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Wendy Williams Taking Changing Talk-Show Landscape in Stride

With Rosie O'Donnell set to return to daytime talk show duty on the Oprah Winfrey Network next year, Oprah ending her long-running program, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" star Ty Pennington getting ready to construct his own chat show and Tyra Banks having left the scene in May, the daytime talk landscape is changing fast.

Wendy Williams is keeping an eye on all the comings and goings, noting that "It does affect me in that I realize the public will have more and more choices," she says. "Before doing daytime talk, I was a fan of daytime talk, and I had my favorites. Now Rosie O'Donnell's doing her new show, Gayle (King) will probably do a show. They might not be on ABC, NBC, FOX or CBS, but they're certainly going to be out there, talking it all up."

Williams, however, sounds like she's taking it in stride. Her "Wendy Williams Show" has been succeeding where so many others have failed via an eclectic approach and her own strong personal style.

"One thing I love about my partners at Debmar-Mercury, when they approached me about doing a show, they had studied me very diligently from far away. And they told me, 'We want you to do a talk show that's absolutely reflective of you,'" she says. "I'm interested in such a wide variety of things at this point in my life — from talking to T.I. to doing fashion shows; like, we just had a back-to-school kids' fashion show. I feel like my interests in life have come full circle."

DEVIL OR ANGEL: After playing the hair-raising villainess Gretchen "Susan B. Anthony" Morgan on "Prison Break," Jodi Lyn O'Keefe found herself being offered bad-girl parts that weren't nearly as good. So she was particularly pleased, she says, when the Hallmark Channel's "Class" movie, airing Saturday (8/14), came along.

"I'm happy to be the good guy. I haven't been the good guy in awhile," she says. "And going from being an assassin to being a mom? I was just so happy they wanted me to do that."

O'Keefe plays the struggling single parent of a little boy whose frequent asthma attacks have her rushing to be with him — causing her to lose job after job. "She comes from the wrong side of the tracks; she's not privileged; she has to build her life on her own," O'Keefe says. Advocating on her behalf becomes the law class project of a wealthy student (Justin Bruening) with a snooty father (Eric Roberts).

She notes, "I'm actually very different from most of the characters I've played. I'm actually not very confrontational or very physical, but I tend to get jobs involving stunt work. This character is more relatable to me in some ways." And even though she's not a mother in real life, she's glad "it's something of mine that my 9-year-old niece can watch for a change."

Having risen to fame as a teen on daytime's "Another World" and as Don Johnson's daughter on "Nash Bridges," O'Keefe has made note of the fact that early success skewed her view of the industry for a while.

"I think it forces you to grow up pretty quickly," she says. "My very first job being a soap opera, being thrust into demanding scenes and long hours — it was an amazing time."

Any regrets? "None."

Now she says it would be nice to find a role that, rather than being a devil or angel, perhaps took a little of each. And if another series came along, "I'd love it."

INSIDE ASIDE: Dylan McDermott, whose tumultuous growing-up years included times when he'd talk his way into nightclubs and other spots he had no business in as a young teen, laughs when it's mentioned that he can draw on his own experiences for his current role — as a cop who goes deep undercover, assuming an array of different personas — on TNT's "Dark Blue."

"Certainly, my past has helped me with this character," he says. "You have to have a lot of life experience to play Carter Shaw."

McDermott and the rest of the series company finished shooting the current season's 10 episodes in July, which he considers a plus. "I think it's nice to be done shooting when the show comes out, so when you're filming it, you don't have to worry about ratings." The show's double-episode season premiere last week scored about 2 and a half million viewers.

BASS LINE: "I believe the civilizing force that music can play in our society is underestimated," declares Mike Huckabee, whose Fox News show frequently features the bass-playing former Arkansas governor joining musical guests in on-camera jam sessions. "It creates a common ground in which people of every point of view can come together, even in the context of tough issues. That's one of the reasons it's such a passion of mine. I was a big proponent of music and art in the schools when I was governor. I believe that inside of every person, there's some creativity, and if we don't nurture that, we're diminishing the potential of everyone around us. The arts are a reflection of our culture and also the frame of our culture. If we look through the centuries of history, nobody remembers who won the Senate race in Ohio in 1926, but people are still talking about the music and art of the time."

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.


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