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Jan 23

Remember Geri Jewell?  She was the first performer with cerebral palsy to land a role on a primetime series, way back on “The Facts of Life.”  Now the actress and stand-up comic, who also did a memorable turn as Jewell on “Deadwood,” is getting back into series action again — on J.J. Abrams’ newly-launched “Alcatraz.”  She’s playing the sister of the warden played by Jason Butler Harner, a 1960s character.

“When they made me up I looked in the mirror and I saw my mother,” she cracks.  But seriously, “I think that my character allows Jason’s character to have empathy.  Because he works with brutal killers day in and day out, he’s become hardened in some ways.  And I’m like the door to his heart.  It’s a wonderful relationship.  She’s very sarcastic, very intelligent, and that’s all I can reveal at this point.  It’s such a cool show.  It’s so way out there.”

Jewell has reaped deep emotional rewards from the memoir she released last year,  I’m Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability In Hollywood and Beyond .  “The book has been phenomenal in the sense that it has created so much — how should I say it?  I came out as a gay woman, which was kind of scary for me,” she recalls.  “I’ve had tons of emails from people with disabilities who are gay, who are thanking me for being their voice.  I’m so thankful for being able to be exactly who I am.  I think that’s what the book allowed me to do.”

She’s also getting more involved in anti-bullying activities. Jewell herself was bullied in her youth, “but I look at the kids today and the bullying because of the internet and it’s just so much worse…Truthfully, being ridiculed and made fun of in my time, it had a lot to do with giving me the drive to become a comedian.  I channeled it into a different energy and made it into a positive force.  That’s what I intend to communicate to kids today – the importance of how to do that.  It’s a key to survival and keeping the faith.  If you can spend a certain amount of time each day taking something that’s negative, that’s hurting you, and channeling the energy into something positive, you’d be surprised by the effectiveness of it.”

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Jan 19

Dean Cain Crown Media photo by Alexx Henry

Dean Cain says he’s getting a particular kick out of playing an Army colonel in his currently-shooting “Operation Cupcake” TV movie, because it’s a part that’s in line with a family tradition.  “I have a lot of military in my family, and have enormous respect for men and women in uniform, so this is a great thing for me,” says the actor who rose to fame as the Superman of the 1990s. 

According to Cain, his grandfather was a commander in the Navy, his uncle a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.  “I’ve been out to Iraq with our troops.  I’ve visited them all around here.  I’ll do anything I can, charity-wise, to support them — the Wounded Warrior project.  Those guys, those men and women, are amazing, and I can’t do enough to support them,” he says.

As you no doubt deduced from the title, Cain’s character isn’t going to be seen in the middle of a war zone.  “My character has missed a lot of his kid’s life because he’s always been away on deployment.  So he’s back for a couple of months, and he’s considering whether to be promoted to a general or to leave the military.  It’s really about a guy coming back and trying to get back into a family.”  Kristy Swanson also stars as Cain’s wife.

In his real life, Cain is the devoted father of Christopher, 11, who sometimes travels with him to film locales — and in consideration of whom he likes doing family-friendly fare.  “My son is perfect, wonderful.  He’s so tall and so funny and so sweet.  He’s such a good boy,” he extols.  “I’m more proud about being his Dad than anything in the world.  He just got his report card and it was really good so I’m very happy.”

Stacy Keibler

MEANWHILE:  “Operation Cupcake” is among nine original movies that the Hallmark Channel plans to air the first half of 2012.  And Cain was among the stars on hand the other night for the elegant sit-down dinner hosted by Crown Media Networks for visiting press at Pasadena’s landmark Tournament House, official home of the Tournament of Roses.  Also there were names including Steven Weber, Luke Perry, Candace Cameron Bure, Jane Seymour, Jamie Kennedy, Valerie Harper, Vivica Fox, Joely Fisher and the gorgeous Stacy Keibler, a.k.a. George Clooney’s girlfriend, who is not one of those tall women who wear flats to downplay their height. 

The 5’11″ former WWE Diva with the famously long legs wore black pumps with rhinestone-encrusted heels that raised her into the stratosphere, towering over most of the guests.  She was an absolute knockout in her very short, white and black scoop-neck dress.

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Jan 18

Luke Perry Hallmark Channel photo

Luke Perry in a sitcom?  Maybe.  The actor who rose to fame as Dylan McKay on the original “Beverly Hills, 90210″ tells us, “I’m talking to folks about that.  Comedy is really exciting to me.”  And, having guested on several sitcoms, he likes the schedule. “Half-hour comedy shows are like a play, one night a week.”

Perry exudes charisma and charm as his Old West circuit judge character, John Goodnight, in his “Goodnight for Justice: The Measure of a Man” movie that premieres on the Hallmark Movie Channel Jan. 28.  He created the character and serves as executive producer of the followup to his 2011 “Goodnight for Justice” telepic that earned the channel its highest ratings ever.  A third “Goodnight” movie is already in the can, and he’s sketching out plans for more.  “I’m really excited about keeping the door open on this franchise,” he says.

In “Measure of a Man,” the judge reunites with a former flame, and gets involved with her troubled teenage son who has become a gang member — 19th century style.  “I’m not trying to be bigger-better-faster.  I’ve always contended that Westerns don’t have to be all about action if you have interesting stories and characters, like the older pictures I like,” says Perry, a life-long fan of the Western genre.  He’s also a horseman to the marrow, with six horses of his own.

Perry says the “Goodnight” movies have done well abroad, which makes getting foreign financing easier.

As for what else he has brewing, “I have a lot of contemporary stuff I want to do, too — a couple of different shows I’ve been developing.”

His Westerns film in exquisite locales in British Columbia, and he notes, “I like to be out in the wide open space.  It’s difficult for me to be on a stage all the time or a studio lot.  I like being outside — but having said that, if it was the right situation, I would be open to another series.”

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Jan 18

Laura Linney Showtime photo by Ken Regan

Sounds like Laura Linney’s “The Big C” will have another attention-getting attribute in its new season that launches April 8.  According to Executive Producer Jenny Bicks, the “Big C” team is awaiting word any minute from a major name likely to come aboard the Showtime dramedy in which Linney plays a woman dealing with cancer.  They go back into production this week.

This year, Linney’s Cathy Jamison will be at the Bargaining stage of response to her illness.  “It’s going to be all about Cathy looking for joy and really kind of embracing life.  She’s been through a lot last season with Paul,” says Bicks, referring to Linney’s series husband Oliver Platt, last seen being worked on by EMTs and flatlining after ingesting cocaine.  (Series creator Darlene Hunt refused to confirm that the character died, telling The Hollywood Reporter that Paul will be back, some way, in Season 3.)

Jenny Bicks

“She’s going to get a better prognosis, so she’s going to feel for the first time like, ‘Maybe I have more time, and what the hell now am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ — which becomes a whole separate issue,” says Bicks.  “So, she’s really going to go after what makes her happy and she’s going to come in contact with a joyologist, which is a real term, who is going to kind of be her mentor.”

That’s the role in which they’re expecting their exciting name star.  Cathy will “get together with this woman and go on a journey and do some crazy things outside her box,” according to Bicks.

Will this season finally put the critically-hailed, top-talent-filled series over the top in terms of popularity and recognition?  “I think we’d all like to think that, especially because of where we’re going to be airing this year,” says Bicks, referring to their first springtime seasonal launch.  “We’re going to get a lot of viewers who’ve never even seen the show on televsion.  A lot of people catch up on DVDs.”

Then there’s the fact that Laura Linney, Emmy nominated for her work on the show last year, was up for Golden Globe honors this month as well.  And costar John Benjamin Hickey, who won a Tony for The Normal Heart last year, is also being increasingly recognized for his portrayal of Linney’s bipolar brother, Sean.  Says Bicks, “I feel that people are starting to take in this show that we love and it can only be bigger because of that.”

John Benjamin Hickey Showtime photo

AND:  Speaking of Hickey and his Sean character, Bicks reveals that this year, he’s going to have “a gay phone sex line.  What?!  What?!  How does that happen?”  She laughs.  “He inherits a phone number from somebody whose phone has been cut off and he ends up with this enterprise, and it turns out that he actually has quite a knack for phone sex, so he’s going to kind of go back on the grid and make some good money, and because of that have some very interesting relationships in his life.  He’s going to have a lot of fun.”

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Jan 17

Casting is under way for “A Christmas Story Too” — not the FunnyOrDie.com comedy video, but a genuine feature film follow-up to the beloved classic, to be directed by Brian Levant (“Beethoven,” “Are We There Yet?” “Jingle All the Way,” etc.). They’re looking for Ralphie, now a teenager (legal 18 to play 16), Dad, now fiftysomething; fortysomething Mom, plus brother Randy (now 11) and teen pals including Schwartz.  The story will again focus on Ralphie yearning for a special Christmas present, but this time it’s a 1938 Hupmobile Skyline convertible.  Sweet!  Unfortunately, he takes one on a test drive and manages to ruin the convertible top, leading to a mad scramble to try to make enough money to repair the roof.

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Jan 17

Tabatha Coffey

Tabatha Coffey is considering putting her no-nonsense advice for fixing flagging businesses into a book, as a follow-up to her 2011 It’s Not Really About The Hair memoir.  The Australian dynamo with the platinum pixie cut admits she finds it hard to walk into any business without critiquing it, at least mentally.

“I have the philosophy: business is business — although every business has its own unique challenges,” notes the hairdresser.  Coffey is expanding her range on this season of her “Tabatha Takes Over” Bravo show (hence the title switch from “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover”).  She’ll be seen taking on fixer-uppers from a dog groomer to a bed and breakfast to a gay dance club on the latest cycle of her show.  She tells us, “Going into businesses other than salons, I see a lot more from the consumer’s point of view.  I can walk into a business and say, ‘Are you kidding?’  I think of the dance club.  ‘Are you kidding?  This is so out of date.  People go to clubs to have a drink and have fun.  You shouldn’t have rules that take the fun away.  You’re charging for things that shouldn’t be charged for, like water.  People will go somewhere else.’”  Her advice, she sums up, “Is common sense.  Sometimes people just avoid seeing the obvious.”

Coffey says she stays in touch with quite a few of the salon owner/operators who’ve been on the receiving end of her crash remakes in the show’s first three seasons, and mentions several whose shops are thriving.  “I’m kind of a proud mother.”

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Jan 17

Kristin Chenoweth and Leslie Bibb ABC photo by Bill Matlock

There’s not much in the way of down time for Kristin Chenoweth.  The indefatiguable Tony and Emmy-winning performer will segue from ABC’s March 4-debuting “G.C.B.” back to her beloved stage.  “I’m going on tour in May and June.  I’ll be all over theUnited States and Europe,” she reports.  “It will be everything I do: dancing, singing, opera, musical theater, country, original — all of it.”

First, come Feb. 6, she’s being honored by New York’s Drama League with an all-star musical tribute including such names as Joel Grey, Donna Murphy, Cheyenne Jackson, Marlo Thomas and Elaine Paige.

Chenoweth has been busy beating the promotional drums for the wild new “G.C.B.” series, in which she plays the leader of a pack of Dallas socialites who are none too happy about the return of former high school mean girl Leslie Bibb into their midst.  Her lines include the notorious “Cleavage makes your cross hang straight.”  She was on hand for this month’s Television Critics Association press tour session in which the “G.C.B.” producers and cast repeatedly insisted that the show does not and will not do any Christian-bashing.

“What we’ve discovered about this show is, it’s an all-out comedy.  They can use that word ‘dramedy,’ but it’s just fun,” she said in a chat after the panel session was over.  Chenoweth hopes to continue in the vein of the funny ladies of whom she’s a fan:  “Madeline Kahn, Sally Field — those are the women who inspired me.”

 AND:  Wow, NBC’s “Smash” is getting a lot of help from people on other networks.  We mentioned yesterday that “Glee’s” Matthew Morrison is giving a big thumbs-up to the upcoming drama-with-music that takes place in the Broadway world.  Chenoweth is also cheering for that highly-touted brainchild of Steven Spielberg.  She loved the pilot, she says.  Plus, “I know practically all the people in it and the producers are like my best friends, and (director) Michael Mayer obviously was great to me in (ital.) You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (end ital.), which I won the Tony for,” she notes.  “So, I obviously want it to do well, because it’s my people.”

She adds, “Katharine McPhee is pretty special.  And Megan Hilty — I just met her twice, and I just loved her.  I thought she was perfect for it.”

Chenoweth is mentioned in the “Smash” opener.  Might she guest star sometime?  She gives one of her signature arched-brow looks, and purrs.  “You never know.”

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Jan 13

Kiefer Sutherland Fox photo

Kiefer Sutherland smiles when he talks about anticipating the late  April-early May start of production on the big-screen “24″ movie.  “That’s like going home,” he says of getting back into Jack Bauer’s skin.

 It’s been more than five years since the “24” team first set its sites on making a feature.  Sutherland acknowledges, “That process has taken us so long; it’s such a complicated script to write.  Normally, we have 24 hours to tell a story.  Trying to condense it into two hours involves a lot of hard choices:  What kind of story do you want to tell?  How political do you want to make it?  How character-driven do you want to make it?”

Sutherland was in fine form at the Television Critics Association  Winter Press Tour this week, talking about his Jan. 25-debuting Fox “Touch”  series that has him as the father of a mute, possibly autistic boy who has an  astonishing understanding of numbers and their correlation to the universe.  The star was also was among the notables on hand at Fox’s party at Pasadena’s historic Castle Green Hotel, where he chatted away gamely and amiably even though a small group of reporters pretty much backed him into a little space behind a grand piano.  He elaborated on some of what he talked about at the earlier press conference — including the “24″ film.

As far as the answers to all those questions about how political and/or character-driven the big screen “24” will be, he laughed and said, “You’ll have to wait and see it.”  He said that several “great actors have expressed interest in [acting in] it, either as an ally or villain.” 

Sutherland also anticipates more big names to turn up on “Touch” — which already boasts Danny Glover as a researcher who has a handle on matters where quantum physics meet metaphysics.  “Because it’s a procedural drama as opposed to a serialized show, we could get someone in and out as quickly as an episode,” noted Sutherland, who is also a producer on the series.  “Or, if someone was interested in being involved in a longer arc, I’m sure we could accommodate them.” 

Sutherland definitely made the most of his two years away from the TV cameras.  Asked what the time meant to him, he said, “I got some rest.  I got to think about other things I wanted to do.  I got to do two films I was very excited about, with very different characters.”  Those are Mira Nair’s upcoming “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” with Liev Schreiber and Kate Hudson, and Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” with Kirsten Dunst. 

“And doing  That Championship Season on Broadway.  I did those things and also had some time off, and got some rest — and realized that I missed working.”  

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Jan 13

 ”Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” designer Paul DiMeo is philosphical about the ending of the two-time Emmy-winning reality show this week.  “I certainly think that moving to Friday night gave us an indication of what was coming,” he says of their cancellation after nine years.  “Trying to have some type of TV savvy and realizing that all good things come to an end, I think we were pretty prepared.”

 The show winds with a two-hour special finale episode tonight, with the team in tornado-devastated Joplin, Missouri, working with 21 builders to raise seven houses in seven days.  “If it has to end, so be it, but I’m just grateful this is the way we’re going to go out,” DiMeo says.  “I’m honored to be a small part of this show.  There are people I’m going to keep in touch with the rest of my life.” 

He won’t be watching tonight.  He never watches the show.  “Why would I?  It’s an abridged version of what I lived through.  It would just make me angry to know all the things that didn’t get on the air.  We used to shoot 600 hours of video for 43 minutes of television.”

Looking back, he notes, “There are things about what we’ve done over the last nine years that are iconic: ‘Move that bus,’ hitting all 50 states, having the First Lady be part of our efforts.”  His personal list of stand-out memories includes LeAnn Rimes singing “Amazing Grace” on the show, accompanying Kermit the Frog on guitar and piano, interacting with firefighters and the military — and innumerable off-camera moments.  Such as: “There was a little boy, six or seven years old, they knew only had a couple more years to live, who wanted to help out.  We’re not allowed to have kids on the [construction] set, but at that point I said, [bleep] that,’ and had him put up a little piece of trim.  If you can do something like that, it’s a good day.”

Such days are not over for DiMeo and the rest of the team led by Ty Pennington.  They’ll be shooting an episode next week in Knoxville, TN, in fact, for airing late in the year.  There may be more specials.  And DiMeo points out that even though the cameras may be off, volunteerism continues.  “Joplin is rebuilding.  Whether or not we were there, the people would be stepping up.  Habitat for Humanity came in and built 17 homes right after we left,”  he points out.  And he expects to be involved some kind of way.

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Jan 11

Will “Out of Character with Krista Smith” become a regular late-night offering on the USA Network? Smith, a.k.a.

 

Vanity Fair’s West Coast editor, insists she isn’t thinking beyond the tonight’s (Jan. 11) premiere of her special with Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth MacFarlane and fashion designer Jason Wu. “I just hope people watch it and like it,” says the personable Smith, who has whetted her on-camera interviewing chops on ABC’s Oscar pre-show, as well as VF’s website. “I love doing it, being live in the moment. I talk. That’s what I do,” she adds.

She does acknowledge that network chieftains Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel have made it clear they’re interested in opening up that 11 p.m. slot. But whether it will be with an interview show, a comedy or something different remains to be seen.

“Out of Character” attempts a bit of a different approach by getting its subjects out of the studio and into environments where they’re theoretically more themselves. MacFarlane is at his house. Paltrow is cooking in Smith’s own home kitchen. “I didn’t change a thing in my kitchen. I cleaned it up, that’s all. I was really nervous because I’m not that comfortable cooking, and she was showing me how to make a meal for my kids. And by the way, my kitchen is small.”

Wu, who is best known for designing Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress, gave Smith a tour of his design facilities. “He was so great, really interesting. His mother moved him out of Taipei when she realized he was different and would not be allowed to be who he was. She supported and nurtured his gifts … I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and he just has a great story.”

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