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Game show ready to Whoopi-it-up

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Whoopi Goldberg is an Academy Award-winning actress. A Broadway star. A semi-regular on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

So what the heck is she doing agreeing to be the center square on the upcoming syndicated revival of "Hollywood Squares?"According to Goldberg herself, it was a career and lifestyle choice.

"King World (the show's producer) offered me the opportunity not to have to do a lot of stuff that I've been sort of contemplating," Goldberg told writers at the Television Critics Association press tour here. "I don't want to work as hard anymore. I really don't. I want to have fun now. I'm at that adolescent stage where I'd like more time off."

Plus, she insists she really likes the game itself - a take-off on tic-tac-toe, in which nine celebrities answer questions (with either actual or made-up responses) and the contestants must decide whether they're telling the truth or bluffing.

"Either I lied to you or I didn't. It's like Washington at night," Goldberg said.

Which makes it easier to attract guest stars to the show.

"Sometimes it's hard for people to come and do things like this because it's scary," Goldberg said. "It's like the idea of going to do `Jeopardy!' spooks me. Because at home, it's OK to play `Jeopardy!' You can scream out the (answer). But when you're there, and Alex Trebek says, `Whoopi,' you freeze. 'Cause you know the answer, but your lips will not allow you to formulate the words.

"And then the buzzer rings and you know that the entire nation has just seen you standing up there bare-butted."

That's not a problem on "Hollywood Squares." Not only are celebrities provided with the real answers, but writers provide witty responses. (The celebrities have the option of coming up with their own witty responses, however.)

"Even the most dense of stars can come and play this show. This is a positive thing," Goldberg said. "It's fun. The thing about this game is anybody can play it. You don't have to be a rocket scientist. You only have to have a sense of humor."

Which is primarily why she agreed not only to be the permanent center-square celebrity, but is also an executive producer of "Hollywood Squares."

"To be able to get up and just be sort of witty . . . is just too tempting," Goldberg said. "And they offered me a really beautiful amount of money."

And her duties as executive producer haven't proven to be particularly taxing.

"I get up every day and I call people," Goldberg said. "I call my friends. I say, `Will you come and do this with us?' So my contribution to this point is just really trying to fill those boxes."

They're not releasing a guest list yet, but Goldberg did let a few names slip - names like Sharon Stone, Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks and Rosie O'Donnell.

As for Goldberg, she isn't worried that her association with a game show - with any television show - will hurt her future career in theatrical films.

"I guess the idea that going from movies to television and back again is no longer one that makes you have to hang your head," she said. "In the old days, people looked at these shows as sort of boneyards. That's no longer the case because you have people like Helen Hunt, who is on a show, who goes and collects an Oscar and goes back to her show. I do it. Glenn Close does it. Lots of us go back and forth.

"So the onus is off when we call people and say, `Will you come and do this?' "

And she's entirely enthusiastic about "Hollywood Squares" at the moment.

"I like the idea of being part of something like this," Goldberg said. "And I can take a nice, long break (from movies) and let you all forget about me for a little while. Then I'll make a big ol' major comeback, you'll be really happy to see me, you'll write some flattering pieces."

A-LIST GUEST: Goldberg is certainly aiming high as she tries to book guests for "Hollywood Squares."

"If we can book the pope, we'll get him," she said. "That's the kind of caliber we're going to be going after."

But the idea of the pontiff sitting in one of those squares was a bit much for the show's host, Tom Bergeron, to comprehend.

"I'm having trouble getting past the image of some guy going, `I'll take the pope to block,' " Bergeron said.

"But wouldn't that be cool?" Goldberg asked, drawing agreement from Bergeron.

However, King World vice chairman and CEO Michael King raised another question.

"By the way," he asked, "would you disagree with the pope?"

"Is the pope bluffing?" Bergeron interjected. "Oh, man, he's the pope. Where do you go with that?"

BLUFFING: Goldberg demonstrated her future question-answering skills for the assembled critics. Asked whether she watched the original "Hollywood Squares" when it premiered three decades ago, she replied, "I wasn't born yet."

"That's a bluff," Bergeron clarified.

- SLOW LEARNER: Donny Osmond's most famous moment on a talk show was his unfortunate rude remark about Rosie O'Donnell's weight soon after her show premiered.

When Donny told her he was planning to fly into Brigham Young University's Stadium of Fire hanging from a helicopter, Rosie expressed concerns for his safety and offered to take his place. Donny told Rosie there were limits as to how much weight the helicopter could carry.

For a long time - including during his return appearance on "Rosie" - Donny tried to defend himself. He's finally wised up to the fact that he really can't.

"First of all, it was a big faux pas on my part. A big mistake," he said in response to a question about the incident. "You've got to be careful what you say. You've got to have an edit button."

And he applauded O'Donnell's approach of turning his weak joke into an ongoing humor element on her show. (She repeatedly made reference to how Donny called her "fat.")

"What happened was, she is so intelligent she took the opportunity to embellish it and make it such a great joke," Donny said. "My hat's off to her for taking it and making it as big as it was."

Which is pretty much the way he should have handled the situation from the start.

NOT THRILLED: A clip from one of those "Donny & Marie" practice shows featured comedian Don Rickles, who deadpanned, "This is my dream - to meet people from Utah."

NOT A FAN? Asked what he thought of his sister's failed sitcom "Maybe This Time," which aired briefly on ABC a couple of seasons back, Donny sort of hemmed and hawed for a few moments.

"Did you ever see it?" Marie asked.

"You know, actually I didn't," Donny admitted.

But Marie came to her brother's defense, pointing out that he was starring in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in Chicago at the time.

"When you do theater, you don't have time to watch TV," she said.

"Well, I saw a couple of them," Donny said.