NOW THAT RENEE ZELLWEGER’S turn as Bridget Jones has emerged as dark-horse candidate for best actress, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella are hoping to put another London singleton on the map.

Through its deal with Intermedia, Mirage has optioned “Cheet,” a novel by U.K. author Anna Davis, about a feisty London taxi driver juggling five boyfriends.

Mirage’s recently opened London office will develop and produce the pic with Intermedia U.K. Bruna Papandrea, who runs Mirage London, brought “Cheet” to the company.

Davis, a literary agent and creative writing instructor repped by Blake Friedmann Lit agency and AMG, does not yet have a U.S. publishing deal for the novel. That could reflect a weariness among American publishers for trendy British novels about the search for Mr. Right.

But publishing rights to “Cheet” have already sold in five foreign territories. For Mirage, book could signal a return to the sort of vivacious, British romantic comedy that yielded the company’s early indie hit, “Sliding Doors.”

TONGUE-WAGGING KISS BASSIST Gene Simmons has taken a cue from Jonathan Franzen and insulted one of the most powerful literary tastemakers in the business.

Appearing last week on NPR’s “Fresh Air” to flog his new book, “Kiss and Make Up,” Simmons confronted host Terry Gross with a stream of invective and rude sexual innuendo. He called her “boring” and told her “if you’re going to welcome me with open arms, you also have to welcome me with open legs.”

Asked about his studded codpiece, he replied “It holds my manhood in. Otherwise it would be too much for you to take.”

Reached Tuesday, Simmons was unapologetic. His comments were a reaction to NPR’s “smug contempt for the unwashed masses,” he said.

“Its biggest problem in my estimation is the notion that, ‘This is Public Radio. We’re a more important forum than commercial radio.’ I reject that notion. The whole thing feels like a corpse.”

Book publicists don’t agree, however.

“Fresh Air,” said one publicity topper, “is the best national radio interview an author can do.”

It may not be as muscular a promotional vehicle as “Oprah,” which in a single airing can vault an author onto bestseller lists, but “Fresh Air” reaches roughly 3.3 million listeners each week, a group comprised of the sort of high-minded professionals who form the target audience for publishers of literary fiction and serious nonfiction.

Though Gross is known for her forthright broadcast manner and an ability to entice skeletons from authors’ closets, the dispute with Simmons was unprecedented in its vitriol.

“I can’t remember a time when a guest and I traded insults,” Gross said Tuesday.

All the publicity hasn’t hurt “Fresh Air,” which has received 3,000 emails from listeners, most of them supportive, Gross said.

Simmons, too, has emerged unscathed. Crown, which has gone back to press a second time, has printed 150,000 copies of his book.

And Simmons is no doubt well aware that KISS fans would be disappointed if he shed his usual brash showmanship for a decorous chat with NPR.

“That’s what I thought gave him an edge in the interview,” Gross said. “He’s practiced at presenting an obnoxious persona. I had to work at it.”

DAMIEN BONA HAS BEGUN PLUGGING “Inside Oscar 2,” his outspoken book from Ballantine.

With Robert Osborne’s “70 Years of the Oscar,” Bona’s tome is likely to stand as one of the most popular and useful reference books on the Academy Awards. But Bona isn’t about to waste time currying favor with the Academy, an organization he labels “a very subjective group of people with fairly middlebrow tastes.”

Bona, who published the original “Inside Oscar” with Mason Wiley in 1986, has made the minutiae of the Oscar race his life’s hobby, and his opinions about the 2002 contest are anything but politic.

“I was delighted that Baz wasn’t nominated (for best director),” he says. “That means ‘Moulin Rouge’ is out of running for best picture. I would probably vote for ‘Lord of the Rings’ just to stop ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ “

He reserves his greatest criticism, however, for the Acad’s newest category.

“I was surprised that ‘Jimmy Neutron’ was nominated. It’s the first year of this award and already it’s an embarrassment.”

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