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Strange Times for Janet Jackson

What strange times for Janet Jackson. The songstress has been on the scene this week for the highly emotional preliminary hearing on an involuntary manslaughter charge against Michael Jackson's physician, Dr. Conrad Murray. (She has been quite vocal in blaming the doctor for her brother's death.) At the same time, she has her own whirlwind of imminent business — including planning of her soon-to-launch Number Ones, Up Close and Personal world tour. As of this writing, tickets are set to go on sale tomorrow (1/8).

There's also the launch of her "True You" book dealing with diet, exercise, self-image and self-esteem to contend with. The tome hits stores Feb. 8.

And on top of that, Jackson could easily find herself in this year's Academy Awards running come Jan. 25. Her hit "Nothing" (written and produced by her in association with Johnta Austin, Bryan-Michael Cox and Jermaine Dupri) from Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married Too?" is being buzzed by Oscar prognosticators everywhere as a good bet for a Best Song nomination.

Jackson has been balancing moving on with her life and dealing with the aftermath of Michael's death for more than a year and a half now. You may recall that "Why Did I Get Married Too?" briefly shuttered production after his passing, while Jackson flew to join family in L.A. for the funeral. When she returned to the movie location, her friends on the production "decided, in unison, to give her space and respect whatever feelings she was feeling," as Jill Scott recalled it to this column. "If she wanted to be quiet, we'd step back. If she wanted to talk, we'd be there for her. I think she did find escape in her work. She definitely did."

Jackson's tour will definitely keep her busy — if all goes according to plan — with 35 global destinations involved including Singapore on Feb. 7, Hong Kong on Feb. 14 and Taipei on Feb. 19. She's taking the unusual step of having fans determine her route by voting on her janetjackson.com web site. In each of the 35 cities, she will dedicate one of her No. 1 songs to the city, and she will also recognize 20 young people whose lives and work have enriched their communities in a major way.

A HYPHENATE'S HYPHENATE: Daniel Stern has just finished an episode of NBC's forthcoming midseason "The Paul Reiser Show" — as director — and tells us the quasi-autobiographical comedy "is really, really funny. People are going to like it."

Stern's life these days couldn't be much more eclectic. When not acting or directing, he's often engaged with his career as a sculptor who works in bronze. "I just did an 8-foot tall guy for the San Diego harbor," informs the multi-talent, who adds that his work is viewable on danielsternart.com. "I have a couple of commissions I'm working on now. I like to stay busy with my art stuff, you know."

And if not that, "I live on a cattle ranch half the year, so I have a lot of chores to do, stalls to sweep out," he says. He got inspired to get into the ranch life after "City Slickers," about 10 years ago, and bought a spread near Porterville in California's San Joaquin Valley.

"We've got olive trees and citrus. We're running cattle, goats and horses. It's a real respite from the Los Angeles scene," he declares. According to Stern, not long after he got the ranch, "I went out, and there were cows out there, and I accidentally started a small stampede. It was such a 'City Slickers' moment."

He did learn what he was doing, though, to the extent that his cattleman gifted him with a real cowboy hat.

"When one thing isn't happening the way I want it to, I go to another one," notes Stern, who is also a playwright. "When I need to take a break from writing a script, I can go talk to my cattle guy or I can go to work in my sculpture studio. I know how hard it is for everybody out there, and I appreciate the fact I'm just the luckiest guy I know, I really am. I earned a little bit of money, and I bought my freedom," says Stern.

Most of all, he adds, "My kids are all happy in their worlds, and my wife and I are about to celebrate our 30th anniversary."

LAID BACK: Taio Cruz spent much of last year on the road performing and promoting his music, including No. 1 hits "Break Your Heart" and "Dynamite." To chill out, he says, "I normally bring video games — PS3 in a bag — plus, I'm into TV. I can escape for a few minutes that way. My favorite thing to do is watch comedies. 'Megamind' was really funny." This month, Cruz is snagging a couple of hard-earned weeks off.

A PIECE OF THE ACTION: With the upcoming events and promotion pegged to the centennial birthday of Ronald Reagan coming up Feb. 6, do you think for a moment Hollywood would fail to take advantage of the hoopla over the late 40th president's special year? Not at all. Warner Home Video is issuing eight of the Gipper's flicks in commemorative editions come Jan. 25: "Dark Victory," "Knute Rockne All-American," "Kings Row," "Desperate Journey," Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army," "The Hasty Heart," "Storm Warning" and "The Winning Team." He's teamed with Bogie, Bette, Errol and other Golden Era film greats in the package that will enable the public to decide all over again if his acting warranted better than the B-movie roles he usually landed in — before taking off for political green pastures.


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