Feb 16

As Whitney Houston’s loved ones prepare to lay her to rest, the circus that has been surrounding the pop music icon’s death shows little sign of abating.  It’s become a show unto itself.

For instance, among the hundreds of beautiful and thoughtful statements from her colleagues, there’ve been a few that stopped us short.  We love Tony Bennett, but every so often he says something way out there, like entreating the folks at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party to fight for legalization of drugs like they have in Amsterdam (per Tony’s declaration) “so they have to get it from a doctor, not just some gangsters that just sell it under the table.”  Tommy Chong chimed in later, on Twitter, that if only Whitney had stuck to pot, she’d be with us still.

The media frenzy went beyond the pale immediately, and relentlessly continues.  We blanched at the “Entertainment Tonight” email announcement with the subject line:  ET EXCLUSIVE PHOTO – WHITNEY’S BODYBAG, touting the show’s footage inside the coroner’s van.  That’s the kind of thing we expect from leader of the wolf pack TMZ, of course, which provided – among dozens of other things — images of the gurney with the singer’s covered body being wheeled out of the hotel.  And then there’s CNN, with Tweets like this:  “View stake-out camera at funeral home where #Whitney Houston body is expected to arrive in New Jersey. Watch live:”  Perhaps not the best choice of words.

There are worse things than the ghoul patrol, though.  Such as, perpetual “look at me” blowhard Bill O’Reilly and his completely unnecessary and cruel comments about Whitney being a drug addict and wanting to kill herself.

And then we have the Barney Fifes of the horde, transforming into swaggering amateur forensic scientists and detectives before our eyes.  Going all noir on us, we heard one declare the other night, “It’ll be weeks before we get the tox reports, as they say in the biz.”  And how about those on-air interviews with seemingly anyone and everyone associated with Whitney — or not.  Among our favorites: a local news interview with a backup singer who extolled the star as an angel, but finally admitted she’d never actually talked to her.

Although Brian Grazer and Don Mischer are keeping details of this year’s Academy Awards show under wraps, you can be sure Houston will be duly acknowledged on the Feb. 26 Oscars as well.

This ridiculous and sublime, beautiful and awful response to Houston’s passing is appropriate, because it certainly is in keeping with her life of extremes.  Consider these highlights and lowlights:

1985: First album, “Whitney Houston,” released, becomes best-selling debut album with 13 million sold.  Wins Whitney first of multiple Grammys.

1987: Second album, “Whitney,” becomes first album by a female to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart, garners four No. 1 singles.

1991: Whitney’s rendition of the National Anthem, recorded at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War, becomes Arista’s fastest-selling single in history.

1992: Marries R&R/rap hybrid artist Bobby Brown of “My Prerogative” fame.  “I may be a B-Boy and she’s America’s Sweetheart, but it’s love,” says Bobby.  In November, “The Bodyguard” is released, goes on to gross over $400 million, yields best-selling soundtrack in history.

1993:  “I Will Always Love You” becomes longest-running pop single in the rock era.  Daughter Bobbi Kristina is born.

1995:  Two hours late to perform at a White House Dinner for Nelson Mandela, testy onstage – “stuff happens” — when she keeps audiences waiting more than an hour.  Whitney and Bobby separate for two months.  “We will work our problems out,” she tells Vibe magazine.  “…He doesn’t like to be disrespected.  He has a temper from hell.”

Brown enters Betty Ford Center in October, facing legal woes including allegedly beating a man over a woman; kicking a security guard, urinating in a police car.  In December, he’s seen drinking beer at a party preceding release of “Waiting to Exhale.”

1996:  Bobby denies reports he called Whitney gay, a rumor that’s dogged her for years, while in rehab.  Whitney makes “The Preacher’s Wife” with Denzel Washington.  Image-repairing interviews include TV Guide, which says she shows no sign of being the “diva-in-distress we’ve heard so much about” as Whitney talks about her Whitney Houston Children’s Foundation, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.

1997:  A no-show at the Essence Awards, where she was to be honored.  Reports out of Honolulu of Bobby hitting Whitney denied.  Produces and plays Fairy Godmother in “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” with Brandy.  Kevin Ammons’ book, Good Girl, Bad Girl contends that her throat problems stem from too much pot smoking, that she spikes her pot with cocaine.  Italian police investigate two-inch cut on Whitney’s face after Mediterranean yacht trip with Brown.

1998: “My Love is Your Love” album a hit, earns some of Whitney’s best reviews ever.

2000:  In January, Houston leaves a bag allegedly containing a small amount of marijuana at a Hawaii airport, which leads to a petty misdemeanor drug charge.  She avoids jail time by promising to pay $4,000 and agreeing to voluntary drug testing over the next few months.  Whitney’s rep as pop’s “Lost-It Girl” worsens when she’s very publicly let go from the Academy Awards two days before show time for flubbing the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow.”  She tells Jane magazine that meeting a president and meeting a junkie are the same: “They’re just men, you dig?” Brown spends 26 days in jail for violating his probation for a 1996 drunk driving incident, in which he had tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.

2001:  Whitney’s anorexic-looking form at Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary concert special taping for CBS shocks fans.  Reports have it that her emaciated arms and shoulders are digitally filled in by the time the show airs on television

2002:   In August, her father, John Houston, sues Whitney for $100 million, claiming she owed him the sum for his salvaging of her career following her marijuana arrest in 2000 and his helping her land her $100 million recording contract with Arista.  The action reportedly devastates Whitney.   In December, she exhibits flippant and unapologetic attitude in chat with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Primetime Live,” including her weird claim that she wouldn’t do crack cocaine, because it’s a cheap drug and she makes way too much money.

Singles flop and “Just Whitney” album stalls.  Whitney had reportedly taken a $20 million cash advance from Arista against future royalties.

2003:  John Houston dies in February.  Houston is reportedly so disoriented at her 40th birthday party in August that she has a hard time taking off her jacket.

2004:  Whitney enters rehab.

2005:  “Being Bobby Brown” reality show airs June 30-Sept. 8 of ’05 and viewers watch in horrified fascination.  As EW’s Michael Slezak put it:  “Changing the channel isn’t an option.  Not after Bobby discusses using his fingers to help wife Whitney Houston with her constipation.”  The show spawns new Whitney catch phrase:  “Hell to the No.”  Her “Kiss my a—“ clip plays repeatedly on E!’s “The Soup,” which designates it as Clip of the Year.  Whitney declines to appear in a second season, and prevents DVD release in 2008.

2006:  Splits from Bobby Brown, gets custody of Bobbi Kristina.  Brown sues to change their divorce agreement and tries to get spousal and child support.

2009:  A comeback, as she wows the elite at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party with her performance and the buzz grows for her first studio CD in seven years, “I Look to You.”  Davis godfathers the album and a first class set of contemporary producers lend their talents.  The album is released in August at No. 1, with largely positive reviews, but not raves.  Eventually sells 2.5 million units.

2010:  The rollercoaster heads downward again, as Whitney’s first world concert tour in 11 years goes wrong.  She’s described as a “hot mess” during Australia concerts.  In Birmingham, England she gives what headlines scream was an “appalling performance,” 20 minutes in length, filled out by her backup performers and video clips.  Cancels concerts due to “upper respiratory infection.”  But by October, she and her mother Cissy look great at Alicia Keys’ Keep A Child Alive benefit.

2011:  Whitney goes back into rehab in May.  In August, she celebrates her 48th birthday.  In November, she wraps “Sparkle” with Jordin Sparks.  Word is, the film could mark another comeback.

2012: Feb. 11, Whitney is found dead in a fourth floor suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  Feb. 12, Whitney paid loving tribute at the 54th Grammy Awards.


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Feb 15

Billy Ray Cyrus

Even with publication of Billy Ray Cyrus’ Hillbilly Heart memoir more than a year away, it’s a safe bet that the book will engender emotional responses — for and against.

The tome, Cyrus purportedly opens up about his own rebellious youth, his rise to fame with “Achy Breaky Heart,” and the role that religious faith plays in his life.  And of course, there’s the eye-catching part:  that he writes “with great candor” about the challenges of raising his talented wild child daughter, Miley.   Uh-oh.

Having been continuously accused of exploiting Miley’s success for his own career gain ever since “Hannah Montana” made her a Disney Channel It Girl in 2006, Billy Ray’s had more than his share of print misadventures.  There was the infamous Vanity Fair story of 2008, with the cover picture of a bare-topped, 15-year-old Miley amid rumpled sheets and an eyebrow-raising father-daughter inside photo spread.  There was his notorious GQ interview of a year ago, in which he criticized “Hannah Montana” and the people handling Miley’s career — in addition to comparing her to the late Anna Nicole Smith while airing his worries about her many episodes of questionable behavior.  When her widely-reported response was hurt and anger, he talked some more about wanting to repair his familial relationships in People.  And then there are the stories of his own interesting relationship histories, including fathering children with two different women in the same year.

No wonder Billy Ray comes off extremely guarded — wounded — in interviews, unless he happens to be talking about such safe topics as his music and charitable causes.

Which brings us to the other Billy Ray, the patriotic guy who has visited countless troops here and in Iraq and Afghanistan, has supported various worthy causes and has played roles in uplifting fare.  To his fans, he’s gotten a bum rap in the media.

Now, with his Amazon book deal, the public will get a chance to hear the whole Cyrus story from Billy Ray himself.  No prejudiced journalists spinning his words negatively or taking them out of context.  No photographer surprises.  It will be all his way, in his hands.  Miley, gird yourself.

ALSO TELLING ALL:  Debbie Reynolds has a gloves-off memoir coming out in 2013 also — “Unsinkable,” which is being described as her “definitive memoir and tell-all.”  By the time it’s released, the Hollywood icon will be 80.  Publishers Lunch (which is its own entity, and not related to Publishers Weekly as we said the other day) points out that Debbie published her first autobiography in 1988, and quotes her observation, “When I read the optimistic ending of that book now, I can’t believe how naïve I was when I wrote it.”

Marty Allen and Robin Williams

FUNNY BUSINESS:  Robin Williams and Mort Sahl were among the Marty Allen admirers who turned out to see the pudgy veteran comic perform at Marin County’s 142 Throckmorton Theatre the other night.  He performed along with his wife, singer/comedian Karon Blackwell.  Marty says, “Karon and I are like the new Burns and Allen, except I’m Gracie.”  Marty turns 90 on March 23.

CLOSING UP ‘HOUSE’:  Considering that Hugh Laurie said way back in May of 2011 that the end of “House’s” eighth season would likely be its swan song — “That’s as long as they’ve got me for” — it’s surprising that anyone is surprised the show is readying for its final farewell.  Laurie also made no secret of the fact he missed his family in the U.K. and yearned to spend more time on his music.  However, he certainly appreciated the success of his rightly-acclaimed show.  As he told this column, “It’s not quite winning the lottery, but close to it. When you realize the number of projects that die in pilot stage, the number of pilots that never become shows, the number of series that never last more than a season, well, I look back and feel like we walked through a mine field.  We had a very modest beginning.  I never realized how fragile we were as an infant show or the fact we were in sort of intensive care for awhile.  And yet we managed to survive.”

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Feb 14

Jay-Z and Beyonce photo

Recent months have been hell for stories of celebrity splits, from Heidi and Seal to Katy and Russell, Demi and Ashton to Johnny and Vanessa and more.  But today being Valentine’s Day, let us take a moment to shine some light on love in the celebrity leagues — where the gestures are grander, the gifts are more lavish, and imaginations can soar unfettered by bank balance considerations.

 Jennifer Aniston’s vast legions of fans, who’ve suffered with America’s Sweetheart through the Brad Pitt split and painful John Mayer period, can take heart in her declaration that she is now in a “joyful and peaceful place” with Justin Theroux.  If our Jen can find a good man at last, darn it, then there’s hope for all the lovelorn.  Last year, she gifted her hunky beau with a $12,000 jacket that had been worn by James Dean.

Who doesn’t feel heart-warmed by new Mom & Dad Beyonce and Jay-Z, whose investments in expressions of love perhaps outstrip the GNP of a small country by now.  A few examples:  When Beyonce turned 23, Jay-Z blew a half million dollars on a huge hip hop party, complete with live mermaids (okay, they weren’t really mermaids, but not because he couldn’t afford real mermaids!) and an ice sculpture that read “Beautiful B.”  For her 25th, he not only gave his lady a big party in New York, the hip hop mogul reportedly spent $1 million to buy her a 1959 Rolls Royce convertible.  In 2010, she bought him a Bugatti Grand Sport, for a reported $2 million.  His new gigantic sapphire pinky ring, worth an estimated $500,000, is believed to be Beyonce’s gift of thanks to Jay-Z for being such a good daddy to baby Blue Ivy, who is four weeks and three days old today (2/14).  In a related story, Blue Ivy is said to already have more than $1.5 million worth of toys, in addition to her trademarked name and hit record release.  (Jay-Z’s “Glory” included her first sounds, making Blue Ivy the youngest artist ever on the Billboard charts.)

Romantic might not be the first word that leaps to mind when you think of fried-sounding heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne and his potty-mouthed rock matriarch cum talk and reality show queen, Sharon.  But the couple has been wed 30 years this year. They’ve made it through drug and illness nightmares that could have rendered asunder a less devoted pair.  That’s plenty romantic enough.  And how about this?  Ozzy buys pearls for Sharon on Valentine’s Day every year.  She tells the story of how he was performing in Japan the first year they were a couple, and he went into a shop and bought her a strand of pearls there – despite the fact they had no money at the time.  The bill arrived three weeks later, as she related in a U.K. Rate the Music interview, and “I’m like, ‘Oh Ozzy, we’re going to have to work for like six months to pay off this bill!’   So, it’s now become a tradition — pearls.”

Speaking of odd, Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels still strike folks as the unlikeliest of couples – the loud and often grating comic and the genteel Oscar-winning actress and musical star.  They weren’t supposed to last but it’s been 35 years this year since they became husband and wife, and they say they’re a testimony to the power of laughter.  Ingels also knows the power of a spectacular gesture – having pulled such shenanigans as having a mariachi band performing out on their lawn for one of their anniversaries.  He also once purchased an entire candy store in Beverly Hills as a gift for “Shirl,” who happened to like a particular type of candy sold there.  Sweet!

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be about money.   “Criminal Minds” star Joe Mantegna told us his favorite romantic moment “was in 1975.  My love Arlene and I were touring with a play in Europe.  We were like hippies, without much money in our pockets.  We went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on October 3 and did a kind of personal marriage thing.  We had to go back to Chicago to make it legal, but it’s that October 3 date we celebrate, that we consider our anniversary date.  Even more romantic was a date that came 25 years later — on October 3.  We were with our two daughters and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and recited our vows again.  What made it more special was that our daughter Mia, who was about 14 at the time, was wearing the same blue jean jacket Arlene had worn that first time.”

And  then there’s Julie Benz of “Dexter” and Charlie Sheen’s upcoming “Anger Management” series.  She recalls, “In fifth grade, Peter Esselman wrote me a letter that said he would love me even if all my hair fell out and I regurgitated all over myself.  And he drew a picture of me with no hair, regurgitating on myself.   That’s love.”

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Feb 11

Just when we thought…she might be finding the magic again. As this is being written, word is breaking that Clive Davis is going through with his annual pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel tonight. We can only imagine, if that is so, the event will become an instant memorial for the star among the music industry crowd — just hours after she was found dead at the hotel. Davis was Houston’s mentor, friend, supporter and – to us, on more than one occasion – her defender. He must be devastated at this news. It’s been a sad story to cover for years, the decline of a true superstar, gifted with an angel’s voice, because of drugs.

So many music stars have taken to Twitter to pour their hearts out.  Rihanna said it was strange to be at the Grammy rehearsals, and all she could think of wwas Whtitney Houston.  Vanessa Williams Tweeted that the Grammy producers were in hyperdrive, putting together a tribute for tomorrow night’s show.   Sharon Osbourne wrote that she won’t be going to Davis’ party or Mart Burnett’s — and rebuked Piers Morgan for not thinking enough about Houston’s daughter and family.   Many others wrote about their favorite Whitney Houston songs, about how she had inspired them, about how much they loved her voice.  

Meanwhile, Harvey Levin Tweeted that TMZ was already getting stories about Houston partying hard last night, and The Wrap had word that Sony plans to release her final film, “Sparkle,” this coming summer as planned.



Feb 09

Tia Carrere NBC photo

 Season five of “The Celebrity Apprentice” doesn’t debut until Feb. 19, so contestant Tia Carrere has to be circumspect about what she reveals regarding her journey on the show.  But it can’t have been too hard on her — considering that now she’s now contemplating opening her own business back in her native Hawaii.

“The great thing was I found out I’m a really good team player.  I’ve never been in a corporate environment before,” says the actress and Grammy-winning musician who rose to fame in the “Wayne’s World” movies.  “I was pleased that I was able to anticipate people’s needs and be a self-starter.  Most important, I promised myself going in that no matter what, I would maintain my integrity.  There is no reason for being backbiting and manipulative.  Other people are — but I guess that makes good TV, doesn’t it?

“I was surprised.  Some of these broads are tough,” adds Carrere.  She’s part of an eclectic group of 18 including Arsenio Hall, George Takei, Cheryl Tiegs, Penn Jillette, Clay Aiken, Victoria Gotti, Aubrey O’Day, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla, Victoria Gotti, Lou Ferrigno, Michael Andretti, Debbie Gibson, “Real Housewives of New Jersey’s” Teresa Giudice  and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider.
 Carrere reports she was a last-minute addition to the cast.  “They had asked me for the past few years, and I’d always kind of shied away from it because I knew it would be difficult.  I was the last one to jump on.  I didn’t have time to think about it.  It was, ‘Let’s just see if make money for my charity,’ which is After-School All-Stars.  It’s a group Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced me to nearly 20 years ago when we did ‘True Lies,’ that provides fitness and enrichment programs for kids all across the country.”

 Even if she’d had the time, however, “You can’t prepare for this.  What I like about the show is that we’re so exhausted and overwhelmed with the tasks we’re asked to do, people’s true personalities come through,” she notes.  “Yeah, people put on this happy face, but when push comes to shove, all that wears off.  I got some interesting insights about people:  ‘Oh, you really went to that place?  How disappointing.”

It’s already a ridiculously busy year for Carrere, who has just started filming her new  recurring role on the USA Network’s “In Plain Sight,” and is also juggling hosting-producing chores on two more shows she says are going into production soon. “One is called ‘Forsaken Places’ and the other is called ‘Street Stars,’” she says.  “I’ve got to go to Vancouver, and Albuquerque — and there’s another movie that I might do that would mean going to Montreal and Louisiana.”

Carrere admits she finds it “very hard” to be away from her six-year-old daughter for long stretches, but credits her ex-husband, British photojournalist Simon Wakelin for stepping up. “Bianca’s daddy is terrific about being right there.”

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Feb 09

Sharon Stone plants one on Kathy Griffin

This week’s 2012 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards brought out many of Hollywood’s brightest luminaries — including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Martin Scorsese, Kenneth Branagh, Janet McTeer, Alexander Payne and still hot Sharon Stone — adding to the elegant event’s distinction as an Awards Season Must.  As the New York Times put it, it seems that “the Movies for Grownups had finally, well, grown up.”

We applaud AARP’s persistent efforts toward breaking through the wall of ageism.  Making those efforts in the ageism capital of the world — Hollywood — is particularly noteworthy.  Here, ageism is not only accepted, it’s not only embraced, it is clung to with a ferocity that speaks of barely-hidden terror.  (Think Demi Moore.)  However, with the graying of the Baby Boom generation and other factors making moviegoers of age 50 and up increasingly important to box office revenue, more filmmakers and stars will be reaching out to the mature crowd.  Next, we’d like to see Movies for Grownups on television.

Speaking of the TV side, the standard ratings classifications are archaic statistically — like using a mortar and pestle when you have a Cuisinart, with today’s technology offering far more sophisticated and meaningful data crunching capabilities.  (David Poltrack, Chief Research Officer of CBS Corp. has long been trying to educate people about this.)  And yet, we continue to see the phrase “the coveted 18-49 demographic” over and over and over again.  (Lazy TV writers really should come up with at least one or two different adjectives besides “coveted.”)  Networks and media continue to quote only the ratings for viewers under age 50.  Yet the 55-plus audience reportedly reached 33 per cent of the adult population last year.  In 2015, it’s expected to reach 36 per cent.  That’s a heck of a lot of ignoring.

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Feb 07

'Unforgettable' Role no drain for Jane Curtin CBS photo

Jane Curtin returns to the tube tonight (2/7) joining the cast of  “Unforgettable” as an acerbic and demanding forensic pathologist who teaches romantic poetry on the side.  It’s a part the “Saturday Night Live,” “Kate & Allie” and “3rd Rock from the Sun” television favorite tells us came “out of left field.  My agent called and said, ‘You have an offer to become a regular character on a procedural cop show that started in September.’  It was such a great idea.  Why not?  It’s something I’ve never done, and I do like a challenge, so I’m doing it.”

She hasn’t asked why creators of the Poppy Montgomery crime drama thought of her for the part, and doesn’t plan to do so.  She knows better than that, she explains.  “When I was first starting in the business, I got a commercial and I wondered, ‘God, why did they pick me?’”  Then she found herself sitting next to the product manager on a plane ride, so she asked him.  “And he said, ‘Your face was big enough to superimpose a drain on,’” she recalls.

Curtin surmises that the “Unforgettable” series team was probably looking for her to bring some humor and lightness to her character, the tough and brilliant inspector, Joanne Webster.

She’s been working with the same technical advisor who helped Leslie Hendrix learn about the medical examiner’s work for “Law & Order,” she lest us know.  And that’s big, because “She set the standard for playing a medical examiner.  No one’s done it better than she.”  There are certainly an abundance of medical examiners on television – Dana Delany, Robert David Hall and David McCallum, to name just three.  Curtin is well aware of that.  Or, as she puts it, “Anybody who is anybody is a medical examiner these days.”

Naturally, “You wonder how you’re going to differentiate this particular medical examiner.  It’s not as if people who work in that end of medicine are lacking a sense of humor.  There are times when you use it to relieve the stress.  These human beings deal with a lot of stuff every day, and sometimes the only thing you can do is quote Monty Python lines.”

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Feb 07

Jamie Kennedy Hallmark Channel photo

Funny man Jamie Kennedy admits that Valentine’s Day is having a strong impact on him this year.  That’s partly because he’s playing a finder of true loves working for Cupid, Inc. in the Feb. 11 Hallmark Channel movie, “Cupid.”  It’s also because the whimsical romantic comedy, in which he stars with Joely Fisher, has him thinking about matters of the heart.

“Turning 41 — not 40 — it’s been a turning point for me,” he lets us know.  “I’m probably going to want to be at a point where I get to come home and I’ve got a little woman there, and a little mini-me, you know, and maybe a little Pekinese.  I’d like to have Friday night pizza night — like we did when I was a kid growing up.  That was family night in our house.”

Since we haven’t seen Kennedy linked with anyone since he and former flame Jennifer Love Hewitt parted company, we wonder if he has someone specific in mind.

“If love is a box of chocolates,” he replies, “I’ve got a few pieces I’d like to nibble on.”

Jamie points out that his character in the movie not only helps people find their true loves, but realize “what’s important in life.  You know, the script is light, but it also has a good message that resonates.  I could relate to Joely’s character myself.  She’s a successful person in the entertainment business and she’s put all her eggs in the entertainment basket — and then she realizes she wants to share it with someone, and that the most important thing is human contact.  Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day — you want to cuddle.

“The greatest thing about this movie is, I’ve got a billboard right across the street from Jerry’s,” he adds — meaning that the industry types who hang out at Jerry’s Deli get to behold him, giant-sized, resplendent in his Cupid red suit and bow tie.

If the former “Jamie Kennedy Experiment” star and “Ghost Whisperer” cast member has his way, he’ll soon be back on the tube in a regular way.  He reveals that he’s just finished a comedy pilot, details of which he’s keeping under wraps.

“I love TV, man.  I love movies, too, obviously,” adds Kennedy, who has done plenty of them, including a role in Tyler Perry’s “Good Deeds” drama, coming out Feb. 24.  “But TV is quicker.  You get to do your ideas and it keeps you out there.”

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Feb 06

“Smash” hasn’t even hit the airwaves yet, but the highly-touted NBC show that debuts tonight (2/6) has already boosted Megan Hilty’s celebrity status to the point she’s finding herself getting stopped frequently by viewers who recognize her.  “It’s been happening especially the last couple of weeks,” says the Broadway performer of Wicked fame, whose character on the new series is vying with Katharine McPhee’s to star in a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. 

Her favorite example?  She got into a taxi with a “Smash” ad on top of it a few days ago, she tells us, “and the driver said, ‘Hey, I know you.  You’re the girl on my cab!’  He had me write down the premiere date, even though I think it was on the sign,” she says with a laugh.

Despite their roles as rivals, Hilty says she and McPhee have become pals through their months of intense “Smash” schedules.  According to her, they both like to make people laugh around the set, goof around and occasionally talk to each other in silly voices.  They’re also the two who’ve been working the most constantly.  “When we’re not shooting, we’re being fitted for costumes or learning choreography,” she explains.  Hilty stresses that the long hours are fine with her.  “The fact that I really love what I’m doing makes all the difference,” she points out.

The hardest part, for her, “has been not talking about my character’s storyline.  I know how that sounds, but it’s true.  You know, Ivy will do just about anything to get this part, and her journey has some very startling twists.  All the characters’ do.”  Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll?  “All of it, everything that happens behind the scenes in the world of Broadway, happens here,” she says.  “If there’s one thing I would like to say, though, it’s that we also show the side of Broadway that is like a family among these large-sized personalities, these creative people who come here.  We’ve been asked a lot about cat fights and the casting couch, and that’s all part of it, but so are these relationships.”

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Feb 05

Mark Harmon

“NCIS” marks its 200th episode Tuesday (2/7) with a storyline that will bring back past events (and stars) as Mark Harmon’s character sees his life flash before his eyes when he encounters a gunman in a diner.  The nice-guy actor-producer is always quick to credit his team when asked about the success of TV’s No. 1 series.  In fact, he lets it be known, he doesn’t think about himself and the rest of the cast and crew in terms of star and supporting players:  “I don’t see myself in life that way.  I know how to do the team thing,” explains the one-time UCLA quarterback.

“Everyone has a say, everyone gets to speak their minds.  Everything is out in the open.  If there is a problem, we talk about it and deal with it, so it’s a pretty rare way to work.”  Indeed.

On the other hand, it seems one person alone has a say when it comes to Mark’s wife, Pam Dawber, ever guesting on “NCIS.”  Here’s what he says about that:  “You know, she’s got her own career.  She’ll figure it out.  It’s not my decision.  It’s not my choice.  It’s her choice.  If she wants to come in on something, she’ll come in on something.”

ALSO:  Harmon is looking forward to reprising his role as Lucas Davenport, author John Sandford’s sleuthing Minneapolis Deputy Chief of Police — the part he played in the USA Network’s hit November movie, “Certain Prey.”  Chatting after the “NCIS” panel at the recent TV critics press tour, Harmon said, “There are plans to do another one, but whether that will be this hiatus, I don’t know at this point.  Part of my job here and commitment to the show is to come back somewhat rested.”  Fitting a TV movie during his seven-week seasonal hiatus doesn’t leave much time for R&R.

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