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SHOWBIZ TONIGHT

"American Idol" Popularity Swells; Things Fall to Pieces for James Frey; Secrets of Oscar Voting Shared; Teen Loses 70 Pounds from Video Game

Aired February 1, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


A.J. HAMMER, HOST: I`m A.J. Hammer. TV`s only live entertainment news show starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER (voice-over): On SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, the power of "American Idol."

How "American Idol" almost beat the real commander in chief and crushed TV`s other "Commander in Chief." Tonight, surprising new details about who`s watching and the remarkable influence of "Idol." It`s a SHOWBIZ TONIGHT special report.

Tonight, Frey under fire. A million little problems for the "Million Little Pieces" author ripped to pieces by Oprah. James Frey`s literary agent quits. The movie deal may be crumbling. Lawsuits are piling up. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT puts the puzzle together.

The whole world sings along with Barry Manilow. Now he`s taking on a whole new challenge, and SHOWBIZ TONIGHT is right there.

BARRY MANILOW, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Either I was very brave or very stupid.

HAMMER: Tonight, Barry Manilow in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

MANILOW: Hey, I`m Barry Manilow and if it happened today, it`s on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: Hello, I`m A.J. Hammer live in New York City. Tonight, a SHOWBIZ special report, the power of "American Idol."

TV`s No. 1 show is doing what no one ever thought possible: it`s becoming even more popular every day. So popular, in fact, that nothing, not even competition from other shows, sporting events, even a president of the United States, can stop it.

CNN`s Jason Carroll is here for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shows in their fifth season usually start gathering dust, but not "American Idol." Just a few hours ago, we got the preliminary overnight ratings from last night when "American Idol" aired the same night as President Bush`s State of the Union address. And you may be surprised which way America voted. It`s yet another sign that, after all these years, "American Idol" is now more popular and powerful than ever.

(voice-over) The singing may be good.

And bad this season on "American Idol," but in the fifth season of the nation`s most popular show, things are all good, actually, better than good, mind boggling.

JAMIE BUFALINO, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It`s the most popular it`s ever been. I mean, it`s getting, like, 35 million people an episode which is unheard of in TLM (ph) these days. And that`s, like, it`s just a little less than Oscars get every year. So it`s really unbelievable.

CARROLL: "American Idol" is even outdoing itself from last season: ratings are up 15 percent.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight the state of our union is strong.

CARROLL: Even the most powerful man in the world is no match for the power of "Idol." According to initial overnight ratings, more people watched "American Idol" Wednesday night, around 30 million in all, than watched President Bush`s State of the Union address on CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX combined.

And though "American Idol" can give the real president a run for his money in the ratings, you should see the number "American Idol" is doing on a fictional president.

GEENA DAVIS, ACTRESS: I`m going to take the oath of office.

CARROLL: ABC`s drama "Commander in Chief," where Geena Davis plays the nation`s first female chief executive, was a runaway hit when it first came on. Then "American Idol" returned opposite the show, and ratings dropped so dramatically, ABC is taking "Commander in Chief" off the air for a few months.

That could be because women aged 18 to 49, the audience "Commander in Chief" was trying to reach, happen to "American Idol`s" most loyal viewers, to the tune of 22 million a week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love "American Idol."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I love seeing great singers sing really well. And I love to seeing bad singers perform really, really badly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love "American Idol." It`s a family affair at our house. I watch it with my husband and my kids.

BUFALINO: I think it really has everything going for it. I mean, it`s a feel good show because there are people who have their dreams living out right in front of people`s eyes. But it also has an edge of nastiness, which, you know, Simon fills that void. And people kind of -- some people look forward to that. Some people look forward to the singing. And so it really covers all of its bases.

CARROLL: And a little later this month, we may see another demonstration of "American Idol`s" power. NBC`s Winter Olympics coverage will go head to head with "Idol" five times this month. Those in the know say don`t be surprised if "American Idol" ends up in the winners` circle.

BUFALINO: I think it`s very possible that "American Idol" can outdraw the Olympics. The Olympics have kind of reached their peak in the past. I mean, now I don`t think there`s really that much buzz about the winter Olympics. I wouldn`t be surprised at all if "American Idol" beat the Olympics.

CARROLL: Not only is "Idol" holding its own against an Olympic games, a popular fake president and a real president, when the season is over, "American Idol" is all but assured of keeping its title as America`s No. 1 show. Now, that would be a performance even Simon could love.

(on camera) And of course "American Idol" remains a powerhouse in the music world. This past week, winners Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson both had platinum albums on "Billboard`s" top 20, and third season winner Fantasia Barrino is up for four Grammy awards at next week`s ceremony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: It is amazing. Thank you very much, Jason. CNN`s Jason Carroll for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Well, the power of "American Idol" brings us to tonight`s SHOWBIZ TONIGHT question of the day. Does the show deserve big ratings? Vote at CNN.com/ShowbizTonight. Send us e-mail at ShowbizTonight@CNN.com. We`re going to read some of your thoughts later in the show.

It seems James Frey`s world is falling into pieces, "a Million Little Pieces." His book, his reputation, his career all on the line after his big head-to-head confrontation with Oprah last week over the credibility of his memoir. But tonight, late-breaking news about the author and a look into his life after Oprah`s grilling.

CNN`s Deborah Feyerick joins us live in the SHOWBIZ TONIGHT newsroom with that story -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, A.J., just this afternoon, James Frey admitted on Doubleday`s web site that writing a narrative mattered more than writing the truth. And since his fallout with Oprah, he`s looking for a new literary agent and maybe even a new publisher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I really feel duped.

FEYERICK (voice-over): It seems James Frey`s life really is falling into a million little pieces. It all started last week when Oprah made it clear she was very unhappy after TheSmokingGun.com revealed many parts of his book were exaggerated or fabricated

WINFREY: I was really behind this book, because so many people seemed to have gotten so much out of it. And I believed in the fact that so many people were. But now, I feel that you conned us all. Do you?

JAMES FREY, AUTHOR, "A MILLION LITTLE PIECES": I don`t feel like I conned.

WINFREY: You don`t?

FEYERICK: Maybe so, but the bottom line, don`t mess with Oprah. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT with new developments on Frey`s fall. From his literary agent to future book deals, to his movie deals, to legal problems.

This afternoon, Frey posted a rare and dramatic author`s note on his publisher`s site, admitting he lied and describing the past few weeks as, quote, "shocking for me, incredibly humbling and at times terrifying."

For Frey, it`s just one thing after another. Today, another piece of Frey`s world came loose when his literary agent announced she is resigning.

NICKI GOSTIN, "NEWSWEEK": She feels like there`s some basic bond of trust that has been broken and can`t really be repaired.

FEYERICK: And there`s more. His publisher is now rethinking future book deals. Riverhead Books says it`s re-evaluating Frey`s future contracts, saying, quote, "The ground has shifted; it`s under discussion."

And yes, there`s even more than that unraveling. Warner Brothers has announced it`s having second thoughts about going forward with a movie adaptation of "A Million Little Pieces." Its president, Alan Horne, told the "L.A. Times," quote, "Obviously, we watch `Oprah` and, like everybody else, we`re aware of the authenticity of this piece. At some point in the near future, we`ll meet and decide what, if anything, to do about it."

And it turns out that movie deal had some deep Hollywood connections.

GOSTIN: It was originally bought by Plan B Productions, which was Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston`s production company which, of course, when they got divorced, went to Brad Pitt.

It was going for a second rewrite, not by James Frey, but no major stars were attached. In fact, nobody is attached to it. So who knows? It may just wither on the vine. It`s not clear yet.

FEYERICK: Some of the actors Frey had said he thought should play him: Ryan Gosling, Tobey Maguire, Orlando Bloom, Josh Hartnett and Jake Gyllenhaal.

And there`s even more to this story today in a court of law. Angry readers in New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles have filed lawsuits against Random House, claiming that reading "A Million Little Pieces" was a waste of time and demanding to be reimbursed for the cost of the book as well as lost hours. It`s made the book world reconsider everything.

SARA NELSON, "PUBLISHERS WEEKLY": I think that publishers are going to be re-evaluating what they`re doing. They`ll change the way, whether or not they put disclaimers on books and that kind of thing.

FEYERICK: But incredibly, for all the million little pieces of problems that have arisen in James Frey`s life, his book is still on the best sellers list.

GOSTIN: The book is selling even better than it was a week ago. So all this publicity is actually helping, and I guess the old adage is true that there`s no such thing as bad publicity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: but this entire incident has changed the way the publishing company looks at memoirs. Doubleday says it plans to add a note from the author in future printings of the book -- A.J.

HAMMER: Deborah, this story is far from over. It`s going to be interesting to watch the fallout, which I`m sure it will for some time to come. Thanks very much. CNN`s Deborah Feyerick joining us for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Well, as ABC anchor Bob Woodruff recovers from a bombing in Iraq, tonight there`s word on how the network is going to be handling his absence. We`ll fill you in on that, coming up next.

Plus, the secrets of the Oscar ballots. Price Waterhouse Cooper. You know them, the guys with the briefcase every year. Well, they are here live to answer everything you want to know about how all the voting gets done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANILOW: Yes, very intimidating. Either I was very brave or very stupid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMMER: And Barry Manilow is taking on a whole new challenge, and SHOWBIZ TONIGHT is right there. Barry Manilow joins us in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

First, it`s tonight`s "`Entertainment Weekly` Great American Pop Culture Quiz. Who was The Bionic Woman`s bionic pooch? Was it Minnie, Max, Monkey or Mickey? We`re coming right back with the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Once again, tonight`s "`Entertainment Weekly` Great American Pop Culture Quiz. Who was The Bionic Woman`s bionic pooch? Minnie, Max, Monkey or Mickey? I don`t even remember this one, but the answer is, "B," Max.

Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. We are TV`s only live entertainment news show. I`m A.J. Hammer.

Tonight, an update on ABC anchor Bob Woodruff, who was wounded in Iraq along with cameraman Doug Vogt. In a note to ABC employees, the network`s president says Woodruff is, quote, "coming along beautifully" and that he and Vogt are in excellent hands at a military hospital outside of Washington.

As for the short-term plans on "World News Tonight," "Good Morning America" co-anchors Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson are expected to fill in with Elizabeth Vargas, as Woodruff recovers.

Well, tonight, we want to share some Oscar secrets with you. Just yesterday, of course, the nominations were announced for the upcoming Academy Awards. And on March 5 we`re going to find out who is Oscar worthy. But who keeps those Oscar ballot secrets and how are they tallied, once the votes start rolling in?

Joining me live from Hollywood, Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas, the Academy Awards ballot team from Price Waterhouse Coopers. There are the guys. I know you guys. I see you on TV every year. Welcome to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

BRAD OLTMANNS, PRICE WATERHOUSE COOPER: Hi, A.J.

RICK ROSAS, PRICE WATERHOUSE COOPER: Hi, A.J.

HAMMER: They`re the guys in the suits with the briefcase. You`re like the men in black of the Academy Awards.

OLTMANNS: Right.

HAMMER: So your firm, Price Waterhouse, has been at this for 72 years. You guys, obviously, not for that long, but in this time, you`ve had a good run of success with doing what you`re supposed to do: no lapses or breaches of confidentiality. My question is, has there ever been an attempt by anyone to ever steal those envelopes from your firm or maybe pass a bribe or to get access to who the winners are?

OLTMANNS: No, A.J., in the 72 years that Price Waterhouse Coopers has been tabulating the ballots, we`ve never had any serious incident like that. From time to time we get teased and cajoled, but we never reveal the names of the winners to anyone.

HAMMER: I would figure somebody is trying to slip you a couple of bucks to figure it out, but OK.

Well, we all know -- we don`t know. The ballots go out on February 8. Those of us in the business know that. That`s when they`re sent out. The nominations have been announced.

February 28, I understand, all the votes have to be back to you guys by about 5 p.m., and then you take three days to count the votes in what I imagine is a very secret location. Can you run us through the process a bit? Do you guys just hang out and start opening envelopes, having a couple of beers, or what`s the deal?

OLTMANNS: Well, we wait until all the envelopes are received. And then we assemble a small team of people to help Rick and I. We start the tabulation usually first thing on Wednesday morning. We`re done on Friday evening. And at the point that we`re done, Rick and I are the only two people who know the final results of who`s going to walk home with an Oscar on Sunday evening.

HAMMER: OK. So, Rick, you know, so you guys are then after your team has helped you out, really the only two people who have that information. You have that knowledge and you have to hang on to that for a couple of days. So once you have that, are you guys, like, sequestered in your house? Do you have big security guards around you all the time? What`s the story?

ROSAS: We don`t disclose where we are, but we do keep a fairly low profile during those couple of days.

HAMMER: Wait. Hold on a second. You actually maintain secrecy about your location?

ROSAS: Sure. It`s part of the overall aspects. So we do it as secure -- and to keep secure.

HAMMER: For fear of?

ROSAS: Really, just for our own benefit. We`re keeping a big secret everybody wants to know, and we like to just keep a low profile until the big night.

HAMMER: All right. Let me throw a scenario out at you guys. I don`t believe this has ever happened, but it always seems like there`s the possibility that whoever the presenter is might be up there on stage and might actually call out the wrong winner, maybe, you know, if there was ever a typo or if somebody just says the wrong thing. Do you guys have any plan in place for that eventuality?

ROSAS: Yes.

OLTMANNS: Yes, we do have procedures in place in case that were to happen, where we`ll ensure that the correct name is read that evening on the spot.

HAMMER: And you guys have kind of become unlikely celebrities. Rick, are you ever out there on the red carpet signing autographs? Do people actually want your signature?

ROSAS: No, that has not happened, actually, but it`s a great Walter Mitty moment, though, when we are on the red carpet. People do recognize those black briefcases, and they`re kind of unique to be an accountant and having people scream at you.

HAMMER: Well, it`s always kind of fun to see you, and I`ll look forward to seeing you guys on Oscar night, Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas. We appreciate you joining us tonight on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

OLTMANNS: Great. Thank you.

ROSAS: Thank you.

HAMMER: And thank you very much for keeping those envelopes safely secured.

Now, coming up later in the show, we`re going to have this year`s Oscar race for best picture, which sort of has a theme to it: controversy. There are no real big blockbusters or big -- big, big budget movies that are in that category this year. Why is that? We`re going to talk about that coming up in just a few moments.

Now let`s talk about Jessica Simpson. She`s getting sexy for the Super Bowl, which of course is coming up this weekend. We have her in tonight`s "SHOWBIZ Showcase."

She`s pretty much been out of the spotlight since she filed for divorce from husband Nick Lachey, but she is popping back in a big-bucks Super Bowl ad campaign with Pizza Hut. She`s going to be wearing those red boots that she wore as Daisy Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard." But this time, she`s serving up some pizza. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ll have some pizza, please.

JESSICA SIMPSON, SINGER/ACTRESS: Are you ready to bite? Start popping. (singing) These bites were made for popping, and that`s just what they`ll do. One of these days, these bites are going to pop right into you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The new cheesy bites pizza from Pizza Hut, a pizza with 28 poppable bites, packed with melted cheese, $11.99 for a large.

SIMPSON: Want another bite?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMMER: All right. Jessica`s back in a big way and not the only one popping for pizza for Pizza Hut. Miss Piggy will be starring in her own version of the ad, as well. And you can catch both versions on Super Bowl Sunday.

Well, a video game that helps you lose weight, and not just in your thumbs, may sound too good to be true, but we`re going to meet someone who actually lost 70 pounds playing a game. That`s coming up next.

Plus, the host with the most, Jeff Probst, is here to tell us why the new "Survivor" is unlike any that have come before. Jeff will join us live, in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Also, we`ve got the man who writes the songs that make the whole world sing. He`s singing a new tune and taking on a whole new challenge. Barry Manilow, coming up. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT will be right back.

But first, it`s Il Divo at el numero uno on the "Billboard" album chart this week. The group put together by "American Idol`s" Simon Cowell debuts at No. 1 with their latest album, "Ancora."

Country singer Josh Turner debuts at No. 2 with his sophomore album. It`s called "Your Man." Jamie Foxx sliding from No. 1 to No. 3 this week with "Unpredictable." Mary J. Blige is in at No. 4 this week with "The Breakthrough." And Yellowcard`s "Lights and Sounds" makes its debut at No. 5.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Video games are often blamed for some of the couch potato-ing of America, so to speak, especially when it comes to young people. But one game that is bucking that trend has been seen as bit of a revolution.

Here comes CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Video games, lots of hours on couch, teenage obesity, they all seem to go together. But what about a video game that might also be a weight loss aid? It`s called Dance Dance Revolution.

Two years ago, we met John Polchowski. He was spending up to three hours a day playing video games alone in his room. Then he got hooked on DDR.

JOHN POLCHOWSKI, LOST 70 POUNDS USING GAME: As I kept on playing, I got better, and also this game can be a really good workout. And I tried to use that to become -- to make it a goal and lose a lot of weight from it.

COHEN: After playing the game for one to two hours every day for a year, along with eating healthier, he started to lose weight. John eventually lost 70 pounds.

POLCHOWSKI: I was able it do it whenever I want. I don`t need to get other people.

COHEN: Today John is a 19-year-old sophomore at Fairfield University. He doesn`t have much time for DDR anymore, but he`s managed to keep the weight off by remaining active and playing sports like basketball with friends.

But John`s mother knows that he probably could never have done it without DDR.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s hard to lose weight, I think, without doing exercise also. And this was something he enjoyed.

COHEN: Dr. Richard Adler is a pediatrician who`s been tracking active video games and their success in fighting obesity.

DR. RICHARD ADLER, PEDIATRICIAN: There`s never been anything that I have seen that has the potential for increasing physical activity like this. It has the potential for being absolutely tremendous in terms of its impact on children.

COHEN: There are no additional numbers on how many kids have lost weight with these games, but manufacturers are developing more interactive games involving skateboarding, fighting and more dancing. Maybe other kids will see some of John`s success.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: That was CNN medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Well, it`s time now for "Talk of the Day." This is the best from today`s morning talk shows. That`s what I meant to say.

Tomorrow is a big day for "The View," celebrating its 2,000th show. But today, the ladies wondered which of them has done the most flirting since the show has been on the air. You be the judge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA WALTER, CO-HOST, ABC`S "THE VIEW": This a program in which all of us flirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s just, to me it was...

WALTER: Totally heterosexual but that thigh.

JOYCE BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC`S "THE VIEW": Whoa, can I have a cigarette?

Star is by far the biggest flirt. There`s no question about it.

STAR JONES, CO-HOST, ABC`S "THE VIEW": Oh I definitely win the biggest flirt contest.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, ABC`S "THE VIEW": I am not a flirt.

Oh, wait.

Richard was right in your face and down your lungs.

BEHAR: Barbara goes from a horny heterosexual...

WALTERS: Want to put your head in my lap and tell us all your problems.

BEHAR: ... to obsessed lipstick lesbian.

WALTERS: Barbara, please.

VIEIRA: She wanted a kiss, and she wanted it on the lips.

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, ABC`S "THE VIEW": I think Joy is the biggest flirt.

BEHAR: Tom and I, it was a mother. Did you see how I took him to my breast, like that? You can`t beat this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: I think they spread it around pretty evenly.

Well, Barry Manilow is taking on a new challenge, and SHOWBIZ TONIGHT is right there. Whole world, get ready to sing. Barry is coming up in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Plus, racism, homosexuality, political controversy and no "Titanic"- sized blockbuster. Coming up, we`ll take a look at why this year`s Oscar race for best picture is shaping up like no other.

And, Kate Moss gathers headlines these days for a cocaine scandal. But tonight, news of a different sort when SHOWBIZ TONIGHT returns, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. It is 31 minutes past the hour. I`m A.J. Hammer in New York. You are watching TV`s only live entertainment news show.

Still to come in the next 30 minutes, Barry Manilow. Either you`re a fan of the guy or you don`t like to admit that you`re a fan of the guy and maybe you have a bunch of his songs on your iPod and sort of sing to yourself when they come on. Well, he`s back with some new material that`s some old material, working with the guy who got him started 22 years ago. You`ll see Barry in the interview you`ll see only on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, coming up in just a few moments.

Also, "Survivor" getting set to kick off its 12th season. This show is truly the granddaddy of major network reality television. The host, Jeff Probst, who I was able to confirm is not actually morphing into Regis Philbin, will join us live with a little sneak preview of the new "Survivor" in just a few moments.

But first, let`s get to tonight`s "Hot Headlines." It appears that Kate Moss is beginning to bounce back from drug allegations. British "Vogue" said today that the 32-year-old supermodel will appear on the cover of its March issue. Moss lost contracts with H&M, Burberry and Chanel after "The Daily Mirror" published some pictures of her allegedly using cocaine back in September.

Madonna`s going to do a little monkeying around during next week`s Grammy Awards. She`ll be performing with Gorillaz. They`re a virtual cartoon-based pop group. The band`s "Feel Good, Inc." is up for record of the year. The 48th annual Grammy Awards taking place on Wednesday night, February 8th. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, of course, live at both 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. with complete coverage of music`s biggest night.

And "American Idol" beats Bush. That`s right. In preliminary Nielsen figures out today, according to FOX, last night`s airing of "Idol" pulled in about 30 million viewers. The president`s State of the Union address was watched by about 28 million people combined on all four broadcast networks. Truly makes a statement there.

Those are tonight`s "Hot Headlines."

And our story on "American Idol" leads us to our SHOWBIZ TONIGHT "Question of the Day." We`re asking you tonight: "American Idol": Does the show deserve its big ratings? You can keep voting by sliding on over to CNN.com/showbiztonight. Want to tell us more? Our e-mail address is showbiztonight@CNN.com. We`re going to read some of what you have to say coming up in 22 minutes.

You certainly know the songs, "Mandy," "I Write the Songs," "Copacabana," "Weekend in New England," all Barry Manilow hits. Well, now Barry is singing other people`s hits. He is out with his 58th album, "The Greatest Songs of the `50s."

Now, it features songs like "Unchained Melody" and "All I Have to do is Dream," and so many more. I had the chance to catch up with Barry and Clive Davis. He`s the man that helped make Barry famous. I was with them right before a packed concert in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY MANILOW, MUSICIAN (singing): I write the songs that make the whole world sing...

HAMMER (voice-over): He was supposed to remain in the background. He was the piano player, but the background wasn`t big enough for Barry Manilow, who`s now one of the most beloved pop performers of all time. His songs are certainly well-known.

MANILOW (singing): How happy you made me, oh, Mandy...

HAMMER: Since the mid-1970s, he has sold 75 million albums around the world, and now Barry Manilow is putting a new spin on some old favorites. He just released his 58th album, "The Greatest Songs of the `50s."

I was with Barry as he got ready to sing those new songs before a packed crowd in his home town, New York City.

(on-screen): You`re doing songs like "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Beyond the Sea," and "Unchained Melody." At all intimidating to really try to lend your voice to these songs that are so singularly identified?

MANILOW: Yes, very intimidating. Either I was very brave or very stupid to tackle these songs. My challenge was to stick to the original feeling of the song, do it the way everybody wants to hear it, but somehow put myself into it.

HAMMER (voice-over): The idea for the album came from old friend, legendary music producer and record label honcho Clive Davis.

MANILOW: Clive comes to me with these ideas that sometimes I don`t agree with, but he`s -- I would say 99 percent of the time he`s right. And he came up with this idea, with this new album.

HAMMER: Clive`s been coming to Barry with ideas for decades. Clive discovered Barry. It was back in 1974. Barry was opening for Dionne Warwick in New York City. And, as Clive tells me, Barry didn`t have a hit yet, but he did have charisma.

CLIVE DAVIS, ARISTA RECORDS PRODUCER: He took an audience in Central Park that was there to see Dionne Warwick, turned them upside-down, got a huge standing ovation. So I went backstage right after the show. And I said, "Welcome to Arista Records." That`s how it began.

HAMMER: Since then, Clive has worked on virtually all of Barry`s recordings. One of their earliest and most memorable, "Mandy."

DAVIS: I came up with "Mandy," submitted it to Barry, who was not the most sanguine, not the most receptive to outside material, because as a composer himself, he had never done anyone else`s material. So Mandy led to the practice between the two of us, the rules, the guidelines. And that is that I can have two songs on each album.

MANILOW: I don`t even know what to say anymore about Clive Davis. I`ve never met anybody with this kind of genius. It is a once-in-a- lifetime kind of talent, you know? I always said that, you know, he`s got the ears of a teenager and the mind of an executive.

HAMMER: "Mandy" was Barry`s first hit, followed by...

MANILOW (singing): I write the songs of lovers dancing...

HAMMER: "I Write the Songs," "Looks Like We Made It," and "I Can`t Smile Without You."

MANILOW (singing): I can`t smile without you...

HAMMER (on-screen): When you`re singing those songs night after night, are you still in the moment? Do you go to some zone? What exactly is happening there?

MANILOW: It`s an interesting question, you know? That`s a difficult part. I work all day on it. I do. I work all day on every song so that, when I do it, it`s as fresh as if I had never sung it before. You`ve got to find the truth in it. And there are nights where I can`t find it. And as soon as that happens, I take it out of the show.

HAMMER (voice-over): After three decades of traveling, giving concerts in every city imaginable, the grind of the road got to Barry, so he finally decided to stop touring.

MANILOW: Thirty-five years of hotel rooms, and late room service, and late planes. And after a while, you just want your life back.

HAMMER: Instead of quitting, Barry packed his bags and headed for Vegas where he now plays sold-out shows night after night.

MANILOW: I don`t feel I need to prove anything anymore. I`m just having a ball. And what`s really the big difference is that it`s really about the audiences these days; it`s really not about me. I really don`t need any more applause in my whole life. But what really turns me on is watching these people have a good time. And I`ll be there for as long as they want me to.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: And truly a great professional. Barry Manilow`s new CD is called "The Greatest Songs of the `50s." You`ll find it in stores now.

Well, coming up, why Conan O`Brien is demanding that Finland`s airport be named after him. That`s coming up in tonight`s "Laughter Dark."

Also, can you believe we`re about to get into the 12th season of "Survivor"? I`ll be speaking live with the show`s host, Jeff Probst. We`re going to find out some of the secrets to the show`s success, coming up next.

Plus, where have you gone, big blockbusters? Tonight, the Oscar countdown is on, but there`s not one movie that`s blown out the box office among the best picture bunch. Does that mean viewers are going to even bother to watch the Oscars? We`ll find out live, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: Welcome back to SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer in New York. You are watching TV`s only live entertainment news show.

Tonight, what`s up with the Oscars? You could call this the year of controversy and the year big-budget popcorn movies, films that have mass appeal being left behind, well, at the popcorn stand. Just take a look at what was nominated for best picture just yesterday, when the nominations came out.

"Brokeback Mountain," a love story between two gay cowboys. "Capote," the biopic about gay author Truman Capote. "Crash," a movie that explores racism at its core. And "Munich," about the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. "Good Night, and Good Luck," also nominated, the story of TV newsman Edward R. Murrow, who helped end the communist witch hunt of the `50s.

Joining me live tonight from Hollywood, Tom O`Neil, columnist for the TheEnvelope.com.

Tom, what the heck is going on here? You know, we`re not seeing any of the big budget movies. We`re not see the blockbusters. There`s no "Harry Potter." There`s nothing like "Lord of the Rings" this year coming in for the best picture nomination.

TOM O`NEIL, THEENVELOPE.COM: Right. These films are so small, A.J., more people have seen "March of the Penguins" than have seen any of these movies. If you total up the production budgets of all five films, it`s less than half of what it cost to shoot "King Kong." If you total up how much money they`ve made, all five at the box office, it`s less than "Madagascar" or "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

HAMMER: That is just unbelievable and something that doesn`t really happen all that often. I guess there are a couple of ways to look at it, Tom. Either the people who are voting are really saying, "No, these are absolutely the best movies out there unquestionably," or perhaps, perhaps some kind of deliberate plot by the voters trying to send some sort of a message out to movie makers. What do you think?

O`NEIL: I think the message goes the other way. I think this is a message to Hollywood itself. They`re frustrated at the studio system. In the old days, when Hollywood made movies, they would make about 300 a year. And when they took on dangerous ideas, the ones behind films like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo`s Next" or "Midnight Cowboy" or "In the Heat of the Night," they won best picture.

But now they are only about 50 or 60 studio movies made per year. And they`re all derivative, "Batman 12," and "Superman 13." The great movies - - funding them is being pushed off on the filmmakers. "Hustle and Flow," a movie up for best actor this year, was financed by its filmmakers who took out second mortgages on their houses, raided daddy`s pension fund.

The reason we have all these film festivals out there is so the studios can wait until you make your movie for them. Then they look at it and say, "OK, I`ll take that one and that one." And Hollywood is so angry, they`re turning their backs on -- these voters in the Academy on the studio movies.

HAMMER: And with these types of movies, the ones that are getting all the focus on Oscar night, it sort of begs the question, will anybody be watching? I mean, my guess is I`m the only one in this room -- maybe Jeff Probst aside who saw "Munich" -- I don`t think my crew ran out to see "Munich," nothing about them, but I just don`t think they did.

"Transamerica" anyone? Probably not. So are people going to be tuning into the Oscars?

O`NEIL: No. You can usually guess what the ratings are going to be based on the popularity of the films. The most watched Oscar-cast ever was the year of "Titanic"; the least watched was the year of "Chicago." Based on the popularity of these films, it`s going to be very low.

But sometimes we have to say this show should not be measured by the number of eyeballs that watch it, because if we believe that, we`re as guilty as the studios who say great movies are measured by the number of people who see them.

HAMMER: Well, Tom, I`ll leave it you to tell the advertisers paying $600 million for 30 seconds on Oscar night. Thank you very much, Tom O`Neil, for joining us from TheEnvelope.com.

O`NEIL: OK.

HAMMER: I didn`t mean to say anything disparaging about my crew. That was very rude of me. And the Oscars, of course, being handed out on March 5th.

Well, time now for a "Showbiz Sitdown" with Jeff Probst, the host of one of the very first reality shows on network television, "Survivor." In five years and 12 seasons, it has outwitted, outplayed and outlasted some of the biggest competitors coming at them.

And even now, as one of CBS` highest-rated shows on Thursday nights, "Survivor" certainly shows no signs of losing any steam. The new season takes place in Panama for the third time, but this time, contestants will have to survive "Exile Island."

Joining me live in New York, host of "Survivor: Panama Exile Island," and all the other "Survivors," Jeff Probst. It`s good to see you.

JEFF PROBST, HOST, "SURVIVOR: PANAMA": Nice to see you.

HAMMER: Did you see "Munich"?

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: OK, I want to make sure I`m not speaking out of turn here.

PROBST: No, I`m one of the people that says I`m glad this is happening with movies. I couldn`t be less tired of these big blockbuster nothing movies.

HAMMER: OK.

PROBST: So, yes, I`m all over it.

HAMMER: All right. So you`re going to be watching on Oscar night?

(CROSSTALK)

PROBST: I will be.

HAMMER: You`re not going to be out on assignment?

PROBST: Spielberg`s due.

HAMMER: Can we bring -- I want to bring the camera in for one second, because I noticed this when you came in.

PROBST: Uh-oh.

HAMMER: Even when you`re wearing a suit, you always have the necklace on. Are you able to just reveal that a little bit? Is that something you got early on during "Survivor"?

PROBST: No, I have a few different -- this is just a black pearl from the Marquesas season.

HAMMER: But you seem to have something with...

(CROSSTALK)

PROBST: Yes, I do. I kind of like them. Yes, I just -- and some of them are really personal, you know? And, yes, I like them. It`s just become something -- it`s weird. I kind of feel weird without it now. Some guys wear rings, bracelets.

HAMMER: It becomes like that.

PROBST: Yes, it does.

HAMMER: So let`s talk about this. Five years, 12 seasons packed into those five years. The show really shows no signs of slowing down. What`s the deal with it? Why?

PROBST: You know, I mean, that`s a good question. I really think that there`s a couple of things. One is I think just "Survivor" plays on some themes that connect with people, which is being lost in the middle of nowhere. It could be you`re in a neighborhood you don`t know or it could be on an island.

There`s also the notion of being kicked off or picked last when you`re on the schoolyard or being the first guy laid off. Those are big, iconic themes. And secondly, I think "Survivor" is well-done.

HAMMER: It is well-done and certainly has done a good job of something absolutely essential to it, reinventing itself.

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: Obviously, 12 times, you`ve got to come up with new stuff.

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: And this time with this island -- this Exile Island, what the heck happens here?

PROBST: Exile Island, it`s just yet another idea, where we`re going to banish somebody every episode, and so they`re going to have to live out there on their own. And it`s hard. You`ll see by the middle of the season, it`s really tough.

HAMMER: But the castaways get cast away yet again...

PROBST: Exactly.

HAMMER: ... all the while you`re in your cushy, little hotel...

PROBST: Exactly.

HAMMER: ... back somewhere.

PROBST: Watching "American Idol" tapes, which by the way your question today, does "American Idol" deserve their viewership? It`s a crazy question. We`re watching. We just told you it deserves its viewership. Now, if you said, does it deserve an Emmy? So you need to rewrite that question.

HAMMER: OK, in the control room, would you add Jeff`s vote to the percentage? And maybe we`ll put your e-mail in there, as well, if you could it to us.

PROBST: Yes, of course they deserve it.

HAMMER: But that is a big statement to make, because, you know, 32 million people watching the show.

PROBST: I know. I`m just glad they`re not on Thursdays at 8:00.

HAMMER: And what do you think would happen?

(CROSSTALK)

HAMMER: Because one of the things that they`re looking at now is the fact that, you know, here we are coming up on the Olympic Games. NBC counts on this. This is important money for NBC. Do you think "Idol" can take them?

PROBST: Yes. All I can tell you is -- and I know, you know, CBS probably hates that I would talk about "Idol," but I had an "Idol" audition in my living room the other day. I sat in there, and first I auditioned. I sang, "Have you told you lately that I love" -- and Simon said, "Actually, I think you`ve got something." And then I was on, like, three performances. I had a concert in my living room.

HAMMER: Who was watching this, Jeff?

PROBST: Just me. But I was me. I was Jeff from "Survivor" who wanted to be on "Idol," and I told Simon, "It`s about the music, man."

HAMMER: Would you send us the tape?

PROBST: There was no tape. It`s just, you know -- can you tell it`s been a long day?

HAMMER: It`s been a long day for everybody. And, you know, you don`t need your 15 minutes of fame as some people take from "American Idol." Certainly that has become, you know, par for the course from reality shows.

Elizabeth Hasselbeck, actually, a great example from your show who`s now, of course, one of the co-hosts of "The View," celebrating 2,000 shows tomorrow. Going way back to the first season, did you think that that would be the case, that all of a sudden people are going to start having big showbiz careers out of this?

PROBST: You know, in the beginning, actually, I think a lot of us did, because, especially with "Survivor," the first -- you talk about ratings. The first season finale had 57 million people watching. So, yes, I thought Richard Hatch would have a career. And I thought Rudy might have a career.

And then the second season, Elizabeth was America`s sweetheart. It doesn`t surprise me. She`s talented. She happened to have a venue which gave her, you know, an audience that saw her, but you don`t get anywhere if you don`t have something, you know, behind that.

HAMMER: Sure.

PROBST: But then, as all the other shows came on, I think it starts diluting it.

HAMMER: Yes, and people realize, well, here I can get my foot in the door.

You mentioned Richard Hatch. I got to ask you, of course. He was convicted on his tax evasion charges.

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: He won the million bucks that first season. We all knew him as the naked guy. He`s been here on SHOWBIZ TONIGHT, seems like a perfectly nice guy.

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: When you heard the news of this whole tax evasion story, did it kind of catch you off-guard?

PROBST: I was -- well, when I first heard it, I made a comment that I thought -- I was like, "Richard, what are you doing?" And he sent me an e- mail saying, "Please don`t talk about me, because this is life or death for me. This is real." And I realized, "OK, I`ve got a microphone. He doesn`t." So I didn`t say anything else.

And then when I heard that he was convicted and led away in handcuffs, truthfully, I was sad. You know, he did wrong. He`s got to -- he gets his punishment. But I`m thinking three or four years for a money issue? Pay your taxes. That`s the thing. There`s no defense. I was talking to an attorney who said, "There is no defense. You pay your tax or you don`t."

HAMMER: You win a million bucks, you pay the taxes.

PROBST: Yes.

HAMMER: All right, well, Jeff, good luck with this season. I appreciate you dropping by chatting with us.

PROBST: Yes, congratulations on the show.

HAMMER: Thanks, man. Go get some rest, too.

PROBST: All right, thanks.

HAMMER: I got your vote for tonight`s question. Of course, "Survivor: Panama Exile Island" -- let me get the title correct -- is going to make its premier tomorrow night on CBS.

Well, in tonight`s "Laughter Dark," "Late Night`s" Conan O`Brien thinks its payback time. He has been campaigning for Tarja Halonen, and there are many ways to pronounce that. That`s how I pronounce it. She`s a Finnish presidential candidate who bares an uncanny resemblance to him. She won, and now Conan wants some stuff in return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT": So, Tarja, since it`s clear that you now owe me for your victory, I have a few reasonable demands for you and the people of Finland, demands that I`m sure you can meet. These are reasonable demands, too.

First of all, I would like Helsinki`s international airport renamed the Conan O`Brien International Airport. Look how beautiful that looks.

(LAUGHTER)

That looks nice. Obviously, I would also like my picture on your currency.

(LAUGHTER)

And it seems only right that the borders of Finland be moved slightly from this to this.

(LAUGHTER)

And last but not least, I demand that you change the name of Finland to Conelandia. Isn`t that a nice name? Wouldn`t you rather be from Conelandia than "Finland"?

Of course, that means you`ll also have to change the national anthem. We`ve taken care of that. Max?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (singing foreign language)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAMMER: I think Conelandia might be pushing it a little too far. SHOWBIZ TONIGHT will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMMER: We`ve been asking you to vote online on our SHOWBIZ TONIGHT "Question of the Day." Tonight we asked: "American Idol": Does the show deserve its big ratings?

Here`s the vote so far: 33 percent of you, including "Survivor`s" Jeff Probst, says, yes, it does; 67 percent of you say, no, it doesn`t.

Among the e-mails we`ve received, one from Jeremy who thinks the deserves lots of viewers. "What other TV show can you find millions of Americans wanting to embarrass themselves?"

Also heard from Marie in Minnesota who disagrees. "It`s become a show that is basically watching well-meaning common folks get humiliated by a panel." Keep voting at CNN.com/showbiztonight.

I suppose I should add Jeff Probst`s comments. "Of course it deserves the ratings that it gets, because people are watching. Maybe you guys should change your question."

That is it for SHOWBIZ TONIGHT. I`m A.J. Hammer in New York. Stay tuned for the latest from CNN Headline News.

END

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