BILLY(CLUB) IDOL
American Idol mowed down its opposition again Wednesday night, drawing a 17.3 rating and a 27 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour, beating the ratings of all the other major networks combined, and giving Fox a solid victory for the night. At 9:00 p.m., Fox's Bones improved its ratings over last week, garnering a 7.6/11, putting it behind CBS's Criminal Minds (8.8/13) but above ABC's Lost (6.0/9), both of which aired reruns.

PASSED OVER BY CBS, ROBERTS PASSES OVER TO CNN

In yet another high-echelon shake-up at a network news division, CBS White House correspondent John Roberts, once regarded as a possible heir apparent to Dan Rather, announced Wednesday that he is joining CNN on February 20th. In a letter to colleagues, Roberts, who seemingly was passed over while the network focused all of its energy on attracting NBC's Katie Couric, expressed regret about leaving the CBS News "family" but gave no reason for his decision to do so. "Leaving CBS News will be difficult - no question. The ache of anxious anticipation has been gnawing away at me for some time now. It's not just the thought of leaving behind the comfort of familiar surroundings. It's about the many colleagues around the world whom I have come to call friends," he wrote. However, in an interview with USA Today, Roberts, who also anchors the Sunday edition of the CBS Evening News, said that when CBS News chief Sean McManus told journalists last month that no one at the network was being considered to anchor the CBS Evening News, he knew that his "options were going to be somewhat limited" at CBS. Separately, he told the Associated Press, "It became quite clear ... they were looking in a different direction for the main person other than me."

CBS BYPASSES THE MIDDLEMAN

CBS announced plans Wednesday to bypass Apple's iTunes Music Store and sell copies of its Survivor: Panama series directly from its own website for $1.99 per episode. They can be viewed for only 24 hours after being downloaded. In an interview with Reuters, Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media, indicated that he hopes to add not only CBS programming to the website but content from other content producers as well. "If we can create a good consumer platform, it wouldn't surprise me that other companies would come to us as they do on the network," Kramer said. He also indicated that he plans to share part of the revenue generated by the website with local affiliates. Bloggers reacted with disdain at the announcement. "Why would I pay for something that's going to 'break' in a day?" asked Dave Caolo, who operates the Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), adding, "That's like saying, 'After you listen to this CD once, I'm coming to your house and taking it away from you.'" Other bloggers argued that the scheme will serve only to antagonize younger Internet users and particularly users of Apple's video iPod, who will not be able to download the episodes to their devices. Still others predicted that it will simply encourage piracy as users of digital video recorders alternatively recorded the programs off the air and distributed them via peer-to-peer systems.

BRITNEY SPEARS TO PLAY CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST

In yet another maneuver certain to outrage Christian conservatives, NBC has cast Britney Spears as a Christian fundamentalist who tries to convert the flamboyantly-gay character Jack on Will & Grace. She will play a co-host of Jack's cable-channel talk show, and in one episode is seen doing a cooking segment called 'Cruci-fixin's,' NBC said. It will mark the singer's first-ever role on the TV sitcom.

A&E SCORES WITH DRAMA ABOUT TERRORIST HIJACKING

A&E's Monday-night telecast of Flight 93, about the 9/11 terrorist hijacking of a plane that they reportedly hoped to fly into the White House or the Capitol, produced the channel's biggest audience in its history -- some 5.9 million viewers, the channel said Wednesday. The ratings performance of the film had been watched for a clue to determine how ready the public might be for dramas about the 9/11 events.

DISH AND LIFETIME MAKE PEACE

Echostar's DISH network and Lifetime Television have resolved their rancorous dispute, and Lifetime has been restored to the satellite service, the companies said Wednesday. Neither company would discuss terms of the new agreement. Meanwhile, it was reported that four bestselling novels by romance/mystery author Nora Roberts will be adapted for TV and air on Lifetime. The films will be produced by Peter Guber's Mandalay Television.

ON THE ONE HAND, THE SUPER BOWL; ON THE OTHER, LIZA

In what amounts to "alternative programming" of the first magnitude, Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio will feature a two-hour interview with Liza Minnelli during Super Bowl Sunday, the channel announced Wednesday. It released excerpts from the interview with James Lipton, which include several comments about her relationship with her mother, Judy Garland. "It was a responsibility," she remarks at one point about caring for a mother besieged by demons "I didn't become a kid until I was in my 30s. She would always say, 'What would I do without you?'" Later: "When I went on to that stage, I was with Judy Garland My mother was no where in sight."

PARIS HIRED TO INTERVIEW CELEBS AT BRITISH MUSIC AWARDS

Britain's ITV has hired Paris Hilton to perform red-carpet duties at the Feb. 15 Brit Awards, the country's top music awards ceremonies. Hilton, who famously indicated recently that she was not aware that London was in the U.K., will receive $175,000 for the gig, according to Wednesday's edition of the London Daily Mirror. Since producers of the awards show have anticipated that Hilton will not recognize many of the British rock musicians, "ITV bosses have hired a lackey who's sole job is to steer her towards all the rock 'n' roll stars attending the biggest night in the musicbiz calendar," the Mirror reported. "She'll be there to gossip with celebs, talk to them about what they're wearing and how much they're looking forward to the night."

TAKE THAT, CARL ICAHN!
Time Warner produced some heavy ammunition Wednesday to defend itself in its battle with dissident shareholder Carl Icahn -- a fourth-quarter report showing a 21-percent boost in profit to $1.4 billion, up from $1.1 billion a year ago. The results were significantly above analysts' expectations. The company in particular credited strong performances by its cable networks, cable system, and AOL for the increase. However, filmed entertainment was down 13 percent, largely due to the fact that its Warner Bros. unit had nothing to match the success of last year's Lord of the Rings film; nevertheless, it noted, the company saw outstanding results from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In a conference call with analysts, Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons boasted, "If I can be allowed one moment of immodesty, no one can run these businesses better than the current management is running them." Icahn, however, was unimpressed. In a speech in New York quoted in today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times, Icahn remarked that the company "should be doing better. ... If you just broke it up, the stock would be higher. ... In Time Warner, we're saying the conglomerate concept does not work."

PINK-SLIP TIME AT PARAMOUNT, DREAMWORKS

The merger of Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks will result in the firing of about 240 people, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Thursday). Half of the pink slips will be handed out at Paramount, which employs 2,000; the other half, at DreamWorks, which employs 515. The newspaper, which said that Paramount had confirmed the report, said that most of the cuts were due to overlaps resulting from the merger.

BROKEBACK A HIT IN MONTANA

Contradicting predictions by commentators that Brokeback Mountain would not attract ticket buyers in red-state strongholds like Montana, the film has actually performed strongly in many of those areas, distributor Focus Features has maintained. (Fox News commentator John Gibson remarked: "I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on." His colleague Bill O'Reilly has opined that the film has received critical praise because the media "want to mainstream homosexual conduct." And he predicted, "They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana.") However, the online magazine Salon today (Thursday) quoted the manager of the Wilma Theater in Missoula as saying that the film grossed $33,006 in its first four weekends there -- "one of our best starts for a movie we've ever had." In the conservative town of Kalispell, the film opened last Friday with $3,656. In the town of Whitefish, it took in $2,312 and beat out the three top national draws, including the No. 1 film, Big Momma's House 2. Salon indicated that the film is also a hit in Great Falls, Bozeman, and Helena, where it also opened at No. 1. Meanwhile, L.A. Weekly entertainment columnist Nikki Finke has observed that Brokeback Mountain could be passed over at the Oscar ceremonies. "That's because this year's dirty little secret is the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members being unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain. For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it's shameful that Hollywood's homophobia may be on a par with Pat Robertson's," Finke wrote.

CHRISTIAN MINISTERS DIVIDED OVER END OF THE SPEAR

Christian ministers who initially enthusiastically supported the Christian-themed End of the Spear, produced by Every Tribe Entertainment, became deeply divided after they learned that one of the stars of the film, Chad Allen, is openly gay, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). Opposition to the film was led by the Rev. Jason Janz, who encouraged a boycott by fundamentalist Christians, saying that having a gay man play the role of a Christian missionary was "like Madonna playing the Virgin Mary." Every Tribe has pointed out that some of the criticism verged on threats. For example, it noted, Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, said on his website, "Granted, we must not overreact. And it would probably be an overreaction to firebomb these men's houses. But what they have done is no mistake. It is a calculated strategy." In a column for the Knight Ridder Newspapers, religion writer Jim Jones noted that the movie was "one of the most ambitious Christian films since The Passion of the Christ" and that half of the profits go to missionary work. He quoted director Jim Hanon as saying, "We know that the character in our film and the actor are not the same. ... We do not agree with Chad Allen over homosexuality. End of the Spear is not about Chad Allen, but rather it's about remarkable people who lived their faith against all odds and dared to reach out, at the cost of their lives."