Today's News: Our Take


JOHN WALSH TO THE RESCUE!

America's Most Wanted claimed another major victory Wednesday. The long-running Fox series is being credited with helping rescue missing Salt Lake City teen Elizabeth Smart, who was found alive after a tipster recognized alleged kidnapper Brian David Mitchell's scary mug from AMW. Host John Walsh appeared on NBC's Today show this morning to discuss the capture, but mostly used the opportunity to plug his freshman yakker The John Walsh Show. read more

LOOK OUT, BEN

Jennifer Lopez has been tapped to star opposite Richard Gere in Miramax's upcoming remake of the 1996 Japanese comedy Shall We Dance?. As we reported Wednesday, the film centers around a man (Gere) who takes ballroom dancing lessons to impress his beautiful young teacher (Lopez). read more

IT'S NOT A LIE IF YOU BELIEVE IT...

Geri Halliwell is taking a page from Anne Heche's memoirs. The ex-Spice Girl (and current "coach" on ABC's All American Girl) told London's Sun tabloid that she once had a brief encounter with another woman, but denies she is a lesbian. "I had a little lesbian thing," she said. "It was just a drunken moment." But enough about Spice World. read more

PIVOTAL PROCEDURE

Christopher Reeve may be ditching that respirator soon. As part of an experimental procedure, doctors have implanted electrodes in the paralyzed actor's diaphragm in an effort to get him breathing on his own. The procedure is also expected to improve Reeve's speaking ability. read more

RECOUNT, ANYONE?

This is just depressing: Colorful crooner Vanessa Olivarez became the first of 12 finalists booted off of American Idol Wednesday night. The 21-year-old Atlantan — who sang "You Keep Me Hanging On" during Tuesday's performance edition — may have been hurt by that diva-esque banter she was forced to recite to host Ryan Seacrest just prior to the commerical break. (He later tried to fix things, but the damage was done.) On the bright side, loathsome prima donna Julia DeMato ranked among the bottom three — which means it won't be long before she packs up her bad attitude and heads back to Brookfield, Conn. In other Idol news, season one champ Kelly Clarkson will perform on next Tuesday's show. read more

MOB MENTALITY

HBO has suspended production of The Sopranos's fifth season — scheduled to begin on March 24 — as a result of its pending legal battle (read: salary dispute) with star James Gandolfini. Making matters worse, talks between HBO and the actor are said to be as dead as Tony and Carmela's marriage. According to Variety, HBO's final offer to Gandolfini was $11 million for a 13-episode fifth season — a far cry from the $27 million the Emmy winner is reportedly demanding. read more

DISTRICT STAR DIES

Tony-winning actress Lynne Thigpen, who played Ella Farmer on CBS's The District, died suddenly Wednesday night at her home in Los Angeles. She was 54. The cause of death was not immediately known. "I'm in shock," says District star Craig T. Nelson. "She was a wonderful actress and a friend." Thigpen won a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway production of An American Daughter. She'll also be seen in the upcoming Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler film Anger Management. read more

WHERE'S TUBBS WHEN YOU NEED HIM?

Miami Vice alum Don Johnson insists there is absolutely no truth to reports that he's embroiled in an overseas money-laundering ring, after $8 billion in cash, bonds and share certificates were allegedly found in his car during a routine border stop in Germany last November. "They have taken a routine incident and blown it up into this money-laundering ring that supposedly I am involved in, and it has caused me unbelievable difficulty," the actor tells Reuters. "I don't know that I will ever be able to clear my reputation and regain my credibility." But enough about Nash Bridges. read more

SHORT CUTS

All in the Family creator Norman Lear will pen several upcoming episodes of South Park... Chris Rock received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Wednesday... Justin Timberlake has been tapped to host CBS's March 25 Celine Dion special, "Celine in Las Vegas... Opening Night Live." read more

THE PLOT THICKENS...

A Los Angeles judge ruled Thursday that Robert Blake must stand trial on charges of murdering his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. The judge set bail for the 69-year-old Baretta star at $1.5 million, although Blake's not expected to come up with the cash until next week. The actor's handyman-bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also ordered to stand trial on a conspiracy count. read more

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