Comedian Phil Hartman is killed in suspected murder/suicide

Phil Hartman, 49, one of the stars of “NewsRadio” and an eight-year veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” was found shot to death, along with his wife, Brynn, in the couple’s Encino, Calif., home. Police suspect that Mrs. Hartman killed the comic actor then turned the gun on herself. The Hartmans’ two children were reportedly removed from the home after police arrived around 6:30 a.m. today.

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Hartman started in show business in 1975 when he left a graphic design career to join the Groundlings, an L.A. improv troupe, where he met Pee-wee Herman-creator Paul Reubens. Hartman later cowrote the screenplay for “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” He joined “SNL” in 1986 and was soon recognized for his cutting impersonations of Phil Donahue and Frank Sinatra. Hartman often referred to himself as “man of a thousand voices” and created a few of them for “The Simpsons,” playing actor Troy McClure and sleazy lawyer Lionel Hutz. In addition to his role as Bill McNeal, the pompous anchor of NBC’s “NewsRadio,” Hartman has had supporting roles in such films as “Jingle All the Way” and “Greedy.” His latest film, “Small Soldiers,” will open on July 10th.

Rosie’s ratings slide

Although Rosie O’Donnell is still considered the Queen of Nice, her kingdom is shrinking. Since April 1, her talk show has averaged a 4.2 household rating, a 13% drop from the same period a year ago. This slide is largely a result of her show’s shift to afternoon time slots at 20% of the 236 stations that broadcast it. “The afternoon is a lot more competitive,” says Paul Krumins, publisher of Syndication News. “Oprah, Judge Judy, and Jerry Springer all do great numbers then.”

Analysts say that Rosie’s proper etiquette is a hindrance in the after-lunch war zone. “She is as good or better than she was before,” says Krumins. “But her show isn’t for nurses and other working women coming off long shifts. It’s a nice cuddly morning show.” O’Donnell isn’t the only one fuming about the drop in her ratings: Many stations have paid increased renewal rates to her show’s distributor, Warner Bros., based on her higher morning numbers.

Next to enter the afternoon battle: Donny and Marie Osmond, whose gabfest debuts this fall. Will the syrupy siblings compete by aping the style of Jerry Springer, who increased his ratings by 183% this year? “Definitely not,” says Marc Berman, associate programming director at Seltel, which advises stations about syndicated programs. “I can’t imagine Donny and Marie talking about herpes and AIDS.”

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