ROLLING STONE

Stone Phillips, who has co-anchored Dateline since the NBC news magazine debuted in 1992, will be leaving the show next month, the network announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting move, which came as a surprise even to NBC news staffers, will reportedly result in a change in Dateline's format. Ann Curry will introduce the program, and individual correspondents will do a studio intro of their own stories, according to trade reports. Phillips issued a perfunctory statement expressing appreciation to his colleagues and saying that his 15 years with the program had been "wonderful." He did not return calls from reporters. Daily Variety reported today (Wednesday) that Phillips had been pressing for harder news stories on Dateline, which has increasingly been churning out crime stories and lurid accounts like its ratings-grabbing To Catch a Predator series. Last Sunday, when it included a solid bit of investigative journalism about the Army's decision to shun an apparently effective body armor vest and a Brian Williams interview with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, its ratings nosedived further. One Dateline staffer told Variety that Phillips's dismissal could be taken as "a sign that the Dateline that everybody watched and liked is turning into something else."

MURDOCH BID FOR WALL ST. JOURNAL STILL ALIVE

Just when it was being reported that Rupert Murdoch had encountered a stone wall in his effort to meet with the family that owns the Dow Jones Co., publishers of the Wall Street Journal, to discuss his $5-billion bid for the company, the Journal reported today (Wednesday) that the family plans to meet today to discuss the offer. According to the Journal's report, the family may also discuss the possibility of looking for other possible buyers. But the newspaper observed that Murdoch appears determined to acquire Dow Jones and would likely best any other offer for it. Murdoch has said that he would rename the as-yet-unlaunched Fox Business Channel the Wall Street Journal Channel if he acquires the company.

CNN CLEARS PIPELINE

CNN has decided to lift the $25 annual fee it charges for its Pipeline online video service, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday. Commenting on the cable network's decision, the newspaper said, "It appears CNN was unable to overcome the popular notion that, like butterflies, clicks are free." CNN plans to lift the charge on June 1 and to give some subscribers refunds. On July 1, Pipeline will reportedly be folded into a redesigned CNN website.

DANCING DRAWS BIGGER RATINGS THAN DOL

Two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner Apolo Anton Ohno iced the championship on ABC's Dancing With the Stars Tuesday night. The speed skater, along with partner Julianne Hough, beat out two other couples who scored high marks themselves on the dancing talent contest. In fact, Ohno wound up just two points ahead of former 'NSync member Joey Fatone and partner Kym Johnson and just three points ahead of Laila Ali (the daughter of Mohammad Ali) and partner Maksim Chmerkovsky. However, the vote by viewers went overwhelmingly to Ohno. Surprisingly, the show drew a slightly larger audience than the final performance installment of American Idol, which aired an hour earlier. Dancing's 16.5 rating and 25 share between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. made it the highest-rated show of the night. (Idol averaged a 16.3/25.) It peaked in the 10:00-10:30 p.m. half hour with a 17.2/26.

ABC DANCES TO THE TOP

Last week's Dancing With the Stars semifinals, along with solid ratings for a 75-minute season finale of Grey's Anatomy, lifted ABC to a rare win in total viewers as it edged out CBS, the usual winner. However, the penultimate two episodes of American Idol and a strong performance by House gave Fox the victory among adults 18-49, the demographic group most pursued by advertisers. ABC averaged a 7.0 rating and a 12 share for the week. CBS placed second with a 6.8/12. Fox followed with a 6.1/10,while NBC trailed with a 4.7/8. Meanwhile, the 2006-07 season officially closes tonight (Wednesday) with CBS expected to take the crown among overall viewers and Fox, among viewers 18-49.

SPARKS CLEAR FAVORITE TO WIN IDOL COMPETITION

Seventeen-year-old Jordin Sparks became the clear favorite to take the latest American Idol contest when results are announced tonight (Wednesday) after she nailed a ballad, "This Is My Now," written for the show's online songwriting contest, while competitor Blake Lewis performed the same song unimpressively. "You just wiped the floor with Blake," Idol judge Simon Cowell told Sparks. The show drew a huge 16.3 rating and a 25 share. Nevertheless those numbers were 15.1 percent below those from the comparable Idol performance finale a year ago.

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Brian B.