LENO ADMITS HE SPIED ON HIS BOSSES Jay Leno has admitted that soon after he debuted as host of the Tonightshow, he was so worried about negative critical and audience reaction -- and about being replaced -- that he hid in the closets of NBC executives so that he could eavesdrop on their conversations about him. "I sucked," Leno admits in the current issue of Playboy. "I was trying to do the Tonight show exactly the way Johnny [Carson] had done it, and it didn't work. I was an inch from being fired. They were going to shoot me and replace me with Dave [Letterman]." Leno, who has increased the political content of his show in recent years, also remarked: "This is going to be one of the nastiest presidential elections ever. Great, fabulous, good for me."


The History Channel has apologized for its controversial program last November that suggested that Lyndon Johnson was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy. The program had been denounced by, among others, members of Johnson's family and by MPAA chief Jack Valenti, a onetime Johnson aide. Following the broadcast, the channel assembled a group of prominent historians to appraise the charges voiced during the documentary. The group later declared that its conclusion about Johnson was "entirely unfounded and does not hold up to scrutiny." In its apology, the History Channel acknowledged that the program "fell short of the high standards that the network sets for itself.


Due to shrinking funding, the Children's Television Workshop will produce only 26 new episodes of Sesame Streetthis year, versus 130 shows per year in its early years, the Philadelphia Inquirerreported today (Monday). Ten writers remain on staff, down from 16. The cutbacks have come in the face of increasing competition from cable channels -- principally from Nickelodeon, which produces Dora the Explorerand Blue's Cluesfor the preschool set. "We're an hour show in a half-hour world," executive producer Lewis Bernstein told the Inquirer. "We deal with the whole child's curriculum. We purposely try to attract parents, so they can watch together. That's so rare."


Clobbered by American Idolwhen it was forced to move to Wednesday night because of the NCAA basketball playoffs a week earlier, NBC's The Apprenticecame roaring back Thursday, beating a repeat of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigationin the key 18-49 age demographics. CSIremained ahead in the overall standings. Ratings for The Apprenticeare expected to remain strong for its last two shows of the season, with formidable numbers expected for the June 15 season finale.


Offering yet another example of why marketing costs continue to soar for the major studios, a 2 1/2-minute trailer for Spider-Man 2 is expected to air during The Apprentice on Thursday. "We've got to look at unconventional ways to get our message across," Geoffrey Ammer, head of worldwide marketing for Sony, told USA Today.The newspaper said that the trailer will air about 40 minutes into the show and feature a scene in which the villain Doc Ock (AKA Doctor Octopus AKA Dr. Otto Octavius), played by Alfred Molina, confronts Peter Parker, the character who wears the Spider-Man costume, played by Tobey Maguire.


Fox is taking a big gamble on the Mark Burnett-produced The Casino, a 13-week series set to replace American Idolbeginning June 8, Advertising Ageindicates in its current issue. Budgeted at more than $1 million per episode, the show will combine set-up incidents with real life ones as it follows (with 21 cameras) a number of actual gamblers, from high-rollers to nickel-and-dimers, playing the tables at the downtown Las Vegas casino, the Golden Nugget. It will also focus on the two owners, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, who bought the casino with Internet-boom earnings and are now trying to negotiate a thicket of business challenges, including a probationary gaming license, issued to them because of their ties to a Las Vegas figure with alleged ties to organized crime. Jon Nesvig, Fox's sales chief, told Ad Agethat advertisers had been approached to buy the show as a "primary sponsor," but had turned it down. "It's fairly expensive, and since nobody wanted to step up in a big way to what we thought was the value of the program, we decided to sell it in a more traditional way," Nesvig said.


Only days after the announcement that Michael Grade had been appointed chairman of the BBC, a political uproar has been triggered by his refusal to step down as chairman of Pinewood Shepperton studios and to sell his stock in the company. (He had previously said that he would quit the boards of Television Corporation and Scottish Media Group.) Critics pointed out that Grade's determination to hold both chairmanships and to retain his 4 percent stake in the studios represented an intolerable conflict of interests -- particularly since the BBC leases space at Pinewood Shepperton, where it produces some of its most popular programs. Grade told reporters that he had informed the selection committee of his intentions and maintained that he was prepared to take appropriate steps to remove any perception of conflict of interest in the BBC's dealings with Pinewood Shepperton.


The BBC was being rebuked Sunday for airing a rap song that calls the United States "the devil," compares the queen to Saddam Hussein, claims that the queen and her husband "killed Lady Di," and denounces Britain for supporting Israel. John Beyer, director of the watchdog group Mediawatch UK, told the London Sunday Telegraph that he BBC should not be playing the song by British rapper Scor-Zay-Zee. "There is no justification for giving airspace to something as offensive as this."


Joan Richman, one of the first female TV news executives, whose career at CBS News began in 1961 with a job in the research library and ended with her retirement in 1989 after holding numerous top-level positions, died of cancer Friday in Lumberville, PA at age 64. In a statement, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, said: "It's difficult for the many women thriving in broadcast journalism today to imagine the battles Joan Richman fought and won on their behalf." She received three Emmys in the 1970s for producing Walter Cronkite's coverage of the Apollo 13, 14 and 15 missions. Cronkite said in a statement that she "was probably more important than any other individual in shaping the presentation of a new science that gripped the world's imagination."HELLBOY FIRES UP BOX OFFICE It was no Spider-Man, but Sony's Hellboy produced some super numbers at the box office over the weekend. The boy-out-of-hell movie debuted with an estimated $23.5 million to lead the domestic box office, performing as analysts had predicted. MGM's Walking Tall also fulfilled their predictions, earning about $15.3 million for second place. In its second week, Warner Bros.' Scooby-Doo 2, with $15.1 million, topped the debut of Disney's Home on the Range,with $14 million. A fourth new entry, The Prince and Me, starring Julia Stiles, took in $10 million. Meanwhile, in its sixth week, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christcontinued to attract devoted fans as it earned $9.8 million, to bring its total-to-date to $330.1 million. Ticket sales for the top 12 films came in at around $114.5 million -- some 39 percent above results for the comparable weekend a year ago. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:1. Hellboy, $23.5 million; 2. Walking Tall, $15.3 million; 3. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, $15.1 million; 4. Home on the Range, $14 million; 5. The Prince and Me, $10 million; 6. The Passion of the Christ, $9.9 million; 7. The Ladykillers, $7 million; 8.Jersey Girl, $5.1 million; 9. Dawn of the Dead, $4.4 million; 10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, $3.6 million.


In a remarkable effort to block runaway production, 28 Democratic congressmen have urged Universal Studios to reconsider its decision to shoot the upcoming film Cinderella Man,the bio of legendary fighter Jim Braddock starring Russell Crowe,in Canada. In a letter to MPAA chief Jack Valenti, Los Angeles Rep. Dianne Watson, writing on behalf of the group, urged: "For the economy and the hundreds of U.S. jobs affected by the production of Cinderella Man, we strongly urge you to call on Universal to reconsider." Saturday's Los Angeles Daily Newsobserved that several California congressmen who have previously been outspoken critics of decisions by Hollywood studios to shoot films abroad declined to sign the letter. Los Angeles Congressman Xavier Becerra, for example, told the newspaper that only "a compromise between studios and unions" could solve the problem. "The way we are not going to solve this is by being combative."


Sony plans to promote the June 15 DVD release of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore hit 50 First Dates with a sweepstakes that will take the winner to some of the Hawaiian locales where the movie was filmed. The company's video unit, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, also said on Friday that the DVD "special edition" will include a "Talkin' Pidgin" featurette with Hawaiians giving the meaning of local slang.


The company that holds the British rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has topped the list of 100 private companies showing the fastest-growing profits in the U.K., according to a survey by the London Sunday Times. The newspaper's "Profit Track" reported that The Entertainment Group, which receives a piece of the action from LOTR box-office receipts and home video sales and rentals in the U.K. has seen profits soar 197 percent a year since 2000.