AT NBC, IT'S TOUCHET AND GO

In a surprise move, NBC on Tuesday fired Today show executive producer Tom Touchet and replaced him with two in-house executives, NBC sports producer Jim Bell, who will hold the title of executive producer, and Phil Griffin, head of primetime programming at MSNBC, who will hold the title of vice president and executive-in-charge. Most reports cited the flagging ratings of the morning program, regarded as the network's biggest money-maker, even as ABC's Good Morning America continues to gain ground. Daily Variety also took note of numerous published reports citing conflict between Touchet and co-host Katie Couric. Couric has not commented on Touchet's firing, but co-host Matt Lauer told CNN Tuesday night, "I've been in the business for 25 years now, and all I'll say is that I don't know if I've met a classier guy than Tom. ... He is a delight to work with and, you know, I'm going to miss him greatly." Touchet himself may have been more surprised than anyone by his ouster. Only a day earlier, he told the website NewsBlues: "It's not true that I'm out at Today. ... I know there's a whisper campaign ... and you never know who's behind that. But I've been told by [NBC News President Neal Shapiro] himself that it's ridiculous, and we all know TV execs never lie or exaggerate." Many analysts have blamed the show's ratings decline on the decline of NBC's primetime ratings, noting that many people in the morning tend to watch whatever channel was on when they went to bed. NBC's primetime ratings are down more than 30 percent from a year ago.

CBS ROLLS SEVEN

CBS retained the title of most-watched network for the seventh consecutive week last week, but it was Fox, aided by an hour-long Wednesday edition of American Idol, as well as strong performances by its fledgling drama House and the strong debut of the sitcom Stacked, that came away with the lead in the advertiser-desired 18-49-year-old category. In the overall ratings, CBS led with a 7.9 rating and a 13 share. Fox placed second with a 6.0/10. NBC was a close third with a 5.9/9, while ABC trailed with a 5.2/8.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 16.7/26; 2. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 15.4/23; 3. American Idol (Wednesday), Fox, 14.9/23; 4. American Idol (Tuesday), Fox, 14.8/24; 5. CSI: Miami, CBS, 13.3/21; 6. Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8/21; 7. Grey's Anatomy, ABC, 12.3/20; 8. Survivor: Palau, CBS, 12.0/20; 9. Law and Order, NBC, 11.5/19; 10. House, Fox, 10.8/16.

TV ON THE EBB; INTERNET RISING, SAYS STUDY

International media buyer ZenithOptimedia, a unit of Publicis Group, has predicted that spending for ads on the Internet will cut into revenue for traditional media, primarily broadcast TV, over the next two years. It forecast a "relatively soft" upfront market for the networks, the period when they sell much of their advertising time for the season, usually at discounted rates, based on ratings expectations. It predicted that network advertising will see only a 3-percent rise in 2005 versus a 9.5 percent rise in spending for ads on the Internet in 2005, surging to 12 percent in 2006. Television's share of the global ad market is expected to begin declining by 2007, the study concluded.

CBS MAY SOON START CHARGING CABLERS

CBS chief Les Moonves said Tuesday that CBS-owned stations could soon begin charging cable and satellite companies a fee to carry the network's programs and predicted that doing so "could be worth tens of millions of dollars to the CBS network." Following Moonves's remarks, Emmis Broadcasting CEO Jeffrey Smulyan told the Los Angeles Times that he regarded such fees as "the most important issue facing the industry today. It's really critical that a company the size of Viacom gets behind this." But Fred Dressler, programming chief of Time Warner Cable, told the newspaper: "The government gave these stations free licenses. ... Why should cable customers pay for something they can get for free?"

PRODUCT BOOSTERS RECEIVING PAYMENTS FROM MAKERS, SAYS REPORT

Corey Greenberg, a regular contributor to NBC's Today show has acknowledged that he received payments of $15,000 apiece from at least six technical companies to boost their products on TV shows. The contracts were originally disclosed by the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with today's (Wednesday) Washington Post, Greenberg said that since becoming Today's tech editor five years ago, "I've made NBC aware of my outside work. ... I've been above board with NBC." The Post also observed that James Oppenheim, the technology editor for Child magazine has received $12,500 from each of five other companies to appear on television and tout their products. Child magazine said that it was unaware of Oppenheim's contracts and was terminating him. "We view this as a breach of journalistic ethics," a spokeswoman said.

BOWDLER MACHINES GET CONGRESSIONAL OK

Analysts were unsure whether the motion picture industry gained more than it lost with the passage of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act on Tuesday. While the bill makes it a federal crime to use camcorders in movie theaters or distributing movies and CDs before their commercial release, the bill also will allow companies to sell DVD players that can filter sex, violence or indecent language from movies. Passage of the bill is expected to abort a lawsuit filed against Salt Lake City-based ClearPlay by eight Hollywood movie studios and the Directors Guild of America. ClearpPlay is the primary manufacturer of players containing filtering tools. "This is tremendous news for ClearPlay and a real victory for families," said ClearpPlay CEO Bill Aho. And Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jane R. Eisner wrote: "Despite the solemn pleas from famous directors, it's hard to oppose giving parents the tools to exert some control in their own homes." But Congresswoman Diane Watson of California, who voted against the bill, disagreed, saying, "While I support family-friendly entertainment, I believe this method is not only a violation of filmmakers' copyright protections but also an infringement of their artistic vision."

REDSTONE SAYS HE'S "PERSONALLY COMMITTED" TO CLEAVING VIACOM

Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone confirmed Tuesday that he is committed to plans to split the giant conglomerate into two separate companies, one that will essentially focus on broadcasting and the other on motion pictures. He was vague, however, about when the plan would be implemented, telling analysts that it was a "complicated process that takes time to fully analyze. The one thing involved that is not complicated is our motivation (and) I want all of you to know that I am personally committed to achieving the separation." He suggested, however, that the analysis could be completed by the end of the current quarter in June.

ICAHN WANTS BLOCKBUSTER SOLD

Corporate raider Carl Icahn, who is Blockbuster's largest shareholder, ratcheted up his debate with Blockbuster chief John Antioco Tuesday, saying that the video rental company should be put up for sale. But Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Home Media Retailing magazine that Icahn's recent remarks about Antioco and the operation of the video rental company seemed like posturing. "If he thinks it has so much value, he could buy it and resell it. But no buyout firm wanted to buy [Blockbuster] at [$7 per share], so I don't know why a buyout firm would want to buy it at $10."

AMERICANS CONVICTED OF PIRACY IN CHINA

A joint U.S.-Chinese investigation -- the first of its kind -- has led to the conviction of two Americans who manufactured DVDs in Shanghai and sold them to buyers in 20 countries, mostly using the eBay Internet auction site. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security said that the two men, Randolph Hobson Guthrie III and Abram Cody Thrush, had sold $840,000 worth of pirated movies to buyers in the U.S. and other countries. Guthrie received a 2 1/2-year sentence and a fine of $60,000, while Thrush was ordered to serve a year in prison and fined $1,200.

CANNES ANNOUNCES ITS 2005 SLATE

The Cannes Film Festival, which gave its top Palme d'Or prize last year to Michael Moore's hotly debated documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, announced a slate of 20 films that will compete in this year's festival that appeared to be devoid of controversy. At a news conference in Paris, Thierry Fremaux, who headed the group that selected this year's competing films, said, "This year, there is a return to a certain classicism, the great authors, many of whom have already been in the competition." They included Gus Van Sant of the U.S., David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan of Canada, Lars von Trier of Denmark, and Wim Wenders of Germany. French director Dominik Moll's Lemming was chosen to open the festival on May 11. It is also one of the 20 films in the competition. Tommy Lee Jones's directorial skills will be assessed at Cannes with the debut of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, in which he also stars. Out of competition, George Lucas will be giving international critics a first look at Star Wars: Episode III -- The Revenge of the Sith on May 15, and Woody Allen will be presenting his latest film, Match Point. (Lucasfilm also said on Tuesday that it plans to show all six Star Wars films at a London marathon screening at Odeon Leicester Square, the U.K.'s largest movie theater, on May 16.)

MURDOCH SAYS HE REGRETS GIVING PARAMOUNT HALF OF TITANIC

Describing himself as a gambler, Rupert Murdoch said that he gave "full support" to 20th Century Fox executives when the budget for Titanic began escalating. He suggested, however, that studio executives were not so willing to gamble on the picture's prospects as he. In an interview with World Screen magazine, Murdoch said, "As it turned out, we made our greatest mistake with Titanic when we sold half to Paramount. When we saw the budget going over $110 million, then $130 million, we decided we needed a partner. We made a presentation to [Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone], which resulted in a $300 million to $400 million profit [for Viacom's Paramount studio]. Pretty nice. He hasn't returned the compliment."