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MSNBC Quietly Marks The End of an Error

If you missed the news about NBC Universal buying most of Microsoft's stake in also-ran news network MSNBC (the two entities remain 50/50 partners in the thriving Web site, that was the whole idea.

NBC pulled the oldest bad-news trick in the book.

When you don't want anyone to write about something you're ashamed of, put out a release on a holiday weekend. NBC quietly dropped news of the deal on Friday, Dec. 23, after most of their executives had skated away for the long weekend. (The only way they could have done the deed even quieter would have been if NBC just announced it on MSNBC itself.)

It's easy to see why NBC wanted to bury the news. The break-up shines the harsh spotlight on how miserably MSNBC has performed since its inception in 1996, when it was launched with much fanfare by NBC boss Bob Wright and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Andy Lack, then the president of NBC News, predicted, “This is going to be the engine of growth for my organization.” Oops! (Lack exited NBC in 2003).

Today, NBC is in the uncomfortable position of running the strongest broadcast news operation, yet the weakest one on cable.

After the split-up, NBC News President Steve Capus, in a statement, claimed the new arrangement would allow him to “fully integrate” MSNBC into the NBC News family.

But the view from the Microsoft bunker in Redmond, Wash., was that NBC was already fully integrating Microsoft's millions to help underwrite the news division in all its flavors, whether is was wasting it on loser MSNBC hosts like Michael Savage or paying to cover the war in Iraq for the mothership.

Chappelle Reveals Himself

Dave Chappelle fans who want inside info about why he walked out of his $50 million contract with Comedy Central will find some answers on an upcoming edition of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio that will air between now and March.

He 'fessed up about everything from his trip to Africa to smoking weed to his feelings on Hollywood, informing host James Lipton, that he was “dropping dimes tonight”—in other words, telling tales out of school.

Chappelle didn't fail on that end. He most emphatically smoked the pundits (and showbiz execs) who insinuated he lost his marbles.

“The worst thing to call somebody is crazy,” he told Lipton. “It's dismissive. 'I don't understand this person, so they're crazy.' It's bullshit.”

The comedian had a rapt audience of 700 who waited three hours for Chappelle to show up. (His plane was delayed.) Then, it's as if he wouldn't leave. Chappelle dropped dimes until almost three in the morning.

He walked out of production of Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show last May, apparently not interested in the $30-50 million deal he had signed with the network the summer before to extend the show for two more seasons. He showed up next in Africa.

“I have not spoken about what would make a person walk off the set of a successful show and go to Africa,” Chappelle said. “But again, people don't understand it, so they call me crazy.”

He told Lipton the first years of the show were “very easy.” After that, though, he intimates, it was tough enough to drive him off­—even to a faraway continent.

AOL Logs in, Builds Up

Letterman and Regis and Kelly will face some competition for studio audiences starting in second quarter.

That's because, without any fanfare, AOL is moving along in construction on a full-scale production and post-production studio at its New York headquarters at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, where they plan to shoot many of their original programs.

Those include concert series AOL Music Sessions, advice chat show AOL Coaches, and celebrity interview program Moviefone: Unscripted, as well as various radio productions and podcasts.

This isn't new territory for AOL—last July it got millions to watch Live 8 concerts from around the world.

AOL is now renovating a former Warner Bros. viewing room and leaving space for a studio audience. Yes. That means you may wait on line to be seen online.