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Once the Oscar nominations are announced on Feb. 13, attention will turn to the March 25 telecast and its host Steve Martin. Although this will be the actor’s first time filling Billy Crystal’s patent leather shoes, it’s not the first time he was asked. Producer Gil Cates offered the job to Martin before, when Crystal was unavailable, but Martin had a scheduling conflict. So when Cates learned in September that the seven-time host would not be able to do the honors this year (he’ll be filming America’s Sweethearts), he contacted Martin, who promptly signed on. “I like to have someone who is a movie star and who can work a room,” says Cates, who is producing his 10th Oscar telecast. “There aren’t many people like that.”

How’s this for strange product placement? In Hannibal, Anthony Hopkins is on a plane when he unwraps a Dean & DeLuca takeout lunch he brought onboard that includes plenty of goodies you might expect from the gourmet food chain. In the box, however, is a plastic container with something only Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter would find tasty. What was the company thinking? According to Dean & DeLuca’s Pat Roney, who okayed the collaboration, they liked being identified with a hip, edgy movie. “We figured people would know that [the container’s contents] didn’t come from Dean & DeLuca,” he says. “We have a lot of exciting products, but that’s not one of them.”

Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are not just adversaries in the music biz (they will vie for best female pop vocal at the Grammys on Feb. 21)—they’re also real estate rivals. Each just purchased a Med-style house in the Los Angeles area. How do their digs stack up? A source tells me that Spears’s $3 million, 6,000-sq.-ft. residence near Pacific Palisades is newly built with five bedrooms, six bathrooms and a guest house. Aguilera picked up her 10-year-old, 7,000-sq.-ft. house close to Beverly Hills with four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a screening room, pool and gym for about $2.8 million.

Recently, an Ally McBeal producer told Calista Flockhart that—gulp!—the show’s creator and executive producer David E. Kelley wanted to see her. Instead, she was greeted with a surprise baby shower thrown by her cohorts that included a cake inscribed “Welcome Little One” for Flockhart’s 5-week-old adopted son Liam.

In other baby news, Jane Leeves of Frasier returned to work Feb. 7 after a two-month break, during which she had her first child, Isabella, on Jan. 9. But she’s not going to leave her daughter at home with a nanny. Paramount, the studio that produces the hit NBC show, has provided Isabella with her own trailer, which Leeves and her friends have outfitted with such baby booty as an antique high chair from the cast and a changing table and crib from Leeves’s pals Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen.