September 25, 2003 03:01 PM

WATCHED: The first of the late John Ritter’s final episodes of the ABC comedy “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” toppled the competition Tuesday night, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research figures. Reuters reports that the season premiere drew an average of 16.86 million viewers, more than any other program on the six major broadcast networks that night. ABC said after his death it would air the episodes he had filmed and then write his death into the series.

ENGAGED: “The King of Queens” star Kevin James, 38 has proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Stephanieanna Zantua — and she said yes, the actor announced Wednesday during an appearance on “Live with Regis and Kelly.” No wedding date has been set. “She’s really beautiful. She’s a model and she loves me. … It’s got nothing to do with syndication or anything like that,” James said, jokingly. He also said that they met on a blind date arranged by his interior decorator. “She never had seen the show or seen me,” he said. “We really hit it off.”

QUOTED: “It’s a big show. It’s a big responsibility. There’s a world watching and the world is a rough room.” — Billy Crystal, 56, at a Wednesday press conference where it was announced he would once again serve as Oscar host next Feb. 29.

REQUESTED: Country star Naomi Judd wants the Statue of Liberty re-opened to the public, after being closed to visitors since 9/11 because of security fears, The Washington Post reports. “It’s the most significant landmark in the whole world,” Judd, 57, said of Lady Liberty in New York harbor. “I think now more than ever we all need it for our collective psyche. The fact is, she is a symbol in our whole world of freedom.” Judd is spearheading a $5-million drive to raise funds to restore the statue.

HONORED: “Silence of the Lambs” Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, 65, star of the upcoming “The Human Stain” (with Nicole Kidman) got his star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame Wednesday, accompanied by his wife Stella and costars Jodie Foster (from “Lambs”) and Gary Sinise (“Stain”). “When I became an actor my dream was … to come here to Hollywood,” the Welsh-born Hopkins told cheering fans in front of the Kodak Theater. “You know Hollywood is a state of mind. It’s synonymous with a dream factory.”

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