Fox continued to hint that it is planning to make changes to American Idol when it returns in January in order to recapture some of the audience it lost in early episodes last season. But Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told reporters at the summer TV Critics Assn. press tour that judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul will all be back. Conspicuous by his absence in the list of announced returnees was Idolhost Ryan Seacrest, who clashed frequently with Cowell last season. In May, Cowell, who is also a producer of Idol, told reporters to expect "a big shake-up" in the show next season, arousing immediate speculation that the $12.5-million host of the talent contest may be getting the hook himself. Also on Monday, Reilly expressed concern about the current state of TV comedy. "I can't even go to the platitude of 'it's cyclical, it's going to come back,'" he said. "A lot of confidence has left the creative space on a day-to-day basis. I see really talented people coming in, very skittish, not knowing what to pitch and what will sell. I see executives trying to figure out where is that nerve to hit."


Although the overall audience for broadcast television programs continues to decline, at least some of the departing viewers may be catching the programs on their computers, a survey by ABC indicated Monday. The network said that the audience for episodes of its primetime shows posted on line reached an all-time high in May, jumping 53 percent over April. (The network aired numerous season and series finales in May, which no doubt accounted for part of the viewership increase.) The audience for programs posted on has more than doubled over the past year, the network said. "Clearly, the demand for ABC's high quality television programming continues to grow online, particularly among younger viewers," Albert Cheng, head of Disney-ABC-TV Group's digital media unit, said in a statement.


The city of San Francisco, which since its early days has proudly proclaimed itself to be a union town, has announced its support of the Writers Guild of America's efforts to unionize producers and production assistants who create the framework of reality and game shows. The city/county's Board of Supervisors on Monday took up a resolution that backs the WGA's "American Idol Truth Tour," an effort by the guild to organize producers of FremantleMedia's most lucrative production. The guild is planning to conduct a demonstration at Idolauditions on July 17 following a rally at San Francisco's City Hall on July 15 at which San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty will appear on the platform with WGA-West President Patric Verrone.


Les Crane, who completely revamped the look of the late-night television show by having the audience surround the set and then wading into the audience for comments about the opinions of his guests, died Sunday in Greenbrae, CA at age 74. The cause of death was not disclosed. His ABC show, which went on the air in November 1964 opposite Johnnie Carson's Tonightshow on NBC, introduced mainstream American to the opinions of men regarded as radical thinkers of the day, including singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, UC Berkeley student rebel Mario Savio, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, rock performers The Rolling Stones, and Sen. Robert Kennedy. The program failed to make an impression in the ratings, however. After returning to the air as a radio disc jockey in the late '60s and having a surprise recording hit with a reading of Desideratain 1971, Crane left broadcasting and founded the successful computer software company Toolworks.