Josh Wolk
December 22, 2006 AT 12:00 PM EST


Stern Goes Satellite

Howard Stern debuts on Sirius Satellite Radio. Stern’s old employer CBS Radio responds to his move into futuristic technology by going retro: They file an old-fashioned mega-lawsuit (claiming Stern improperly promoted Sirius while still on CBS stations) and introduce an old-fashioned rock star, David Lee Roth, who takes over Stern’s East Coast slots. The suit is settled in May (Sirius pays $2 million, a sum that seems to go mostly toward buying back Stern’s old tapes), and Roth is fired in April — after his nonsensical, rambling show proves only slightly more au courant than having Bobby Vinton tap out the Top 40 in Morse code.


‘American Idol’ Explodes

The fifth season of American Idol kicks off with 35.5 million viewers, a number that will later be surpassed by the 36.4 million who watch Taylor Hicks beat out Katharine McPhee in the surreal May 24 finale. The mammoth season generates another round of runner-up success stories, with Chris Daughtry and Kellie Pickler getting major record deals in addition to the two finalists. And Hicks (usually seen clapping for himself and shouting out ”Soul Patrol!” to no one in particular) proves an inspiring victor, especially to middle-aged accountants who can now defend their gray hair as ”rockin’.”


Enter the CW

Execs from The WB and UPN announce that the struggling networks will merge into one: The CW. The new kid on the block debuts Sept. 20 with an old lineup featuring 11 veteran shows (including 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls) and just two new entries. One of them is canceled after three episodes: Runaway, starring Donnie Wahlberg…an actual New Kid on the Block. The parallel can’t be reassuring.


Book Clubbed: Oprah gives James Frey a nationally televised smackdown

Here are three people you don’t want mad at you, in ascending order: your mother, God, and Oprah. On Jan. 26, author James Frey found himself wishing for the warm relief of eternal damnation as Oprah Winfrey icily scolded him live on her television show over his discredited 2003 memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

After she assigned his gritty tale of addiction and recovery to her Book Club in September 2005, it went on to sell more than 3.5 million copies. But on Jan. 8, the Smoking Gun website claimed many of Frey’s travails were fictional or greatly exaggerated: For example, he didn’t spend 87 days in jail, just a few hours in an Ohio police station. On Jan. 11, Oprah called in to defend Frey on Larry King Live: ”Although some of the facts have been questioned…the underlying message of redemption…still resonates with me.” As more contradictions emerged, though, the resonating stopped.

Frey was summoned to Oprah’s show, where she declared, ”It is difficult for me to talk to you because I really feel duped.” The author looked like a shamed child — mumbling rationalizations about the ”essential truth” of his story. In February, an author’s note was released with an apology; Frey conceded that he’d made himself seem ”tougher…than in reality I was, or I am.” Buck up, Jim: Anyone who can survive Oprah’s wrath without spontaneously combusting from humiliation must have some inner strength.


The Pellicano Brief

Private eye Anthony Pellicano pleads not guilty to a 110-count indictment for illegally wiretapping and bribing cops to get dirt on his clients’ adversaries, including Sylvester Stallone and Garry Shandling. Hollywood braces for Pellicano’s big-name connections — lawyer Bert Fields, Paramount chief Brad Grey — to be drawn into the case, but by year’s end the only other recognizable name to be taken down is action director John McTiernan, who pleads guilty to a charge of lying to an FBI agent. It was nothing Pellicano-related, mind you: The agent was merely enraged when McTiernan commented, ”I think Die Hard With a Vengeance really holds up.”


Mariah Carries Trophies

Mariah Carey wins three Grammys for 2005’s top-selling comeback CD, The Emancipation of Mimi. Although there is a tiny drawback: All of her wins are for R&B awards handed out before the telecast, and to a true diva, an award without camera time is about as useful as a sitting ovation.


Alba to ‘Playboy’: Drop Dead

Playboy puts Jessica Alba’s picture on its March cover without her consent, and she demands all copies be pulled. Alba drops the demand when Hugh Hefner apologizes and makes a donation to two of Alba’s favorite charities. And nobody ever looked at Jessica Alba’s chest again. The end!


George Michael Found Asleep at the Wheel

When George Michael gets in trouble, it’s gotta be perfect. On Feb. 26, the singer is arrested in London by cops who find him asleep in his parked car carrying marijuana. But the exacting star must not be happy, because he tries it again, this time with more action: In April, he smashes his auto into three parked cars (but denies reports he sped away). The car thing clearly isn’t working, so he apparently decides to try something new… and is caught cruising in a London park. Then the lesson becomes clear: An artist must trust his instincts! So in October, he is once again found asleep in his car, allegedly holding pot. It just feels right. Though, technically, so did the cruising.

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