Fast Track

Busy Week For 'Idol’

First, ABC’s Primetime Live, looking for a sweeps-ratings spark on the eve of the fall schedule announcements,
hyped a May 4 special criticizing the Fox phenomenon.

The special will reportedly involve charges that Idol judge Paula Abdul had an affair with second-season contestant Corey Clark—which could violate FCC rules involving televised contests if the relationship affected the outcome—but ABC won’t comment further, except to say the charges are “explosive.”

Fox remains tightlipped and reportedly is looking into the allegations. Abdul’s lawyer Marty Singer came out swinging. He denies the claims, threatened to sue ABC and lashed out at Clark’s character.

Meanwhile, audience members booed the departure this week of fan favorite Constantine Maroulis. On April 28, reported on a drug bust of another contestant, Bo Bice.—J.B.

VNR Bill Introduced

Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey have introduced their bill requiring visible disclaimers on all government-produced pre-packaged video news releases (VNRs).

The bill, christened the Truth in Broadcasting Act, will get a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee in early May.

The bill requires all pre-packaged news stories produced by Executive Branch agencies to contain a “continuously visible disclaimer” stating “Produced by the U.S. government” when they air on domestic media outlets.

Currently, FCC rules require broadcasters to identify outside material if it is of a political or controversial nature, but there is no explicit requirement to carry the disclaimer throughout the piece.

This bill tries to be “gentle on the broadcasters,” says a Kerry staffer, putting the onus on the government agency to include the continuous disclaimer and on the broadcaster not to take it off.—J.E.

Woodruff Leaving CNN

Judy Woodruff is leaving Cable News Network, she told colleagues April 28, although she will remain a consultant and sometime contributor.

“I’m discussing several long-form projects in television,” she said. “I’ll also teach, do some writing and be an occasional consultant and contributor to CNN.”

Woodruff, 58, joined CNN in 1993. The network has not yet said if it will continue to produce Inside Politics, which airs weekdays at 3:30-4:30 p.m. The show averaged 512,000 total viewers in April.

In January, the network announced it will phase out long-running political debate show Crossfire, which follows Woodruff’s show. CNN/U.S. President Jonathan Klein, who took the reins in November, has said he wants to focus on CNN’s prime time coverage of hard news, shifting features and entertainment programming to a new block on sister network Headline News in February.—A.B.

CNN Posts Some Gains

CNN can finally crow about something in its ratings struggle against the still-dominant Fox News.

In April, CNN’s total-day viewership jumped 11% to an average 531,000 viewers, Headline News jumped 21% to 235,000 total viewers, while Fox News dropped 6% to 825,000.

In weekday prime, CNN closed its audience gap with Fox News in the 25-54 demo.

Fox News led CNN by 149% in April 2004 in prime in the demo—594,000 viewers 25-54 compared with CNN’s 239,000. This year, CNN reduced the gap to 46%, notching 304,000 viewers in the demo to Fox News’ 443,000.

CNN attributes the success to growth for Anderson Cooper 360, Paula Zahn Now and Larry King Live. Headline has been boosted by its Headline Prime block, including Nancy Grace, which launched in February.—A.B.

O’Brien Returning To 'Insider’

Pat O’Brien, the former CBS sportscaster who left Access Hollywood last year to co-anchor Paramount Television’s Entertainment Tonight spinoff, The Insider, will return to the gossipy entertainment newsmagazine May 5, Paramount said.

O’Brien left a substance-abuse rehab facility he entered in late March after admitting he had a problem with alcohol. He took the drastic step around the time several lewd, sexually-explicit voicemails—from someone who sounded like him—surfaced on the Web.

“I want to thank everyone for their support during the past few weeks,” O’Brien says in a statement. “I plan to continue my recovery with the help and support of my family, colleagues and friends and look forward to getting back to work.”

CBS and co-owned Paramount were making the most of O’Brien’s return. He will be featured on a Dr. Phil McGraw prime time special May 4 to discuss his problems.

Then, the day of his return on The Insider, O’Brien will continue his all-in-the-family mea culpa tour on the syndicated version of King World’s Dr. Phil.—J.B.

FCC Gets New Indecency Czar

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has named Kris Monteith as his point person overseeing the agency’s crackdown on broadcast indecency.

As chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, she also will be charged with investigating alleged violations of rules governing broadcast-tower operations, broadcast- and cable-signal interference, and Emergency Alert System compliance. Besides media issues, the bureau also handles enforcement of telephone competition and consumer telemarketing protections.

Monteith previously was a deputy bureau chief in the FCC’s consumer and governmental affairs bureau. She replaces David Solomon, who is leaving the commission May 10. Solomon will be joining Washington law firm of Wilkinson, Barker & Knauer.—B.M.

Sundance Cuts Staff, Shifts Direction

Cable network Sundance Channel has laid off 10 staffers, mostly in programming, which a Sundance spokeswoman says was part of a shift in focus away from internal production and toward commissioning, licensing and marketing more films, multipart documentaries and narrative TV series.—A.B.

Rigases Agree To Pay $715 Million

Adelphia Communications
Rigas family has agreed to settle a federal fraud investigation by paying $715 million to an investor fund.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that Adelphia founder John Rigas and his family have agreed to turn over 95% of the family’s assets, or about $715 million.

Money for the investor fund will come from the proceeds of the sale of most of Adelphia’s systems to Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp. for $17.6 billion in cash and stock.—J.B.

ABC Picks Up 'Jim,’ 'Videos’

ABC has given early-season pickups to sitcom According to Jim and reality vet America’s Funniest Home Videos as it prepares its new fall schedule.

Jim, already in its fourth season, has been ABC’s top sitcom this season in households and the key 18-49 demo.

Up against tough competition from sports overruns on CBS and Fox, ABC points out, Funniest Home Videos, now in its 15th year, is second in its Sunday 7 p.m. time period for the season but has been first in three of the past four weeks.

The pair join already renewed series Desperate Housewives, Lost, Alias, Boston Legal, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.—J.E.

L.A. Marks the Spot For X Games

ESPN’s X Games will remain in Los Angeles through 2009 under a deal with AEG, owner and operator of the Staples Center and The Home Depot Center, the games’ two main venues, confirming industry speculation that ESPN had been hunting for a long-term partner for the now well- established franchise.—A.B.