Today's News: Our Take


GRIEVING

The estranged mother of conservative talk-radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger was found murdered Dec. 16 in her Beverly Hills condo. According to police, Yolanda Schlessinger, 77, had been dead for weeks. "I am horrified by the tragic circumstances of my mother's death," Schlessinger said Friday in a statement, "and so sad to learn that she died as she chose to live — alone and isolated." read more

FUNNY HA-HA OR FUNNY SAD?

UPN makes its share of funny faux pas. Now, we can laugh with 'em instead of at 'em as the network mines its mistakes for an outtakes special. UPN's Funky Flubs will be hosted by Tracee Ellis RossDiana's daughter and star of Girlfriends — and will air Jan. 14. read more

MUSIC WORLD MOURNS

Legendary punk rocker Joe Strummer, lead singer of The Clash, died Sunday of a heart attack at the age of 50. According to the group's record label, Strummer "died peacefully at his home" outside London. read more

SURVIVOR STILL HOT

Nielsen estimates that roughly 24 million people tuned in to Thursday's two-hour Survivor: Thailand finale to see ex-porn stud Brian Heidik win $1 million. Those numbers are down slightly from the 26 million folks who watched last spring's Survivor: Marquesas climax. read more

GUTSY MOVE

NBC clearly has high hopes for its much-buzzed-about new drug drama Kingpin. Reversing an earlier decision to debut the series in March, the Peacock network has opted to premiere the show on Feb. 2 — right at the start of sweeps. Kingpin — which temporarily takes over Boomtown's Sunday at 10 pm/ET timeslot — will air opposite ABC's Dragnet update. read more

NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers towered over the competition this weekend, debuting in first place with $61.5 million. Since opening Wednesday, the well-reviewed sequel has grossed $101.5 million — a 25 percent improvement over the first film's debut haul last year. The Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice premiered at No. 2 with $14.4 million, besting J.Lo's Maid in Manhattan (No. 3 with $11 million). Martin Scorsese's highly anticipated Gangs of New York, meanwhile, landed in fourth place with $9.1 million. read more

YOU CAN STILL COUNT ON FRIENDS

NBC got an early Christmas present over the weekend: A 10th season of Friends. Late Friday, the network agreed to shell out $10 million an episode to keep its top-rated sitcom on the air for one more season. Of course, there's a catch: Viewers will be treated to just 18 original episodes next season, down from the usual 24. The lessened workload reportedly came at the request of leading lady Jennifer Aniston, who wants to start makin' babies with hubby Brad. Ironically, Aniston and her co-stars won't see any of the extra cash. The sextet will still earn a paltry $1 million per episode. read more

Nicolas Cage: Big Screen Hustler


Movie directing is in Nicolas Cage's blood. (His uncle Francis Ford Coppola did make this little flick called The Godfather...) So it was inevitable the Oscar-winning actor would want his turn behind the camera. His first filmmaking effort is Sonny (opening Dec. 27) — a dramatic story about a male prostitute (James Franco) who struggles with his trashy trade. Spicy!

"I have to say that it went surprisingly well," boasts the 38-year-old, who originally planned to star in this film 15 years ago. "In terms of the shoot itself, things seemed to fall into place rather smoothly and we were able to do it ahead of schedule and under budget because I had a great team of people."

Cynics might suspect Cage of pumping his esteemed uncle for tips. But Cage — who declines to comment on his marital split with Lisa Marie Presley, by the way — says it ain't so. In fact, he insists Coppola only got involved late in read more

Can Renée Zellweger Really Sing?


If her older brother, Andrew, had had his way, Renée Zellweger probably wouldn't be headlining Miramax's eagerly anticipated film adaptation of the classic Broadway musical, Chicago (opening Dec. 27). "He always used to yell 'Shut up!' any time I tried to do a rendition of a Beatles song," Zellweger recalls to TV Guide Online, laughing. "I was told that I couldn't sing in the house. Anything to abuse his little sister; it was his job and he did a very good job."

Fast-forward 10 years later and Zellweger is knocking 'em dead as Chicago's merry murderess, Roxie Hart — a role that just earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy. How did a performer with no formal vocal or dance training wind up landing one of Hollywood's most coveted parts? Two words: Rob Marshall, the film's director.

"I needed to find a performer with that amazing range from drama to humor, from vulner read more

Golden Globe Nods: Who Won, Who Lost


Nominations for the 60th annual Golden Globe Awards were announced on Thursday, and the big surprise was, well, that there were so few surprises. As expected, Gangs of New York, The Hours, Chicago, Adaptation and My Big Fat Greek Wedding all scored multiple nods in the major film categories. The same was true on the television side, where, for the most part, old perennials like Friends, The West Wing and The Sopranos reigned supreme. But as TV Guide critic Matt Roush points out, "It's nice that TV is invited to the party, but the Globes is really a movie event. Besides, it's hard to take any organization seriously that nominates la read more

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