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NBC Exec Says He Will Do Anything to Get Rosie O'Donnell

Rosie O'Donnell | Autism Speaks | Vanity Fair | R.I.P. Freddie Scott

NBC Exec Says He Will Do Anything to Get Rosie O'Donnell

Look out, ABC -- NBC wants Rosie O'Donnell in a bad way.

New programming chief Ben Silverman is telling friends he will do anything to get O'Donnell onto the network, and not just in daytime. Silverman is talking to O'Donnell about hosting a prime-time game show he has up his sleeve as well as a daytime hour a la "The View."

O'Donnell, meanwhile, is sitting pretty. Her final ratings on "The View" skyrocketed the show to unprecedented success. Barbara Walters will have quite a gap to fill over the summer as she looks for replacements.

It's not like O'Donnell is going into semi-retirement while Silverman prepares his offer. On Monday, Rosie will give friends a sneak peek "hard hat" look at the new arts center she's building on West 45th Street named for a teacher who inspired her love of Broadway.

The building, bought for her For All Kids and Rosie's Broadway Kids foundations, will open officially this fall. The facility is set to contain two dance studios, a music studio, practice rooms, a library, study café, changing rooms, administrative offices and a rooftop terrace. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs will assist in the funding.

Circle your calendars for Nov. 19. That's the day Rosie and Kelli Carpenter will host a 10th anniversary gala for O'Donnell's charities and the completion of the building.

Who knows? If Silverman has anything to say about it, Rosie may already be back on the air by then.

Celebrity Autism Group in Civil War

Autism Speaks, the celebrity group founded by former NBC chairman Bob Wright and his wife Suzanne, is in the middle of a family feud and a dispute over whether they have swiped an award-winning film from its director.

The charity is unusual because in a short time it has raised millions of dollars and called upon such celebrity friends of the Wrights like Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Simon.

The Wrights created Autism Speaks just three years ago when their grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with the disorder. But since then they have had such a severe falling out with their daughter Katie, Christian's mother, that the Internet is now buzzing with a new scandal.

This week, the Wrights posted a press release on the Autism Speaks Web site in effect disowning daughter Katie's comments in a video interview she gave to a critic of Autism Speaks.

Katie Wright also appeared on the "Oprah" show in April, where she talked about the split with her parents.

Even the press release issued by the Wrights caused a buzz because it initially read: "Katie Wright is not a spokesperson for Autism Speaks. Our daughter's personal views differ from ours and do not represent or reflect the ongoing mission of Autism Speaks. ... Her appearance with David Kirby was done without the knowledge or consent of Autism Speaks." Ouch!

Only later, when the statement seemed too harsh, the Wrights changed the release, adding of Katie: "She is our daughter and we love her very much."

But the damage was done.

With the scandal quickly overtaking the cure of autism as a subject comes a new dilemma. Filmmaker Lauren Thierry is accusing the Wrights of appropriating her award-winning film "Autism Every Day" for their own purposes.

Thierry made the film, which was shown at Sundance this year and is in this month's Nantucket Film Festival, after the Wrights saw an earlier, shorter version they liked.

Thierry says Suzanne Wright then commissioned a feature version, and told her "money is no object." While the Wrights paid all the film's costs, they never came to terms with Thierry, the director says. They systematically cut her out of the promotion of the film, she says, when the Wrights took it on the media rounds.

This was odd, considering Thierry and husband Jim Watkins, an anchorman for Channel 11 in New York, have a good PR hook of their own: They are parents of an autistic son.

Thierry wants to be paid for making "Autism Every Day," but when the Wrights sent her a contract, with a blank space for the fee, it also included a proviso that Thierry could not do any publicity for it.

Thierry countered by sending a bill for $104,000, including $64,000 for labor and $40,000 for intellectual property. For that amount she was willing to allow the Wrights buy her out. Ironically, Thierry had already told the Wrights she would be splitting her fee with an autism school in New York.

The Wrights countered, through their executive, Alison Singer, that Thierry was paid $30,000 and that they have compensated her in full. But Singer can't produce any evidence of this.

"Alison Singer sent me a check for $30,000. I never cashed it and sent it back. There was never an agreement for a fee," Thierry said.

Singer, who at first told me about paying Thierry, is now playing her cards close to the vest.

"Autism Speaks feels it inappropriate to publicly disclose its details," Singer said.

The chaos surrounding Autism Speaks is not surprising. In short order, the new group has shut down or subsumed a number of other, older organizations that used to do the same work, but without the resources of the Wrights.

Sources at the longstanding Nordoff-Robbins Foundation, for example, have complained recently that their fundraising sources have dried up since Autism Speaks came on the scene.

In her video interview, Katie Wright criticizes not only Autism Speaks but also a group they took over, the National Alliance for Autism Research, which has organized marches and vigils for 20 years.

Katie Wright now believes that vaccinations and the environment may be responsible for autism — a controversial theory among others who say it is a genetic disorder.

Whichever side turns out to be correct, the split in the Wright family cannot be good for the cause of autism.

"The whole reason for Autism Speaks was because of Christian," one critic said. "And now the Wrights are dissing his mother, their own daughter."

Singer says none of that is true.

"The Wrights started Autism Speaks for all families, not just their own," she said.

She agreed, however, that the couple would not have known about autism at all had their own family not become involved in it.

Meanwhile, Thierry says she remains unpaid and that, despite the Wrights' assertions, she is paying her own expenses. When she goes to the Nantucket Film Festival later this month, it's the festival that's picking up her travel and accommodation expenses.

Vanity Fair Issue Has 20 Different Covers

U2 frontman Bono edited the new Africa issue of Vanity Fair. To commemorate his participation, there are 20 collectible covers. That's right: 20. You have to give Vanity Fair credit. One prominently features Maya Angelou looking bored as Madonna talks to her.

Bono himself is on two of the covers, Alicia Keys is on two and so is Brad Pitt. The most interesting cover may be of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Bono likes them.

Another Soul Passes

Freddie Scott died on Monday at age 74. A lesser-known soul man, Scott's biggest hit was the chart version of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin classic "Hey Girl."

Freddie's 1968 single, "(You) Got What I Need" was sampled by Biz Markie for his own hit "Just a Friend" in 1989. He will be missed.