Chasing Booty With Fashion Week’s Judy … Will Bob Costas Snag George W.? … Millionaire ‘s Dumbest Gimmick Yet

Wednesday, Feb. 14

“We’ll just sort of noodle around!”

Judy Licht, a blaze of Burberry, whirled into the Kenneth Cole show in Grand Central Terminal on Monday, Feb. 12. Behind her lagged a reporter and Ms. Licht’s trusty cameraman from the Metro Channel, Orville Henry.

“Doughnuts–wanna doughnut?” she asked, pointing toward a picked-through plate of Krispy Kremes at the show’s entrance. “Orville, eat a doughnut!”

There would be no doughnuts for Ms. Licht, who was all business. She blew past beefy security guards into the terminal, a portion of which had been draped in black for Mr. Cole’s mammoth fall 2001 show. Reaching her assigned seat, Ms. Licht flopped her coat and plaid gear on a chair, revealing a spiffy red leather jacket. She grabbed Mr. Henry and made a beeline for David Granger of Esquire . Then Kate Betts of Harper’s Bazaar . Then Kevin Bacon of My Dog Skip .

“It’s a body-contact sport!” Ms. Licht enthused.

That’s Fashion Week, sister! And what better way to spend a day of it than with Metro’s senior correspondent and one of New York’s premier tele-fashionistas? Especially now that Metro is engaged in a delightfully petty catfight for Fashion Week supremacy with cable upstart Style Network. (Here is how Ms. Licht summed up Style Network’s coverage of Fashion Week: “A lot of 20-year-olds from California who don’t know what they’re doing.”)

So, paw, paw, meooowww! Ms. Licht torpedoed her way through the crowd and attacked Mike Piazza of the New York Mets. Decked in a Raiders of the Lost Ark -style leather bomber jacket and a maroon T-shirt, Mr. Piazza looked better prepared for an afternoon of hangin’ at a Paramus sub shop than sitting front-row at a fashion show. “I’m kind of nervous,” Mr. Piazza confided. “Everybody keeps asking me about clothes .”

Behind Mr. Piazza, a scrum of oddly nostalgic photographers recognized the actor Rob Morrow, who posed alongside Mr. Bacon and fellow thespian Giancarlo Esposito for a Future Hollywood Squares of America pin-up. To their left, New York Giants behemoth and fledgling scenester Michael Strahan had a question for a fellow guest. “Who is that woman in your building who sued Cindy Crawford?” he asked.

And it so it went … and went. Fashion Week is one of those singular New York media free-for-alls, a bizarre convergence of events, celebrity, semi-celebrity, semi-semi-celebrity and vaguely associated hangers-on. It’s not really news per se, but it’s something (” Eye candy! Rock ‘n’ roll! ” Ms. Licht suggested), and twice a year it attracts a sharp-elbowed horde of cameramen, TV people and print reporters.

Ms. Licht was at the center of it all, a red-haired, air-kissing dervish of schmooze. A former anchor for the Channel 5 Ten O’Clock News , Ms. Licht–who is married to the advertising bigwig Jerry Della Femina and supplies her résumé with a sheet entitled “What People Are Saying About Judy Licht” (“Judy’s was the best interview I’ve ever done for television,” raved Bill Blass)–is no hemline-obsessed bubblehead. She’s covered murders and fires, and if she’s chasing a story, she’ll squish you like a bug, mister; as for fashion, she was chilling with Michael Kors when most of her colleagues were still modeling Wonder Woman Underoos. “I’m sort of the mama,” said Ms. Licht, who, let’s just say, is over 21 years old.

And she’s got no time to suffer fools or neophytes. Though Ms. Licht downplayed the competition with Style, the young bucks seemed to have her fired up. “They’ll go for the celebrities, because they know who the celebrities are,” she said. “But they won’t know that the Tisches are Ken Cole’s neighbors in Westchester. They probably won’t even recognize Maria Cole unless someone points her out to them!”

The lights dimmed; it was time for Mr. Cole’s show to begin. Here is a summary: Clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes, big belt, clothes …. Ms. Licht and her colleague, Robert Verdi, paid careful attention, scribbling notes, shooting knowing glances at each other, whispering pithy comments. As the show concluded, Ms. Licht–who in general hailed Mr. Cole’s “genius” for democratizing Prada-esque high fashion–sounded a bit leathered-out. “So many cows, so little time,” she sighed.

Time to book to Bryant Park for the Carolina Herrera show. Riding over in a white minivan, Ms. Licht was asked if fashion people care about Mr. Cole’s politically correct fussing–collecting clothes for the homeless, ads about progressive causes, that stuff. ” No ,” she laughed heartily. “Absolutely not.” But, she added, “I think what he feels is that you can use your celebrity to espouse something good, so why not do it?”

It’s easy to dis fashion journalism, with its innumerable sycophants and beneficiaries of nepotism (also known as “contributing editors”). But fashion TV flips the standard media paradigm on its ear; in general, TV reporters, especially cable TV reporters, can be more critical than their print colleagues, in large part because they are less beholden to advertisers. After all, while Gucci and Jil Sander advertise in glossy magazines, they’re not buying spots on Metro. Ms. Licht and Mr. Verdi, her head-shaven fellow pundit, made a splash several years ago by doing something of a Beavis and Butt-head opine-fest on the runway shows, exhibiting the kind of candor that would make Plum Sykes blush.

But there is a line. Ms. Licht, who described Liz Smith as her idol, cautioned against gratuitous designer-bashing. “It’s not about kissing ass,” Ms. Licht said. “It’s about burning bridges. [A designer] may do something totally ridiculous one season and then they are fine again. Look, I have done some television stories in my lifetime for the news that if you ever saw them, I would die of embarrassment.”

The minivan arrived at Bryant Park. Ms. Licht dashed across the street to the big white tent city, where she taped an interview in the lobby with a blond hoo-hah from Mercedes-Benz, which has spent big bucks to sponsor this year’s fashion parade. Ms. Licht then taped a couple of stand-ups and voice-overs, fixing her hair in the shiny window of a C-Class Coupe between takes.

The Carolina Herrera show beckoned. Ms. Licht doesn’t stand in line. She mowed through the crowd and marched past security guards, many of them former cops she knows from her days as a hard-news reporter. She yapped with a handful of slender attendees with sunglasses atop their blond-streaked heads. “It’s mostly socialites,” Ms. Licht whispered of the Hererra crowd.

Once inside the show tent, Ms. Licht climbed upon the black runway and Worked the Room. She dished with an editor from Vanity Fair. She mugged for shutterbug Patrick McMullan. She gave a bear hug to Hal Rubenstein, the In Style editor who is doing occasional work for Metro (as well as for Style), and together they grumbled about the previous night’s Miguel Adrover show, which was chaotic. “It was an act of cultural irresponsibility!” Mr. Rubenstein cried.

Ms. Licht and her Metro posse, which included Mr. Verdi and reporter Christina Ha (on other occasions, the group includes the Later expat Cynthia Garrett), took their seats. Ms. Herrera’s show was elegant and shortly sweet, marked by glittery belts and a fur jacket that looked like it had been peeled from the ribs of a yeti. The Metro crowd sounded reasonably impressed.

Afterwards, the energetic Mr. Verdi, a budding star himself, perched upon the runway and heaped praise upon Ms. Licht, his TV Obi-Wan. “She really understands the … business behind [fashion people],” he said. “The empires.”

“And I also know the people,” Ms. Licht said.

“Because she plays tennis with them!” Mr. Verdi said. “She’s slept with them!”

Ms. Licht howled. “Or sometimes both !”

“Whoever she hasn’t slept with, I’ve slept with,” Mr. Verdi continued. “So together, we’ve conquered the entire industry!”

Tonight, watch the Metro Channel’s 24-7 Fashion Week extravaganza, which is called Full Frontal Fashion . Ms. Licht likened it to Olympic coverage, but Mr. Verdi summed it thusly: “[Judy] is the Barbara Walters. I’m the Joy Behar. Cynthia is Star Jones and Christina is Lisa Ling. We’re The View of fashion.” Hey man, you want people to watch this thing, remember? [MET, 70, all day]

Thursday, Feb. 15

Bob Costas, Good Man Without a Good Sport now that NBC has lost both baseball and non-stupid-people football, has a new show on HBO. Called On the Record with Bob Costas , it’s a patchwork of live and taped interviews and commentaries with various athletes and sports-related people. It premiered last night with trenchant yibber-yabber from Tom Hanks, Dennis Miller, Oscar Robinson and N.B.A. commissioner David Stern.

But you know who the tireless Mr. Costas is close to landing for his second show, scheduled for Feb. 21? President George W. Bush, who apparently isn’t distracted enough by –let’s see, ah, running the freaking country !–to consider chitchatting with the cherubic, charming sportsmaster. “I’ve known him since he was the owner of the Texas Rangers,” said Mr. Costas, who ‘fessed to writing Dubya a fan letter after he voted against the playoff wild card, an indiscretion that strikes us as significantly less embarrassing than Katie Couric’s recently revealed mash note to the Unabomber.

“He said that his fondest ambition was to be the [baseball] commissioner,” said Mr. Costas, who was staying at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. “So I wonder if he had achieved that, would he still be the commissioner, and therefore would the face of both baseball and the nation be different?”

Let’s see about that. It’s true! If Mr. Bush had gotten himself elected baseball commissioner, then he wouldn’t have run for President, Dick Cheney would still be raking in the bucks at Halliburton, someone like Liddy Dole would be in the White House, and we’d all be speaking German! Or something like that. It sounds like that old what-if story about Fidel Castro’s try-out with the Washington Senators–you know, if the team had just taken the Cuban pitcher, we’d all still be playing craps in Havana.

As for the rest of his life, Mr. Costas intends to cover some horse racing for NBC and do a few bits for the N.B.A. playoffs, which should more than make up for missing out on the Fall Classic for the next five years. Then it’s thumb-twiddling time until the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Mr. Costas rejected speculation that NBC might free him to do baseball broadcasts on a competing network. “I wouldn’t have any interest in that,” he said.

Alrighty, then. Enjoy the Preakness, Bob! Tonight on HBO, Escape from Alcatraz . Draw your own NBC Sports parallel. [HBO, 32, 7 p.m.]

Friday, Feb. 16

Tonight on TNT, Why Do Fools Fall in Love ? Because it beats spending another Friday night on the couch eating cold Chinese food and watching TNT, dummy. [TNT, 3, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, Feb. 17

There are lead-ins, and then there are Lead-Ins: Tonight’s XFL machofest on NBC is followed by Will & Grace ‘s swooshy Sean Hayes hosting Saturday Night Live . Those XFLers are hereby instructed not to dilly-dally; Lorne Michaels has pledged to run onto the field at 11 p.m. and blow a whistle. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 p.m.]

Sunday, Feb. 18

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ? Tonight’s WWTBAM episode is a “tax-free” episode, in which the network will pay the estimated taxes on contestants’ winnings. It’s official: This show is running out of dumb gimmicks. Here’s one more: Make Regis lick every dollar he gives away. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Monday, Feb. 19

The vultures are cawing over MSNBC’s Mitch Albom Show , where the Nielsen point ratings are so dismal, some people are starting to call it “. 2 Days with Morrie .” [MSNBC, 43, 3 p.m.]

Tuesday, Feb. 20

The Mole . They’re all the Mole. Who cares? Flush it out and move on. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]