LUCAS WORKING ON SCI-FI GANGSTER SERIES

George Lucas is working on a new live-action Star Wars series for television that is being described as "Deadwood meets The Sopranos in outer space," the New York Post reported today (Monday), citing a report that appeared on the sci-fi website collider.com. Lucas's primary Star Wars characters, including Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Darth Vader, will not appear in the series, the newspaper said. The Post said that Lucas has held talks with HBO about carrying the series and has also approached at least one broadcast network, but he has yet to make a deal. The newspaper did not explain the reasons for the broadcast and cable networks' reluctance, especially since the Star Wars movies represent the most successful film franchise in history. Lucas is also working on an animated TV series, The Clone Wars, which is also based on the Star Wars tales.

COURIC MAY GET FINAL DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Katie Couric may moderate a presidential-candidate debate after all. Weekend reports indicated that CBS is close to finalizing plans to air a debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in North Carolina in April -- an actual date and time have not been firmed up -- ahead of the May 6 primary in that state. Couric is the only network anchor who has not moderated a presidential debate this year. She had been set to do so in Los Angeles last December, but that debate was called off after the Writers Guild of America threatened to picket it. Some reports indicated that Couric would preside over the North Carolina debate along with Washington bureau chief Bob Schieffer, her CBS Evening News predecessor.

NBC PAID SHRIVER TO STAY OFF AIR, REPORT CLAIMS

NBC continued to pay former Dateline co-anchor Maria Shriver hundreds of thousands of dollars annually after she left the program following her husband's victory in the 2003 gubernatorial election, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Monday). The newspaper cited information about Shriver's "golden parachute" included in statements of economic interest that her husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is required to file. The payments, the newspaper said, were part of an exit agreement Shriver and NBC negotiated after network executives became uncomfortable with her working as a journalist for the news division while simultaneously serving as the state's first lady. "There is absolutely nothing unusual about her exit agreement with NBC," Daniel Zingale, Shriver's chief of staff, told the Times.

NETWORKS MADE DEEP CUTS IN NEWS STAFFS IN 2007, SAYS STUDY

The news divisions of ABC, CBS and NBC cut their staffs an average of 7 percent in 2007 from their levels a year earlier, including a reduction of 24 percent in the number of producers, according to a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In its "State of the News Media 2008," the PEJ also observed that during the past year the networks virtually halted coverage of the war in Iraq. During the first 10 weeks of this year, it observed, coverage of the war represented just 3 percent of news stories covered on network television (1 percent on cable) versus 23 percent for the same period a year ago. "The fact that it went down didn't surprise me," Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director, told the Associated Press. "But the fact that it almost disappeared is something I didn't expect."

BRITISH NETWORK TO CUT U.S. TV SHOWS

With U.S. television shows failing to attract the huge audiences they once did, British network Channel 4 plans to cut its spending for U.S. TV productions by 20 percent over the next two years and use the savings -- about $70 million -- for home-grown product, the BBC reported over the weekend. Kevin Lygo, the network's director of content, said that it intends to be more discerning in selecting U.S. television productions in the future. "We will reduce both the volume we acquire and the amount we will spend," he said.

U.S. NETWORK TELEMUNDO TO HAVE OUTLET IN MEXICO

Telemundo, the Spanish-language corporate sibling of NBC, has reached a deal with the Mexican network Televisa to provide its programming to Televisa-owned broadcast, cable and satellite outlets in Mexico, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported today (Monday), citing people familiar with the situation. Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal presumably marks the end of Telemundo's efforts to launch a third broadcast network in Mexico that would challenge Televisa and rival TV Azteca. In its report, the Journal observed, "By allowing a U.S. broadcaster onto its networks, the deal may also help Televisa deflect criticism in the U.S. and Mexico that it squashes competition."

CHINA BLOCKS YOUTUBE OVER TIBET VIDEOS

In the latest effort by a government to block critical videos posted on YouTube, China on Sunday prevented access to the video site after videos showing protest demonstrations in Tibet appeared. The videos were mostly clips from Western newscasts and included scenes of demonstrations in support of the Tibetan protesters in other countries.

Brian B.