CBS MAY HARDEN COURIC NEWSCAST

Bowing to critics who have complained that under Katie Couric the CBS Evening News lacks sufficient "news" and that its nightly Free Speech segment often amounts to poorly written harangues, CBS announced Monday that the segment will be cut back to twice a week. In an interview with the Washington Post, the program's executive producer, Rome Hartman, said that some of the commentaries worked better than others. "The ones that we were giving a platform to somebody who already had one worked less well." Meanwhile, South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Tom Jicha commented that the CBS Evening News "has become so soft that if someone slammed a door in your home, the screen would collapse like a soufflé." Also, ABC anchor Charles Gibson has suggested that, instead of going with more reality shows, the TV networks ought to be considering airing lengthened evening newscasts. Gibson told the Dallas Morning News, "I've talked with people here about doing a hybrid news show at 10 p.m. (EST) that combined news with 20/20-style content."

RATHER RETURNS

Dan Rather says he intends to focus on investigative reporting as he launches Dan Rather Reports on Mark Cuban's HDNet tonight (Tuesday). In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Rather said that such reporting "has gone badly out of style" because of the cost, time, and controversy -- "and these huge international entities that now control about 85 percent of American media are controversy-averse." Not so the entrepreneurial maverick Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team), who, Rather observed, owns the whole company. "He's not answerable to anybody but himself. ... He's smart, and he's got guts." He said that when he left CBS he wanted to tie up with "the 21st Century equivalent of [former CBS Chairman] Bill Paley or [CNN founder] Ted Turner ...some titan of business who felt that business had to have a public-service component." (In an interview with the Dallas Morning News ABC News anchor Charles Gibson said, "I take umbrage with Dan about this. ... I can honestly say ... I've never seen an instance when there was corporate pressure that influenced a story we were covering.")

LIGHTS TO STAY ON FOR FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

NBC said Monday that it will stick with another new show that has performed better with critics than with general audiences. It announced that it has given the football drama Friday Night Lights a full-season order, acknowledging that it has faced formidable competition from ABC's Dancing With the Stars (which ends its current run this week) and CBS's longtime hit NCIS. Last week it announced that it would also keep its new Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip going (but move it opposite the toughest competition of the week -- at Thursday nights at 9:00, where it will vie against CSI on CBS and Grey's Anatomy on ABC.)

HEADS TO FALL AT NBC BEFORE THANKSGIVING; NOT ALL ARE TURKEYS

In what may amount to those affected as the Thanksgiving equivalent to the St. Valentine's Day massacre, NBC is planning to hand out pink slips to about 40 employees in the coming days with Dateline employees taking the brunt of the cutbacks, followed by those at Today and NBC Nightly News, published reports said today (Monday). Today's New York Post reported that although the number of layoffs had been expected to be larger, there had been a surprising number of employees who had accepted buyout offers. Of some 700 job cuts that the company intends to make over the next two years, 400 are expected to be made within the news division, according to today's Los Angeles Times, which cited network sources. It said that NBC wanted to make the majority of this year's staff reductions now "because executives want to get through the layoffs before the holiday season."

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR 60 MINUTES' ED BRADLEY

A memorial service for 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley is scheduled to be held at New York's Riverside Church next Tuesday, Bradley's longtime friend, journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, said Monday. "It's a celebration of his life with those who knew him best," Hunter-Gault told the Journal-isms website. "I suppose you could say it will be a celebration featuring some of the great music and people he loved." A jazz aficionado, Bradley had also been host of NPR's Jazz at Lincoln Center.Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.