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Comedy 'Master' Still Desperately Funny

July 11, 2005 12:00 AM

For more than four decades he has performed in comedy clubs, had hit recordings and starred in three popular TV series. But these days Bob Newhart may be better known as "Morty" on ABC's "Desperate Housewives," a role he reprises this fall. Now PBS's "American Masters" series presents "Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned" July 20. The program name is an allusion to his Grammy-winning 1960 comedy album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart." His appearance in the series puts him in the same league as other featured "masters," including Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton. "It's a little mind-blowing," Mr. Newhart, 75, said. "I started out as a stand-up comic years ago. I even flunked out of law school. I never thought I'd be considered a master." Mr. Newhart is about to begin work on the second installment of TNT's drama spoof "The Librarian," in which he will star with Noah Wyle, and he is working on an autobiography due next summer. He joked that he may call it "10 Days to a Slimmer You!" because diet books do so well. But he is serious about how happy he is to be part of "Housewives:" "It was a kick," Mr. Newhart said. "I think [California Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger would give up the governorship to be on an episode." -NATALIE VERDUGO

Life in the Slow Lane

HBO's "Entourage" provides an insider's look at life in Hollywood's fast lane. Now HBO is offering a comedic spoof on the series dubbed "Entourage: The Lost Screen Tests" that is one of the first original offerings available only on HBO on Demand. Beginning this week, the pay cable service's 8 million video-on-demand subscribers will be able to see four short films that first run an actual scene from the series with stars such as Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven. The scene is then repeated, but recast with faded TV stars such as Gary Coleman, Jimmy Walker, Erik Estrada and Pat Morita. The typical bawdy profanity of "Entourage" is hilariously amplified when delivered by the likes of Estelle Harris, who played George's mom Estelle Costanza on "Seinfeld," shown in the wheelchair pushed by Renee Taylor of "The Nanny" and accompanied by "Rappin' Granny" Ellen Albertini Dow. The idea is to promote the VOD service and draw new fans to sample the show. "HBO on Demand gives us an opportunity to create extended original content that helps make the service more attractive for those who don't use it and is great for fans of the show who do," said Courteney Monroe, HBO's senior VP of advertising. -JAMES HIBBERD

'H&R Cellblock' Scam Exposed

Credit investigative reporter Doug Smith of Fox-owned WTVT-TV in Tampa, Fla., for exposing a scam that cost the IRS and American taxpayers about $68 million last year alone. Known among prisoners as "H&R Cellblock," the rip-off involves prison inmates filing false 1040 tax returns with phony information on bankrupt companies to get refunds of up to $5,000. WTVT's report got the attention of Democratic Florida lawmakers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Jim Davis, and resulted in a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing in late June that put the IRS on the hot seat. Sen. Nelson, who has called for the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to conduct its own investigation, credited WTVT with doing a "great public service." Mr. Smith responded: "The most gratifying part of investigative reporting is when the story becomes a catalyst for change." -DAISY WHITNEY