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SHOWBIZ TONIGHT

Morgan Freeman Stirs up Controversial on Race Issues; Bono Honored as one of "TIME" Persons of the Year; "West Wing" Cast, Crew Mourn John Spencer; "King Kong" Tops Box Office

Aired December 19, 2005 - 19:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


A.J. HAMMER, CO-HOST: I`m A.J. Hammer.
SIBILA VARGAS, CO-HOST: And I`m Sibila Vargas. TV`s only live entertainment news show starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER (voice-over): On SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, stunning comments from one of Hollywood`s most respected actors. Tonight, Morgan Freeman stirs up a racial controversy with startling comments about how blacks should honor their history. Tonight, the heated reaction in the live "SHOWBIZ Newsmaker" interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Plus, Hollywood in shock over the death of "West Wing" star John Spencer. Tonight, we bring you the inside story of how TV shows deal with sudden tragedy and what that might mean for "The West Wing." It`s a SHOWBIZ TONIGHT special report.

Also, the president goes primetime.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor.

HAMMER: And talk radio shows go passionate. How President Bush`s primetime speech on the war in Iraq is burning up the airwaves today. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT with the talk radio buzz, coast to coast.

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, "AMERICAN IDOL": Hi, I`m Paula Abdul, and if it happened today, it`s on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: Good evening. I`m A.J. Hammer.

VARGAS: And I`m Sibila Vargas. We`re live in New York tonight.

A racial debate in America, kicked off by powerful comments from one of Hollywood`s most beloved and respected actors.

HAMMER: Everybody was watching last night, Sibila. On "60 Minutes" last night, Morgan Freeman bluntly told Mike Wallace what he thinks about Black History Month and a whole lot more. Now in just a minute, we`re going to have a live "SHOWBIZ Newsmaker" interview on the controversy. But first, take a listen to what Freeman said that has America buzzing tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE WALLACE, CBS`s "60 MINUTES": Black History Month, you find...

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Ridiculous.

WALLACE: Why?

FREEMAN: You`re going to relegate my history to a month?

WALLACE: Come on.

FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.

WALLACE: I`m Jewish.

FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?

WALLACE: There isn`t one.

FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?

WALLACE: No, no.

FREEMAN: I don`t either. I don`t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.

WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until...?

FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I`m going to stop calling you a white man. And I`m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You`re not going to say, "I know this white guy named Mike Wallace." Hear what I`m saying?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: Freeman`s comments sparked editorials today around the country. Yahoo! said that today web searches on "Morgan Freeman" spiked one thousand percent.

Joining us live to talk about it tonight in New York in a "SHOWBIZ Newsmaker" interview, the Reverend Al Sharpton, always with an opinion on social and racial issues.

Thanks for joining us, Reverend Al.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Thank you.

HAMMER: Morgan Freeman wasn`t pulling any punches last night when he said Black History Month, ridiculous. What do you think?

SHARPTON: I mean, I respect Morgan Freeman. He`s a great artist. But I think that when you look at why Black History Month came into being, it was because black history had been omitted and had really been overlooked. And I think that it is necessary to remedy that.

Over the years, centuries of mis-education of all Americans, and I think that happens with many groups that have been marginalized. You have Women`s History Month, you have gay pride days. I mean, groups that have been neglected or marginalized have to have an extra affirmative way of reminding Americans of their contribution. I agree with him it ought to be part of American history, but without an emphasis, that will never happen on its own.

HAMMER: He said a lot of things last night that did make a lot of sense. One thing that resonated with me is that one way to perhaps stop the perpetuation of racism is to stop talking about it: don`t refer to me as a white man; I won`t refer to you as a black man. What did you think about those comments?

SHARPTON: I mean, I think that`s a very idealistic way of dealing with it. I think that certainly someone should not see or refer to one just by their race. But to act like to just to stop talking about it racism will go away I think is naive.

When you see the racial disparities in the country that still exist. I`m talking about 2005 in terms of health care, in terms of economics, in terms of median income level, in terms of how we get bank loans or the criminal justice system. To not talk about it doesn`t mean we`re going to close the gap.

I think the way to deal with racism may be to act on it and maybe to have honest discussions about it. I agree with him, we shouldn`t be calling each other by race, but I think if we stick our head in the sand, we just expose our behinds to the world.

HAMMER: And what about talking about Black History Month? I personally haven`t heard that discussion before. Morgan Freeman saying it`s ridiculous and we shouldn`t have it. Is this a kind of discussion you have heard within the black community before?

SHARPTON: No, not frankly. I think that most of the people that I`ve talked to and dealt with, including the people in the academic community that has any various numbers of seminars and symposiums and lectures around the issue, understand what Carter G. Woodson (ph) and other started, Black History Week, that grew into a month. It was because a lot of Americans, including black Americans did not know the history and the contributions that blacks made. And I do not think that we`re anywhere near the power (ph) level where we can say it is no longer necessary.

HAMMER: So it shouldn`t just be lumped in with American history? Let`s...

SHARPTON: I think it is part of American history. But I think we should have emphasis on those that were omitted. You wouldn`t need an affirmative plan if you didn`t have a plan that denied them.

So we`re really repairing damage done. You can`t omit people and then act like we`ll just start like everything is square and even when, in fact, it was not and is not.

HAMMER: Morgan Freeman, certainly one of the most respected actors of our time.

SHARPTON: Absolutely.

HAMMER: He certainly had to know, going on "60 Minutes" and saying what he said, people were going to be talking about it like we`re talking about it right now.

SHARPTON: Absolutely.

HAMMER: Do you think his comments are going to provoke a dialogue or do you think we`re talking about it today but then we`ll just move on?

SHARPTON: It will provoke a dialogue, particularly when Black History Month is in February. And that`s not that far from now, and I think you will probably talk about it until then.

Because Freeman is so respected. I certainly respect him as an actor and artist. And I think maybe it is healthy to have this dialogue. I don`t think that to disagree with him in any means, means we disrespect him.

HAMMER: Right.

SHARPTON: Nor do I think he`ll disrespect those who disagree with him. So maybe, out of the dialogue, we can get clarity why some things, in our opinion, remain necessary, in his opinion maybe they don`t. The dialogue may be good to remind America where we are or where we are not.

HAMMER: Right. OK. Rev. Al Sharpton, thank you as always.

SHARPTON: All right, A.J.

HAMMER: Appreciate you being with us for the "SHOWBIZ Newsmaker."

SHARPTON: Thank you. Happy holidays.

HAMMER: You, too.

And now we want to hear from you on the topic. It is our SHOWBIZ TONIGHT question of the day,. Black History Month: Morgan Freeman says it`s "ridiculous." Do you agree? You can vote at CNN.com/ShowbizTonight. Or us e-mail, ShowbizTonight@CNN.com. We`re going to read some of your thoughts later in the show.

VARGAS: Tonight, the music world and all the world were paying tribute to front man of one of the biggest rock bands out there. "TIME" magazine has announced named U2`s Bono as one of its persons of the year along with Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, for their relentless war on poverty and global health issues.

Tonight, SHOWBIZ TONIGHT with the exclusive reaction from Bono, and we show you how the hot thing in Hollywood these days giving instead of taking.

Let`s get right to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s David Haffenreffer, live here in New York -- David.

DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sibila, charity was behind this year`s "TIME" magazine decision to choose Bono as one of their persons of the year.

So why out of all the humanitarians out there was he chosen? SHOWBIZ TONIGHT with the inside story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAFFENREFFER (voice-over): He`s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. And on the same day that he wrapped up the top grossing U.S. tour of the year, U2 front man Bono was always named one of "TIME" magazine`s persons of the year, along with Bill and Melinda Gates.

A rock star and a couple of billionaires. Not quite the kind of people you`d expect to make it on the cover of "TIMES" magazine`s persons of the year issue. And yet they are. Because this unlikely group is on the front line of the war against poverty.

BONO, MUSICIAN/ACTIVIST: Though we`re coming from different places, we`re in agreement that this can be a generation to can, you know, eradicate extreme poverty.

HAFFENREFFER: Not only did Bono raise awareness about poverty by setting up worldwide Live-8 concerts, he used his fame and charm to persuade some of the world`s richest leaders to forgive the debts of some of the most impoverished nations, to the tune of $40 billion.

STEPHEN KOEPP, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The thing that really starts you when you meet him is that he`s done his homework. So when he goes behind the scenes of world leaders, he can go head to head on the numbers with anybody. And that`s the striking thing about him.

HAMMER: Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair was impressed with Bono. The two threw back a couple of beers this summer just before the G-8 summit to talk about the very un-sexy topic of debt reduction. Blair and his cronies were impressed. And so was "TIME" magazine.

KOEPP: These are the people who really move mountains and change history in the way that people get.

HAFFENREFFER: In fact, "TIME" called 2005 a year of extraordinary charity as people around the world responded to the horrors of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

And Hollywood was no different. Actress Sharon stone used her star power by penning a benefit song to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She tells SHOWBIZ TONIGHT she enjoys using her fame to help others.

SHARON STONE, ACTRESS: We`re really honored to have this opportunity to be of service.

HAFFENREFFER: Alicia Keys is another star who has opened her heart. She is the face of the Keep a Child Alive Foundation, which provides life- saving medicine to children and families affected by HIV and AIDS.

Keys got some of her friends together to raise money for the cause. Usher was one of the first people she called.

USHER, SINGER: Anytime you hear of an artist talking from themselves to give hope or offer hope to someone else in need, as an artist you have to get up. It would be ludicrous if I didn`t.

Melissa Etheridge is a breast cancer survivor and works tirelessly to raise money for a cure. She, too, says giving back if one of the benefits of being famous.

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER: When you`re a celebrity and you have -- you get to cut the line. And we have money and we`re doing very well. I really want to give back. I really want to serve my community.

HAFFENREFFER: And recently, Bono told SHOWBIZ TONIGHT that celebrities and their fans are the ones who can truly make a difference.

BONO: Pop stars can change the world. Or rock stars or hip hop stars or film stars. But our audience will change the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAFFENREFFER: Those Live-8 concerts worked. At the G-8 meetings, some of the countries agreed to double the aid to Africa to $50 billion by the year 2010 and cancel the debts of some of the poorest nations. Not bad for a pop star.

And by the way, "TIME" magazine is part of Time Warner, the very same company that owns CNN Headline News -- Sibila.

VARGAS: Thanks. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s David Haffenreffer, thank you so much.

HAMMER: Well, President Bush addresses our nation on one of TV`s most popular nights. And now, the debate raging on radio about his comments on the war in Iraq. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT has the talk radio buzz coming up next.

VARGAS: Also, Hollywood mourns the shocking loss of John Spencer. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT investigates what`s the next for "The West Wing" and how shows move forward when tragedy strikes. It`s a SHOWBIZ TONIGHT special report.

And an entertainer who uses his face to help kids face their fears. It`s the inspirational story of a disfigured comedian who`s trying to make a difference. That`s still to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer, live in New York.

Tonight, Hollywood is shocked and saddened by the sudden death of "West Wing" actor John Spencer, who died of a heart attack at the age of 58 on Friday. As celebrities mourned the beloved actor, obvious questions have come up. What`s going to happen to his role? What about the show`s future.

Well, in the "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT Special Report," we examine how TV shows deal with these types of tragedies. What happens when a major character dies?

Let`s go to David Haffenreffer, who joins us live once again here in New York -- David.

HAFFENREFFER: Well, A.J., Spencer`s Emmy-winner role on "The West Wing" brought him five straight Emmy nominations from 2000-2005 and even a 2003 Golden Globe nod. And his death leaves a big hole in one of the show`s central plotlines.

It`s a situation that popular primetime shows have had to deal with in the past, and Hollywood and viewers wait to see if "The West Wing" will take a cue from shows before it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAFFENREFFER (voice-over): John Spencer played the tough, no-nonsense politico Leo McGarry on The West Wing. And his loss has left the show`s staff and viewers shocked and mourning.

ALLISON JANNEY, ACTRESS: If we pull Brock`s credentials, this will seem bigger than an unfounded rumor.

HAFFENREFFER: "The West Wing`s" Allison Janney told SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, "I am truly devastated at the loss of my dear friend. John was a consummate professional actor and everyone adored him."

JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR: Where`d you get this?

HAFFENREFFER: And Jimmy Smits told us, "John was a true pillar of a man, and he set the stage for kindness and generosity."

And his character will surely be missed by viewers everywhere.

BRADLEY WHITFORD, ACTOR: We`ve still got to line up a VP.

JOHN SPENCER, ACTOR: Want me to work up a list?

HAFFENREFFER: Spencer was central to the season`s plot. Ironically, his character survived a heart attack to run this season for vice president.

SPENCER: So who is it?

WHITFORD: You.

HAFFENREFFER: The election plotline will clearly need reworking, but with the show on hiatus for the holidays, how will "The West Wing`s" writers and producers make the transition smooth?

SHOWBIZ TONIGHT went straight to "TV Week`s" Chris Lisotta for more.

CHRIS LISOTTA, REPORTER, "TV WEEK": My guess is they`ll go to the advisors, analyst and people who write on the show and consultants who have worked in the White House, go to those people first and say, "OK, what would happen if this person died in a campaign? What do people do, you know, when RFK died?"

This show is definitely one for historical context. Maybe they`ll go back and look and see how campaigns have handled this in the past when there was an abrupt change or tragic situation.

HAFFENREFFER (on camera): SHOWBIZ TONIGHT has been in touch with "The West Wing." They told us they don`t expect to tackle this issue until early in the next year. They need to grieve before they begin to decide what to do with Spencer`s character.

But certainly, this is not the first time that a prime time show has had to make serious changes when an actor dies.

JOHN RITTER, ACTOR: I`m a man, not a miracle worker. Now go ahead. I don`t want you to be late. Just get.

HAFFENREFFER: John Ritter, the patriarch on "8 Simple Rules," died of a heart condition two years ago after completing just three episodes of the show`s second season. When the series resumed, they wrote in that Ritter`s character had died and added James Garner and later David Spade.

NICHOLAS COLASANTO, ACTOR: Is there a Rudy Pangitso (ph) here?

HAFFENREFFER: And who could forget lovable Coach on "Cheers"? He sat behind the bar for three seasons. When Nicholas Colasanto died in 1985 of a heart condition, writers of the No. 1 show killed off his character and brought in Woody Boyd, played by Woody Harrelson.

JERRY ORBACH, ACTOR: We`ve got some questions we want to ask you.

HAFFENREFFER: Just recently, Jerry Orbach, who played Detective Lennie Briscoe for 12 years on "Law & Order," had filmed just three episodes of a 2005 "Law & Order" spin-off when he died of prostate cancer. The show referenced that his character had died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look kind of tired.

JIM DAVIS, ACTOR: I`m not tired. Trying to keep myself busy. That`s all.

HAFFENREFFER: And "Dallas" fans will remember all too well in 1981, the actor who played Jock Ewing, Jim Davis, died of brain cancer. The show kept the character off screen and then revealed his character had died in a plane crash.

When writers and producers are faced with handling a real life death, their often mirror reality by writing the death into the fictional plot line. Here`s Chris Lisotta.

LISOTTA: You can`t fake it. You can`t bring in a second Darren. This is not like "Bewitched" where the character leaves and you replace them with someone else or like a soap opera. I think with a prime time narrative show, it is so unique. It`s such a unique relationship with the viewer from other kinds of television that you have to respect that. Because if not, you will really turn off audiences, because they`ll think that you`re doing something unseemly or disrespectful to the actor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAFFENREFFER: Nine new episodes of "The West Wing" have been broadcast already this season, and five more have been completed. The show`s next production meeting is set for January. And you can bet there will be some big discussions about the show`s future then -- A.J.

HAMMER: Regardless of how the network and the producers handle it, David, a big hole in the future of "The West Wing," as far as I`m concerned, from here on out. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s David Haffenreffer, thanks so much.

VARGAS: A look now at this weekend`s box office. In final figures out just this afternoon, "King Kong" was king. It pulled in more than $50 million from Friday through Saturday, $60 million in total since opening last week, or last Wednesday. That`s $66 million, actually.

"The Chronicles of Narnia" in second. "The Family Stone" with Sarah Jessica Parker opens in third. "Harry Potter" in fourth. And George Clooney`s "Syriana" at five.

So is "King Kong" a box office beast or a royal disappointment? Expectations were high for "Kong`s" opening weekend, but now some are saying that "King Kong" didn`t live up to its big name. That`s the subject of tonight`s "Show`s Biz," a look at the business of entertainment.

Live tonight in Hollywood is Paul Dergarabedian. He is the president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office figures.

So Paul, let`s take a look at this. Let`s take a look at the numbers. It took in $50 million its opening weekend, another $80 million overseas. That`s a total of more than $130 million. Not too shabby, I think. Yet why are people saying that this is a disappointment?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN, PRESIDENT, EXHIBITOR RELATIONS: Well, I think initially when the film opened on Wednesday, it did $9.8 million. And when you have a movie like "King Kong" with a director, Peter Jackson and all the hype that surrounds a film like that, there`s automatically huge expectations placed on the film.

Now $9.8 million isn`t a bad number, but it`s certainly not a record breaking type of number. And that`s what I think everyone expected.

Now, over the course of the weekend, it`s done very well. It did $50 million for the Friday/Saturday/Sunday, $66.22 for the five days, Wednesday through Sunday.

And I think this is a film that will play for a long time. People have been very distracted. You know, the holidays are with us. And people are shopping or going to Christmas parties or holiday parties, whatever, and I think that has taken people away from their chance to go to the movies.

But I think word of mouth is so strong on this movie that people are going to want to go see it.

VARGAS: Is this generally a bad weekend to open a movie because of the holiday shopping?

DERGARABEDIAN: Well, it can be. I mean, Christmas day is often a pretty good box office day. But this time of year is kind of problematic, because you have people doing all kinds of different things, one of them being going to the movies. But people have to find the time to do that.

VARGAS: Paul, a lot of people have been comparing this to "Titanic." Now, "Titanic" didn`t do very well at the box -- well, it did all right, but it didn`t do great.

DERGARABEDIAN: Right.

VARGAS: And now we know that`s one of the greatest movies ever.

DERGARABEDIAN: Yes, well, "Titanic" opened with $28.6 million for its entire first weekend, and then it went on to make $600 million domestically. So that was sort of a slow start for that film. That was a three-hour epic, a period piece.

"King Kong," I think, is going to find an audience over the long term, and I think a lot of people have also compared it to "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"...

VARGAS: Right.

DERGARABEDIAN: ... the first of that trilogy and also directed by Peter Jackson. That film opened with $18.2 million on its first Wednesday, but its first weekend it did $47 million. So this actually has outpaced that, so it should do very well over the long haul.

VARGAS: Well, that`s our time, Paul. Thank you so much.

DERGARABEDIAN: Thank you.

VARGAS: Paul Dergarabedian in Hollywood.

HAMMER: Well, the president takes over TV to help boost his poll numbers. Did it work? SHOWBIZ TONIGHT gets the talk radio buzz, coming up.

VARGAS: Plus, the comedian who`s not afraid to be punch line of his own jokes. Tonight, the emotional story of an entertainer who`s using his deformity to break down barriers. Still to come.

HAMMER: And the WWE champion heads into battle, but not into the ring. Coming up, superstar wrestlers spend some time with U.S. troops right in the middle of a war zone. It`s an interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer. Time now for "Talk of the Day," the best from today`s talk shows. Earlier on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Ellen makes a dream come true for comedian Sherri Sheppard by sending her up in a helicopter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Sherri?

SHERRI SHEPPARD, COMEDIAN: Yes?

DEGENERES: Are you freaked?

SHEPPARD: I`m so freaking freaked.

DEGENERES: What`s going on up there? It`s fun?

SHEPPARD: Carl Blumen (ph) is in the helicopter, and Pat is next to me. He`s got this thing between his legs that he keeps pushing on, and it`s moving the helicopter. And we`re up and girl, there`s all this traffic. So don`t go nowhere.

DEGENERES: OK. All right. Be careful up there, all right?

SHEPPARD: Oh, my gosh, Ellen. I just had ribs. And I don`t know where they`re about to come up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMMER: You want to be careful what you eat before you go up in the air in a helicopter. It`s just a standard matter of practice.

Well, up and down the dial today, the talk is all about President Bush. His primetime address to the American people, and the stunning news about his wiretap program. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT gives you the talk radio buzz, coming up.

VARGAS: Plus, a real stand-up guy. Tonight, the inspirational story of a comedian who`s not afraid to make fun of his deformity. And how he`s been using it to teach toddlers and kids.

HAMMER: And WWE wrestlers face plenty of danger in the ring, to be sure. But tonight, we`re going to get the story of how the champ, John Cena, the guy who always carries about that big belt, and Carlito, the guy who always carries around a little apple, put themselves in harm`s way to help support U.S. troops. And did he bring that belt to Afghanistan? You`ll find out in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. It is 31 minutes past the hour. I`m A.J. Hammer.

VARGAS: And I`m Sibila Vargas. You`re watching TV`s only live entertainment news show.

Now, A.J., you`ve heard of the old adage never judging a book by its cover.

HAMMER: Of course.

VARGAS: Well, we have a very inspirational story about a man who has turned a personal tragedy into triumph. It is a story you definitely are not going to want to miss.

HAMMER: Very heartwarming story, indeed.

VARGAS: It is. It sure is.

HAMMER: Well, another story we`re dealing with tonight, President Bush still in damage-control mode. He addressed the nation defending the war in Iraq last night. Then, today he was spending time defending eavesdropping on American citizens.

Democrats are saying he broke the law; Republicans reserving judgment at this moment. What`s America saying? We will get the buzz from talk radio. That`s coming up in just a few moments.

But first, time to get to tonight`s "Hot Headlines." David Haffenreffer joins us once again live.

Hi, David.

DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNN HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, A.J.

Well, singer Bo Bice has been rushed to the hospital due to complications from intestinal surgery. The "American Idol" runner-up was in Las Vegas rehearsing for a performance on the Radio Music Awards. A spokesman says he`s doing fine and was planning to return to Nashville today for treatment. Bice was supposed to have replaced Ashlee Simpson at the RMAs. She was rushed to the hospital after collapsing in Japan a few days ago.

Well, Wisteria Lane has gone to China. The hit series debuted in China today dubbed into Mandarin. The entire first season of "Desperate Housewives" is running in one week, with three back-to-back episodes each night.

Actor Morgan Freeman stirring up controversy with his comments about Black History Month. In an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes," Freeman said the concept is ridiculous, his word. He said he doesn`t want a black history month, because black history is American history. Freeman said the only way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it.

And those are tonight`s "Hot Headlines." A.J., back to you.

HAMMER: All right, David, thanks so much. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s David Haffenreffer.

VARGAS: And that leads us again to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT`s "Question of the Day." Black History Month, Morgan Freeman says it`s ridiculous. Do you agree?

Keep voting at CNN.com/showbiztonight. And write us at showbiztonight@CNN.com. Your e-mails are coming up at 55 past the hour.

HAMMER: Well, tonight, President Bush is all the buzz on talk radio after addressing the nation in primetime last night. In his speech from the Oval Office, Bush admitted to some mistakes in the handling of the war, but insisted that the U.S. must stay the course and not withdraw.

And in a news conference today, the president defended himself after a bombshell report that he authorized secretive eavesdropping on citizens in the United States more than three dozen times as part of the war on terror.

Joining us live to give us the scoop on what Americans are saying about all of this, out of Atlanta, Martha Zoller. She`s the radio talk show host from "The Martha Zoller Show" on WDUN 550 AM. And live from North Dakota, Ed Schultz of "The Ed Schultz Show."

Martha, Ed, I want to thank you both for being with us.

MARTHA ZOLLER, HOST, "THE MARTHA ZOLLER SHOW": Thanks.

HAMMER: Big Eddie, I`m going to start with you. President Bush, he`s been out there defending his stance on the war in Iraq, was doing it again last night. Your predominantly liberal radio audience wasn`t buying it before. What are they saying now?

ED SCHULTZ, HOST, "THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW": Well, they know the president is doing some damage control. We`ve seen more of him here in the last three weeks than we have probably his whole presidency since 9/11. So he`s done five speeches and a press conference.

And it is damage control. And if he can`t motivate the country to see it his way now, I don`t know when he`s going to do it.

Number one, they want oversight. The listeners of talk radio of America are screaming for an investigation, along with Republican Arlen Specter, along with Republican Lindsey Graham. They want the law followed.

And the president, he can fight the war on terror, but he`s going to have to do it within the Constitution, or they`re going to have to change the Constitution. I mean, there`s a lot of people out there that are very surprised.

I talked to Tom Daschle today, because this story goes back to 2002. And I asked him if he was in on these briefings. He said, yes, but they didn`t tell me all the details. So there`s a lot that`s not known there. The president just can`t whitewash this, saying he`s fighting the war on terror. I think there`s going to have to be a investigation into all of this.

And I think the president needs to give the Senate Democrats a little bit of credit. I mean, everybody in the Senate wants to win the war on terror. This isn`t Bush against the American people. And I think he needs to bring people into the fold. Let`s have some oversight. Not all Americans have to know everything, but I think this wiretapping goes too far.

HAMMER: All right, Ed, let me bring Martha in here. Now, Ed mentioned the damage control that President Bush has been doing, in his words. Bush`s approval ratings, as we all know, were in the basement. They`ve been inching up ever so slightly with this P.R. campaign that`s been on over the last couple of weeks, topped off by the speech last night. How have your listeners reacted? Are they liking what they`re hearing from the president?

ZOLLER: Yes, they were so happy. After a couple of months, ever since the highway bill was not vetoed, and they have been very concerned about where the president was going and not being out there on issues.

Look, the president makes his case the best for anybody. I mean, it`s like the fireside chats with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And it`s what people wanted to hear. And they think he should have done it sooner, more often.

P.R. has been a problem, I think, with this administration. But certainly, it`s what people wanted to hear.

As far as the wiretapping goes, what people want to do is they want to know who leaked this information. They more agree with the president in saying that it`s shameful that someone who has access to this kind of information would leak the information, because you do have to fight the war on terror.

The expectation from the other side is the president has to be perfect and the administration has to be perfect and stop every single attack coming into this country, but they don`t want to give him any tools to do that with. And I think that the people, what they`re saying, in our area, that, sure, let`s find out who leaked the information. That`s the kind of investigation they way.

HAMMER: Well, in terms of the wiretapping issue, Big Ed, I imagine that your listeners are saying something to the effect of civil liberties being violated. What points are they hitting on, in terms of this eavesdropping issue, that President Bush was addressing today?

SCHULTZ: Well, it`s interesting how the president can be so adamant about somebody who leaked a story to the "New York Times," but he doesn`t seem to be as adamant about the Valerie Plame story. I mean, that, too, was a security breach, as well.

ZOLLER: Oh, there`s no comparison. No comparison.

SCHULTZ: There`s a huge comparison, because it`s a CIA agent and it`s an ongoing investigation. He`ll comment about Tom DeLay, but he won`t comment about anything else, about Valerie Plame. I mean, you can`t have it both ways.

The American people want oversight. Carl Levin was saying today on my program that he doesn`t know what law is going to support the president on here. You just can`t have a bunch of attorneys around you that are like- minded...

ZOLLER: You know, I`ve got to disagree. The American...

(CROSSTALK)

HAMMER: OK. Hold on a second, guys, both Ed and Martha, of course.

SCHULTZ: ... and go do whatever you want to do.

HAMMER: OK, Eddie. Of course, we`re focusing on what your listeners are saying. And I think we`re out of time there, in any event. And I want to thank you both for joining us tonight.

Ed Schultz from "The Ed Schultz Show," Martha Zoller from the "Martha Zoller Show."

ZOLLER: Thanks, guys.

HAMMER: Appreciate you being with us on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

ZOLLER: Merry Christmas.

HAMMER: And Merry Christmas to you.

VARGAS: Steven Spielberg has enlisted help in marketing his new movie, "Munich," from an unusual source. Spielberg has hired one of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon`s top strategists to market the film in Israel. "Munich" is about Israel`s retaliation for the Palestinian attack on its team at the 1972 Olympics. The strategist has arranged a screening in Tel Aviv for the widows of two of the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed in the attack.

HAMMER: So what were the best albums of the year 2005? Sibila, you think about that. You think about that at home. We`re going to see if your picks match "People" magazine`s picks, coming up in "Picks and Pans."

VARGAS: Plus, the WWE goes to Afghanistan. We sit down with wrestling stars John Cena and Carlito, next in the interview you`ll only see on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

HAMMER: And laughter is definitely the best teaching tool for a comedian who`s trying to get kids to see beyond physical differences. That story is coming your way after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, TV`s only live entertainment news show. I`m A.J. Hammer.

Well, for the third year in a row, the stars of World Wrestling Entertainment took "Monday Night Raw" to U.S. troops overseas. They have visited Iraq twice before, but this time they went to Afghanistan.

I sat down with WWE stars John Cena and Carlito, and we had the chance to talk about their visit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: Well, you guys just did an amazing thing, spent an amazing time over in Afghanistan. And you chose to go to Afghanistan rather than Iraq. A lot of people are saying our troops over there are sort of forgotten, in light of everything`s that going in Iraq. Is that part of the reason why you guys headed to Afghanistan?

JOHN CENA, WWE STAR: I believe so. Not only that, but there`s a lot of restructuring going on in Afghanistan. The areas occupied that are by U.S. troops not only are there for our protection, because there`s a lot of action on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but there`s a lot of rebuilding, as well.

CARLITO, WWE STAR: And it`s like you said; there`s not a lot of media going over there. So we thought that, you know, we`d go and bring WWE to them. You know, we have not forgotten them. We support them, the people in Iraq. We support all of our troops, so we`re going to go and we`re going to visit everybody.

HAMMER: And not only did you go for your performance, but you guys were actually living with the troops, and sleeping with them, and eating with them. Tell me what that was like?

CENA: Nice little four-day vacation. It was great. It was really -- it was great. We lived over there as troops for four days. It was wonderful. We were accepted as part of their family. You know, we lived and slept with them. We ate with them. And it was wonderful.

CARLITO: You know, we didn`t go there to experience, you know, the glamorous life over there. We wanted to see what they see, live how they live. You know, we ate the food they ate. And, you know, no glamorous treatment, you know?

CENA: Just, for the most part, to be part of their family. We didn`t want to be treated like superstars or outsiders. We wanted to let people know that, listen, you are making the ultimate sacrifice for us and we are so thankful for that. We want to just be part of this. Is there a way that we can do that?

HAMMER: But certainly, they see it the other way around, that you guys are making a huge sacrifice heading over there.

CENA: Of course. But at the same time, we`re over there to bring them a little entertainment for the holidays that they can`t necessarily be home for. And it was, honestly, a feeling of mutual respect.

CARLITO: Yes, they were thanking us when really we were over there to thank them for everything that they do for us, so.

HAMMER: That`s nice. What were you hearing from the troops more often than anything else, as you guys just hung out and talked?

CENA: Just, to be honest, the fact that any media would even go out to where they were. We went out to a forward-operating -- I went out to forward-operating bases on Salerno and Orgun-E, which are two bases that see a lot of heavy action pretty much on the border of Pakistan. And a lot of the troops just couldn`t believe that anyone who wasn`t wearing flack vest and full camo with a loaded automatic weapon was actually there.

HAMMER: John, what surprised you the most being over there?

CENA: The camaraderie over there. The fact that these men and women have to go through so much. We took a short flight on a C-130, which is a four-prop aircraft, with these six guys that honestly just loved their work. And you could see within the six guys that that`s a bond that they`ll have forever. The camaraderie between just the small groups and the larger groups of troops, like they`re sticking by each other to make it through.

HAMMER: What about you? What surprised you, Carlito?

CARLITO: What surprised me is just, you know, the -- you don`t see this in the media, you know, what they`re doing over there, the great job they`re doing there, all the stuff they`re fixing. You know, they`re cleaning up Afghanistan. You know, just all these things, the amazing things they`re doing.

And nobody sees it, you know? It`s like, you know, they feel they`re forgotten, but, you know, we need to support them and let them know that they`re not forgotten, you know? We`re proud of them, and we support them.

HAMMER: Well, hats off to you guys for paying tribute to them and to bringing some attention to everything they`re doing over there.

CENA: I hope everybody does catch the special, because it`s a good two-hour look at not only WWE, but it`s a good two-hour look at the troops over there in Afghanistan..

HAMMER: John and Carlito, thanks for dropping by.

CENA: Thank you.

CARLITO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: I really got the sense that those guys were genuine about their desire to be over there, not just doing it for the publicity. Well, WWE`s tribute to the troops will air tonight on the USA Network.

VARGAS: Tonight, a remarkable story you have to see to believe. A standup comedian whose face is so disfigured people look twice when they see him is teaching kids the old adage about not judging a book by its cover and making them laugh at the same time. Here`s CNN`s Ted Rowlands for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: What happened to your face?

DAVID ROCHE, COMEDIAN: Thank you. I thought you`d never ask.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These students came to see David Roche`s face. He doesn`t mind showing it to them or talking about it. In fact, David makes his living off his face as a standup comedian.

ROCHE: You`ve heard of a bad hair day. I`m having a bad face day, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

ROWLANDS: Roche travels the world, getting up in front of crowds making people laugh. In the process, he says people see past his face.

ROCHE: It`s like a middle-aged man`s dream. I tell the same stories all the time. People applaud. They give me money, and they tell me I`m great.

(LAUGHTER)

They see that someone who looks totally different, unique, disfigured, if you will, is normal in the sense of that I carry myself like a normal human being. I want you to stare at my face today.

ROWLANDS: Roche also makes time to talk to children, like these sixth-graders, hoping to change the way they see people that are different. Since birth, Roche has lived with a rare, non-cancerous tumor on the left side of his face.

ROCHE: The tumor that you see here is my own blood vessels, my own veins, all swollen and tangled, engorged, and mixed together that bulge out like this.

ROWLANDS: At first, as you can see in the expressions of the children, David`s appearance can be disturbing. But he says a few minutes is all it takes for most people to get over it.

ROCHE: The stare, the double-take, you know, the look of astonishment, the, you know, looking away, all those sorts of things. But you know what? It`s normal. I look at other people that way, too, and I used to think that was prejudice, but it`s not.

The first 10 minutes is free time. You get to stare. It`s what happens after that when it`s time to take the second look, as Marlena says.

ROWLANDS: Marlena is David`s wife, who he says helped him go from a computer programmer that never talked about his face to a performer.

ROCHE: If you have false teeth, here`s a tip: Don`t ever take them out for a child who`s under age six.

ROWLANDS: David`s talents has allowed him to become a full-time comedian. He recently did a holiday show with a friend who`s also disfigured in his hometown of Mill Valley, California. Over the past 15 years, he`s performed around the United States, including at the White House, and in Australia, Russia, and other countries.

ROCHE: I`m not scared, because I belong to a gang. There`s Chucky, there`s Freddy Krueger. There`s the Phantom of the Opera. There`s Igor, Frankenstein, huh? Those are my homeboys.

ROWLANDS: David says he loves to make people laugh and knows that, by doing so, he can change what people think of him and hopefully others who are disfigured.

ROCHE: Thank you. I`m David Roche. Thank you.

ROWLANDS: After less than an hour of listening and looking at David, the sixth-graders left with smiles. They seemed to like what they came here to see.

ROCHE: Bye, bye, bye, bye. Thanks a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VARGAS: Wow, what an incredible inspiration. That was CNN`s Ted Rowlands for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

HAMMER: Here we go with "The Showbiz Guide," where, throughout the week, we help you decide where to spend your dollars on movies, music, DVDs and more. Tonight, in "People`s" "Picks and Pans," we`re talking about the best albums of the year gone by, 2005.

Here live in New York, "People" magazine senior writer, Anne Marie Cruz. A pleasure to see you, as always.

ANNE MARIE CRUZ, SENIOR WRITER, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE": Hello again.

HAMMER: All right, let`s stuff some stockings. And why not with Mariah Carey`s "Emancipation of Mimi," certainly one of the most successful albums of the year, having sold over 7 million copies and garnered eight Grammy noms, the most of any.

CRUZ: Yes, how could we not have Mariah Carey on this list? I mean, this was her year. She went from a "Glitter" joke to Grammy juggernaut, as you said. And it was hit after hit with "We Belong Together," "Shake it Off," "It`s Like That."

You know, I mean, it was just something that people couldn`t deny, even though she had been a punch line for a long time.

HAMMER: And on the heels of the success of the initial release, they released the platinum version. So if I`m going to buy this CD, am I looking for the platinum version of it?

CRUZ: Yes, definitely. I mean, it`s got all sorts of extras. And if you have a friend who has somehow been living under something heavy and large for this whole year and missed out on this, then you can get that for them for the holidays.

HAMMER: All right. Let`s move on to one of the biggest success stories in country music this year. Martina McBride debuted at number one with "Timeless," and it`s also a platinum-selling album.

CRUZ: She could have named it "Classic," or "Elegant," or "Pantheon," because this album just goes back to all of the Nashville classics that she grew up with and that you and I probably grew up with, like "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," Lynn Anderson.

And even though she`s one of the queens of the contemporary country music scene, she does a beautiful job of just being very faithful to the originals. So, yes, this is great for the country fan in your family or your friends, so...

HAMMER: All right, great. Let`s move on to what so many people are calling simply the best album of the year, "Late Registration" from Kanye West. He`s an artist -- I like to say, particularly on this album -- is a hip-hop star with range, because it`s not just like one little zone of hip- hop.

CRUZ: You know what? I think Kanye himself would agree that it is the best album of the year. He`s already said to MTV that he would get very upset if he doesn`t win the Grammy for the album of the year. But, yes, he took cues from his mentors, Common and John Legend, and added some jazzy touches and some soulfulness to the album. So, yes, this is definitely one of our picks.

HAMMER: "People" magazine`s Anne Marie Cruz. We appreciate you chiming in, giving us your picks. It`s a little easier for people shopping for the holiday music this year. And for more "Picks and Pans," of course, you can grab your copy of "People" magazine. You`ll find it on newsstands now.

VARGAS: There`s still time for you to sound off in our SHOWBIZ TONIGHT "Question of the Day." Black History Month, Morgan Freeman says it`s ridiculous. Do you agree?

Vote at CNN.com/showbiztonight or write us at showbiztonight@CNN.com. We`ll read some of your e-mails live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VARGAS: Throughout the show, we`ve been asking you to vote on our online SHOWBIZ TONIGHT "Question of the Day." Black History Month, Morgan Freeman says it`s ridiculous. Do you agree?

The vote so far: 80 percent of you say yes; 20 percent say no.

HAMMER: As always, we`ve gotten a bunch of e-mails on the topic, including one from Lisa in North Carolina who writes, "The fact that Black History Month was ever needed is indeed sad, but it is the reality of the world we live in and is necessary."

We also heard from Kristy in Iowa. She writes, "Black history should be taught with all American history. Why should it be separate when equality is the lesson to be learned?"

Good words. You can continue to vote by going to CNN.com/showbiztonight.

We have reached that portion of the program where we find out what`s playing on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT tomorrow. For that, we go to our Marquee Guy. Oh, Marquee Guy?

MARQUEE GUY: Tomorrow, here comes the judge. Judge Alex is rounding up the usual suspects and court is now in session. And SHOWBIZ TONIGHT doesn`t object. It`s our honor to welcome Judge Alex, live in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, tomorrow.

Also tomorrow, calling all moviegoers: You kicked our chairs, you talked during the movie, but nothing is more annoying than when your cell phone starts ringing. Now the theaters are planning on doing something about it, something pretty drastic, I say. And we`ll phone in that report tomorrow

This is the Marquee Guy. Hold on. I just have to get this. Mom, don`t call me. It`s the Marquee Mom.

HAMMER: See, I would have thought the Marquee Guy would have had a cool ring tone.

VARGAS: Yes.

HAMMER: It`s a standard stock ring tune.

(CROSSTALK)

HAMMER: I`m a little disappointed.

Well, that is it for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer.

VARGAS: And I`m Sibila Vargas. Stay tuned for the latest from CNN Headline News.

END

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