By ED BARK
Audience levels for Sunday's 80th annual Oscar-cast sunk like the Titanic, according to "fast national" ratings released Monday afternoon by ABC.
The three hour, 38 minute telecast, minus three minutes of closing credits, hit a historic low of 32 million viewers, based on figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research since the 1974 ceremony. Oscar shows before then were only computed in total households.
Last year's trophy giveaway drew 40.2 million viewers. The smallest number of total viewers before Sunday's Oscars had been the March 23, 2003 ceremony on ABC, in which 33 million viewers watched Chicago win for Best Picture. But that show had to compete with periodic war bulletins from ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, who brought viewers updates on the U.S. military's ongoing march to Baghdad, which had begun just five days earlier.
Oscar's Sunday night performance fell below last month's opening night of Fox's American Idol, which drew 33.4 million viewers for a two-hour audition outing from Philadelphia. The next night's tryouts in Dallas almost outdrew the Academy Awards with 30.4 million viewers nationally.
ABC's ratings press release accentuates whatever positives can be gleaned, including the fact that Oscar "towered over" this year's earlier awards shows, including the Grammys (17.2 million viewers), the Emmys (13 million) and January's strike-impaired, celebrity-free Golden Globes press conference (6 million).
Many of Sunday's winners and movies were unfamiliar to mass audiences. The Best Picture winner, No Country For Old Men, so far has taken in a modest $64 million in domestic box office receipts.
The most-watched Oscars ever, in 1998, drew 55.2 million viewers. A little movie called Titanic won for Best Picture that year. It's the all-time champ in domestic B.O., with just over $600 million in ticket sales.
By ED BARK
Lost will give viewers an extra five new episodes and also move back an hour on Thursdays as part of ABC's post-strike spring fling.
Three of the series' eight new pre-strike hours have aired to date. The additional five episodes, slated to start on April 24th at 9 p.m. (central) Thursdays, will enable Lost to finish up just a bit shy of this season's original 16-episode order.
ABC also has announced the late-season/new episode returns of six other popular series. Chronologically, here they are:
Samantha Who? -- Monday, April 7th (six originals)
Boston Legal -- Tuesday, April 8th (six originals)
Desperate Housewives -- Sunday, April 13th (five originals plus a two-hour season finale)
Brothers & Sisters -- April 20th (four originals)
Ugly Betty -- April 24th (five originals)
Grey's Anatomy -- April 24th (five originals)
By ED BARK
Fox has post-strike air dates for new episodes of House, Bones and other prime-time series, but no specifics yet on how many there'll be.
The network also officially confirmed that 24 won't return until January 2009 in the interests of again running 24 episodes consecutively.
Here's the poop:
House -- new episodes begin on April 28th. The time slot is new, too. It'll be Mondays at 8 p.m.
Bones -- Back again with newbies on April 14th.
Back To You --It resumes on Feb. 26th.
'Til Death -- Born again on March 25th.
Hell's Kitchen -- Heats up anew on April 1st.
Fox also has moved up the air date of the new Julianna Margulies series Canterbury's Law from April 14th to March 10th.
A trio of other scripted freshman series also will premiere in March. Sequentially, they are Unhitched (March 2nd), New Amsterdam (March 4th) and The Return of Jezebel James (March 14th).
By ED BARK
CBS will return at least 13 incumbent series next season, only one of them a freshman.
The Big Bang Theory, part of the network's Monday comedy lineup, has been invited back for a sophomore season. It joins a dozen well-established veterans. They are the three CSI series, Without A Trace, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, NCIS, Numb3rs, Ghost Whisperer, Two and a Half Men, Survivor and The Amazing Race.
ABC in contrast renewed four freshman series earlier this week -- Private Practice, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money and Samantha Who?
Several CBS series with more than one season under their belts are still in limbo. Among them are How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement, The Unit, Shark and The Adventures of Old Christine.
By ED BARK
NBC became the second network to announce post-strike programming plans Wednesday, although they're not as detailed as CBS' or ABC's.
The Peacock announced renewals for next season of newcomers Life and Chuck, plus the second-year Heroes. None of the three will be back until the fall, with "major re-launch campaigns" planned, says NBC. ABC announced renewals of nine series on Monday.
NBC also has some spring air dates for new episodes of seven scripted series. But unlike CBS, it doesn't say how many episodes it has in mind before the season ends in late May.
Here are the dates:
April 3 -- My Name is Earl resumes with a one-hour newbie.
April 10 -- The Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs and ER return.
April 15 -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit comes back.
April 23 -- Law & Order returns.
Expect reruns until those dates.
By ED BARK
Spring will bring CBS' big guns back to life.
The network has announced the "anticipated" air dates and "expected" number of new episodes for 15 scripted series. All were waylaid by the writers' strike, which was settled this week.
Comedies will be back first, with Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory all earmarked for nine new episodes, starting on March 17th. A fourth Monday night laugher, Rules of Engagement, has an April 14th return, with six new episodes planned.
On the drama front, CSI: Miami will be first in line, with eight new episodes beginning on March 24. Here are the other drama specifics:
March 30 -- Cold Case (5 episodes)
April 2 -- CSI: NY and Criminal Minds, each with 7 episodes planned.
April 3 -- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Without A Trace (6 episodes apiece)
April 4 -- Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs (6 episodes each)
April 8 -- NCIS (7 episodes)
April 11 -- Moonlight (4 episodes)
There's no return date yet for Shark, but four new episodes are expected. CBS says that Shark, The Unit and Cane are making way for the midseason re-launches of Big Brother 9 and Jericho (which returned on Feb. 12) and an edited version of Showtime's Dexter that premieres on Feb. 17. Cane likely is a goner, though.
Finally, CBS says that its 1970s-set Swingtown series is still alive and will be resuming production in anticipation of a later premiere.
By ED BARK
ABC got out in front of strike settlement news Monday by announcing fall pickups of nine prime-time series, including four freshmen.
The first-year series getting second lives are dramas Pushing Daisies, Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money and the comedy Samantha Who?
They join no-brainers Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Lost plus two slightly tougher calls, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty.
Lost so far has aired two of eight currently available episodes, with time perhaps to make two or three more new ones before the 2007-08 TV season ends in May. Samantha Who? has a trio of pre-strike episodes remaining, as does Dirty Sexy Money, which reportedly will save them for next fall. The last remaining Brothers & Sisters episode is set for Sunday, Feb. 17th.
Fresh episodes of B&S, DH, Grey's and Ugly Betty are expected to be ready by spring. But Daisies and Practice likely won't resume new episodes until September.
***The sixth edition of NBC's Biggest Loser will be looking for potential losers in Dallas as part of a 13-city search on Feb. 16th. The local locale is the Uptown Bar & Grill, 2523 McKinney Ave., Dallas 75201. Audition hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the show is looking for "outgoing and charismatic teams of two." The show's grand prize is $250 grand. Additional information is here.
By ED BARK
Masterpiece Theatre it wasn't. Still, WWE Smackdown! racked up a lot of ratings points on UPN and then The CW.
Now, after a decade of carefully choreographed carnage, Smackdown! is ending its long broadcast run and negotiating a new deal elsewhere, WWE says on its Web site. CW wasn't biting anymore, and its "exclusive negotiation period" expired on Jan. 31st.
The two-hour show will remain on CW until the end of the 2007-08 TV season in May. CW had no comment on its press Web site, which frankly is still pretty pitiful.
***Sci Fi Channel's fourth season of Battlestar Galactica will launch on Friday, April 4th, the network says. On the Friday before that, two half-hour appetizers -- Battlestar Galactica: Revisited and Battle Galactica: The Phenomenon -- will recap previous events and then brag about the series' "impact on pop culture." Celebrity interviewees include Brad Paisley and Seth Green.
***NBC has a new voice for the new KITT after Will Arnett (Arrested Development) withdrew because of a "conflicting sponsorship deal." That would be GMC Truck commercials, for which Arnett does voiceovers. KITT is from the enemy Ford Mustang family.
Anyway, the new voice is Val Kilmer, recently seen in CBS' Commanche Moon miniseries. NBC's Knight Rider movie, which potentially could become a series, premieres on Feb. 17th.
By ED BARK
Comedy Central has declined to spare the pot jokes in announcing that Willie Nelson will be on the receiving end of its latest celebrity roast.
After all, the network is "high on Willie Nelson," so it's "firing up one big joint Roast and 75th birthday celebration," says a Comedy Central press release.
Furthermore, "Nelson is sure to take a hit and then some during this star-studded event."
It'll be taped in Los Angeles on April 27th for airing in early June. Previous roastees include William Shatner, Pamela Anderson, Flavor-Flav and Chevy Chase, even though hardly anyone of note showed up for him.
***It hardly seems fair, but the rich -- namely Fox -- got much, much richer in the latest prime-time ratings week (Jan. 28-Feb 3).
The network had the seven most-watched programs nationally, paced of course by Super Bowl XLII's record-setting 97.4 million, says Nielsen Media Research. A post-Supie episode of House chipped in with 29 million while last week's Tuesday and Wednesday editions of American Idol respectively drew 28.2 million and 25.6 million viewers.
The new lie detector-infused game show Moment of Truth, recently renewed for 13 more episodes, sucked in 17.6 million viewers. Fox also scored big with the Super Bowl post-game show and a regular Tuesday edition of House.
Fox likewise enjoyed total dominance among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds. Cripes, look at these comparative weeklong averages:
Total Viewers: Fox -- 33.6 million. Next closest network (CBS) -- 6.9 million
18-to-49-Year-Olds: Fox -- 16.9 million. Next closest network (ABC) -- 3 million
18-to-34-Year-Olds: Fox -- 7.9 million. Next closest networks (ABC and Univision) -- 1.2 million
Last week's most-watched non-Fox show, ABC's fourth season launch of Lost, ranked eighth with 16.1 million viewers.
For the 19-week season-to-date, Fox has nearly vaulted ahead of first-place CBS in total viewers, averaging 11 million to The Eye's 11.2 million. And it's a blowout among 18-to-49-year-olds, where Fox now is averaging 5.4 million a week compared to 4.2 million for runnersup ABC and NBC.
By ED BARK
Sunday's Super Bowl XLII on Fox averaged a record-breaking 97.5 million viewers nationally, making it the most watched big game ever and beating the previous high of 94.1 million viewers for 1996's SB XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.
America's a much more populous country now, so ratings inflation has to be considered. Still, there are more channel choices and other viewing options than ever before, so that's a factor, too.
In the old-school total household category, still tabulated by Nielsen Media Research, the New York Giants' upset win over the New England Patriots had an overall 43.2 rating, highest since 2000's down-to-the-wire SB XXXIV, which had a 43.3 rating.
The highest household Nielsen rating for any Super Bowl is 49.1 for 1981's XVI between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals.
In the total viewer numbers, only one program in TV history, the Feb. 28, 1983 finale of M*A*S*H had a larger audience than SB XLII. It drew 106 million viewers.