IDOL STRONG, BUT BUSH DRAWS MORE VIEWERS
American Idol continued to annihilate the competition Wednesday night, posting a 15.0 rating and a 23 share at 8:00 p.m. ABC's hit drama Lost, airing a repeat episode, was well behind in second place with a 6.6/10. CBS and NBC tied for third with a 3.2/5 each. At 9:00 p.m. all four major networks covered President Bush's State of the Union address, with each registering almost identical ratings of about a 5.4/9. While individually those ratings appear low, they nevertheless indicated that collectively more people tuned in to watch the president than to watch Idol. Many of those viewers tuned out at 10:00, however, as the networks offered their analysis of the address.

FORMER ANCHOR SAYS RATHER WANTED TO "PROVE HIMSELF"

Roger Mudd, 76, who was regarded as the CBS heir apparent to Walter Cronkite until Dan Rather was chosen to succeed him, has commented that Rather's "compulsion to prove himself" proved to be his undoing. In an interview with the Washington Times, Mudd, who co-anchored NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw in 1982 and 1983 but was removed because the two showed little chemistry, took note of the findings of an independent investigation that Rather's role in the now-discredited 60 Minutes report about President Bush's National Guard service had been limited since he the days running up to the broadcast, he had been deeply involved in other news projects. "Dan has gone more places and worked harder and done more in that job than any of the other anchors," Mudd told the newspaper. "For whatever reasons in his background, education, upbringing, he's had this compulsion to prove himself. He spread himself too thin." The "memogate" investigators were particularly critical of Rather's insistence that the report be vigorously defended even when evidence that it was flawed began to appear. A similar controversy developed in 1971 after Mudd himself fronted a CBS Reports documentary, titled "The Selling of the Pentagon," which also drew much criticism from conservative politicians who charged that it had been rigged by editors.

CONTROVERSY IGNITES OVER INTERIM CBS ANCHOR

CBS News confirmed Wednesday that Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer will fill in as temporary anchor of CBS Evening News when Dan Rather leaves the nightly news program on March 9. The assignment was immediately panned by L. Brent Bozell's conservative activist group Media Research Center, who charged that Schieffer had "failed the test of objectivity." Tim Graham, spokesman for the MRC, said, "You've still got a reporter with a record of liberal editorializing." Nevertheless, Schieffer is known to be on friendly terms with the president. His brother Tom was a partner of Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball club.

AS TRIAL BEGINS, RIVERA LANDS MICHAEL JACKSON FOR INTERVIEW

Geraldo Rivera has taped an interview with Michael Jackson that will air on his At Large show on the Fox News Network Saturday. It was not clear whether Jackson sought permission from the court before granting the interview. A news release by Fox indicates that the entertainer does not directly discuss any of the child-molestation charges against him in the case that is about to be tried in Santa Maria, CA. The news release cites a list of topics discussed in the interview, including Eminem, the white rap singer who had ridiculed Jackson in a video shown on MTV last year. (One of the lines: "Come here, little kiddie, on my lap. Guess who's back with a brand new rap.") In another interview with Rivera last November, Jackson commented that the Eminem video is "not just about Michael Jackson but a pattern of disrespect that he's shown to our community."

MARTHA MAY START NEW SERIES WHILE UNDER HOUSE ARREST

Saying that audiences are "fascinated by the rags-to-riches and comeback story," NBC Universal TV President Jeff Zucker announced that Martha Stewart has agreed to host a spin-off of The Apprentice next season. The deal was reportedly signed with NBC and the Donald Trump organization before Stewart began serving a prison sentence last October following her conviction for lying to authorities about her alleged insider-trading of Imclone stock. After she is released from prison, she must serve an additional five months under house arrest. Mark Burnett, who exec produces The Apprentice (as well as CBS's Survivor), indicated that production of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart could begin even as Stewart remains under house arrest. The winner of the series will become Stewart's actual apprentice.

STAR TREK: THE LAST GENERATION?

Star Trek will be going where ithas not gone since 1986 -- off the air. Paramount Television announced Wednesday that the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise will air on May 13 and will not be succeeded by another Star Trek series. Ratings for the show had gone into a tailspin. In an interview with USA Today producer Rick Berman suggested that the production team had burnt itself out: "The fact that we've done 624 hours of Star Trek over the last 18 years, you can take one too many trips to the well. There's a point at which you can reach a sense of overkill." He indicated, however, that the series could be revived in about three years. "It's probably good to lay fallow for a while to rejuvenate," he said. In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Berman said that Star Trek "certainly will be back. Whether it's two years or five years is anyone's guess." Fans of the show indicated that they were resigned to the cancellation of the series, expressing disappointment with recent plots. But one fan lamented: "I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't watch anything else."

FORD YANKS SUPER BOWL AD

Sensitive to the outcry over the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the halftime show at last year's Super Bowl, Ford's Lincoln Mercury division said Wednesday that it had yanked a Super Bowl commercial in which a clergyman lusts after a new Lincoln truck. In the ad, a clergyman finds a set of car keys in the collection plate, then discovers they belong to a truck in the parking lot. As he begins to caress the vehicle, a parishioner arrives with his young daughter to explain that she had dropped the keys into the plate by mistake. Finally, the cleric posts the title of his next sermon: "Lust." Lincoln Mercury said that it was surprised by the negative reaction the spot had received by such groups as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. In a column due to appear in Sunday's New York Times, media critic Frank Rich writes that the "indecency crusade" that followed last year's Super Bowl incident "has unleashed a wave of self-censorship on American television unrivaled since the McCarthy era, with everyone from the dying D-Day heroes in Saving Private Ryan to cuddly animated animals on daytime television [Postcards From Buster] getting the ax.

IT'S OFFICIAL: CARLSON TO HOST PRIMETIME SHOW ON MSNBC

MSNBC confirmed Wednesday that it had hired conservative commentator Tucker Carlson to replace Deborah Norville's 9:00 p.m. show on the network. A specific launch date was not announced, but the cable network said that it expected the Carlson show to begin airing in the spring.

NO MOUSE EARS FOR CHERNIN

The day after Walt Disney Co. Chairman George Mitchell said that the Disney board expects to name a successor to Michael Eisner by June, one of the persons most often mentioned to fill that job appeared to take himself out of the running. News Corp President Peter Chernin said during a conference call, ""Look, I'm very happy here. ... I continue to believe that this is the strongest media company with the strongest growth. I just signed a new contract, and this is where I intend to keep working." Chernin's comments came in a joint discussion with News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch about the company's latest quarterly report, which showed strong performances by the 20th Century Fox studio unit and its home video sidekick. Even with heavy costs incurred during the move of the company's headquarters from Australia to the U.S., net profits grew to $386 million, 80 percent higher than the year-ago period. Gross revenue was up 18 percent to $6.6 billion.

BLOCKBUSTER TRIES TO BUST VIDEO CHAIN MERGER

The No. 2 and No. 3 video store chains, who had announced a merger agreement last month, may have been feeling the blues Wednesday after Blockbuster announced that it planned to break up the deal by launching a hostile takeover attempt. Hollywood Entertainment, which operates the Hollywood Video chain had signed a deal with Movie Gallery to be acquired for $13.25. But Blockbuster is now going directly to shareholders offering them $11.50 in cash and $3.00 worth of Blockbuster stock for each Hollywood share. That would make Blockbuster's offer worth $1.3 billion. "We believe this transaction will provide tremendous value to both Blockbuster and Hollywood shareholders and should better position Blockbuster to compete in the rapidly changing home entertainment marketplace," Blockbuster chairman and CEO John Antioco said in a statement.

ANALYSTS THINK DISNEY SEQUELS COULD HURT PIXAR

Banc of America Securities took a dim view Wednesday of reports that the Walt Disney Co. is planning to build a separate digital animation studio in Glendale to produce sequels to films originally made by Pixar. "We would view this as an incremental negative for Pixar," the research firm said. Its concern had little to do with the decision by Pixar to extricate itself from its deal with Disney. Rather, it worried that the Pixar brand could be damaged if the sequels are poorly done.

STILL IN THEATERS, RAY HAS FINE VIDEO DEBUT

The Ray Charles biopic Ray, which moved back into 526 theaters last weekend (and added another $615,000 to its gross) on the strength of Oscar nominations for its star, Jamie Foxx, and its director, Taylor Hackford, performed well at video retailers as well. Universal Home Video reported Wednesday that the movie had sold more than 2 million DVD and VHS copies on Tuesday, its first day in release.

SENATE PASSES ANTI-CAMCORDER BILL -- FOR THIRD TIME

Taking to heart the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed mantra, the U.S. Senate has for the third time passed a measure that would send people who use camcorders in movie theaters to prison for up to three years. It also voted to increase penalties for those who distribute copyrighted material on the Internet. In addition, the Senate measure shields from copyright-infringement lawsuits companies that delete scenes depicting violence and sex from movies in order to make them "family friendly."

BRANDO RECORDED VOICE TRACKS FOR GODFATHER GAME

Despite a report on Wednesday that in 1972 Marlon Brando had originally refused an offer to appear as Don Corleone in The Godfather because he didn't want to "glorify the Mafia," he recorded voice tracks for a video game shortly before his death which may appear to do just that. Game publishers Electronic Arts confirmed Wednesday that Brando had recorded the tracks for a game in which the players take the role of aspiring mobsters hoping to become the leader of a crime family. James Caan and Robert Duvall, who also appeared in the 1972 movie, recorded voice tracks for the film as well, Electronic Arts said.