By ED BARK
***Quickly rebounding from ABC's cancelation of Help Me Help You, comedy stalwart Ted Danson will give drama a shot in a new, still untitled FX pilot starring Glenn Close.
Production begins next week in New York, with Close as high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes, who specializes in liquidating rogue corporate titans. Danson, who has committed to a full season, is cast as corporate heavyweight Arthur Frobisher, ensnared in a class action suit instigated by Close's character. FX officially hasn't committed to a series yet, but that seems like a foregone conclusion.
The two last teamed in 1984's acclaimed TV movie Something About Amelia, in which Danson played a sexually abusive father, with Close as his traumatized wife.
***Looks like a no-brainer for Fox, which is going ahead with a class action series titled Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Half-hour previews will get plush post-American Idol slots on Feb. 27-28 before the show moves to Thursdays at 8 p.m. central, where it will follow special results editions of Idol.
Produced by reality maestro Mark Burnett, Are You Smarter puts adults to the test with stuff they learned in elementary school. Real-life kids will be available as help-mates when Daddy Dummy gets stuck. Fox says a sample question is, "What are the names of the five Great Lakes?"
Hmm, being a Midwesterner, Uncle Barky should know that without looking it up. So that would be Michigan, Superior, Erie, Ontario and um, uh, um . . . Dopey?
By ED BARK
***The Feb. 11th Grammy Awards on CBS will have an arresting opening act in The Police.
Sting and former mates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers have agreed to reunite for the first time since the band's breakup 25 years ago. CBS also announced a half-dozen new presenters -- Joan Baez, Stevie Wonder, Chris Rock, Melissa Eheridge, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson.
Sting also has a lute concert set for Feb. 26 on PBS' Sting: Songs from the Labyrinth. After a Jan. 13 performance for TV critics in Pasadena, he played coy but acknowledged that something was up.
"We started 30 years ago, so it would be nice to do something to celebrate," he said. "We don't quite know what, but we're talking about it."
Sting said he left The Police to "mature as a musician and to try more things than a band is able to do. A band is very constricted . . . But we're still great friends."
***David Letterman hits the quarter-century mark in late night television on Thursday (Feb. 1). He'll celebrate with redoubtable Bill Murray, who was guest No. 1 on both his first NBC show in 1982 and his inaugural CBS Late Show in 1993. Letterman's other anniversary guest will be Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
***Reigning Dancing with the Stars champ and former Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith will play himself on the Monday, Feb. 5 episode of CBS' How I Met Your Mother. His principal scenes are with date-a-holic Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris.
CBS is billing it as "Legendary 'Player' Meets Legendary Football Player." To see an instant clip of Smith the thespian, go here.
By ED BARK
Sunday night's 13th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (7 p.m. central, 8 eastern on TBS and TNT) will reunite the surviving cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
They'll present SAG's trophy for Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series, an honor that didn't exist during MTM's Emmy-lauded seven-season run on CBS (1970-77). This year's nominees are Desperate Housewives, The Office, Ugly Betty, Entourage and Weeds.
Scheduled to reunite are Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Georgia Engel, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman. Alas, the late, great Ted Knight couldn't make it.
Seinfeld won the first SAG award in this category in 1995. The Jan. 28 ceremony also has seven other TV and five feature film competitions. Other presenters include Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, America Ferrera, William Shatner, Forest Whitaker, Ashton Kutcher, Annette Bening, Patrick Dempsey, Matthew Perry and Kyra Sedgwick.
SAG's Life Achievement Award goes to Julie Andrews.
***CBS' Two and a Half Men has booked Allison Janney for her first post-West Wing acting appearance. She'll play an Internet dating service embellisher who goes out with fellow embellisher Alan Harper (series regular Jon Cryer).
By ED BARK
***HBO has greenlighted 12 Miles of Bad Road, starring Lily Tomlin as a wealthy Dallas matriarch/realtor named Amelia Shakespeare. Portions of the pilot episode for the one-hour comedy series were filmed in the Dallas area last year. The bulk of the production likely will be in Hollywood, though.
12 Miles is from Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, principally known for creating Designing Women and Evening Shade. They also produced Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign film, The Man From Hope.
The Thomasons' last TV series was the much-maligned 2001 NBC sitcom Emeril, which indisputably proved that super chef Emeril Lagasse can't act.
***Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin is set to be feted on the 28th annual benefit special for the United Negro College Fund. Formerly hosted by the late Lou Rawls, the program will include performances by Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole and Oscar nominee Jennifer Hudson. Show time in Dallas is Saturday, Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. on KTXA-TV (Ch. 21).
***Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will soak up more exposure as host of The Biography Channel's Crucibles of Courage. Scheduled for Feb. 22nd (8 p.m. central, 9 eastern), the one-hour special spotlights Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Thurgood Marshall, Shirley Chisholm and Marian Anderson.
***The Disney Channel's biggest hit, Hannah Montana, has tabbed Brooke Shields to guest star in a flashback sequence as the title character's deceased mother. She'll also do a duet with series star Riley Cyrus. Filming on the episode began this week.
***Fox's latest reality gambit is When Women Rule the World, scheduled to air whenever the men who rule the network say so. Premise: Participants will be taken to a "remote, primitive location" where women will build a new society without glass ceilings and with "no need to dress to impress." Newfound male underlings must obey or be sent home to their mamas.
By ED BARK
***Gonged in mid-performance are Geraldo Rivera and Megan Mullally, whose syndicated shows have been canceled.
Geraldo At Large, airing in D-FW at 10:30 p.m. weeknights on Fox4, will have its last gasp on Jan. 26th. The host will still have a weekend forum on Fox News Channel, though. Fox4 will replace At Large with Access Hollywood and then run an hour's worth of Judge Joe Brown from 11 p.m. to midnight.
Mullally's daytime talk show, airing at 9 a.m. on Ch. 21 locally, will run through January and then no more. The former Will & Grace Emmy-winner was being outdrawn by just about every competing program in D-FW, including Jerry Springer and Ch. 27's court shows. No replacement show is in place yet, says Ch. 21.
***FX's Dirt, starring Courteney Cox as a muckraking Hollywood magazine editor, delivered solid ratings for its Jan. 2nd premiere. The drama drew 3.7 million total viewers, with 2.4 million of them in the advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-old demographic.
That compares favorably with the first-season premieres of FX hits such as Nip/Tuck, which also drew 3.7 million total viewers, and Rescue Me (4.1 million). The Shield is still the champ. Its inaugural episode pulled in 4.8 million total viewers, including 3 million 18-to-49-year-olds.
FX says the gender split for Dirt's premiere was 56 percent female, 44 percent male. Other FX series have skewed more to male viewers.
By ED BARK
***The CMT cable network has tabbed Dancing with the Stars runnerup Mario Lopez to host the 2007 Miss America Pageant. Replacing last year's James Denton of Desperate Housewives, he'll preside on Jan. 29 from the somewhat un-Miss America-like Planet Hollywood resort & Casino in Vegas.
This is CMT's second year with the pageant, which ABC dropped after ratings kept dipping. Judges for the latest go-around include Delta Burke, Debbie Allen, Michael Feinstein and cripes, Chris Matthews of Hardball. Oh won't he be full of himself.
***Grease's most famous Sandy, Olivia Newton-John, will guest star on the first two episodes of NBC's new Grease: You're the One That I Want. The Peacock's made-for-TV search for Broadway's next Sandy and Danny premieres on Sunday, Jan. 7th (7 p.m. central, 8 eastern).
NBC says that Newton-John will "provide her words of wisdom and advice on what it takes to fill the lead roles."
***Has it really been that long? NBC will commemorate Matt Lauer's 10-year anniversary on Today with a special edition of the show on Friday, Jan. 5th. He first joined Today as news anchor in January 1994 and has been co-hosting since Jan. 6, 1997, says NBC.
Lauer will be feted with clips from his "newsmaker" and "A-list celebrity" interviews, with NBC promising to reprise his testy joust with Tom Cruise among others. Today remains No. 1 among the network morning shows.
***Demonic chef Gordon Ramsay is getting a second prime-time show on Fox. This time he'll visit restaurants "in crisis" and whip them into shape on Kitchen Nightmares, which starts production in February. A third season of Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen is slated for this spring, Fox says.