IDOL STILL GOLDEN BUT SLIGHTLY TARNISHED

Wednesday night's edition of American Idol -- a "performance" night that was delayed because of President Obama's address to Congress on Tuesday -- drew an average of 24.25 million viewers, down 12 percent from a year ago when a "results" night recorded 27.55 million. NBC's The Biggest Loser was a distant second in the 8:00 p.m. hour, as it attracted 8.73 million viewers. CBS's Criminal Minds took over the runner-up spot at 9:00 p.m., as Criminal Minds drew 13.98 million viewers. CBS moved into first place at 10:00 p.m. with CSI:NY recording 12.69 million viewers. ABC kicked off the night with a rerun of last week's episode of Lost, which wound up in fourth place with 4.97 million viewers. A fresh episode at 9:00 p.m. averaged 9.82 million viewers, twice the number of viewers who tuned in the previous hour -- but a fraction of what the series attracted in its heyday.

OBAMA'S ADDRESS CAPTURES 52.37 MILLION VIEWERS

President Obama's address to the Congress on the economy Tuesday night drew even more viewers than his primetime press conference two weeks ago. Some 52.37 million viewers watched on the broadcast and cable networks versus 49.5 million for the press conference, according to Nielsen Media Research. While those numbers were 40 percent higher than those for President Bush's State of the Union address last year, they were well off the 66.9 million record recorded for President Clinton's first State of the Union address in 1993 and the 62.1 million, for President Bush's address prior to the start of the Iraq War in 2003.

NAB CHIEF THANKS OBAMA FOR OPPOSING FAIRNESS DOCTRINE

David Rehr, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, has thanked President Obama for reiterating his opposition to calls by fellow Democrats for reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Rehr said that the current hands-off system provides "a rich diversity of viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum" and that reimposing the Fairness Doctrine would discourage "the robust exchange of ideas and opinions." The president's statement came last week in response to growing demands for a return of the Doctrine "in some form" by prominent Democratic legislators, who claim that the airwaves -- particularly the radio airwaves -- are overwhelmingly controlled by the extreme right.

FOX, MSNBC UP IN RATINGS; CNN, DOWN

Fox News Channel and MSNBC showed a significant ratings jump in February over a year ago, according to figures released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research. FNC posted the greatest gains, registering a 29-percent increase in total viewers, with ratings for its The O'Reilly Factor up 33 percent and Hannity up 38 percent from a year ago, when he co-hosted the program with Alan Colmes. MSNBC, which remained in third place among the cable news networks, saw its ratings climb as well, with Keith Olbermann recording a 32 percent jump. Rachel Maddow's numbers were more than twice what her predecessor drew a year ago. On the other hand, CNN's ratings were down 52 percent from a year ago. The cable network attributed the decline to the fact that its audience expanded in February last year because of the three presidential debates that it sponsored. If those three nights were removed from the equation, the network noted, the decline would only have been 6.8 percent.

LENO TESTIFIES AT WGA DISCIPLINE HEARING

Jay Leno was called on the carpet by the Writers Guild of America West Wednesday as the union looked into claims that Leno violated strike rules last year by writing his nightly monologue, Daily Variety reported today (Thursday). He faces possible expulsion from the union and a fine if the WGA panel concludes that a violation occurred. Leno reportedly was accompanied by his attorney to the disciplinary proceeding. Neither he nor the union would comment on the probe. Leno has claimed that at a meeting with WGA West President Patric Verrone and his Tonight show writers, he said that he planned to write his nightly monologue and that Verrone said, "We're going to look the other way." The New York Times later quoted a Tonight show writer as corroborating Leno's remarks. Verrone, however, has emphatically denied giving Leno a go-ahead.

LOUSY HOLIDAY SEASON FOR QVC

QVC, the cable and online shopping channel, saw its sales plummet during the holiday season and, as a result, it finished the quarter off 12 percent versus last year, corporate parent Liberty Media reported Wednesday. The parent company itself, owned by onetime cable mogul John Malone, reported a fourth-quarter operating loss of $1.3 billion. Greg Maffei, Liberty's president and CEO, said in a statement that Liberty is attempting to offset the economic downturn by reducing debt, managing risk and containing costs. "Many of these choices have been difficult, especially reducing jobs," he said, "but they are necessary for the long-term health of the company."