December 10, 2004 02:10 PM

LOVELY LACHEYS: Reports of a rift between Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey heated up thanks to a widely circulated e-mail that detailed the couple s allegedly tense backstage relationship – and separate dressing rooms – before the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree-lighting ceremony Nov. 30. But a rep for the company that staged the show says the message, purportedly written by one of its workers, was “exaggerated.” Lachey’s spokesperson also denied any problems: “They’re not on the rocks and are really sick and tired of having to shoot these rumors down all the time.”

OLSENS OUTRAGED: The National Labor Committee, a watchdog group, set its sights on Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, claiming it asked the sisters to support paid maternity leave for women who manufacture the Olsen’s Wal-Mart clothing line in Bangladesh, but failed to hear back from them. The group scheduled a Thursday protest near New York University, where the twins are enrolled, but plans for that were halted when the Olsens – who claimed they had never heard from the NLC in the first place – signed a petition demanding fair labor practices at the factories.

GRAMMY NODS: Newcomer Kanye West topped the list of Grammy nominees with 10 nods, including album of the year (“The College Dropout”) and best new artist, the Recording Academy announced. Alicia Keys and Usher each earned eight nods, while the legendary Ray Charles, who died in June, garnered seven, followed by the surprise good showing of punk rockers Green Day, with six, and Norah Jones, Loretta Lynn, Prince, and engineer Al Schmitt with five. The Grammys will air live on CBS Feb. 13 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

STEWART SHOW: Martha Stewart, 63, now has a firm deal to revive her daily homemaking show. NBC-owned stations in 14 major cities have already agreed to start airing the yet-to-be-titled program in September. The show will feature a live audience, celebrity guests and the help of The Apprentice and Survivor producer Mark Burnett. At a press conference, Susan Lyne, president of Stewart’s company, acknowledged the absence of the show s star (who is serving a prison sentence in West Virginia), saying: “I know Martha would have loved to be here. But she wants to wish everyone a joyful holiday. She’s doing extremely well.”

PETERSON PROSECUTION: Prosecutors called convicted double murderer Scott Peterson, 32, “the worst kind of monster” in closing arguments Thursday, the final day of his trial s penalty phase. As pointed out by prosecutor Dave Harris, Thursday was also the two-year anniversary of Peterson’s plan to murder pregnant wife, Laci. Harris asked the jury to deliver the death penalty, while defense lawyer Pat Harris argued for life imprisonment. Earlier in the week, Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, screamed at Peterson: “Divorce is always an option, not murder!” Scott’s mother, Jackie Peterson, pleaded with the jury to spare her son, calling Scott s possible death “a waste.” Jurors were due to be sequestered during deliberations before making their sentencing suggestion to the judge.

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