Robert Blake pleads for freedom. Plus, news about Nicole Kidman, Charlotte Church, Britney Spears, ''The Simpsons,'' Matt Lauer, Bill Clinton, ''The Bachelor,'' Kenny Chesney, Bjork, and others
Robert Blake
Credit: Robert Blake: David Keeler/Getty Images/NewsCom

LEGAL BRIEF In his first public statement since his arrest two weeks ago, Robert Blake spoke during a hearing Wednesday, pleading to be released on bail so that he could fight for his life. ”For the past year I’ve been silent while this town and this country said whatever they wanted about me,” he said. The 68-year-old actor said he couldn’t read the 35,000 pages of prosecution documents by himself in his cell because of his lifelong dyslexia. ”This is my chance to fight, and I can’t do it from that cement room with thousands of pages I can’t read.” (His mention of dyslexia is consistent with the account his daughter, Delinah, offered during her interview on ”20/20” last week, when she said she believed her father’s alibi that he was retrieving a gun he’d left at Vitello’s restaurant while his wife, Bonny Bakley, was shot in her parked car a block away; Delinah Blake said her father’s dyslexia and age made it common for him to forget and misplace things.) Judge Lloyd Nash said, however, that it’s uncommon for defandants facing murder charges with special circumstances to be freed on bail before trial. He said, however, that he may decide to make an exception for Blake after he hears more evidence at the next preliminary hearing, set for May 21.

BEAUTY MARKS Messy divorce and Oscar also-ran status aside, the kudos keep coming for Nicole Kidman. The latest: she’s the cover girl for People magazine’s annual ”50 Most Beautiful People in the World” issue, which hits newsstands Friday. (People, like, is an AOL Time Warner outlet.) Other entertainers on the list: recent Oscar winners Halle Berry (listed for the sixth time), Denzel Washington, and Jennifer Connelly; Oscar parasite Julia Roberts (on the list for a record seventh time); ”Star Wars” screen couple Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman; ”Mulholland Drive” star and Kidman pal Naomi Watts; ”Alias”’ Jennifer Garner; pop stars Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, and Alicia Keys; and TV’s new favorite mom, Sharon Osbourne.

Over in England, instead of the ”50 Most Beautiful People” list, they have the annual ”Rear of the Year” award. This year, it went to multiplatinum Welsh soprano Charlotte Church, who upset the predicted favorite, Australian singer Kylie Minogue. ”I think it is quite sad that image is so absolutely fundamental,” the 16-year-old Church said Wednesday as she posed for photographers in a London park, turning around to show off her jeans-clad assets. ”But that’s the way of the world, that is the way it is, nobody is going to change it. Therefore there is no point in complaining about it — just embrace it.” Nothing against Church, but come on — Jennifer Lopez wuz robbed!

Britney Spears had her own embarrassing butt shot recently, as a paparazzo captured her in an unguarded moment on a hotel balcony in Sydney, Australia, smoking a cigarette. For the would-be role model, this could be a bigger gaffe than those times the Pepsi pitchwoman was caught drinking Coke. Spears, a self-proclaimed abstainer from tobacco, alcohol, and premarital sex, said in an interview two years ago, ”I don’t believe in drugs or even smoking. I believe in God.” Apparently, God doesn’t approve of tobacco use. ”Smoking and drinking isn’t what Christ wanted. It is disobedient,” said the Rev. David Kelly, Spears’ former pastor, in a recent interview in Heat magazine. ”She is such a well-known person that we want her to continue being a good example of what it is to be a Baptist.”

TUBE TALK D’oh! ”The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening says he didn’t mean to cause a worldwide panic over a recent interview with London’s Financial Times, where he seemed to suggest that the show was winding down because the writers found it increasingly difficult to keep the characters surprising after 13 years. ”I was misquoted and misunderstood,” Groening tells Reuters. ”I don’t want anyone to think I am predicting the demise of the Simpsons. They will live on with new adventures for years to come. As long as there are things to make fun of we will be around.” Clarifying his earlier remarks, he said, ”I am always asked how much longer can this go on. I just said that given the fact the we just finished our 300th episode, I would guess we are closer to the end of our life than the beginning…. Now we think the show will last, our ratings are better than ever.” He also said he didn’t mean to imply that the writers were getting bored with the characters. ”After 300 episodes it is more difficult to remain true to the characters. We are trying to top ourselves after all those great shows, and the shows are as good now as they have ever been.” In other words, Fox topdog Rupert Murdoch can rest easy; Groening says the show ”will continue to make Rupert Murdoch even richer.”…

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