Get Me a Star, Doc
When long-running series need a boost, well-known names can help

FOCUS

When Alan Alda, 64, joined the cast of ER for five episodes last season, his opening night brought in 2 million more viewers than the episode shown the week before. So is it any wonder that the networks are going back to the well? Count on more guest stars on long-running series this fall. And, in many cases, figure on their sticking around for more than one episode.

This time, ER is going with Sally Field, 53, a TV veteran (1965-66's Gidget, 1967-69's The Flying Nun) who went on to bigger things in the movies. She'll begin a six-episode stint during (when else?) November sweeps. The two-time Academy Award winner (1979's Norma Rae and 1984's Places in the Heart) will play ER regular Maura Tierney's estranged mother. "[Sally's] so dynamic," raved the show's executive producer Jack Orman to Variety. "We know she can pull this off."

Ally McBeal is also going with a film star. Robert Downey Jr., who recently completed a year in a California state prison for violating his probation on drug charges, will first appear on the show's Oct. 23 season premiere. Downey is cast in a recurring role opposite Calista Flockhart. According to FOX, the Oscar-nominated (1992's Chaplin) actor, 35, will play "a mysterious stranger with a knack for understanding Ally."

The most intriguing guest spot of the year may occur on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Britney Spears, 18, a friend of Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar, has expressed interest in guest starring on an episode of the hit WB show. Who could have imagined the day when a vampire's black cape would be replaced by a midriff crop top?

That's the Ticket, Keanu
Keanu Reeves earned a cool $12.5 million for his starring role in The Replacements. So what was he doing outside Chicago's Comiskey Park on the weekend of Aug. 5, hanging out pretending to sell tickets before a White Sox game against the Oakland Athletics? Researching his role as a ticket scalper in the currently shooting film Hardball, it seems. The actor, incognito beneath a yanked-down cap, played the part so convincingly that ballpark security guards broke up the action—until, says a source close to Reeves, the guards "recognized him and left him alone." Did Reeves actually sell any tickets illegally? "The Chicago White Sox cannot confirm or deny any questions regarding our security measures," says a Sox rep. Chicago police Det. Richard Obermaier says no formal complaint was issued.

Kiss Me, Kate; Marry Me Later?

Playing a rock and roll groupie in Cameron Crowe's much-hyped retro film Almost Famous (opening Sept. 15) wasn't much of a stretch for starlet Kate Hudson. After all, the 21-year-old daughter of Goldie Hawn is sporting a new diamond sparkler, compliments of a bona fide rock star, Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, 33.

Does this mean that the couple, who have been dating for less than a year, are in it for the long haul? Not quite. "They don't consider themselves formally engaged," says Hudson's publicist Brad Cafarelli. And the diamond? Is it something more than a friendship ring? "It's more of a commitment to their relationship," Cafarelli says.

Home Free in the South of France

Many celebs go to great lengths to avoid photographers. Jack Nicholson happily spends his summer vacations with one of them. Willy Rizzo, an elder statesman of celebrity lens-men, has been welcoming Nicholson, 63, to his Cap Ferrat home in the South of France for the past decade and a half. Says the photog: "We've been friends for 25 years."

Recently, Nicholson and his girlfriend, actress Lara Flynn Boyle, 30, spent time there with Rizzo; in the past the actor has often rewarded him with photo exclusives. Explains a source: "When Jack wants photos, he calls Willy. It's about trust and mutual benefit."

A Tragedy at Sea
As a naval expert and the author of The Hunt for Red October, a thriller involving a Russian submarine, Tom Clancy showed particular interest in the grim news from the Barents Sea last week. But don't ask him to conceive a plot to explain why the Kursk was stranded on the ocean floor. "It's a straight accident," Clancy says. "It's a lot easier to explain occurrences by screw-ups than by conspiracy." In a crisis like this, he adds, expertise is usually more valuable than valor. Don't look for heroes or strong personalities, "but people who know what the hell they are doing." And his opinion on the Russian navy? "I've been onboard Russian ships, and I'm not really keen on the way they are put together. Their workmanship is not as good as ours."

Meet the Beatles...Again
Listen, do you want to know a secret behind creating a new Beatles single some 30 years after the group broke up? All you need are outtakes—and a little help from your friends. Which is how Paul McCartney created "Free Now," to be released in Britain Aug. 21 (and later this year in the States). "It's a new little piece of the Beatles," says Paul, who combined recorded studio banter among the Fab Four with previously unheard Beatles guitar work. "It's more underground than what you usually hear from me."

POP QUIZ

with Melanie Griffith

Melanie Griffith, who turned 43 on Aug. 9, wants another child. She plans to lead a discussion this month on "Having Babies After 35" at One WorldLive.com, an internet site she co-founded. Earlier she shared her thoughts with Scoop in a call from Spain, where she is summering with husband Antonio Banderas and her children.

Why do you want another baby at 43?

I love my children more than life itself, really. Antonio and I want to have another baby.

How long have you been trying?

Eight months.

What are the doctors advising you to do?

I have a wonderful fertility specialist, Dr. Hal Danzer, so I have been doing all of the different drugs that they have [recommended]. I'm not doing in vitro because I am still trying to have a baby naturally.

Why talk about your fertility problem?

It shouldn't be embarrassing. You shouldn't have to be afraid to say, "I am on fertility drugs." I think that if you can get help to have a child and you really want a child and can support that child, it's not something you should be ashamed of.

How does Antonio feel about discussing this online?

Antonio is very pro helping other people. He thinks if I can help somebody else to have a child or at least know about something new that's available, then that's a good thing.

It's not that he can't make a baby or that I can't make a baby—it's the fact that I am 43. Women, when we are born, we already have all of our eggs. So as we get older our eggs die off. But men make new sperm. Look who just had a baby at 80...what's his name from The Odd Couple.

Tony Randall? [actually he was 78]

Yeah, that's right.

What can this online chat accomplish?

I hope people see that I have the same problems other women do. I have three kids. I haven't had a good night's sleep for 15 years.

Another baby entails more sleep loss.

I would like to have another baby with Antonio and forget the sleep for a while. I'll have time in my 60s.

ON THE BLOCK: RATZENBERGER R.F.D.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night kept John Ratzenberger—a.k.a. Cheers' Cliff the mailman—from his appointed rounds. A long com-mute, however, is another matter. One reason Ratzenberger is selling the 5,480-sq.-ft. home he built in 1993 on Vashon Island, 30 minutes by ferry west of Seattle, is that it's a long way from Los Angeles and a continuing television career. The estate has nearly 300 feet of beachfront, a carriage house, two-car garage and lighted basketball court plus a New England-style main house. (Sorry, Norm, there's no bar.) The asking price: $3.8 million.

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