Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2004 | 10:29 a.m.
Did Ashton Kutcher cancel his smash-hit MTV show, "Punk'd," because of a $20 million lawsuit filed after a stunt he pulled at the Hard Rock Hotel?
According to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in April 2002, a Washington, D.C., couple, James and Laurie Ann Ryan, checked into the Hard Rock in January 2002 and found "what appeared to be a dead human body covered and surrounded by blood" on the bed.
Then, according to the suit, Hard Rock Hotel security refused to allow the terrified couple to leave Room 932.
At that point, Kutcher, who turns 26 on Saturday, popped into the room and told the couple they had just been secretly taped for a new MTV show called "Harassment."
The couple said they didn't appreciate the "wanton, malicious and oppressive" behavior of Kutcher, the hotel or the network, and filed the lawsuit.
Several months after the suit was filed Kutcher and MTV dropped "Harassment" and replaced it with "Punk'd," figuring (correctly, it turned out) that making celebs the unwitting victims of his pranks would make for better viewing than zeroing in on regular folks.
In a motion filed in December, the defense argued the case should be dropped because "Harassment" never aired. But attorneys for the Ryans argued that "Punk'd," a virtually identical hidden-camera show, was the legal progeny of "Harassment" and that the suit should continue.
As U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. was reviewing the case, Kutcher made the unexpected announcement in December that "Punk'd" was being canceled.
Kutcher's explanation was that he had "decided to stick to the old adage and leave them wanting more."
But not everyone buys that explanation.
"I find it highly coincidental that Ashton announced that he would be ending 'Punk'd' despite it being the top-rated show in the MTV lineup," observed Las Vegas attorney George Bochanis, legal analyst for KVVU Channel 5. "Was he distancing himself from the inevitable fallout of this case? You be the judge." Bochanis has no professional connection to the case.
On Dec. 31 Hatter sided with the Ryans and set a trial date of Jan. 27 -- but the trial was postponed at the last minute. No new date has been set, and lawyers refused to say if any settlement conferences have been planned.
The Ryans' suit asks for $10 million for each defendant for "severe and extreme emotional distress" and unspecified medical fees and punitive damages. Graham Jones, a spokesman for Kutcher and MTV, did not respond to a phone message or a written e-mail request for comment. Their Los Angeles-based attorneys, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, also did not comment.
White O'Connor Curry & Avanzado, the L.A. law firm representing the Ryans, also declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
Among the guests who will be appearing on "The View" when the ABC daytime talker comes to Vegas from Feb. 16 to Feb. 20 will be Elton John, Meg Ryan, Jerry Lewis and Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra.
Show stars Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Barbara Walters will be broadcasting poolside from Caesars Palace.
The show airs locally on KTNV Channel 13 at 10 a.m. weekdays.
Where have all the hypnotists gone?
The Stardust pulled the plug Sunday on its late-night, adult-themed hypnotist, Anthony Cools.
"Hypnolarious" star Terry Stokes is gone from Bourbon Street.
The popular Dr. Naughty recently retired his Greek Isles show.
All that's left is "Hypnosis Zone," a 10 p.m. show at the Riviera's Le Bistro Theatre, with performers Dr. Scott Lewis, Mark Yuizik and Victoria Wayne.
"I can't tell you why the other shows are gone," said "Hypnosis Zone" co-producer Robert Allen. "But I can tell you why our shows are nearly sold out every night: all of our hypnotists put on a very entertaining show at a terrific price."
Tickets for the show are $19.75 -- less than what the other hypnosis shows had been charging.
Now that the Super Bowl is over, Las Vegas oddsmakers can focus on important things -- such as "Survivor: All-Stars" and "The Bachelorette."
Bally's/Paris Las Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello has posted odds on his Bally's website on who he thinks will win the popular television reality shows.
For "Survivor" he likes Rupert and Amber -- both are 5-to-1 picks.
Las Vegas resident and original cast member Susan Hawk is in the middle of the pack at 18-to-1. Shii Ann is the long shot at 40-to-1.
Contestant Matthew is a 5-to-2 favorite to win Meredith Phillips' heart on "The Bachelorette." He is followed by Ian from Brazil at 3-to-1.
Ryan M., at 15-to-1, is the dark horse.
As usual, casinos won't take bets on these things, which are for entertainment purposes only.
Gamble: Pete Rose was spotted again Monday watching horse races at the Palms race and sports book. We exclusively reported Monday that he had spent Super Bowl Sunday in the same spot ...
Illin': Caesars Palace headliner Celine Dion has canceled tonight's and Thursday's performances of "A New Day ..." She is still battling a sinus infection ...
Return: Hell's Angel and "Oz" actor Chuck Zito had dinner with three friends at Trattoria del Lupo (Mandalay Bay) on Friday night. They must have liked it, because the same group was back Sunday night ...
Post-game: After watching the Super Bowl at a private high-rollers party at Caesars Palace, baseball star Mike Piazza and a couple of friends had dinner Sunday night at Spago ...
Chin up: Vegas apparently can't get enough of Jay Leno. He's scheduled more shows at the Danny Gans Theatre at The Mirage. Tickets for the Feb. 27 and Feb. 28 performances are $85 and go on sale today ...
Show: Flamingo Las Vegas headliner George Wallace went to see The Scintas (Rio) on Monday night ...
Clicker: Gene Greenberg is indeed the general manager of the local NBC affiliate, as we reported on Monday, but we punched in the wrong call letters in an item about Greenberg. He works for KVBC Channel 3.
From Sun wires
Shriver quits: Maria Shriver quit NBC News on Tuesday, saying she could not juggle a journalism job with her duties as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first lady.
Shriver, a "Dateline NBC" reporter, said she will continue to work on specials connected to her children's books for other NBC properties.
Lee blasts Jackson: Film director Spike Lee criticized Janet Jackson's surprise breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show last weekend as a "new low" of attention-getting antics by entertainers.
There has been a decline in artistry, Lee said while speaking at Kent State University's regional campus in Stark County, Ohio, on Tuesday night.
Lee said it's not enough to be a good singer, and that entertainers "have to do something extra" -- such as the kiss Madonna gave Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during the MTV Video Music Awards in August.
The one-second flashing continued to cause reverberations Tuesday, as CBS said it would institute a video delay system to avoid any recurrence at the Grammy Awards.
Timberlake, who is nominated for five Grammys, is scheduled to perform on Sunday's telecast. Jackson is supposed to present an award.