Fans of Ted Koppel and the ABC News program "Nightline" are unhappy to hear the network is in serious talks to lure David Letterman away from CBS and run his late-night show in the 11:30 p.m. slot where "Nightline" has run since 1980.
According to various published reports, Koppel is furious that network executives are looking into such a change. But entertainment industry analysts say it would make economic sense for ABC to snag Letterman and run it in place of "Nightline" and "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher."
Besides doing damage to CBS in the late-night time period, the move could add substantially to ABC's bottom line.
Network insiders say ABC has tremendous respect for Koppel and that the company would like him to make other on-air contributions -- but they also say that, while the show generates respectable ratings, it does not do well among the most highly prized demographic group, viewers 18-49.
Part of the stated rationale for dropping "Nightline" is that there are so many other places where TV viewers can get news at that time of night, that the show is no longer the unique offering it was when it was initiated in 1980 -- to provide special, nightly coverage of the Iran hostage crisis.
Letterman's contract with CBS expires in six months.
HONORS FOR RON HOWARD
Ron Howard has been chosen to receive the ninth annual Beatrice Wood Film Award for his direction of "A Beautiful Mind" -- based on the life and work of schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.
Howard -- also nominated for the directing Oscar and the Directors Guild of America's top feature film prize -- joins a list of Beatrice Wood winners that includes Billy Bob Thornton, Sam Raimi and David Lynch. The famed ceramist presented the award personally to James Cameron for "Titanic" on March 3, 1998 -- her 105th birthday. She died nine days later.
Cameron had interviewed her as part of his process of creating the character of the adventurous Rose DeWitt Bukater, played as a young woman by Kate Winslet and as a 101-year-old by Gloria Stuart. Winslet was nominated for a best actress Oscar and Stuart was nominated for best supporting actress.
GRAMMY RATINGS DOWN
Ratings for the 44th Annual Grammy Awards may have CBS and the Recording Academy singing the blues.
Without benefit of a raging controversy or intense competition among well-known superstars, the show attracted an average audience of 19 million -- down 29 percent from last year and the smallest audience for a Grammys show since 1995.
Alicia Keys and the soundtrack from the Coen brothers movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" scored five Grammys each and U2 snagged four, in a program in which the emphasis was plainly on the music -- rather than the sensational production values that have come to dominate the proceedings on televised music awards shows.
Host Jon Stewart -- who earned rave reviews for his work on the show last year -- took a few hits from critics for the job he turned in Wednesday night.
The ratings may have fallen short of the network's wildest dreams, but the numbers were strong enough to give CBS first place for the night.
ESPN COPES WITH 'F-WORD' ISSUE
It isn't as though the F-word hasn't made it onto network air in the past -- mistakes will happen in live TV -- but ESPN is breaking a little ground with its March 10 presentation of the TV movie "A Season on the Brink," starring Brian Dennehy has fiery college basketball coach Bob Knight.
According to a report in the New York Daily News, the ultimate four-letter word comes up 15 times in the first half-hour alone.
Mark Shapiro, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN programming, told the paper the Disney-owned outfit believes the language is important to the integrity of the picture.
"We conducted a lot of focus groups and did a lot of qualitative research, as well as a thorough evaluation here," said Shapiro, "and the bottom line is we don't believe you can give an accurate depiction and portrayal of The General (one of Knight's nicknames) if it doesn't accomplish the language he speaks."
Shapiro said ESPN understands that not everyone wants the F-word coming into their home on basic cable, so an alternative version -- with the F-word bleeped out -- will be offered on ESPN 2. In addition, ESPN will run a disclaimer every nine minutes or so cautioning viewers about the rough language.
"Granted, it's cable, but historically we haven't shown profanity on our network," said Shapiro. "You've got a show, you need to warn your audience fast and furious."
MADDEN PUMPED UP FOR 'MNF' GIG
John Madden says he'll miss doing divisional playoff games and the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas, but otherwise he's pretty excited about joining play-by-play man Al Michaels in the booth for "Monday Night Football" on ABC.
Madden's decision to jump from Fox follows by less than one month that network's unceremonial dumping of his broadcast partner of 21 years, Pat Summerall. A 13-time Emmy winner, Madden reportedly will earn more than $20 million over the four-year life of his deal.
Fox reportedly had offered Madden a three-year contract extension at a considerable cut in pay.
Meeting with reporters to announce the deal, the 65-year-old Madden said he's pretty sure he wants this to be his last move.
"This is where I want to finish," Madden said. "I want to be a part of' Monday Night Football' ... as long as I broadcast."
Apparently, there isn't room in the booth for Michaels' broadcast partners from last season -- comedian Dennis Miller and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Miller isn't being brought back at all, and Fouts reportedly was offered an opportunity to stay with ABC, but with a substantially reduced role.
HONORS FOR CHRIS TUCKER, 'GOSFORD' WRITER
ShoWest, the movie industry's annual convention in Las Vegas, has announced that Chris Tucker ("Rush Hour 2") will be honored as the outstanding comedy star of the year.
Organizers also said that "Gosford Park" screenwriter Julian Fellowes has been named screenwriter of the year. Fellowes is also up for and Oscar and a Writers Guild of America award. He has already been honored by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.
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