOWS DOWN; NIGHTLINE UP

While ratings for CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman are down 11 percent and NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno are down 5 percent in 2006, those for ABC's Nightline are up 2 percent for the year and up 15 percent in last week's showings, the Philadelphia Inquirer observed today (Monday). In an interview with Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister (who has branded the show "Nightline Lite -- less filling, more popular"), James Goldston, the former BBC producer who took over as executive producer of Nightline last November, said, "It's early. I'm pleased that we're up, but it's not enough. We have a long way to go before I'm satisfied with what we're doing."

MURDOCH OPEN ABOUT EXERTING POLITICAL INFLUENCE, SAYS EX-FCC CHIEF

Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt says that unlike most media owners who insist that they don't control the editorial content of their television companies, Rupert Murdoch unabashedly boasts of his political influence. In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Hundt said, "You know, and he knows, that, if he likes you, you are going to get both news and editorial coverage that is different than if he doesn't like you. For that reason, he creates more power for himself than his peers. You know that there are favors that can be granted and punishments that can be handed out." Murdoch himself indicated to the magazine that he's open-minded about a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As for Bill Clinton's outburst at Chris Wallace on Murdoch's Fox News Channel when Wallace asked why the former president had not done more to pursue Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11, Murdoch said, "I suspect that Bill rehearsed that blowup three times before he did it. ... I think it helps Hillary with the left, and it bullies others into not asking the same question."

RATHER CONCEDES MEDIA BUCKLE TO POLITICAL PRESSURE AND INFLUENCE

Dan Rather says he has found his new position as the producer/reporter of occasional documentaries for Mark Cuban's HDNet "liberating." In an interview with today's (Monday) Washington Post Rather said that coming into the new project, "there's no ratings pressure at all, none, zero. No demographic pressure, zero. Where else in television -- or, for that matter, radio or print -- can you say that?" On the other hand, Rather said, the giant media companies "have legislative and regulatory needs in Washington. They have the imperative of increasing stockholder value. What we've learned in the last 25 to 35 years is that this creates all kinds of potential pressures and influences on what news consumers get."

DOLANS WANT TO TAKE CABLEVISION PRIVATE -- BUT CAN THEY?

Shares in Cablevision soared 11 percent in early trading in New York today (Monday) after the Dolan family, who control the company, offered $7.9 billion in cash to take it private -- representing a 17 percent premium. The Dolans said that Merrill Lynch and Bear, Stearns had agreed to help with the necessary financing. However, some analysts observed that it was likely that the Dolans had not yet made their best offer and that it was unlikely that offer would be accepted by Cablevision's board, given the amount their current bid. Cablevision provides cable service in the New York City area, owns Madison Square Garden and the teams that play there (the New York Knicks NBA team and the Rangers NHL team), and also owns Radio City Music Hall.

Brian B.