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Downey Jr. will return to ''McBeal''

Plus, Puffy Combs trial suspends jury selection, Madonna and U2 will perform at the Grammys, and more

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Robert Downey Jr., Ally McBeal
Robert Downey Jr: Randy Holmes

REGULAR SPOT Robert Downey Jr. has agreed to appear in up to 11 additional episodes of ”Ally McBeal.” Downey, who won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor in a TV series on Sunday, may head back into the studio next week when production begins on the 13th episode of the Fox show. While neither Fox nor David E. Kelley’s production office would talk about the deal, the Hollywood Reporter says insiders confirmed the extra episodes (Downey has already shot 10 shows as Calista Flockhart‘s love interest).

Of course, if Downey, who’s out on bail following his Thanksgiving weekend arrest in Palm Springs, is convicted of drug possession this spring, there goes the TV assignment. Downey is scheduled to appear in court January 29.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT The jury selection process in the gun possession and bribery trial of Sean ”Puffy” Combs was suspended Monday after Combs codefendant Jamal ”Shyne” Barrow was arrested. Barrow, 20, was detained Sunday night after his Mercedes-Benz crashed with another vehicle in Manhattan. The collision injured two people in the other car, according to a Reuters report. Police said the other driver was at fault, but Barrow was driving with a suspended Florida license.

On trial with Combs and Anthony ”Wolf” Jones, Barrow is facing a gun possession and attempted murder charge from a 1999 nightclub shootout. Barrow was arraigned Monday afternoon and released without posting additional bail. Voir dire resumes Tuesday for the New York trial.

GRAMMY NEWS Madonna and U2 will perform at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards ceremony Feb. 21 at the Staples Center in Hollywood. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences told Variety Monday that 10 to 12 musical acts will be included in the CBS broadcast. Both Madonna and U2 are up for three awards this year, including Record of the Year for ”Music” and ”Beautiful Day,” respectively. The Irish quartet was also nominated for Song of the Year and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo, while the Material Mum vies for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album.

LEGAL BRIEF Follically challenged pop crooner Michael Bolton lost his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to overturn a $5.4 million jury verdict, which claims that his hit ”Love Is a Wonderful Thing” copied parts of an obscure song by the Isley Brothers.

The high court decided without comment or dissent to reject Bolton and cowriter Andrew Goldmark’s appeal to the 1994 decision. A federal jury in Los Angeles had previously found that the 1991 song copied five musical elements from a little known Isley tune (of the same name) from 1966. Bolton said under oath that he had never heard the song.

As a result of the jury’s verdict (and later a federal appellate courts ruling), Sony Music, Bolton’s label, paid the Isleys $4.2 million; Bolton paid $932,924; Goldmark, $220,785; and their publishing companies, $75,900. Even famous defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Bolton and co.’s rep) couldn’t get the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

AWARDS ALERT ”Gladiator” won its second movie award in less than 48 hours Monday when the Broadcast Film Critics Association named it the best picture of 2000. The Roman Empire drama had just received the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama on Sunday. In both awards, Ridley Scott‘s ”Gladiator” defeated Steven Soderbergh‘s tag team nominees ”Traffic” and ”Erin Brockovich.” Last month, the BFCA — the largest critics’ association in the U.S. — named Russell Crowe best actor for ”Gladiator” and Julia Roberts best actress for ”Erin Brockovich.”

Steven Soderbergh may have felt like a double loser at the Golden Globes, but the Directors Guild of America is giving him another chance to compete against himself. The DGA nominated Soderbergh twice Monday as best director for ”Erin Brockovich” and ”Traffic.” Soderbergh is only the second filmmaker to get two nods in one year; the first was Francis Ford Coppola, who received a dual nomination in 1974 for ”The Conversation” and ”The Godfather: Part II.”

Joining Soderbergh this year are Cameron Crowe for ”Almost Famous,” Ang Lee for ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and Ridley Scott for ”Gladiator.” The winner will be announced March 10 in a Los Angeles ceremony hosted by ├╝ber- director Steven Spielberg. Since its creation in 1949, the DGA Award winner has gone on to win the Academy Award in all but four cases. Take those odds to Vegas!

WELCOME E! Entertainment Television’s ”Talk Soup” finally has a permanent anchor (or at least until she inevitably leaves to pursue a film career): Rising actress comedian Aisha Tyler will debut on Friday, January 26. She’s the first woman and first African American to host the sarcastic funfest. Former anchor Hal Sparks (”Queer as Folk”) left in early 2000, and guests, including Tyler, have hosted ever since. Tyler also hosts the syndicated show ”The Fifth Wheel.”

CASTING Reese Witherspoon has signed on to produce and star in the film adaptation of Melissa Banks best selling short story anthology ”The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.” The feature, a combination of the stories ”The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Can Imagine” and ”My Old Man,” follows the rise of a young woman through the New York publishing ranks while caring for her terminally ill father. This is Witherspoon’s second stab at producing her films. The first is upcoming drama (and fellow adaptation) of Dani Shapiro’s autobiographical novel ”Slow Motion.” No writer or director is attached yet.

NBC NEWS The Golden Globes telecast Sunday helped NBC easily win the competitive night. According to preliminary Nielsens, the three hour ceremony attracted 22.5 million viewers — up 2 percent in viewers and 10 percent in ratings from last year. In total viewers, the 58th annual awards fell behind the audience for 1998 and ’99 (each had more than 24 million viewers), but it ranks as the third highest rated in the six years that NBC has aired the program. For the past four years, the Golden Globes have been the third most watched awards show — behind only the Academy Awards and the Grammys.

Golden Globe winner Brian Dennehy will star in an upcoming NBC midseason replacement, ”The Fighting Fitzgeralds,” a production of brothers Ed and Brian Burns, beginning March 6. The stage and screen star will play the Irish American dad of three sons, all of whom still live with him. Other cast members include Connie Britton (”Spin City”), Chris Moynihan, Jon Patrick Walker (”Sex and the City”), and Justin Louis (”Tricks”). The sitcom will replace ”3rd Rock From the Sun” (currently on hiatus) on Tuesday nights at 8. Wait — didn’t ABC already cancel this show? Sounds awfully familiar…

NBC took a cue from McDonald’s’ success and decided to ”super size” portions of ”Will & Grace” and ”Just Shoot Me” on the final Thursday of February sweeps. Peacock honcho Jeff Zucker has finalized plans to televise a 40 minute version of ”Will & Grace” Feb. 22 at 8:40 p.m. (following the fourth elongated episode of ”Friends”) and ”Just Shoot Me” at 9:20 p.m.

Basic addition shows that NBC gets out of needing a fourth series in the 8 to 10 lineup by airing three 40 minute shows. For the third week of sweeps (Feb. 15), NBC will fill the 20 minutes between super ”Friends” and regular ”W&G” with a clips compilation of ”Friends” episodes. If you remember the hoopla announced last week, NBC will broadcast two special 20 minute ”Saturday Night Live” programs at 8:40 p.m. the first two Thursdays of February. It’s Must Do the Math TV!