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Jane Leeves Getting Protective of Cast Mate Betty White

hollywoodexclusive1Jane Leeves Getting Protective of Cast Mate Betty White/Young Ben Linus — Sterling Beaumon — Sings with His Real Voice

Betty Mania continues. TV Land's June 16-debuting "Hot in Cleveland" is in its first week of regular series production, and Jane Leeves is finding cast mate Betty White a wonder woman: "She's 88, and she's giving us a run for our money. She's such an inspiration. No wonder everyone loves her."

Leeves sounds a little protective of White, who plays the strange and saucy caretaker of the Ohio property rented by a group of powerful women from Los Angeles — Leeves, Valerie Bertinelli and Wendie Malick — in the show that marks TV Land's first original sitcom. She says she found herself watching White's "Saturday Night Live" guest-hosting stint feeling worried over whether she'd be overtaxed.

"I thought they'd use her sparingly, but they had her in every scene — and she killed," she points out with a laugh. Still, asked for her response to those now calling out for White to host the Oscars, the Emmys — everything — Leeves says, "Leave her alone."

White, she adds, is taking it all in stride. "She's so grounded."

For Leeves, who became a beloved fixture on the TV scene herself with her 11 years on "Frasier," "Hot in Cleveland" means a chance to go back to the half-hour format. "It's ideal for me as a mom," says the British actress, whose daughter is 9 now, and whose son is 6. "It's where I'm most comfortable. And the schedule is really great. I was looking at some hour-longs, and my husband said, 'No, please, we'd never see you.'"

"Cleveland," which has Sean Hayes as an executive producer, gives her the chance to play something completely different from her kind-hearted Daphne character of the past. — as cynical career woman Joy, "eyebrow archer to the stars."

"There was just something about Joy that I loved, something going on there," says Leeves. "There are a lot of layers to her, things that made her the way she is." At least one dark secret about the character will be revealed early on, she hints. "I can't say what it is, but it's a big one."

'LOST' AND SOUND: Sterling Beaumon — that's "young Ben Linus" to "Lost" fans — admits he's been getting peppered with queries from strangers and friends alike about the show's May 23 finale. "It's the No. 1 asked question: 'What is going on? Please tell me whatever you know.'"

Of course, he is staying mum, except to note, "It's really hard to live up to Michael" — as in Michael Emerson, with whom he shares the powerful role. "I'm hoping that I did. I think I did. He's such an amazing actor, and he's created such a great character."

Beaumon finds the show's ending "bittersweet" but is ready to move on. In fact, he's focused on his music career now, with his album "Step Back to Reality" just out on iTunes, Amazon.com and elsewhere. It was two years in the making. The self-possessed and strikingly mature 14-year-old, who's been singing and playing instruments since he was a small child, stresses that he stayed away from the overproduced, "completely synthetic" sound found all too commonly these days, to his mind — with many young artists relying on Auto-Tune to correct off-key singing.

Instead, "We wanted to have a very 'live' sound," he says. "It does take a lot of focus, especially when you're on a budget, as I was. You rehearse a lot. One of the problems I went through was my voice started to change as I was recording it. My voice is still changing, but I have more control over it now, and I can use the range I have a little bit easier." That's good because next on his agenda is a string of live performance dates.

FOREGONE CONCLUSION: With Niecy Nash and Louis Van Amstel having been eliminated from "Dancing With the Stars" competition this week, we can't help thinking about Van Amstel going to lengths to stick up for contestants with dance backgrounds when we talked to him about the controversy over mixing trained and untrained competitors at the start of the season.

"I have always defended the dance-trained celebrities. In the end, they may have the advantage with the judges, but they also have more pressure ...Those who don't have the dance training, people root for them because they're the underdogs ...You need the good ones to give the audience something to watch while the others are learning," he said.

Sure, but three of the four remaining celebrities happen to be those three that had dance experience prior to "DWTS" — Olympic Gold Medal-winning figure skater Evan Lysacek, one-time cheerleader Erin Andrews of ESPN and Pussycat Dolls leader Nicole Scherzinger (who Van Amstel singled out as a super strong prospect when the season got under way, and who'll likely win). Only Chad Ochocinco remains of the previously untrained.

HELLO AGAIN: Glad to hear that director and one-time "thirtysomething" star Melanie Mayron is taking the reins of "Mean Girls 2" — a direct-to-DVD follow-up to the big-screen Tina Fey hit. This one has a story line about a high school loner befriending a misfit whose father happens to be rich enough to pay her to do so — and the two outsiders facing off against the nasty but popular girl who leads the crew that makes their lives miserable. Casting is under way.

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster

To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 MARILYN BECK AND STACY JENEL SMITH

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