One year after embarking as anchor of the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric plans to visit Iraq and Syria in an apparent effort to boost the newscast's flagging ratings. It was unclear whether Couric's presence in that turbulent area of the world will involve assignments that will call as much attention to the program's content as it does to its host. (It comes shortly before the scheduled September 15 release of General David Petraeus's progress report on the military surge.) Couric had remarked shortly before taking over the anchor's post that she would only undertake dangerous assignments abroad "if I feel strongly that my presence will advance a story, that I'm not just window dressing to show that I'm at a particular story." The program's executive producer, Rick Kaplan, said Tuesday that Couric "has gotten us access to certain areas and people." He was not specific. He said that he will be traveling with Couric to the Middle East. "We're not going to take unnecessary risks. But we think it's worth it for the level of the story," he told Broadcasting & Cablemagazine. For her part, Couric appeared to play down the possibility of landing big "gets" on her trip. "I'm curious about very basic questions regarding living conditions, about how much fear there is in the street, about how the soldiers really are doing," she told the Associated Press.


Attempting to counter increasing efforts by anti-war organizations to persuade lawmakers to back a U.S. pullout from Iraq, a conservative group, Freedom's Watch, has embarked on a $15-million ad campaign backing President Bush's Iraq policy. However, the New York Times's website reported today (Wednesday) that while Fox News and CNN have agreed to run its ads, the two NBC Universal-owned cable networks, CNBC and MSNBC, have balked. The Timesquoted a letter that Freedom Watch has sent to the two channels, which states: "Your history of airing other issue advocacy advertisements makes the denial of FW advertisements troubling and raises the issue of whether your denial is based on an editorial disagreement with FW's message." CNBC and MSNBC have not yet responded.


ABC's World Newsand NBC's Nightly Newswound up in a virtual dead heat in the ratings last week. Nielsen Research said that the ABC newscast drew 8.08 million viewers, while NBC's drew 7.93 million. The less-than-2-percent difference is considered statistically insignificant. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas substituted for Charles Gibson throughout the week. On CBS, Evening Newsboosted its audience a bit, but its 6.13 million viewers was well below the number for the two other nighttime newscasts.


The final competition among the contestants on NBC's America's Got Talent, won by ventriloquist Terry Fator, drew 13.9 million viewers last Tuesday, making it the most-watched show of the week -- and of the entire summer. It also helped lift NBC to first place among adults 18-49, the group most courted by advertisers. Fox has held the top spot among that demographic group every week since last February but drew its smallest audience in two years, thanks in no small part to the debut of the network's Anchorwoman, which drew just 2.7 million viewers, the lowest-rated new show of the summer. It was canceled two days later. Still, CBS remained the favorite network overall as it averaged 6.9 million viewers for the week, translating to a 4.7 rating and an 8 share. NBC averaged 6 million (3.8/7), followed by Fox, with 4.7 million (3.0/5) and ABC with 4.5 million (3.0/5).

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. America's Got Talent, NBC, 8.4/14; 2. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 7.0/12; 3. Without a Trace, CBS, 6.4/11; 4. 60 Minutes, CBS, 6.2/12; 4. (Tie) Two and a Half Men, CBS, 6.2/10; 6. NBC NFL Pre-season Sunday, NBC, 6.0/10; 7. Power of Ten, CBS, 5.8/10; 8. Cold Case, CBS, 5.7/9; 9. Criminal Minds, CBS, 5.6/9; 10. CSI: Miami, CBS, 5.3/9; 10. (Tie) CSI: NY, CBS, 5.3/9; 10. (Tie) Singing Bee, NBC, 5.3/9.


The Writers Guild of America has become the latest group to join the chorus of criticism of CBS's Kid Nation. The WGA broadened its accusations, however, claiming that not only were the kids involved in the reality series subjected to harsh treatment, but so, too, were the crew members. WGA President Patric Verrone accused the producers of forcing crew members to work 14-hour days without overtime pay and failing to provide meal breaks. WGA Assistant Executive Director Jeff Hermanson told the Los Angeles Times that reality programs like Kid Nationrepresent "the sweatshop of the entertainment industry." The guild's charges were promptly denied by the show's executive producer, Tom Forman. In an interview with Daily Variety, Forman said, "Everyone of the crew members -- union and non-union -- were treated well and did terrific work. They had regular meal breaks and reasonable work days."


Sunday night's finale of Lifetime Channel's Army Wivesdrew 4.1 million viewers, the largest audience ever to tune in to a program on the women's channel. It exceeded the ratings of many programs carried on broadcast TV and was the top-rated show on all of cable on August 26. In a statement, Lifetime Entertainment President Susanne Daniels noted, "It is incredibly gratifying when a critically acclaimed show is also a successful show."