IT'S OFFICIAL: VIEIRA TO REPLACE COURIC ON TODAY
One day after Katie Couric's announcement that she will be leaving the Today show at the end of May to become anchor of the CBS Evening News, NBC confirmed this morning (Thursday) that she will be replaced on Today by Meredith Vieira, currently co-host of ABC's The View and host of the syndicated game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, said in a statement, "Meredith's vast experience as an award-winning journalist as well as talk show host make her the ideal candidate for this job."

NOT EVERYONE'S PERKY ABOUT COURIC'S ASCENSION

Wednesday's official announcement that Katie Couric will be leaving NBC's Today show at the end of next month to become anchor of the CBS Evening News about three months later received as much news coverage as any major story that Couric herself has covered. The announcement was greeted by mixed reaction even at her future professional home, CBS, where Andy Rooney griped during an interview on the Don Imus show, "I think everybody likes Katie Couric. I mean, how could you not like Katie Couric? But I don't know anybody at CBS News who is pleased that she's coming here." Clearly, Rooney had not been talking with Bob Schieffer, the current "interim" anchor of the CBS newscast. "I'm really happy about this," Schieffer told the Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Katie is a good interviewer. She has good instincts. She has a really good way of communicating with people." And Walter Cronkite commented on Larry King's CNN talk show: "She has proved her abilities as a journalist over the last several years. I think we are exceedingly lucky to have her with us." Earlier in the day, CBS CEO Les Moonves and news President Sean McManus wrote in an email to employees that landing Couric was "as significant an event, in its own way as the return of the NFL to CBS or the arrival of CSI and Survivor to our primetime schedule." The fact that a woman would be permanently anchoring a network newscast all by herself for the first time produced much comment. Connie Chung, who shared anchor duties with Dan Rather for a time at CBS, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the hiring brought TV news out of the dark ages: "I had always said I didn't think this would happen in my lifetime. That's when I was still in the cave with the rest of them." In an interview with USA Today, Susan Zirinsky, producer of CBS's 48 Hours, commented, "The time is right. ... The time has been right for quite a while now, but we didn't have the right woman. Now we do. Katie has so earned her journalistic stripes." Responding to critics who remarked that Couric does not possess the necessary "gravitas" to anchor the news, former CNN anchor Judy Woodruff remarked, "'Gravitas' is sexist code for 'Should be a man.'"

COLUMNIST OFFERS LAUNDRY LIST OF NBC MISSTEPS

Maureen Ryan, the TV columnist for the Chicago Tribune, commented today (Thursday) that NBC's failure to lock Couric into a long-term contract was the culmination of a long and damaging series of recent missteps for the network. Ryan produced a long laundry list of failures. "Why," she asked, "did Joey fail? Why have most of NBC's new shows for the past couple of seasons been wretched? Why does the network rely on cheap, soon-to-burn-out game shows such as Deal or No Deal and aging, grating reality shows such as The Apprentice? Why is the network wasting The West Wing's last season by burying it on Sundays? Why did the network even air The Book of Daniel if it had no belief in it? Why has the network treated one of its stellar gems, the deliriously great Scrubs, like donkey poop? And why has the network been running something called Most Outrageous Moments on Tuesdays? Shouldn't that be a Fox summer filler show? If running that program during the regular season is not a humiliating admission of boneheadedness, I don't know what is."

NBC NEWS PLANTS "MUSLIM" RINGERS AT NASCAR RACE

NASCAR on Wednesday expressed outrage at reports that NBC's Dateline had sent "Muslim-looking men" to a race in an effort to film crowd reaction to them with hidden cameras. NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told the syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, "It is outrageous that a news organization of NBC's stature would stoop to the level of going out to create news instead of reporting news." NBC, whose contract to televise NASCAR events expires this year and is not being renewed, responded in a statement, "We were intrigued by the results of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll and other articles regarding increasing anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States. It's very early on in our newsgathering process, but be assured we will be visiting a number of locations across the country and are confident that our reporting team is pursuing this story in a fair manner."

IRAQI JOURNALISTS SAY THEY'VE BECOME TARGETS

The revelation that the U.S. government has paid Iraqi newspapers to plant favorable stories has increased the danger for Iraqi journalists, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi photojournalist told a Reuters forum Wednesday. Appearing on a panel discussion in New York, Abdul-Ahad remarked, "How do you expect decent Iraqi journalists to go into the streets and write a positive story? Everyone would be pointing at them saying, 'You've been paid by the Americans.'" Zaki Chehab of the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat remarked that Arab or Iraqi journalists now must work secretly for fear of being suspected of collaboration. Meanwhile, CBS News said Tuesday that the U.S. military has agreed to Iraqi cameraman Abdul Ameer Hussein, who had been held in custody for one year without charge after he was wounded by U.S. forces in Mosul while covering clashes with insurgents for the network in Mosul. After Hussein was cleared by an Iraqi court, guards stated at the courthouse threatened journalists covering the trial, with one guard reportedly shooting a gun into the air, then pointing it at a camera before the journalists scattered.

CORPORATIONS PLACING FAKE NEWS ON LOCAL STATIONS, SAYS REPORT

Television stations throughout the country, including several in the largest markets, are continuing to air video news releases produced by large corporations without disclosing the source, according to a study by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy and reported in today's (Thursday) New York Times. The Center, which monitored news programs on 69 stations over the past 10 months, said that the stations attempted to blend the fake news into their broadcasts by having reporters or anchors read scripts supplied by the corporations that produced the videos and in some instances introduced company publicists as if they were actual reporters. The Center said that it plans to post some of the original video news releases, along with examples of how the stations used them, on its website, www.prwatch.org.

PBS CAPTURES FOUR PEABODY AWARDS

PBS was the big winner at Wednesday's Peabody Awards presentations, receiving recognition for Martin Scorsese's documentary portrait of Bob Dylan, No Direction Home; its POV documentary Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed; and the Vietnam War documentary American Experience: Two Days in October. Four Peabodys were awarded for coverage of Hurricane Katrina, including one to NBC's Brian Williams for "analysis" on After the Storm: the Long Road Back and CNN for its in-depth coverage. Two local stations, WLOX-TV in Biloxi and WWL-TV in New Orleans, were also honored. Regular series receiving awards included ABC's Boston Legal, Fox's House, Comedy Central's South Park, FX's The Shield, and Sci-Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica.

TOY COMPANIES NOT WILD ABOUT THE WILD
Upon watching a rough-cut version of Disney's latest computer-animated feature The Wild, due to be released over the Easter holiday weekend, some of the nation's largest toy manufacturers and retailers, including Target, Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, Hasbro and Mattel, all declined to seek licenses to produced merchandise featuring characters from the film, concluding that it was unlikely to do well at the box office, according to Disney watcher Jim Hill. Writing on his blog, JimHillMedia.com, Hill reported that the rejection by Toys 'R' Us particularly disappointed Disney execs since the film features one scene in which a giraffe character named Bridget rides through New York's Times Square and spots Geoffrey, the Toys 'R' Us mascot, on a sign at the toy store's flagship outlet. "Well, I guess you can see why Disney Studios execs thought that they had a virtual lock on getting TRU to produce a Bridget the Giraffe plush [toy]," Hill remarked.

SONY DELAYS MOVIE DOWNLOAD SERVICE

Sony, which has already announced delays in the delivery date for its PlayStation 3 and Blu-ray players, has now delayed the launch of downloads from its movie studio, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). Sony had announced in January that it would begin providing movies via its online Connect Music Store in March. Variety described the delay as an embarrassment for Sony, inasmuch as most of the major studios announced earlier this week that they would begin selling movies via the Movielink and CinemaNow sites. But some analysts speculated that Sony may be waiting to see how consumers respond to their competitors' online sales strategy, which is being widely criticized in the press and on movie-related blogs, especially for the $18-28 price for new movies. FCNow.com, the blog for Fast Company magazine, asked, "At those prices, can downloads be successful? With DVDs often costing much less than $20 ... those downloads are bound to be perceived as less of a value (since they are not tangible objects and have limited portability) than an actual DVD." The Los Angeles Times also noted that the downloads don't offer the usual DVD "extras" and can't be copied onto DVD blank disks so that they can be played on a TV set. Presumably the Sony online movie offerings can be copied onto the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray discs and played via any TV set.

PUN GIVES RISE TO A MOVIE

In what may be the first movie based on a pun, DreamWorks Animation is planning to produce a computer-animated movie based on the children's book, Punk Farm. The Jarrett J. Krosoczka's tale concerns a group of farm animals, a chicken, a cow, a goat and a sheep, who form an underground rock band and together travel to the first animal music festival -- Livestock.

FRENCH ACTOR VINCENT CASSEL TO EMCEE AT CANNES

Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday named French film star Vincent Cassel to emcee the official ceremonies opening and closing this year's formalities. On May 17, Cassel, best known in the U.S. for his role as the rich, criminal mastermind in Ocean's 12, will officially open the festival, presenting the international jury, presided over by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, to the black-tie crowd. Likewise, Cassel will preside over the closing ceremonies, including the announcement of the winners, on May 28.

BRITISH AUTHORITIES SHUT DOWN HUGE DVD BOOTLEG OPERATION

While Asian countries are largely accused of allowing bootleggers to produce and distribute massive numbers of illegal DVDs, authorities in the U.K. said Wednesday that they had shut down an operation capable of producing 60,000 DVDs per day. Britain's Guardian newspaper said that the operation, operating in the Leyton section of east London, had 300 different film titles on hand at the time of the raid, including copies of last weekend's blockbuster, Ice Age 2. "All of the machines were running when we came in, making copies of Ice Age 2, and they were probably running them 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Michael Buchan, a senior investigator with the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), told the newspaper. Police estimated that the factory could yield daily sales of nearly a half million dollars.