From ''Will & Grace'' to ''The West Wing,'' we tackle some prime-time puzzlements

By Tricia Johnson and Ann Limpert
Updated November 03, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

The new Fall TV season has only just begun and already the unanswered questions and mysteries are piling up: Who the hell greenlit that Tucker show? And can somebody please do something about Deadline star Oliver Platt’s hair? As for queries people will actually answer:

Is it just us, or did Martin Sheen’s anti-Dr. Laura rant on a recent West Wing sound mighty familiar?
Yes, sir. Refreshingly candid exec producer Aaron Sorkin admits he lifted the diatribe from a much-forwarded anonymous email. (For those who missed it, Sheen’s prez blasts a Dr. Laura-esque radio host for saying the Bible condemns homosexuality; he notes that the Good Book also advocates many odd punishments, like the death penalty if you work on the Sabbath.) Sorkin, who hoped to give credit, says they ”cast a fairly wide net, but we didn’t find the author.” And he has yet to hear from Dr. Laura herself. ”I don’t imagine I’ll be getting a Christmas card from her.” Regarding another West Wing mystery — the unexplained disappearance of Moira Kelly’s abrasive consultant — Sorkin promises a resolution: ”It’s not going to be something spectacular…. She didn’t fall down an elevator shaft.”

For the love of Barbra, why won’t they let Will & Grace‘s Will Truman get some action?
Hold on to your tank tops, folks. In an episode airing Nov. 9, Eric McCormack’s character finally hooks up with a salesman at Banana Republic, played by Can’t Buy Me Love‘s Patrick Dempsey. (Producers had originally wanted cover boy Robert Downey Jr.) The new beau will hang around for as many as three episodes, inspiring jealousy from Jack. After that, Will’s hormones will start flowing for real, says McCormack: ”There’s not going to be just one boyfriend. It’s going to be all about dating this year.”

The second ER featured an incredibly realistic (and disturbing) premature baby. How’d they do that?
Since you can’t exactly call up Central Casting and ask for a preemie, the ER folks spent $25,000 to build a battery-operated model from silicone. Prop master Rick Ladomade says the crew then operated it by remote control: ”We stood 10 feet away and made it breathe, made the arms move, and the lips move…. Everything was sculpted down to a T.”

On Boston Public‘s debut, a history teacher (Fyvush Finkel) claims James Madison was a midget. How tall is that tale?
According to historians, Madison was short but not technically a midget. Kenneth Clark of the Virginia-based James Madison Museum says our fourth president was somewhere between 5’2” and 5’6”. ”People talking about his height give different measurements,” he says. ”The more friendly they were toward him, the taller he tended to be.”

Is Joaquin Phoenix the new Farrah Fawcett, or what?
And the No. 1 bizarre talk show guest is… The Yards star Phoenix! On a Late Show With David Letterman appearance, the actor came off as hilariously dazed and confused, claiming he couldn’t remember his birthday or, at one point, where he got his tattoo. This followed a May spot on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in which Phoenix was so distracted, Leno requested that he ”be here in person” next time. Phoenix’s camp had no comment, but Late Show exec producer Maria Pope replies: ”He’s been on three times now. The first couple of times we thought there was a gas leak in the green room. Now we’ve determined, no, that’s just Joaquin.”

How exactly does one go about vomiting up a live goldfish?
This impressive feat (frowned upon by PETA, of course) was seen on a much-talked-about episode of Jackass — MTV’s latest Tom Green-esque gross-out series. The upchucker, Steve-O, reveals his trade secrets: Before swallowing the little creature, you must fast for five hours (Steve-O’s last meal: a corn dog), then down nearly a gallon of purified water. ”I wanted to make my stomach like a fish bowl,” he says. ”So the fish would be safe.” A well-placed finger later, and the fish was doing swimmingly.

Additional reporting by William Keck and Allyssa Lee