- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

Wooing Couric

The rumors surrounding CBS’ consideration of NBC’s “Today” co-anchor Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather are heating up, Time magazine says.

The publication reports that Miss Couric has been approached about assuming Mr. Rather’s gig when he steps down from the “CBS Evening News” this spring, but she would have to wait 16 months for her current NBC contract to expire.

If that’s the case, the Tiffany network could hire a reliable temp — such as “Face the Nation’s” Bob Schieffer — to fill in until then. There’s no word from Miss Couric’s camp about whether she is even considering the switch.

Time indicated that “Nightline’s” Ted Koppel also is a person of interest for Mr. Rather’s job, which could appeal to the ABC newsman because his own show’s fate has been cast into doubt in recent years.

Grammer’s ‘Cup’

You would think Kelsey Grammer might want to take a breather after 11 seasons of “Frasier,” but no.

The talented actor, who recently headlined a musical update of “A Christmas Carol” for NBC, appears on “World Cup Comedy” at 8 tonight on Pax.

The show pits two improv squads against each other in short scenes based on unscripted real-life scenarios. Each episode features six rounds of competition voted on by the audience, with the winning team facing a new challenger in the next episode.

Mr. Grammer, a multiple-Emmy-winner, has his reasons for appearing on the program. He also serves as its executive producer.

‘Idol’ returns

“American Idol” viewers tune in not just to hear the music, but to watch judge Simon Cowell dress down the would-be stars.

Word on the set of the new season, starting tonight at 8 on Fox, is that Mr. Cowell doesn’t have as much to carp about this time around.

“Even Simon was impressed this time,” judge Paula Abdul told Scripps Howard News Service.

Miss Abdul said she thinks Mr. Cowell “has mellowed,” but fellow judge Randy Jackson disagrees.

“Maybe he’s changed a bit,” Mr. Jackson concedes.

Miss Abdul, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Cowell, who once told a singer she sounded like Donald Duck on helium, will be back to judge “Idol’s” fourth season, which will air in two installments. Another fresh episode debuts tomorrow at 8.

Ryan Seacrest, still licking his wounds from the death of his afternoon talker, returns as host.

Tonight’s two-hour premiere features auditions held in the District in August, when more than 21,000 aspiring stars converged on the Washington Convention Center.

In a separate interview, Mr. Jackson noted that winners have rotated between genders each year: Kelly Clarkson took home the brass ring in the first season; Ruben Studdard in the second; and, last year, Fantasia Barrino (who just uses her first name these days). A man likely will win this time, Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Cowell, who is one reason viewers watch, wasn’t available for an interview, but the much more positive Miss Abdul didn’t hesitate to speak for him.

“We’ve all been working [very hard],” she said in a phone interview. “Simon went to England for [‘Pop Idol’]; he’s tired. But I honestly think he’s very excited.”

The big question is whether “Idol” winners have the chops to remain on the Billboard charts. Miss Abdul predicted fans will still be buying records by Fantasia, Miss Clarkson and 2003 runner-up Clay Aiken 10 years from now — perhaps the most optimistic belief she has ever uttered.

Here comes the judge

Maria Lopez, a former Massachusetts superior court judge known for her no-nonsense approach on the bench, is making the rounds of major distributors this week after receiving some overtures about presiding over her own TV courtroom, Reuters News Agency reports.

Court shows are an enduring genre in syndication, and Hispanic judges are starting to make their mark. Should her show make it to air, the Cuban-born Miss Lopez would join the ranks of Marilyn Milian, who presides over “The People’s Court,” and Alex Ferrer, the featured jurist on “Judge Alex,” set to debut in the fall.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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