NBC'S ZUCKER: INTERNET PROFITS 5 YEARS AWAY

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said Wednesday that his company's revenue from the Internet and new media represented "digital pennies" and that NBC was still experimenting with ways to alter the economics of online distribution. Speaking to Harvard Business School on Wednesday, he suggested that it may be five years before a "fully formed" revenue model is created. Zucker expressed frustration over his dealings with Apple, which refused to go along with his demands to offer "flexible" pricing for downloads at its iTunes Store. The disagreement led to a parting-of-the-ways, and Zucker conceded that NBC's new partnerships have not been as successful as the earlier one with Apple in attracting customers. Nevertheless, he maintained that Hulu, NBC's joint venture with Fox, had become an "overwhelming" success with advertisers and was performing "far greater than we expected." On other subjects, he expressed hope that Jay Leno "will stay with us" after he is replaced by Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show next year. He said that he expects to have "conversations" with Leno about a new show. "There's still a lot of time," he said. Zucker also took note of the fact that MSNBC drew its largest audience in history -- 7.8 million viewers -- for Tuesday's Ohio debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "I think they have found their identity," Zucker said. "I think politics really is their calling card."

DISNEY UNIT TO PRODUCE SHORTS FOR ONLINE VIEWING

In what today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times described as a return to "its short-form roots," the Walt Disney Co. is expected to unveil a comedy series composed of 10 3-5-minute-long episodes about window-washer slackers. The series, sponsored by Toyota, will be available on the ABC.com website and YouTube. It is being produced by the Disney unit Stage 9 Digital Media. In an interview with the Times, Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said, "We've all seen the appeal of short-form content grow over the past few years. ... The launch of this experimental new media studio allows us to play in this space with some quality content, while giving us an interesting venue for telling stories in a different form."

IDOL DRAWS OSCAR-LIKE RATINGS

Once again it was all American Idol Wednesday night as the talent contest drew more viewers than all the other networks combined during the 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. time period. The show averaged a 16.2 rating and a 25 share (27.36 million viewers), peaking in the final half-hour with a 17.5/26 (29.57 million viewers) -- not far off the ratings for last Sunday's Oscars telecast.

BIG BROTHER CONTESTANT FIRED -- BUT HE DOESN'T KNOW IT

Big Brother contestant Adam Jasinski, who created an uproar when he referred to autistic children as "retards," has been fired by the United Autism Foundation. When another contestant on the show objected to his use of the term, Jasinski responded, "I can call them whatever I want, okay? I work with them all day." However, the foundation has posted a message on its website saying, "Mr. Jasinski will no longer work for or represent the United Autism Foundation since he caused tremendous damage to UNIAF." Last week, the Lowe's department store chain pulled its ads off Big Brother because of Jasinski's remarks. Jasinski himself has presumably not been informed about the controversy that his remarks touched off, since he remains cut off from the outside world within the Big Brother house.

GUIDING LIGHT CAST RING NYSE BELL

As part of an effort to promote the revamped CBS soap opera Guiding Light, actors on the show, which has been produced in New York since 1952, rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday morning. Beginning Friday, the New York Times reported, the show will unveil a "new visual style" -- substituting cameras mounted on pedestals with smaller hand-held cameras. It will also be using 40 permanent sets, up from the current 8, with 20 percent of the scenes shot on location in New Jersey. In a statement, CBS said that the changes are intended to "bring a modern, more realistic look to the show, allowing viewers to be entertained by the stories and characters they love in a more intimate way." The show is the longest-running drama in TV history, but its audience has fallen from 4.8 million in 1998 to 2.6 million today.

RATHER DENOUNCES "CORPORATE OVERLORDS" AT CBS

Former CBS anchor Dan Rather has accused those he called "corporate overlords" at CBS of "working in secret collusion with the powers in Washington" to intrude into television newsrooms. Rather made the remarks as he returned to a courtroom in New York to demand that CBS release documents by a private investigator hired by the network to look into claims made in Rather's story about George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service. The story led to Rather's dismissal from the anchor's post and eventually from the network. CBS has claimed that the same documents will reinforce its own position and will be made public if and when Rather's lawsuit goes to trial.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY DEAD AT 82

Conservative commentator William F. Buckley, who hosted TV's Firing Line from 1966 to 1999, died Wednesday at age 82. His body was found slumped over the desk in the study of his home in Stamford, CT. The cause of death was not immediately determined, although he had reportedly been suffering from emphysema and diabetes. Three years before Buckley shut it down, Firing Line became television's longest running program with a single host, beating out the Tonight show with Johnny Carson. Controversial and iconoclastic to the end, Buckley infuriated fellow conservatives in recent years by his condemnation of the Iraq war and his expressions of scorn for President Bush, who, he said, lacked an "effective conservative ideology."

Brian B.