Ashley Scott, how you doin’?

Scott, formerly of The WB’s “Birds of Prey,” is returning to television in “Joey,” NBC’s “Friends” spinoff starring Matt LeBlanc. She’ll play a new L.A. neighbor and possible love interest for LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani, according to the Hollywood trade papers.

She joins a cast that includes Drea De Matteo (“The Sopranos”), who’s playing Joey’s sister, and Paulo Costanzo (“40 Days and 40 Nights”), playing his nephew. The show has a series commitment from NBC and is a contender to fill “Friends”‘ 8 p.m. EDT Thursday spot next season.

Scott played Helena Kyle, the superhero offspring of Batman and Catwoman, in “Birds of Prey,” which lasted 13 episodes on The WB last season. She currently co-stars in “Walking Tall” opposite The Rock. Her other credits include the Fox series “Dark Angel” and “S.W.A.T.”
Groening sounds off on ‘Simpsons’
Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” will make his first speaking appearance on the show this week, 15 years into its run.

Groening’s animated self will appear on Sunday’s episode. He signs autographs for Milhouse, Dr. Hibbert and Lenny, among others, at a science-fiction convention.

Although his likeness has appeared numerous times on “The Simpsons,” currently in its 15th season on Fox, Groening has never had any dialogue on the show. He was depicted as a bald, eyepatch-wearing kook in “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular” and furtively “signed” the family’s living-room floor in the couch-gag opening to another episode. A photo of Groening also hangs in Comic Book Guy’s store, where he’s banned for life.

Sunday’s episode revolves around the wedding of Springfield Elementary principal Seymour Skinner and teacher Edna Krabappel. When Skinner gets cold feet, Edna finds solace in the beefy arms of Comic Book Guy – who previously dated Skinner’s mom – and they end up at the convention where Groening is signing autographs.



“SUPER MILLIONAIRE’ GETS MID-MAY BERTH

As promised, ABC is bringing back “Super Millionaire” in May in hopes of getting a ratings bump as the TV season draws to a close.

The game show will stick to the same schedule as its successful February run, airing five times over the course of a week in May. It will premiere at 9 p.m. EDT May 16, preceding the series finale of “The Practice.” Additional episodes will air at 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of that week.

The Sunday installment will displace the season finale of “Alias”; ABC doesn’t have a new airdate for it yet.

“Super Millionaire’s” first go-round produced one million-dollar winner and a second contestant who took home $500,000. The top prize in the game is $10 million.

ABC got solid ratings from the Regis Philbin-hosted show’s first run. The five specials all finished in the Nielsen Top 30 and averaged 13.5 million viewers, with the Feb. 16 debut drawing close to 17.5 million. That’s well below what the original “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” drew in its heyday a few years ago, but still good news to the struggling network.



KIMMEL FINALLY CRACKS D.C. MARKET

Jimmy Kimmel’s ABC talk show has been on the air for more than a year, but viewers in Washington, D.C., had to wait until this week to watch it.

The network and Allbritton Communications, which owns the ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in the nation’s capital, have finally reached an agreement whereby “Jimmy Kimmel Live” can air in Washington, the country’s eighth-largest TV market. The show debuted there this week.

“We’re thrilled to have Allbritton on board with “Jimmy Kimmel Live,”‘ says John Rouse, head of affiliate relations for ABC. “They’ve embraced the show and have shown this support through an aggressive promotional launch of the program.”

Allbritton-owned ABC affiliates in Birmingham, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Tulsa, Okla.; Charleston, S.C.; Lynchburg, Va.; and Harrisburg, Pa., also began carrying Kimmel’s show this week. The seven markets represent 5.3 million TV households, 2.2 million of them in the D.C. area.

Prior to this week, WJLA had been airing syndicated shows “Extra” and “Celebrity Justice” in the post-“Nightline” spot Kimmel’s show occupies in the rest of the country.



THE WB HIDES HU IN “DARK SHADOWS’

“X2: X-Men United” co-star Kelly Hu will join the cast of The WB’s gothic soap opera remake “Dark Shadows.” The former Miss Teen USA leads the latest round of pilot casting news.

Hu will play a physician and confidant to the wealthy Maine Collins clan, but she soon discovers, as women so often do, that Barnabas Collins (Alec Newman) is a 200-year-old vampire.

The Hawaiian-born actress did a stint on ABC’s “Threat Matrix” earlier this season. Hu played Lady Deathstrike in the “X-Men” sequel and has also appeared on the big screen in “The Scorpion King” and “Cradle 2 the Grave.”

Over on NBC, two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy will take one of the leads in the Paul Reiser-produced comedy “My 11:30.” The actress, currently appearing on Broadway in “Wonderful Town,” will play the no-nonsense therapist treating Jeff Goldblum’s stressed out financial consultant.

Murphy’s Tonys have come for Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” and the recent revival of “The King and I.” She co-starred in ABC’s short-lived “What About Joan,” also playing a shrink.



PLUMMER PLAYS CARDINAL LAW FOR SHOWTIME

Emmy winner Christopher Plummer will play Boston’s controversial Cardinal Bernard Law in Showtime’s upcoming adaptation of David French’s epic book “Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal.”

Shortened to “Our Fathers,” the original film will examine the scandals plaguing the Catholic Church from all sides, looking at the priests, the victims, the legal wrangling and the reporters trying to uncover the stories. Many Americans first became aware of the case during the trial of a prominent Boston-area priest, Father John J. Geoghan.

Law resigned in 2002 amidst uproar over his refusal to remove allegedly abusive priests from the ministry.

“Christopher Plummer was our first and only choice to take on the complex role of this high-ranking Catholic Church official who became the flashpoint in Boston for a scandal that has rocked Catholicism in America and throughout the entire world,” says Showtime President Robert Greenblatt. “He will bring authority, humanity, and an appropriately chilling detachment to the portrayal of a real-life character whose indelible involvement in this tragedy will never be forgotten.”

Dan Curtis (“Dark Shadows”) is set to direct from a script by Thomas Michael Donnelly (“A Soldier’s Sweetheart”).

Plummer is currently appearing on Broadway to great acclaim in “King Lear.” The Canadian actor has been nominated for six Emmys, winning for 1977’s “Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers” and for his voice-over work on “Madeline.” The “Sound of Music” star’s recent film credits include an award-winning turn as Mike Wallace in “The Insider” and appearances in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Nicholas Nickleby.”



CBS EARNS CENSORSHIP “HONOR’

Every year since 1992, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has presented the Muzzle Awards to groups or individuals who violate the principals of the First Amendment. CBS probably won’t send out a press release after winning a 2004 Muzzle Award.

The Jefferson Center, which claims to condemn First Amendment insults from all sides of the political spectrum, “honored” CBS for two separate events. CBS is mocked first for bowing to right wing criticisms and pulling “The Reagans” telefilm from its line-up and then refusing to air a Super Bowl ad submitted by advocacy group MoveOn.org.

“For its handling of “The Reagans,’ and for barring a tasteful if provocative public service message, while granting Super Bowl time to advertise three different erectile dysfunction medicines, among a welter of commercial products, not to mention a half-time performance the climax of which could hardly be deemed less “controversial’ than the banned PSA, CBS amply deserves yet another Jefferson Muzzle,” the group declares.

Other 2004 Muzzles went to the Albemarle County (Va.) School Board for preventing a student from wearing an NRA shirt, the judge in the Martha Stewart court case for restricting cameras from jury selection, and the president of Baseball’s Hall of Fame for rescinding an appearance invitation to actor Tim Robbins due to his political statements.

CBS last captured a Muzzle in 2000 after the network digitally altered a Times Square sign during its live New Years broadcast to read “CBS” rather than “NBC.” The network won a 1996 Muzzle for refusing to air a “60 Minutes” segment on a tobacco whistleblower for fear of litigation by the tobacco industry.



“THE O.C.’ SAYS “CH-CHECK IT OUT’ TO BEASTIE SINGLE

Prime-time soap and established musical launching pad “The O.C.” has scored a major coup. The Fox drama will premiere “Ch-Check It Out,” the new single from the Beastie Boys, on April 28.

The single will hit Orange County on the same day it hits the radio, well in advance of the summer release of the Beasties’ sixth album “To The 5 Boroughs.”

The April 28 episode finds the O.C. guys hitting the road for a Las Vegas bachelor party as the ladies plan a bachelorette party of their own back home. Meanwhile, secrets are revealed, tears are very likely shed and no fair guessing that somebody gets into a brawl with somebody else.

In its first season, “The O.C.” has given a boost to a variety of musical artists including Phantom Planet, who contributed the theme song, “California,” and Rooney, who had an entire episode dedicated in their honor. The first soundtrack from the season is currently No. 68 on Amazon.com’s sales charts.

The Beastie Boys probably aren’t relying on their “O.C.” spot for sales assistance. They haven’t released a new album since 1998’s “Hello Nasty,” but that recording went quadruple-platinum. The new album is rumored to be their most political, while also playing homage to their hometown.



TRAVOLTA HAS SUMMER LOVIN’ FOR CBS AFI SPECIAL

Few recent stars have been more associated with musical moments than “Welcome Back Kotter” thespian John Travolta. It’s likely that he’ll get to introduce clips from “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” (and woefully unlikely that he’ll get to introduce clips from “Stayin’ Alive”) when he hosts CBS’ presentation of “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Songs: America’s Greatest Music in the Movies.”

Set to air June 22, the special follows in the footsteps of other AFI entertainment events beginning with “AFI’s 100 Year … 100 Movies” and continuing through “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Stars,” “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Laughs,” “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Thrills,” “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Passions” and “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Heroes & Villains.”

The partial list of people interviewed for the special includes Clay Aiken, Debbie Allen, Burt Bacharach, Peter Boyle, Keith Carradine, Cyd Charisse, Art Garfunkel, Barry Gibb, Isaac Hayes, Angela Lansbury, Baz Luhrmann, Rita Moreno, Rosie Perez, Debbie Reynolds, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams and Hans Zimmer.

As always, the list is based on a semi-scientific survey of the film industry. Back in 2003, over 1500 industry leaders (including film critics and historians) were given a list of 400 musical movie moments and were asked to just on three criteria – the songs themselves, the cultural impact at the time and the long-term legacy. That last category may make it difficult for the themes from, say, “My Boss’s Daughter” or “Boat Trip” to get their proper due.

CBS boasts that alphabetically, the 400 finalists range from “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (“Two Weeks with Love,” 1950) to “Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah” (“Song of the South,” 1947). Bing Crosby was responsible for 12 of the songs, while Judy Garland had a hand in nine.

Travola, whose other musically inflected films have included “Pulp Fiction” and “Urban Cowboy,” next appears in theaters this Friday in “The Punisher.” Other upcoming projects include “Ladder 49” and the “Get Shorty” sequel “Be Cool.”



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AP-NY-04-15-04 1603EDT


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