TV BOSSES DEFEND CRAMER, STEWART

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker came to the defense of CNBC financial commentator Jim Cramer Wednesday -- immediately found himself accused of being out of touch with public sentiment. Delivering a keynote talk at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York, Zucker said that Daily Show host Jon Stewart was "completely out of line" and "totally unfair" in his attacks on Cramer and CNBC and was trying to make Cramer into a "scapegoat." Zucker quickly set the blogs ablaze. Charles Cooper on CNET News commented: "Instead of circling the wagons, Zucker and his management team should take a long look at the content CNBC puts out. A public skewering was long overdue. ... Note to the Zuck-meister: The fact that you don't get what Stewart's talking about is yet one more reason to worry about the future of the mainstream media." Later in the day at the same conference that heard from Zucker, Viacom chief Philippe Dauman defended Stewart. "He has a connection with the zeitgeist," Dauman said. "His common-man sensibility is the reason it got so much attention. He is one of the few people on the air who spoke to what people were really feeling."

TV EXECS WOULD LIKE OBAMA TO BAIL OUT OF PRIMETIME

At a time when the earnings of the television broadcast networks are plunging, the decision by President Obama to hold another news conference in primetime during a sweeps month is provoking anger among some network executives, TVWeek observed Wednesday. The president's news conference, set for next Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., will cause the networks to juggle their programs and in some cases eliminate episodes. TVWeek suggested that the news conference will particularly affect the domination of Fox's American Idol, which will air on Wednesday and Thursday next week instead of Tuesday and Wednesday. Idol will now face challenges from a CBS Survivor special on Wednesday and NCAA "March Madness" on Thursday. Moreover, as one industry insider told TVWeek, "Every time the president disrupts primetime, the networks lose another couple million dollars. ... In this economy, that's the last thing we need."

IDOL UP AGAINST RIVALS; DOWN AGAINST ITSELF

American Idol once again proved to be unchallengeable Wednesday night as it drew 23.07 million viewers. The only program that it is doing poorly against is itself -- compared with its numbers during previous seasons, that is. Last year, for example, the program attracted 26.08 million viewers on the comparable night. On ABC, the series premiere of Better Off Ted proved disappointing as it attracted just 5.80 million viewers, despite much applause from critics (as well as significant dissent). Once again, NBC's lineup finished last for the evening with ratings chopped for the second week of The Chopping Block, which saw just 3.46 million viewers tune in.

WHAT'S COURIC DOING IN A MARKETING FILM?

A video promotion directed at car dealers for a waiting-room package of CBS TV shows that removes any offensive content, including gloomy Wall Street news, mentions of competing dealers or competing car brands, and any graphic violence or sex has come under scrutiny from several websites because it also features Evening News anchor Katie Couric. Couric appears briefly at the beginning of the sales pitch for the "Automotive Broadcasting Network," mentioning the network in what apparently was part of an intro for a repurposed CBS News feature. Conde Nast's Portfolio magazine said on its website Wednesday that ABN never had permission to use the Couric clip and has now removed it.

STARZ TO PRESENT MORE ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING

Starz, the movie channel owned by John Malone's Liberty Entertainment, is following the lead of HBO and Showtime and including original content among its feature films, including half-hour sitcoms and hourlong dramas, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). The newspaper quoted Starz president Bill Myers as saying that the network is seeking a new identity. "We're the new guys on the block, even though we're 15 years old," he said. He noted that many cable channels have come to realize that they need to present "something that is exclusive." Original programming, he added, "gives you recognition and brings customers back to you." Starz is due to present its newest program, a sitcom called Party Down, beginning Friday.