Today's News: Our Take


SHORT CUTS

R&B superstar Alicia Keys and veteran rockers the Isley Brothers were the big winners at Wednesday's 16th annual Soul Train Music Awards, picking up three awards apiece. The ceremony will air in syndication later this month... Nicolas Cage has signed on to star in Neil LaBute's upcoming remake of the 1973 British cult thriller The Wicker Man... Emmy winner Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street) has been cast in CBS's drama pilot Hack... Comedy Central has signed a deal to run next-day repeats of Late Night with Conan O'Brien beginning Sept. 3. read more

PAT ON THE BACK

Comedian Paula Poundstone — who pleaded no contest last year to a felony count of child endangerment — passed her latest progress report hearing with flying colors on Wednesday. A judge praised Poundstone for following the terms of her probation by attending AA meetings and regular counseling sessions. Her next probation review is slated for June 5. read more

WHO'S WATCHING ELLIE?

Andy Richter even beat Julia Louis-Dreyfus's new NBC sitcom Watching Ellie, which saw its audience dip to 9.5 million viewers in its fourth week. In a related note, the New York Daily News reports that NBC will pull Ellie after two more airings — saving the remaining episodes for next season. That move reportedly had always been planned. read more

OSCAR WATCH

Paul McCartney will perform his Oscar-nominated song "Vanilla Sky" at the 74th Academy Awards Sunday night, it was announced Wednesday. Meanwhile, John Travolta has been added as a presenter. read more

RICHTER SCALE

The premiere of Fox's Andy Richter Controls the Universe got a decent sampling Tuesday night. The well-reviewed single-camera comedy averaged 9.7 million viewers and easily won its 8:30 pm/ET timeslot in all key demos. read more

MOUNTAIN (WO)MEN

Best actress Oscar contenders Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger are in talks to star in Anthony Minghella's upcoming Civil War saga Cold Mountain. Jude Law also is ironing out a deal to come on board the project. The film is based on Charles Frazier's best-selling novel about a wounded soldier struggling to make it home to his sweetheart. read more

BLAME MARIAH

Sluggish record sales have led EMI Group to slash nearly 1,800 jobs in its music division. Earlier this year, EMI's Virgin Records paid Mariah Carey $28 million to end their contract. You do the math. read more

Isaac Hayes's Oscar Triumph


At Monday's 17th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony — airing tonight at 9 pm/ET on VH1 — R&B legend Isaac Hayes finally gained admittance into the music biz's elite club. While the evening will no doubt rank as one of the soul man's finest hours, the 59-year-old performer admits that his career pinnacle thus far remains the 1972 Academy Awards — where he became the first African-American to win best original song for the "Theme from Shaft."

"When I was selected, everyone thought I would take a fine chick with me," he recalls. "But I took my grandmother as my date. This was the most important moment of my life, and I wanted her to be there.

"When we were growing up, we had it rough," adds Hayes, who is courting a new generation of fans as the voice of Chef o read more

Cop Confesses: L&O Steals the Show


Over and over, Law & Order has made news by fictionalizing cases that are ripped from the headlines. And while this approach has its detractors, it also boasts an eloquent supporter in S. Epatha Merkerson, who has played Lt. Anita Van Buren since 1993.

"The show is very topical and provocative, and I do believe that's why we've been on for 12 years," she tells TV Guide Online. "We've always found a way to take a news story and find a twist to it. Sometimes it gets very close."

Close, indeed. A recent L&O plot inspired by Chandra Levy's disappearance understandably displeased Mrs. Gary Condit, whose screen counterpart was revealed to have murdered her husband's mistress. Naturally, she, for one, wouldn't agree with Merkerson's suggestion that the show "does a service."

"Probably not, but you k read more

Denis Leary's Oscar Picks


Denis Leary is breaking one of Hollywood's golden rules: He's going public with his 2002 Oscar picks. And not surprisingly, the foul-mouthed comic-turned-actor — who's among the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's 5,700 voting members — sided mostly with the underdogs.

In the acting categories, the star of ABC's The Job (airing tonight at 9:30 pm/ET) reveals to TV Guide Online that he "voted for [I Am Sam's] Sean Penn for best actor, [Monster's Ball's] Halle Berry for best actress, [In the Bedr read more

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