CBS STOPS CLOCK ON 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY

CBS Chairman Les Moonves denied Wednesday that his wrath over the discredited 60 Minutes Wednesday report about President Bush's national guard service had anything to do with the network's decision to cancel the show. Rather, he said, it was because its ratings had dropped 14 percent from last year. (It aired this season against ABC's new hit Lost.) The decision, he remarked, "was a ratings call, not a content call." Referring to the average age of the audience, he said, "It was the oldest-skewing show on the schedule." It is due to be replaced next season by two new sitcoms. Moonves said that Dan Rather would continue to report for the Sunday edition of 60 Minutes. "Exactly what his role is going to be, how much he's going to do, it's really premature," he said. Rather told the Boston Globe that he was "disappointed" with the network's decision. I'm concerned that there'll be now one less place in the television schedule to turn for in-depth news," he added. "It's a very competitive business. When you compete in that arena and when you don't have ratings or demographics, the program is always in peril. I understand, but that's the law of the jungle."

WYLE EXITS E.R. AFTER 11 YEARS

The venerable NBC drama E.R. airs its season finale tonight (Thursday) featuring Noah Wyle in his final performance as a regular on the series. Wyle is the last member of the original cast of E.R., which debuted 11 years ago. He has said that he will return for occasional guest shots next season, but other stars of the series have made similar statements and few have ever returned for more than one or two episodes.

AMERICAN IDOL DOWN TO THE FINAL TWO

A results episode of American Idol that narrowed the original list down to the final two scored a 15.7 rating and a 24 share Wednesday night in the 9:00 p.m. hour. Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood were the announced finalists and are due to compete against one another one last time next Tuesday, with the season's winner announced on Wednesday. Earlier in the evening, the penultimate season episode of ABC's Lost topped its rivals in the 8:00 hour with a 10.7/18.

FOX SHOWS OFF NEW ENTRIES

Hoping to even out the roller-coaster pattern of ratings that climb into the stratosphere when American Idol is in its lineup, then plunge into the pits when it is not, Fox today (Thursday) unveiled what it called "a bold, balanced and stable schedule" of five new dramas and two new comedies that are due to begin airing later this year. All of them seem directed squarely at the young audience that Fox particularly appeals to. They include the drama Prison Break about the brother of an inmate who enters prison to help him escape, and the comedy The Loop, about a young Chicago exec and his friends. "There is no question that we plan to be aggressive and competitive with this spectacular and youthful year-round schedule," Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori said.

THE EARLY SHIFT

Both the New Yorker

and New York magazine are working on features about the intense competition beetween ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today, according to the New York Post's "Page Six" column. The column reported today (Thursday) that the New Yorker's Ken Auletta appears to be getting more cooperation from NBC than New York's Meryl Gordon. The Late Shift, a full-length book about the late-night battle between David Letterman of CBS and Jay Leno of NBC by New York Times reporter Bill Carter, spent three months on the best-seller lists in 1990.

TIME WARNER SOLD ON EBAY

The latest experiment in uniting TV with the Internet is set to debut in Austin, TX today where Time Warner Cable plans to debut "eBay on TV," allowing eBay bidders to participate in auctions using the remote control on their TV sets. Today's (Thursday) Wall Street Journal reports that the test will be limited to the Austin market for the first year and that the cable company is making no promises about expanding the service after that.

SUMMIT CONFERENCE ON NEXT GENERATION DVD'S IN THE WORKS

Toshiba and Sony, locked in a stalemate in talks aimed at deciding on a single format for high-definition DVD technology, announced Tuesday that they will hold a summit conference in hopes of putting the talks on track again. The Japanese daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun, citing an unnamed source,said that the presidents of Sony, Toshiba, and Matsushita would attend the talks, although a date was not mentioned. "It will be held when a time that fits the schedules of all three company heads is found," the source said. "It could be as early as this week but we are now at the planning stage."

ALL STAR WARS, ALL THE TIME FOR SOME THEATERS

With post-midnight screenings of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith selling out quickly, some theaters were scrambling to hire additional staff in order to remain open the entire 24 hours, published reports said today (Thursday). The film was being shown in 3,661 theaters, 79 of which were running it on digital projectors. Some analysts were forecasting that the film could earn as much as $45 million today (Thursday) alone and was likely to set a box office record for the weekend. Others, however, noted that with a PG rating, the film was not going to bring out the huge family crowd that greeted the previous Star Wars movies. Still others took note of a mounting campaign by conservative groups to portray the film as a thinly disguised attack on President Bush and his policies in Iraq. (The current record for a four-day opening is held by The Matrix Reloaded, which earned $134.3 million when it opened over the same weekend in May 2003.)

BUTTE'S A BEAUT, SAY FILMMAKERS

Two days after Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed the Big Sky on the Big Screen Act, aimed at attracting filmmakers to the state by granting them tax breaks, director Wim Wenders described the state -- and particularly the area around Butte -- as "the ideal place on this planet" for making his most recent film, Don't Come Knocking. Appearing at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Wenders claimed that no one had ever made a movie in Butte -- once a booming city with a population of more than 100,000, now, according to the director, a virtual "ghost town" with fewer than a third of that number. He maintained that the landscape was as important to his film as any other element. Co-star Gabriel Mann said that he could not help but be affected by working in a city that has been so hard hit. "If you can imagine living in a city like that, it's bound to affect your performance," he said. Shepard, who also participated in the news conference at Cannes, noted that there were some unexpected benefits that the production crew had not anticipated. Because most of the population of Butte has vanished, he noted, "We didn't have to do any crowd control or [set up any] roadblocks."

BLOCKBUSTER TO BOOST DVD SUBSCRIPTION RATE

Apparently responding to investor Carl Icahn's complaints about Blockbuster's online price war with its rivals, the video rental giant on Wednesday said that it would begin testing consumer response to an unlimited online rental fee of $17.99 per month, $3 more than what it currently charges, and the same price as online pioneer Netflix's. The company said that the test price began Monday in selected markets. In an interview with Home Media Retailing magazine, analyst Marla Backer of Soleil Securities observed that the new pricing plan reveals Icahn's growing influence on the Blockbuster board. "If this is any indication of [Blockbuster Chairman and CEO John Antioco's] response [to Icahn], he listens," Backer said. "The previous price reductions were clearly one of the issues that Icahn has with the company. I think [$17.99 per month] is much better pricing."

BRITS AND CZECHS IN TUG OF WAR OVER BOND

Following a report by the British trade publication Screen International that it was likely that most of the next James Bond movie, Casino Royale, would be produced in the Czech Republic, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said Wednesday that "everything possible is being done to ensure Bond stays a British film." She said that the British film industry would be dealt a severe blow if Bond is not filmed in the U.K.