- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Aiken makin’ ‘Ed’ stop

Clay Aiken took notes when “From Justin to Kelly” tanked at the box office last summer.

“American Idol’s” favorite runner-up is staying on the small screen, for now. He guests on tomorrow’s episode of NBC’s “Ed,” playing himself in a small role. That’s a far cry from “Justin,” in which “American Idol” contestants Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini took on full-fledged assignments.

“I think part of what made that movie a little more difficult to swallow is that it happened so fast,” says an unerringly polite Mr. Aiken during a telephone press conference on “Ed’s” behalf.

“I’m trying to do things more slowly… I do this, I’ll do a skit on ‘Saturday Night Live’ maybe, and I’ll go from there.”

The “Idol” graduate will sing “This Magic Moment” and his new single, “The Way,” on tomorrow’s show and say only a few lines of dialogue.

The producers of “Ed” sought Mr. Aiken for a story in which Eli (Daryl Mitchell) invites him to appear on his radio station to save Eli’s boss’s job. The episode also guest-stars Blair Brown, Burt Reynolds and Lea Thompson, but Mr. Aiken clearly is the big draw.

The singer says he wasn’t a regular “Ed” watcher before the gig — the two shows ran head to head when he was duking it out on “Idol” — so he did his research.

He touched base with some old friends back home to get their take on the show before accepting.

“The thing that resonated with most people was how family-oriented it was,” Mr. Aiken says. “It was a good show that had great subject matter.”

As for the new round of “Idol,” which debuted this week, Mr. Aiken doesn’t sound afraid that the next winner will overshadow his blossoming career.

“Every year, there’s a different element as to who wins and what comes out. The public picks what they’re in the mood for at that time and what they don’t have,” he says.

When Miss Clarkson won, she was the girl next door, Mr. Aiken adds.

For the follow-up installment, “we didn’t have a skinny, dorky kid from the South, so they pick me,” he says in that sweet North Carolina twang. “That’s what’s neat about the show. It gets different artists.”

He holds no regrets about the experience and what may come, but he also harbors hope that he’ll grow beyond “Idol’s” borders.

“That’s what got me here, but it would be nice not to be known as the runner-up for the rest of my life.”

Grace note

“That ‘70s Show’s” Topher Grace wouldn’t mind if the first 20 episodes of his sitcom could be dumped into the nearest incinerator.

The young actor jumped from his freshman year at the University of Southern California directly into the nostalgic sitcom. The learning curve proved fairly steep.

“It’s kind of a weird graduate school for acting,” says Mr. Grace, who made his feature-film debut in the Oscar-winning “Traffic” in 2000. He takes another step in his film career with tomorrow’s opening of “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!” as the nebbish love interest of a Piggly Wiggly clerk (Kate Bosworth) who falls in love with a vain movie star (Josh Duhamel).

Mr. Grace says next year will mark “That ‘70s Show’s” end, at least for him and co-star Ashton Kutcher. He says the sitcom gave him a unique way to hone his craft.

“You can show something to the nation and hear their responses, then go out next week and make it funnier,” he says. “It’s a wonderful kind of boot camp. It’s pass-fail.”

Caine comes home

Before he became Quentin Tarantino’s “Bill,” David Carradine was Kwai Chang Caine, aka Little Grasshopper.

The veteran actor’s classic series “Kung Fu” is coming to DVD on March 16, Warner Home Video announced.

The star of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” and the upcoming “Vol. 2” is front and center in “Kung Fu: The Complete First Season.” The 1970s show combined the martial-arts and Western genres, with its hero promoting peace despite the violence swirling around him.

Schooled in the spiritual ways by Master Po (Keye Luke) and Master Kan (Philip Ahn), Caine could be both kind and dangerous when called upon.

The release will include two never-before-seen documentaries: “From Grasshopper to Caine: Creating Kung Fu” and “The Tao of Kwai Chang Caine: Production and Beyond.”

The show debuted Oct. 14, 1972, and made Mr. Carradine a household name.

The DVD boxed set of “Kung Fu: The Complete First Season” is priced at $39.98.

‘Idol’ worship

The debut of this season’s “American Idol” proved the television phenomenon shows no signs of abating.

Fox’s “American Idol” drew 29 million viewers Monday, the best start for any series in the 2003-04 season, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research figures released this week by Fox, Associated Press reports.

Fox also enjoyed a solid debut for “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” a reality series that debuted after “Idol.” The new series was watched by 19.6 million viewers. Encore episodes, beginning tonight, will air each Thursday evening at 9.

“American Idol,” which has produced three instant music stars in Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, was expected to provide a boost for the struggling network.

Gail Berman, Fox’s entertainment president, recently called the show Fox’s “engine” and said it’s as important to the network as “Friends” is to NBC and “Survivor” is to CBS.

Last May’s “Idol” finale, in which Mr. Studdard narrowly beat Mr. Aiken in nationwide voting, drew more than 38 million viewers.

This year, an estimated 80,000 aspiring stars applied to be on the show. Contestants are again being judged by Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell, king of the put-down. The ingratiating Ryan Seacrest is back as host.

“My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” features a woman out to convince her family that she’s serious about a questionable mate to win a prize. The woman (Randi Coy) thinks the fiance in question is another reality-show contestant trying to help her win the prize, but the faux beau is an actor assigned to make her task all the more difficult.

Doesn’t sound like much reality is involved, does it?

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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