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March 20, 2000

Peter Vallone, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Ralph Lauren, Keanu Reeves, Joshua Jackson, and more . . .

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Will Sports Night Be Traded To HBO?

Is ABC's Sports Night due to get the Sex and the City and Sopranos cable treatment? According to a Hollywood source, HBO is in talks with Imagine Television about snatching up its critically praised (but viewer-challenged) sitcom after this season. While ABC still has first dibs, the source says that the Disney-owned network gave up on the show in the wake of this year's piddling ratings, adding that Sports Night creator Aaron Sorkin has all but signed on the dotted line with AOL Time Warner's HBO. If the deal goes through, the show would be revamped into a darker and more cutting-edge program, closer to the show's original prospectus -- which a leery ABC tried to soften with the last-minute addition of a laugh track. ABC is keeping its intentions close to the vest. Tony Krantz, co-chairman and CEO of Imagine, isn't: "We are looking at all of our options," he said. "If HBO wanted us, we would be excited and pleased to join their network."

Calling "Puff" Pastry

Cops still digging for dirt on Puff Daddy may want to give up that daily Krispy Kreme for a pain perdu. Owners of Frère Jacques, a new Murray Hill bistro, were puzzled last November when they began receiving close to 50 calls a day from people demanding to speak with Sean or Puffy or various other monikers of the troubled rapper's. "We were all like, 'Who the hell is this Sean guy?' " recalls co-owner Michael Pica, who assumes he has Puffy's old digits but can't find out because of Bell Atlantic's privacy clauses. Pica adds that the phones rang off the hook in December when the gun debacle blew up in the Bad Boy's face, but he had no faux-insider information to disclose. Despite the thick Left Bank accent on the answering machine, the eatery still gets about twenty calls daily, some from giggly groupies with a tendency to identify themselves by the size of their bust or derrière -- but "unfortunately no calls from Jennifer Lopez," quips the restaurateur.

Will Holly Lure Ya To Chelsea Digs?

Soon, you'll be able to buy some of the world's most sought-after contemporary art just down the hall from where Sid Vicious allegedly murdered Nancy Spungen. Just weeks after legendary art dealer Holly Solomon organized Nam June Paik's knockout retrospective at the Guggenheim, she was moving out of her cavernous SoHo gallery to open shop in a one-room office at the Chelsea Hotel. Solomon -- who's enjoyed decades as one of the art world's most important voices by representing sensations such as Paik and photographer William Wegman -- was forced to leave her Mercer Street locale after a protracted legal battle with her landlord. Solomon tells the Intelligencer that she'll meet potential buyers in her Chelsea office only by appointment and that her future shows will be held at the hotel as well: "I'll rent a room and clear it out." Some see the move as a dire omen for Solomon. "She's been one of the top ten gallery owners in New York since the seventies," says Webster Hall curator Baird Jones. "So it's a shame to see her end her career in such a diminished capacity." Solomon scoffs at such talk, saying, "I'm with the action. The action is in Chelsea."

Who Wants To Be a City Councilman?

Next year's wholesale turnover of the City Council is proving a bonanza for political entrepreneurs. City Council speaker Peter Vallone and former deputy mayor and Rudy Giuliani campaign manager Peter Powers have teamed with Baruch College School of Public Affairs advisory-board chair Martin Begun to teach would-be politicos the secrets of becoming successful council members. The first seminar drew 400 wannabe elected officials -- a good thing, since approximately 36 of the 51 council seats will open up in 2001 thanks to term limits. "They were jammed to the rafters," reports a political groupie in attendance. Well, it sure beats jury duty.

Unfriendly Act At Brooklyn School?

Parents and faculty at the preppy Brooklyn Friends School were recently stunned by a $900,000 deficit uncovered by auditors -- a discovery that has led to the dismissal of the popular head-of-school, James Handlin, who was sacked last month after a second audit cast a cloud of doubt over his fiscal management. According to interim head-of-school Michael Nill, the Brooklyn Friends School board decided "enough questions were raised that they were duty bound to ask for this resignation." Handlin's attorney Louis Pechman strongly denies the rumors of financial impropriety, calling the allegations a smoke screen from the trustees. "The real story is political, not financial," he says. "There is no one who loved BFS more than Jim. He should have left the school with a tribute, not a public hanging." Pechman says no lawsuit has yet been filed but promises to "take whatever steps necessary to restore Jim's impeccable reputation." The trustees, Nill says, lent the school close to $1 million to make it through the school year, and parents have rallied to the rescue with anonymous donations of up to $100,000. Nill says a detailed investigation is ongoing -- but despite the crisis, he's looking forward to a rosier future: "Next year, we're expecting to open with the most students we've had in our history," he says.

Ralph Lauren's Oscar Ace

Does Ralph Lauren have a secret weapon in Hollywood? Best Actress winner Gwyneth Paltrow looked pretty in pink dressed in a Lauren ball gown at last year's Academy Awards, even though, up to the last minute, she had been expected to wear an Armani dress. It turns out Lauren's West Coast rep, Crystal Moffett Lourd, is married to Blaine Lourd, brother of Bryan Lourd, a CAA managing director. And coincidentally, Gwyneth is a CAA client. This year, fashion watchers will be looking to see who among CAA's trio of Best Actress nominees -- Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep -- will glide down the red carpet in Ralph Lauren on March 26. But unfortunately Lauren may not have the front-runner in the palm of his talented hands -- Hilary Swank recently left CAA for the William Morris Agency.

Ethicist and Eggheads

Readers of The New York Times Magazine simply aren't troubled enough for columnist Randy Cohen. Disappointed by the paltry number of moral dilemmas sent in by devotees of his column, "The Ethicist," Cohen turned to literary darling Dave Eggers and the irony-clad readers of his quarterly McSweeney's for help. Under the droll headline PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF TIMES COLUMNISTS, McSweeney's published on its Website (and still publishes) a letter from Cohen asking readers "to send me a brief scenario of baffling ethical complexity, richly nuanced, and tangled with mixed motives and mitigating circumstances." But wait -- is this ethical, especially given McSweeney's penchant for elaborate jokes and literary pranks? When reached for comment, Cohen raved about the crafty questions submitted by the McSweeney's set, which still come in regularly. "The letters I get from them are some of the smartest and funniest I've seen," he says, adding that he's "99 percent sure" that at least one has run in the magazine.

Keanu's Smokes; Hilton Chokes

Keanu's Smokeout: Some people would walk a mile for a cigarette, but dedicated smoker Keanu Reeves sends the bartender. Reeves got peeved the other night when he discovered that Scott Sartiano's still-unnamed lounge on Spring and Sullivan Streets doesn't sell cigarettes. Rather than make the Matrix star brave the cold -- or abandon his attractive female companion for even a moment -- Sartiano had his bartender make the two-block trek to the nearest deli. It was certainly worth the trip, though; Reeves tipped him $150 for his trouble.

Go Away, Little Girl: Underage heiress and girl-about-town Nicky Hilton may be a goddess to Dalton boys, but to Dawson's Creek star Joshua Jackson she's just another teen fan. Jackson was at Halo recently to celebrate his cover on the premiere issue of Teen Movieline when the 16-year-old socialite coyly attempted to lasso him off to Lot 61 along with her entourage of Lolitas. The heartthrob declined the offer with a polite thank-you and resumed his merrymaking as Hilton and posse headed for the door. Asked why he turned down the chance to cavort with the vixens, Jackson offered up a simple philosophy: "They're 16," said the 21-year-old. "My sister's 16 -- I don't think so."

Only the (Cold And) Lonely: The toils of daily street reporting may be starting to wear on Eyewitness News hound N. J. Burkett. The normally well-groomed Channel 7 reporter was recently setting up a live shot in Brooklyn Heights atop a news van when a strong gust of wind mussed up his hair -- just as pedestrians began gathering to watch. "The wind was blowing my part the wrong way," a frank Burkett recalls. The reporter whipped out some hair spray and squirted the side of his head, prompting snickers from the impromptu audience. In response, the boyish Burkett blurted: "You guys think this is a glamorous job, but it's not. It's cold, and it's lonely." The correspondent insists that the exchange was all in fun -- he's not disillusioned with the life of a local beat reporter, and besides, he's really just a regular guy. "At the end of that shoot," he says, "I took the subway home."

Additional reporting by David Amsden and Suny Sehgal.

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