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History's Gettysburg graces Memorial Day with a vivid recreation of a pivotal Civil War battle

Some of the real life casualties at Gettysburg. History photo

Brothers Ridley and Tony Scott are longtime purveyors of visceral, action-fueled entertainment, ranging from Ridley's Gladiator and Black Hawk Down to Tony's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Man on Fire.

They've also lately collaborated on calmer TV dramas, co-producing Numb3rs and The Good Wife for CBS.

Gettysburg, the Memorial Day centerpiece of History's "Civil War Week," is more in keeping with what the Scotts tend to do best. It's an effectively communicated, visually impressive "war is hell" docudrama with an advisory that "some scenes in this program may disturb viewers."

Premiering Monday at 8 p.m. (central), the two-hour presentation can be a little over-cooked at times. But not to the point of compromising its overall impact. Uncredited actors play several of the soldiers spotlighted in Gettysburg, but only one of them has any directly spoken dialogue. And that's just a single sentence from Union Army Lt. Col. Rufus Dawes, who commands, "Throw down your muskets" after a bloody skirmish with the Confederates.

Gettysburg otherwise is largely vocalized by narrator Sam Rockwell, an accomplished actor who will share the screen with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in this summer's heavily promoted Cowboys & Aliens. A mix of talking-head historians also parades through, with some of the soldiers' written remembrances of the Civil War voiced off-screen.

The pivotal battle of Gettysburg -- "Two American armies face off in a small Pennsylvania farm town" -- unfolded from July 1 to July 4, 1863. The film compellingly and informatively recaptures the carnage while also going a bit Nova on occasion with explanations and illustrations of the damage that could be inflicted by a "mini-ball bullet" or a well-placed cannon shot. Troop movements and strategies are also well-explained.

The human cost of war is paramount, though. And the up-close stories of Union Sgt. Amos Humiston and Confederate private Ridgeley Howard are particularly affecting. One survives and one does not. Each suffers multiple combat wounds, with the camera closing in to capture both their sufferings and their longings.

The battle scenes and costuming are by and large remarkable. There are no pretty boy soldier here. Instead they're bloodied, dirt-stained and usually sporting scraggly beards. Gettysburg intimately touches on some of their stories while also offering scope aplenty and gunfire to burn. We also learn that an average amputation during the Civil War took 12 minutes, with pretty good odds -- 77 percent -- of surviving with one arm extracted.

Some of the historians can get a little carried away, as when one of them says, "The level of courage is intense and large" on the part of Rebel soldiers steadfastly advancing into heavy artillery fire. Rockwell's narration is solid enough, though not exceptional.

Gettysburg is uniformly powerful, though, with a wealth of well-placed anecdotal information joining forces with the center-stage combat. Ken Burns' The Civil War remains an unequalled benchmark. But the Scotts have made a strong case for at least being included in the conversation.

GRADE: A-minus

World survives latest premature obit; media credibility is another story

The world plodded on over the weekend, with The Rapture a no show while the media lapped it up as though there were no tomorrow.

It's long been the end of the world as we know it in respect to turning a non-story into a big story. Except that it keeps getting worse. This time out, an old crackpot preacher from earthquake-jittered California bought massive coverage by putting up a bunch of "Judgment Day" billboards.

Even Nightline bit hard, turning the gibberish of 89-year-old Family Radio bible thumper Harold Camper into its lead story on Friday's edition. Ted Koppel would be rotating in his grave had he been lowered into one. Instead he can rest in peace on his considerable laurels, knowing full well that his higher-minded Nightline at the very most would have signed off Friday with a wry observation on the order of "We hope to see you on Monday."

Nightline obviously wasn't alone. Local newscasts around the country, including in D-FW, happily jumped onto the end-is-nigh bandwagon with lead stories during an ongoing ratings "sweeps" period. It's one thing to toy around with such pronouncements with little asides or sidebars here and there. But many media outlets seemed all too willing to take this fairly seriously with top-of-the-news coverage. Don't mess with Mother Nature or Judgment Day, because one of these days . . .

In the end -- which wasn't -- Harold wasn't a very happy Camper. He pronounced himself "flabbergasted" Sunday in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, bemoaning the "really tough weekend" he'd just been through.

Yeah, it can be pretty disheartening when the world declines to go up in one giant ball of flame. Especially when you've positively guaranteed it with the zeal of a bearded Men's Wearhouse owner. So Oprah Winfrey's going to get her big three-day televised send-off after all. And we'll see who wins both Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.

Best of all, though, the Dallas Mavericks will be allowed to continue their quest for the team's first-ever NBA championship. Come hell or high water, you don't want to mess with that.

Meanwhile, the collective media -- Nightline included -- will resume their search for another easily digested non-story promulgated by a nut case. 'Cause that's what makes the world go 'round. Now more than ever.

HBO's Too Big to Fail is all business in its dramatization of "epochal" 2008 financial crisis

William Hurt excels as treasury secretary/dealmaker Henry Paulson. HBO photo

Leave it to HBO to not only tackle this daunting, sex-less numbers game, but to somehow make it dramatically interesting.

Not spectacularly entertaining, mind you. But a bravura lead performance by William Hurt and some early heavy lifting by James Woods give Too Big to Fail (Monday, May 23rd, 8 p.m. central) enough currency to carry it through this complex tale of 2008's near-collapse of the U.S. economy. Expensive-looking suits get a full workout, too, during the last late summer months of George W. Bush's presidency. Everyone feels the heat.

Hurt plays U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson, former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Woods is profane, mercurial Dick Fuld, whose Lehman Brothers investment bank was the only one to miss out on a government bailout. Instead it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2008 while other titans of Wall Street either steeled themselves or scrambled to make deals. The film is adapted from the same-named book by New York Times financial reporter/columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who is no relation to Oscar- and Emmy-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network/The West Wing).

Woods is ever-ready to chew scenery, but at best is guilty of only munching this time around. The film needs an attention-getting bulldog like him in its early going, and Woods is up to the task. His Fuld is a stone-stubborn f-bomb dropper who just can't fathom what's happened to his beloved company.

Hurt's Paulson soon comes to the fore, though, plugging away in the midst of the biggest financial calamity since the Great Depression. His portrayal is compelling to the core under the direction of accomplished Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential). Paulson at first methodically directs his troops before his temper shortens, his desperation grows and his physical appearance deteriorates.

"There's a deal to be made here. I'm going to make the deal," he initially says of saving Lehman Brothers from going under.

But Paulson's persuasive powers fail him in this case. "I don't know what's going to happen," he finally tells his steadfastly loyal wife, Wendy (a chip-in role for the always good Kathy Baker, who also can be seen on Sunday night in CBS' seventh Jesse Stone movie).

A number of other familiar faces drop in and out, including Cynthia Nixon, Ed Asner, Paul Giamatti, Topher Grace, Bill Pullman, Matthew Modine, Tony Shalhoub, Evan Handler and Dan Hedaya.

Nixon, the former Sex and the City star, is effective in the only woman's part of any real import. She plays assistant secretary of the Treasury Michele Davis, who's in on all of his big decisions. Asner has just two brief scenes as power-broking Warren Buffett, one of them in a fast food restaurant with his grandkids. The iconic actor is outfitted with a blondish toupee as Buffett. Frankly, it looks fairly ridiculous on him at this stage of his career.

Lesser known Billy Crudup, who played a young J. Edgar Hoover in Public Enemies, has a key role as Timothy Geithner, President Obama's current treasury secretary. In Too Big to Fail, he's still the hard-driving president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Paulson leans on him heavily as a man of both action and vision, with Crudup breathing considerable life into his role as Batman's Robin.

Too Big to Fail does a solid job of outlining how America got to this near-meltdown of the economy, with a number of real-life TV journalists seen in recurring clips from those times after presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both talk up the virtues of bank de-regulation.

"This project is not only good for the soul of the country. It's good for the pocketbook as well," the real-life Bush says of one such initiative.

But it wasn't, with "toxic" onetime real estate assets such as sub-prime mortgages bringing Lehman Brothers to its knees while other banks began to buckle. Paulson eventually steered a controversial bailout bill through Congress in which nine big banking firms agreed to accept $125 billion in government money via the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

"I hope they use the money the way we're asking them to. They will lend it out, won't they?" asks Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (Giamatti).

"Of course they will," Paulson says, repeating that assurance to convince himself.

But they didn't. And Too Big to Fail effectively follows the money while humanizing most of the moneychangers.


Selleck again hits the mark in his seventh Jesse Stone film

Tom Selleck's Jesse Stone with faithful companion Reggie. CBS photo

It's been a pretty good week for Tom Selleck and his staying power.

His Blue Bloods police series officially got a second season pickup Wednesday. And on Sunday night, he'll be playing throwback wrong-righter Jesse Stone in the seventh movie drawn from the late Robert B. Parker's novels.

Both the series and the film are on CBS, which first put Selleck on the map in 1980 as the quintessentially hunky star of Magnum, P.I.. It's the one broadcast network that will still accommodate starring roles for a now 66-year-old TV icon whose loyal followers tend to be in roughly the same age bracket. "Skewing old" isn't something even CBS is thrilled about. But there are exceptions. Or at least there's one -- Tom Selleck.

Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost (8 p.m. central on Sunday, May 22nd) again finds him in optimum minimalist form as a character that fits him beautifully.

Still living remotely with his trusty Golden Retriever Reggie (played by Joe the dog), Jesse lately has been stripped of his police chief duties by the backward town council of Paradise, Mass. He's not quite morose yet, but is in a "dead zone," as he tells his longtime psychiatrist Dr. Dix (William Devane). Jesse actually is referring to his cell phone reception, but we get the point.

The film unfolds slowly, and in a manner completely out of sync with the attention span of your basic Spike TV watcher. But viewers who appreciate a finely woven yarn won't be put off in the least. The mood-setting cinematography is first-rate, and the early abundant scenes of Jesse and Reggie are effective enough to make one wish they'd just make an entire movie of the two of them together. I don't think think I've ever seen a man and his dog put to better use on screen. Or maybe it should be a dog and his man. Joe's performance -- and it really qualifies as such -- is pretty special, whether he's trying to cheer Jesse up or staring him down to the point of the inevitable, "What're you lookin' at?"

They also watch old movies together while Jesse drains his minimum quota of two generously poured straight liquor drinks. So look for symbolic and fairly extended clips from both The Bridge on the River Kwai and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

There also are two cases to resolve, even though Jesse is no longer part of anyone's permanent police force. In Innocents Lost he investigates the reasons behind the apparent drug overdose death of a young woman, Cindy Van Alden, whom he tried to mentor a few movies back. A liquor store robbery and attendant murder are also thrown in. But did the young black man being held for the crimes really commit them? In the end there's a palpable sense of dead-of-the-night jeopardy tied to Jesse's discovery of what led to Cindy's demise.

It helps to have watched all or some of the previous six Jesse Stone films in order to better know his friends, associates and entanglements. They're all back for Innocents Lost, which means more economy-of-word exchanges with Dr. Dix plus Paradise deputies Rose Gammon and Luther "Suitcase" Simpson (Kathy Baker, Kohl Sudduth); Boston-based State Homicide Commander Healy (Stephen McHattie); mobster/fight manager Gino Fish (William Sadler) and car dealership owner Hasty Hathaway (Saul Rubinek). There's also time for a little extra-curricular liaison with dealership employee Thelma Gleffey (Gloria Reuben).

The crispy, straight-from-the-shoulder dialogue is a hallmark of all seven movies.

"I'm not a good basket to put all your eggs in," Jesse tells Thelma. And later: "I'd rather regret the things I've done than the things I haven't done."

But the hard-boiled Fish still doesn't like what he hears. "You're off your game. Your banter isn't up to standard," he tells Jesse, who indeed is a bit at sea while playing blame games with himself. Only Reggie the dog has truly witnessed some of his master's deeper struggles. And he's not about to bail on him.

Selleck received an Emmy nomination for the fourth film in this series, Jesse Stone: Sea Change. And it would be gratifying to see him get another one for this latest sturdy yet vulnerable performance in what amounts to a near-extinct breed -- the made-for-TV movie. CBS recently ended its longtime partnership with Hallmark, which puts an end to those sporadic, feel-good films shown every 15 Sundays or so. And at present there are no new Jesse Stone films firmly in the works, although Selleck has said that a script is being written for No. 8.

Magnum P.I. and those Hawaiian shirts will always be his principal calling card and claim to fame. But Selleck's best screen work in a long and estimable career resumes on Sunday night in another terrific outing for a man's man -- and a dog's dog.


Couric closes shop with ode to self and no mention of successor

Katie Couric struck a thoughtful pose for publicity shot. CBS photo

Katie Couric, the trailblazing first woman ever to anchor a network evening newscast by herself, left her desk Thursday without any visible shows of emotion or statements of purpose.

Instead she signed off with a matter-of-fact "Thank you so much for coming along with me on this incredible journey. That's the CBS Evening News for tonight. I'm Katie Couric. Good night."

Those sentiments, such as they were, followed what Couric called "Five years in five minutes." She had duly noted the "real honor" of working with "so many talented people here at CBS News." But the compilation clip of "some of the history-making people and events we've covered" pretty much subtracted the "we" and showed Couric in a wide variety of settings ranging from the White Houses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to Iraq to the mass shootings at Virginia Tech to the recent royal wedding.

The closing video blips, played to The Beatles' "In My Life," showed the lighter sides that Couric apparently will be pursuing more intently in her post-Evening News life as a probable talk show host. At the end she coaxed Clint Eastwood into telling her, "Go ahead, make my day."

Couric certainly had some interviews of import during her five years at CBS News, including the sit-down with a fumbling Sarah Palin and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez lying to her about never using steroids, which he later recanted. Despite its $15 million annual investment in her, though, the Evening News never climbed out of third place in its ratings battle with the front-running NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News.

Earlier in her final Evening News telecast, Couric had an impromptu exchange with veteran correspondent Anthony Mason, whom she had referred to as "The Grim Reaper" in a 2008 edition for his continued gloomy reports on Wall Street.

This time Mason was upbeat about a story on the huge initial public stock offering for LinkedIn. During the report, an interviewee told him that being on LinkedIn and Facebook is mandatory to be "relevant" in the social media age.

"Some analysts say LinkedIn's success now could mean the sky is the limit for Facebook," Mason concluded. Couric then asked him, "And that means we're not relevant, too, right?"

"Speak for yourself," Mason said, laughing but perhaps delivering a deeper message.

Couric, 54, will strive to remain relevant in the coming years. And with Oprah Winfrey's talk show coming to a grandiose end next week, she's seemingly primed to exploit what could be an opening in the daytime talk universe.

Her Evening News closeout Thursday was hardly Oprah-esque, although it certainly included elements of self-congratulation. Couric also signed off without mentioning her successor, former KXAS/WFAA reporter Scott Pelley. That's not particularly good form.

Pelley, who will begin anchoring the Evening News on June 6th, is a native of San Antonio and in sync with a Texas-tied trio of predecessors -- Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer.

Couric, born in Arlington, VA, broke that mold as well as the gender barrier. Now she's gone, and no one seems to be outwardly upset or emotional about it. Including Katie Couric herself.

The CW goes Gellar in new fall season

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a twin on the run in Ringer. CW photo

It'll be more girls' nights out this fall on The CW, with three new dramas starring young women in strange circumstances.

The headliner is Ringer, with Sarah Michelle Gellar returning to series TV eight seasons after The WB/UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer stopped slaying. Those two networks since have merged into The CW, but Gellar still wants a twofer. She'll be playing endangered twins named Bridget and Siobhan.

CW also has a sketchily detailed unscripted series on tap, with Mario Lopez as host. Gone are Hellcats, Life Unexpected and Smallville, which had its finale last Friday after 10 seasons. Saved for midseason is the miraculously long-running One Tree Hill, which will return for a ninth season while also nearing its 200th episode. Two other returnees, 90210 and Nikita, are moving to new nights.

Here are The CW's four new series for this fall:

Ringer (drama) -- Gellar begins as Bridget, a recovering addict who's six months sober but fated to be the sole witness to a professional hit job. Fleeing to New York, she tries to mend fences with her pampered, wealthy, married twin sister, Siobhan, who then mysteriously vanishes. So Bridget takes on her identity and of course discovers some "shocking secrets." CBS passed on the series, leaving its l'il sister network to lap it up.

The Secret Circle (drama) -- Britt Robertson segues from the canceled Life Unexpected to another wayward kid role. This time she's Cassie Blake, a happy camper until her mom dies in an apparent accidental fire. So she heads off to the seemingly idyllic Chance Harbor, Washington to live with her loving granny. That's when "strange and frightening things begin to happen," with Cassie discovering that her new high school friends are all descended from "powerful witches" and have been waiting for her to join them. Creator/producer Kevin Williamson also is the guy behind The Vampire Diaries, which will be paired with this newcomer on Thursday nights.

Hart of Dixie (drama) -- Lippy doctor Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson from The O.C.) plans to make a killing as a newly minted Manhattan cardio-thoracic surgeon. But plans go awry, prompting Zoe to head to little Bluebell, Alabammy after a stranger offers to share his practice with her. He dies in the interim, willing half of his medicine show to her. A lot of the townies don't like this, with Zoe quickly learning that "Southern hospitality isn't always so hospitable."

H8R (reality) -- CW has scant details on this one in its new season publicity release. So here we go: "Celebrities go head-to-head with civilians who hate them to win their 'haters' over." That's it, with Lopez finding room for this along with his other job as host of the syndicated rag mag Extra. Who does he think he is -- Ryan Seacrest?

The CW also announced a pair of new unscripted midseason series. Re-Modeled supposedly will "empower models to take control of their careers and lead healthier lives." The Frame is billed as a "wild social experiment" in which 10 teams "face outrageous challenges, punishments, head-to-head competitions and eliminations, all while isolated from the outside world." In other words, they're ripping off Big Brother.

Here is The CW's night-by-night new fall lineup, with all times central. (Note: the network does not program on Saturdays and Sundays.)

7 to 8 p.m. -- Gossip Girl
8 to 9 p.m. -- Hart of Dixie

7 to 8 p.m. -- 90210
8 to 9 p.m. --- Ringer

7 to 8 p.m. -- H8R
8 to 9 p.m. -- America's Next Top Model

7 to 8 p.m. -- The Vampire Diaries
8 to 9 p.m. -- The Secret Circle

7 to 8 p.m. -- Nikita
8 to 9 p.m. -- Supernatural

Networks showcase new seasons with a little help from some star players

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants. Showmanship took center stage at the networks' "upfront" presentations of their new seasons. CBS, Fox, NBC photos

Take it from all the networks. Everything's going to be marvy next season.

Television's annual rite of spring, the new season "upfront" presentations to Madison Avenue advertisers, kicked into the usual overdrives this week.

Pictured above are some scenes from various stages in the heart of Manhattan. Clockwise from top left: The new Charlie Sheen-less cast of Two and a Half Men appear together for the first time, dancing to the hit CBS comedy's theme song. Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul cuddle up on behalf of Fox's The X Factor. Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green belt one out for NBC's late season hit, The Voice.
Ed Bark

Still flush with "dynamic stability," CBS stays with crime, shifts some returning shows, proceeds without Charlie Sheen in latest fall makeover

Jim Caviezel & Michael Emerson in new J.J. Abrams "crime thriller." CBS photo

More crime -- but with a twist -- and a trio of eye-catching relocations highlight the so-called "dynamic stability" of CBS' new fall schedule.

The No. 1 network in total viewers also is adding a pair of new comedies and taking another shot at launching a long-running hospital drama. But none of the five newcomers is likely to draw nearly as much attention as Ashton Kutcher's insertion into Two and a Half Men next season after the show's internationally chronicled misadventures with madcap Charlie Sheen.

Producer Chuck Lorre, repeatedly derided by the banished Sheen, "is over the moon" about working Kutcher into the mix, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said Wednesday morning during a brief session with TV reporters. More specifics about the Kutcher character will be disclosed after Two and a Half Men resumes production, Tassler said.

CBS' highest-rated comedy will remain in its longstanding Monday 8 p.m. (central) spot on a night that's unchanged save for the addition of the new 2 Broke Girls as its lead-in.

"We kind of assumed we'd have a show," programming vice president Kelly Kahl said of the earlier uncertain future of Two and a Half Men. "Yeah, we had (backup) ideas, but we never really had to go there."

Besides Sheen, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, The Defenders, $#*! My Dad Says, Mad Love, Medium and the very short-lived Chaos have been evicted. And Undercover Boss, which has been employed on Sunday nights, won't return until midseason.

The two biggest shifts of returning series are CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's move from the middle of Thursday's lineup to the end of Wednesday's and The Good Wife's transfer from Tuesdays to Sundays, where it will air between The Amazing Race and CSI: Miami.

Rules of Engagement, which has been all over the place on CBS, will now lead off Saturdays in a half-serious attempt to make that night more than a repository for repeats and 48 Hours Mystery.

The relocations are notable, but not as drastic as last fall, when Survivor, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and The Big Bang Theory all were given new addresses on the CBS schedule.

Here are the network's five new fall series:

Person of Interest (drama) -- Lost and Fringe maestro J.J. Abrams pairs filmdom's former Jesus and a Lost emigre in what's billed as a "crime thriller about a presumed dead former CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice." Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) is the legman while Michael Emerson (Lost's super-duplicitous Ben Linus) is the behind-the-scenes software genius. Abrams has another new series, Alcatraz, coming in midseason on Fox. It also re-deploys a former Lost mainstay, Jorge "Hugo" Reyes.

Unforgettable (drama) -- Poppy Montgomery, who co-starred in CBS long-running Without A Trace, returns to the New York crime scene as an "enigmatic" ex-detective with a memory so acute that "every place, every conversation, every moment of joy and every heartbreak is forever embedded in her mind." This also aids her in catching crooks, and she's joined in this pursuit by former Nip/Tuck star Dylan Walsh.

A Gifted Man (drama) -- A brilliant but materialistic and self-absorbed surgeon becomes more compassionate after receiving a mysterious visitation from his noble ex-wife. Entertainment president Tassler says there's a "little Ghost Whisperer, a little House" at play. Patrick Wilson (The A-Team, Watchmen) plays the lead.

2 Broke Girls (comedy) -- A disparate pair of greasy spoon waitresses bond over the idea of going into business for themselves rather than subsist on tips while working the night shift at the "retro-hip" Williamsburg Diner. Newcomers Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs star as Max and Caroline, who in tandem "just might find the perfect recipe for their big break."

How to Be a Gentleman (comedy) -- It's adapted from a same-named book, with Kevin Dillon of Entourage and Dave Foley (Kids In the Hall/NewsRadio) respectively cast as a "rude, loud and sloppy" fitness center owner and the editor of an etiquette column penned by the show's third lead (David Hornsby from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia). The premise: Feeling estranged from "modern society," Andrew Carlson (Hornsby) hires loutish Bert Lansing (Dillon) as his life coach in hopes of devolving into more of a "real man." Otherwise his editor will fire him.

CBS also has ordered the midseason crime drama The 2-2, from Robert De Niro's and Jane Rosenthal's Tribeca Productions. It tracks six "diverse NYPD rookies as they patrol the gritty streets of upper Manhattan" without any help from super memories or software geniuses.

Here is CBS' night-by-night new fall lineup, with all times central:

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- How I Met Your Mother
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- 2 Broke Girls
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- Two and a Half Men
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- Mike & Molly
9 to 10 p.m. -- Hawaii Five-0

7 to 8 p.m. --- NCIS
8 to 9 p.m. -- NCIS: Los Angeles
9 to 10 p.m. -- Unforgettable

7 to 8 p.m. -- Survivor: South Pacific
8 to 9 p.m. Criminal Minds
9 to 10 p.m. -- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- The Big Bang Theory
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- How to Be a Gentleman
8 to 9 p.m. -- Person of Interest
9 to 10 p.m. -- The Mentalist

7 to 8 p.m. -- A Gifted Man
8 to 9 p.m. CSI: NY
9 to 10 p.m. -- Blue Bloods

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- Rules of Engagement
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- comedy repeats
8 to 9 p.m. -- crime drama repeats
9 to 10 p.m. -- 48 Hours Mystery

6 to 7 p.m. -- 60 Minutes
7 to 8 p.m. -- The Amazing Race
8 to 9 p.m. -- The Good Wife
9 to 10 p.m. -- CSI: Miami

Sex a big part of the new RX for third place ABC

Former Friday Night Lights star Minka Kelly (right) is now an Angel. ABC photo

Struggling ABC will go more than a little sex-centric next season with a new version of Charlie's Angels, a throwback drama celebrating the curvy stewardesses of the 1960s and the "wicked" Good Christian Belles, a backbiting Dallas-set soap that likely won't premiere until spring.

Seven fall newcomers were announced Tuesday morning by ABC entertainment president Paul Lee, who also has six freshman series on the bench awaiting berths.

Besides pulchritude, ABC is selling a semblance of its old TGIF family-friendly comedy bloc, with former Home Improvement star Tim Allen returning to the network to play an outwardly manly sporting goods store marketing director whose home life is dominated by his wife and their three daughters. Allen's Last Man Standing will lead off Tuesday nights in tandem with another first-year laugher, Man Up.

Lee twice called Charlie's Angels "pure candy" during a brief presentation to TV writers in New York, with out-of-towners invited to listen in. ABC's trio of new sitcoms, bringing the total to six for this fall, underscores his belief that "the winds are blowing behind comedy," he said.

Ill winds blew last fall, with all five newcomers canceled. That quintet of No Ordinary Family, Detroit 1-8-7, Better With You, The Whole Truth and My Generation is joined by V, Mr. Sunshine, Off the Map, Supernanny and, after five seasons, Brothers & Sisters.

ABC also is moving Extreme Makeover: Home Edition from its long-held Sunday perch to Fridays, where it will lead off an entire night of unscripted programming in league with Shark Tank and 20/20. The previously renewed Cougar Town will sit out the fall and return sometime in midseason.

Good Christian Belles, adapted from the novel Good Christian Bitches, had its pilot shot in Dallas earlier this spring. But the series will be filming in either Los Angeles or New York, co-star Kristin Chenoweth said Monday on the Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends.

There will be ample time to decide, with Good Christian Belles not a part of ABC's announced fall lineup. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Two of last fall's originally announced newcomers, Body of Proof and Secret Millionaire, instead were pushed back to the spring, where their strong ratings have resulted in second seasons for both series. Another late-season starter, the comedy series Happy Endings, also has been picked up for a sophomore year. Millionaire won't be back until midseason or later while the other two returnees both made the fall cut.

"What you launch throughout the year is just as critical," said Lee. That's the norm in the world he came from, namely the ABC Family channel. He praised Good Christian Belles as "grounded" but also "gloriously funny."

Here are ABC's fall season newcomers:

Charlie's Angels (drama) -- It's a new venue (Miami) and new monikers for the three Angels (Eve, Abby and Kate). Former Friday Night Lights star Minka Kelly plays Eve, a "street racer with a mysterious past" who joins the team after Angel Gloria dies in the line of duty. Ramon Rodriguez from The Wire is the new Bosley. Robert Wagner did the voice of the unseen Charlie Townsend in the pilot, replacing the late John Forsythe. But he's not listed as a cast member in ABC's description of the series. Drew Barrymore, who co-starred in the two Angels feature films, is a co-executive producer.

Pan Am (drama) -- It gets the post-Desperate Housewives Sunday slot in place of the evicted Brothers & Sisters. ABC says that "the style of the 1960s, the energy and excitement of the Jet Age and a drama full of sexy entanglements deliciously mesh in this thrilling and highly original series." Christina Ricci heads the cast as stewardess Maggie, a "rebellious bohemian" who buttons up on board and stifles herself in order to see the world. Don't worry, though, the crew also includes "flirtatious" Collette, "adventurous" Kate and her beauty queen younger sister, Laura.

Once Upon A Time (drama) -- Get ready for a "bold, new imagining of the world, where fairy tales and the modern-day are about to collide." Ginnifer Goodwin from Big Love plays a transported Snow White who's lately a nun in a New England town known as Storybrooke. Rumplestiltskin, Jiminy Cricket and the Evil Queen also figure in the storyline. Except that they now all have different names and don't remember who they once were. My head hurts.

Revenge (drama) -- A single young woman bent on settling scores first makes friends and influences people in the wealthy Hamptons. But it's her second coming after a previous stay led to the ruination of her family and their reputation. The best known cast member is Madeline Stowe, whose feature film career included co-starring roles in The Last of the Mohicans and We Were Soldiers.

Last Man Standing (comedy) -- Tim Allen stars as a pickup truck-driving, ESPN-watching sporting goods store marketing director who's something of a pantywaist at home in the presence of his strong-willed wife and their three daughters, two of them teens.

Man Up (comedy) -- "So what happened to the real men? They're still here. They just smell like pomegranate body wash now." So says ABC in describing this tale of three guys striving to get back in touch with "their inner tough guys." There are no big-name stars in the cast.

Suburgatory (comedy) -- Nestled on Wednesdays between The Middle and Modern Family, this is the saga of a single dad who relocates from NYC to the surburbs after finding a box of condoms on his 16-year-old daughter's nightstand. Jeremy Sisto (Law & Order, Six Feet Under and Jesus in an old CBS miniseries) stars as the vexed father. Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is also in the cast as a plasticized suburbanite named Dallas Royce.

Here is ABC's night-by-night lineup for the fall, with all times central:

7 to 9 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (performance show)
9 to 10 p.m. -- Castle

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- Last Man Standing
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Man Up
8 to 9 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (results show)
9 to 10 p.m. -- Body of Proof

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- The Middle
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Suburgatory
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- Modern Family
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- Happy Endings
9 to 10 p.m. -- Revenge

7 to 8 p.m. -- Charlie's Angels
8 to 9 p.m. -- Grey's Anatomy
9 to 10 p.m. -- Private Practice

7 to 8 p.m. -- Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
8 to 9 p.m. -- Shark Tank
9 to 10 p.m. -- 20/20

7 p.m. to closing -- Saturday Night College Football

6 to 7 p.m. -- America's Funniest Home Videos
7 to 8 p.m. -- Once Upon A Time
8 to 9 p.m. -- Desperate Housewives
9 to 10 p.m. -- Pan Am

ABC also announced these six new midseason series:

Good Christian Belles (drama) -- Leslie Bibb stars as a former "ultimate high school mean girl" who returns to her hometown of Dallas 20 years later after a scandalous divorce. She has teenage kids now and has changed her evil ways. But will her old running mates "welcome her with open arms or seek revenge?" The aforementioned Chenoweth and TV vet Annie Potts are also in the cast.

Missing (drama) -- Ashley Judd plays an ex-CIA agent whose son turns up missing abroad. She's determined to find him.

The River (drama) -- Another missing person is in need of finding. This time it's wildlife expert/TV personality Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who mysteriously disappears in the uncharted Amazon. Six months later, his wife and son decide to mount a search party.

Scandal (drama) -- Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, has another idea after this season's new offering, Off the Map, went off the air. Ho-hum, it's centered on the "life and work of a professional crisis manager and her dysfunctional staff."

Apartment 23 (comedy) -- Suddenly out of work in New York, a Midwesterner named June (Dreama Walker) tries to make ends meet by working in a coffee shop and taking on a "charming, vivacious roommate with the morals of a pirate." Yo ho ho, James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek plays himself, with press materials describing him as "snarky."

Work It (comedy) -- Shades of Bosom Buddies, this one's a "high-concept" half-hour featuring a pair of unemployed, "unrepentant guy's guys" who dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. "Not only do they pull it off, but they might just learn to be better men in the process," says ABC. One of the guys in drag is Amaury Nolsaco, formerly on the run in Prison Break.

Fox trots out two big splashes and a trio of new comedies for fall

There'll be ample action in the new Terra Nova. Fox photo

Simon Cowell and Steven Spielberg will propel Fox's new fall lineup on three of seven nights, with two prominent women stars and a cartoon also getting berths.

The X Factor, with Cowell as both executive producer and head judge, is designed to pick up where Idol leaves off. It will occupy the same Wednesday and Thursday spots while also featuring two of Idol's principal players from the majority of its 10 seasons, Cowell and the recently named fourth judge, Paul Abdul.

The Spielberg-produced Terra Nova, originally earmarked for a May sneak preview in a post-Idol time slot, will be paired on Monday nights with House. Touted as the most expensive scripted drama in Fox's 25-year history, it's a time travel from 2149 to prehistoric earth as part of a "daring strategy to save the human race." The most readily recognizable star is Stephen Lang, who played the very bad-nasty Col. Miles Quaritch in Avatar but now is the "charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the new settlement."

Fox's cancellations include most of its mid- and late-season series (The Chicago Code, Breaking In, Traffic Light) as well as Human Target and Lie to Me. Already long gone are last fall's new trio of Lone Star, The Good Guys and Running Wilde, leaving Raising Hope and Bob's Burgers as the sole survivors of this season's freshman class.

The No. 1 network among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds (for a record seven consecutive seasons) also has all but axed America's Most Wanted, which has been part of its prime-time schedule for the last 22 seasons. Fox mostly will show repeats of various series in AMW's Saturday night slot, with a quartet of four new two-hour AMW specials airing quarterly.

Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told TV writers in a Monday morning teleconference that "we have not made money on the show in quite a while," but still "wanted to keep the franchise alive."

AMW's host and creator, John Walsh, is shopping the series to other networks. "I would not be surprised to see the show pop up somewhere else," Reilly said.

Here are the three other new fall series for Fox, plus two incoming dramas and a comedy that already have been given midseason nights and times:

New Girl (comedy) -- Zooey Deschanel, whom Reilly said is "poised to become a household name" after making a bit of a mark in feature films, stars as "offbeat and adorable" Jess Day. She moves in with three guys after a traumatic breakup with a guy. They're all basically immature while Jess remains "dorky and awkward," but resolutely "comfortable in her own skin."

I Hate My Teenage Daughter (comedy) -- Former My Name Is Earl co-star Jaime Pressly returns to the sitcom realm as one of two single moms raising problematic, coming-of-age girls. Katie Finneran of the little-seen but critically revered Wonderfalls is the other major mom.

Allen Gregory (comedy) -- The latest entry in Fox's longstanding Sunday night "Animation Domination" lineup focuses on "one of the most pretentious seven-year-olds of our time." Jonah Hill (Superbad) voices the title character, who envisions his little self as "a young man who is intelligent, sophisticated, worldly, artistic and romantic."

Napoleon Dynamite (comedy) -- Slated to supplant Allen Gregory in midseason, this is an animated adaptation of the hit movie, with all of the film's stars, including Jon Heder as ND, returning to voice their cartoon selves.

Alcatraz (drama) -- It's scheduled to join the Monday lineup in midseason, replacing the 13-episode Terra Nova. J.J. Abrams, maestro of Lost and Fox's returning Fringe, is the executive producer of this "chilling new thriller" that melds life within the country's most famous water-bound prison with a bounteous supply of dark secrets from its past. Stars include vets Sam Neill and Robert Forster plus former Lost mainstay Jorge Garcia.

The Finder (drama) -- Due on Thursdays in midseason, it's the saga of an Iraq war veteran (Geoff Stults as Walter Sherman) who emerges from a coma with brain damage that somehow has given him a "unique gift to help others recover what they've lost."

Fox also has a new drama series in development that would star former 24 hero Kiefer Sutherland as a widowed single dad "haunted by an inability to connect to his mute, severely autistic" 10-year-old son. But the kid has extraordinary powers to "see things that no one else can," which challenges Sutherland's character, Martin Bohm, to connect the dots and take action. It's from Heroes creator Tim Kring, with production slated to start in June after Sutherland finishes starring in Broadway's That Championship Season.

By the way, a 24 feature film is still in the planning stages, Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice said during the teleconference. But it's not yet definite. "Everyone would very much like to make a 24 movie, and they're working on a script," he said.

Fox also announced that American Idol will launch its 11th season with a "special premiere event" following pro football's scheduled Jan. 22nd NFC championship game. All of Idol major on-camera players, except for Jennifer Lopez, have multi-year deals with Fox and definitely will return next season, Rice said. Lopez signed a one-year pact, and the network is optimistic that she'll re-up, he said.

On another musical front, Glee's traditional six-week midseason break will enable Fox to try a blend of four comedies on Tuesday nights. Current plans call for Raising Hope, New Girl and I Hate My Teenager Daughter to be joined by a fourth sitcom currently in development. The contenders, for the moment at least, are Family Album (starring Mike O'Malley and Rachel Harris) and Little In Common (with Rob Corddry).

Here is Fox's new fall lineup, with planned midseason replacements also noted. All times are central.

7 to 8 p.m. -- Terra Nova
8 to 9 p.m. House
(Alcatraz replaces Terra Nova in midseason while also switching times with House, which move to 7 p.m.)

7 to 8 p.m. -- Glee
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- New Girl
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- Raising Hope
(A still-to-be-determined four-show comedy block will emerge during Glee's midseason break.)

7 to 8:30 p.m. -- The X Factor performance show
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- I Hate My Teenage Daughter
(American Idol takes over for X Factor in midseason.)

7 to 8 p.m. -- The X Factor results show
8 to 9 p.m. -- Bones
(Idol supplants X Factor in midseason while The Finder replaces Bones while star Emily Deschanel is on maternity leave.)

7 to 8 p.m. -- Kitchen Nightmares
8 to 9 p.m. -- Fringe

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- COPS
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- COPS
8 to 9 p.m. -- various series repeats/quarterly America's Most Wanted specials

6 to 6:30 p.m. -- The OT (NFL post-game show)
6:30 to 7 p.m. -- The Cleveland Show
7 to 7:30 p.m. -- The Simpsons
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Allen Gregory
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- Family Guy
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- American Dad
("Animation Domination" repeats take over The OT's spot in midseason, when Napoleon Dynamite replaces Allen Gregory and Bob's Burgers takes American Dad's slot.)

NBC is first out of the 2011-12 starting gate with six new fall series after all of last autumn's freshmen fail to graduate

The Peacock will add flesh tones with The Playboy Club. NBC photo

Whiffing with all of last fall's newcomers but striking it rich late this season with The Voice, NBC hopes to see you in September with a freshman class of six series and fervent hopes that the currently stalled NFL will re-start as scheduled.

Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, putting together his first new season lineup since leaving Showtime last year, expressed "cautious but incredible optimism" about fourth-place NBC's prospects. Its most notable first-year drama likely will be The Playboy Club, a cheesecake factory set in the early 1960s during Hugh Hefner's halcyon years. It will lead off Monday nights, with Chuck getting a surprise reprieve and a final season of 13 episodes as Friday's latest night-starter.

The Peacock's fall 2010 roster of eight new fall series is completely wiped out, with cancellations including the Dallas-made Chase. Other casualties are The Event, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Outsourced, Outlaw, Undercovers and School Pride. An eighth announced fall series, Love Bites, never got on the air. NBC also will be axing Minute to Win It, which is still being used as putty during the closing stages of this season.

"If we could do one or two things really successfully (next season), I would be thrilled," Greenblatt said in a Sunday afternoon teleconference with TV writers.

The Voice, which has been a major hit for NBC since premiering in late April, will be held back until mid-season, when it's slated to be paired on Monday nights with Smash, a new Broadway-set musical drama starring former American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee. Holding a place this fall for The Voice is The Sing-Off, which previously had decent ratings as a limited-run holiday season competition show. Both The Voice and The Sing-Off will have two-hour running times.

NBC also will wait until mid-season to return 30 Rock for a string of uninterrupted new episodes. And it again hopes to have Donald Trump's The Celebrity Apprentice filling two hours on Sunday nights after the pro football season ends. Should he run for president, though, the show would have to be Trump-less. But the Peacock would still re-launch Celebrity Apprentice with a yet-to-be-named stand-in for Trump, whom Greenblatt generously described as a "fascinating, entertaining, smart, direct shooter kind of guy."

Isn't he a headache, too?

There are "no real headaches," Greenblatt replied. "Nothing but increasing ratings on that show . . . There may be headaches down the road."

Greenblatt said he's "pretty optimistic" that the NFL will resolve its difficulties in time for NBC's most popular prime-time attraction, Sunday Night Football. But if there's a delayed start, NBC has several "event"-type reality specials in development to fill the void. Greenblatt declined to specify further.

The cancellation of Law & Order: Los Angeles, and the ongoing announced final season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on sister network USA, leaves just Law & Order: SVU in play for next fall. It will return for a 13th season on Wednesday nights, with no new Law & Order spin-offs in the cards, Greenblatt said. "These things age," he added, and "at some point you have to bring in the younger concepts."

Here are NBC's six fall season newcomers:

The Playboy Club (drama) -- The "legendary" Chicago bunny hatch serves as the "door to all of your fantasies" in an opus fronted by former CSI: Miami co-star Eddie Cibrian. He plays attorney Nick Dalton, described as an "ultimate playboy" with mob ties who comes to the rescue of a rookie bunny who "accidentally kills" the head of a Windy City crime family. David Krumholtz, formerly of CBS' Numb3rs, is also in the mix as the club's general manager. The principal bunnies are played by comparative unknowns Amber Heard, Laura Benanti, Naturi Naughton and Leah Renee.

Prime Suspect (drama) -- This continuation of the PBS classic starts Maria Bello in place of Helen Mirren. And her detective character will be named Jane Timoney instead of Jane Tennison. She'll be based in New York City, with well-regarded Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) serving as co-executive producer along with Alexandra Cunningham (Desperate Housewives, NYPD Blue).

(drama) -- The best known name in this one is behind the camera. That would be Sean Hayes (Will & Grace), who heads the executive producer team. It is, however, inspired by the "classic Grimm's fairy tales," with a batch of modern-day Grimms striving to "keep the balance of humanity safe from the supernatural creatures of the world."

Up All Night (comedy) -- Christina Applegate, formerly of Samantha Who?, gets another sitcom shot as a public relations exec named Reagan. Will Arnett, also on the rebound from this season's Running Wilde, plays her stay-at-home husband, Chris, who grapples with the couple's new baby. Maya Rudolph co-stars, with her former Saturday Night Live boss, Lorne Michaels, bossing her anew as the show's executive producer.

Free Agents (comedy) -- Hank Azari heads the cast in this adaptation of a "cult U.K. series" about two public relations experts on the rebound. His character, Alex, is newly divorced, and his business partner, Helen (Kathryn Hahn from Hung), is a widow. They wind up in bed together after he gets drunk. Laughs supposedly ensue.

Whitney (comedy) -- NBC sees this one as a "hilarious look at modern love," with Whitney Cummings and Chris D'Elia starring as an outwardly contented unmarried couple who in fact might be "dangerously close to relationship boredom."

Here is NBC's night-by-night prime-time lineup for next fall with all times central:

7 to 9 p.m. -- The Sing-Off
9 to 10 p.m. -- The Playboy Club

7 to 9 p.m. -- The Biggest Loser
9 to 10 p.m. Parenthood

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- Up All Night
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Free Agents
8 to 9 p.m. -- Harry's Law
9 to 10 p.m. -- Law & Order: SVU

7 to 7:30 p.m. -- Community
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Parks and Recreation
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- The Office
8:30 to 9 p.m. -- Whitney
9 to 10 p.m. -- Prime Suspect

7 to 8 p.m. -- Chuck
8 to 9 p.m. -- Grimm
9 to 10 p.m. -- Dateline NBC


6 to 7:15 p.m. -- Football Night in America
7:15 p.m. to closing -- Sunday Night Football

6 to 7 p.m. -- Dateline NBC
7 to 9 p.m. -- The Celebrity Apprentice
9 to 10 p.m. -- The Firm

Besides the aforementioned Smash, NBC has announced five other new midseason series. Here they are:

The Firm (drama) -- An adaptation of the hit feature film, with the continuing adventures of attorney Mitchell McDeere picking up 10 years after the events depicted on the big screen. No cast has been announced yet.

Awake (drama) -- Jason Isaacs from the Harry Potter movies and Showtime's acclaimed Brotherhood series stars as a detective who finds himself living "two duel realities" after regaining consciousness following a family car accident. The supporting cast is stocked with three well-known veterans of past successful series -- Wilmer Valderrama (That 70's Show), Cherry Jones (24) and Steve Harris (The Practice).

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (comedy) -- Another That 70's Show alum, Laura Prepon, plays the title role in this continuation of the bestseller by talk show host/comedian Chelsea Handler. She'll have a recurring role as Chelsea's sister, Sloan.

Best Friends Forever (comedy) -- A cast of unknowns populates a laugher "that takes a look at what happens when best friends promise to support each other -- no matter what the cost or circumstances."

Bent (comedy) -- Amanda Peet tries again for series success as a recently divorced lawyer raising an eight-year-old daughter. She meets a screwed up handyman named Pete (David Walton), who's hired to re-do her kitchen while also needing a makeover himself. Sparks fly, with old reliable Jeffrey Tambor also participating as Pete's father.

Ashton Kutcher's the one for Two and a Half Men (updated)

Ashton Kutcher in That 70's Show daze and latter day pose.

Few if any saw this one coming until reports began surfacing Thursday. But CBS made it official Friday. Ashton Kutcher will step in for the banished Charlie Sheen next season on Two and a Half Men.

"I can't replace Charlie Sheen but I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people," Kutcher said eloquently in a CBS publicity release.

He hasn't been given a character name yet. But creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre, mercilessly ridiculed a talent-less hack by Sheen, clearly is enjoying the opportunity to have a big last laugh while Sheen continues to delude himself.

"We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton Kutcher joining our family," Lorre said in his first public comments since the Sheen hit the fan. "Added to that is the deep sigh of relief knowing that our family stays together. If I was any happier, I'd be illegal."

Kutcher is best known for his role as dense Michael Kelso on Fox's That 70's Show. He's also starred in a series of feature films -- most of which had less than dynamic reviews and box office returns -- while operating behind the camera on "reality" TV series such as Punk'd and Beauty and the Geek.

But Kutcher is a well-known name whose high-profile marriage to actress Demi Moore has easily outlasted any of The Warlock's wedlocks and relationships. CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler bills him as a "pop culture triple threat -- film star, cutting-edge producer and a social media pioneer. He brings creativity, energy and personality to everything he touches."

Before Kutcher's hiring, names such as Rob Lowe, John Stamos and lately, Hugh Grant, had been floated as potential replacements for Sheen in Two and a Half Men's ninth season. The series has been a linchpin of CBS' Monday night lineup, but a string of reruns in the second half of this season have deflated the ratings for surrounding shows such as Lorre's Mike & Molly and Hawaii Five-0.

Kutcher will join a returning case of Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones, Holland Taylor, Marin Hinkle and Conchata Ferrell, which he called "ridiculously talented" in the CBS release.

Sheen and Kutcher so far have had nothing to say on their Twitter pages, in which Kutcher leads Sheen in followers by a score of 6.7 million to 3.8 million.

But Sheen did take another shot at Lorre via his other mouthpiece of choice, TMZ.

"Enjoy planet Chuck, Ashton," he said gracelessly. "There is no air, laughter, loyalty, or love there."

Dallas-incubated Jim Lehrer leaving PBS' Newshour (save for occasional drop-ins) after a 36-year tenure

Jim Lehrer during October 2007 stop in Dallas. Photo: Ed Bark

In a year marked by notable network news evacuations, here's another big one.

Jim Lehrer, who learned the journalism trade in Dallas before going national to PBS, announced Thursday that he's stepping down as the signature anchor of The PBS Newshour. It will mark the end of 36 years of either anchoring or co-anchoring public television's flagship news program, which began as The MacNeil/Lehrer Report with colleague Robin MacNeil.

As of June 6th, he'll no longer be part of the daily anchor rotation team, but still plans to participate on recurring Friday evenings as moderator of the weekly news analysis segment with Mark Shields and David Brooks. The nightly anchors on Newshour will be a carousel of Gwen Ifil, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner, all of whom are already in place.

"I have been laboring in the glories of daily journalism for 52 years -- 36 of them here at the Newshour and its earlier incarnations -- and there comes a time to step aside from the daily process, and that time has arrived," Lehrer said in a statement.

Lehrer, a native of Wichita, Kansas who will turn 77 on May 19th, also has moderated a record 11 presidential debates and written numerous novels. His first, 1966's Viva Max!, became a feature film and was penned during his formative years in Dallas. Lehrer worked for both The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times Herald before joining KERA-TV (Channel 13) in 1970 to anchor the station's groundbreaking, in-depth Newsroom program until 1973.

During a late 2007 trip to Dallas tied to his 17th novel, Eureka, Lehrer recalled an early lesson in journalism while he was a cub reporter for the DMN. In an obituary, he got the deceased's name confused with the funeral director's, Lehrer told unclebarky.com. A stern editor then stepped in.

""I was told, 'Little boy, the most important thing in this newspaper are the obituaries. And you'd better get the names right or we ain't got a job for you.' "

Lehrer had moderated 10 presidential debates at the time Eureka was published. And he said there'd be no more because "I've done my duty for my country. I've done 10 of these things, and they're scorching to the soul. So I'd just as soon not do any more."

He ended up doing one more anyway -- the first 2008 encounter between Barack Obama and John McCain.

"You bastard!" he retorted (good-naturedly) in a telephone interview in which his earlier words were read back to him. "You're never supposed to remember what anybody says. Remember what else they they used to say? 'Never mind.' "

Lehrer said he changed his mind because "they asked me. I just feel that anybody who's asked to do that has to do it unless they have a damned good reason not to. And I just didn't have one. The reason I gave to you, that I've got a scorched psyche, just didn't seem good enough to me -- then or now."

His mantra, throughout his long tenure on Newshour, is that "people want that first story straight as an arrow. Before they start shouting and making jokes, just tell us what the (bleep) happened."

That's what Jim Lehrer did -- perhaps better than anyone. And now he's pretty much done.

Rather keeps going -- and excelling on HDNet with his two-hour cautionary tale on Detroit's flunking public school system

Detroit public schools student Deanna Williams is a key player in Tuesday's two-hour edition of Dan Rather Reports. HDNet photos

Dan Rather soldiers on, a trooper whose much-documented departure from CBS and its Evening News anchor chair seems long ago, far away and largely irrelevant at this point.

For the past four-and-half years, since the Nov. 6, 2006 premiere of HDNet's weekly Dan Rather Reports, he's put his name to more substantive, real journalism than most if not all of the far more visible flag bearers on ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and, of course, CBS.

The latest example is especially stellar. HDNet's two-hour A National Disgrace, premiering Tuesday, May 10th at 7 p.m. central (and repeated at 10 p.m.), is a compelling, thoughtful and in large part damning look at the decrepit Detroit Public School system. No, it's not particularly "entertaining." But it's thoroughly watchable from start to finish, with exceptional production qualities, precise storytelling and a reporter who no longer feels any need to over-sell anything.

Rather will turn 80 on Halloween, just six days before his HDNet program hits the five-year mark. He's had a longer association with the network's owner, Mark Cuban, than most of the current Dallas Mavericks have.

Cuban's Mavericks now have a national sports spotlight after their 4-game demolition of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Rather, as has been noted by many, toils in relative obscurity for an owner who funds his little-seen program because he thinks it makes a difference.

"I get to watch a really great news program on TV," Cuban told me in a 2008 interview for D CEO magazine. "I do it more for my personal than financial satisfaction."

So will Dan Rather Reports remain on HDNet for as long as he wants to continue?

"Yes," said Cuban.

Amazingly, that could still be a while. I've been both critical and complimentary to Rather during what seems to be his eternity as a network newsman. And it initially seemed wiser for him to hang it up rather than report for a network that at times begs the question of "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

But to hell with all that. Independence and a return to long-form, single-topic television journalism are what Rather wanted. And he has them. And it's made him a stronger, better reporter than ever. There's no more posturing on-camera or "packaging" a story in the practiced manner of ABC's 20/20 or NBC's Dateline.

Rather quietly and effectively goes about his business on A National Disgrace, which takes its title from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's controversial description of Detroit's public school system. The documentary tracks a year-and-a-half in the life of the DPS, ending at the close of the 2009-'10 school year. Rather and his HDNet crew, including producer Sari Aviv, editor/director Steve Tyler and writer Elliot Kirschner, cover this story from every conceivable angle and emerge with what turns out to be much the same old story in this school district and many others. The alleged grownups in charge of the system are intent on protecting their own turfs, fighting amongst one another while Detroit's public school pupils continue to get a collective poke in the eye.

Rather's interview subjects range from a fired school superintendent to school board members to a federal official brought in to clean up the mess to a featured high school student, Deanna Williams, who feels betrayed by one and all.

The blame game is almost toxic and the end results are even worse. Detroit's public high school graduation rate is a jaw-dropping 26.8 percent, by far the lowest in the nation. The second and third lowest are Philadelphia (39.1 percent) and Dallas (40.7 percent). And given the current budget shortfalls plaguing the Dallas Independent School District, that percentage isn't likely to get much better. Certainly not in the near future. And perhaps never.

Deanna lives in a small apartment with her mother and younger sister. They go everywhere by bus, rising well before dawn to make their various connections at work and at school. Deanna wants to go to college and study to be a librarian. But her years at Henry Ford School and an earlier middle school mostly have been nightmarish. Teachers who drink in class if they show up at all. No textbooks. Fellow students with little if any interest in being there.

Deanna and her family aren't perfect by any means, which National Disgrace also shows. But the kid's frustrations with the system are really what this documentary is all about.

The rise and fall of emergency financial manager Robert Bobb is particularly instructive. Hired by the city to find the root causes of a $285 million school budget deficit, he's initially seen as a take-no-prisoners saviour whose "I'm In" campaign is championed by the likes of a visiting Bill Cosby.

But Bobb's remedial tactics, which include teacher layoffs and school closings, end up alienating the same community that previously railed against the school board at public hearings. The board sues Bobb, he counter-sues and nothing seems to improve. In the end, Bobb is booed by parents, who now are on the side of the previously vilified school board. "Robert Bobb is a criminal and we are going to expose him," one parent shouts before he walks out.

It's a sad tale to be sure. But Rather and company do a superb job of presenting all sides while also keeping the story moving.

So yes, even George W. Bush might well see Rather in a somewhat different light were he to watch National Disgrace all the way through. Perhaps he might even say privately, "Ya know, Laura, that was some pretty good work from that guy." The questionable "Memogate" expose that eventually led to Rather's demise at CBS will probably always be a barrier between them. Whatever the report's flaws, though, does anyone seriously believe that the very well-connected young George W. Bush didn't receive preferential treatment from the military during the Vietnam War years?

Rather created many problems for himself during his long career at CBS News. He wouldn't deny that. Still, his work for HDNet's Dan Rather Reports has been first-rate in times when he continues doing much of his own legwork on stories that actually matter. Go ahead and laugh if you'd like. Brand him a charter member of the "liberal media" who should be flogged forevermore.

But the rest of Rather's story -- and he's not dead yet -- amounts to far more than the easy caricature. His last roundup may not be far off. But since autumn of 2006, he's gone back to basics and made it work for him. Few see his work now. That doesn't make it any less salutary.


Vieira makes her Today departure official, with incumbent Ann Curry taking her spot

Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry mess around a bit at May 9th news conference tied to Vieira's earlier announced departure from the No. 1-rated network morning show. NBC photo

NBC's No.1-rated Today will be passing a host torch again -- and earlier than originally planned.

After five years as mainstay Matt Lauer's second-in-command, Meredith Vieira officially announced what the network had more or less made public a few weeks ago. She'll be leaving the show to spend more time with her family, particularly husband Richard M. Cohen, who has multiple sclerosis. But at a later news conference in Manhattan, Vieira said her husband is in good health and "that's part of the reason I want to leave right now. I want to be there with him and I want to have fun, and I want to appreciate our time together."

Her last day with Today will be sometime in June, with longtime news anchor Ann Curry stepping in as her replacement while another incumbent, Natalie Morales, takes over Curry's position as news anchor.

The four of them, and weatherman Al Roker, gathered together to make the announcement on Monday's program. Vieira replaced Katie Couric after she left NBC to become anchor of the CBS Evening News, a position she'll also be leaving in June. She left ABC's The View to join Today, which remained on top of the network morning show ratings throughout Vieira's tenure.

"Meredith is universally adored here at Today. And we will miss you like crazy," said Lauer, who like Curry has been with the show since 1997.

"I just want you to know that you have been a gift to this broadcast," Curry told Vieira.

At the news conference, Lauer addressed reports that he, too, might be leaving Today after his latest contract with the show expires in December 2012.

"I've read the speculation. I've heard the stories," Lauer told reporters. "I have a long-term deal with NBC News. I'm going to be here for a while. You're going to get sick of me."

Lauer acknowledged talking about "the possibility" of co-hosting a syndicated talk show with Couric. But "it turned into just talk," he said. "And that's where we left it. It's not going to happen."

Vieira continues to host the syndicated daytime version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, a job she had before joining NBC. She also will make periodic appearances on Today and other NBC shows, the network says.

"We didn't want this day to happen," NBC News president Steve Capus told reporters. "We wanted Meredith to go on forever and ever."

***NBC Universal also will be losing one of its cable stars when CNBC anchor Erin Burnett leaves at the end of May to join CNN for a probable prime-time perch.

In a CNN publicity release, Burnett said she wanted to "expand my focus" beyond the business world. At CNBC she anchors Squawk on the Street and Street Signs.

Hey, Paula: Fox's X Factor will reunite her with Simon

Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul at recent L.A. taping of X Factor Fox photo

Two of American Idol's three original judges will be together again on Fox's biggest bet for this fall.

Paula Abdul's rumored addition to Simon Cowell's The X Factor became official late Sunday afternoon, when the network named her as the last key piece of its splashy new talent competition.

Cowell, the show's executive producer and lead judge, cooed his approval in a publicity release. "This show would never have been the same without Paula and I can't believe I am saying this," Cowell duly said. "I have missed her a lot, and I am thrilled she's on the show."

Abdul, who helmed CBS' since canceled Live to Dance competition earlier this season, said she's "excited beyond words" to "bring my love for cultivating talent and performance to such a wildly anticipated show. I'm also delighted and grateful to be sitting next to Simon again, but you might want to check back with me in a week or two."

During their seven years on Fox's Idol, the two of them regularly sparred with one another, sometimes seemingly for real. Post-Paula, who left after a contract dispute, the still reigning No. 1 prime-time show made do with Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, Cowell and charter judge Randy Jackson. Idol's ongoing Season 10, the first without Cowell since his heavily publicized departure for X Factor, has been humming along in the ratings with Jackson and well-received new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.

On X Factor, Abdul and Cowell will share opinions with previously announced judges Cheryl Cole and Antonio "L.A." Reid, respectively a British pop star and music mogul. The show also announced its two hosts over the weekend, with Season 10 Dancing with the Stars champ and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and former model Steve Jones set to preside.

X Factor is guaranteed a place on Fox's fall schedule, and appears likely to move into Idol's Wednesday and Thursday slots when the network officially announces its new lineup on Monday, May 16th. It's also possible that X Factor could inherit Idol's old Tuesday-Wednesday regimen.

As previously noted, the next auditions for X Factor will be on Thursday, May 26th at the Dallas Convention Center. The winner -- with solo singers and groups 12 years of age and older eligible, will receive a $5 million recording contract. Both X Factor and Idol were hits in the United Kingdom before being adapted for American television.

Idol long has had Coca-Cola as one of its official sponsors. On X Factor, it'll be "No Coke, Pepsi." Readers with enough mileage on them to remember the early years of Saturday Night Live will get both the reference and the tagline. Or you can go here for further details.

Cuban's concluding appearance on Shark Tank comes on a Friday night with bigger fish to fry

Mark Cuban swims with the fishes on Shark Tank. ABC photo

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a self-acknowledged "bully" on ABC's Shark Tank, but so far has declined to trade jabs with his arch-nemesis in the basketball world -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Cuban is making his final appearance Friday (May 6th) as a guest investor on Shark Tank (7 p.m. central on WFAA8 in D-FW). But he hopes to last a lot longer in the NBA playoffs, where the Mavericks currently have a surprising 2-0 lead on the defending champion Lakers in what Jackson says is his last year as a pro coach. Game 3 tip-offs shortly after Shark Tank runs out of time.

Jackson and Cuban have mixed it up many times before. And the old coach seemed game for another go when he told reporters before Game 1 of the series that the Mavs owner would do just fine if he decided to purchase the messed up Los Angeles Dodgers. Not so with the Lakers, though. At least not on Jackson's watch.

"I wouldn't want him behind my bench," Jackson said, a reference to Cuban's omnipresent courtside perch at Mavericks games.

Your friendly content provider couldn't resist throwing a little chum in the water during a teleconference this week tied to Cuban's Shark Tank activities.

After a reference to the Jackson quote, Cuban was asked what kind of boss he is. He's obviously "hands-on" when it comes to the Mavericks but does he also "delegate more than people might think?"

"I micro-manage until I trust you," Cuban said. "And typically I either trust very quickly or I fire you . . . Some of the people who work for me tell me that I'm too hands-off once I trust them. And they want more interaction."

Stationing himself behind the Mavericks bench is a bit harder for Cuban to explain. "There are certain businesses where culture is key to the success of the business," he said. "Any top data on the culture is critical. So that's why you see me by the bench . . . I really try to impact it as much as I can."

But might it also be "good business" to spar verbally with Jackson in the interest of generating a little extra heat? "Are you going to be able to resist any sort of tete-a-tete" with him during this playoff series?

"It's Shark Tank time," Cuban replied, declining to take the bait. "I'm not even going to go there. But nice try."

On Shark Tank, amateur entrepreneurs pitch their wares to potential investors in hopes of hooking them. Cuban and comedian Jeff Foxworthy have been this season's guest investors, joining the show's quintet of regular "Sharks."

Cuban, who may be the richest Shark of all, says that his "financial wherewithal" has positioned him to "kind of be a bully. And I'm fully taking advantage of it."

ABC publicity materials say that "tempers flare" during Cuban's final appearance when he "urges the entrepreneurs to stop negotiating with the other Sharks if they even want a chance to make a business deal with him." Nice.

Cuban doesn't like sob stories. So if you want him to throw a little money your way, don't begin by saying you were born in a van down by the river and overcame the heartbreak of psoriasis before working your way through college by sweeping up elephant droppings during a summer job with the circus.

"When people start looking for sympathy that's the first thing that turns me off," Cuban said. "Everybody's got a story of what made life difficult for them. And you just cannot go there."

On the other hand, "what really gets me going (as an investor) is when people have an operating business where they've already gone for it. And they've invested everything. They've put their soul, their time, everything that they have available to them into the business. And they just need a little bit of help."

His well-publicized wealth and high profile in a variety of media settings "give me access and opportunity because people know who I am and they kind of understand how I work," Cuban said. "And that really shortens the cycle to go from contract to conclusion."

There's a downside, too. Sellers tend to "raise the price," he said, "because they think just because I have the money that I'm going to throw it away."

His Mr. Moneybags image isn't necessarily a detriment in investing, but can be problematic "when I'm looking to buy a house or you name it," Cuban said. "So I have my wife go call under her maiden name. You'll rarely see me bid on something normal using my name."

While Shark Tank airs Friday night, Cuban will be prepping in his other, bigger arena -- the American Airlines Center for a pivotal face-off with the Lakers before a national audience on ESPN. That's the stage where he really wants to shine. But for the time being at least, he's decided against talking a good game, too. At the moment that seems like a sound business judgment.

No pics of dead bin Laden will be shown, president tells 60 Minutes

Steve Kroft and President Obama in Nov. 7th interview. CBS photo

President Obama and his network interviewer of choice, 60 Minutes Steve Kroft, made big headlines Wednesday with his declaration that photos of a dead Osama bin Laden will not be made public.

The interview was taped for Sunday's 60 Minutes, but CBS already has released the news and will air an excerpt of Obama's comments on Wednesday's CBS Evening News.

Kroft, who has interviewed Obama exclusively more than a half-dozen times since his 2008 election, asked the president if he had seen the pictures.

"Yes," he said.

"And what was your reaction when you saw them?"

"It was him."

"Why haven't you released them?"

Obama then answered at length, first telling Kroft that DNA testing absolutely verified that bin Laden had been killed.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence -- as a propaganda tool," the president added. "That's not who we are. We don't trot out this stuff as trophies . . . I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk."

Kroft then told Obama that some people in Pakistan will say, "Look, this is all a lie. This is another American trick. Osama's not dead."

"There's no doubt among al Quaeda members that he is dead," Obama answered. "And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again."

It's tempting to insert the easy Donald Trump joke here. But hopefully even he'll be above claiming that a conspiracy is at work. Others will be perfectly willing to say it's all a hoax, though -- and by no means will they be limited to Pakistanis.

We live in a world where flames are fanned quicker than you can say "Obama care." So if this mere TV critic/reporter were president for a day, a single photo of a dead bin Laden would be released for the world to see. Absent such gruesome proof, we can expect to be bombarded with another "What does Obama have to hide?" assault. The president's stated concerns are understandable. But one picture of the world's most-wanted terrorist with a bullet hole in his head doesn't seem to be asking too much under the circumstances.

Shout! Factory's Kovacs Collection celebrates the mondo bizarro that became the norm

Ernie Kovacs never got the credit he deserved. No one believed this more fiercely than his wife and on-screen partner, Edie Adams, who spent much of the last 46 years of her life promoting and preserving him.

Adams died in 2008 at the age of 81, living nearly twice as long as Kovacs. His life ended at age 42 in 1962, when he was killed in a single-car crash on a rain-slicked Beverly Hills Blvd. Her dedication to saving as much of his TV work as possible-- ABC, NBC and CBS otherwise would have erased it -- finally comes to full life in The Ernie Kovacs Collection, a newly released, six-disc collection from Shout! Factory.

Much of its 13 hours of content hasn't been available for more than a half-century. It dates to a March, 1951 segment from NBC's It's Time For Ernie, an early morning romp that originated from Philadelphia's WPTZ-TV. As always, Kovacs is mostly messing around, whether contorting his face to show how horizontal/vertical TV knobs work or strolling down a hallway to get a drink of water while the show was in progress.

David Letterman basically has copied Kovacs time and time again by leaving his studio in this fashion. And in an accompanying 42-page commemorative booklet, (co-written by TV critic colleague David Kronke), Letterman re-pays the debt with this quote: "Ernie Kovacs knew exactly what to do with television before television knew what to do with itself. It's 60 years later, and we still haven't caught up."

Kovacs may not have been the very best at anything he did.

Groucho Marx smoked a cigar with more aplomb and was a quicker quipper on his vintage quiz show You Bet Your Life.

Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows had funnier writing and sketches.

Steve Allen's mid-1950s Tonight Show (on which Kovacs became a part-time host) soared on the strength of its sight gags, stunts and oddball second bananas.

Still, Kovacs was the real deal, a pioneering free spirit whose free-form experiments with music, apes (The Nairobi Trio), visuals and sound effects virtually assured him of no more than a cult audience on a variety of short-lived shows. His tombstone reads "Nothing In Moderation." And as Adams said at his 1987 induction into the Television Hall of Fame (presented on Disc 1), "He was an unusual man. He lived most of his life on a manic high."

As detailed in a November 2008 post on unclebarky.com, Bart Weiss's trailblazing Dallas Video Festival had an annual Kovacs Award until 2002, when it became too difficult for Adams to travel. Recipients ranged from Martin Mull to Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens to D-FW's own Bill Camfield, the man behind KTVT-TV's (Channel 11) Slam Bang Theater and its madcap star, Icky Twerp.

"Ernie Kovacs epitomized what television could be," Weiss said at the time. "He was an artist who defined and was defined by his medium, who did not stand up and tell jokes but worked with what TV could do."

The Kovacs Collection, available at a discount price of $50.99 on amazon.com, is as good a look as we'll have of the master at work -- including some of his hand-made commercials for Dutch Masters cigars. Not everything holds up. The passage of time can do that to you. But through and through you'll see the seeds he planted in times when TV was one big fertile field.

A good deal of the harvesting has come after Kovacs' death. There's no better testament to his influence than this off-kilter laud from Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.

"The Ernie Kovacs Show knocked me sideways into a world where the bizarre and the daft and the preposterous all lived happily alongside wisdom, wit and perception," he says in the accompanying booklet for Kovacs Collection. "I had never experienced anything so visually absurd and inventive. It was sublime. It hurt. I was 11 years old -- was this some new form of child abuse? If it was, it was one of the most momentous things that ever happened to me. Ernie Kovacs scarred me for life. Thankfully, I've never recovered."

The name "Uncle Barky" just might be an offshoot, too. If so, thanks a lot.

Former D-FW reporter Scott Pelley named next anchor of the CBS Evening News, replacing Katie Couric

Scott Pelley in the field and with President Bush. CBS photos

After a long, patient wait of more than two decades, Scott Pelley finally has the job he always envisioned for himself at CBS News.

On Tuesday, the network officially named him the new anchor of the CBS Evening News, effective June 6th. He will succeed Katie Couric after being passed over five years ago when CBS decided to spend big on a bet that she could take its flagship newscast out of third place. She never did. And after her five-year contract expires on June 4th, Couric is expected to return to daytime TV as a talk show host.

"Scott has it all," CBS News chairman Jeff Fager said of the San Antonio native, who worked in D-FW at both KXAS-TV (1978-'81) and WFAA-TV (1982-'89) before joining CBS at a time when Dan Rather helmed the Evening News. "He has the experience, the credibility and he is among the very best reporters ever to work at CBS News . . . We like to think of CBS News as the 'reporter's network' and I can't think of anybody in the business better suited for the anchor chair than Scott."

Pelley, 53, said in a statement that he is "delighted to join the terrific team at the CBS Evening News. It's a privilege to work alongside the most gifted and talented journalists in the industry."

Pelley, formerly CBS News' chief White House correspondent, has been with 60 Minutes since 2004. On Sunday's telecast, he conducted the first interview with colleague Lara Logan since her brutal sexual assault in February at the hands of Egyptian thugs in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

In a 1997 interview with this reporter, Pelley said he is "genetically wired to do this kind of work. I love it. I get tense when I'm not on a big story. I get tense when I haven't been on the air in a reasonable period of time." (You can see more from this interview and a 2003 conversation by clicking on our Back Channels page.)

Pelley's zeal for the reporter's life and his sometime intense demeanor on-air are reminiscent of what Rather brought to the Evening News anchor chair. He also can be emotional, though, another trait of Rather's. Neither man could be accused of being "avuncular" in the mode of Walter Cronkite or current longtime CBS anchor/reporter Harry Smith, who regularly has subbed for Couric after being transferred from the ratings-starved CBS Early Show.

Pelley's first journalism job was as a 15-year-old copyboy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Before coming to D-FW, he worked at KSEL-TV in Lubbock. He attended journalism school at Texas Tech University, but did not graduate. Still, he is a member of the school's alumni Hall of Fame and is on the board of its School of Mass Communications.

His elevation to the CBS Evening News anchor chair makes him the network's fourth standardbearer with Texas ties, dating back to the Cronkite era. Rather and his successor, Bob Schieffer, are both native Texans. And Cronkite's family moved to Houston when he was 10. He eventually attended the University of Texas at Austin before dropping out in his junior year to become a newspaper reporter in the real world.

Pelley is married to former KXAS-TV reporter Jane Boone. They have two children, a son and a daughter.

Networks draw princely sums for royal wedding coverage

Kate and William double-dipped after getting hitched. This is their 2nd royal smooch, conducted on a balcony before cheering throngs. Photo: Ed Bark

The two network kingpins of morning television are both touting princely ratings for their Friday coverage of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

NBC says that Today had 9.6 million viewers during its regular 7 to 9 a.m. running time, when replays of the "I Do's" were presented. The Peacock says that's the biggest audience for Today since Nov. 8, 2000, the day after the hotly contested election of George W. Bush to the presidency. NBC confused the Bushes in its publicity release, saying it was Dubya's dad, George H.W. Bush, who had been elected. That occurred in 1988.

ABC's Good Morning America ran close behind with 8.7 million viewers for the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of the program. The network said it was GMA's biggest crowd since "at least September of 1991," when Nielsen Media Research inaugurated its "electronic database."

The network's entire coverage of the wedding, which ran from 3 to 9 a.m. (central), averaged 6.2 million viewers. NBC did not provide a number for its complete morning coverage but said that "The Networks of NBC Universal" (NBC, MSNBC, E!, Telemundo and the syndicated Access Hollywood) drew a combined 52.3 million viewers.

ABC countered by crowing that its special edition of 20/20, subtitled "A Modern Fairytale," outdrew NBC's competing Dateline royal wedding opus by a score of 6.7 to 4.9 million viewers.

CBS hasn't yet divulged any of its royal wedding numbers, although its forever ratings-starved Early Show and lame duck anchor Katie Couric no doubt trailed ABC and NBC by a wide margin.

In the cable news universe, CNN said that its 3 to 9 a.m. slice of royal wedding coverage averaged 1.7 million viewers, beating second place Fox News Channel by a 7 percent margin and MSNBC by 164 percent. CNN said this was its biggest audience delivery during those hours since the day after the 2008 presidential election.

In prime-time, a two-hour royal wedding edition of Piers Morgan Tonight had 1.3 million viewers, CNN said.