As Oprah quits the book game, Today jumps in
Hesitant to brave the towering stacks at your nearest bookstore without that little orange "O" seal to guide you? Help is on Today. Just three days after Oprah Winfrey, 48, announced she was shelving her six-year-old book club series ("It has become harder and harder for me to find books on a monthly basis that I really am passionate about," Winfrey told viewers April 5), NBC's Today show heralded its own monthly discussions. Beginning in June, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer will host a segment featuring works by up-and-coming fiction and nonfiction writers recommended by bestselling novelists. "We thought, 'What a great opportunity to step in and seize the moment,' " said Today executive producer Jonathan Wald.
Despite this consolation, Oprah's exit is a body blow to publishers. "She was a tremendously positive force in encouraging people to read," says literary agent Mort Janklow. Indeed, all 46 books handpicked by Winfrey—including Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone and Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean—became bestsellers. "It was a great run," says Mitchard. And what of Oprah's contention that a good book is hard to find? "There may not be enough to suit her," says literary agent Nick Ellison of the 55,000 new titles released each year, "but it's extraordinary to me how many there are that don't get recognized."
Leo and Gisele: A Sinking Ship?
One of the mysteries dogging Leonardo DiCaprio—will Gangs of New York, his collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, ever open?—was solved April 8 when Miramax studios said the film will be released in December, a year behind schedule. DiCaprio, 27, and Scorsese, 59, reportedly chipped in a combined $7 million to help keep Gangs alive. Alas, the mystery surrounding Leo's relationship with Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen, 21, remains murky. Neither side would confirm British press reports that they split after two years together.
There's No Place Like Home
Continuing to make weekly headlines after a long quiet spell, Liza Minnelli, 56, who wed producer David Gest, 48, in an opulent March 16 ceremony, now faces allegations of elder abuse from her stepmother, Lee Anderson Minnelli, 94, the widow of Minnelli's dad, Vincente. Claiming Minnelli neglected her legal obligations (as the executor of Vincente's will) to maintain Lee's home, and "secretly sold" the Beverly Hills residence she has lived in for the past 40 years, Lee is seeking a $1 million trust to ensure that she has a place to live. (The sale is contingent on Lee's vacating the estate.) "While [Liza] is honeymooning all over the world," reads the lawsuit, "[Lee] is alone in a cold, dark house at age 94." Gest countered with a statement saying his wife had offered to buy Lee a condo, but the "offer has been refused." Lee's attorney Tamara Green says, "Lee loves Liza more than life," and concedes that Liza may not realize "the zeal with which her employees/ agents have undertaken to remove Mrs. Minnelli from this house.
Geri Gets Back To Basics
Our little Spice Girl is all grown up. After slimming down, going blonder and trading in her platform boots for classy pumps, Geri Halliwell (a.k.a. Ginger Spice), 29, is poised for the final stage in her metamorphosis from pop tart to serious solo artist. Halliwell, who quit the girl-powered quintet in 1998, plans to have two tattoos—an eight-point star and a black jaguar—removed with laser surgery, confirms her publicist "It's time to get rid of them," she told the Mail on Sunday. Halliwell is in good hands—thanks to a referral from another tattoo-repentant star. "I've been to see Cher," she said. "I'm going to her doctor."
Road and Trek
Preparing to drive at the 26th annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity charity race in Long Beach, Calif., on April 13, Patrick Stewart confessed to an unfair advantage: He had just completed 10 days "clashing over bushes and rocks" on an alien planet in an all-terrain vehicle for his role in the upcoming Star Trek: Nemesis (due later this year). So doesn't he long to order someone to "engage" or "make it so" when he's behind the wheel? "Never," says Stewart, 61, though he's aware the lingo has permeated the language: "I do know a couple of commercial pilots who use Star Trek commands all the time when they are flying."
Baby, You Can't Drive My Car
Who needs Dear Abby when you've got Click and Clack? On a recent broadcast of National Public Radio's Car Talk, actress Ashley Judd, 34, jump-started the program's hosts, brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi (known together as Click and Clack), by calling in with a classic relationship conundrum: How do you persuade your man to I let you drive? Judd, a self-professed Car Talk fan for years, griped that her husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti, 28, rarely lets her take the wheel when they go out together: "I have driven with him in the vehicle once in three years," she said. "Why the resistance? "Deep in his heart," theorized Ray, "he's terrified."
The brothers told Judd it would be best to drive alone, as her husband wouldn't change his ways. Off the air, Ray pondered the situation. "I'm gonna figure she's a lousy driver," he says. "When she got behind the wheel it was scarier for him than driving around the track with people cutting him off at 200 miles per hour."
The ubiquitous navy-blue bulletproof vests worn by TV journalists covering the violence in the Middle East are "no different than what the soldiers wear," says Brian Mills of LBA International, vest manufacturer for the military, police and press. "They're just a bit smarter." Though wartime chic doesn't come cheap (a 16-lb. vest and helmet set costs about $1,000), "We supply all our people with protective gear," says David Verdi, executive news director for NBC. "What they wear is up to them. I can't tell [MSNBC anchor] Ashleigh Banfield, 'It's safe to take your helmet off.' But I can call her up and say, 'Are you nuts, put it on!' "
with Greg the Bunny
Hollywood. It's a tough town, especially if you're a foot and a half tall and are covered in fur. Years in the business have made Greg the Bunny—star, not surprisingly, of FOX's well-received sitcom Greg the Bunny—wise, weary, even cynical, but still ready to do a little song, a little dance, when the cameras are on. Scoop talked to the showbiz vet about life, love and carrots.
How are the wife and the 1,117 kids?
I'm not married, though I have had quite a few litters. FOX has me workin' my tail off, personally manufacturing as many bunny dolls as possible for their inevitable merchandising campaign. It's difficult to see them go, but the gross percentages help ease the pain.
Are you a vegetarian?
I despise carrots. But I do enjoy a good side salad at Sizzler.
Do you hang with Bugs?
Cartoons are two-dimensional, capisce? I love Bugs Bunny as much as the next guy, but you're not gonna see him on Hollywood Squares without post-production assistance from George Lucas.
Which human celeb most resembles a bunny?
I think you'd have to take the Frankenstein route. I'd use Angelina Jolie's eyes, Steve Buscemi's ears and Renée Zellweger's cute, pink nose.
Any love interests?
I drool for Jessica Rabbit, but my heart belongs to three-dimensional women, like Katie Holmes and Lamb Chop.
So you date humans?
I do like human girls, but they just pinch my cheek. It must be the same thing Gary Coleman goes through.
Are you afraid of being typecast?
No, of course not. I mean, just because ALF played an alien from another planet doesn't mean that he got... type...Um, yes, I am.
What are you wearing to the Emmys?
Fur. And over it, fur.
ON THE BLOCK
BERTH OF THE BEE GEES
How deep is Barry Gibb's love for his childhood home in Manchester, England? Deep enough to shell out nearly $230,000 for the five-bedroom Victorian house, where a young Barry sang with siblings Maurice and Robin before the family emigrated to Australia in 1958 (the year brother Andy was born). The trio would later become famous as the Bee Gees. "I have so many fond memories of harmonizing in my bedroom with my brothers," says Gibb, 55. The singer, who owns homes in Miami Beach and Buckinghamshire, plans to renovate and rent out the residence.