New York's Drama League is about to honor an actor who is omnipresent on American television ... Jerry Orbach. It's difficult to turn on TV and watch for any length of time without seeing him. After taking over the slot vacated by Paul Sorvino in "Law & Order" a decade ago, Orbach has become one of the medium's most enduring players. Now the publicist for the Big Apple group tells United Press International the organization is about to pay Orbach a major honor. Each year the group presents a "Musical Celebration of Broadway." One outstanding veteran of Broadway becomes the centerpiece and is honored by former and present cast members. This year Orbach is the honoree. He holds an interesting theatrical record, having appeared in more live performances of American musicals than any other U.S. thespian. He was the originator of the role of El Gallo in the longest-running major Broadway musical of all time, "The Fantasticks." He created the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago and was the first actor to play Julian Marsh in "42nd Street." Additionally, he continues to appear in fresh episodes of "Law & Order" and is seen -- nearly hourly -- in the series' reruns. The tribute to Orbach will be at The Pierre in Manhattan late next month. For more on New York's Drama League, check out dramaleague.org on the Internet.
JUDGES NAMED FOR NEXT 'STAR SEARCH' RUN
The new run of "Star Search" has premiered with Naomi Judd, Carol Leifer and Ben Stein sitting in the judges chairs. Producers tell United Press International that this latest incarnation of the long-running "talent scouts" has been sold as a nine-episode package of hourlong broadcasts. The host this time around is Arsenio Hall. Again the contestants are participating in four categories: Adult singer, junior singer, comic and supermodel. Viewers at home again are adding their voice to the voting through a special Internet site. Winners vie for $100,000 in each category. Judd is half of the mother-daughter team The Judds (with daughter Wynonna), which has sold more than 20 million albums. Leifer is an acclaimed comic and writer with years of stand-up experience under her belt. Stein, of course, is the urbane former Nixon speechwriter who became a writer, professor and movie and TV star.
REMAINING BROTHER TO REMAIN AT OPRY
Following the death of bluegrass pioneer Jim McReynolds, his brother Jesse says he will stay active in country music. The two teamed up in the 1940s, an interesting counterpoint in the niche of bluegrass music, appearing in freshly starched shirts with a persona that gave the lie to many of their "down-home" lyrics. Now Jim & Jesse are no longer, with the death of Jim on New Year's Eve. Jesse tells CMT that he intends to keep the planned road dates that he and his brother had made prior to Jim's death. The pair last performed together in late November. By the way, there's a new Jim and Jesse CD about to be released. Its title is bittersweet: "'Tis Sweet to be Remembered."
GOOD YEAR FOR COUNTRY MUSIC ... KINDA
With all the hoopla about country having a better year than mainstream music, there's a flaw in the numbers -- no Top 10 hits on the most-played lists. It seems that while country did have a hot year, none of the country stars who were doing well on their own charts made those national lists. The news provider country.com says that a new Neilsen Broadcast Data Systems report shows that while many country songs did much better than expected as "cross-over" hits, none got above the No. 11 ranking. The most-played country song nationally during the past year was Nickleback's "How You Remind Me." Puddle of Mudd scored well with "Blurry" and Linkin Park's "In the End." One of the more interesting efforts was the "UP!" CD by Shania Twain that was released as a double-disk set with. Each had the same songs, but one had them recorded in a "mainstream" manner, the other with a country twang.
IT'S ABOUT TIME TO HONOR RICHARD WIDMARK
There’s a move afoot to to get a special lifetime achievement Oscar for 88-year-old Richard Widmark, one the the screen’s most riveting actors. Gossip columnist Liz Smith says that director Peter Bogdanovich is adding his considerable influence in the effort. Voting on the special award ends in two weeks. In the meantime, Bogdanovich has written an open letter to the Motion Picture Academy that reads, in part: "American cinema would never have been the same without this unsung Midwesterner, who gave us almost a half-century of quietly brilliant work." Widmark, still handsome (and threatening) as ever, was recently honored by the Eastman group in Rochester, N.Y. He has retired in Connecticut. Few actors managed to combine the intensity, masculine strength and ever-present nature of troubled souls as Widmark did during his long career. We second the motion. And, as Smith suggests, let's put in a good word for an eventual award for Doris Day.
CAST EMERGING FOR NEXT 'POTTER' FILM
There is talk that actor Gary Oldman may be joining the cast for the filming of the next "Harry Potter" installment. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the latest film -- No. 3 in the series -- will be called "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Alfonso Cuaron will direct for Warner Bros. In this latest "episode," based, of course, on the books of author J.K. Rowling, Oldman would apparently appear as Sirious Black. In the scenario for the movie, Black is painted as an escaped prisoner of Azkaban who, according to the publication, turns out to be Harry Potter's godfather. Oldman, by the way, has already been tapped to play in an independent "small" film called "Sin," opposite Ving Rhames.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 500
Today, in light of the reported upsurge in book reading because of the popularity of Harry Potter films, is this question: "When you were a child, what were your favorite books, tapes, or other media?" Put CHILD in the subject line and send to email@example.com via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 495 (FORTUNE)
Last week, in conjunction with our coverage of the death of astrologer Sydney Omarr, we asked about your feelings concerning fortune-telling and seeing the future. Most of you must be realists. Only 20 percent said you thought that it actually was possible to predict what is going to happen. Our surveys are non-scientific and the answers are drawn from a random sampling of incoming e-mail.