SKINNER WINS TALENT, BUT BOYLE STEALS SHOW

Kentucky country singer Kevin Skinner won the $1-million grand prize on America's Got Talent Wednesday night, but some critics agreed that Scottish singer Susan Boyle stole the show when she made her first American appearance with a soulful version of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." In a video clip prior to her performance, Boyle was seen in news footage being taken away to a psychiatric hospital shortly after she placed second on Britain's Got Talent earlier this year. Voice over, she remarked, "With no pressure and then having all this pressure on top of me, I found it a bit suffocating. ... I don't remember much about it after the final, all I remember is being put in an ambulance and being taken to a clinic. I've never felt so tired. I look back at it now, it was a necessity because I was tired." The attention she has received since her performance has changed her life, she acknowledged. "I used to be a kind of spectator looking out at the world, but now I'm part of that world," she said.

LENO'S GOT RATINGS

Helped by a strong America's Got Talent finale as its lead-in, the new Jay Leno Show drew solid ratings once again on Wednesday. Talent, which averaged 15.52 million viewers between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., peaked in the half hour before Leno with 18.06 million viewers. Leno's audience at 10:00 p.m. dropped from that level to 13.12 million, but was still 2 million above Tuesday's. The result was that NBC captured every half hour of primetime on Wednesday.

AFTRA CHIEF: NO MERGER TALKS UNTIL AFTER 2011

Despite the strong showing of the Unite for Strength faction of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), it is unlikely that merger discussions between SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) will begin until after the next round of negotiations with producers and networks in 2011, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon has told TheWrap.com. "More and more members of both unions understand the principles that would make the merger a good idea. It has to be a thoughtful process -- it can't be rushed, and it can't be done before the next round of negotiations." She also indicated that merger talks cannot begin with SAG while that union remains in upheaval. "SAG has some work to do internally. They have serious problems. That's all I can say about that," she said. On the other hand, she observed, both unions were able to work "collegially" on hammering out a new commercials contract with employers. "That is the model of how we should work together going forward," she remarked.

REPORT: MORE LAYOFFS COMING AT NBC NEWS

In the face of numerous comments by government officials in recent days that the recession has bottomed out, reports emerged Wednesday that NBC plans to make further substantial cuts in is news division. The New York Observer is reporting that a large number of NBC and MSNBC news staffers have been asked to take voluntary buyouts. The newspaper says that the staffers "were told that if targets weren't met voluntarily, employment challenges lurked ahead." The Observer said that NBC has even offered buyouts to a number of freelance employees who work for NBC under contracts with General Electric's Yoh staffing service. (On its website, Yoh features an article titled "How to make yourself layoff-proof.")

GELBART FOUGHT AGAINST LAUGH TRACK

In the end, Larry Gelbart was grateful that when M*A*S*H* was released on DVD, 20th Century Fox allowed viewers the option of watching it either with a laugh track or without. His remarks appeared Wednesday on Vanity Fair's website, culled from Mike Sacks's 2008 interview with him for the book Here's the Kicker. Gelbart, who created the TV series based on Robert Altman's movie and was its principal writer for its first four years, said that he had fought CBS executives on the laugh track issue from the inception of the show. "If you've ever watched it without a laugh track, well, that's the show as we intended it to be watched. We did not mean for people to be cackling throughout the show; it becomes so much more cynical and heartbreaking without all that cheap, mechanical laughter." Gelbart's reaction to the laugh track at the time: "Outrage. Anger. On a good day, mere frustration. It was a four-year battle that I lost over and over again. The one concession from the network was to permit us to never have the laugh track in any operating room scenes."

CNN CO-FOUNDER BLASTS HIS FORMER NETWORK

CNN co-founder (with Ted Turner) Reese Schonfeld has taken another swipe at the news judgments of the all-news cable network's producers. In a commentary posted on his blog, www.meandted.com, Schonfeld blasts CNN for its live coverage of the "tea party" protests in Washington last weekend. "Giving an audience of millions to enraged extremists is too great a gift to qualify as 'freedom of speech,'" he wrote. There was no compelling reason for the protest, which featured one speaker complaining that President Obama "and his kind" were leading the country to Communism, to be carried live. "When I ran the company, their voices would've been fed live into our editing rooms, where editors would've picked out the sound bites that were worthy of airtime," Schonfeld wrote. Earlier this year, Schonfeld was bitterly critical of CNN's decision to air an interview with Scott Roeder, the man accused of murdering abortion clinic operator Dr. George Tiller. In the feature, CNN reporter Ted Rowlands said that if Tiller was convicted, "his entire motive was the defense of the unborn." "What other journalistic institution would race to be the first to give an [accused] murderer a platform from which to boast about any murder?" Schonfeld asked at the time.

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