Britney denies 'intense relationship.' Plus, news about Will Smith, Ethan Hawke, James Bond, Adam Sandler, Paula Zahn, and others
Britney Spears
Credit: Britney Spears: Doug Peters/ Retna

SOUND BITES Britney Spears‘ look-but-don’t-touch, not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman act isn’t the only thing coy about her. There’s also the are-they-or-aren’t-they-still-a-couple relationship with Justin Timberlake. Last week, a publicist denied that the former Mousketeers had split (”They love each other very much and have not broken up,” the spokeswoman said), despite their not having been seen together in ages and weeks of rumors culminating in an Us Weekly magazine cover story: ”It’s Over.” But at a press conference in London yesterday, where she was promoting the British opening of her film ”Crossroads,” a reporter asked Spears if she was in an ”intense relationship,” and she replied, ”No, I would not say I was in an intense relationship with anyone at the moment.” She did not elaborate on her cryptic answer (is she no longer seeing the ‘N Sync singer, or has their relationship just cooled to something less intense?), and at last night’s premiere in Leicester Square, Spears arrived an hour late and whisked past 3,000 fans without saying more.

Maybe all the to-do over Timberlake has Spears distracted. Last week she nearly burned down her New York City apartment she shares with her brother Bryan when she’s in town when she left a candle burning near an air vent while they went out clubbing, Spears’ mother reports on the singer’s website. ”The wall caught on fire, and the fire department had to come to put it out,” Lynne Spears writes. She adds that it’s the second time her daughter has started a fire with a stray candle; the first was left in the bathroom of their Louisiana home and set little sister Jamie Lynn’s bathrobe on fire. You’d think she’d have been more careful in New York, but oops, she did it again.

REEL DEALS Wondering why Will Smith was gone from his Oscar seat when Julia Roberts called his name as a Best Actor nominee, missing his chance to make history — or, as it turned out, to see Denzel Washington make history? Although Whoopi Goldberg jokingly pointed to Will, wife Jada Pinkett Smith, and seatmate Dame early in the show and referred to them as ”the Smith family,” the ”Ali” star had to take care of his real family, leaving the ceremony to take care of 16-month-old daughter Willow. The parents rushed to a Santa Monica hospital to be with the little girl, who was suffering from an ear infection and a fever of 103. Willow is now reported to be feeling better and is at home and on medication.

The girl’s hospitalization put the lie to the rumor that Smith had been ejected over a backstage brawl with presenter Ethan Hawke, who was sporting a purplish mark on his face late in the ceremony. But it wasn’t a bruise, just the residue of a smudgy kiss from Pauletta Pearson Washington, wife of Hawke’s ”Training Day” costar and fellow nominee Denzel Washington….

”I Was a Vampire for the FBI.” That’s what they could have called ”Darksiders,” a movie shooting this fall for New Line about feds with fangs. (They could also have called it ”The Necks-Files.”) Directing this tale of bureau bloodsuckers will be a guy who knows from vampires, David S. Goyer, who wrote the two ”Blade” movies and is slated to script a third.

TUBE TALK The suspense! The emotion! The history in the making! The too-close-to-call races! The hours and hours of tributes and montages. The… zzzz. By the time Halle Berry and Denzel Washington enjoyed their Oscar milestones, few viewers were still watching the show. Early Nielsen numbers show this Oscar telecast to be the lowest-rated Academy Awards broadcast since 1997, the year of ”The English Patient.” Some 25.4 percent of TV households watched this year’s ceremony, down three percent from last year. The average number of viewers was 41.8 million, though ABC estimated that 77 million viewers watched at least part of the telecast, up from 72.2 million last year. It’s the fourth-highest rated show of the year (after the Super Bowl and two nights of NBC’s Olympic coverage) and the highest-rated show for struggling ABC since — well, since last year’s Oscars….

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