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Ellen Gray | 'NBC Nightly News' digs down to 'China' for its new voice

SO MAYBE Brian Williams really does have a hankering for show business. First, he moonlighted at NBC's "Saturday Night Live," making his guest-host debut to good ratings and even better reviews.

SO MAYBE Brian Williams really does have a hankering for show business.

First, he moonlighted at NBC's "Saturday Night Live," making his guest-host debut to good ratings and even better reviews.

Now his "NBC Nightly News" has replaced the voice of longtime network announcer Howard Reig - who, OK, retired a couple of years ago - with the surprisingly unmellifluous tones of movie star Michael Douglas, whose best-known associations with journalism might be that he played a TV news cameraman in "The China Syndrome" and later dated New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

Which seems like the kind of thing they might make fun of at "SNL" - if writers for "SNL" weren't on strike.

Williams, by the way, rediscovered the strike, which he and his network counterparts have mostly ignored after the first week, so that he could lead Monday's newscast with the announcement that the hosts of NBC's "Tonight Show" and "Late Night" would be going back to work without their writers. But, hey, try not to read too much into what some perceive as a lack of coverage by news organizations whose parent companies oppose the writers' demands for what they consider a fair share of Internet revenue.

Because greater and greater concentration of media is good for all of us, right? Right.

Even if it means that "Nightly News" on the same night introduced an update on MRSA with an interview with a former contestant on NBC Universal-owned Bravo's "Project Runway" who last week was seen leaving the show to combat the antibiotic-resistant bug.

But back to Douglas, whose nasally voice really did startle me when I was listening to it on NBC's podcast the morning after his debut (which, I'll admit, is pretty much the only way I ever catch an evening newscast these days).

Maybe something was lost in the transition to iTunes but I have to say that Walter Cronkite, who does intro duty for "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," still sounds like the Uncle Walter of my childhood.

And Douglas sounds a bit like a cartoon character.

Kimmel coming back, too

Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien won't be alone in going back on the air Jan. 2.

Yesterday, ABC announced that "Jimmy Kimmel Live" would also return with new episodes - but most likely without writers - on that night.

A network statement quoted Kimmel as saying, "Though it makes me sick to do so without my writers, there are more than a hundred people whose financial well-being depends on our show. It is time to go back to work." Meanwhile, Worldwide Pants, producer of CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman," is said to be pursuing a separate deal with the Writers Guild of America that would allow Letterman and "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson to return with writers.

Kudos shows KO'd?

Late night TV may be about to be repopulated, but seat-fillers could find themselves in greater demand than usual at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

The Writers Guild has refused to grant a waiver for either awards show, reports the Associated Press, meaning no Guild-covered writers will be allowed to write for hosts or presenters. The AP said the union also refused to grant the usually routine permission for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to use clips from films and past Oscar ceremonies.

And while, sure, the absence of scripted banter and long montages could make for much snappier ceremonies, it's not clear how many actors would be there to give and receive, or even just sit in the audience and cheer others along, if it meant dissing the Writers Guild (which reportedly has granted the Screen Actors Guild a writing waiver for its Jan. 27 awards in recognition of SAG's support).

SAG, whose members appear to share the WGA's concerns about getting paid in the brave new world of digital media, faces its own contract negotiations in the coming months.

'Clash' of the non-Titans

So in the battle of the pre-Christmas stunt specials, first-night honors go to - no one.

NBC's "Clash of the Choirs," where they're singing for $250,000 in charitable donations, averaged 7.92 million viewers for its two-hour premiere, according to the preliminary Nielsens, while ABC's "Duel," where the competition's for a $1.5 million-plus jackpot, averaged 7.67 million over 90 minutes.

Among 18- to 49-year-olds, both shows' ratings were very nearly identical, each drawing a smaller percentage of that advertiser-targeted audience than reruns of Fox's "House" and CBS' "Two and a Half Men."

If there are any bragging rights, they belong to Patti LaBelle, whose Philadelphia-formed choir was featured during "Clash's" final half-hour, when viewership peaked at 8.7 million. *

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