FROM NEW YORK TIMES: NBC UNMASKED

NBC sought to obtain an interview with Michael Jackson by offering to buy exclusive footage taken by his associates at his Neverland estate for $5 million and assuring him that an additional "benefit" of such a deal would be the preemption of a critical Dateline documentary about him, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday). The Neverland footage, which the Jackson camp claimed at the time contradicted criticism of the entertainer that appeared in a British TV documentary (later featured on ABC's Primetime), was subsequently sold to Fox for about the same amount -- but without the interview. The Times today published the test of an email message sent to Jackson's representatives from NBC exec Marc Graboff, which included this comment: "The acquisition of the rights to this special on NBC will have the added benefit of preempting NBC's planned broadcast of the one-hour Dateline scheduled for Feb. 17." The message was dated two days earlier, after NBC had already promoted the Dateline documentary, "Michael Jackson: Unmasked," extensively. The memo was originally disclosed a day later by FoxNews.com columnist Roger Friedman. Although an NBC spokesman maintained that the network was only offering to postpone the documentary, an unnamed Jackson adviser who negotiated with NBC disputed that interpretation. "They said they would remove it, that they would not run the special if we gave them the interview," the Jackson associate told the Times.

JACKSON DEFENSE AND PROSECUTION WANT TO BE UNGAGGED

Both the prosecution and the defense in the Michael Jackson trial have asked the judge hearing the case to relax his gag order in order to allow them to respond to reports in the media about it, which, they maintained, could affect the outcome by prejudicing potential jurors. Jackson's attorney said that he should be allowed to respond to what he insisted were false accusations that have been broadcast and published claiming that Jackson had tried to flee to South America, that he had secretly remarried, and that Black Muslims had taken control of his business affairs.

BBC VERSUS ITSELF

A documentary airing on the BBC tonight (Wednesday) levels scathing charges against the BBC itself, charging that its director general, Greg Dyke, was "betting the farm" when he defended reporter Andrew Gilligan's report that the government had "sexed up" a government dossier without first checking to see whether it was accurate. In the documentary, which aired on a special edition of the long-running magazine program Panorama, veteran BBC anchor John Ware commented that Dyke had failed to protect the BBC's reputation for accuracy. "That failure has proved very costly," Ware remarked. Reporting on the broadcast, Britain's Guardian newspaper commented: "The Panorama special is an extraordinary achievement for the program's editor, Mike Robinson, who managed to keep the contents confidential until a press screening this morning." The controversial report allegedly led to the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly after the was revealed to be its source. The findings of an official inquiry into the suicide are expected to be released this month.

CBS LOVES THE LOW-RATED TONYS

CBS has decided to continue its annual coverage of Broadway's Tony Awards through 2010, despite the fact that the awards show dipped to its lowest ratings ever last year, with only 7.86 million people tuning in. Among the awards shows, only the NAACP Image Awards captured a smaller audience. CBS has carried the ceremonies, produced by the American Theater Wing and the League of American Theaters and Producers, since 1978. Nominations for this year's awards are due to be announced on May 10 with the awards telecast set for June 6.

AMERICAN IDOL STORMS BACK

Launching its third season on Fox Monday night, American Idol showed it had lost none of its drawing power, averaging a 15.5 rating and a 23 share in overall households and a through-the-roof 12.5/30 among adults 18-49. It also proved to be a strong lead-in for the 9:00 debut of My Big, Fat Obnoxious Fianc