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THE TINY SCREEN: The Ups and Down of Having a Hit Show:

What goes up must come down, and no one is allowed to enjoy success for very long in our evil public eye. Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote a piece on NBC’s “The Today Show” which took the program to task for making too much of Katie Couric’s popularity (and shapely legs, as it turns out). According to the Times, the “Today Show” (America’s first family…) is on the outs while ABC’s “Good Morning, America” is in.

The title of the article, “‘Today’ Seeks Yesterday’s Glory” says it all. Ratings have tipped, apparently, away from the long-running morning show, and the buzzards are circling. Of Couric, NY Times’ Alessandra Stanley didn’t beat around the bush, writing: “But lately [Couric’s] image has grown downright scary: America’s girl next door has morphed into the mercurial diva down the hall. At the first sound of her peremptory voice and clickety stiletto heels, people dart behind doors and douse the lights.”

And then, on to the numbers, writes Stanley:

“At its height, ‘Today’ had two million more viewers than ABC’s ‘Good Morning. America.’ Now NBC’s most profitable program may be in danger of falling behind: for the first time in years, the gap between ‘Today’ and ‘Good Morning, America’ recently narrowed to just 270,000 viewers.”

This is all seen as Katie’s fault, I suppose – a woman whom the public has finally had enough of. Stanley, without flinching, believes part of the reason is that “Good Morning, America” gets to tie in their segments with the very popular “Desperate Housewives” while “The Today Show” has to pick up the crumbs with cast-offs from “The Apprentice.” Wasn’t there a time when it would have been unseemly to cross-promote?

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a bit defensive of Couric. Sure, I hated her way back when, in the early days, when everyone else liked her – she was too perky, too awake, too young looking. I didn’t like the banter between and Matt Lauer and her – and let’s face it, there isn’t a likeable person on that show, from newly skinny Al Roker, to blank-eyed Ann Curry, to Lauer and finally, Katie. But none of this is new. Frankly, “The Today Show” remains the most balanced of the morning shows and the only one, in truth, that sticks to the important stories (read: the stories I care about).

Katie and Matt are the lesser of all evils. There is no alternative, in my mind, shrill anchors or not. CBS’ The Early Show continues to be a convoluted mess – it will exist as long as “Survivor” keeps throwing life rafts at it. But I’ve reserved my true hatred for Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson on “GMA,” as they cleverly call it, taking a cue from “KFC.” Back when Joan Lunden was the co-host, it was moderately bearable, but Sawyer just can’t be taken seriously, not after all of the questionable “stories” she’s exposed herself to on less credible news programs like “Primetime Live.” There is something decidedly conservative about it as well. And we liberals hate even the slightest hint of red with our morning coffee.

Yes, she looks great, but don’ t they all? No, for my money, there’s “The Today Show” and no other, whether or not Couric is a diva, whether or not they neglected to cut away from one of Couric’s acrobatic stunts to show Saddam Houssein being sentenced, whether or not she hogs the camera. It’s not about whether or not I like her – it’s about the news stories they cover. They are reliable, for the most part, and still the best.

Speaking of “Primetime Live,” on May 4 (just in time for May sweeps) they plan to air their “American Idol” shocker, which promises to reveal the darker secrets of the hit show. According to one of the show’s discards, Corey Clark (who plans on releasing an album this year) he slept with Paula Abdul and was promised millions to help promote his career. Not only that but she helped him pick the “right” songs. Anyway, he had to leave the show when his shady past reared its ugly head.

Clark needed the publicity and decided to cash in his only remaining chip. Abdul is also under fire for alleged pill taking, hit-and-runs and various other embarrassments. But no one is addressing the real story of “Idol,” and that’s whatever happened to Brian Dunkleman? Did Ryan Seacrest lock him in the trunk of his car? Yes, it’s a dirty road to stardom, and an even dirtier one back down to earth.

Notable TV This Week

Thursday, April 28

Sweet Home Alabama (**), Reese Witherspoon puts box office clout to the test, 8 p.m., ABC.

Toy Story (****), 8 p.m., DISNEY.

Wag the Dog (****), great political satire, 8 p.m., Discovery -TIMES.

Battlefield Britain, 9 p.m., KCET.

Friday, April 29

The Silence of the Lambs (****), you still hear them, don’t you? 7:30 p.m., AMC.

Heaven’s Burning (***), 8 p.m., IFC.

Spider-Man (****), 8 p.m., FOX.

Reefer Madness (***), spoofs the original, 9 p.m., SHOTIME.

Saturday, April 30

The Good Girl (***), with Jennifer Aniston, 7:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

Field of Dreams (***), when Kevin Costner was Jimmy Stewart ever so briefly. 8 p.m., KTLA.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (***), 8 p.m., ABC.

Independent Lens, 9 p.m., KCET.

Sunday,May 1

Showboat (***), 7:30 pm., TCM.

Guys and Dolls (***), from 1955, with Brando,

singing, 9 p.m., TCM.

History of the World, Part One, 9 p.m., TCM.

Reservoir Dogs (****), 9 p.m., BRAVO.

Monday, May 2

The Princess Diaries (***), the better original, 8 p.m., DISNEY.

The American Experience: Victory in the Pacific, 9 p.m., KCET.

When Harry Met Sally (***), 9 p.m., OXY.

Medium, a show that grows on you if you give it time, 10 p.m., NBC.

Tuesday, May 3

The Osterman Weekend (***), 7:30 p.m., FMC.

The Fog (***), 8 p.m., SCI FI.

Frontline: Memory of the Camps, 9 p.m., KCET.

Mississippi Masala (***), 9 p.m., OXYGEN.

Wednesday, May 4

Orson Welles Marathon, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, 5 p.m., TCM.

Revelations, don’t believe the hype, 9 p.m., NBC.

Cooking Under Fire: Mis en Place Cook Off, 8:30 p.m., KCET.

Untamed Heart (***), winning romance starring Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater, 9 p.m., OXY

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