Neverland closes its doors: The good news for employees at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch on Thursday: They finally got a paycheck. The slightly more significant bad news: It was their last. Fox 411 is reporting that Jackson -- whose whereabouts are unknown, though it seems like he's once again left the country -- had staffers summoned in groups starting at 5 p.m., paid them back wages from Dec. 23 and announced the ranch would be closing permanently. Apparently a number of the 60 employees are nearing retirement, and now are left without pension or health insurance. "It's unbelievable," one longtime staffer told Fox. "We got nothing for the pain of what just happened, and nothing to see us through. Some of the people here are close to retirement age and they have nothing to retire on." Not everyone was outraged: "I will miss Neverland," another worker said. "There were a lot of good times." (Fox 411)
Cruise blocks "South Park"? The "Trapped in a Closet" episode of "South Park" that spurred Isaac Hayes to leave the show earlier this week was set to re-broadcast on Comedy Central Wednesday night, but was mysteriously replaced by a different, less Scientology-mocking show. Page Six is reporting the most obvious conspiracy theory: "Hollywood bully Tom Cruise got Comedy Central to cancel Wednesday night's cablecast of a controversial 'South Park' episode about Scientology by warning that he'd refuse to promote 'Mission Impossible 3,' insiders say." The gossip column also speculates that "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been scolded into silence over the issue. A Comedy Central rep offers another possible explanation: "In light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most known for." (Page Six)
Wedding-rumor fever In Italy, a crescendo of rumor is pointing to this weekend being the date for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's wedding. The couple hasn't made any public hint of impending marriage, but the Italian and international press are descending on Lake Como, where George Clooney has his villa, as the most likely spot of the nuptials. As Us magazine points out, though, there's a bit of a problem with the whole scenario -- it doesn't seem backed up by a shred of evidence, unless you count reports like this from Reuters: "A janitor at the villa said Clooney was not there and that he didn't know of any wedding ... But three elderly men having an early glass of wine in a bar down the road were convinced there was more to it. 'They are cleaning the village and tidying up everything, something is going to happen,' said Andrea, who declined to give his surname." (Associated Press, Us Magazine, Reuters)
Britney Spears was rushed to a Hawaiian hospital on Thursday after stepping on a hypodermic needle in a parking lot -- she'd apparently been driving around without shoes. Test showed the needle was unused. (Life Style Extra) ... Joe Simpson, manager/father of Jessica Simpson, wants everyone to know that although his daughter declined to attend a big GOP fundraiser while she was in D.C. on Thursday, she's still a Bush supporter: "We are huge fans of him and of his family, his girls. Jessica loves the heck out of him." (Associated Press) ... Ne-Yo's single "So Sick" stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for the second week in a row. (Post Chronicle) ... Do drug addict/Kate Moss-ex Pete Doherty and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe really share the same stylist? You be the judge. (Perez Hilton) ... And perhaps Doherty is no longer Moss' ex: Rumors say she's taking him on a romantic getaway to the south of France for his birthday next week. (3 a.m. Girls)
Susan Sarandon on Sen. Hillary Clinton's White House hopes: "I find Hillary to be a great disappointment. She's lost her progressive following because of her caution and centrist approach. It bothered me when she voted for the war. There were brave people who didn't. She's not worse than other politicians, but I hoped she would be better. What America is looking for is authentic people who want to go into public service because they strongly believe in something, not people who are [just] trying to get elected." (More magazine via Page Six)
-- Scott Lamb
The much anticipated new Sci-Fi series "Doctor Who" premieres tonight (9 p.m. EST), as does the WB's new show "Modern Men" (9:30 p.m. EST), while the fourth season of "Monk" ends on USA (10 p.m. EST). Elsewhere, Busta Rhymes performs on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (NBC 11:35 p.m. EST), and Dr. Melfi from "The Sopranos" -- aka Lorraine Bracco -- appears on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (NBC 12:37 a.m. EST).
-- Joe DiMento