- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Fox ‘Scrubs’ in

NBC’s “Scrubs” pulls off a major sweeps-period coup tonight by bringing Michael J. Fox temporarily out of retirement from acting.

Such stunt casting can be tricky. Remember Billy Crystal and Robin Williams popping by the “Friends” coffee shop a few years back to promote their bomb “Father’s Day”?

Here, Mr. Fox plays a legendary doctor with a raging bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder. His visit shakes up the cast, all of whom fawn over his skills, not realizing how debilitating his condition truly is. All save Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), who swings between admiration and jealousy of Mr. Fox’s character.

Mr. Fox’s ties to “Scrubs” executive producer Bill Lawrence — who created the actor’s “Spin City” sitcom — helped seal the deal for the two-episode arc.

Mr. Fox left “Spin City” three years ago to concentrate on his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Since then, he has turned in a few vocal performances, including work in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Stuart Little 2.”

“Scrubs” airs at the unusual time of 9:20 tonight on NBC.

Talent under fire?

Nobody really watches the Miss America Pageant for the talent segments, right?

We may soon find out. ABC is looking to trim a third off its three-hour Miss America telecast, and the talent segment could be snipped in the process, according to Associated Press.

ABC officials wouldn’t comment to AP on the potential change, and acting pageant CEO Art McMaster said no decision had been made.

“In the initial sit-down, ABC made a comment saying, ‘By the way, we notice the ratings have dropped on the talent side,’” Mr. McMaster told AP. “They want to change how it’s shown on television.”

Introduced in 1935, the two-minute routines historically have defined the Miss America experience.

To viewers, however, they’re a major turnoff.

For years, the 10 semifinalists got to perform their routines on the stage during the annual telecast. In 1999, the pageant cut the number in half, trying to stem viewership losses that occur during the talent routines.

Miss America officials and pageant fans want to keep the talent competition, saying the amateur routines distinguish Miss America from other beauty pageants.

“It would be a crime,” says Bo Mock, director of the Miss Houston Scholarship Pageant, a Miss America local. “It’s always been what sets us apart.”

ABC, which saw a record-low 10.3 million tune in for the crowning of Miss Florida Ericka Dunlap last fall, is negotiating a new deal with the Miss America Organization.

Once the financial terms are complete, Miss America and ABC will turn to talking about production plans for this year’s pageant, scheduled for Sept. 18, according to Mr. McMaster.

The idea, apparently, is to figure out why Miss America talent routines drive viewers away while “American Idol” and other television shows featuring unknown amateurs have proved so popular.

Maybe the irascible Simon Cowell should be imported to add his biting comments to the contestants’ routines.

NBC rehires Trump

NBC wouldn’t dare fire The Donald.

Real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-show-star Donald Trump is returning for a second round of “The Apprentice,” the Associated Press reports.

The reality series featuring business mogul Trump and contestants vying to work for him has earned solid ratings, so long as it isn’t opposite a certain amateur singing contest.

“We always knew that ‘The Apprentice’ was an original and smart alternative to other reality shows,” the ever-modest Mr. Trump said in a statement. “I can’t wait to get back in the boardroom for season two.”

Mr. Trump also serves as executive producer with Mark Burnett (“Survivor”).

“The Apprentice,” which airs Thursday, was the No. 8 show last week and drew nearly 19 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker predicted “The Apprentice” will “have an appointment on NBC for many years to come.”

With “Frasier” and “Friends” bidding the network adieu this year, NBC will need all the fresh hits it can get.

Sixteen new contestants will be chosen for the competition to film in and around Manhattan, NBC said. A fall premiere is likely, but an airdate was not announced.

Foxx hosts ESPYs

Suddenly red-hot comic actor Jamie Foxx isn’t giving up his ESPN gig.

Mr. Foxx, soon to be seen alongside Tom Cruise in “Collateral,” will return for the second consecutive year as host of the ESPY Awards, Associated Press reports.

“I’m excited. We’re going to make lightning strike twice,” Mr. Foxx told AP. “I had a great time last year, and we’re gonna take it up a notch.”

This year’s ESPY telecast, which honors the best in sports achievement, will be taped July 14 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. It’s scheduled to air July 18 on ESPN.

The 36-year-old comedian, who co-starred in the Oliver Stone football film “Any Given Sunday,” is an avid sports fan.

Mr. Foxx also will appear in the upcoming movies “Redemption,” airing April 11 on the FX cable channel, and “Breakin’ All the Rules” with Gabrielle Union.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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