Time to catch up on some stargazing.
*Orlando-bred comedian Billy Gardell just signed on with one of the best sitcoms on TV: My Name is Earl. Apparently the producers liked the Winter Park High School alum's one-episode stint from last season so much that they decided to bring him back. "They just wrote him another part as a twin," said friend Joe Sanfelippo, who runs the Bonkerz comedy clubs where Gardell cut his teeth. OK, so the twin thing sounds a bit soap opera-y. But Gardell, who plays a cop in two episodes shot last week, is due for a hit. His last two TV gigs -- F/X's Lucky and NBC's Heist -- were canceled, even though critics liked him on both shows.
*Orlando's human sound machine, Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame, just finished shooting one of the more popular commercial gigs in TV nowadays: Playing the celebrity in one of the "real life" Geico commercials. Winslow's wife, Sharon, said that while the actual Geico customer read his story, her husband provided all the sound effects for which he's famous -- everything from a car crash and revving engine to the hip-hop music that was supposed to be playing on the customer's radio. Sharon said the shoot took about three hours, but "could've been done in an hour" if everyone wasn't laughing.
*Sir Anthony Hopkins is slated to debut a collection of his artwork -- yes, artwork -- in Central Florida next month. The Academy Award-winning actor apparently has amassed quite a collection of acrylic paintings, which he began creating five years ago with the encouragement of his wife, Stella. "It's done wonders for my subconscious," Hopkins said in a news release, also claiming he makes a "hell of a mess" in his Malibu studio. More info on the exhibit, which opens Nov. 9 at Millenia Fine Art, can be found at MilleniaFineArt.com. Hopkins, by the way, paints things like brightly colored landscapes. No lambs . . . or fava beans.
*If living well is the best revenge, former Doc & Johnny producer Jonathan Hyla can feel pretty good about his lot in life nowadays. Hyla, who was fired by 106.7 FM three years ago, recently started doing a daily celebrity/gossip show on E! where he plays second chair to the show's host, Michael Yo. Yo on E! airs weekdays. "It's been a crazy radio journey," Hyla said, "but to finally have a TV show on a major network is something I'm really proud of."
*If you didn't know Lance Bass is gay, you will soon -- over and over and over again. The former Central Floridian and member of 'N Sync is hyping his new book, "Out of Sync," big-time. As such, he's slated to appear on 20/20, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, The View, Tyra Banks and CNN -- and that's just in the five days leading up to the book's Oct. 23 release. After that, Bass is slated to come back to the place where his stardom began with a book-signing at Borders in Winter Park on the 27th. More info on all these appearances at lancebass.com. You have to admit that Lance's personal story of feeling forced to live in the closet really seems to say something about society today. Because, man, if you can't be openly gay in a boy band . . .
Political whys and wherefores
*Why fundraising stinks: We've yet to see the contents of a grand jury's sealed report about the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. But if it suggests that political fundraising in this town or state needs reform, then it is probably on the money. Developers and politicians here are on each other like stink on a monkey. The same with special interests in general. They host fundraisers and help lead their campaigns. Now, the politicians try to con you (and maybe themselves) into believing they get money simply because the donors like their positions and thoughts. But shared philosophies can't explain why so many special interests cut checks to opposing political parties and multiple candidates in the same race . . . unless the philosophy they share is: I give you money, and you give me your vote.
*Why Winter Parkians are funny: A few months back, residents of this tony town begged city commissioners to give developers millions of dollars not to build something. The debate over condos was tearing their city apart, they pleaded. Well, city leaders agreed to pay the money. And since then? Well, the commission fired the city manager. The manager sued the city. A former city attorney sued as well (about something else). There's talk about ousting planning-board members. And just last week, Mayor David Strong lost a split vote about -- get this -- what he was allowed to say in the bimonthly "Mayor's Message" in the city newsletter. Part of me loves the citizen activism. But another part thinks these people simply aren't happy unless they're fighting -- which is getting to be an increasingly costly proposition.