i>FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS REMAIN LIT

Saying that he had "structured an innovative deal" with DirecTV to keep Friday Night Lights alive, NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman announced Wednesday that the critically praised but low-rated series would return to the air next fall with all-new episodes that would first air on the home-satellite company's entertainment channel, The 101, beginning in October and then rerun on NBC early next year. In a conference call with reporters, Silverman said that he wanted to save the show because "if I had one more person on a plane tell me it's their favorite show, I was going to lose my mind." Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and on its face it would appear to guarantee that ratings for the series would remain low, since many of those watching it on DirecTV would unlikely tune in again for the reruns on NBC. That prospect did not appear to faze Silverman, who said that the deal allowed NBC "to have this jewel of a show and not even need to expand its audience to succeed on a financial basis." In a statement, Friday Night Lights executive producer Peter Berg said that he is "excited to be a part of something that feels legitimately groundbreaking, and new."

NBC BRINGING BACK THE OLD DAYS

Recalling those days in the 1950s and '60s when sponsors' names were included in the title of shows like General Electric Theater (which, as it rose to No. 1 in the ratings, enhanced the celebrity status of its host, Ronald Reagan), NBC said Wednesday that it intends to ask advertisers to become more involved with some of its shows. The network, now owned by General Electric, said that it had concluded a deal with Liberty Mutual Group insurance company to present two-hour original movies to be broadcast under the banner Liberty Mutual Presents. The first movie, titled Kings, could be developed into a regular series, the network indicated, and if it does, Liberty Mutual will have first dibs on sponsorship. Terms of the network's deal with Liberty were not disclosed.

SAG AGREES TO EARLY NEGOTIATIONS WITH NETS, STUDIOS

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said Wednesday that it plans to begin negotiations on a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on April 28. That would appear to box in the Screen Actors Guild, the other major actors' union, which plans to start its own talks with the AMPTP two weeks earlier on April 15. Previously, the two unions had held joint talks with the networks and studios, but last weekend AFTRA decided to go it alone, accusing SAG of attempting to muscle in on its jurisdiction over daytime soap operas. (SAG represents most of the actors appearing on scripted shows; AFTRA, on non-scripted shows and a handful of scripted ones that are produced on tape rather than film.) In its statement, AFTRA said that it welcomed SAG's decision to begin early negotiations with the AMPTP and observed that the two-week period "should allow SAG sufficient time to work out a good deal with the studios." "That won't be easy," commented today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times in its report on the planned talks. It pointed out that SAG has already announced that it plans to demand raises in residuals for DVDs and new media -- a concession that the writers' and directors' guilds were unable to extract from the networks and studios.

WOUNDED CORRESPONDENTS RECEIVE PEABODYS

ABC's Bob Woodruff and CBS's Kimberly Dozier, each seriously injured while reporting from Iraq, were among 35 recipients of George Foster Peabody Awards for broadcasting excellence announced Wednesday by the University of Georgia. The two correspondents were recognized for reports about wounded GI's, Woodruff for his series titled "Wounds of War -- The Long Road Home for Our Nation's Veterans," and Dozier for her CBS Sunday Morning report, "The Way Home," about two women veterans who lost limbs in Iraq. Scott Pelley's report, "The Killings in Haditha," won a Peabody for CBS's 60 Minutes. Among the entertainment awards, NBC's 30 Rock, Bravo's Project Runway, AMC's Mad Men, Showtime's Mad Men, and Comedy Central's The Colbert Report were each honored. The awards will be handed out during ceremonies in New York on June 16 hosted by NBC anchor Brian Williams.

IDOL, DANCING CASUALTIES RETURN TO THE WARS

Hospitalized contestants on American Idol and Dancing With the Stars were released Wednesday and said that they plan to soldier on. American Idol singer David Cook received a prescription for medication to lower his blood pressure and Dancing contestant Derek Hough sported a neck brace. In Wednesday night's ratings, Idol once again dominated everything in sight, scoring a 15.2 rating and a 23 share as pint-sized singer Famiele Malubay became the latest singer to be eliminated from the competition.

Brian B.