‘Today’ getting a little touchy

IS “The Today Show” walking a frayed tightrope with its weekly gathering of unknown (and unfunny) comics delivering bitchy comments on the week in celebrity news? So many of the skewered stars are people “Today” would consider big “gets.” Tom and Katie, Nick and Jessica, Lindsay Lohan. The chortling that goes on when Matt Lauer or David Gregory egg on the comics is squirm inducing. And I bet the first time a PR handler says “no” to Katie Couric — after she requests an interview because somebody’s delicate client has been wounded — this little segment will bite the dust … MSNBC’S Keith Olbermann often behaves foolishly on his cable news show, “Countdown,” with a lot of silly stuff, but he has his serious moments. And one of them came Thursday night when he was the only anchor to express some healthy skepticism over the New York City subway terrorist scare. He noted that this was at least the 13th time since 9/11 that on the day or week of bad news for the White House (the latest Karl Rove mess, the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and six ignored soldier deaths in Iraq), a terrorist warning has been leaked. Not only that, Olbermann was reading wire stories attributed to government agencies, all disagreeing with one another, coming to the conclusion that the threat info was “doubtful” in its veracity.

I DUCKED backstage at the Ambassador Theatre where Brooke Shields is starring as Roxie Hart in Kander & Ebb’s evergreen and ever enjoyable musical, “Chicago.” (And I do mean ducked. The doorway to backstage was built in 1921 — they must have grown ’em small back then!) Onstage, Brooke is languorously tall, beautiful and full of spit and vinegar as she charms her way into one’s heart. I asked Brooke how she managed Bob Fosse’s unique and difficult choreography with such expertise? “Well, I started with my pinkie,” she said slyly. “And then I worked on my fingers and my hand, and then my arm, then the other arm. Slowly I incorporated Bob Fosse into all of me.” After starring in the London production for three months, Brooke ends her Broadway run on Nov 1. She is eager to go home to hubby, baby and a new project that may make her eligible for a Tony Award. … “Elaine Stritch — At Home at the Carlyle,” has added an extra performance to her current SRO run — on Oct. 30. Miss “Stritchie” will come back on Jan. 4 for another four weeks of fun and games. … When the American Red Cross in Greater New York celebrates its 100th birthday on Oct. 20 at the World Financial Center in Manhattan, they’ll honor that world philanthropist/former President Bill Clinton. “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart will emcee the dinner and live auction. Trumpeter Chris Botti performs. This great night is $1,000 a ticket. Call (212) 875-2151 … “The Odd Couple” is already upon us as a super theater hit with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane selling out in the coming revival. Meantime, a member of the original TV cast — Jack Klugman — has been in town pushing his book “Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.” This book is utterly delightful with its touching foreword by Garry Marshall who produced the original TV series. I told Jack recently how much I loved him as Ethel Merman’s beau in the musical “Gypsy.” He laughed: “I don’t run into a lot of people who saw me in ‘Gypsy’ anymore. Liz, I guess that puts us on the short list.”

HELENA BONHAM Carter has garnered raves for her vocal work in fiance Tim Burton’s animated “Corpse Bride.” But just because she is soon to be Mrs. Burton, doesn’t mean she had her pick of roles in his movies. “You think I’d get it easy, since we do have one child together. But no, sleeping with him did not get me the part. I had to audition, like everyone else!” (Helena also lends her evocative voice to another animated film, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”… “There is no such thing as an indiscreet question.” That’s what TV star Faye Emerson said back in the ’50s. (Emerson shocked early viewers with her on-air decolletage. She was also the daughter-in-law of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt.) This quote comes out of the new Mike Wallace book “Between You and Me, A Memoir.” It is chockfull of Wallace’s frank, funny and honest P.S. anecdotes about some of his more famous interviews. (There’s a DVD included with the book.) Wallace — whom I have known for 52 years — said, “There is nothing about you in this book!” I said, “Good, I wouldn’t want people to know about us.” … “I don’t do it, but I don’t want to judge because I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m 40 or 50 and if that is something I would do. I know that getting older is tough.” That’s Jennifer Lopez in Harper’s Bazaar, talking about the possibility of plastic surgery. If you want to pleasure Lopez — as in giving her a present, silly — try bath products. She loves her long luxurious soaks. … Bravo to Tab Hunter for his cool handling of the outrageous George Wayne, whose monthly Q&A in Vanity Fair has caused stars to curse, hang up, threaten Wayne’s life and otherwise wonder what the hell they got themselves into. Tab, promoting his autobiography, resisted all salacious queries and insistences by Wayne — for instance, did he have an affair with Rock Hudson? Tab says absolutely not … Sir Howard Stringer of Sony, once the head of CBS, and producer Barney Rosenzweig are working together on a 25th anniversary DVD edition of “Cagney & Lacey,” which starred Tyne Daly and Barney’s wife, Sharon Gless. Gless, who was so very good over the past five years on Showtime’s “Queer As Folk,” is working on a new show — an NBC sitcom with Martin Mull, “Thick ‘n’ Thin.”

THERE WAS lots of embracing and tears the other day at the “Regis and Kelly” show when Adam Pascal, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel and Rosario Dawson stopped in to chat up the soundtrack for their movie version of “Rent.”(The musical is still running on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.) Pascal, Diggs and Menzel — she is Mrs. Diggs in lucky real life — are original members of the stage show. And they get emotional about their work in “Rent.” Pascal says, “We all felt such a responsibility to honor the memory of the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson.” And so, apparently, did the film’s director Chris Columbus, who, according to Pascal, “really fought” for the stage actors to be allowed to re-create their roles. (Playwright Jonathan Larson’s death on the night of the show’s opening has become part of theater legend.) Menzel, a Tony winner for “Wicked,” laughed over the unusual exception to the rule: “We used to joke around and wonder what big movie star was going to play our parts.” … Menzel has just been signed as a solo artist by Warner Records — the company releasing “Rent.” Movie opens Nov. 23; the Rob Cavallo-produced soundtrack, with its famous anthem, “Seasons of Love,” is in stores now.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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