Rhea Gone  Woody on Broadway?  Steakhouse Shadiness   

Caroline Rhea Show Wraps A Week Early

I don't get how this works: Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones and Ricki Lake each put on some of the most embarrassing, low-class television shows known to man, and they get renewed every year.

But Caroline Rhea's show — which is classy, funny, interesting and witty — is facing imminent cancellation.

That's the buzz around town since the chat show was told to wrap its first season a week early. This is a dire warning, at least to the staff and those who've been there before.

Warner Telepictures produces The Caroline Rhea Show, and they came into it trying to maintain the success of Rosie O'Donnell's show, which Caroline took over last fall.

At first Caroline was hesitant on the air. She looked a little scared, and we were nervous for her.

Caroline's personality is quite different than Rosie's, no matter how you slice it. It wasn't clear if Caroline could marshal the same audience.

The truth is that Caroline's show has improved dramatically since the beginning of this year. The whole thing has clicked.

Caroline has calmed down. Her interviews have become funny and chatty. She seems more herself, and more at home on the set. The addition of a bandleader/foil also helps. If it hadn't been for outside circumstances, Caroline would be on her way to a sizeable hit.

But she's been hindered from the start by terrible time slots. ABC, which owns The Wayne Brady Show, gave that program preference over The Caroline Rhea Show. This meant a 12:30 a.m. start in the New York market, which is a death slot.

Ironically, Caroline's ratings have often been better than some daytime shows. But ABC never moved her, and the late-night spot has become a permanent handicap.

So why doesn't Warner Telepictures do the smart thing here? Get the show off ABC in markets where it can only air at night. Move it into real syndication, where Caroline's intelligent humor can knock off Maury Povich's embarrassing displays of condescension. (No more DNA tests for pregnant teens, please!)

One season is not enough. Let The Caroline Rhea Show live another season and find its foothold. It's the only decent thing to do.

A Woody Allen Musical on Broadway?

Bullets Over Broadway, Woody Allen's best movie from the 1990s, may be headed to Broadway itself — as a musical.

Producer Jean Doumanian, who owned the rights to the movie, and who has since had a very public and litigious falling-out with Woody, has turned the project over to Chicago Oscar winner Marty Richards.

What a brilliant idea! Bullets received seven Oscar nominations and one win for Dianne Wiest as Best Supporting Actress. It was also Woody's most successful film financially of the decade.

The show is rife with possibilities for good songs and big numbers.

Wiest coined the phrase "Don't speak," in the film, which will unlikely become its own song.

Allen, meantime, is readying three one-act plays for Broadway, which he will direct.

New York Nightlife: China Grill Owner Befriends Fellow Criminal

I do credit the New York Daily News's Rush and Molloy for a great item yesterday. They reported that China Grill/Asia de Cuba/Tuscan Steak restaurant owner Jeffrey Chodorow has been in business with a newly minted felon, one Fred Contini.

Chodorow has a thing for felons, especially federal ones. In 1996 he served four months in federal prison for lying to the Department of Justice.

He was prosecuted and convicted for participating in the bankrupting of Braniff Airlines. Chodorow lied to the government, which was barred from having another former felon as the airline's president.

He employed the man anyway. Chodorow would have served a longer stint in prison, but he claimed his then-10-year-old son had Tourette's Syndrome and needed him at home.

In the last five years, Chodorow has built a restaurant empire by doing business with another former federal felon, Ian Schrager. The owner of uncomfortable, modern, inexpensive hotels that house fancy private bars, Schrager served time for tax evasion many years ago when he also owned Studio 54.

Now Chodorow is tangled up with Contini, whom the News reports is a partner in a downtown nightclub that Chodorow has allowed to be turned into a strip club. Chodorow's name is on the liquor license.

Contini, as the News points out, "copped an eight-year prison term for swindling the MTA out of $10 million in a no-show-worker contracting scam."

I can tell you that Contini had some colorful friends in that case as co-defendants. They had nicknames. One of them is known as Morris Diminno, also known as "Mickey" and "Fat Boy"; another, John Vitiello, is known to his friends as "Johnny Rhino."

I always thought that when you got out of jail, the warden warned you to stay away from other former inmates. I guess that was just in Jimmy Cagney movies.