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Imus and CBS reach settlement

Don Imus overcame a major obstacle yesterday in his widely expected comeback bid, reaching a settlement with his former employer that allows him to return to the airwaves at a new station four months after he made a sexist and racist remark about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Imus and CBS Radio agreed to a settlement that preempts the fired radio personality's threatened $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, the company and Imus's attorney said in a statement. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Just before his dismissal, Imus had signed a five-year, $40 million contract with CBS.

The announcement essentially makes Imus a free agent, and broadcast industry experts say he will be back on the air soon enough.

"I've been comparing this to a divorce; now both parties are able to move on," said Tom Taylor of radio-info.com, a soundboard for news and information about the industry.

Where Imus might land next is up in the air. A person familiar with the situation said Imus has had informal talks with several broadcasters, including WABC in New York, about a possible comeback. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, and it is unclear how serious the discussions were, given the fact that Imus's CBS contract was still under dispute.

"I've had no conversation with Mr. Imus, and no one at Citadel or ABC has had any negotiation with him," said Steve Borneman, general manager of WABC radio. WABC radio is owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which owns more than 140 radio stations as well as ABC Radio Networks.

One hire that did become clear yesterday was the naming of Imus's replacement on WFAN, the CBS-owned New York radio station that was Imus's flagship. Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason will take over the morning time slot along with New Jersey radio personality Craig Carton, who has been known to push the boundaries of taste.

The fact that Imus is taking steps toward a comeback might have seemed unthinkable at the height of the uproar caused by his comments about the Rutgers team. He referred to the team as "nappy-headed hos" on his nationally syndicated program, becoming the target of heated protests led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Yesterday, a member of the Rutgers women's basketball team, Kia Vaughn, sued Imus and CBS, claiming the comments damaged her reputation. Vaughn's suit, which alleges slander and defamation of character, is believed to be the first by a player in the case.

Experts say broadcast executives can have a short memory if it means boosting ratings -- something Imus can deliver. "He's more valuable now than before the controversy. He was such a focus of media attention for so long that his career has been reinvigorated, and he's in a position to sort of reinvent himself -- to make himself more pertinent and even more interesting," said Michael Harrison, founder of the trade publication Talkers magazine.

Sharpton issued a statement yesterday saying the settlement is "a legal matter between a former employer and employee." But he added that it is "also a testimony to the movement of people that raised their voices to fire Imus that CBS would rather pay him off than keep him on. . . . To the rumors that Imus may resurface, wherever he resurfaces we at National Action Network and other groups will be watching and monitoring him."

Extends hospital stay

Luciano Pavarotti has been given the go-ahead by doctors to leave the hospital in Italy, where he was admitted last week with a fever, but he plans to remain for a few more days just to be sure, his wife said yesterday. Manager Terri Robson had said in an e-mail that Pavarotti, 71, would be leaving the hospital in Modena "imminently" after doctors had "happily given him the go-ahead to leave the hospital and resume his summer holiday." Later in the day, however, the opera superstar's wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, told reporters outside the clinic that he had chosen to remain for a few more days because he feels more tranquil there than at home. Pavarotti, who underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer last year, was hospitalized a week ago after a routine examination revealed a high temperature.

Wanted for questioning

YouTube wants to question comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as part of its defense against claims that it illegally airs Internet snippets of sports and entertainment videos. The request, which surfaced yesterday in court documents, was made last week to the judge presiding over lawsuits brought against YouTube by Viacom International Inc., England's top soccer league -- The Football Association Premier League Ltd. -- and indie music publisher Bourne Co. The lawsuits claim, in essence, that YouTube profits from massive copyright infringement of television programs and feature films.

Lohan car chase results in lawsuit

Lindsay Lohan was sued yesterday for assault and negligence by a woman who was a passenger in a car the actress is accused of chasing while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Lohan "put me through one of the most frightening experiences of my life," Tracie Rice said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. "What Miss Lohan did that night was extremely dangerous and reprehensible. Someone could easily have been killed or seriously hurt because of her irresponsible decisions that evening." The lawsuit also alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified damages and also payment of medical and other expenses related to emotional distress. Lohan, 21, was arrested for investigation of misdemeanor driving under the influence and with a suspended license and felony cocaine possession after last month's pre-dawn chase that ended in Santa Monica.

NBC expands 'Today' show

NBC's "Today" show will expand to a fourth hour, starting Sept. 10. The announcement yesterday nails down a start date for the program's expansion, which was announced months ago. The new hour will be cohosted by "Today" news anchor Ann Curry, national correspondent Natalie Morales, and correspondent Hoda Kotb. It will air at 10 a.m. "Today" co-anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira will not routinely be part of the added hour.

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