CRITICS: DO WE NEED THE WANTED?

NBC's controversial The Wanted series, dubbed by some writers in advance as "To Catch a Terrorist," makes its debut today (Monday) with newspaper TV columnists and critics making conflicting judgments about it -- often in their own reviews. The series, produced by Echo Ops Productions, a private company working outside of NBC News but under its oversight, appears to have scripted scenes interspersed with real-life ones, several critics indicate. David Hinckley, writing in the New York Daily News writes that some of the conversations between the members of the team working in Norway to persuade authorities to send an alleged terrorist back to Iraq to stand trial "sound scripted and stilted, way too neat and concise to be actual human dialogue. So the viewer at times isn't sure what's real journalistic discovery and what's scripted plot device." Similarly, Joanna Weiss comments in the Boston Globe: "There's a layer of truth, but it's shellacked with so many coats of TV-drama gloss that it's hard to figure out what's real and what isn't." Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times says that the program "is neither documentary nor reality show but an uncomfortable marriage of both." Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times lists numerous unasked (and therefore unanswered) questions that she says ought to have been raised by the production team, before concluding: "There is a good story buried somewhere in the Scandinavian gloom, but The Wanted leaves it almost untouched. [Producer Adam] Ciralsky complains that 'Norway is letting justice get in the way of justice.' NBC News is letting reality-show aesthetics get in the way of journalism." Tom Shales in the Washington Post, while warning that the content of the show ought "to be treated with a certain degree of wary skepticism," goes on to conclude that "whatever theoretical quibbles one might make with the show's style, its substance is strong and the overall effect is a highly charged knockout." But Brian Lowry in the show-business trade publication Variety has few kind words for the production, remarking: "That this summer series is being presented under the aegis of NBC News marks a lowlight in a year filled with them for the news divisions -- and one needn't be a journalistic purist to find this a troubling sign of where they're heading." And Glenn Garvin in the Miami Herald worries: "If The Wanted were merely another bad TV show, well, no big deal. ... But portraying the American news media as an arm of U.S. security forces will not make it any easier for reporters to do their jobs abroad."

THINNER RANKS OF TV COLUMNISTS ARRIVING FOR SUMMER "TOUR"

The ranks of newspaper columnists writing about television have become depleted in recent years as the staffs of most U.S. newspapers have experienced attrition on a mass scale. Today's (Monday) Broadcasting & Cable reports that next week's summer meeting of the Television Critics Association, in which TV writers question television programming executives about the fall schedule, will see about 20-30 percent fewer attendees from the traditional media but an increase in the number of online-only reporters. "The fact that almost a quarter of the group is online-only, from zero a few years ago, that's a pretty significant shift," TCA President Dave Walker told B&C. Those attending the sessions at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena may also be staying at cheaper digs this year -- further manifesting travel-expense cutbacks at many newspapers. Only 80 reporters have reserved rooms at the hotel, down from 110 a year ago.

WILL PAULA LEAVE IDOL?

Some newspaper and online TV columnists are expressing skepticism about a declaration by Paul Abdul's manager that she will not return to American Idol next season unless the show's producers make her the same sort of lucrative offer that they have made Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. The manager, David Sonenberg, told the Los Angeles Times over the weekend that Abdul is "hurt" and "angry" about the way she has been treated. "It does not appear that she's boing to be back on Idol," he said. Sonenberg's comments came after it was disclosed that Seacrest had signed a new contract paying him $15 million a year and that Cowell will likely earn $100 million. Word that Abdul might not return set off a firestorm on Twitter, the Times said today (Monday), noting that tweets included comments from former American Idol contestants. But the celebrity website TMZ, noting that Abdul currently pockets $2.5 million per Idol season, commented: "In Hollywood, stars have to talk the walk in order to rob the bank. ... So it's yet another ploy for more moolah."

TOSHIBA FINALLY TO MAKE BLU-RAY PLAYER

Toshiba, the company that backed the losing HD-DVD player against Sony's Blu-ray in the battle of high-definition players two years ago, has finally decided to toss in with the Blu-ray crowd. The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said that Toshiba's first Blu-ray player, the BD-18, will arrive on the Japanese market in time for Christmas holiday sales. The newspaper aid that until now, Toshiba had been hoping to develop a next-generation video technology to supersede Blu-ray but shifted directions "because the market is growing too big to ignore." Source told the newspaper that Toshiba plans to introduce play-only Blu-ray models initially and follow up with player-recorders "based on the demand it sees after entering the market."

ESPN TO LAUNCH LOCAL WEBSITES

ESPN is planning to expand its online local sports business. Published reports said today (Monday) that the cable sports network plans to announce that it will develop websites devoted to coverage of sports in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. They will reportedly be modeled after one that ESPN launched in April covering Chicago sports teams (www.ESPENChicago.com) and which already has become the city's leading sports site, according to comScore. Today's New York Times quoted Los Angeles Times associate editor Randy Harvey as saying, "It would be foolish to underestimate ESPN, but it comes down to resources. I don't see them being able to replicate what we do." But Stacey Woelfel, chairman of the Radio Television News Directors Association, said that the potential threat to TV stations was "huge."

SERVICES ANNOUNCED FOR WALTER CRONKITE

A private service for friends and family of Walter Cronkite will be held on Thursday at St. Barholomew's Church in New York City, CBS said on Sunday. A larger memorial service is being planned for New York's Lincoln Center later this month or in early August for Conkite, who died Friday at age 92. The Associated Press said that Cronkite will be buried in Kansas City, MO. Sunday's 60 Minutes tribute to Cronkite was the highest-rated program of the night, drawing 7.41 million viewers.