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George Stephanopolous Almost Faced the Nation

George Stephanopoulos | Regis Philbin | Odds 'n' Ends

CBS' George Stephanopolous Almost Faced the Nation

Remember when I told you that CBS' Bob Schieffer was being cited as the source of negative news leaks about Katie Couric?

Well, it seems that Schieffer may have had more than just Couric's arrival to gripe about after spending his whole career at CBS. Sources at the network have confirmed to me that last July, CBS was seriously considering replacing Schieffer on "Face the Nation" with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

It does seem that Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton PR whiz kid who reinvented himself as a TV news personality, was considering leaving ABC. He hosts their Sunday show "This Morning."

But last summer, Stephanopoulos was unhappy with his low profile at the Alphabet Network. He made it clear, they say, that he wasn't getting enough face time on the evening news show then hosted by Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas.

Sources say that Stephanopoulos' agents had more than just cursory talks with CBS about their boy switching networks. But at that point, they say, CBS couldn't offer George exactly what he was looking for either. For one thing, Stephanopolous is tied up at ABC through 2008. The talks didn't go anywhere.

"Now, you see, George is on the air on Charlie Gibson's show almost three times a week," a source said. "They listened and did something about it."

Stephanopolous may not have been the only choice to replace Schieffer. I have also heard that CBS was interested in luring Chris Matthews away from MSNBC. But top CBS brass have denied this to me even as others have insisted on it.

Schieffer has hosted "Face the Nation" since 1991. The show, however, generally lags behind "This Week" on ABC and "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert on NBC.

But CBS News still has big problems. Last night, when the other shows led with President Bush's veto of the Iraq exit bill, Katie Couric's program began the night with immigration protests around the country.

Couric's people, I am told, take the stand that it is not necessary to lead their broadcast with the same stories as Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams. It's their call, of course.

But the long feature on immigration is what sent this viewer into a channel-hopping frenzy. It didn't matter that we all knew Bush was going to sign the veto. The fact that it happened was still interesting, and I wanted to know what the reaction was in Washington. The immigration feature was good, but not an immediate issue.

Couric's show must learn to compete against Williams and Gibson on their own ground first before branching out into existential decisions. Otherwise, it won't keep the audience.

In the meantime, here's big news at CBS: Mike Wallace, who is almost 90, is working on a "60 Minutes" piece about Mitt Romney. Good for him. Wallace's appearances on the show he made famous are welcome anytime. And his take on Romney could be crucial in the former Massachusetts governor's bid for the Republican nomination for president.

Regis Swings With Sedaka

It was like old times last night. Regis Philbin, back on the air six weeks after his triple-bypass surgery, showed up last night at Joe's Pub downtown.

The reason was an invite from musician Neil Sedaka, who Jann Wenner's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has consistently ignored.

Sedaka has been playing some gigs for his new greatest hits album on the Razor & Tie label. So he summoned his good friend Reege down to join him on "Calendar Girl." The audience went wild, of course, especially when Regis, in Regis style, flubbed "July" when he was calling out the months of the year.

But Philbin was in fine form otherwise. He has lost some weight, due to the surgery and, to be honest, he is still in some pain.

"He wasn't pining to get back," his beautiful wife, Joy, told me.

They did not watch the show "Live With Regis and Kelly" every day of the break.

But Regis is proud of the phenomenal ratings he got last Thursday and Friday, when he returned. David Letterman — with whom he shares a cardiologist — was his first guest. Tonight, Regis will show up on Letterman's show to return the favor.

"They've been doing bits on me the whole time," Regis said. "So they're going to play them, and I'm going to review them."

As I've said before: Regis is a national treasure. It's good to see him back, even if he will take Fridays off from now on. He deserves it.

As for Sedaka: Just add his name to the long list of people who have been ignored by the Rock Hall over the years. The author of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" and so many other hits should be in, along with now countless others like Carly Simon, the Moody Blues, Billy Preston and so on.

The Hall's continued avoidance of these people, I think, is becoming their undoing.

Anna Nicole Story Over; Pie in the Sky; McGreevey Boycott

The Anna Nicole Smith story is just about over. On Tuesday, Larry Birkhead took baby Dannielynn and went home to Kentucky.

NBC, which paid him more than $1 million for the exclusive rights to his story, has wrung everything out of this melodrama that they can following "Entertainment Tonight's" six-month tango with Howard K. Stern. Good riddance to all of them.

Adrienne Shelly's terrific comedy "Waitress" opens today in New York and Los Angeles in limited release from FOX Searchlight.

Tragically, Shelly was murdered last year before the film was shown at Sundance. This is all the more upsetting because "Waitress" is wonderful and should become as popular as the pies star Keri Russell famously bakes in the film. Don't miss this gem.

First it was "gay American" former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey with his book. Now wife Dina is hawking her own memoir of how she "discovered" her husband's secret life.

Let's boycott both of their books and send these two back into obscurity rather than reward them financially for their stupidity.

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