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Couric tackles teen-sex issues

NEW YORK -- Katie Couric isn't afraid to talk about the birds and the bees.

The ''Today" show cohost is tackling issues such as ''friends with benefits," abstinence, and oral sex in a prime-time NBC News special, ''The 411: Teens & Sex," airing tonight at 10.

The special is based on findings from a national survey of teens commissioned by NBC News and People magazine and an open forum Couric conducted with 11 girls and nine boys, ages 13 to 16, in Key Biscayne, Fla.

''I was personally shocked how casually young people treat oral sex and how it's considered much less intimate than intercourse," Couric told The Associated Press yesterday.

Couric became passionate about the subject after hearing ''horror stories" of teens having sex at early ages and wanted teens, parents, and experts to weigh in. Besides attitudes toward oral sex, Couric was surprised at the teens' openness. ''I think that society is so sexualized from the time these kids are small, they're quite comfortable," Couric said. ''These kids were carefully screened. They were all extremely articulate, and they talked more in generalities. I didn't say, 'Johnny, what did you do in the eighth grade?' It wasn't like that."

As the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 13, Couric has her own theory on discussing sex with her teenage daughter. Couric said sex ''needs to be a constant discussion. It's not one discussion about the birds and the bees and then, `Phew, that's it.' "

After all the sex talk -- Couric learned ''friends with benefits" refers to sex with friends without commitment -- she's ready to investigate another sensitive subject: drugs. The 48-year-old told The Associated Press she'd like to give a similar prime-time treatment to the issue.

''I'd love to do something on kids and prescription drugs like Ritalin and antidepressants," Couric said. ''As a society, we go to pills to fix things. It's a fascinating subject."

Couric, who's been mentioned as a possible replacement for Dan Rather on the ''CBS Evening News," said the network-jumping speculation is ''pretty darn boring."

''I love NBC. They've been so great to me," Couric said. ''I'm focusing on that."

NBC plans 'Loser' spinoff

NBC is up for more slimming down, ordering a spinoff of its unscripted series ''The Biggest Loser" to go along with a second run of the original show.

The new show will follow a similar format to its predecessor, except episodes will be self-contained and pit similarly organized teams against one another. Potential themes for the show will be family vs. family, teachers vs. students, and town vs. town.

The title of each show will reflect the week's theme, such as ''The Biggest Loser: Family vs. Family," or something similar. The episodes could be ready to go later this season. NBC has already ordered a second season of ''The Biggest Loser," which became a surprise ratings success in the fall, for the summer.

''The success of the first 'Biggest Loser' competition proved that viewers are hungry for original and emotional storytelling," says Craig Plestis, head of alternative programming for NBC. ''The unique format of our new series' themed and closed-ended episodes will help us cast a wider net to reach a more diverse group of people."

ZAP2IT.COM

CBS tops ratings with AFC title game

Another week, another ratings win for CBS, which drew more than 44 million viewers for its AFC Championship game Sunday night, then got a big audience for its new drama ''Numb3rs," which followed.

The game, pitting the New England Patriots against the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the most-watched broadcast of the season. ''Numb3rs" (which this week moves to its regular Friday slot) was the season's most-watched premiere, with 25 million viewers.

In the first 18 weeks of the season, CBS has been first in overall prime-time viewers 16 times.

But Fox also had plenty to smile about, with the return of ''American Idol." The Jan. 18 season premiere (with 33.6 million viewers) ranked second and the Jan. 19 edition was third. Together, they helped lift Fox to runner-up status for the week's viewers overall, according to Nielsen Media Research.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rapaport signs on for 'War At Home'

Former ''Boston Public" star Michael Rapaport has signed on to his first starring role in a sitcom.

Rapaport will head a Fox pilot called ''The War at Home," playing a father who, with his wife, struggles to maintain the upper hand over their kids. The pilot's green light had been contingent on casting, but Rapaport's signing removes that contingency, the Hollywood trade papers report.

Rob Lotterstein (''Will & Grace," ''Grosse Pointe") wrote the pilot, which is being produced by Warner Bros. TV and Acme Productions.

Rapaport played outspoken teacher Danny Hanson on Fox's ''Boston Public" for three seasons and has a talent deal with the network. His feature film credits include ''Cop Land," ''True Romance," and ''Beautiful Girls," as well as the upcoming comedy ''Hitch" with Will Smith.

ZAP2IT.COM

Globe on NECN

Here's what's happening on ''Around the Globe" today on NECN:

12:30 p.m.: ''Globe at Home" -- Parenting columnist Barbara Meltz and Dr. Douglas Jacobs, executive director of Screening for Mental Health Inc., on teen suicide prevention.

4 p.m.: ''Around the Globe"

6:30 p.m.: ''New England Business Day"

8 p.m.: ''NewsNight"

Schedule is subject to change.

Radio highlights

9 a.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23; Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2; Haydn Symphony No. 3.

6 p.m. WUMB-FM (91.9) -- ''Live Six." Guest: Ron Thomason of the Dry Branch Fire Squad.

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