WEEK IN REVIEW: Last Call for 'Ally'

05/03/2002 AT 01:00 PM EDT

FINAL CALL: "Ally McBeal" is planning to go out with a bang. The Los Angeles Times reported that the David E. Kelley program starring Calista Flockhart, 37, as the romantically challenged legal eagle, will bring back three departed members of the original cast for its May 20 finale -- including one whose character is deceased. (One name that didn't crop up on the returns list is Robert Downey Jr., 37, whose romantic role was essentially written out after his recent problems involving drugs.) As for those who will reappear: the return of Gil Bellows, 34, as Ally's former lover and colleague, Billy, will hardly come as a shock to fans of the series, notes the paper, given that he has made several appearances as a ghost since Billy died two years ago. Also returning for the finale, to be titled -- aptly -- "Bygones," will be Courtney Thorne-Smith, 34, who played Billy's wife, Georgia, and Lisa Nicole Carson, 32, who played Ally's roommate, Renee.

SOME THRILLER: Michael Jackson is becoming a movie director, said the Hollywood Reporter. According to the trade paper, the reclusive pop star, 43, is teaming with writer-director Bryan Michael Stoller on a big screen adaptation of author Jennings Michael Burch's memoir about his life as a foster child, "They Cage the Animals at Night." Mel Gibson's Icon Productions is producing the film. The project, says the Reporter, came into being after Jackson saw Stoller's 1999 family film "Undercover Angel," starring Dean Winters and Yasmine Bleeth, and contacted him. No start date or cast members have been announced, but Stoller, 41, who says that Jackson has "an amazing vision," expects the script for "Cage" to be completed in about a month.

HERE'S JOHNNY: The man who put America to bed for 30 years has resurfaced in the pages of Esquire magazine, in a feature about late night-king Johnny Carson, 76, written by Bill Zehme. Zehme insisted to Matt Lauer on Monday's "Today" show that his story is "not an interview," but rather a profile of and informal conversation with the TV icon, pegged to the 10th anniversary of his departure from the "Tonight" show. The story offers plenty of insights into Carson as well as some of his signature great quips. Carson, said Zehme, is happy playing tennis and enjoying his passion for sailing. He also taught himself Swahili -- and gets a kick out of watching reality shows such as "The Chamber," "Fear Factor" and "Survivor."

HIT PLAY: Sophistication returned to Broadway this week, with a substantial revival of the eternally ethereal Noel Coward romantic comedy "Private Lives," starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. Among the opening night guests: Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson; director Mike Nichols with his "Wit" star Emma Thompson; Ian McKellen; "Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann with his Oscar-winning production designer wife, Catherine Martin; Lauren Bacall; Amy Irving; and PEOPLE.com. "It's a very difficult play to do," Nichols, 70, told Hanks, 45, during the intermission. "It was written to the speech rhythms of Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. For anybody else to do it is like trying to do the sketches of Nichols and May."

BARBIE'S MOM: Ruth Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll -- that boon to the Mattel Toy Corp. and the bane of feminists -- died on Saturday at a hospital in Los Angeles, where she lived, reports The New York Times on its front page Monday. She was 85, which made her 43 in 1959 at the time she invented busty blonde Barbie, who looked like Walt Disney's Tinkerbell (who was, in turn, modeled after Marilyn Monroe). As the Times notes -- at some length -- in its obituary, Barbie was later attacked by feminists for being a symbol of objectification and repression, while critics decried the doll for giving girls misguided body development goals. In the meantime, more than 1 billion Barbies have been sold in 150 countries.

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