- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscar ratings tank

The Oscars are a ratings dud.

Nielsen Media Research says preliminary ratings for the 80th annual Academy Awards telecast are 14 percent lower than the least-watched ceremony ever, Associated Press reports.

Nielsen said yesterday that overnight ratings also were 21 percent lower than last year, when “The Departed” was named best picture.

The least-watched Oscars ceremony ever was in 2003, when there were 33 million viewers.

Nielsen has no estimate yet on how many people watched Sunday night, but based on ratings from the nation’s biggest markets, the Oscars will be hard-pressed to avoid a humiliating record. Final figures are due out later today.

HBO hails ‘Taxi’

Speaking of Oscar, HBO has picked up TV rights to the Academy Award-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which was dumped by the Discovery Channel because of its controversial take on U.S. interrogation practices overseas, Variety reports.

The premium cable network negotiated with Discovery Communications to assume rights to the documentary, which will debut on HBO in September. As part of the deal, Discovery maintained rights to run “Taxi to the Dark Side” on its Investigation Discovery channel; those basic cable airings won’t begin until 2009.

Directed, written and produced by Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) “Taxi” focuses on the murder of a taxi driver at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The homicide is used as a backdrop to investigate American interrogation techniques of those in detention.

‘Lights’ may stay on

“Friday Night Lights” is finished for this season, but the Dillon Panthers could live to play another day.

Please note: The emphasis is on “could.” According to Zap2it.com, NBC is considering ways to bring back the low-rated but fiercely loved series for a third season, possibly sharing the show with another network.

NBC Universal — which also produces the series — has approached the CW, TNT and the owner of cable channels E! and G4 about sharing a possible third season of “Friday Night Lights,” Variety reports. NBC does something similar with “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” New episodes debuted on USA in the fall and are being re-purposed on NBC.

A key difference, though, is that NBC, USA and “Criminal Intent” are all part of the NBC Universal family — but none of the networks involved in the “Friday Night Lights” discussions is. TNT is owned by Time Warner, the CW is a joint Time Warner-CBS Corp. venture, and Comcast owns E! and G4.

“Friday Night Lights” averaged about 6.2 million viewers per week over its 15 episodes this season — up about 250,000 viewers compared to last season — and attracting more viewers in the key demographic of adults 18 to 49. Despite the low overall numbers, however, the show performs well among high-income viewers, which could work in its favor.

Short takes

• It’s a “Jungle” out there. NBC has applied more “Lipstick Jungle,” ordering six more scripts of the midseason drama, Variety says. After just three episodes, the show is tops in its Thursday 10 p.m. slot with women 18 to 49 and women 18 to 34. “Lipstick Jungle” stars Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price as powerful, high-profile women in New York juggling their careers and personal lives. The series is based on Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name.

• There’s more good news for NBC: The network’s post-strike return of “Saturday Night Live” — hosted by former “SNL” cast member and head writer Tina Fey and featuring Carrie Underwood as the musical guest — scored the show’s highest overnight rating in two years, the Hollywood Reporter notes. According to the trade publication, the episode was “SNL’s” highest-rated show since the Feb. 4, 2006, episode hosted by Steve Martin. Ratings also rose 36 percent from the show’s pre-strike average this season.

• Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) has landed the lead in the CBS drama pilot “Eleventh Hour” from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Zap2it.com reports. “Eleventh Hour” is based on a limited British series and will star Mr. Sewell (now appearing on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll”) as a professor-turned-government adviser who travels the country investigating abuses of science.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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