LENO TO PAY STAFF DURING STRIKE

Jay Leno, who normally cultivates his nice-guy image assiduously in the media, found himself the brunt of angry public criticism from his own staffers over the weekend after most of them were officially laid off on Friday due to the writers' strike. While other talk-show hosts had indicated that they would continue to pay staffers "out of their own pocket" during the strike, Leno was being rebuked by staffers for not treating them similarly. (He had said only that the staff would receive their Christmas bonuses early.) However, on Sunday, Tonight show sources informed trade publications that Leno would indeed continue paying the staff this week -- although they indicated that no decision had been made about continued payment for the duration of the strike. (The Tonight show remains in reruns, and although ratings are down slightly, it is not known whether advertisers are being charged less for ads on it. There has been speculation that, with production costs virtually eliminated, the network may be earning as much -- if not more -- from the show now than it did before the strike.)

NO EARLY END TO STRIKE SEEN

Movie and TV studio executives are due to resume talks with writers Tuesday, with little hope being expressed in trade publications that they'll yield positive results soon. Today's (Monday) Daily Variety commented, "Optimism for a quick resolution as negotiations resume Tuesday has faded to nearly nonexistent." One benefit of a lengthy strike, so far as viewers are concerned, may be that there'll be fewer reruns during the summer, according to TV Week. When production does resume -- assuming it does -- networks, it noted, will be faced with the question of when to air the remaining episodes. TV Week indicated that executives whom it talked to "indicated a willingness to punch through the spring boundary." It quoted ABC scheduling exec Jeff Bader as saying, "The season is only a Nielsen construct. ... We sell 52 weeks a year." But his counterpart at NBC, Vince Manze, suggested that although "it would be terrific to start breaking these cycles," viewing levels drop as the Fourth of July approaches. "I'm thinking one or two [new] shows" during the summer, he said. CBS programmer Kelly Kahl told the trade publication that much will depend on whether a show is serialized. If so, she said, "it may run longer. If it's self-contained, maybe we wouldn't."

FOOTBALL LOSES YARDAGE TO HOUSEWIVES

NBC's Sunday Night Football contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals turned out to be no match for the ladies from Wisteria Lane. While the football game remained in second place throughout the evening with an average 7.4 rating and an 11 share, Desperate Housewives drew an impressive 12.7/18.

PETTY AND HEARTBREAKERS TO HEADLINE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME

Fifty-seven-year-old Tom Petty has been selected to perform during the halftime period at the Super Bowl on February 3, Fox announced Sunday. The selection of Petty was viewed by analysts as another effort by the NFL to sidestep any possibility of controversy during the halftime slot, which regularly draws 140 million viewers. The Janet Jackson "nipplegate" incident four years ago remains one of television's most discomfiting episodes ever. Petty's selection comes following widespread speculation on the Internet that the Eagles were all but a certainty to headline the halftime show. Last year's production featuring Prince received much critical praise.

NBC YANKS ITS SHOWS OFF ITUNES STORE

The peacock has flown the coop at Apple's iTunes Store. NBC officially removed all of its programs from the website over the weekend following a long-running dispute over Apple's pricing. Neither Apple nor NBC had anything new to say about the matter. In September, iTunes chief Eddy Cue expressed hope that NBC execs "will change their minds."

IMUS BACK IN THE MORNING

A contrite and apologetic Don Imus returned to the airwaves this morning (Monday) with a surprisingly strong guest list. During his simulcast on WABC-AM in New York and the RFD cable network, he said that he will use the uproar over his remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team eight months ago as a springboard for additional discussions about race relations on his program. "Other than that," he said, "not much has changed. Dick Cheney is still a war criminal; Hillary Clinton is still satan; and I'm back on the radio." Another thing that has changed is that his new "cast" includes two black comedians. Imus's guests on his first show included presidential candidates John McCain, a Republican, and Chris Dodd, a Democrat. Also appearing were political analysts James Carville and Mary Matalin. Most of Imus's earlier partners returned, too, including Bernard McGuirk, the producer who made the first racial references to the Rutgers team on the show that got them both fired. News reader Charles MCord is also back. Imus is due to be interviewed Thursday night on her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2007" special on ABC.

ELISABETH MURDOCH TO BUY NBC CO-CHAIRMAN'S COMPANY

Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, is close to buy NBC chief Ben Silverman's production company Reveille, for $200 million, according to British newspaper accounts. Reveille is responsible for such TV hits as The Office, Ugly Betty and The Biggest Loser. The London Financial Times quoted one British senior broadcasting exec as saying, "She is a Murdoch. She is very smart. She could be a danger to us all!" Meanwhile, today's (Monday) Los Angeles Times observed that since Silverman became co-chairman of NBC Entertainment last June, five of the 18 primetime shows he has ordered are those in which Reveille has an ownership stake.

EVEL KNIEVEL DEAD AT 69

Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil of the 1970s who became a television talk-show fixture, the subject of two movies about his life, and an action-toy figure, died in Clearwater, FL Friday at age 69. Death was attributed to terminal lung disease. Only two days before his death, Knievel appeared at a news conference with Kanye West to announce that he had settled a lawsuit against the rapper in which he had accused West of using his image to "promote his filth to the world." He told reporters that meeting West changed his mind. "I thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman," he said as the two posed for pictures in Knievel's living room."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.