- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Matt to stay on ‘Today

While the television world was paying attention to Meredith Vieira’s selection as Katie Couric’s successor on the “Today” show last week, Matt Lauer quietly agreed to a contract extension to keep him on the show until 2011.

NBC confirmed the deal yesterday after Mr. Lauer revealed it during an interview with the New York Times. The network released no details. Mr. Lauer will make about $13 million a year, roughly equivalent to Miss Couric’s pay, the newspaper said.

Mr. Lauer, who shares a Dec. 30 birthday with Miss Vieira, is 48. He was not available immediately for comment, a spokeswoman told Associated Press.

His contract was to have expired in 2008. Mr. Lauer has been co-host with Miss Couric on morning television’s most popular and profitable show since January 1997, when he replaced Bryant Gumbel.

According to AP, Miss Vieira, 52, is expected to start as Mr. Lauer’s co-host in September.

Published reports say NBC offered her a four-year contract paying her at least $10 million a year, but that could not be confirmed independently.

‘South Park’ at it again

Comedy Central’s “South Park” never met an incendiary topic it couldn’t tackle with itsquartet of preteen chums.

So tonight’s episode, which is sure to anger some religious groups, should come as no surprise.

The second installment in a two-part episode, “Cartoon Wars, Part 2” (airing at 10) follows the growing tension on Fox’s “The Family Guy” as the fellow animated series ponders whether to air animage of Muhammad. Any image of the prophet is considered sacrilegious to faithful Muslims, aswe saw recently during the riots over a series of Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad and terrorism themes.

Will Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the fearless creators of “Park,” risk similar mayhem and air images of the prophet? Guess we’ll have to tune in to see.

Batten down the Hatch

Jailed “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch is being held in protective custody apart from other inmates until his sentencing this month on tax-evasion charges, AP reports.

Hatch, who won $1 million in the debut season of the CBS reality series in 2000, was found guilty in January of failing to pay taxes on his winnings and other income. He was taken into custody immediately because U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres said he posed a flight risk.

Hatch, 45, asked to be put in protective custody shortly after he was detained, his attorney, Michael Minns, said Monday. He is being held at a jail in Plymouth, Mass., until his sentencing April 25.

‘Idol’ fever aids ‘House’

With a little help from Simon Cowell and the gang, “House, M.D.” last week drew the highest ratings among young viewers of any Fox scripted series since “Ally McBeal” six years ago.

Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House and his co-stars on the medical drama have been catching fire, showing improved ratings four weeks in a row, AP reports, citing ratings data from Nielsen Media Research.

As it was last season, “House” is being helped immensely by airing directly after “Idol,” TV’s most popular show. Still, last week’s episode had strong retention rates: “Idol” was seen by 28.8 million viewers, and 22.7 million stayed on to watch “House.”

Fox won its seventh straight week in the ratings among viewers aged 18 to 49, the demographic that advertisers pay a premium to reach. Yet CBS won the week overall, averaging 12.4 million viewers in prime time. Fox had 9.9 million viewers and NBC 9.3 million. ABC, without first-run episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Desperate Housewives,” sank to 8.1 million viewers. The WB and UPN had identical averages of 2.9 million viewers, and Pax TV had 450,000.

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision averaged 3.5 million viewers, Telemundo had 790,000, and TeleFutura had 560,000.

For the week of April 3 through 9, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 28.83 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 26.23 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 23.34 million; “House, M.D.,” Fox, 22.71 million; and “Deal or No Deal” (Monday), NBC, 17.75 million.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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