i>LOST LOSES MORE VIEWERS

Despite the fact that it was moved into the 10:00 p.m. hour to protect it against competition from Fox's American Idol, ABC's onetime hit Lost registered its lowest ratings ever Wednesday night. Its 8.5 rating and 14 share was more than 25 percent below its season average at 9:00 p.m. before it went on hiatus after just six episodes last October. Meanwhile, CBS's Criminal Minds, which was already attracting more viewers than Lost at the time of the hiatus, continued to show solid strength against American Idol Wednesday night. The CBS drama scored a 10.4 rating and a 15 share. Nevertheless, Idol overwhelmed them all, recording a 16.8 rating and a 25 share to remain the top-rated show of the night.

NBC BUMPS OFF STUDIO 60 EARLY FOR MOB DRAMA

Two days after ratings for NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip sank to their lowest level of the season, the network announced Wednesday that it is pulling the show off its schedule one week earlier than it had originally planned. Beginning Monday, March 5, the critically praised but ratings-challenged Studio 60 will be replaced by the mob drama The Black Donnellys. NBC executives continue to maintain that they will stick with the Aaron Sorkin comedy and that additional episodes will air later this season, although to date for its return has been announced. The industry publication Television Week commented on its website today (Thursday): "NBC's change in schedule following Monday's performance may signal that the likelihood of a cancellation is increasing."

24 PRODUCER AGREES TO CUT TORTURE SCENES

Although denying that he is reacting to growing international criticism, Howard Gordon, an executive producer of Fox's 24, has disclosed that the show plans to cut back on torture scenes. "What was once an extraordinary or exceptional moment is starting to feel a little trite. The idea of physical coercion or torture is no longer a novelty or surprise," Gordon told today's (Thursday) Philadelphia Inquirer. ""It's not something that we, as writers, want to use as a crutch. We'd like to find other ways for Jack to get information out of suspects," he added. Gordon's comments came after the New Yorker magazine reported that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an eminent military lawyer, had flown to California to meet producers of the show. Finnegan reportedly told the producers that promoting illegal behavior on the show was having a damaging effect on U.S. troops in Iraq. Finnegan told the magazine, "The kids see it and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about 24?'" In response, Gordon told the Inquirer, "The thesis that we are affecting our soldiers in Iraq in their treatment of prisoners is being exaggerated, I think. Hopefully, there are a lot of filters between their watching 24 and their work in the field."

RUDY TELLS LARRY HE'S RUNNING; LARRY'S NONPLUSSED

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used CNN's Larry King Show as the venue to announced his candidacy for the presidency Wednesday night -- and King seemingly couldn't believe his ears. The conversation went like this: King: "Are you running or not?." Giuliani: "Yes, I'm running, sure." King: "When would you -- do you make an official announcement or is this it here, right now?" Giuliani: "I guess you do. ..." King: "You just said, 'I'm running.'" Giuliani: "Yes, I'm running."

NANCY REAGAN INVITES GOP CANDIDATES, MSNBC TO MAY 3 DEBATE

Nancy Reagan has invited the leading Republican presidential candidates to participate in a debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA on May 3, which will be carried live by MSNBC. "Ronnie always hoped the library would be a place where policymakers will debate the future," the former first lady said in a statement. "This presidential debate provides the opportunity to fulfill his wishes." Viewers will be able to submit questions to the candidates via the MSNBC website.

IS KIMMEL GONERS?

ABC News last week secretly shot two pilots for an hour-long version of Nightline, one anchored by Cynthia McFadden, another co-anchored by McFadden and Martin Bashir, the New York Observer reported Wednesday, citing three unnamed sources familiar with the project. An expanded Nightline would result in the cancellation of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Observer TV columnist Rebecca Dana quoted her sources as saying that ABC was motivated by a desire to cut its losses from the Kimmel show. While Nightline also operates at a loss, Dana wrote, "Given the fixed costs of putting on a broadcast, a majority of Nightline's senior management believes that the extra advertising revenue from stretching the show to an hour could put the program in the black for the first time in a long while." An ABC exec appeared to acknowledge that the network had produced the pilots, but cautioned Dana "not to read a whole lot into this," adding: "We are always experimenting and trying things."

NBC PLUCKS POLITICAL PUNDIT FROM INTERNET

NBC has named Chuck Todd, a 34-year-old online political pundit, to head its political coverage. Todd has been the editor-in-chief of the National Journal's "The Hotline," a daily briefing on national politics, produced in Washington. The network said that Todd will appear as an analyst on NBC Nightly News, the Today show, Meet the Press, and also on MSNBC. He'll also write a weekly column for MSNBC.com. Todd thus joins a sizable exodus of online journalists making the transition to the mainstream media.

Brian B.