DANCING LIFTS ABC TO WEDNESDAY WIN

ABC danced away with ratings honors Wednesday as its new smash hit, Dancing with the Stars, captured a 10.4 rating and a 17 share in the 9:00 hour, topping last week's 10.0/16, which made it the No. 1 show of the week. An earlier rerun of the show at 8:00 drew a 5.8/11, winning that hour as well. NBC won the 10:00 p.m. hour with Law & Order. Overall, ABC won the night with an average 6.9/12. NBC placed second with a 5.5/10. CBS was third with a 5.0/9, while Fox trailed with a 2.7/5.

DEMOCRAT WESLEY CLARK SIGNED BY FOX NEWS

In what some critics described as an effort to counter Democratic attacks that it has become a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, Fox News Channel has signed 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark as a military and foreign affairs analyst. "I am excited by this opportunity to ... offer my perspective to the important issues facing the United States and the global community," Clark said in a statement. Fox News executive producer Bill Shine said: "Gen. Clark's extensive military experience and sharp insight make him a powerful addition to Fox News Channel." Clark, the retired four-star general who once commanded NATO, has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's foreign policy in general and the war in Iraq in particular. Meanwhile, in an interview with today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer, Geraldo Rivera took aim at Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, who recently referred to Fox News as the "propaganda outlet of the Republican Party." Rivera, who signed a new four-year contract with Fox News this week, told the Inquirer that if Dean "had the guts to say that to my face, I'd smack him. Our shop is a place where ideas flourish."

DID NBC PAY FOR INTERVIEW WITH RUNAWAY BRIDE?

Raising new questions about so-called checkbook journalism, several publications on Wednesday claimed that NBC News's Katie Couric landed an exclusive interview with runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks only after NBC Universal offered her $500,000 for a book and movie deal. Some reports speculated that no book or movie would emerge from the deal and that it was struck as a subterfuge to pay Wilbanks for the interview, which will air on Today and on a special Tuesday edition of Dateline. the New York Post's "Page Six" column said that a "deal memo" written by Wilbanks' agent, Judith Regan, says in part, "Nobody can know that this deal has gone through -- and those who do know ... must keep it secret. Any leaks can lead to the cancellation of the first interview, and the cancellation of the deal. I cannot stress this strongly enough." However, an NBC spokesperson told the newspaper, " We have not, never have and never will pay for an interview. Whatever deal Judith Regan has with the Wilbanks is not with us."

NBC TO HAVE A PEACOCK AND MADDEN FOR COLOR

John Madden, the principal color analyst on ABC's Monday Night Football, has been signed by NBC to become the network's lead analyst when it begins broadcasting NFL games on Sunday nights beginning next year. Speaking to reporters, NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol indicated that he plans to talk to the other half of the MNF team, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels, after the NBA Finals, which Michaels is anchoring, are over. Madden, whom today's Wall Street Journal referred to as "the biggest name in football broadcasting," was signed to a six-year deal, corresponding to NBC's deal with the NFL. Ebersol said Wednesday, "John is much more than a football legend. He's an American icon."

MURDOCH DELIVERS LAST RITES FOR FLEET STREET

Media emperor Rupert Murdoch recited the last rites for Fleet Street Wednesday as Reuters Group PLC moved its wire and TV news services out of what was once a street that housed hundreds of journalists working for dozens of newspapers. It was the last British news operation to do so. (The French wire service, Agence France Presse, remains.) As Reuters itself reported in covering the afternoon event at St. Bride's church, "Fleet Street became synonymous with British print journalism, just as Wall Street is shorthand for the U.S. investment banking elite and Madison Avenue for the advertising world." It recalled that when Murdoch bought his first British newspaper, the Sunday tabloid News of the World in 1969, he remarked: "Anyone interested in journalism and mass newspapers realizes that Fleet Street is the heart of it all." Eventually, however, he moved his newspapers, which now also include the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times to east London to cut costs and was followed by most of his rivals. In Wednesday's services, Murdoch was called upon to read a hymn in honor of ancestors from Ecclesiastes 44:1-15, which refers to those who "recited verses in writing."

TOM HANKS TO PLAY DEEP THROAT?

Tom Hanks will probably play Deep Throat, aka former FBI second-in-command W. Mark Felt, in an upcoming film for Universal. Published reports said today (Thursday) that Universal Pictures and Hanks's production company Playtone had optioned Felt's life story. The Washington Post reported that PublicAffairs books, a relatively small publisher that generally doesn't pay advances of more than $75,000, had purchased rights to Felt's life story. "But publishing executives agreed that the real money was on the Hollywood end," the Post observed. Today's Daily Variety indicated that several studios had competed against Playtone for the Felt story, which will be based on the new book being cowritten with John O'Connor, the San Francisco attorney who revealed Felt's secret identity in Vanity Fair.

MPAA SAYS GOODBYE TO ITS TOP LOBBYIST

In what was generally described as a politically influenced move, the MPAA has replaced its top lobbyist, a former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who was regarded as "too moderate," with a former GOP congressional spokesman regarded as a staunch conservative. The departure of Stacy Carlson after only a year on the job had been unexpected. "Stacy has chosen to leave the MPAA to pursue other interests," MPAA chief Dan Glickman said Wednesday. Carlson herself made no statement. Daily Variety commented today (Thursday) that Carlson had "failed to satisfy GOP congressional leaders, who had wanted to see one of their own in a top spot inside Hollywood's lobbying operation."

BE COOL IS HOT ON DVD SHELVES

It might have been somewhat of a box-office disappointment when it was released theatrically, but the MGM comedy Be Cool, starring John Travolta, facing little competition from a lackluster slate of new DVD releases, shot to the top of the DVD sales charts in its first week of release, VideoScan First Alert reported Wednesday. It also landed atop the rental chart with $8.3 million. The movie, which grossed $55.8 million during its entire theatrical run, knocked off Chappelle's Show: Season 2 Uncensored, which had held the top spot the previous two weeks. In third place was HBO's The Sopranos -- The Complete Fifth Season, which carries a price tag of $99.98.

NORTH CAROLINA TAKES STEPS TO REBUILD STATE'S FILM BUSINESS

Hoping to revive North Carolina's once thriving film production business, the state senate on Wednesday tentatively approved a bill that would give filmmakers tax credits and grants equal to 15 percent of what they spend in the state. Earlier, Frank Capra, Jr., president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios, which calls itself the largest motion picture studio east of Hollywood, told the state senate finance committee that North Carolina must compete against incentives offered by other states. "We have been losing work to all of these areas, and we need to get it back," Capra said. He noted that 1,500-2,000 jobs in the North Carolina film industry have been lost in the last five years.

VIACOM SPLIT FAILS TO IMPRESS S&P

One day after Viacom's board of directors unanimously approved Chairman Sumner Redstone's plan to split the company in two in order to enhance shareholder value, Standard & Poor's cut the company's debt ratings to BBB+ from A-. (In fact, Redstone had favored such a move, saying a rating below A would encourage investment.) Shares in the company dropped 44 cents to $33.77, but analysts said that the dip was probably unrelated to Redstone's announcement since it had already become a foregone conclusion that he would split the company.

CONTROVERSY MOUNTS OVER DISNEY'S $100-MILLION EPCOT RIDE

An Orlando, FL television station has raised questions about Disney's $100-million Mission Space ride at its Epcot theme park on which a four-year-old boy died Monday. Station WESH-TV reported Wednesday night that Pennsylvania-based Entertainment Technology Corp. (ETC), which designed and built the ride, claimed in a 2003 lawsuit that Disney refused to allow its engineers to conduct a final safety inspection before the ride was opened. The lawsuit said in part: "If ETC is prevented from using its years of experience with human centrifuge systems to participate in the safety testing and analysis ... then there are increased risks of injury to the public at-large." Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reported today (Thursday) that Disney has come under strong criticism by marketing experts for continuing to operate the ride. It quoted Adam Hanft, CEO of New York-based Hanft Unlimited, as saying: "The company's traditional position is probably to withhold judgment until the facts are in. ... I think they should do just the opposite. I would shut the ride down."

SONY SAYS IT CAN'T STOP PORN PRODUCERS FROM RELEASING FILMS FOR PSP

Following reports that several Japanese producers of pornographic movies are planning to release them in the UMD format used with Sony's hot-selling PlayStation Portable device, Sony issued a statement Wednesday saying that there was no way that it could legally block distribution and sale of the disks. A public relations official at Sony Computer told the Asahi Shimbun: "It is utterly undesirable, but we cannot stop software makers from selling such videos."