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The latest news from the TV beat

The latest news from the TV beat — Joan and Melissa Rivers are set to critique the presidential candidates, while Aaron Sorkin’s ”The West Wing” is looking for a younger female cast member

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Doctor’s Orders?
Here’s what we know: Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s show, which debuts on Sept. 11, still has gay advocates in a lather. Here’s what we don’t know: What kind of show is America’s preeminent finger wagger putting together? ”Quite honestly, I don’t think they know,” says Katz Media VP Bill Carroll. ”They have certain hopes and expectations, but if you ask them to get more specific, they get a little fuzzier.” So far, the Paramount show’s company line says expect panel discussions, audience participation, and an Internet component (a spokeswoman promises more info later this month, when several taped segments are in the can). And while Paramount’s bullish about sales, it’s also coy about revealing Schlessinger’s advertisers — much to the chagrin of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which has already persuaded Procter & Gamble, among others, to withhold its ad money. ”We’re not going to say, ‘If you advertise on this show, we’ll call for a boycott,”’ says Scott Seomin, GLAAD’s entertainment media director. ”We’re just saying ‘Here’s what you’re buying.’ It’s all about education.”

Party Dresses
Forget space-based missile defense. The presidential candidates had better start focusing on their wardrobes now that Joan Rivers and daughter Melissa will be applying their awards show-honed fashion expertise to the political set in an Aug. 26 E! special. In addition to retro trivia (Geraldine Ferraro vetoed a bulletproof vest because it made her look fat), the duo promise to unleash their signature acidity on both the Gore and Bush camps. ”They’re not too fashion-conscious,” says mama Rivers of the recent Republican conventioneers. ”There are three things you won’t see there: Anne Klein, Armani, and abortion.” (As for the Democrats, she predicts a certain ”slut quotient” at their L.A. gathering.) Meanwhile, the E! brass is already thinking franchise. ”People come to the Oscars to hear what Joan thinks,” says John Rieber, E!’s senior VP of original programming. ”If in 2004 someone asks, ‘What does Joan think of the First Lady?’ then we’ve done a great service to America.”

Help Wanted: Actresses
CBS’ King of Queens and NBC’s The West Wing are both in the market for a female cast member. And although Wing exec producer Aaron Sorkin hasn’t yet found the right gal to make good on his promise to NBC to add a younger woman by episode 4 (”We hope it will bring younger viewers to the show,” he says), the Queens producers are close to signing daytime talker Ricki Lake as star Kevin James’ sister. In other news: Felicity producers have wooed John Ritter to guest-star as Ben’s (Scott Speedman) father. ”Although he’s known for Three’s Company, he’s also done some surprisingly deep and emotional work,” says Felicity exec producer J.J. Abrams. ”It’s fun having people play against character.”
Additional reporting by Dan Snierson