Eriq La Salle's final new episode as a regular cast member on "ER" is scheduled to run Thursday night (at 10 ET) on NBC. He's leaving the show to pursue other opportunities, particularly in directing.
"We tried very hard to get Eriq to stay and were very disappointed when he decided to move on," said executive producer John Wells. "Eriq has been a great asset to 'ER' and an integral part of the show's success."
La Salle has played the brooding but talented Dr. Peter Benton since the show premiered in 1994. The end of Dr. Benton's story line has him making a difficult choice between his work and his personal life, as the court case over custody of his son reaches a critical stage.
Michael Michele, who has played Benton's girlfriend, Cleo Finch for the past three seasons, is also leaving the show.
AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS
Rapper/recording mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and actress Jenny McCarthy have been named to host the 29th annual "American Music Awards," which will air live on ABC on Jan. 9 from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
McCarthy parlayed her appearance as a Playboy Playmate into a gig hosting "Singled Out" on MTV, and went on to star in "Jenny," a half-hour comedy that ran on NBC in 1997-98. She has also appeared in several movies, including "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead" and "Scream 3."
NEW OSCAR CATEGORY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences says an Oscar will be presented for the first time next March for the best feature-length animated picture -- the first new Oscar category in more than 20 years.
The Academy Board of Governors created the best animated feature category in September, stipulating that at least eight films would have to qualify in order for the award to be presented in a given year.
This year, nine pictures -- either entirely animated or featuring a substantial amount of animation combined with live-action -- were declared eligible to compete by the Academy's executive committee of the Short Films and Feature Animation branch. They are: "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"; "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius"; "Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu"; "Monsters, Inc."; "Osmosis Jones"; "The Prince of Light"; "Shrek"; "The Trumpet of the Swan" and "Waking Life."
"Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek" -- two of the biggest box-office hits of 2001 -- are widely regarded as leading contenders for a nomination in the new category.
A 100-member screening committee chaired by Academy Gov. Tom Hanks will decide on three nominees after viewing the nine eligible pictures. Half of the committee's members will be animators, and half will be members of the Academy's other 13 branches. The nominees will be announced Feb. 12, 2002, along with the rest of this year's Academy Award nominees.
The Academy has honored animated movies in the past, presenting an honorary Oscar to Walt Disney in 1938 for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and a special achievement Oscar to "Toy Story" director John Lasseter in 1995. "Beauty and the Beast" was nominated for best picture in 1991, while animated movies have received regular Oscars for editing, visual effects, song and score.
The last time the Academy established a new award category was 1981, when the first Oscar was presented for makeup. Rick Baker won the award for "An American Werewolf in London."
The 74th Annual Academy Awards will be presented March 24, 2002, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, in ceremonies that'll air live on ABC-TV.
(The above three items thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)
At one time, actor Jared Martin was a national heart-throb, appearing as Dusty Farlow on "Dallas." Now the 59-year-actor has moved to Philadelphia, giving up his "house on the hill and a fancy car" for a quieter life, teaching film to inner-city kids.
In one of its "Where are they now?" segments, USA Today, in its latest online edition, profiles Martin -- whose Big Picture Alliance, formed in 1994 as a non-profit group -- uses meager funds to produce Hollywood-style movies on the streets of Philly.
The publication says Martin recently married a classical Chinese dancer he met through the Internet. They exchanged messages for 16 months before meeting. Martin tells the publication that upon meeting "we realized we really liked each other."
On a downside, since leaving "Dallas," Martin has lost more than $400,000 of his Hollywood-earned income to bad investments. He believes that his latest endeavor, helping young people, will pay off as many of the others haven't.
(Thanks to UPI Feature Reporter Dennis Daily)