i>KID NATION FAILS TO DRAW CRITICAL FIRE

The controversial reality show Kid Nation debuted with unexceptional ratings Wednesday night, drawing a second-place 6.4 rating and an 11 share. It was beaten out by the season premiere of Fox's Back To You, which posted a 6.8/11. Reviews of Kid Nation appeared to be as lukewarm as the ratings. Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times, while questioning the premise of the show, concludes: "Whatever else it is, or may be, it is adorable; to the extent that it's disturbing onscreen, it'll be an 8 p.m. on CBS kind of disturbing." Said Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times: "Kid Nation is at its core a well-packaged MTV-style group-dynamics show, but with Disney-age participants: 'It's a Real World After All.'" Robert Philpot in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, commented: "It turns out to be a noisy, frenetic series -- but one that has more than a few touching and humorous moments." Lynn Elber in the Associated Press remarked that it amounts to a modern-day version of the old Kids Say the Darndest Things "with reality-show trappings galore to make it exciting for today's presumably jaded young set and, CBS hopes, their parents." But Tom Shales in the Washington Post observes that the new offering is "a long way from the relative innocence of those early days" and is in fact "an appalling monstrosity."

THREE YEARS AFTER LOSING ANCHOR'S SEAT, RATHER SUES CBS

In filing a $70-million lawsuit against CBS on Wednesday, Dan Rather maintained that he had little to do with the report that resulted in his being removed as anchor of the CBS Evening News other than to read the script -- and that the network had set him up as a "scapegoat." Rather also indicated in his suit that he was "coerced" into giving an apology written by a network publicist that made it appear he had been personally responsible for the report's disputed contents on President Bush's National Gua皜rd service during the Vietnam War. And when that apology failed to pacify critics of the report -- especially those in the White House -- he was dumped as network anchor. Even then, Rather contended in his suit, he was treated as an embarrassment by the network, which gave him few assignments in his new post as a correspondent for 60 Minutes, and often aired his reports during holiday periods when viewership is low. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the network refused to send him to the scene, the lawsuit states, despite the fact that he "is the most experienced reporter in the United States in covering hurricanes." The network was motivated, the lawsuit said, "to keep Mr. Rather off the air." In an interview with the New York Times, Rather said Wednesday that he had filed the lawsuit in order to procure testimony on "what really happened" from top CBS and Viacom executives, including Chairman Sumner Redstone. "Let's get [them] under oath," he said. "Let's get emails. Let's get who said what to whom, when and for what purpose." CBS issued a terse statement late in the day saying, "These complaints are old news and this lawsuit is without merit." And in an interview with the Washington Post, Josh Howard, the executive producer of 60 Minutes II, which carried the discredited report (and who was fired in the fallout over it), said that Rather "seems to be saying he was just the narrator. He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over every line in the script. It's laughable." In a separate interview with USA Today, Howard contended that Rather came up with the idea for the story. "I didn't assign it to him."

MARTIN DENIES SWITCH TO DIGITAL TV IS IN STATE OF CONFUSION

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Wednesday took issue with comments from an official of the Government Accountability Office that "there is no one in charge" of the national conversion to all-digital television, which must be fully implemented by February 18, 2009. "There seems to be confusion even on the part of the FCC, between the chairman and some other commissioners, regarding what its responsibilities are for the transition," Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director of physical infrastructure, had said in Senate testimony. But FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond quoted Martin as responding, "There is no confusion at the [FCC]. We are committed to putting polices in place to ensure a smooth transition."

NBC UNV EILS YET ANOTHER DOWNLOAD PLAN

NBC's digital strategy became embroiled in new confusion and controversy Wednesday as the network announced that it will begin beta testing NBC Direct, employing an online player that will allow PC users to view for free some of its programs for a week after they are broadcast. (The network also plans to make some of the same programs available on a separate online platform that it will operate with Fox called Hulu.) Among the programs that will be made available in the initial tests are Heroes, The Office, Life, Bionic Woman, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Critics immediately observed that the player will only work with Windows PCs, at least at present, c*annot allow viewers to skip commercials, and will not permit movies to be viewed on video iPods or other handheld devices. The announcement received little if any praise from bloggers, many of whom regard Apple's iTunes Music Store as a simple way for them to download TV shows. "From a consumer perspective, this is a disaster," media consultant Moses Kagan wrote on his blog. "Imagine if each [of the four major networks] pursued this strategy: We would live in a world where we had to have four different logins, learn four different interfaces, and have four different program schedules." Meanwhile, ABC announced that it has reached a deal with AOL to distribute some of its primetime shows.

Brian B.