CRAMER LAYS AN EGG

CNBC commentator Jim Cramer, in what he himself later acknowledged was a humiliating experience, received an unrelenting tongue-lashing from The Daily Show host Jon Stewart Thursday night, who accused him and his network of being cheerleaders for Wall Street and the banking industry in the lead-up to the recent market downturn. Cramer's response was that he and his network were not the only ones who made mistakes. USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco commented, "If Cramer were a stock, the best advice today would be 'sell.'" The TVNewser website reported that producers at CNBC's corporate sibling MSNBC were asked not to use any part of the interview in their shows the following day. Even, Cramer himself on Friday did not refer to his appearance with Stewart the previous day. (He did show a clip of an appearance with Martha Stewart in which the TV home adviser commented that he was "doing a very good job" preparing a pie.) Cramer did receive a vote of support from conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who, appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources, remarked that Jon Stewart "is a political player. He's a partisan. He is speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party. ... He's becoming so self-serious and sanctimonious, that it's just a matter of time before it becomes unfunny. I mean, this is the fate of all kinds of comedians. This is the fate of Lenny Bruce." And New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley commented that Stewart treated Cramer "like a CEO subpoenaed to testify before Congress: his point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation."

CLOONEY'S RETURN LIFTS E.R.

George Clooney returned to NBC's E.R. for a cameo appearance on Thursday night, and so did viewers. The program, once unbeatable in its time period, posted its best ratings in more than two years, drawing 10.7 million viewers to the episode, written by executive producer John Wells and also featuring the return of Julianna Margulies and Eriq La Salle and an appearance by Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon. Several analysts expressed the opinion that the show would have drawn even more viewers had NBC promoted Clooney's return more aggressively. In reporting the ratings results, Daily Variety speculated that "a decision was made from possibly Clooney and/or E.R. exec producer John Wells to keep the actor's storyline on the down low." As it was, the E.R. drama was not even the highest-rated show of the night. That honor again went to CBS's CSI, which drew 16.9 million viewers, despite airing opposite ABC's Grey's Anatomy, which pulled in 13.5 million and was the highest-rated show of the night among adults 18-49. E.R. was not even the highest-rated show at 10:00 p.m., as it was edged out by CBS's Eleventh Hour, which drew 11.8 million viewers.

LAUER TO SHUN EXOTIC TRAVEL, GOING ON U.S. ROADS

Like many Americans, Matt Lauer will be cutting back on his travel plans this year. NBC said over the weekend that instead of visiting exotic spots for his "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?" feature, he'll be staying closer to home, with a feature titled "Today Takes a Vacation" replacing it. Executive Producer Jim Bell said that when the show asked viewers for suggestions for this season's "Where in the World" feature, many responded that an expensive trip abroad sent the wrong message during the economic downturn. The "Vacation" feature will reportedly emphasize budget travel. "It may also save NBC News a little cash," commented Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

INTERNET COULD WREAK ECONOMIC CHAOS FOR TV, SAYS VARIETY

Despite claims by the so-called hard-line faction of the Screen Actors Guild and their supporters that new media will likely produce a bonanza for television networks and producers that will exclude them, concerns are growing that the Internet may do to television -- both broadcast and TV -- what it already has done to the recording industry and print media. Daily Variety observed today (Monday) that more and more consumers are canceling cable subscriptions, hooking up their TV sets to their PCs and watching shows via the Web. One of them, Scott Gillies, a 30-year-old videogame developer, told the trade publication, "It's cheaper, there are fewer ads, and I can watch when I want." Such viewers, Variety noted, are "generating a small percentage of the revenue they used to when they paid for cable service and were exposed to the commercial breaks in those shows."

SCI-FI IS NOW SYFY

In an apparent effort to come up with a hipper image, the Sci Fi channel is changing its name to SyFy, TVWeek reported Sunday, saying that an official announcement of the name change will be made today (Monday). It quoted Dave Howe, president of the network, as saying: "It gives us a unique word and it gives us the opportunities to imbue it with the values and the perception that we want it to have." He told the trade publication that feedback from 18-34-year-olds in focus groups indicated that "SyFy" was the way many would refer to the network in text messages. "It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise," he said.

SCI-FI WRITER ELLISON SUES STAR TREK OWNERS, UNION

Famed science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison has sued CBS Paramount, which owns the rights to the original Star Trek TV series, for allegedly failing to pay him for the merchandising, publication and other exploitation of an episode of the series that he wrote. He is also suing the Writers Guild of America for allegedly failing to act on his behalf. "To some extent, this case is about the degree to which the producers have co-opted the WGA and how the WGA in various ways improperly screens out contractually legitimate claims by its individual members to avoid rocking the boat," Ellison said in his lawsuit.

TV PIONEER GOLDSMITH DEAD AT 99

TV pioneer Thomas T. Goldsmith died on March 5 at his home in Lacey, WA at age 99, his son Judson disclosed Sunday. Goldsmith, along with Allen B. DuMont, is credited with the development of the cathode ray tube, the first television display.