Only In New York: Things that go bump on breakfast television

SPOOKY AUTHOR Stephen King (pictured far right) appeared on NBC's news programme Today yesterday (it being the morning after Hallowe'en). It was a distressing sight.

King is still on crutches and is shockingly thin after his brush with death in June, when he was struck by a van while taking a walk in his native Maine. King is as prolific a novelist as you will ever meet, and his 53 books have sold no fewer than 300 million copies over the years. His injuries, however, have apparently plugged his fountain of words. "After the accident, I was totally incapable of writing," he told co-presenter Katie Couric. "It was as if I'd never done this in my life. It was like starting over again from square one. I mean it was like being 12, 13 years old."

He ended by confessing that he may never be able to write a novel again. Still, the 52-year-old King will barely suffer from a financial standpoint - the books that already cram bookshop shelves reportedly bring him an annual income of $40m.

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NEW YORK City has become the battleground of the breakfast shows. The lucrative two hours in the early morning - when Americans manage to bake their fresh muffins, squeeze their oranges, pack the children's lunchboxes and watch television at the same time - have for years been dominated by Today with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. You may have seen them, if not from a hotel room then through the plate glass that separates their studio from the pavement in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center.

Putting Matt and Katie where passing tourists can see them is the genius behind Today. Or that is the conclusion reached by ABC and CBS. So this summer ABC opened a glitzy showcase of its own in Times Square. And yesterday, straggling in third place in the breakfast ratings, CBS unveiled its new- look show from a $20m studio in the General Motors Building in Trump Plaza. That puts it right across from the Plaza Hotel. So, at last, all the shows are on an even pavement. May the hostilities begin.

Someone at CBS, however, is surely going to be fired. To ensure maximum excitement for the inaugural show - co-hosted by Bryant Gumbel, an alumnus of Today at NBC - the network had booked rock star Mariah Carey (pictured left) to sing a song from her new album, Rainbow. And she was to do it right there, on the pavement. (Hysteria of the masses was guaranteed.) On Friday, however, the network discovered it had failed to get the necessary street-performance permits from the city. Not only did Carey cancel - she apparently saw no point in exercising her lungs indoors - she decided to take the gig to another of the networks. Yes, yesterday morning she was the guest instead of Katie and Matt.

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DID I mention Trump? For the next few months, we will have no let-up from The Donald, as the tabloids like to call him, what with his putative quest for the US presidency. So far, he has got no further than setting up the obligatory "exploratory committee", but a couple of weeks ago he gave up membership of the Republican Party and announced his interest in being the Reform Party nominee.

But according to a Daily News poll, even New Yorkers are unimpressed. Only six per cent said they thought it likely that Trump would get their tick on ballot day. Meanwhile, 74 per cent said they thought he was only entering the fray as an exercise in self-publicity.

Somebody must have let on that Trump has a new book coming out. All indignation, Trump declared himself unconcerned. Asked for a reaction, he told a News reporter, "OK, go have fun with it." He then hung up, but not before he charmingly called the reporter a "scumbag".

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ACCORDING TO Tim and Nina Zagat, who for 21 years have been publishing annual surveys on the best and worst of New York's eateries, sexism is alive and well. Four out of five New Yorkers think that men get better treatment in restaurants than women.

Could I suggest a new category to the Zagats for next year's survey: which restaurants in New York boast the most pretentious menus? In Heartbeat on 49th St, I spotted this dish: "Chilean sea bass with heirloom potatoes." I asked the maitre d' to explain. An heirloom potato, he said, is a potato that has not been genetically modified.

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