- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Some relief for ‘Chief’

Geena Davis is gathering accolades for her TV role as the nation’s first female president … while she still can.

On Tuesday, the White House Project — a New York-based group dedicated to promoting gains by women in voting, political participation and leadership — honored the Oscar winner for her starring role in ABC’s “Commander in Chief” at a gala dinner in New York, Associated Press reports.

Too bad the series was just yanked off the network’s schedule for the rest of the season and stands thisclose to cancellation.

To the strains of “Hail to the Chief,” Miss Davis accepted the award and was given a red, white and blue sash similar to one worn by Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first female president. The actress, who plays President Mackenzie Allen on the ratings-challenged series, said she was thrilled and honored to receive the award because she cares so much about empowering girls and women.

“Year in and year out, there are real-life gains being made by women, but there is still a huge gender disparity,” Miss Davis told the 500 dinner guests assembled in the United Nations Delegates Dining Room. “It really shows up in my industry. For every president Allen, there are a hundred never-rans. There are fewer [female] victors than victims. There are fewer [female] leaders than followers, fewer women than men, and fewer girls than boys.”

Filmmaker Rod Lurie, who created “Commander in Chief” but left the series just weeks after its fall debut, also received an award. He called the question of whether the United States is ready for a female president “insulting.”

“From now on, my answer is, ‘Are we ready for more of what we have got?’” he said.

Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, said the EPIC Awards acknowledge the power of media and popular culture. She thanked Miss Davis and Mr. Lurie “for bringing the concept of a female president to life, and doing it so well.”

Meanwhile, three new episodes of “Chief” are tentatively slated to air next month. Beginning tonight, ABC’s “Primetime” will return to its 10 p.m. Thursday slot. The newsmagazine had been shuffled in recent weeks to make way for “Chief,” which was moved to Thursdays at 10 p.m. in a last-ditch effort to shore up its ratings.

Prime-time bee

Akeelah would be proud.

For the first time in its 79-year history, the National Spelling Bee will go prime time for next month’s finals, AP reports.

Thanks to recent movies such as “Akeelah and the Bee,” books and even a Broadway musical, young spellers suddenly are hot. Now, after 12 years of broadcasts on the sports cable network ESPN, the final rounds of the two-day Scripps National Spelling Bee will air live June 1, from 8 to 10 p.m. on ABC.

“I think we’re ready for prime time, and I think America is ready for spelling bees in prime time, too,” Paige Kimble, the bee’s director and its 1981 national champion, told AP. “We like to think of ourselves as the original reality television programming.”

Previously, the entire second day of spelling aired on ESPN. Under the new arrangement, the bee’s early final rounds will be broadcast by the sports network in the afternoon, with ABC showing the process-of-elimination championship rounds to a larger viewing audience in prime time. The bee takes place in the District May 31 through June 1.

The new film “Akeelah and the Bee” was preceded by last year’s “Bee Season,” starring Richard Gere, and the 2002 documentary “Spellbound.” Also last year, the Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” won two Tony awards.

Proud papa

Like millions of TV viewers, Clyde “Bo” Pickler is an avowed “American Idol” fan.

But his reasons for tuning in to the hit Fox show each week were a lot more personal. His daughter, Kellie, beat out thousands of aspiring singers nationwide to emerge as one of the show’s six finalists. The lack of call-in votes by viewers, however, sent her packing April 26 after her flawed rendition of “Unchained Melody.”

Still, says Mr. Pickler, who this week was released from a Florida jail after serving a three-year sentence for stabbing a man, her “Idol” appearances made his time in the pokey go faster.

“I can’t take credit for what Kellie’s done,” Mr. Pickler — now staying in a $55 a night Tampa-area hotel room — told the syndicated show “Inside Edition.”

“She’s accomplished a lot in her 19 years of life.”

Mr. Pickler kept in contact with his daughter through letters during his prison stay, AP reports, and says he’s looking forward to an in-person reunion.

“It’ll be great to see her,” he says. “I’m going to try to patch up a few burnt bridges and get some things back in order.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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