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WTVT news wins sweeps

It was only 500 viewers out of 51,000, but it was enough to allow WTVT-Ch. 13's 5-6 p.m. newscast to edge out longtime leader WFLA-Ch. 8, according to the February demographics ratings released Friday by Nielsen Media Research. Ch. 8 had held the No. 1 spot in that time slot for several years. The ratings were for viewers age 25-54, among those most prized by advertisers. Ch. 13 and Ch. 8 ranked first or second among that age group in all local newscasts, far outdistancing WTSP-Ch. 10 and WFTS-Ch. 28. There was more good news for Ch. 13. Good Day Tampa Bay, WTVT's morning news show, remained in a virtual tie with NBC's Today Show on WFLA, and Ch. 13's 10 p.m. news was Tampa Bay's most-watched late news for the 11th consecutive ratings period. The Fox affiliate also finished first during network prime time in several key age groups, including adults 18-49 and 24-54.

It's a baby Dixie Chick

The Dixie Chicks' lead singer, Natalie Maines and her husband, Adrian Pasdar, welcomed the birth of their son, Jackson Slade Pasdar at 9:57 a.m. Thursday in Austin, Texas. The baby weighed in at 6 pounds even and was 20 inches long. According to Dixie Chick Emily Robison, "He has sandy blond hair and Natalie's nose." Mom and baby are doing great. Said Robison, "She made us very jealous. It was a very easy and fast delivery."

No Deal for Downey

He's won two major acting awards this year, but so far, Robert Downey Jr.'s lawyers can't get him what he really wants: a plea bargain that will keep him out of the slammer. A judge Thursday set an April 30 preliminary hearing date for the troubled actor after Downey's defense team failed to reach a deal with prosecutors that would have eliminated the need for a trial on felony drug charges. If convicted, Downey could spend more than four years in jail. The 35-year-old Ally McBeal costar was arrested Thanksgiving weekend in Palm Springs after police found cocaine and Valium in his hotel room.

Ann Sothern dies

Ann Sothern, who starred as the movies' wisecracking Maisie and in the 1950s TV series Private Secretary, has died of heart failure at her Idaho home. She was 92. An accomplished singer as well as comedian, Sothern appeared in MGM musicals such as Lady Be Good and Panama Hattie. She was in a second TV series, The Ann Sothern Show, and had a recurring role as the voice of the woman reincarnated as an antique auto in the 1965-66 sitcom My Mother the Car. Sothern's career included 64 movies and more than 175 TV episodes. She was married to bandleader-actor Roger Pryor and to actor Robert Sterling . Both marriages ended in divorce. Her only child, actor Tisha Sterling, was with her when she died.

Is Rosie quitting?

Rosie O'Donnell confided to The View's Joy Behar that she is definitely leaving her talk show next year. As Behar spilled to viewers Thursday: "September begins her very last season, so all of this press about how she's staying, she's gonna stay for three more years, is not true." Behar also revealed that O'Donnell's decision to leave was the reason she resubmitted her name for Daytime Emmy consideration.

A WILD AND CRAZY ART LOVER: Steve Martin, who is hosting the Academy Awards show on March 25, is putting 28 pieces from his collection of modern and contemporary art _ including works by Pablo Picasso, David Hockney, Edward Hopper and others _ on display April 7 at the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas. Why a Las Vegas casino? "The real reason," Martin says in a catalog to be sold at his first-ever show, is "it sounds like fun."

_ From Times staff and wire reports.

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