Rosie O'Donnell Ben Affleck  | Christie Brinkley | WNEW | R.I.P Tina

Rosie Strikes Back: Says Publisher Lied About Numbers

Rosie O'Donnell is countersuing over her closed magazine. And she's not doing it lightly.

In court papers filed Thursday in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, O'Donnell claims publisher Gruner + Jahr purposely manipulated the books on her defunct magazine, Rosie, so that O'Donnell would wind up waiving her right to exit without a fight.

O'Donnell says G+J had a loophole in their contract that stipulated that if on June 30, 2002, earnings from the magazine had fallen below a certain level, Rosie would be able to walk away from the project without a court battle. If the numbers stayed above that level, O'Donnell would have to stay.

Rosie now claims, through her attorney Mary Jo White, that G+J knew about the loophole and made the magazine seem as if it was doing better than it was, starting in May. She says the publisher did it "with the express approval of its corporate parent, Gruner + Jahr" of Germany.

According to sources, White —  a former U.S. attorney in New York —  will produce a "smoking gun" in the form of an e-mail from the G+J America execs to their superiors in Germany asking for permission to lie about the numbers. By doing so, the publisher reasoned O'Donnell would be stuck with the magazine unless she wanted to pay her way out.

This would seem to be a hard case to prove. But G+J was caught doing the same thing with another one of their magazines, YM. According to stories in Women's Wear Daily and Advertising Age, the company inflated YM's circulation by 200,000 when they reported figures for their audit for the second half of 2001.

YM's publisher later acknowledged what happened. "The figures were inaccurate and we take ownership and responsibility for that," Laura McEwen, YM's publisher, told Ad Age.

Ben Affleck's Christmas Nightmare

The word from Chicago, where Surviving Christmas is shooting right now, is very, very bad.

I am told the Mike Mitchell-directed Ben Affleck comedy is a "complete disaster. The script is horrid, and the shoot has been stopped to try and rewrite the film."

Indeed, co-star James Gandolfini of The Sopranos would not come out of his trailer for an entire day until his scenes were re-written into something that made sense, my sources tell me.

"The actors have been great, but there's no script. And time is of the essence because Affleck is booked back to back in films," the source said. "Christina Applegate has been so nice, she offered to throw the crew a party."

Another problem, according to crew insiders, is that DreamWorks saw a ballooning budget and threatened to take the shoot out of Chicago and across the border into Canada. Then there's the whole issue of director Mitchell, whose sole prior screen credit is the god-awful Deuce Bigalow.

"They're saying they're leaving Chicago early because it's too cold to shoot," said my source. "But really, they will go to L.A. and try and salvage the script. They stopped yesterday — Tuesday — but they were supposed to stay until Saturday. After all, it's a Christmas movie and they're using snow as the excuse for leaving!"

Surviving Christmas is a DreamWorks/Columbia co-production, but it sounds like standard commercial fare, doesn't it? For some reason, I had harbored hopes that Affleck would choose better or more important projects than this kind of stuff. Why he's amassing a filmography of junk after Good Will Hunting and Chasing Amy is something I do not actually understand. This means that before 2003 is out we will see him in Daredevil, Gigli, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas. Will this make him the John C. Reilly of 2003, or something less appealing? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

P.S.: Another Affleck project — called The Third Wheel — co-starring Denise Richards and Matt Damon, has been shelved forever, I am told, by Miramax. The director, Jordan Brady, also made Waking Up in Reno, another straight to video dud.

(Here's a note to Ben: It's not hard to pick decent movies. Just go with respected directors and not a series of first-timers with no experience whatsoever. Even if you get middling results, you can say you tried. The directors you want are named Scorsese, Altman, Minghella, Spielberg, Coppola, Bertolucci, the Scott Brothers, Coen, etc.)

Christie Takes Cheap Shots at Billy Joel

Friends of rocker Billy Joel are pretty amazed by his former wife Christie Brinkley's comments in the press yesterday. I am too. Brinkley took some cheap shots at Joel over his weekend car accident on Long Island. She turned up at the accident site taking pictures, then claimed she was concerned for the safety of her daughter, Alexa.

First things first: Alexa, who is 17 and not a toddler or an infant, was not in Joel's car when he had his accident. She has a close, loving relationship with her dad. She is also smart enough not to get into someone's car if they're incapable of driving. And Joel was not drunk when he swerved on the dark and curvy Route 114 in Sag Harbor and hit a tree. Believe me, it happens. It can't be lost on Billy that his (and my) late friend, Jeff Salaway, did the exact same thing 18 months ago. Salaway, unfortunately, didn't live through the experience.

Now then, isn't this the real Christie after all? That's what friends are saying. This is the Christie Brinkley who left Billy for Ricky Taubman after they were in a suspicious helicopter accident. When Taubman turned out not to have the money he'd advertised, Brinkley divorced him. She took their infant son and paid Taubman $2 million to go away.

Some theorized that Brinkley got the dough from Joel. But it was more likely from her stepfather, TV producer Don Brinkley.

The Taubman episode was quite a saga when it unspooled back in 1996. At the time, I spoke with several people who knew the couple in Colorado and none of them had particularly kind things to say about Brinkley. Mostly they were relieved that she'd left town quickly.

Christie returned to New York with Alexa and a baby, and Joel, friends recall, nearly took her back. "He was her best friend, and extremely sympathetic," said one.

Indeed, there were rumors that the couple might hook up again, but then Christie met architect Peter Cook and married him. Joel was more than surprised.

Since then, Joel has continued to be Brinkley's pal — at least in public —  for Alexa's sake. "He plays at all her benefits and does anything she wants," said a friend. "If she had comments to make, why couldn't she have made them privately? Why air your dirty laundry?"

So these are Christie's true colors. If I were Billy Joel I'd be feeling pretty betrayed at this point. As for Brinkley, aside from her work-out commercials with Chuck Norris, this is the most publicity she's gotten in years. I just hope she doesn't come to regret it.

WNEW Is Back, for the Moment

It's hard to believe here in radio ugly New York, but WNEW-FM is back. The station, at 102.7, was the premiere outlet for music in the late '60s and early '70s. Alison Steele, Vin Scelsa, and Pete Fornatale were just some of the outstanding personalities who made the station so important.

In the '80s, though, WNEW took an intractable view of classic rock and eventually became a dinosaur. (Once, after complaining that the station never played black music, I got a letter from the program director. He actually said: We are integrated. We play Sting's band, and they have black musicians." I swear.)

The station went to the talk format years ago, and proceeded to offend anyone who listened. Welcome back, 'NEW! I can only hope your owner, Infinity Broadcasting, which is run by the very smart John Sykes, does something amazing with you.

R.I.P., Tina

And finally, a nod to the one assistant I've had for the last 16 years and 10 months: Tina, the most adorable gray tabby who ever padded across a keyboard, passed away on Tuesday at noon. Yeah, I know, you've got a great cat, too, but Tina (named for Miss Turner, who has a picture of her) was really exceptional. She was full of love, very well behaved, and actually a lot of fun. She had a tendency to kiss strangers, but there are worse habits I suppose. She was also very good at keeping secrets, and liked R&B. She was pre-deceased by a black street cat named Aretha in 1997, and is survived by an 8-year-old calico named Bianca. She will not be forgotten.