News, April 20: NBC Considers “Apprentice” Spinoff, Lil’ Kim Wants Separate Trial, Jackson Memorabilia Web Site Shut Down, More…

Top Story: NBC Considers Apprentice Spinoff

It looks as though The Apprentice winner Bill Rancic’s 15 minutes of fame aren’t up just yet. Reuters reports NBC is considering a spinoff that would follow Rancic during the next year as he embarks on his prize-winning post overseeing the construction of a 90-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in his hometown of Chicago. Apprentice creator/executive producer Mark Burnett said a spinoff on Rancic “seems like a fairly obvious choice.” Although Burnett wouldn’t elaborate on specific plans for the show, he insinuated that Rancic might be persuaded to hire some of the contestants from Apprentice to work on the construction project and would have to deliver a progress report to Donald Trump each week. Sources, however, told Reuters that the discussions are in the early idea stage and that no formal deals are in place. One thing everyone agrees on is that Rancic has a tough job ahead of him: According to published reports, the $700 million project is having difficulty securing final approvals from city officials.

Lil’ Kim Wants Separate Trial

A lawyer for Lil’ Kim said Monday the rapper, charged with three other suspects in a radio station shooting in 2001, wants a separate trial because unlike her two co-defendants, she is not accused of using a weapon, The Associated Press reports. Lil’ Kim, whose real name is Kimberly Jones, pleaded innocent Monday to charges she lied to a grand jury investigating a 2001 shootout involving members of her entourage outside a Manhattan radio station. The 29-year-old hip-hop artist was released on $500,000 bail last week. The trial is set for Nov. 15 and is expected to last until about Dec. 6.

Jackson Memorabilia Web Site Shut Down

A Michael Jackson memorabilia Web site operated by a New Jersey man has been shut down after much of the material had been sold. Henry V. Vaccaro Sr. was awarded a warehouse full of Jackson family memorabilia following years of legal wrangling stemming from a failed business venture that ended up in bankruptcy court. He photographed and catalogued the items, which included costumes, financial documents, letters and awards, for his Web site, later selling the collection to a European buyer. A Los Angeles federal court judge ruled last week that Vaccaro Sr. could not sell Jackson‘s possessions, but the goods had already been shipped. The pop oddity’s lawyer said he would seek a court order to have the memorabilia returned.

Jermaine Jackson Shows Islamic Support in Gulf

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson‘s brother, Jermaine, is in Bahrain to promote understanding between Muslims and Americans, Reuters reports. Jermaine, who became a Muslim in 1989 after a visit to Saudi Arabia, has been speaking about Islam and the U.S. occupation of Iraq to enthusiastic audiences at Koranic centers and universities in the Gulf Arab state. “I think Muslims have become the new Negroes in America. They are being mistreated at airports, by the Immigration–everywhere,” he said. Jermaine added that he disapproved of Muslim extremism, saying Islam is a religion of peace.

Brad Pitt Quit Smoking for Troy

Brad Pitt, who had to bulk up and get in shape for his role as Achilles in the Trojan War epic Troy, told German magazine Cinema that the most daunting task in preparation for the role was giving up smoking. “I’m now happy about it because these things were killing me. But at first I was really missing my cigarettes,” Pitt said. “The withdrawal was so hard that I was ready to kill–which was actually helpful for the role I was playing.” Troy, which also stars Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom, hits theaters May 14.

Star Wars DVD Collection Gives Prequel Sneak Peek

Star Wars fans can get a first look at the new Darth Vader costume from the 2005 prequel Star Wars: Episode III on the upcoming DVD collection of the original trilogy. According to the AP, the anthology will feature behind-the-scenes footage of stars Hayden Christensen (Anakin) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) engaged in the upcoming film’s lightsaber duel and include a playable X-Box demo for the video game Star Wars: Battlefront. The first three Star Wars films, subtitled A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, debut for the first time in digital format on Sept. 21, while the final installment in the prequel trilogy hits the big screen May 19, 2005.

RIAA Ends “Clean Slate” Amnesty Program

The Recording Industry Association of America has ended an amnesty program aimed at protecting downloaders from being sued by recording companies if they admitted to illegally sharing music online, the AP reports. The RIAA launched the “Clean Slate” program in September when it embarked on a strategy of suing individual computer users for copyright infringement. Overall, 1,108 people signed up for the program. The music trade group said it dropped the program because it considers the public educated enough to know that they could be sued for file sharing.

Role Call: Moss Joins Cruise in M:I-3

The Matrix leading lady Carrie-Anne Moss has signed on to Mission: Impossible 3, taking a leading role in the sequel alongside Tom Cruise, who is reprising his role as secret agent Ethan Hunt. The project is aiming for an August start date.