Bad news! ‘Life in Hell' no longer an option

After 1,669 strips, Matt Groening has pulled the plug on his weekly comic "Life in Hell," which gave him the big break that led to "The Simpsons." Associated Press
After 1,669 strips, Matt Groening has pulled the plug on his weekly comic "Life in Hell," which gave him the big break that led to "The Simpsons." Associated Press
Posted: June 22, 2012

Cartoonist Matt Groening is ending his syndicated comic strip "Life in Hell," the longtime staple of alternative newsweeklies.

Not because Groening ran out of ideas.

The papers that ran the column ran out of money.

According to Poynter.org, the final "Life in Hell" strip, the cartoonist's 1,669th, was published Friday.

"I've had great fun, in a Sisyphean kind of way, but the time has come to let Binky and Sheba and Bongo and Akbar and Jeff take some time off," Groening told Poynter in an email Wednesday.

In the 1990s, "Life in Hell" ran in about 380 papers. Now, fewer than 40 newspapers carry it.

It was "Life in Hell" that got Groening a gig drawing bits for "The Tracey Ullman Show." Because Groening didn't want to give up the rights to his bizarre collection of characters, he created something new for Ullman's show:

"The Simpsons."

Tough-guy wishmaster

WWE superstar John Cena is the most popular celebrity granter in Make-A-Wish Foundation history, this week granting his 300th wish to 7-year-old Pennsylvanian Jonny Littman.

The wheelchair-bound boy wished to meet Cena, and the WWE accommodated that wish Monday night before an episode of "Raw" live from Long Island. But Jonny got a two-part wish.

On Wednesday morning, he was being interviewed on "Good Morning America," when Sam Champion asked him about his green Cena T-shirt. Then Cena walked out, to Jonny's surprise, and presented him with another gift — tickets for him and his family to attend the landmark 1,000th episode of the WWE show.

To put Cena's 300 granted wishes in perspective, Michael Jordan has granted around 200 and Kobe Bryant is in the 100-wish range.

TATTBITS

The 2014 Oscars race has begun.

George Clooney and his producing partner, Grant Heslov, have signed on to co-produce the film version of "August: Osage County," the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play about family dysfunction, to star Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as mother and daughter.

John Wells ("ER") plans to direct, with Tracy Letts writing the script based on his own play.

The Weinstein Co. says shooting is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Ashton Kutcher's production company, Katalyst Media ("Punk'd"), has filed suit because it wants to spend more time at the California DMV.

Katalyst's breach-of-contract lawsuit accuses the DMV of reneging on a deal to film a reality series focused on the much-maligned government agency and its customers. Katalyst claims it is owed more than $1.4 million on the deal, as the show had already been promised to the TruTV channel.

DMV spokesman Mike Marando said the agency does not comment on active lawsuits.

Usually, the only comment the DMV has is: "You're in the wrong line."

Hugh Jackman wants anyone with a cellphone to get a chance to break into show business.

The actor is hosting New York's first installment of Tropfest, billed as the world's largest short-film festival. It's free and open to the public.

"Forget it, [if] you've got a mobile phone, you can make a film, you can enter," Jackman said. "It's a great way for me to support the arts, and anybody who wants to can get involved."

A panel of celebrity judges including Rose Byrne, Judah Friedlander and Jennifer Westfeldt will pick best film, actor and actress on Saturday in Bryant Park.

The films showcased at Tropfest may be short (they all must be under seven minutes), but they've led to some impressive success stories. The idea for the FX series "Wilfred" starring Elijah Wood came from Tropfest. Sam Worthington of "Avatar" won Best Actor in 2000.

If Tropfest gives you your break into show business, however, Jackman then wants you to turn your cellphone off.

MLive.com reports that Barry Manilow launched an instrument drive for Grand Rapids, Mich., schools, offering two free tickets to his show there last week to anyone who donated new or gently used instruments. He kicked off the effort by donating a piano. At last count, 25 instruments were donated.

And they all play "Mandy."

Bill Cosby wrapped up his final appearance as host of the Playboy Jazz Festival in style.

"It's my last time here," he announced to the applauding crowd, which filled the Hollywood Bowl to the last bleacher. "And I'm gonna give you something you've never heard before. Take it back to the bridge!"

Cosby, who's hosted 31 of the fest's 34 years, grabbed a trombone from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which followed his order with upbeat, New Orleans-style jazz.

The comedian tapped his foot, held the instrument to his mouth, threw his head back — and abruptly pulled it into two pieces.

"Thank you!" he yelled, walking away.

Whitney Houston's mother will perform a tribute to her late daughter alongside other female singers at the upcoming BET Awards.

A source familiar with BET's unannounced plans said that Cissy Houston will take the stage at the July 1 awards show to honor her daughter, accompanied by "a few top divas."

In reporting that TBS has agreed to pay a steep $1.5 million-plus per episode to air reruns of "Two Broke Girls," the Los Angeles Times said the sitcom may have to be renamed "Two Rich Girls."

We think a more accurate moniker would be "One Joke Girls."

— Daily News wire services contributed to this report.

Email gensleh@phillynews.com.

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