February 28, 2005 08:00 AM

PLEADED: A woman charged with stalking and threatening actress Catherine Zeta-Jones entered a no contest plea to one felony count of stalking and three counts of making criminal threats, the Associated Press reports. Dawnette Knight, 33, entered the plea Friday in a Los Angeles court. She is accused of sending threatening letters to Zeta-Jones and people close to the actress, and faces up to five years in prison, which will be determined after a 90-day evaluation. Knight was arrested June 3.

HONORED: Veteran stage and television actor Jerry Orbach will make his final TV appearance Friday in the second episode of the new Law & Order franchise Trial by Jury, the New York Post reports. Orbach, who died Dec. 28 after a protracted battle with cancer, was the familiar face of Det. Lennie Briscoe on the series. His fellow actors assisted the 69-year-old actor and lowered their voices through the scene so as not to drown out Orbach’s raspy baritone, as he was particularly ill during the final shooting. The new L&O series premieres Thursday.

RETURNED: It looks like the Backstreet Boys are back. The hit boy band from the late 1990s is currently at work on a new album scheduled to hit stores in June, Reuters reports. The group is in the process of selecting the final tracks for the disc, and is expected to release an advance single in March. Member Howie Dorough said the group’s music is more mature and stripped down. “There’s not necessarily a five-part harmony on everything you hear,” he said. Black & Blue, the group’s last album in 2000, sold 5.4 million copies.

SOLD: Mel Gibson has reportedly been wheeling and dealing in real estate transactions. The actor and Passion of the Christ director sold his 45,000-acre Beartooth Ranch in Montana to a neighbor, AP reports. Both parties closed the deal with a handshake. Meanwhile, Gibson’s plan to purchase an island hideaway in Fiji did not go as smoothly. The sale of the tiny Mago Island (eight square miles) was contested by local residents who say the land was taken from their ancestors by force, news agency AFP reports. Gibson reportedly bought the island for $15 million after visiting in December.

ARGUED: An interview between FOX News’ DaySide host Linda Vester and former Apprentice season one villain Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth turned nasty on Friday, as the two women squared off over the reality show’s portrayal of African Americans, the Washington Post reports. Manigault-Stallworth maintained that the show held African Americans in a negative light, while Vester disputed the allegation. The conversation went downhill from there, as Manigault-Stallworth said Vester wasn’t smart enough to be her friend, and then asserted that she made more money than Vester.

OPENED: At the “Copacabana” oops, make that “at the Hilton,” crooner Barry Manilow opened his new Las Vegas show Feb. 24 for a sold-out audience of nearly 2,000 people that included hotelier Steve Wynn and pop superstar Elton John, AP reports. The show, which runs for 24 weeks, debuted at the Las Vegas Hilton, the same hotel where Elvis Presley held sway in the 1970s. Billed “Manilow: Music and Passion,” the show contained favorites such as “Mandy” and “Copacabana,” as well as new song, “Here’s to Las Vegas.”

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