Nearly a month after the networks' upfront presentation of their fall schedule to advertisers, the first major deal was announced Wednesday -- a nearly $1-billion pact between the media investment holding company Group M (MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia, MindShare and Maxus) and NBC Universal (NBC, USA Network, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo, and Telemundo). Analysts noted that although ad buyers ordinarily engage in furious dealmaking within days following the upfront presentation, they have waited far longer than usual this year -- and the first major one has been struck not with the network with the most appealing programming and demographics but with the network with the least desirable. Moreover, in the case of the NBC deal, advertisers have agreed to accept price terms based on "Live Plus Three" ratings, i.e., those based not just on viewers who watch the programs live but also those who watch it on DVRs within three days of the original broadcast -- a ratings scheme that many ad buyers have previously balked at in the belief that most viewers who watch recorded programs skip commercials.


Although former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has denied CBS chief Les Moonves's charge that his remarks that CBS was "dumbing down and tarting up" the news were sexist, the group American Women in Radio & Television is having none of it. In a statement, the group's president, Maria Brennan, remarked, "I can only note that never have I heard the word 'tart' in reference to the male gender." Rather also came under attack by Chicago Tribunecritic Phil Rosenthal, who noted that the downward spiral of CBS News began when Rather himself took the helm of the CBS Evening News in 1981. He noted that early on Rather began anchoring the news in sweaters "to soften his image," once fronted a 90-minute special about Paul McCartney, and recently agreed to appear in an episode of ABC's upcoming drama, Dirty Sexy Money. Rosenthal then asked, "To what extent are CBS News' problems the result of an infrastructure that crumbled on Rather's watch and a division that failed to develop a possible replacement for him?" And Brian Montopoli, who oversees the CBS blog Public Eye, remarked that Rather has become "the John McCain of journalism" -- making "ill-advised comments without seeming to give much thought to the consequences. ... With his clumsy phrasing, Rather left the door open to the sexism charges -- and Moonves seized that opportunity instead of engaging Rather's argument directly." And, appearing on Larry King's talk show Wednesday night, Today show host Matt Lauer said that Rather's comments put him in a "lose-lose situation." However, he added, "I think the controversy is an inside baseball controversy when it comes right down to it."


Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly has lashed out at a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that concluded that during the first three months of this year, while MSNBC devoted 31 percent of its "newshole" to the war in Iraq and CNN devoted 25 percent, Fox devoted only 15 percent. On his talk show Wednesday night, O'Reilly responded that the channel does not broadcast "the carnage du jour" because "that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do." On the other hand, he said, "CNN, and especially MSNBC, delight in showing Iraqi violence because they want Americans to think badly of President Bush, and that strategy has succeeded. So their Iraqi coverage is more political than informational."


In an apparent effort to cash-out some of its broadcast holdings in order to help fund its $5-billion bid for Dow Jones, News Corp said Wednesday that it plans to sell nine of its TV stations. The stations are located in Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis, Kansas City (MO), Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Birmingham (AL), Memphis, and Greensboro (NC). Dow Jones is the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.


Four primary cast members of Boston Legal, Julie Bowen, Mark Valley, Rene Auberjonois and Constance Zimmer, have been fired, according to TV Guide columnist Michael Ausiello. At the same time, John Larroquette (Night Court, The Practice) and Tara Summers (Dirt) have been signed as new regulars, as has current cast member Christian Clemenson.