Jon Stewart Hips Out Craig Kilborn … CNN Pumps Up the Gossip … Something Icky This Way Comes …

Wednesday, Feb. 21

Once upon a time (well, spring 1999), there was a smart aleck named Craig Kilborn who got a job hosting The Late Late Show on CBS, beating out another smart aleck named Jon Stewart.

That was seen as a big whooping victory for Mr. Kilborn, since his rival had been considered the heir apparent for the après -midnight slot following Late Show with David Letterman. Vanquished, Mr. Stewart wound up getting Mr. Kilborn’s old chair as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

Ugh. It must have stunk to be Jon Stewart.

Now spin the clock forward two years. Bolstered by his zinger-filled Daily Show performances during the Election from Hell, Mr. Stewart is the comedy darling of the media elite, heartily praised in The New York Times Magazine and countless other publications.

But curiously, it seems that nobody loves Mr. Stewart more than CBS, the network that once passed him over. Tonight, Mr. Stewart’s going to host the Grammy Awards–on CBS. He even recently sat for an upcoming profile with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes –on CBS The Observer has learned..

Craig Kilborn? He’s not talking to Steve Kroft any time soon. He’s not gushed over in The New York Times Magazine . He will , however, be hosting the TV Guide Awards–on Fox. (Word has it that Mr. Stewart passed on that gig.)

Holy Shakespeare! Seems like it kind of stinks to be Craig Kilborn now.

And where’s the love, CBS? While it’s true that Mr. Stewart is a Viacom stepchild (the CBS-owning media giant has a half stake in Comedy Central), Mr. Kilborn is a CBS man through and through.

CBS spokesman Chris Ender said the network has plenty of love for Mr. Kilburn. “Craig isn’t a media darling, so he doesn’t get enough credit for the work he’s done for CBS and the late night,” Mr. Ender said. “But you can’t ignore the fact that ratings and revenue are up significantly. We’re very happy with him.” He added that the network was very happy to have Mr. Stewart for the Grammys, too.

To be sure, Mr. Stewart has benefited from some exceptional circumstances. He got the Grammys gig after Whoopi Goldberg bailed. And who knew that the 2000 election, which looked like a dud at the get-go, would turn into one of the most bizarre public spectacles in history? It gave Mr. Stewart and his politicentric writing team an unprecedented gold mine of material, making The Daily Show a popular comedy antidote to the fare on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. Mr. Stewart also does his program in New York, media capital, while Mr. Kilborn makes do in star-filled but comparatively media-deprived Los Angeles.

But there’s more to it. There’s little question that the sad-eyed, endlessly self-deprecating Mr. Stewart–who even took The Late Late Show decision in stride, at least publicly–is seen as the more likable of the two, packing Carnegie Hall last spring for a Comedy Central event and becoming a couch favorite with Mr. Letterman and Today ‘s Katie Couric. By contrast, the cocksure, gold-maned Mr. Kilborn is seen as the smarmy frat president, bright and quick with his tongue but slow to charm. (In fact, the most attention Mr. Kilborn got last year was the clobbering he and The Late Late Show took for posting a “Snipers Wanted” graphic over a video of then-candidate George W. Bush.)

“The public is noticing what we have known all along,” says one Comedy Central source. “We’re not surprised by the level of success that Jon and The Daily Show are enjoying right now.”

O.K. then. Tonight, watch Jon Stewart host The 43rd Annual Grammy Awards , featuring a live performance by Eminem, Elton John and Bob Herbert of The New York Times. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]

Thursday, Feb. 22

Bombs are plopping on Iraq, Larry King is jawboning with Bette Midler and the dust is slowly settling at America’s favorite punch-drunk news network, CNN. Here in New York, the bulk of the changes will occur at the network’s ailing financial-news channel, CNNfn, which will be rechristened CNN Money. Sadly, the new name will be pronounced CNN: Money instead of the far hipper (and preferable) CNN, Money!

Also slated to morph is CNN’s entertainment news, which, in a surprise announcement, will shift from a standard showbiz-news reportage format to baseless gossip sleaze . That’s not exactly true, but the network is trying to pep up its entertainment news, which used to be consolidated into a single weekday advertising cash-cow entitled Showbiz Today . Now, the CNN entertainment coverage will consist of steadily released morsels throughout the day called Showbiz Today Reports . Michael Okwu and Laurin Sydney will host.

Network executive producer Scott Leon said that viewers shouldn’t expect CNN to trample through bushes in pursuit of revelations about celebrities’ private lives. That’s not the CNN way, he said, and neither is the models-on-the-beach approach that a lot of showbiz-news outlets are taking these days. “You look at E!–and I respect the hell out of E!–but I’m not so sure that going to an island and getting drunk … I’m not so sure that’s what I would [call] entertainment news,” said Mr. Leon, a CNN vet.

Speak for yourself! Another “entertaining” CNN addition is He Said/She Said (original title, fellas), a girl-boy showbiz-chatter show co-hosted by Lisa Schwarzbaum, movie critic for AOL Time Warner-owned Entertainment Weekly, and Peter Travers, her rival from Rolling Stone, a Wenner Media operation. Ms. Schwarzbaum and Mr. Travers have been doing their battle-of-the-sexes critic schtick for some time now; this program adds segments like interviews with actors and directors. “It’s the gender-based perspective thing that really makes this interesting,” Mr. Leon said.

Hey, how about a movie-review show with Larry King? Mr. Leon laughed. “Yeah!” he said. “We’d have to figure out the one movie of the year he didn’t like.”

Mr. Leon dismissed Oliver Stone-style conspiracy theorizing about how the AOL Time Warner mothership is impacting CNN’s entertainment coverage. The fact that Warner Brothers or the nearly vaporized New Line makes a film will not affect its review on the network, he said. “There are only three companies left in the world now, anyways,” he said.

That’s right, mister: When you get down to it, all of us work for AOL Time Warner, Microsoft or Hale and Hearty Soups. As for the format changes on CNN, Money! , the network is expected to announce a bunch of new stuff, like a midday financial-news program called The Money Gang , and the media gossip show Biz Buzz has been retitled The Biz (presumably that means they’ve gotten rid of all the buzz). Name changes, name changes, name changes! At least Jeff Greenfield remains Jeff Greenfield; the carrot-topped reporter has re-upped his contract and will host a general-interest show similar to the Unconventional Wisdom salon he started last year. That’s money , baby, money !

Tonight on CNN, Wolf Blitzer Reports . Well, we hope so. [CNN, 10, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Feb. 23

Humor-providing ectomorph Todd Barry is tinkering with his one-man show, Icky, in preparation for next week’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. For those who don’t spend several hours a day monitoring the Conan O’Brien Internet newsgroups, Icky is about Mr. Barry’s experience of being severely flamed on alt.fan.conan-obrien following an April 1999 performance. “No charm, no humor, no wit and a personality which can only be described as ‘icky,’” wrote the newsgroup’s host, a Minnesota woman named Jean.

For his part, Mr. Barry didn’t back down, bashing Jean and the newsgroupies on a subsequent Conan appearance–a bold maneuver that quickly escalated the mild cyber-conflict into a full-scale jihad. “People just freaked out,” the comic recalled.

Since then, Mr. Barry, a New Yorker, has refined Icky , even performing the show before Jean herself, who was visiting with her husband from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “It was one of the most amazing nights of my life,” Mr. Barry said. “I’m doing this show about this critic of mine that I’ve never met, this obscure, sort of random fan–or not fan, but person– and she happens to be in New York when I’m doing a show about her …. It was very surreal.”

As Mr. Barry admits in Icky, he occasionally used pseudonyms to post pro-Todd messages on the Conan newsgroup. But those propaganda efforts were ferreted out. “I was sort of busted,” Mr. Barry said. “Now any time anyone says anything nice about me, they’ll respond, ‘Hi, Todd”–like it’s inconceivable that any one of them could have liked me.”

You can see Icky at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (West 22nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues) on Monday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. Mr. Barry will then take the show to the big yuk-yuk fest in Aspen, where he will be immediately besieged by Hollywood agents who will offer him three-picture deals and cast Renée Zellweger as Jean. Or with Mr. Barry’s luck, they’ll cast Joy Behar.

Appearing tonight on Late Night with Conan O’Brien , semi-icky Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Kattan. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 a.m.]

Saturday, Feb. 24

In tonight’s episode of National Geographic Explorer , Brian Dennehy narrates the story of zebras as they migrate 300 miles across the African grasslands. Upon the completion of the zebras’ journey, Brian Dennehy then migrates 300 miles across the African grasslands himself, pausing occasionally to feast upon kudu, dik-dik and wildebeest. [CNBC, 15, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Feb. 25

The streets of Chelsea empty at 9 p.m. as ABC premieres Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows , starring Judy Davis. But those looking for real camp tune to the UPN and XFL Football , where the Memphis Maniax wrestle the Los Angeles Xtreme. [UPN, 9, 7 p.m.]

Monday, Feb. 26

Dude, Where’s My Calendar? Even the most recalcitrant moviegoers coughed up their muesli when they woke up last Wednesday, Feb. 14, to find walrus-mustached Today Sho w movie critic Gene Shalit raving about a brand-new movie he’d just discovered called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

That’s right: the Ang Lee martial-arts film that came out last December and has been playing for weeks in such cosmopolitan enclaves as the Twin Creek Cinema in Omaha, Neb. ” Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is definitely a see-it-again movie!” Mr. Shalit gushed.

Hey, Gene, we’ll settle for see-it-when-it-comes-out ! Even Katie and Matt had already seen it.

Perhaps Mr. Shalit’s sudden interest in what was 2000′s best film (next to Bring It On , of course) was piqued by the 10 Oscar nominations Crouching Tiger received the day before. Mr. Shalit and a Today Show spokesperson didn’t respond to requests for comment. (Maybe they were seeing Cast Away .)

Tune into Today this morning to see Mr. Shalit’s review of Close Encounters . [WNBC, 4, 7 a.m.]

Tuesday, Feb. 27

Tonight, George W. Bush will deliver his first live Presidential address to the American people. Hey, he doesn’t want to be there, either. Just like you, he’d rather be sitting in his jammies, drinking Swiss Miss and watching back-to-back episodes of The Facts of Life on Nickelodeon. [NIK, 6, 9 & 9:30 p.m.]