TALENT IS NO. 1; NBC ISN'T

The hope at NBC that the season finale of America's Got Talent would lift it back to first place on Thursday for the first time since Must See TV days failed to materialize as CBS continued to dominate the night. Talent -- the contest was won by 11-year-old Bianca Ryan of Philadelphia -- did score a victory in its time period at 9:00 p.m. with a 7.8 rating and a 12 share, but the rest of NBC's lineup remained out of contention. Particularly disappointing was the poor performance of Windfall at 10:00, a new program that was intended to offset the traditionally poor ratings of repeats of E.R. The show drew a 3.8/6.

Seeming to dispel earlier reports that he used strongarm tactics to beat Diane Sawyer out of the anchor's post on the ABC evening news program, Charles Gibson said Wednesday that he and Sawyer had several friendly discussions about who should take over. During an interview on PBS with Charlie Rose, Gibson said that Sawyer "said to me, 'I'm burned out. I'm really burned out at Good Morning America.' And I said to her, 'Go do World News. Do it.' And she said, 'No, you want to do it!' And I was comfortable either way." Gibson said that when he met with ABC News chief David Westin, he took the same que será, será position. "I said to David, 'If she wants to do it, she ought to do it.' ... Because I thought she'd be terrific at it." Gibson insisted that he would have been comfortable in whatever Westin made. At the time, rumors circulated that Gibson had told Westin that unless he got the anchor's job, he would leave ABC when his contract expires in two years.

Fox News said Thursday that there was still nothing new to report about its missing correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, who were kidnapped in Gaza early this week. Shepard Smith read viewers a statement saying, "It's been three days since our Fox News colleagues, the national correspondent Steve Centanni and a New Zealander, Olaf Wiig, were kidnapped in Gaza. We still have no word on their whereabouts, no word on their condition."

In what could amount to the biggest buyout in European history, a group of investors led by the U.S.'s Providence Equity has offered about $20 billion to acquire NTL, Britain's largest cable company, Business Week reported on its website Thursday, citing sources close to the talks. Other members of the consortium include U.S. private equity firms Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Bain and Britain's Cinven. In July Virgin's Richard Branson secured a 10-percent stake in NTL when he sold Virgin Mobile to the cable company in a deal worth $1.8 billion. The deal put NTL in a position to become the first company to be able to offer customers a package of cable television, land-line telephone service, mobile phone service, broadband Internet and cable TV. The package is expected to be offered -- for about $75 per month -- beginning next month.

New developments in the case of John Mark Karr have raised questions about whether TV news coverage may have been too quick in assuming that Karr was the killer of JonBenet Ramsey. Early reports had indicated that Karr had confessed to drugging the six-year-old before he "accidentally" killed her. However, reports pointed out, an autopsy showed no trace of drugs in her body. Moreover, Karr's ex-wife said on San Francisco's KGO-TV Thursday that her husband was with her and their children for Christmas 1996, when JonBenet was murdered and that in fact he had never missed spending Christmas with the family from 1989 to 2000. Also on Thursday, Mark Klaas, the father of murdered Polly Klaas, while saying that he was disturbed by reports that Karr had shown interest in his daughter's case and had corresponded with her killer, nevertheless called Karr "a deeply disturbed individual" and implied that Karr may have been delusional when he confessed to killing JonBenet. "I am very skeptical this guy did it," Klaas said. Meanwhile, the case has boosted ratings for each of the cable news networks, in particular, MSNBC, which broke the news of Karr's arrest and devoted most of its programming schedule to it.

The Writers Guild of America's surge of activism is bringing it into open conflict with NBC and the new CW network, according to published reports. On Thursday NBC filed an NLRB complaint, alleging that the WGA is illegally ordering producers not to cooperate in the production of versions of its programs for the Internet. At the same time, the new CW network sent a message to its affiliates Thursday assuring them that the WGA's strike against the producers of America's Next Top Model would not affect the quality of the show.

The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will become the first network newscast to be simulcast on television and the Internet each night beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. The network said Thursday that viewers will be able to watch it live on TV or the Web or at any time after it is broadcast on the Web. Viewers wanting to watch the newscast on their PCs will have to provide their zip codes during a registration process, which will prevent those in the West from tuning in to the version airing in the East three hours earlier.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.