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Robert Downey Jr. gets rehab instead of jail

Plus, ”West Wing” walkouts waltz back to work, ”Big Brother”’s botched background check, and more

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Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr: Nick Ut/AP

LEGAL BRIEFS Robert Downey Jr. was spared a prison term yesterday when prosecutors in Riverside County, Calif., allowed him to plead no contest to cocaine possession. He was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to spend a year in a live-in drug rehabilitation program, where he is apparently already enrolled and living. In prosecuting the charge against Downey, stemming from his arrest last Thanksgiving in a Palm Springs hotel, district attorneys followed California’s new Proposition 36, which encourages treatment instead of prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders. Downey’s lawyer, James Epstein, said the star ”is very appreciative that the state of California is treating his illness as an illness and not a crime.” It’s not clear when the 36-year-old actor will return to work, since ”Ally McBeal” is planning to shoot the next season without him, but his lawyers say he continues to receive offers.

LOS CRUCES It’s official: Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz are dating, says Cruise rep Pat Kingsley. According to Kingsley, the pair have ”had a few dates” since Cruise’s 39th birthday party on July 6.

TUBE TALK The biggest cliffhanger on ”The West Wing”: Would Allison Janney, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, and Bradley Whitford show up for work yesterday, or would they continue their walkout, in possible violation of their contract, to demand a raise? In fact, they did come to work on Monday as a show of good faith while negotiations continue. The four costars, all nominated for Emmys last week, continue to press for their salaries (reported by Variety to be about $30,000 per episode per actor) to be tripled to the six-figure level earned by Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe. Producers are offering them double….

They wanted out, but they got pulled back in. Despite his stated wish to quit making ”The Sopranos” after next season, creator David Chase has signed a deal with HBO for a fifth season of the show that could net him upward of $15 million in salary and profit participation. Over at Fox, ”The X-Files” creator Chris Carter had indicated a desire to ease his way off the show, perhaps serving in just a consulting role this year, but he has now signed on to run the coming ninth season. Now there’s just the little matter of what to do if Gillian Anderson leaves when her contract is up at the end of the season….

You’d think a show called ”Big Brother” would do a more invasive and thorough background check on its contestants. Though the security agency CBS hired found no dirt on Justin Sebik, the New Jersey bartender who was kicked off the show last week after holding a knife to the throat of another contestant (he claimed he was just playing around), the New York Times did a little digging of its own and quickly came up with five arrests, three for assault and two for robbery. All the charges were dismissed. All the CBS investigators found was one robbery arrest, which they described as a minor incident not directly involving Sebik, though it’s not clear why that alone wasn’t enough to disqualify him from the show. Fox has suffered similar embarrassments in vetting its reality show participants. The network tossed Ytossie Patterson and Taheed Watson off ”Temptation Island” for flouting the show’s rule against couples with children, leading to a lawsuit by the couple, who claim producers met their 2-year-old when they interviewed the couple as prospective contestants. And Fox’s background check of ”Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire” groom Rick Rockwell failed to uncover a restraining order filed against him by a former fiancée….

Asked what changes she’d like to see in her character as ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” moves from the WB to UPN, Sarah Michelle Gellar said, ”Alive.” Buffy’s apparent demise in last season’s finale aside, the actors told television journalists at a press conference in Pasadena yesterday that they’re excited about the move to UPN and are eager to keep the show going indefinitely. ”When we’re 80, we could still be slaying vampires,” said costar Alyson Hannigan. Highlights of the upcoming season include a two-hour season premiere on October 9 and a musical episode in November. Now, THAT’S scary.

FIJI BUFFET The Wakaya Club isn’t just a Fijian luxury resort popular with celebrities; it’s also a French farce in the making. Though the resort typically denies that anyone at all is staying there, to protect its guests’ privacy, Fiji tourism officials seems happy to traffic news of stars’ comings and goings. According to the Fiji Visitors Bureau, Nicole Kidman and her kids came for a vacation on July 6, her old Aussie pal Russell Crowe and a female guest flew in on the 10th, and both actors left separately within a few days. Now that Kidman is gone, her estranged husband has arrived. Tom Cruise flew in on Sunday with an unidentified female companion and his entourage. Who’s next? Meg Ryan? Courtney Love?

REEL DEALS Nobody’s done one of those ”Big”-type adult/child body-switch comedies in about a decade, so screenwriters Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (”What Women Want”) apparently decided the time was right. But in ”13 Going on 30,” the protagonist is a girl. Renée Zellweger is in talks to star….

Underwhelmed by Steve Martin‘s low-key performance as Oscar host this year? Well, don’t expect Billy Crystal to come crawling back any time soon. ”I really like the years off, and the more I like them, the less likely I am to do it again,” the seven-time host tells the New York Post. ”I don’t have anything to prove to myself about it anymore.” Crystal says it takes three months to prepare his opening numbers and film montages, months that he spent this year working on ”America’s Sweethearts” instead, and which he may spend next year writing a one-man play and shooting an ”Analyze This” sequel. ”I thought Steve did a really great job,” Crystal says, adding that he hasn’t completely ruled out returning to the podium. ”If I feel like it and they still want me, I guess I would do it at some point.”…

”Star Wars” fans will be glad to know that Dave Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the original trilogy (though James Earl Jones provided the voice), is recovering after a series of spinal surgeries. ”Maybe the Force was with me,” the 66-year-old actor told the Scottish Daily Record. Yeah, that and all the midi-chlorians in his system.

HOLY TOLEDO Citing safety concerns, police shut down a concert by Insane Clown Posse on Sunday night in Toledo, Ohio, after more than 100 fans rushed the stage. Much of the rap duo’s equipment was destroyed.

MEGA-DITTOES Whether or not President George W. Bush holds the White House for two terms, Rush Limbaugh will still be on the air. He extended his contract with Premiere Radio Networks for eight years. PRN didn’t say how much they’re paying the talk show host (reports have said as much as $250 million), but the company called the agreement ”the highest-priced distribution deal in the history of radio syndication.” Said the typically immodest Limbaugh, ”I am frequently asked if I expected this level of success, and the honest answer is yes.”