NO JOKING MATTER David Letterman had successful quintiple bypass heart surgery Friday in New York City, according to The New York Times. The 52-year-old talk show host had the emergency surgery after a test showed that an artery leading to his heart was severely constricted. The topic came up during Thursday’s taping of his show when Letterman began asking guest Regis Philbin about his 1993 angioplasty, adding, ”The reason I’m bringing this up is that I have very high cholesterol, and I also have a history of [heart problems].” (His father died of a heart attack in the 1950s, according to the Associated Press.) The ”Late Show” will broadcast reruns until the host’s return. This will be the first time – other than vacations – that Letterman has missed a show. “He’s the Cal Ripkin of TV,” said his spokeman, referring to Letterman’s streak of not being absent since 1982.
INDICTED Sean ”Puffy” Combs recruited Johnnie Cochran just in time: The rap mogul was indicted Thursday on weapons charges for his arrest after the Club New York shooting. According to Reuters, a Manhattan grand jury charged him with criminal possession of a weapon in the second and third degree (which has a maximum sentence of 15 years) for the two 9 mm’s found in his car after he fled the incident on Dec. 27. (One gun was reported stolen from Georgia, the other was registered in West Virginia.) Combs will plead not guilty, and he presented this statement through his lawyers: ”The decision to indict me is wrong. I’m innocent, and we will prove it.I am putting my faith in God, and I know my name will be cleared.” Jennifer Lopez also released a statement of solidarity, which said, ”I was with him that evening. At no time did I see him with a gun. I support him wholeheartedly throughout this difficult time. My prayers and thoughts are with the victims of the shooting.”
BIG WIN No matter how many new game shows rip off its lights and music, ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” just keeps getting more popular. On Wednesday night the show received its highest rating to date, not to mention the highest prime-time rating of any program this season. A whopping 33.67 million viewers tuned in, more than ”Millionaire”’s previous high of 29.71 million…. The sun is shining for Al Roker: He’ll stay with ”Today” after all, having just signed a new contract with NBC worth a reported $14 million over seven years.
GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE? So how much creative control did the broadcast networks hand over to the government when it came to including antidrug messages in prime-time shows? Most said none, contradicting a Salon.com investigative report Thursday that detailed how the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reviewed, approved, and in some cases ”altered” show scripts featuring antidrug messages as part of the government’s five-year, $1 billion ad-buy campaign. ABC, CBS, and NBC denied ever submitting scripts to the ONDCP, even though the online report said ”The Practice,” ”Chicago Hope,” and ”ER” featured antidrug messages that aired in lieu of public service ads already paid for by the government. The WB, however, admitted to consulting with experts at the ONDCP on two scripts that dealt with drug and alcohol use and ”will continue to do so as issues arise in our programs.” (item written by Lynette Rice in L.A.)
CASTING Julianne Moore will join Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in ”Unbreakable,” the next film by ”Sixth Sense” writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, who describes the project only as an ”old-style suspense movie”…. Tim Daly (”Wings”) will play the role of Dr. Richard Kimble in the pilot for a new ”Fugitive” TV series, produced by the team that brought you the 1993 film. Perhaps in a show of reciprocity, Harrison Ford will now finally get to work on that big-screen version of ”Wings” that the public demands.
GOING APE Todd McFarlane, the creator of ”Spawn,” is developing a new series for UPN next season called ”Gorilla World,” about a land in which talking apes rule and humans are the subservient species. If it sounds like ”Planet of the Apes,” McFarlane sees the similarities too, and man is he touchy about it. ”When was Fox [which owns the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise] granted the rights to be the only people who talked about Darwin?” he told Variety. ”If they’re dumb enough not to do anything with that franchise, it’s up to me.”
INSULTED Even if you didn’t graduate cum laude, you probably get more respect from your alma mater than comedian Richard Lewis does: Ohio State University inadvertently printed two basketball media guides that – in a list of famous alumni – described Lewis as ”actor, writer, comedian, drunk.” The school’s athletic director, Gerry Emig, who was in charge of supervising the printing, has resigned with an apology to Lewis for the unfortunate mistake, according to the Associated Press. (The school also issued an apology.) A statement from Lewis’ publicist said the comic is ”deeply disturbed over this apparently cruel joke, especially in light of his long and distinguished relationship with Ohio State University.” If the school decides to name a building after him to make amends, let’s hope they have the smarts not to make it one with a pub in it.
REEL DEAL ”The Shipping News” may be the film that’s never made: Billy Bob Thornton has just dropped out of directing the adaptation of the novel, following in the retreating footsteps of previously linked directors Fred Schepisi and Lasse Hallstrom. Instead, Thornton will take on directing chores for ”Cinderella Man,” a Depression-era boxing flick with Ben Affleck…. Hugh Wilson (”The First Wives Club”) will direct Sandra Bullock in ”Miss Congeniality,” a comedy where she plays an FBI agent going undercover as a beauty pageant contestant.
ROBBED While Def Leppard was preparing for a concert in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Monday night, somebody sneaked onto the band’s tour bus and stole $5,000 worth of personal items, including home movies and clothing, according to MTV News. Some of the stuff has been recovered thanks to an informant’s tip, but the culprit hasn’t been apprehended. Rock n’ roll memorabilia collectors should be on the lookout for someone peddling Def Leppard’s stuff… that is, if they can take a moment away from polishing their ”Sweatshirts: Dokken - Slayer” display case.
SEE YA! Smashing Pumpkins manager Sharon Osbourne (wife and manager of Ozzy) has split from the band after only three months of working together because ”Billy Corgan was making me sick.” (And if Ozzy is considered your ”easy” client, you know it’s got to be bad.) Osbourne told Reuters that she was tired of Corgan’s ”mind games,” such as giving her the silent treatment when she would disagree with him. She added, ”I don’t need games in my life. I don’t need stupid little boys making faces at me,” and said she finally left because she was ”basically bored with it.” The Pumpkins had no comment.
OBITUARY Marc Davis, who was one of Walt Disney’s inner animation circle called the ”nine old men,” died Wednesday from a stroke at the age of 86. Davis was known as ”Disney’s Ladies Man” because of his work designing such female characters as Briar Rose (the Sleeping Beauty), Alice (of Wonderland fame), Tinkerbell, and ”101 Dalmatians”’s Cruella De Vil for the classic animated films. Davis also was one of the main designers for Disneyland, helping develop such rides as It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Carribean.