When gossip writers go bad: A nasty plot cooked up by a Page Six writer has just come to light -- it appears that Jared Paul Stern, who also had a hand in editing the recent Page Six magazine, tried to bilk a New York billionaire out of $220,000 to stop the New York Post from writing any more damaging and false rumors about him. Stern set up two meetings in March with Ron Burkle, a high-profile New York businessman who had been complaining for months that Page Six was spreading falsehoods about him, and laid out a payment scheme that would prevent Burkle from getting any more bad press. Stern's exact duties at the paper are unclear -- the News says he's one of the column's longest-serving writers, the Post calls him a freelancer -- but he tried to make Burkle think he had some serious pull; asked how the protection would work, Stern said, "It's a little like the Mafia. A friend of mine is a friend of yours." Burkle didn't buy the story, and got the FBI involved instead. (N.Y. Daily News, N.Y. Post)
Vieira to replace Couric: With Katie Couric leaving "Today," it looks like Meredith Vieira of "The View" will be taking up the spot next to Matt Lauer. On Thursday's "View," Vieira announced she'd be leaving the show -- and though Couric will be departing in May, Vieira probably won't start at "Today" until September. (Vieira is quite the firebrand. In addition to being openly opposed to the war in Iraq, she's joked about her "kinky" sex life and recently told More magazine about losing at pool to her legally blind husband: "He can't even see which one is the cue ball, which is the eight ball. And he beats me every time!") Meanwhile, Vieira's departure means there will be some sort of shake-up on "The View" as well. Page Six floats the theory that "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Patricia Heaton will step in, while Fuse TV's Marianela Pereyra will come on, possibly to replace Elizabeth Hassleback. (E! Online, More, Page Six)
Paula gets pushed: "American Idol" judge/former pop star Paula Abdul filed assault charges this week in Los Angeles after something bad allegedly went down at a party she attended over the weekend. According to police, Abdul claimed that "a man at the party grabbed her by the arm and threw her against a wall. She claimed to have a concussion and spinal injuries." While the police wouldn't release the name of the alleged assailant, a source tells Us Weekly that it was a former CAA agent named Jim Lefkowitz. In the source's vivid version of events, Lefkowitz didn't like Abdul's "smirky attitude" and after he "accidentally-on-purpose bumped into her," she ended up on the floor, at which point her ex-boyfriend, Dante Spencer, stepped in and punched Lefkowitz in the face. (Us Online)
Steven Spielberg is signing on with reality TV overlord Mark Burnett for a new series, "On the Lot," which will pit director hopefuls against one another to make a number of short films, to be reviewed and voted on, "American Idol"-style, with the winner nabbing a DreamWorks development deal. (E! Online) ... Maybe Matt LeBlanc's "surprise" divorce announcement last week wasn't such a surprise after all; People reports LeBlanc has been having an affair with his "Joey" costar Andrea Anders for some time. (People) ... During a press conference for the next Women's World Awards, Teri Hatcher spoke to reporters about suffering sexual abuse as a child. "There are many women who suffer with these traumatic experiences their whole lives, and they keep those things a secret," she said. "These experiences ... leave us with a choice, a choice to use our experiences to enlighten and empower and change people's lives, and that is a choice I am getting behind." (Yahoo! News) ... Leif Garrett, still in court-ordered rehab, is going to prison for 45 days after failing a recent drug test. (Associated Press) ... To celebrate their 100th issue, the editors of Maxim magazine made an enormous version of their cover, featuring Eva Longoria, plunked it down in the desert outside of Las Vegas and trumpeted the fact that it could be seen -- with the help of high-powered telescopic lenses -- from outer space. See a QuickTime video here. (TMZ)
Katie Couric on the media furor surrounding her move from "Today" to "The CBS Evening News": "It must have been a slow news week." (Fox 411)
-- Scott Lamb
Tonight, the NBC special "Tim McGraw: Reflected" (8 p.m. EDT) has footage of McGraw's most popular performances, the Discovery Channel premieres the self-explanatorily titled "Science of Survival" (9 p.m. EDT), and Sen. Joe Biden appears on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" (11 p.m. EDT).
-- Joe DiMento