LATE NIGHT GOES LIVE

The late-night talk shows are due to resume live competition tonight (Wednesday), with David Letterman expected to take over as the ratings leader. Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, negotiated a separate deal with the Writers Guild of America last week, which will allow him to return to the air with a full complement of writers. Leno will return sans writers, since his program is produced by NBC, a struck company. Letterman will also have the additional advantage of being able to include celebrities who are members of the Screen Actors Guild, which has urged its members to shun other talk shows. As a result, he has been able to book Robin Williams as his first guest on his CBS TV show tonight; Leno's guest will be Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. (Before the deal with the WGA was signed, Letterman had said that Donald Trump, who is not a SAG member, would be tonight's guest; he has been bumped to Friday.) All eyes at the networks and at the ad agencies are likely to be on ratings results later this week. The New York Times quoted a representative of Worldwide Pants as suggesting that more people may initially tune in to view the struck shows to "check out the potential train wrecks."

FCC COMMISSIONER URGES TEST BEFORE DIGITAL SWITCH

An FCC commissioner has suggested that the commission conduct a test of the switchover to digital from analog TV before the national cutoff takes place on February 17, 2009. In a statement on Monday, Michael Copps, a Democratic commissioner, said, "It is unfathomable to me that we are planning to turn off every analog signal in the country on a single day without running at least one test market first." Broadcasters have been criticized for not mounting a large-scale campaign to inform the public that they will no longer be able to receive analog signals over the air after the cut-off date. However, opponents of the test suggested by Copps worry that it might result in further delaying the switch and note that many companies have deposited billions of dollars in advance of the auction of the analog airwaves on January 24 of this year. Some 22 million $40 coupons become available today (Wednesday) that will help owners of analog sets buy converter boxes that are expected to sell for $50-$70. Consumers can apply online at www.dtv2009.gov or by phone at 1-888-DTV-2009

FOOTBALL TOP SCORER ON NEW YEAR'S DAY

Football dominated the ratings in primetime on New Year's Day (and almost certainly during daytime, too.) An overrun of the Rose Bowl game between USC and Illinois and the post-game show drew an estimated 7.3 rating and an 11 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour. Fox moved to the forefront at 9:00 p.m. with the Sugar Bowl between Hawaii and Georgia pulling an 8.9/13. The game received solid competition from a two-hour edition of NBC's The Biggest Loser, which peaked with a 7.6/11 in its final (9:30 p.m.) segment.

DICK CLARK STILL ROCKIN' ON NEW YEAR'S EVE

Although his speech remained noticeably affected by the stroke that felled him in 2004, Dick Clark kidded co-host Ryan Seacrest and, as always, counted down the moments to 2008 in New York's Times Square Monday night. (The program actually made news when Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Seacrest that he would not run for president.) Orlando Sentinel TV columnist Hal Boedeker defended ABC's decision to bring Clark back each year despite his rather feeble appearance. "His presence offers several reminders," Boedeker wrote. "We're all growing older. We need to respect the aged. We're witnessing a TV icon setting a good example, growing old gracefully and not hiding." The primetime segment of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve (10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.) landed in first place in the ratings, posting a 4.8 rating and a 10 share, beating reruns of CSI: Miami on CBS and Law & Order: SVU on NBC. It then went on to score an 8.8 rating/20 share from 11:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m.

Brian B.