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



Downey Appreciates Freedom: After spending more than four months in the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail, Robert Downey Jr. has come to appreciate the simpler things in life--even in a court-ordered recovery program in Hollywood. “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is just to take a nice shower,” the actor told Time magazine in his first interview since his release from jail this month. “It’s so cool--using a hair dryer again, good towels--and I can lock the door if I want.” Downey, 33, was sentenced last year after testing positive for drugs, a violation of his probation from an earlier drug conviction. Despite his jail time and current recovery program, he is still in demand in Hollywood, and has three films slated for release this year, including “Two Girls and a Guy,” which opens Friday. But his main goal is to steer clear of the drug life that landed him in trouble. “It’s really simple,” he said. “I’m a lot more ready to listen to folks who have been through this as opposed to thinking, ‘I’m more complex, I’m an artist,’ and other rationalizations.”


Coolio Charged in Germany: Authorities in Stuttgart, Germany, charged rapper Coolio and six members of his group with theft and assault in an incident at a boutique last fall. Coolio’s attorney, Georg Prasser, said the performer probably will return to Germany to fight the charges. No date has been set for a hearing. The rapper and his group allegedly left a boutique in the Stuttgart suburb of Boeblingen last Nov. 20, a day after signing autographs at the store, without paying for $2,000 worth of clothing. Coolio is accused of hitting the saleswoman in the stomach when she confronted the group clad in items taken from the racks, police said. They were later arrested in Frankfurt and released on bail.


‘Ally’ and Emmy: With the Friday deadline for Emmy Award entries approaching, the producers of Fox’s popular first-year series “Ally McBeal” have opted to submit the show as a comedy. Should the program earn a best comedy nomination, according to Emmy historians, it would be the first one-hour series to do so since 1985, when “Moonlighting” was nominated as a comedy, before that show switched its designation to drama. Like “Moonlighting,” “Ally McBeal” features both comedy and dramatic elements. The new show established its comedy credentials earlier this year, winning Golden Globe Awards as best series and for star Calista Flockhart in the comedy categories.



Country Singer Wright Is Prom Date: Good grades helped a high school student in Altoona, Pa., win his dream date: country music singer Chely Wright. The 27-year-old singer agreed to accompany Dave Showalter to his high school prom May 28 after he sent his request through Wright’s fan club. “We found out that he was a great guy and a good student from a good family,” said Wright’s agent, Shane Tarlton. “Chely thought this would be fun and a great way to reward him for all his hard work.”


Miller Finds Characters in Mirror: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller said at a symposium that many of his tortured characters are inspired by the man he sees in the mirror. During a rare appearance Saturday at the University of Evansville in Indiana, Miller said many of his roles are self-portraits. Miller’s characters include witch hunters, door-to-door salesmen and the devil. “Characters are pieces of people, usually, but few are outright mimicking of people,” he said. Miller’s best-known plays include “The Crucible,” “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons” and “A View From the Bridge.” He also wrote the screenplay for “The Misfits,” starring his second wife, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable. When Miller was asked where he gets his ideas, the 82-year-old playwright quipped, “If I knew, I would go there more often. I’m sure they come out of the subconscious somewhere.”


Catholic Network to Buy Stations: Catholic Radio Networks has agreed to buy 10 Children’s Broadcasting Corp. stations, including KPLS-AM (830) in Long Beach, for $57 million, subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission. Christopher T. Dahl, chairman of the Minneapolis-based Aahs children’s network, said the changeover is expected to be completed by Sept. 1. Along with the other Children’s Broadcasting stations, KPLS has been running urban dance music since abandoning the Aahs children’s format earlier this year. The purchase enables Catholic Radio Networks, a newly formed entity based in San Diego, to enter the broadcast field with a family-values talk format.


Sandra Gibson, the executive director of Long Beach’s Public Corp. for the Arts since 1990, has been named executive vice president and chief operating officer of Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy and service organization based in Washington. Gibson, who is also a member of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, will assume her new role this summer. The Long Beach group will conduct a national search for her successor. . . . The late John Denver will be profiled in “John Denver: The E! True Hollywood Story,” airing May 10 on the E! cable network.