The ratings for Sunday's Super Bowl on Fox were just OK, but the audience was huge.
The telecast -- which featured one of the most memorable finishes in Super Bowl history -- drew an average 86.8 million viewers tuning in at any given minute during the game. That's close to 2.5 million viewers better than last year's telecast.
According to preliminary numbers from Nielsen, it was the fifth smallest audience for a Super Bowl in the past seven years -- but it was still large enough to qualify as the second largest audience ever for a Fox telecast. The largest Fox audience was for the 1997 Super Bowl.
The ratings were a different story.
Preliminary numbers indicated that the telecast drew a 40.4 rating/61 share -- one of the lowest ratings in 30 years. The audience was large relative to the rating because the population has grown, meaning a show can draw a huge crowd but still have a sub-par rating because so many other viewers are watching something else.
Putting the best face on the situation, Fox issued a reminder that an estimated 131.7 million American viewers watched at least part of the game, making it the fifth-most-sampled TV show ever.
The football telecast didn't provide much of a lead-in for Fox's heavily promoted, hour-long episode of the hit comedy "Malcolm in the Middle." The game ran late, and Fox stayed with its post-game talking heads so long that "Malcolm" didn't get on the air until close to 11 p.m. EST.
The "Malcolm" special drew an audience of just 21.5 million viewers -- fewer than half as many viewers as tuned in for a "Survivor" special after the Super Bowl on CBS last year.
HONORS FOR BILLY CRYSTAL
The Directors Guild of America has named first-time director Billy Crystal as one of its five nominees for best director of a TV movie.
Crystal won the nomination for the HBO film "61*" -- which also received 12 Emmy nominations last year, including one for best made-for-TV movie and one for best director.
The other nominees for best TV movie director are Robert Allan Ackerman for "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows"; Jon Avnet for "Uprising"; Frank Pierson for "Conspiracy"; and Mark Rydell for "James Dean."
The DGA will hand out its annual awards on March 9.
STARS COME OUT FOR OSCARS
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Tuesday that Oscar-winning actor Benicio Del Toro will make his first appearance as a presenter in the Oscar show.
Del Toro ("Snatch," "The Pledge," "The Usual Suspects") won the supporting actor Oscar last year for his complex performance as an honest drug cop in "Traffic."
He's due on movie screens this year in "The Hunted," co-starring with Tommy Lee Jones -- who won the supporting actor Oscar for "The Fugitive" in 1993.
The Oscars will be handed out March 24 in ceremonies at the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
OSCAR PARTY ON THE ROAD
Charity events in seven U.S. cities have won an uncommon privilege -- the right to display actual Oscar statuettes at Academy-sanctioned Oscar Night America parties on March 24, when the 74th Academy Awards are being handed out in Hollywood.
The winning charities are located in Charlotte, N.C., Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Okla., Orlando, Tucson, Ariz., and Washington, D.C. They were chose from among 11 charities that submitted proposals describing their idea of a proper welcome for Oscar -- if the little gold guy were to visit their city.
In Honolulu, the statuette will arrive via outrigger canoe. In Orlando, it will be airlifted in on a helicopter -- accompanied by a secret agent. The Oscar will arrive in Tucson on a stagecoach at a historic western movie set.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said its Oscar Night America program has raised more than $7 million for local charities since 1994. Most hometown parties roll out their own red carpet and hire limousines, and local celebrities bring out the local paparazzi and TV cameras.
The Oscar statuettes will travel under guard, provided by Inter-Con, the firm that provides security for the Oscars show. Inter-con guards will stand watch over the statuettes at the local parties and accompany the precious cargo back to Beverly Hills afterwards.
IT'S AN HONOR JUST TO BE RAZZED?
According to Razzie buzz, Green is the front runner for worst actor, worst director and worst screenplay for the attempted comedy "Freddie Got Fingered." He's also up for worst screen couple -- paired with "any animal he abuses."
Other leading contenders for worst screen couple at this year's Razzie Awards are Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz ("Vanilla Sky"); Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds ("Driven"); and Mariah Carey's cleavage ("Glitter").
The nominations will be announced next Monday, one day before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the nominees for the 74th Academy Awards.
COURT COMES TO RYAN'S DEFENSE
A judge in Los Angeles has granted Meg Ryan a three-year restraining order against a man who claims he's married to the star of "Kate & Leopold" -- and who broke into a house where he thought she lived.
John Michael Hughes -- a 30-year-old Florida man -- was convicted last year of trying to drive onto the Midland, Texas, ranch of President George W. Bush, armed with automatic weapons. On Jan. 6, he was arrested at a Malibu home belonging to Andrea and Tomas Ryan -- no relation to the actress.
Sheriff's deputies searched Hughes' car and reported finding alcohol, some cash, a magazine that featured Meg Ryan on the cover and a night vision scope. Hughes faces possible misdemeanor charges in connection with the break-in.
At the court hearing Monday, Hughes acted as his own attorney.
"My wife is a little upset with an incident we had a few months ago," he explained to the judge. Hughes claimed he and Meg Ryan were married in November in Canada.
'CONTACT' HEADED FOR BIG SCREEN
Plans are under way to adapt the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "Contact" for the big screen.
Susan Stroman -- who won a Tony for choreographing the show -- reportedly will make her feature film directorial debut on the project. Stroman also won Tonys for directing and choreographing "The Producers."
Rob Schneider has at least two projects lined up -- including "The Adventures of Sinbad the Insurance Salesman," described as the story of a claims adjuster whose love life takes a turn for the better when he meets an amazing woman.
Schneider ("The Animal," "Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo") is also at work on "Harv the Barbarian," as a barbarian who embarks on a journey to help his people and reclaim his rightful place as king.