IDOL GIVES BACK -- ITS AUDIENCE

The second annual American Idol charity show, Idol Gives Back, saw its audience decline from last year Wednesday night even as an all-star list of personalities appeared on the show, urging viewers to help the disadvantaged at home and overseas. The primetime portion of the show between 8:00 p.m. and and 10:00 p.m. (it began at 7:30 p.m.) averaged 17.5 million viewers versus last year's 26.9 million. The final hour averaged 18.1 million. Among those pitching for contributions were Brad Pitt, Fergie, Miley Cyrus, Tyra Banks, David Spade, The Jonas Brothers, Reese Witherspoon, Gloria Estefan, Billy Crystal, Victoria and David Beckham, Bono, and former Idol contestant Daughtry, now a recording star in his own right. So many entertainment celebrities participated that the three major presidential candidates, who had each taped appeals, were bumped to tonight's (Thursday) special telecast. (New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley commented, "Idol Gives Back would have given the politicians an opportunity to link themselves to the stronger allure of celebrities and their high-wattage charitable causes. But American Idol producers evidently felt that the candidates didn't have the same cachet.")

COURIC OUT?

CBS has attempted to shoot down a flurry of new reports that its news division will replace Katie Couric as anchor of the CBS Evening News following the presidential inauguration in January. The reports, which cited CBS news executives and persons close to Couric, appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and were quickly picked up by other newspapers and wire services. However, a spokesperson for the CBS Evening News said late Wednesday that it has "no plans for any changes regarding Katie or the broadcast." In a separate statement, Couric did not directly address the report but said that she was "working hard and having fun" and is "very proud of the show we put on every day." The Post disclosed that CBS Chairman Les Moonves and CBS News President Sean McManus have been involved in the discussions with Couric and quoted sources as saying that they will not make a final decision concerning Couric until late summer at the earliest and that they would likely offer her a syndicated talk show or a full-time role on 60 Minutes, presumably at less pay. Currently Couric receives $15 million a year to anchor the third-place newscast. While the Journal suggested that "Couric could survive if a major news event lifted the newscast's ratings or some other shift occurred at CBS," the Post said that network executives now "recognize that a significant improvement in the ratings is unlikely."

SCALIA OPPOSES COURTROOM CAMERAS

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has spoken out strongly against allowing courtroom proceedings to be televised -- be they those of the high court or lower courts. As reported by Broadcasting & Cable, Scalia said on C-SPAN's Students and Leaders: To make entertainment out of real people's legal troubles is quite sick. ... You want to entertain the public? Hire actors and put on Perry Mason or something. I don't think it is right to make enjoyment out of litigation, civil or criminal." He said that he would not be opposed to gavel-to-gavel coverage of Supreme Court proceedings on C-SPAN, but, he said, for every person watching such coverage, "there would be 100,000 who would watch a 15-second take-out from the C-SPAN feed. And I guarantee you that the 15-second take-out would not be characteristic of what we do."

ZELL GOES ON THE AIR -- UNBEKNOWNST TO HIM

National Public Radio's All Things Considered has played excerpts of a talk delivered by Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell to the company's top Washington journalists in February. In it, Zell accused of the journalists of not generating revenue for the company, "so all of you are overhead." He maintained that Tribune employees -- the company owns 23 TV stations and 11 newspapers -- have failed to find ways to attract more viewers and readers. "Three guys in a garage create YouTube, and we've got 800 people in Chicago [Tribune's headquarters] who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground." Since Zell took over the company, Tribune outlets have been hit with substantial layoffs and cutbacks. "And I promise you the next 60 days will be even more tumultuous," Zell added. While he declined to discuss his remarks with NPR, his lawyer, David Bradford, told the public broadcaster: "He's somebody who speaks the unvarnished truth."

ISP PROTESTS POPULARITY OF BBC PLAYER

The BBC's new iPlayer, which allows viewers to watch programs on demand, has been such a success that one Internet service provider in the U.K. is calling for a BBC tax to offset the costs arising from the increase in network traffic. The BBC announced Wednesday that its iPlayer provided 17.2 million streams and downloads in March and that traffic has risen 25 percent each month since it was launched last Christmas. The company also said that it is launching a version of the iPlayer for Nintendo's Wii videogame console. It launched a version for Apple's iPhone in March. As for complaints by ISP Tiscali about the alleged overload due to the popularity of iPlayer, the BBC's Ashley Highfield told a U.K. tech website, "I really think that the BBC should be there to create great content, to get it in to the network and that the broadband service providers should get it to people's homes."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.