As viewers waited to find out whether Kelly Clarkson or Justin Guarini would be the big winner on "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar," there was word in Hollywood that Simon Cowell is already counting his winnings from the popular talent show, with a contract reportedly worth at least $1 million to return for "American Idol 2."
Cowell has become a star in his own right through his blunt evaluations of contestants on the show. The other judges, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, were expected to return for the show's second go-around, but no deals were announced publicly.
Wednesday night's winner -- Kelly or Justin -- gets a speed pass on the road to fame and fortune. Both have already enjoyed high-visibility appearances on the series, and the winner will immediately get an opportunity that most performers struggle for years and never get -- an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
The "American Idol" winner will visit Leno on Thursday night. Other guests that night will be Jimmy Fallon ("Saturday Night Live") and the Dixie Chicks.
WILDER'S GIFT TO THE ACADEMY
Audrey Wilder, widow of the legendary writer-director Billy Wilder, has given his six Oscar statuettes and his Irving G. Thalberg Award to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
She presented the items to the academy on Tuesday night in front of a capacity audience at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Hollywood, at a screening of "The Lost Weekend," the 1945 drama that earned Billy Wilder two Oscars -- for best director and best writing.
Audrey Wilder was an extra on "The Lost Weekend" where she first met her future husband. She married Billy Wilder four years later. They had been married for 53 years when Billy Wilder died last March.
Billy Wilder received 21 Academy Award nominations during his career. After taking home Oscars for "The Lost Weekend," he subsequently won statuettes for writing "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), and for writing, directing and producing "The Apartment," 1960's best picture winner. He received the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1987, in recognition of his body of work as a producer.
The academy will display one of Wilder's statuettes in a 75th anniversary exhibition in February and March.
"The Lost Weekend" screening was part of the academy's "Facets of the Diamond: 75 Years of Best Picture Winners" series, in which all best picture winners are being presented chronologically.
'BLONDE' HAVING MORE FUN
Reese Witherspoon -- who proved her box-office heft with the 2001 comedy "Legally Blonde" -- reportedly will earn $15 million to reprise her role as Elle Woods, the sorority queen who enrolls in Harvard Law School to try to get her boyfriend back, and discovers she has what it takes to be a topnotch lawyer.
Plans calls for shooting on "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" to begin this fall, with a possible release date of July 2003. Witherspoon will produce the project.
DILLINGER MOVIE ON THE WAY
According to a report in Daily Variety, David Mamet ("The Untouchables," "The Verdict") has signed with Warner Bros. to write a screenplay about Depression-era gangster John Dillinger, and Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") is in talks to direct.
Mamet -- who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- recently finished directing "Diary of a Young London Physician" starring Jude Law and Penélope Cruz in a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic horror tale "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
TNT FOLDS 'WITCHBLADE'
TNT has dropped its high-profile drama series "Witchblade," despite good reviews and decent ratings in its first two seasons.
There is speculation in Hollywood that the decision was related to a delay in production on the show, caused by star Yancy Butler's health problems earlier this year.
SAG PUTS OFF BATTLE
The Screen Actors Guild has put off for at least one month an emergency meeting scheduled for Thursday, at which its national board was to have voted on a proposal to set up a showdown with agents over the rules that govern the professional relationship between actors and agents.
The board was to have voted on whether to set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2003 for agents to re-sign the agency franchise agreement that expired earlier this year.
The proposal would reinstate a SAG rule requiring agents representing union members to be franchised agents. The rule was indefinitely suspended earlier this year after guild members rejected a tentative deal to replace the expired franchise agreement.
In the meantime, agents have been free to sign SAG members to agreements with less favorable terms to actors. Actors who use agencies that have not agreed to live up to the expired agreement could run the risk of sanctions -- and possible expulsion from the union -- for violating guild rules.
The Thursday meeting was called off after critics within the union pointed out that the current board will be replaced in a few weeks with a new board. The union's board election is scheduled to be completed on Sept. 23.