BARBARA WALTERS TO LEAVE 20/20

Barbara Walters, arguably ABC's biggest primetime star, is stepping down as cohost of the network's weekly news magazine 20/20. In a statement posted on the ABC News website over the weekend, Walters said that she wanted to "have more flexibility in my life without the responsibilities of a weekly newsmagazine." Her departure is due to become effective in September. On Friday, the regular edition of 20/20 was preempted by a special fronted by Walters' co-host, John Stossel. Titled Lies, Myths & Downright Stupidity, the special highlighted Stossel's libertarian viewpoint on such topics as gun control, government spending, the environment, and the news media's focus on crime (a common complaint about 20/20). The program pulled an 8.2 rating and a 15 share, making it the highest-rated program of the night. It also drew well in younger demographics and was the second-highest-rated program in the 20/20time slot in two years. In an interview with today's New York Times, the 74-year-old Walters said that the producers of the program had been pressured to find stories that would appeal to younger viewers, a group, she said, " who "don't know heads of state and they're not interested. We did Castro and it was a huge interview ... but we did much better in the ratings with Courtney Cox and David Arquette."

RATINGS ARE GOLDEN FOR GOLDEN GLOBES

Ratings for Sunday night's 61st Annual Golden Globe Awards ceremonies soared 17 percent above last year's, producing an average 18.9 rating and a 26 share for NBC from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The 7:00 p.m. red carpet show drew a 9.7/14, coming in second to CBS's 60 Minutes, which recorded an 11.2/17. Ironically, the huge audience produced a promotional bonanza for NBC's rivals, as HBO's six-hour miniseries Angels in America received five trophies, including best miniseries or TV movie. Fox's 24 was named best drama, and BBC America's The Office won for best comedy. Anthony LaPaglia of CBS'Without a Trace received the best actor award in the drama category, while Frances Controy of HBO's Six Feet Under was named best actress in a dramatic series. Ricky Gervais, star of The Office received the Golden Globe award for best actor in a comedy series; his female counterpart was Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker.

MILLIONAIRE TO RETURN, WITH REGIS

ABC plans to bring back Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Regis Philbin for a series of specials next month, published reports said today (Monday). Re-dubbed Super Millionaire, the revamped show will have a top prize of $10 million. The plan is to air the show on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 9:00 p.m. and then on the following Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 10:00 p.m. ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun told today's New York Times, "If it works, we are going to have a great deal of discipline with how we program the show, basically as a sweeps event that we run two or three times a year."

MILLER SAYS HE HOPES TO DRAW YOUNG VIEWERS TO NEW CNBC SHOW

Dennis Miller, who launches a nightly talk show on CNBC tonight (Monday), has predicted that it will attract younger viewers who shun the networks' nightly news anchors. "I don't think kids even vaguely connect to guys like [Peter] Jennings and Dan Rather," Miller told today's Chicago Sun-Times, conspicuously omitting the name of Tom Brokaw, whose NBC network is a corporate sibling of CNBC. Miller maintained that until now, younger viewers have preferred to get their news from Comedy Central's Jon Stewart. Asked about Miller's remarks, Stewart replied, "I still think it's a fallacy that [young people] get most of their news from us. It would be very difficult for them to even find us on the dial and not absorb some news along the way."

POPE JOHN PAUL II CONDEMNS TV

Pope John Paul II severely criticized television Sunday for presenting "a distorted view of life, family, religion, and morality" and instead promoting "divorce, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality." In a statement in honor of World Peace Day, whose theme was "family and the media: risk and richness," the Pontiff warned that "the media has the capacity to do great damage to families" and proposed, "without looking to censorship," that "public authorities promote regulations to assure that the media doesn't show programming that goes against the good of the family."

MORAL REPORTEDLY DOWN AT CNN D.C. BUREAU FOLLOWING SHAKE-UP

A decision by CNN General Manager Princell Hair to replace the cable news network's Washington bureau chief with the producer of Aaron Brown's news program has evoked heated reaction among the bureau's staff, the Washington Post reported Saturday. A CNN staffer told the Post that there was a feeling at the bureau that the announced reorganization, which saw Kathryn Kross replaced with David Bohrman, "wasn't handled well." In a memo to staffers, Hair said that he is "working with [Kross] on a new role with the network." Hair has also divided CNN's domestic bureaus into four regional bureaus and named a bureau chief for each.

FRIENDS: IT'S A WRAP

The cast of Friends has taped the final episode, much of it without an audience present in order to prevent the plot from leaking out and other parts taped with only an audience of invited guests. The Associated Press reported that the taping concluded shortly before midnight on Friday before an audience of about 200. It is scheduled to air on May 6th, with spots reportedly fetching more than $2 million each.

GIBSON TO DEFEND PASSION ON ABC

ABC on Friday began promoting an interview with Mel Gibson about his controversial movie, The Passion of the Christ, due to air as a special edition ofPrimetime on Feb. 16, nine days before the scheduled opening of the film on Ash Wednesday. The promo referred to the movie as "one of the most controversial movies of all time." It did not indicate whether critics of the film would also be interviewed. Meanwhile, the head of the Anti-Defamation League has said that he wrote to Gibson asking him to append a message to the film, in which he would declare: "I've said I wanted to make a Passion of love. Blaming Jews for Christ's death would make this a Passion of hate." In an interview with Saturday's New York Times, Rabbi Abraham Foxman warned that it is especially urgent that Gibson moderate the message of his film "because it's now likely that more people will see his Passion in two months than saw all the Passion plays ever staged in the previous 2,000 years." However -- also on Friday -- William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, the largest Catholic lay organization in the U.S., defended Gibson's film and said that the "relentless campaign" by its critics will be "ultimately futile."

NO SURPRISE WINNERS AT GOLDEN GLOBES

Sunday night's Golden Globes film awards were surprising for their lack of surprises, news reports suggested, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning for best drama and best director (Peter Jackson). Sean Penn and Charlize Theron were awarded the top acting trophies in the dramatic category: his for Mystic River, hers for Monster. Lost in Translation won for best comedy, and its star, Bill Murray was named best actor in a comedy. Diane Keaton collected the award for best actress in a comedy. Sofia Coppola, who directed Lost in Translation, received the Golden Globe for best screenplay.

$7,000 MOVIE WINS AT SUNDANCE

Shane Corruth's Primer , a $7,000 sci-fi film that had received little buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, was the surprise winner of the festival's Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Saturday. The Documentary Grand Jury Prize went to Ondi Timoner's DIG! Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace took the Dramatic Audience Award, while the Documentary Audience Award went to Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski's Born Into Brothels.

BUTTERFLY FLIES TO TOP OF BOX OFFICE

The Butterfly Effect escaped the bug spray of the critics over the weekend, capturing the top spot at the box office with $17.1 million, far greater than expected. The film, and its star Ashton Kutcher, received ravaging reviews on Friday but nevertheless managed to wrest the box-office crown from the Ben Stiller comedy Along Came Polly, which dipped to second place with $16.6 million, according to studio estimates. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! debuted in third place with $7.5 million. Tim Burton's Big Fish finished fourth with about $7.3 million, while The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King rounded out the top five with $6.85 million, bringing its total cross to $337 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. The Butterfly Effect, $17.1 million; 2. Along Came Polly, $16.6 million; 3. Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! $7.5 million; 4. Big Fish, $7.3 million; 5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, $6.85 million; 6. Cheaper by the Dozen, $6.6 million; 7. Cold Mountain, $5.03 million; 8. Torque, $4.43 million; 9. Something's Gotta Give, $4.1 million; 10. Mystic River, $3.13 million.

TAPE TAKEN ON SET OF NEW STAR WARS POST ON INTERNET

Despite rigorous efforts by the George Lucas organization to prevent any leaks from the set of the Star Wars: Episode III, a crude 2-minute, 37-second clip (click here) from the Australian set has popped up online. It reportedly includes a shot of Hayden Christensen in his Darth Vader costume. One fan who watched it said on the Slashdot.org website that it contains no spoilers and that "the video is choppy and low quality (camcorder pointed at a monitor) and hard to watch."

EISNER RECEIVES SUPPORT OF SAUDI PRINCE

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner and Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are scheduled to meet in Burbank today (Monday), with the Saudi expected to agree to increase his investment in Euro Disney to keep the theme park afloat. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Saudi Prince, who is the second-largest shareholder in the park behind Disney, remarked: "I'm a friend and ally of Eisner's. I'm no Roy Disney," He also told the newspaper that his goal is "to bridge the gap between Arabs and Americans. It's a role that no one else has in the Arab world."