On Friday night, NBC's "Third Watch" (9 p.m. EDT) signs off once and for all after six seasons on the air, and ABC airs the one-hour season finale of "Hope and Faith" (9 p.m. EDT).
Why wait? "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" doesn't open until May 19, but that hasn't stopped Variety and the Hollywood Reporter from publishing reviews of the latest in the George Lucas film empire. And? The film "teems with action, drama and spectacle, and even supplies the odd surge of emotion, as young Anakin Skywalker goes over to the Dark Side and the stage is set for the generation of stories launched by the original 'Star Wars' 28 years ago," writes Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy. "Whatever one thought of the previous two installments, this dynamic picture irons out most of the problems, and emerges as the best in the overall series since 'The Empire Strikes Back.' Stratospheric B.O. [that's Variety-speak for box office] is a given." And the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt writes, "What seems like the biggest drawback to 'Episode III' turns out to be its strongest element. Even casual moviegoers know what is in store for the characters ... Yet watching these fates unfold with such tragic inevitability, watching each piece fall into place, is genuinely thrilling. In fact, knowing that these strong characters cannot and will not escape their fate is what moves us." (Variety, Hollywood Reporter)
"Big Pussy" to cop plea? Vincent Pastore, aka Big Pussy on "The Sopranos," is mulling a plea deal under which he would accept a sentence of five days of community service, attend a batterers' program and sign a final order of protection for dropping his "not guilty" stance in response to assault and harassment charges brought by a former girlfriend, Lisa Regina. Leaving his hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday, Pastore told the press -- who were following him, he griped, as if he were "the Pied Piper" -- that he hadn't accepted the plea deal right off the bat "because I didn't do anything." But his lawyer says his client will consider the deal. (1010 WINS)
Jackson trial update: Two young men who have been fingered by prosecution witnesses in the Michael Jackson trial as being among those allegedly fondled by Jackson were called to the stand as the defense kicked off its case on Thursday. Both denied that any inappropriate contact ever took place between them and Jackson. "No ... Never ... Absolutely not," said 22-year-old choreographer Wade Robson, in response to questions about whether Jackson had ever molested him or touched him in a sexual way during any of his more than 20 childhood visits to Neverland. Robson confirmed that he frequently shared a bed with Jackson, but refuted a prosecution witness's claim that he had showered with him, saying, "I've never been in the shower with Michael Jackson." Brett Barnes, 23, also said he'd "never" been molested by Jackson, adding that if he had been, "I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't stand for it." Macaulay Culkin is expected to give similar testimony on Friday. (N.Y. Daily News, N.Y. Post, Agence France Presse)
Also: Orlando Bloom, who recently split with Kate Bosworth, is now being linked to MTV veejay Vanessa Minnillo. At a party following the "Kingdom of Heaven" premiere the other night, the two were seen "whispering to each other, touching each other, and dirty-dancing all night." (Lloyd Grove's Lowdown, Page Six) ... Kelly Osbourne and boyfriend Benjy Madden (of Good Charlotte) reportedly recently bought a couple of curiously shaped vibrators in Henri Bendel's Rykiel Woman boutique. Osbourne reportedly signed the guest book, "Dear Henri Bendel, thanks for the [sex toy]! XOXO." (Page Six) ... P.Diddy escaped injury after a chartered jet he was flying to Miami on Wednesday night was hit by lightning and had to make an emergency landing. (Page Six) ... Not only does the new Frank Sinatra biography by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, "Sinatra: The Life," include allegations that Sinatra was a mob bagman, it also puts forth a claim by a now 56-year-old woman who claims that she was raped by the singer at his Palm Springs home when she was but 20 years old. "Afterward I was crying ... I felt kind of halfway dead," the woman, Susan Murphy, tells the authors. "I wanted to go to the police, but I thought, 'Me against Frank Sinatra?' ... So I just kept my mouth shut." (Rush and Molloy) ... Paula Abdul accuser Corey Clark's lawyer says that Clark has no intention of addressing Simon Cowell's allegations that Clark had a three-way with fellow "American Idol" contestants Kimberly Caldwell and Trenyce. "Even if it is true, it was three years ago," his lawyer said. (Rush and Molloy) ... Al Gore is set to receive a Webby Award for lifetime achievement honoring his three decades of contributions to the Internet. "It's just one of those instances someone did amazing work for three decades as congressman, senator and vice president and it got spun around into this political mess," Webby founder Tiffany Shlain said, referring to that old Gore/inventor of the Internet canard. (Newsday)
Former "American Idol" contestant Corey Clark, whose "Primetime Live" interview about an alleged affair with Paula Abdul got big ratings, on Fox's announcement that it would investigate his claim that Abdul helped him during the competition: "I don't want to hurt her. She shouldn't get fired. She didn't do nothing but have sex with someone. Everybody has sex. They should keep her." ("Extra" via N.Y. Daily News)
Paris Hilton on how she and her boyfriend, Paris Latsis, tell each other apart: "He calls me Princess and I call him Babaluna." ("The View" via Rush and Molloy)
-- Amy Reiter