Cowell considers suing BBC over tone-deaf reality show

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* Simon Cowell's lawyers are back in business, a week after they brokered a peace deal to prevent fellow pop svengali Simon Fuller from taking him to court in a copyright dispute.

In an eerily similar case, Cowell - whose X-Factor show was said to be a rip-off of Fuller's Pop Idol - is now accusing the BBC of pinching the idea behind his next programme, Star Duets.

Both Cowell and the Beeb recently announced plans for a new show in which pop stars will be teamed-up with tone deaf celebrities. The public votes off their least favourite duo each week.

Cowell claims his version, for ITV, has been in development for longer than the BBC's and has sent a stiff letter warning them against breach of copyright.

The BBC says its show The Two of Us has been in the pipeline for over a year, and any similarity with Cowell's is pure coincidence. As things stand, both will be broadcast in the new year.

At the British Comedy Awards on Wednesday, Cowell said he was keeping a weather eye on the situation.

"I don't know if we are going to sue yet," he said. "We will have to wait and see exactly how close it is to ours before we make our mind up. This sort of thing happens all the time in television; it's all about who gets there first with an idea."

Whatever the outcome, it's not the only ball Cowell has in the air. He also announced plans to judge another TV talent contest this summer, with Piers Morgan and Fern Britton.

* As they say in Hollywood, "the British are coming".

Following the soaraway success of an American version of The Office, another British comedy is to tickle funny bones across the pond.

Paul Abbott the award-winning writer of Shameless, is at work on an American version of the hit TV series.

Instead of a gritty Manchester housing estate, the new Shameless will follow the lives of a working-class family from Chicago.

"I'm in the middle of writing it," says Abbott. "You can transpose Shameless on to any city, because it's about the sort of subculture that exists universally, no matter what country you're in."

The programme is backed by John Wells, the producer of ER and The West Wing, and will air on NBC towards the end of next year.

"We start casting in the new year," he adds. "The exciting thing about NBC is that it's so vast. We could hit potentially 80 million viewers."

* The clash between Jackie Stallone and John McCririck on Celebrity Big Brother made for one of the great firework displays in TV history.

Strange, then, to hear that Stallone - who is currently visiting London - has invited Channel 4's racing pundit to lunch. Apparently, she thinks it's time to kiss and make up.

"I did think John McCririck was the biggest creep," she tells me. "Disgusting and degrading to women. But then, after we'd done the show, I heard him on TV and thought actually, intellectually, he's got a first-class mind, and I should see him again."

It's not all chummy, though. "He is still a real snob," she adds. "The other thing about him, which you don't see on TV, is that he farts all the time. It's disgusting; you can quote me on that."

* Call it a coincidence, but as his "Nazi-slur" tribunal began this week, Ken Livingstone was going out of his way to build bridges with the Jewish community.

First, he gave an interview to Time Out explaining that he's nothing against Jews per se. "But I'm not prepared to pretend that what has happened to the Palestinians is not a disgrace."

Then, on 9 December, he issued an official Hanukkah message: "Jewish people have made a vast contribution to freedom of religious and cultural expression in this city over many centuries."

Timely stuff, but could Red Ken have just shot himself in the foot over the festival of lights? "Silly fool," says my man in the kippah. "Unlike most years, Hanukkah 2005 doesn't start until Boxing Day."

* The former Sex Pistol John Lydon - official surname, "Rotten" - may be a hero of 1970s punk counter-culture, but with the onset of middle age, he's grown accustomed to being kept in a certain style.

Like every celebrity invited to the British Comedy Awards on Wednesday, Lydon was offered a chauffeur-driven car by the sponsor, Mercedes.

Unfortunately, that didn't cut the mustard. Instead, he requested a Crawford Voyager to ferry him to the TV studio.

"Voyagers are the prima donna's choice," reckons an organiser. "They can carry a big entourage and are a great favourite of rap artists. You might describe them as the new stretch limo."

Elsewhere, Lydon retains an impeccable sense of style. During "make-up", one of his teeth fell out; he later gave it to Paul O'Grady, in a presentation box, by way of a Christmas present.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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