ABC'S DANCING DRAWS SEASON'S TOP RATINGS

Emmitt Smith could dance in the end zone without constraint if he were playing football rather than competing in a dance contest. His victory on Dancing With the Stars Wednesday night drew the highest ratings of any program of the season -- an 18.5 household rating and a 28 share, translating to about 30 million viewers. ABC, however, was unable to hold most of those viewers for Daybreak, the new drama that took over from Lost in the 9:00 p.m. hour. With a two-hour opening episode that averaged a 7.6/12, Daybreak lost viewers in every half hour, as it opened with a 9.8/14 coming out of Dancing, and closed in the 10:30 p.m. half-hour with a 6.3/10. Daybreak's ratings in the first hour were 35 percent below those for Lost a week ago. Nevertheless, the program did manage to edge out the return of Medium on NBC, which posted a 7.2/11 from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The winner of the 9:00 hour, however, was CBS's Criminal Minds, with a 10.8/16, about the same winning numbers it posted against Lost a week ago. CSI: NY took over the lead at 10:00 p.m. with a 10.6/17.

LUKE AND LAURA TIE THE KNOT AGAIN

Twenty-five years after the biggest event ever in daytime television -- the marriage of Luke and Laura on ABC's General Hospital, the couple are renewing their wedding vows on the program today (Thursday). The Associated Press on Wednesday synopsized the Luke-and-Laura plot line since the original nuptials: "She died, and was brought back to life. She killed her stepfather. She gave birth to a son by an adulterous affair, and now Nikolas is a single dad after the baby's mother died of a virus. Her other son, Lucky, is addicted to painkillers. Her daughter, Lulu, recently aborted a child after being impregnated by a stepbrother. Oh, and [Laura] spent the last four years in a catatonic state -- waking up just in time to marry Luke again." Charlie McCollum, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, observes that complicating the marriage is the fact that Luke is now married to someone else. "But, hey, this is soap world. Normal rules of life simply don't apply. The whole affair, fun as it might be, really points up just how far the daytime soap has fallen off the pop culture radar. The resurrection of the Luke-Laura romance has a whiff of desperation to it."

TOP NBC EXEC TAKES OVER AOL

As part of an apparent effort to reinvent itself, Time Warner has wooed Randy Falco away from NBC, where he held the title of NBC Universal Television Group President/COO and was once thought to be the likely successor to NBC Universal chief Bob Wright. He will serve as Chairman and CEO of AOL, replacing Jon Miller. Falco has been charged with completing the transformation of AOL from an ISP, dependent mostly on revenue from subscribers, to a giant entertainment online operation, dependent primarily on advertising and featuring -- along with the usual email, chat sites and news -- music, video and other compelling material that will distinguish it from other Internet giants like Yahoo!, MySpace and Google.

TURNER RESUMES FEUD WITH MURDOCH

It has been a long while since CNN founder Ted Turner took public potshots at News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, but it seemed like old times in Denver Wednesday when Turner received the 2006 Investment in Excellence Award for public service from the University of Colorado at Denver Graduate School of Public Affairs. Accepting the award, Turner seemed to indicate that it was one that would not be handed to Murdoch. "He gives nothing to charity," said Turner, who -- when he was a lot richer -- pledged billions to United Nations causes and has still managed to hand over at least $1 billion to them. It obviously still rankles that the cause of his decline and fall from media power was Time Warner, the company to which he sold Turner Broadcasting. As reported by the Denver Post, Turner remarked, "I had better luck with the Soviet Union than with one of America's largest and leading companies."

FNC AILES DUKES IT OUT WITH FELLOW CONSERVATIVE FARAH

The Drudge Report on Wednesday published an internal memo to employees of Fox News Channel from Chairman Roger Ailes denying a report that appeared earlier in the day on the conservative WorldNetDaily website, which Ailes said "claims we paid $2 million in hostage money during the Centanni & Wiig kidnapping crisis. The story is absolutely 100 percent false. Not a cent of hostage money was paid, and it was never considered." Joseph Farah, who runs the site, immediately shot back that Ailes misrepresented what the article had said. "Nowhere in our story did we ever allege, as Ailes' statement said, that Fox News paid $2 million for release of the terrorist hostages. ... What we reported is 100 percent accurate -- that some of those believed to be involved with the kidnappings say they received money. Period. No one in the story even suggested the money originated with Fox. ... Further, Fox News executives and spokesmen had two weeks to provide a response to WND before the story was published ... and refused to make a statement on the record. Off the record, they did not deny it was possible money was paid by another party."

AL-JAZEERA ENGLISH GOES ON AIR -- WITH LITTLE CONTROVERSY

Al-Jazeera English began broadcasting on Wednesday, promising an alternative look at world events but unable to provide it to viewers in the U.S. except on the Internet, where its signal appeared blurry and its sounds and pictures out of sync. On a slow news day, the network offered little in the way of enterprising journalism, newspaper TV writers seemed to agree -- and also little that was controversial, even about Palestinian missile attacks on Israel and Israel's retaliatory response. New York Times TV columnist Alessandra Stanley observed, "Just as Fox News gives its viewers a vision of the world as seen by conservative, patriotic Americans, Al Jazeera English reflects the mindsets across much of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is an American-style cable news network with jazzy newsrooms, poised, attractive anchors, flashy promos and sleek ads for Qatar Airways, Nokia and Shell. But its goal is to bring a non-Western perspective to the West." So far, it is unable to do so, given the reluctance of U.S. cable systems to carry it. "If I were an American, I would be frustrated having cable systems decide for me," Will Stebbins, the network's Washington bureau chief, told the Associated Press Wednesday. But blogger LittleGreenFootballs wrote, "If my cable TV company allows Al Jazeera to spread its propaganda over their network, I hereby announce that I will cancel my account and urge everyone I know to do the same."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.