On TV

Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006; 1:00 PM

Post TV Columnist Lisa de Moraes takes a look at what's on the tube in a fast-paced give and take about reality, non-reality, cable and you name it. Lisa was online Friday, April 7, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the latest on TV.

This week: Katie Couric makes the big move to CBS. Can Meredith Viera fill her stilettos? And it's a world gone mad as Mandisa goes bye-bye on "American Idol" and "South Park" wins a Peabody Award.

The transcript follows.

De Moraes has written "The TV Column" for The Post since 1998. She served as the TV editor for the entertainment industry trade publication the "Hollywood Reporter" for almost a decade.

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Silver Spring, Md.: In her Chicago Tribune column, your colleague Maureen Ryan cataloged a series of mistakes on NBC's part in the past few years, including losing Katie Couric, the poor performance of "Joey," the disheartening treatment of "Scrubs" and "The West Wing," and so on. What do you think is most responsible for the dramatic reversal of fortune for the network?

Lisa de Moraes: Hi. Diving right in to the serious questions: NBC's problems go back way further than she's talking about, to when the hammock time slots at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on Thursday were sold off to studios that had NBC's hits in the 8 and 9 p.m. hour so that those hammocks could not be used to grow new hits and instead aired loser shows like "Wings" and that Lisa Bonet in College thing -- "Different World." You cannot blame NBC for trying out a "Friends" spinoff. NBC suits would have been nuts not to try it and they certainly aren't the first network to look for a spinoff of a monster hit series. The problem with Joey wasn't that it was tried, but that it was cast poorly and executed poorly. Remember, NBC's "Fraser" was a terrific spinoff of "Cheers." I think more recently the person responsible for the dramatic reversal of fortune is Bob Wright in the people he's hired on the West Coast to be his eyes and ears. You cannot send out the executive producer of the Today show to become your new chief primetime series development guy -- a man who has never developed a primetime series in his life and hardly watched any primetime for the past decade because he had to get up at 3:30 a.m. every weekday morning -- and then blame him for his big learning curve. Zucker actually did a great job hanging on to the network's 18-49 lead in the ratings, given that learning curve and what he had to work with. But it was inevitable they were going to have problems because by the time NBC hired Kevin Reilly to oversee programming and bumped Zucker upstairs, it was too late to turn things around quickly. Before Jeff Zucker, Wright put Scott Sassa and Don Ohlmeyer in his Burbank offices -- and you don't want me to get started on those two.

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Alexandria, Va.: THE Eugene Robinson subbed for you last week on "we Watch So You Don't Have To". Clearly, your shoes can only be filled by the best!

Lisa de Moraes: And I was thrilled that he agreed to come down from the firmament to fill in while I took a week off.

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Atlanta, Ga.: So I'm watching this "Thief" show starring TV's Andre Braugher and it seems you can curse on television now. I didn't know. That's awesome!

Lisa de Moraes: You can curse on a show until one of Brent Bozell's Bozettes notices it, after which Bozell winds up the dolls in the FCC division of his Parents Television Council and they start doing their little dance, and then you can't.

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Washington, D.C.: Oh Lisa, I was all happy and feeling the groove, enjoying the life as the American public was doing little to no wrong in the voting for American Idol.... until this week. Why do they always do this to me? Out of no where they always pick off my favorite and stomp me into the ground. Think we will ever get to hear from Mandisa again? I won't reveal my nickname for her since it would probably cause a stir, but I'll say that it a mammal that begins with the same letter as her name.

And what the heck... when is Bucky gonna get outta there. Along with Ace, who is just creepy now. His attempts at being sultry (or whatever a better male equivalent term is) and staring into the camera like a creepy dude longing to stalk you needs to just stop.

Lisa de Moraes: Ace is now stalking himself. I too was a member of the Church of Mandisa and am saddened that we live in a world where Mandisa gets the hook while Mumblin' Bucky and Purdy Ace aren't even in the bottom three. And yet, what does one expect of the 12 year old girls who, we assume, are doing most of the voting? Still, you have to admit it was the perfect end to the day in which Katie Couric was named anchor of the CBS Evening News.

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Urbana, Md.: Kenny Rogers on AI--plastic surgery? I barely recognized him!

Lisa de Moraes: His lack of trademark long hair and beard was shocking (not going to speculate on stretch-work). Worse than when Felicity cut off her tresses behind WB's back. Or when Cher cut off her hair. Boy George. George Michaels. Celine Dion. When will they learn -- it really is about the hair.

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Washington, D.C.: With NBC's penchant to wrap up its series with happy endings (Ross and Rachel together again, Donna Moss and Josh Lyman finally hooking up), what are the odds that Will announces he's bi and proposes to Grace?

Lisa de Moraes: Not that he's bi, but that they will form some a family unit and raise the little moppets together. And was it just me or did you see the death of Will's dad coming a mile away last night...Even Karen has gotten serious -- what happened to this show?

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Katie's Gone: How many champagne bottles do you thing Matt and Al popped when they heard the news!!! Finally it will be safe for me to watch TV in the morning. Also, since I do not watch CBS news, its like she won't even exist for me!

Ding Dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead, the witch is dead.

Is it so wrong of me to be doing the happy dance about this?

Lisa de Moraes: Alright, now we're going to take the high road today, because that's the kind of classy people we are. We wish America's Sweetheart all the best, and send our condolences to CBS's unsuspecting evening news audience and staffers.

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Providence, R.I.: Do you see a trend of shows dealing with the military coming up? We've gone from everyone having a hospital show, to everyone having a cop show, to forensics shows, can the military be far behind? I know E-Ring is out but The Unit seems pretty good.

Lisa de Moraes: They seem to work on CBS and CBS's schedule is so jammed with CSI clones that I doubt you're gonna see many more on there. They also tend to skew a little older...NCIS and The Unit are a successful package for CBS but E-Ring did not work well for NBC.

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Arlington, Va.: During AI's wretched country-themed show, Paula Abdul seemed really looped. Even Ryan Seacrest was asking what she had in her mug. Is it an act, or is she really that out of control? Also what's the deal these hip guest stars: Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, Queen? Who's next, Merv Griffin?

Lisa de Moraes: "Idol" has always gone for aged pop stars, who are trying to plug their latest project. I think this is the second time Manilow has been on the show and remember all those oldsters they've had on before, like Gladys Knight (or did I just dream that). It always makes me sad seeing these people perform. It's one of the things I like best about Idoo. You laugh AND you cry when you watch.

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Columbia, Md.: Lisa,

Last night "The Office" was pre-empted in favor of an episode of "Teachers." It must have been a quick decision by NBC since "The Office" was advertised in my TV Guide. Should I be reading anything into this move? I know "The Office" hasn't been lighting it up in the ratings, but I thought I heard it had been renewed for next year.

Lisa de Moraes: Nothing except the general whackiness of NBC's scheduling this year. Office is okay; "Teachers," on the other hand, is like a bad flashback to the 70s.

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Mississippi Gulf Coast, Miss.: Kenny Rogers' idiotic "advice" to AI contestants underscored Barry Manilow's talents as an arranger and mentor. I'm not a big fan of Manilow's music, but found his sessions fascinating and insightful. Frankly, I think Elliott Yamin almost tanked because he tried to follow Rogers' "advice." Rogers reminds me of some FEMA types I've dealt with since the storm. Clueless-- but oh-so sure of themselves; as Warren Zevon wrote "And his hair was perfect."

Lisa de Moraes: Wow -- Kenny Rogers is like FEMA. Sure didn't see THAT one coming. One of the most charming things about having guest Has Beens on Idol is that all of the contestants consistently ignore everything they're advised to do. Elliot was told not to riff so much and just try to make viewers cry. He riffed like mad. Bucky was told not to mumble -- he mumbled. Manilow told Killie Pickler not to stomp around and squat and do her little I'm -a-tramp routine because the song was about a women who was devastated because she'd lost her lover. So she stomps around and does her whole trampy thing. You're right that Manilow was impressive -- did I just actually say that? -- but I didn't find Rogers' advice idiotic. I just think county music is dopey...

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TGIF!: Hey Pookie! NBC has moved L&O back to the Wed. 10 slot. Is that permanent in light of its dismal performance at 9?

And. Mandisa? I knew country night would skew the votes, but damn. (Can I say that?)

Lisa de Moraes: You can until I hear from the Dotcom Decency Police. NBC wanted to give Evidence a good shot by putting it in the 10 p.m. time period for a few weeks, where it did poorly. Now they're putting L&O back in the time slot because it was also getting killed by the move to 9 p.m....And, finally, country night was a disaster on "Idol." Country night is always a disaster because Simon, the only judge who has anything to say, turns into an angry knucklehead and because the songs are horrible...

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Olympia, Wash.: We watch "American Idol" in high-definition television, and I can tell you that we saw very clear scars behind Kenny Rogers' left ear. Face lift?

Lisa de Moraes: that's why actors hate hi def...

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Louisville, Ky.: "Thief" is on FX, right? The FX network, I guess, loves profanity. There are cuss words during Black.White. and there was also naughty language on last summer's "30 Days."

I'm not sure why that is, especially considering the Fox News division's obsession with family values. Or something.

Lisa de Moraes: Hahahahahahaha! Oh, sorry, you really were expecting NewsCorp -- which owns FNC and FX and the Fox broadcast network, among others, to stand for something? You are tooo cute! Yes, while NewsCorp's Fox News Channel entertains its conservative audience with its regularly scheduled wailing about indecency on primetime TV, NewsCorp's Fox broadcasting company puts on some of the shows that get nicked and NewsCorp's FX is way out there when it comes to language and content. What's that old line -- it's not personal, it's business. NewsCorp stands for whatever will get an audience for that particular network. And, by the way, they're not alone in this. They just do it better and louder than anyone else....

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Washington, D.C.: What is next week's AI theme?

Lisa de Moraes: QUEEN!!!!!!! Can't wait for Kellie Don't Know Nuthin' Bout Spinach Salad Pickler to sing Bohemian Rhapsody..

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Laurel, Md.: Why are you sending condolences to CBS' viewers and staffers? Is Katie Couric difficult to get along with? She seems like such a sweetie on camera!

Lisa de Moraes: I'll send you a posting here that is a good example perhaps...coming right up...

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Washington, D.C.: Thought you'd enjoy this nugget from Marc Fisher's chat about an experience he had with the new queen of CBS News:

Alexandria, Va.: Do so many people hate Katie Couric? People don't remember she was a NEWS REPORTER! Did you know that she used to work for WRC Channel 4 before Today?

Marc Fisher: Yes, and before that, she was a local TV news reporter in Miami, where I once reported on how she barged into a funeral service for a fallen police officer. She and her crew came in with lights glaring and the minister had to have her ushered out. When I reported this in The Miami Herald the next day, she showed up that morning to complain to the city editor and ask that I be disciplined. Nice.

Lisa de Moraes: ...here it is...

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Lisa -

Is my fave show, "My Name is Earl" still ok? It wasn't in your list of the top 10 watched shows - clearly an oversite. How can Americans not recognize the brilliance of this show? Where else can the term "half fruit" be used as an endearment?

(full disclosure - MNIE is the only show I watch, which may be sad, but does not reflect on this show's quality)

Lisa de Moraes: Earl is doing just fine because it's showing promise. It builds on its lead in and it has a lot of buzz and those are fine starts for NBC on Thursday night....

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Wednesdays at 10: Evidence is ABC. Heist is NBC.

Lisa de Moraes: My bad. Hate it when two new dramas air in the same timeslot...

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Viera: I have to say, since the Couric announcement was almost a non-event since everyone knew....it seems that Meredith Viera's announcement actually got more attention. What's your take on the move, and will they fill her slot on The View (someone has to play cop between Joy and Star and the Survivor-girl can't do it)?

Lisa de Moraes: Only because, story is, NBC nixed the idea of a CBS press conference with Couric holding court. She is still under contract at NBC, so you can't blame them.

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Big Question about Big Love: Lisa,

I've watched each episode and I still can't make out what it is. Sometimes it seems like a homey little drama about polygamy but it's main plot line seems to be a classically dark, blood conflict. The former is bad creepy; the latter is good creepy.

Lisa de Moraes: It's a show that will drive millions of young women to vow they will never get married...this show scares the heck out of me...

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My Very Last Arrested Development Question Ever: Why did Arrested Development creator turn down Showtime's offer? Was it creative burn-out or not enough ink on the check?

Lisa de Moraes: I think it really was creative burnout. I admire someone for knowing when to fold 'em, as that great American Idol coach Kenny Rogers said.

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Vienna, Va.: How about Neil Diamond for an aging pop star/sing his tunes "theme" evening? He's got a new record out (which is well reviewed), plus he's got a ton of material to draw from--much of fantastic ("Cherry Cherry", "I'm a Believer"), some of it ultra-cheesy ("Heart Light")

Lisa de Moraes: My mother would love that!

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Baltimore, Md.: Lisa, don't you think there might be viewer backlash since NBC chose not to pick from one of the people already on Today and instead go outside? I actually am upset that they did this rather than choosing Campbell Brown or Natalie Morales..

Lisa de Moraes: Meredith Viera probably has a higher Q rating, which is to say she's better known to more people. They needed someone who would bring an audience to the show, since they're going to lose some with Couric leaving. Brown and Morales won't do that -- not to the degree Viera will....at least they hope so...

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Idol in Hi-Def: Why would you spend money for hi-def just to watch Idol? Does the technology make the music less ear-bleeding?

Lisa de Moraes: To see the scars behind the guest coach's ears, silly. Aren't you paying attention?

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Arlington, Va.: Mandisa! Just like you put it in your article this week. I don't think Americans have a good sense of hearing. If this is how American Idol is going to be from now on, I won't be tuning in next year.

Lisa de Moraes: You say that now -- I said it last year -- but you'll be back. It's like eating salted almonds. You want to stop, but you can't...

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Arlington, Va.: Howie Mandel...how can I explain it? I'll take it frame by frame it...seriously, this guy has annoyed me for decades. He was never a funny comedian (inflating surgical gloves on his head?). He was/is a miserable talk show host and yet with "Deal or No Deal" he is strangely excellent. Henceforth, I propose the term "pulling a Howie" should be used for any celeb that climbs from zero to enjoyable unexpectedly. Thoughts?

Lisa de Moraes: ..um, great idea, unless Kurtz is offended....then I hate it.

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Chicago, Ill.: So CBS wanted a Couric news conference while she was still at NBC but they are suing Stern for doing the same thing? Wasn't this a move to open up morning shows again, while buying of Katie and stashing her in a dying format?

Lisa de Moraes: No I think NBC would rather she had not decided to leave. Today is still on top in the ratings, though things got a little shaky for a while there....

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Kingsport, Tenn.: You know that scene in the TV movie "Elvis" where Kurt Russell shoots out his TV with a handgun? That scene always makes me sad.

Lisa de Moraes: I weep openly...

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I'll just say it: "24" is starting to leave me very confused. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the President wants to kill Jack Bauer.

Lisa de Moraes: This show is an even bigger mess than usual. And yet, viewers seem to love the mess. Does Kiefer Sutherland have any range as an actor other than talking really quietly and menacing-like or screaming. On the show's promos he's always shrieking like a soccer mom with five unruly children in her shopping cart...my head hurts just thinking about it.

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Washington, D.C.: So d you think Cambell Brown or Ann Curry is upset about Meredith being chosen over her?

Lisa de Moraes: Darn -- I was hoping we could get through this chat without someone bringing up Ann Curry. I was having such a nice day...Where was I? Oh yes -- in answer to your question, I'm sure both are disappointed. That's only natural.

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Midlothian, Va.: Ugh, why do people detest Katie Couric? Because she's a phony, a user, and a total fake. I had the misfortune of having her as my college resident advisor and she quickly latched onto the "cool" rich girls from the private schools and let the rest of us fend for ourselves. Her hair was many shades darker then and even nearly 30 years ago her forehead was not as wrinkle-free as it is now. I have no problems believing the tabloid claims that she's a nasty witch.

Lisa de Moraes: Wow -- this is fun reading. And even more fun if it's actually true. I have absolutely no idea.

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Leesburg, Va.: What can you tell me about the final episodes of Alias? How many will there be? And, pretty please, can you tell me they will be good--like the show's first two seasons? I'm one of those who got hooked early and watched even as the show went downhill. For fans like me, I'm really hoping they find a way to end it with dignity. Will they?

Lisa de Moraes: Dignity. Alias. Interesting concept. Honestly, I have no inside information on how they are wrapping this one up because I have not bothered to find out. It's been kind of a Dead Show Airing this season, don't you think?

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Annapolis, Md.: Yeah 24 is a big mess, but I love it this year! How many more top characters can they kill off in the last eight hours!

Lisa de Moraes: You're right -- for body count alone, it's worth checking out this season. Wonder what they'll do next season -- maybe come up with a storyline? How about an outline?

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Diff'rent World

Man, sometimes its startling to see how different people's perspectives can be. The view of A Different World is very different indeed in the black community. Not accusing you of anything, or even saying that you're wrong -- it was just odd to see what you wrote and compare it to my own experience.

Lisa de Moraes: I know just what you mean. Different World was a show that could never stand on its own. And I am speaking about ratings. The point of those great "hammock" timeslots, in between hits like 'Cosby' and 'Cheers' or whatever, is to grow new hits that can be sent out into the primetime lineup on other nights to create more fertile hammock timeslots in which to grow more hits, etc. NBC was never able to move "Different World" out on its own; it took up a very valuable timeslot for too many years.

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Leesburg, Va.: re: Alias. Yes, it has. But it still has devoted fans who would like to see the loose ends tied up in some enjoyable final episodes. Please look into it, okay? (You research so we don't have to, right?)

Lisa de Moraes: Will do for next week -- promise.

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Reston, Va: Is it going to be the CBS Evening News with "Katie" or "Katherine" Couric?

Lisa de Moraes: Katie

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Katie, Meredith and Diane: Isn't the big loser here Diane Sawyer who wanted the ABC anchor job?

She must be really ticked that this isn't about her and her stilettos.

Lisa de Moraes: That is one school of thought. Another is Charlie Gibson, who seemed likely to get the evening news gig over there...

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Falls Church, Va.: I want a Bob Dylan theme AI show! How about hearing Ballad of a Thin Man, Rain Day Women (12X35) aka Everybody Must Get Stoned, et al.

Lisa de Moraes: Wouldn't that be sensational?

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Katie: But we know this was the right move, because she "listened to my heart AND my gut. Both of which have served me pretty DARN well over the years."

Good to know our girl isn't smug and self-congratulatory, or anything.

Lisa de Moraes: no comment...

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Paula's "concussion": Does anyone else think Paula Abdul is faking her concussion? I think on top of being a pill-popper, she is also a major drama-queen. No wonder Dr. Phil couldn't find her a man!

Lisa de Moraes: okay, what did I miss. A concussion? Now a concussion? What's next -- struck by lightning?

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Reston, Va.: How about if Ann Curry replaced Meredith Viera on The View? Wouldn't her departure from Today help cushion the loss of Katie?

Lisa de Moraes: Well then The View would just be a pack of crazies and who would play the role of The Adult?

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Tony K's Stewardess: Now that the NFL prime-time schedule has been released, it appears that your pal Tony K will have to FLY to Seattle two times in three weeks. I don't think he'll make it, and I propose you replace him in the MNF booth. You and Joey Theismann would make the best team!

Lisa de Moraes: Maybe he's getting a supersonic bus? How is he going to handle that schedule? Poor Tony.

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Washington, D.C.: What is with Deal or No Deal? I think it is horrid! The first time I saw it I watched the first contestant and was mildly entertained. I didn't know anything about the show and figured this was just one type of multiple games they would have. So after forever of this one contestant she finally finishes. I was excited to see what the next game was going to be, only to be dulled out of my mind when it turned out to be the same thing. Nothing really happens on this show, and it is so boring. Why are people watching it? It isn't like they can actively be involved like in Millionaire with trying to answer each question. They need a new late night sexy version of the Price is Right mixed with Let's Make A Deal... I'll take the box! the box! Let's see what's in the box.... absolutely nothing! you are so stupid.... now that would be good TV.

Lisa de Moraes: I cannot explain people's fascination (me included) with this show. Mandel is very good but that's not enough. I think some subliminal message -- don't know what -- is being sent to viewers during the broadcast. It's a mind numbing concept. And yet, I watch...

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Washington, D.C.: My best friend used to work for the Today show, OH the stories I can tell... and for the record, Katie is a HUGE re-gifter. And Ann, yup. Not too bright.

Lisa de Moraes: A re-gifter? It thought the rule was if you make more than $10 mil per contract you don't re-gift, you give to charity?

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More Katie Bashing: After Bryant Gumbel left Today, somebody quizzed him about his ornery attitude and Katie's less than caring goodbye to him.

He said "I'm not the one that's gone through three personal assistants and four hair stylists in the last year."

Lisa de Moraes: I thought it was four makeup artists....

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Albertville, AL: Katie Couric is to network anchors as Barry Manilow is to The Three Tenors. Discuss.

Lisa de Moraes: There's nothing to say. Except "yes."

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Rockville, Md.: Has a show ever been ruined for you because of something you find out about the actors? I loved MNIE. It (and Lost) were my two shows. Then I found out that Jason Lee and the guy who plays Randy are Scientologists. I tried to watch MNIE right after I found that out, but kept having visions of a couch-jumping Tom Cruise. I can't watch it anymore.

Lisa de Moraes: I try very hard not to think about the actors' personal lives. It always ends badly , and I do love my TV shows...I'm out of time. Bye...

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