Arts and entertainment reports from The Times, national and international news services and the nation’s press.



Power Writing: An A-list of Hollywood writers, producers, executives and actors, including Alan Alda, Steven Bochco, Rob Reiner, Anthony Minghella, Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Larry Gelbart, is scheduled to take part in “Words Into Pictures: The 1997 Film and Television Writers Forum,” a three-day public conference organized by the Writers Guild Foundation. Other panelists scheduled for the May 30 to June 1 event at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel include Danny DeVito, James Woods, Frank Darabont, Lindsay Doran, Gary David Goldberg, Callie Khouri, John Wells, Robert Towne and Jamie Tarses. Tickets, available through the Writers Guild Foundation, range from $140 to $175 per day (at the door) to $240 to $335 for all three days (if purchased by April 30).

The New ‘Defender’: Cable’s Showtime Network announced several upcoming projects this week, including a new incarnation of the 1960s courtroom drama “The Defenders,” with Beau Bridges starring as attorney Don Preston in a series of two-hour movies. Original series star E.G. Marshall will return for the films, reprising his role as defense attorney Lawrence Preston, the father of Bridges’ character. Other new projects include the tentatively titled “The Right Connections,” a family movie starring rapper Hammer and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” star Melissa Joan Hart, as well as films starring Jon Voight, Louis Gossett Jr., Shelley Duvall, Charles S. Dutton, Courtney B. Vance and others. Showtime has also ordered 22 episodes of “Fast Track,” a new drama series about the behind-the-scenes world of stock-car racing executive-produced by Larry Gelbart (“MASH,” “Tootsie”).


Climbing the Insurance Mountain: An insurance company has dropped its coverage of Julie Andrews, claiming the “Victor/Victoria” star lied about existing respiratory and orthopedic health problems. Producers of the Broadway show purchased the $158,000 policy in March 1995 from Lexington Insurance Co., according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the policy was to pay up to $2 million for missed appearances by the actress and $8.5 million if she were forced to abandon the show altogether. Since the show opened in October 1995, a gall bladder operation, a bad larynx and a sore throat have caused Andrews, 61, to miss more than 30 performances, allegedly causing losses of $1.6 million. Neither Andrews nor the insurance company would comment.



New Fiesta Look: Fiesta Broadway, the annual downtown Cinco de Mayo block party that in the past has had problems with unruly, sometimes violent crowds, will get a new, family-friendly look this year, organizers said Friday. The April 27 event will showcase “Jurassic-size” multicolored pinatas throughout the 36-block area, along with a new “Los Ninos Play Park” with entertainment and interactive workshops for children. The event, scheduled for noon to 6 p.m., will also include the fiesta’s traditional activities, including free entertainment on seven stages with headliners Mexican actress Thalia and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Marco Antonio Solis.


Culkin Custody Battle Ends: As expected, a New York judge on Thursday awarded Macaulay Culkin’s mother, Patricia Brentrup, sole custody of Culkin and his siblings, along with control of the former “Home Alone” star’s $17-million fortune. Culkin’s father, Christopher “Kit” Culkin, had withdrawn from the custody battle on Tuesday after a long dispute. The Hollywood careers of Macaulay, 16, and his brother Kieran, 14, will be managed by their mother, the judge decided, noting that “Macaulay and Kieran insist that they will not work with Mr. Culkin.”

Address Unknown: Divorcing actors Kirstie Alley and Parker Stevenson need the courts to decide more than just child custody issues. The couple, who married in 1983 but separated last year, also need a judicial ruling on where they live. Alley maintains that the family’s primary residence is their summer home in Islesboro, Me., and claims in her divorce suit that they vote, register vehicles and pay taxes in Maine. But Stevenson, who has requested a list of Alley’s assets and indicated he would seek “spousal support,” claims that both have lived in California since the 1970s. The issue could be critical since California’s community property laws require couples to split assets equally, while in Maine, only wealth acquired during the marriage is contested.


The all-female R&B; quartet En Vogue has become a trio, with Dawn Robinson, who earlier announced plans for a solo project, officially leaving the group. The remaining three En Vogue members, Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones and Cindy Herron, will release a new album, “EV3,” this summer, and are scheduled to perform May 17 on the season finale of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” . . . ABC on Friday reiterated its support for “The Practice,” saying that the series is expected to return next fall. The legal drama completes its six-episode trial run Tuesday. . . . Entertainer Merv Griffin will receive the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s Duke Award for “extraordinary and lasting contributions to the fight against cancer,” during ceremonies tonight at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.