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Kathie Lee is 'Out of Control'

It's doubtful that the E! cable movie "Spinning Out of Control" (Sunday, 10 p.m.) is going to do a lot for the careers of either Kathie Lee Gifford or Howie Mandel, but if they're really hurting for work, perhaps they could become presidents of each other's fan clubs.

"You will be so blown away by Kathie Lee," Mandel assured TV critics. "Even on the set, she would do a scene and we would be standing and just going, 'Oh my (gosh). I can't believe that that's what she has in her.' I mean, this character goes through a roller coaster of emotions, right to the brink of suicide. But she was able to call upon all of those emotions. I smell Emmy!"

Well, something smells in "Spinning." But it's not exactly a scent you want to be associated with.

(And, fortunately for the integrity of the Emmy Awards, Mandel will not be the one selecting the winners at ceremonies later this year.)

Gifford stars as Amanda Berkeley, the star of a hit family sitcom who, in real life, is a holy terror. She's a mean, backstabbing, vain, vicious drug-and-alcohol abuser who drives her manager, Marty Levine (Mandel) to distraction.

"He's amazing in it," Gifford gushed. "There's a side to Howie that I knew because he's my friend, but I had never seen that side of him in a role."

Actually, he is quite good. Apparently, Gifford never saw her good friend in "St. Elsewhere" and didn't know he can act.

As for Mandel's good friend, well, Gifford could use a few acting lessons. More than a few. She brazens her way through this TV movie with the same mugging and hyperactivity she perfected as a daytime talk-show host — but she can't act.

Gifford obviously had a lot of fun making this movie, playing against her own image. Anyone watching her will have considerably less fun.

"It was such a freeing thing to be able to be that woman and not be guarding every word, thinking, 'Who am I going to hurt? What are people going to think?' " Gifford said. "This woman doesn't give a rip what anybody thinks. Doesn't care what anybody thinks. She is totally and completely self-absorbed, and I loved playing her.

"She was great, great fun. I loved not having to worry about hair and makeup (and) wearing leather pants that are way too tight. Stuff like that."

(How, exactly, her wardrobe differs from what she used to wear on her talk show is a subtle distinction, apparently.)

The movie itself has its moments, but it a bit too frenetic and nowhere near as funny as scriptwriter Mark Solomon apparently thought it was. It's also over-the-top tasteless in some spots, with sex scenes (involving Mandel and co-star Robin Givens) that are closer to Showtime than CBS.

"I was just sorry when it was over," Gifford said. "I hope there's a sequel."

Hey! Gifford has never exactly gotten along with television critics — and now she's threatening us!

FACT OR FICTION: Solomon, the movie's writer and co-executive producer, denied that Amanda Berkeley is a fictional representation of Brett Butler. Solomon produced Butler's sitcom "Grace Under Fire" and witnessed firsthand her meltdown due to drug abuse and personal problems.

"I've been writing sitcoms for about 20 years, and I've worked with a lot of terrific people and a lot of people who weren't so terrific," he said. " I mean, talented, but had problems. . . . There were a lot of problems on a lot of shows, and I had friends on all the shows and I'd hear stories.

"There's not one thing in this movie that Brett ever did. It's not based on her at all."

CHANGING HER IMAGE: Despite her protestations to the contrary, there's little doubt that Gifford did this movie at least in part to change her wholesome image.

"I don't know that I have a squeaky-clean image," Gifford insisted. "Anybody that watched my show with Regis for 15 years knew that I was very irreverent about an awful lot of things and a very bawdy woman. I tell the best dirty joke that you've ever heard in your life, and anybody who knows me know that. . . . And if I was worried about my image, I wouldn't have done the movie."

And she said she isn't worried that her longtime fans will be offended.

"I'm just an actress playing a role. . . . If they're going to be upset by some language, then they shouldn't watch it, I guess," Gifford said.