NEVADA DEMOCRATS BOYCOTT FOX NEWS

The Nevada state Democratic party has pulled the plug on a presidential debate that was to be broadcast by Fox News after a cryptic joke by Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes set off an uproar among the party faithful nationally. At an awards dinner, Ailes remarked, "It is true Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?'" Some Democrats quickly charged that Ailes was attempting to link Obama to terrorism, while Ailes defenders pointed out that the joke seemed aimed at President Bush and suggested that the president might not be able to differentiate "Osama" from "Obama." It might also have referred to the embarrassing caption, "Where's Obama?" that appeared on CNN during a recent report about the hunt for bin Laden. In a letter sent by fax and email to Fox News political producer Marty Ryan, Nevada State Democratic Chairman Tom Collins and U.S. Senator Harry Reid wrote, "Comments made last night by Fox News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far. We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. FNC Vice President David Rhodes shot back, "News organizations will want to think twice before getting involved in the Nevada Democratic Caucus which appears to be controlled by radical fringe out-of-state interest groups, not the Nevada Democratic Party." In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a Presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate."

MSNBC HOST RITA COSBY HANDED WALKING PAPERS

Rita Cosby is out at MSNBC. The tabloid-show personality, who recently flew to the Bahamas to attend the funeral of Anna Nicole Smith said on Friday that she will remain with the cable network until the end of the month when her current contract expires, then move on to "explore the new opportunities." Since her 10:00 p.m. show Rita Cosby Live and Direct was canceled in June, Cosby has been working with a "specials unit." But she has received little on-air work since then.

TV CRITICS AGREE: COURIC'S NEWSCAST IS IN TROUBLE

Newspaper TV columnists appear to regard the firing of Rome Hartman as the executive producer of the CBS Evening News and his replacement by Rick Kaplan as an admission by the network that the Katie Couric-anchored newscast is in trouble. Appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources over the weekend, Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister remarked, "When you make a change at the top, that says to me they're not happy with the status quo. ... What they need is somebody who's going to come in and have the chutzpah, if you will, to stand up to Katie, because what I've been hearing from people at CBS is that it's been pretty much Katie's way from the beginning, and clearly it's not working." Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times seemed to gloat: "All of the predictions that critics had made about what would happen to the newscast have happened." David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun added: "CBS tried a number of features at the outset with Katie Couric, like free speech, the commentary segment. It didn't work. ... Les Moonves, who is really the architect of this, said for over a year, 'We were going to reinvent the news. We were going to reinvent the news.' Now they are saying, 'No, we're not.'"

LAW & ORDER PRODUCERS ACCUSED OF ANTISEMITISM

A pro-Israel organization, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has accused the producers of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent of fostering anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiments in the U.S. The organization cited a February 27 episode in which a Jewish police captain in New York shuts down an investigation when it appears that it might implicate Israel. The episode also shows Israeli bulldozers destroying Palestinian schools. In its statement, CAMERA said, "During this time of escalating anti-Semitism and anti-Israel animus, the show's executives have shown extremely poor judgment to promote such an anti-Jewish, anti-Israel storyline."

REGIS TO UNDERGO HEART SURGERY

Regis Philbin surprised his national TV audience this morning (Monday) when he disclosed that he will undergo heart-bypass surgery later this week. He said that he had seen specialists after suffering chest pains and shortness of breath and had originally hoped to have the less invasive angioplasty operation. However, doctors informed him that he had too much plaque in his arteries for such a procedure. "Darn it, I don't want to do it," Philbin told his TV audience. "Nobody wants to do it, I guess. And I had a second opinion, I did all those things, and so they're all in agreement that it should be the bypass."

FIRED JUDGE FIRES BACK AT SIMON COWELL

A judge who was fired by producer Simon Cowell from the British hit TV show X-Factor has angrily denounced Cowell in the Sunday tabloid News of the World. "I have been completely shafted by Simon," talent manager Louis Walsh said in an interview. He told the newspaper that he learned he had been dropped from the show during a trip to Stockholm, where he was meeting songwriters who were working on numbers for the new series. He said he received a phone call from producer Richard Holloway, who told him, "We've got bad news. You're not going to be a judge any more." Walsh said that he talked to Cowell afterwards. "He blames ITV for my leaving, but I don't believe for a second that this has anything to do with them. Simon controls everything about X Factor. This has everything to do with him."

RATINGS FOR TRUMP SHOW REMAIN IN BASEMENT

NBC's The Apprentice wound up again with hardly a trace of ratings as the Donald Trump-hosted show posted a 4.9 rating and an 8 share Sunday night -- representing fewer than half the viewers that CBS attracted with Without a Trace (10.8/18) at 10:00 p.m. ABC also had a tough time Sunday, as a rerun of its Desperate Housewives came in third in the 9:00 p.m. hour, taking a back seat to CBS's Cold Case and NBC's Deal or No Deal. CBS won the night with an average 8.2 rating and a 14 share. ABC was a distant second with a 5.5/9, while fox and NBC tied for third with a 5.1/8.

COMIC JENI APPARENT SUICIDE VICTIM

Stand-up comic Richard Jeni, a frequent guest on the Tonight show and the star of several HBO comedy specials, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound Saturday. Jeni was also the star of one of UPN's first sitcoms in 1995, Platypus Man, based on his award-winning HBO special. He played the host of a TV cooking show aimed at "any guy who ever tried to make tuna fish on toast and wound up in the burn unit with mayonnaise in his hair."

Brian B.