Today's News: Our Take


SO LONG, FRIENDS

Reality is setting in at NBC when it comes to the future of Friends. At the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, the network's entertainment president Jeff Zucker all but confirmed that Must-See TV as we know it is about to come to an end. "I would say in all candor that it's probably the final season of Friends," he said. "And I'd be surprised if it weren't. But I wouldn't 100 percent put the nails in the coffin yet." However, later in the day, the show's producers seemed to do just that. "We are approaching this season like it is our last," said Marta Kauffman. Added partner David Crane: "If this were not going to be our last season, we'd have to know that right now. Everything is planning toward that... it's not something that can be a last minute decision." read more

MUPPET MANIA!

NBC has lined up an all-star cast for A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, the first-ever made-for-television Muppet film. Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Cusack and David Arquette will join Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang in the pic, which airs in December and finds America's favorite frog fighting to save the Muppet Theater from a Scroogish bank owner. Look for cameos by Sir Michael Caine, William H. Macy, Snoop Dogg, Carson Daly, read more

MORE KUDOS

With five nods, R&B singer Ashanti led the list of nominees for the eighth annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. The late Aaliyah received four and Alicia Keys three nods. The event takes place Aug. 24. read more

CONTROVERSY IS A GOOD THING

NBC is fast-tracking a TV movie on Martha Stewart's life in light of recent events. The pic — which is being tweaked to include the stock scandal and "is bound to stir the pot," says NBC president Jeff Zucker — could air as early as May sweeps. Casting is underway. read more

HOUSE OF HAS-BEENS

The WB has ordered six episodes of the reality series The Surreal World, which is described as a celebrity version of MTV's The Real World. Slated to debut this fall, the show will center around eight B- and C-list celebs as they live and work together in a Los Angeles-area house. Producers have already approached some 40 stars, including musicians, former sitcom actors and one-time pop idols. Paging brothers Hanson... read more

OH, BROTHER

NBC has tapped Big Brother 2 champ Will Kirby (aka "Dr. Evil") to host its latest reality venture, Love Shack (debuting Aug. 27 from 8-9 pm/ET). The six-episode series centers around two singles of the opposite sex who compete against each other to win a one-year lease on a California beach house. Of course, lots of potential mates will come and go during the course of the show until the ultimate dream couple is left. Gee, sounds original. read more

ART IMITATES LIFE

Producers of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle have decided to incorporate Jane Kaczmarek's real-life pregnancy into the show. "The plan is to do some episodes [with Lois] not pregnant, and then some pregnant," Kaczmarek told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Responds a Fox rep: "I cannot confirm or deny upcoming storylines." read more

HOSPITALIZED

MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews was hospitalized late Monday with malaria. According to a network press release, Matthews is expected to leave Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., later this week and return to Hardball shortly. Veteran journalist Mike Barnicle will fill in on Hardball until Matthews returns. read more

WEST WING SHOCKER!

There's a crisis brewing in the White House: Rob Lowe is quitting NBC's The West Wing in a reported dispute over money. According to Variety, the former Brat Packer is miffed that the show's producers wouldn't raise his per-episode salary of $75,000. (Martin Sheen recently saw his paycheck tripled to $300,000; co-stars Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford make $70,000 a show.) Lowe's character — deputy communications director Sam Seaborn — will exit next March. Incidentally, read more

WILD ABOUT HARRY

Harry Connick Jr. has emerged as the frontrunner to play Debra Messing's latest suitor on NBC's Will & Grace. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Connick is in talks to appear in 12 episodes next season. read more

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