HOUSE WON'T DELAY DIGITAL SWITCHOVER

A bill that would have delayed the February 17 switchover from analog to digital television failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote in the House Wednesday after House Republicans united to block it. The GOP members had argued that a delay would place undue hardship on smaller broadcasters who would be forced to maintain dual transmitter sites for an additional 90 days and that it would confuse consumers. They favor a more limited measure that would free up funds to allow more $40 vouchers for converter boxes to be sent to those requesting them. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration says that 2.6 million coupon requests are currently wait-listed.

SAG, PRODUCERS TO MEET NEXT WEEK

Following the replacement of its executive director and the installation of a new negotiating team, the Screen Actors Guild joined the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in issuing a terse statement Wednesday saying that they will meet Tuesday in Los Angeles. It is generally believed that the new team will accept a contract modeled on the ones signed last year by the three other major industry unions, including the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. However, SAG President Allen Rosenberg and 1st Vice President Anne-Marie Johnson, who have led the battle against the producers' "final offer" are members of the negotiating team and are expected to wage an unrelenting battle against it when bargaining talks resume. Meanwhile, Todd Hisson, president of the SAG local in Chicago, has angrily denounced Rosenberg's condemnation of the moderates' action removing Doug Allen as executive director and chief negotiator. "I cannot imagine a more cynical and delusional statement coming from a national 'leader.' I was not elected to rubberstamp agendas that adversely affect my members' well-being," Hisson said.

HOW MUCH DOES A SUPER BOWL SPOT REALLY COST?

NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol claimed Wednesday that the network has sold all but two of its available commercial slots for the Super Bowl, but Advertising Age said that some media buyers were skeptical and claiming that in order to entice advertisers to buy the time, the network was throwing in, or offering at low cost, ad time on other sports programming, including the pre- and post-Super Bowl shows. The trade publication also listed a number of questions that could help "savvy viewers" in the industry determine just how successful the network had actually been in its sales efforts. Among the questions: "How much time does the network devote to promos for its own programs and those of its sister NBC Universal outlets?" And: "Are you seeing repeats of the same ad as you watch the game, or do the ads you saw in the Super Bowl turn up during post-game coverage?"

FCC COMMISSIONER WARNS OF FAIRNESS DOCTRINE RETURN

Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said that proposals to revive the Fairness Doctrine are already beginning to queue up before the commission under different labels. "That's just Marketing 101," he said during a Washington D.C. address to The Media Institute, a conservative think-tank that focuses on First Amendment issues. "If your brand is controversial, make a new brand." All of the relabeled initiatives before the FCC, he said, have one thing in common -- putting the FCC in charge of keeping "electronic conduits of information viewpoint neutral." One such proposal, he said, would set up local advisory boards to determine the content of local programming. He said that he had no objection if such boards were voluntary, but if they are required, they would be "akin to reimposition of the [Fairness] Doctrine, albeit under a different name and sales pitch."

ABC SAYS IT WON'T MOVE UP KIMMEL'S SHOW

ABC has denied a New York Times report that its entertainment division is considering moving Jimmy Kimmel to 11:35 p.m. in the fall in order to compete directly against Conan O'Brien when O'Brien takes over as host of the Tonight show. Today's (Thursday) Hollywood Reporter quoted an unnamed ABC source as saying that no such conversations -- "zero" -- between the entertainment and news divisions had taken place. Such a move would have booted the half-hour nightly Nightline from its 11:35 time period.

LETTERMAN TO SHOW COMEDY ROUTINE AXED 16 YEARS AGO

On Friday night, David Letterman plans to air a six-minute comedy routine that was yanked from his television show in 1993, the Washington Post reported today (Thursday). The routine features Bill Hicks, who died of pancreatic cancer six months after Letterman declined to air it. Hicks's mother, Mary Hicks, will be the first guest on the show. The Post said that neither CBS nor Letterman's Worldwide Pants company had disclosed why Letterman had decided finally to air the routine and that the reason will not be revealed on the show itself.

COURIC DRAWS FEWER VIEWERS IN PRIMETIME

Hoping for it to be sampled by a wider audience, CBS moved its CBS Evening News With Katie Couric to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday. But, with competition from American Idol, which drew 25.1 million viewers in the 8:00 p.m. half hour, the newscast attracted only 6.5 million viewers, about a million fewer than the newscast's usual audience. Nevertheless, it beat NBC's Night Rider, with 5.8 million viewers, and a repeat of ABC's Lost, with 5.4 million.