'PLAYMAKERS' LANDS IN THE END ZONE

It was a critical hit and a ratings winner, so ESPN has canceled its football drama "Playmakers." The show had vexed ESPN since it debuted in August, when the NFL complained the program dwelled too much on fictive players' drug abuse, extramarital sex, homophobia--the stuff you read about in the sports pages but which somehow looks worse on TV.

NEWSMAKERS

MARIA SHRIVERA journalist, a Kennedy and wife of a movie star turned governor, Maria Shriver knows both sides of the camera. Last week, after leaving NBC News to avoid conflicts with her new role as California's First Lady, she practiced being an interviewee with NEWSWEEK's Karen Breslau.What do you wish you'd known before you woke up one morning as First Lady?

WHAT'S ON 'TODD TV'? YOU DECIDE.

It's an election year, so naturally reality TV has come up with its own form of getting out the vote. On FX's "Todd TV," the audience selects the plot twists.

NEWSMAKERS

Donald Trump sure talks tough, doesn't he? Not since Richard Nixon went after Archibald Cox has a boss enjoyed firing people so much. But it seems NBC isn't as macho as The Donald.

THE RUSH OF 'TRAFFIC'

Isn't it time that someone arrested a TV executive or two on charges of grand larceny? Half the shows on television are either ripped off from another country ("Survivor," "Trading Spaces"), spun off from the original (coming soon: "Law & Order 4" and "C.S.I. 3") or are imitations of other shows ("The Apprentice" and every new sitcom on ABC).

Jon Stewart: Red, White & Funny

The New Year Will Bring A Host Of Intriguing Faces Front And Center. Politicians. Actors. Tycoons. Educators. And One Fake News Anchor, Bravely Battling Pomposity And Misinformation. Jon Stewart Prepares For Campaign 2004

New Kid In Town

When Bobb'e Thompson enters the room, you can practically hear the bling-bling. Designer sweat suit, gold dog tag and chains, giant titanium watch--the man does dress for success. "I like jewels, shiny and icy," says Thompson. "When I get to be 13, I'd like to go shopping in the Beverly Hills mall every two weeks." The man, did we say?

Tv: Not A Pretty Portrait?

Just when you thought no one even watched TV movies anymore, along comes "The Reagans," and people are dying just to read the script. The CBS miniseries doesn't air until Nov. 16, but leaked copies of the screenplay and a six-minute highlight tape have already stirred up a controversy about how the movie depicts the president and his wife, Nancy. "The Reagans" sprawls from the moment they meet on a Hollywood set through his presidency and his developing Alzheimer's.

Dysfunction Junction

The Bluths have a little trouble holding down jobs. Buster has studied cartography and Native American tribal rituals, but thinks he can't find work in those fields because he's prone to panic attacks.

Heir Heads

The clingy dress, the Chanel belt, the denim mini-skirt--if they were cruising the clubs, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie would be stunning. However, the Beverly Hills bombshells just relocated to Altus, Ark. (population: 817), so the reaction is closer to stunned. "Well, their clothing is a little different than what most girls wear around here," says grandma Curly Leding.

Losing 'Friends'

They Won't Be There For You--Not Much Longer, Anyway. Behind The Scenes As 'Friends' Begins Its Final Season, And Great Sitcoms Become An Endangered Species

Love Doesn't Stink...

Television, like Jennifer Lopez, is unlucky in love. Sure, TV has enjoyed plenty of quickie romances, if you believe there's much true romance on "The Bachelor," "Joe Millionaire" and their evil spawn.

THE FASHION POLICEMAN

Carson Kressley is fabulous. No, really, it's part of his job description. As one of the five gay men on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Kressley cruises the airwaves making over hetero fashion victims in his own image.

Lewinsky Is For Lovers

For someone who survived Linda Tripp, Ken Starr and Barbara Walters, Monica Lewinsky is still charmingly skittish about interviews. She's got two PR minders monitoring our conversation, and she pauses and sighs more than Al Gore in a debate. "I really treasure my privacy," she says. "I'm trying to recognize that I'm a public person and draw the boundaries of what I'm allowed to keep private." Fair enough.

And The Banderas Plays On

You've heard of the Atkins diet and the Weight Watchers diet. Here, for the first time, is the Antonio Banderas diet. It starts every morning with fried eggs and bacon, cooked by Banderas himself. "I have to do the right amount of oil," he says. "That greasy thing allows you to start singing in the morning." Grease is a food group in the Banderas diet, what with his April 10 Broadway debut in the musical "Nine." He eats potato chips--preferably Ruffles--by the bagful.

Livin' Large With Wanda And Her Mighty Mouth

Too bad Wanda Sykes can't read this story to you. It's hard to do her justice without hearing her voice. You could say it's the kind of sound that strips paint off walls--or a sistah-girl Ross Perot, if that didn't seem so weird.

Television: Messing With Rudy

How do you turn a certified hero into a heel? The TV movie "Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story" is conducting a master class in the art of broad-brush tarnishing.

View From The Small Screen

Even for a group with a notorious case of ants in its pants, the audience at the 75th Academy Awards handed out more than its share of standing ovations. Host Steve Martin got one before he'd cracked a single mild-mannered joke.

Turning Off The Tube

What do you call it when someone turns on the lights but you still can't see? That's a pretty fair description of television's coverage of the war in Iraq.For all the talk about unprecedented battlefield access, amazing new broadcast technology and 24/7 coverage on numerous channels, TV's first few days of Operation Iraqi Freedom were largely a muddle.

Leading The Big Parade

If you're 4-foot-11 and talk like a kewpie doll on helium, people don't always take you seriously. For instance, the last time Kristin Chenoweth ordered flowers for a friend. "She never got them," she chirps. "I called to find out what happened, and they told me, 'It says here that a child was using your credit card'." Yet Chenoweth, 33, has a supersize talent.

'Sopranos' Lite On Nbc

Haven't we met these people somewhere before? The husband runs the family crime syndicate but is also a loving father. The wife is blond, tough and addicted to the trappings of wealth.

Spinsterhood Is Powerful

Bad news, "Bachelor" fans. Reality TV's hottest dating show may not survive its sex-change operation. Not that ABC has shared even a minute of "The Bachelorette," which debuts this week.

Television: Before They Were Tv Stars

They seemed almost normal. Sure, the son had a blond mohawk and the daughter wore magenta eye shadow. But they weren't covered in tattoos or anything. No one nibbled on a bat.

Tops Of 2002: Television

A Top 10 TV list? Doesn't that imply there were 10 moments on television worth talking about?The sad truth is that 2002 will go down in history much as 2001 did--as an underwhelming, derivative, lackluster year for TV.

Newman's Own Home Style Uplift

"Our town" has always managed to deliver its share of chuckles amid the pathos, but up to now no one has ever wrung a laugh out of the line "You know how it is: you're 21 or 22 and you make some decisions, then whisssh!

No-Fly Zone

When a TV network hails something as "epic," it's really saying, We dare you to watch the whole thing. OK, we admit it: we only watched half of "Taken," which is more than most people will manage. "Taken" is a 20-hour miniseries--that's twice as long as "The Tenth Kingdom"!--and even if its executive producer is Steven Spielberg, that's still a lot of time to spend with a show about people hunting for little green men.

Newsmakers

A FINE ROMANCESo another "Bachelor" bites the dust, and now we can debate again whether this is the most disgusting, degrading show since, since--well, we can debate that, too.

Theater: Death Becomes Them, Even Off-Broadway

How do you attract audiences to an off-off-Broadway play about the death penalty? Packing the cast with celebrities works pretty well. Since "The Exonerated" opened last month with Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Sara Gilbert, it has become one of the hottest tickets in New York, even though its artfully woven testimonials of people freed from death row is hardly your light evening out.

Return To Ozz

Hey, did you know that the Osbournes star in their own reality television series? It's easy to forget these days, given how many other careers they've acquired since "The Osbournes" debuted on MTV in March.

True Guilty Pleasure

When it comes time to hand out the Emmy Awards, USA's "Murder in Greenwich" won't even be nominated. It's the kind of TV movie where the dead person narrates her own story, where the actors are way prettier than their real-life counterparts, where the famously bald star wears a terrible toupee.

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