Clooney Climax: George Clooney's departure from NBC's "ER" on Thursday resulted in the medical drama's highest ratings for the season. According to national Nielsen ratings, 35.7 million viewers tuned in to see Clooney's Dr. Doug Ross decide to leave County General Memorial Hospital for a job in the Pacific Northwest. The installment topped viewership for last week's episode, previously the season's most-watched "ER" with 31.9 million viewers. The episode also scored the largest audience for any regularly scheduled program this season. Clooney is leaving the show to concentrate on his film career but has promised to make occasional return visits. The episode did not significantly hurt the conclusion of ABC's highly touted Stephen King miniseries, "Storm of the Century." The third and final installment Thursday attracted 19.2 million viewers, higher than Monday's audience of 18.9 million viewers and just short of the 19.4 million viewers who tuned in for Sunday's first installment.

Riled Up: Remember Riley Weston, the 32-year-old writer who wangled a job on TV's "Felicity" by claiming to be 19? The aged scribe will get her "60 Minutes" of fame Sunday night on the CBS news hour, complaining to Morley Safer that she is no longer sought after by Hollywood and charging that masquerading as a teen is no worse than any of the other "dirty little secrets" routinely accepted by the entertainment biz.


Taylor-ed for Los Angeles: Choreographer Paul Taylor and his Paul Taylor Dance Company will be in residence at Glendale's Alex Theatre during March and April. From March 28 to April 3, 10 L.A. professional dancers and students will get the chance to learn excerpts from Taylor's "Aureole" in a workshop with former Taylor principal dancer Sharon Kinney, with Taylor on hand to critique a rehearsal. The residency will also include master classes and performances at Occidental College by Taylor 2, the troupe's second company. The residency precedes two previously announced Taylor company performances at the Alex.


Filmmakers Head for Court: Academy-Award winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and filmmaker Willard Carroll recently joined forces on the Miramax film "Playing by Heart." Now they plan to do the same in the theater as lighting designer and director, respectively, for the American premiere of Robert William Sherwood's psychological thriller "Absolution," opening March 4 at West Hollywood's Court Theater. Sherwood's play examines the lives of three men in their 30s haunted by the murder they covered up in their teens.

Venting Against Livent: A group of artists including "Ragtime" author E.L. Doctorow, the show's playwright, Terrence McNally, and "Fosse" choreographer Ann Reinking have filed claims seeking payment owed by Livent Inc. before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November. According to Daily Variety, Doctorow seeks $137,461, McNally and his two co-authors claim $385,743, and Reinking is asking $81,000. All the deals were negotiated under the oversight of Garth Drabinsky, the high-rolling impresario who was fired by new management last year.

Viva Las 'Chicago': Ute Lemper, who plays Velma Kelly in the Broadway production of "Chicago--The Musical" will reprise her role in the Las Vegas production of the Bob Fosse musical when it opens at the new Mandalay Bay resort March 2. Lemper will perform for four weeks and then return to "Chicago" on Broadway. She will join previously signed stars Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen, Ernie Sabella and Marcia Lewis.


New Endeavor for Master P: Rap star Master P, whose earnings of $56 million last year netted him a slot on Forbes' Top 10 Entertainers of 1998 list, has signed with Endeavor to represent him in the areas of film, TV, interactive marketing and other entertainment media. The rapper's film "Foolish" will be released in March, and projects in the works include the movie "Hot Boyz" and the MTV novelty series "Juvenile Detention," in which he portrays a boot camp officer.

Guitar Gala: Some of rock's greatest guitarists will gather Tuesday at the Hard Rock Cafe for the 1999 Orville H. Gibson Guitar Awards. Nominees in 13 categories selected by music magazine editors will be voted on by music writers from around the country. Expected guests include Brian Setzer, Courtney Love, John Fogerty and Lisa Loeb.


In conjunction with Grammy Week, Zubin Mehta--with 17 Grammy nominations to his credit--will be lauded at the third annual "Salute to Classical Music Luncheon" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Sunday. . . . William J. Ivey, National Endowment for the Arts chairman, is up for a Grammy in the category of best album notes for "From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music." Ivey is the former chief of Nashville's Country Music Foundation. . . . Mel B. ("Scary Spice") of the British pop group Spice Girls gave birth to a 5.5-pound girl named Phoenix Chi on Friday. Victoria Adams, known as Posh Spice, is also expecting a baby.

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