Lunch: Liz Smith, Mike Ovitz and the Rest of the Gossip Gang

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— DIANE CLEHANE

It was a another head-spinning afternoon at Michael’s today as the power lunch crowd plotted their next big move over their Cobb salads. Between plenty of table hopping and air kissing, there was lots of talk about tonight’s debate. One media maven told me, “It will be fascinating to see how these guys keep their growing animosity in check. Maybe they won’t — that would really make it must-see TV!” In any event, the consensus is that as much as it’s required viewing, everyone has had enough. Here’s hoping Bob Schieffer has a buzzer at the ready.

I was thrilled to be joined at the bar by my good friend, Michael Davis, who has a new book, Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (Viking) coming out on December 26. Michael and I go back to our days together at TV Guide and he’s one of the good guys. His book, which is sure to be a best seller, tackles the herculean task of telling the fascinating story of how this iconic children’s television program came to be — and went on to become a cultural touchstone. You might think you know the story but trust me, you don’t. With the blessing of Joan Ganz Cooney, Michael has assembled the definitive book on the subject, which includes interviews with Caroll Spinney (Big Bird — who is voicing the audio version of the book), Frank Oz (Oscar), Kevin Clash (Elmo) and other cast members. Michael is planning a 10 city media tour with stops in Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, and he’ll host an Inside the Actors Studio-type event at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey in January where he’ll interview many of the players that talked to him for the book.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Hallmark Channel honcho Henry Schleiff with Donna Mills, The New York Post‘s Michael Shain and Linda Stasi and Hallmark flack Jamie Saberito. It was a kick meeting Donna, who didn’t look a day older then when she played the scheming vixen Abby Ewing on 80s nighttime soap Knots Landing. (Come on, I know you watched!) When I told her I never missed a Thursday night episode of the iconic CBS sudser she said, “That’s amazing considering it was on for 14 years!” Those ladies on Wisteria Lane owe a huge debt to Donna, who wrote the playbook on playing the sexy suburbanite. Donna’s latest project, Ladies of The House airs Saturday night on — where else? — the Hallmark Channel.

2. The Early Show: Melania Trump and Rachel Roy; Second seating: New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and an unidentified pal.

3. AMI’s David Pecker, CBS spin-meister Gil Schwartz and another serious-looking fellow …

4. Liz Smith and Paula Froelich. I went over to say hello to Liz, the most popular gal in the dining room today, while she waited for Paula. She joked that I should hide under their table if I really want some scoop. I opted instead to dish standing up when Liz was nice enough to invite me over to meet Paula when she arrived. The three of us had an interesting chat about Mike Ovitz. I said I was intrigued to see Mike head straight for Liz’s table when he came in and offer a courtly hello, considering Liz was quoted as saying less-than-glowing things about him (“I hate him”) in Jonathan Van Meter’s profile of her in New York magazine a few weeks back. “I don’t hate him. He was great,” Liz told me. “He said, ‘People have said a lot worse about me.'” Turns out Paula is also an Ovitz fan. “I’ve known him for five years and he’s a really great guy,” she says. Isn’t lovely when everyone gets along?


5. Steve Simpkin and Gerald Schoenfeld, who really loves those mints at the front desk.

6. A few members of The Imber Gang: Dr. Gerry Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman.

7. Estee Lauder’s Alexandra Trower who came bearing gifts (Advanced Night Repair!) for gals at the front desk. How nice!

8. Power blondes Patricia Duff and Debbie Bancroft.

9. Fellow fashionistas Jacqui Lividini and Wayne Meichner, who used to work together at Saks way back when. I’m dating myself, but Wayne was once my boss another lifetime ago when I was the manager of Saks’ main floor men’s business. Just thought you’d like to know…

10. Lynn Nesbit and Peggy Siegal

11. Ron Delsner

12. Variety‘s Army Archerd with Thatcher Brown of the Essex House

14. Vernon Jordan, who gets my vote for the best-dressed man in the dining room today. I’ve never seen anyone with shinier shoes …

16.Patricia Watt and Sharon Bush. A little birdie told me there’s something of a bidding war going on over Sharon’s book, Bushology.

17. Rob and Sheryl Goldstein

18. Mike Ovitz and Herb Allen

19. Cece Cord and Betsy Klieban

20. My pal Joan Gelman, who stopped by the bar to give me one of her latest campaign buttons which says: “Attention Sarah Palin – Jesus Christ was a Community Organizer — Pontius Pilate was a Governor.” She introduced me to her friend, Thomas Flynn, author of Bikeman (Andrew McMeel Publishing), a must-read. The book, which begins with Thomas’ bike ride to the World Trade Center on 9/11, tells his story of survival and fellowship that he encountered on that day. I’m starting it tonight!

21. Jack Kliger

22. Ed Klein

24. Patricia Burke of Inkwell Management

25. Sundance’s Sara Eaton

26. Deb Shriver

27. John Josephson

28. Financial Times‘ Chrystia Freeland who I got to chat with as we both were on our way out. I told her she gets points for holding her own — and actually getting a word in edgewise — when she’s on MSNBC with Chris Matthews. “I like him actually,” she told me. “But thanks!” Tomorrow morning Chrystia will be part of the debate post mortem on Morning Joe if you’d like to tune in.

29. Harper Collins’ Kate Morgan Jackson

Please send comments and corrections to DianeClehane AT mediabistro Dot com and lunch at mediabistro DOT com.

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