About 36 hours before the polls open on Election Day, CBS News's "60 Minutes" will release a report that blows the lid off the Ashlee Simpson lip-syncing scandal.
When Simpson ran off the "Saturday Night Live" stage last week after her lip-sync flap, "60 Minutes" cameras were there to record her embarrassing exit and the reactions of show creator Lorne Michaels and other shocked staff members, the newsmag announced yesterday afternoon.
"The exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the incident will be part of a Lesley Stahl report about the making of the venerable comedy program" set for Halloween night, CBS News said.
It reports that Stahl and her cameras also caught the dress rehearsal of Simpson's performance when she also ran offstage "because her voice failed her."
"SNL" had allowed "60 Minutes" at Saturday's show to tape one of those pieces about how the show is conceived, written and produced each week, because we've never seen that before.
Simpson has claimed that acute acid reflux disease left her without a voice the night she was the musical guest on the live late-night show, leading to the decision to use a recording of her voice while performing. (In her letter to fans posted on her Web site, she called it "acid refux," but you can't expect a faux pop star to also be a medical expert.)
That leaves unexplained why she was able, at the end of that program, to shout boisterously to the studio audience, and to viewers at home, that her band was to blame for the snafu, in which her voice could be heard singing "Pieces of Me" while her microphone was at her side and her mouth was closed, causing her to panic and walk offstage.
"I feel so bad!" she said loud and clear and with no sign of hoarseness as the show was wrapping. "My band started playing the wrong song! I didn't know what to do!"
After a nine-year struggle, Turner Broadcasting System's financial news network CNNfn will call it quits in December, CNN News Group President Jim Walton told his troops yesterday.
The decision to pull the plug was not about ratings, Walton told The Reporters Who Cover Television during an afternoon phone news conference.
Actually, the basic cable network was in so few homes -- about 30 million of the country's 110 million television homes -- it was not even rated by Nielsen Media Research, Walton noted. He also pointed out that the network turned a profit for the first time in 2003. The lousy 30-million-home distribution is what led to the decision to scrap the niche network, he said.
In his memo to staffers, Walton explained that "exponential growth in the television marketplace since CNNfn's 1995 launch has made it challenging to grow distribution for many niche networks in today's highly competitive landscape."
He added during the phone call, "We're looking for opportunities to get our content in front of as many people as we can."
The biggest star in the CNNfn firmament, Lou Dobbs, will continue to grace CNN's lineup, Walton said, though he has no plans to move Dobbs's program into prime time, as had been speculated in a news report.
Two more CNNfn programs -- the real estate series "Open House" and the personal finance show "Dolans Unscripted" starring syndicated radio couple Ken and Daria Dolan -- will migrate to CNN's "fully distributed" networks, CNN and CNN Headline News, Walton said.
Of CNNfn's 100 full-time positions, about 40 jobs will remain, but Walton said the company just posted about 100 new jobs with its news group. "It is our hope that most of, if not all of, the impacted employees at CNNfn will have a skill set that matches up and they will apply for these jobs and we will be able to position them across the news group."
Among those not losing their jobs is Ken Jautz, CNNfn's executive vice president and general manager, who will head business news programming at CNN.
Walton turned coy when asked whether CNN had pitched a different network to those cable operators who now deliver CNNfn into those 30 million TV homes. More than one reporter noted that it's extremely unusual for a large media conglomerate to walk away from real estate on the dial. Eventually, after one reporter took another whack at the question, Walton said that they were in discussions about that channel space and acknowledged that CNN International is a possibility. (CNNfn already runs "CNNI" programming all weekend.)
"We feel that international news programming is an important component, and we feel that many of the [cable] operators may like to have more international programming going forward," Walton conceded.
When CNNfn launched in December 1995, business news, not international news, was all the rage. But when the Internet bubble burst and Wall Street took a tumble, the cable news networks tumbled right along with it.
Rival CNBC, for instance, was averaging 317,000 viewers, Monday through Friday, sign-on to sign-off, in 1999. In 2001 it was down to 308,000 viewers; the next year it dropped to 241,000; and this year to date, CNBC has been averaging 152,000 viewers -- half its audience of the late '90s.