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Diamond in the Rough

ManiaTV! brings its telethon to a Screeching halt.

There are A-list celebrities and Z-list celebrities -- but the alphabet would have to be expanded to properly categorize Dustin Diamond, who made his name in the late '80s and early '90s playing Samuel "Screech" Powers on the time-capsule-ready teen series Saved by the Bell, then pretty much disappeared. But Diamond won't be saved by ManiaTV!

On August 14, the has-been star was scheduled to personally helm a five-hour telethon from the two-year-old online network's Denver headquarters, with proceeds earmarked for his "Save My House" campaign; on his website, www.getdshirts.com, Diamond (who couldn't be reached for comment) says that his home in Wisconsin is facing foreclosure. Then, just ninety minutes before the telethon was scheduled to begin, Richard Ayoub, ManiaTV!'s vice president of programming, pulled the plug.

"We didn't want to take the risk," explains ManiaTV! spokesman Jason Damata. "We couldn't verify that his house is in foreclosure, and even if there are facts to substantiate that it is and he's really, honestly trying to save his house, he exhibited some really strange and obnoxious behavior."

As Damata tells it, in the week or two before the big day, Diamond seemed legitimately excited about the telethon, and eagerly accepted ManiaTV!'s offer to fly him to Denver along with a companion, Jennifer, whom he introduced as his manager and fiancée (in at least one article, she's referred to as his wife). But Diamond's tone was much more negative after he arrived in town, even though he was generating headlines for the first time in recent memory. (On August 10, USA Today and other newspapers reported that Diamond had gotten into a mini-brawl with a woman who he claimed had broken into his hotel room in Omaha and tried to swipe some of his video games.) Things deteriorated further on Monday, the morning of the telethon, when Diamond was slated to conduct more than a dozen interviews that ManiaTV! had arranged with radio stations around the country. While Diamond participated in the chats, the ManiaTV! rep who moderated the conversations told Damata that the Screecher didn't seem comfortable talking about the fundraiser or even the "Save My House" crusade, which he'd previously pimped on Howard Stern's show and elsewhere.

And afterward, Damata says, Diamond "acted like a complete jerk," which prompted Ayoub to pull Jennifer aside for a conversation -- and her comments made him wonder if the main thing in danger of foreclosure was ManiaTV!'s reputation. "We're really trying to develop trust," Damata notes, "and if we're perceived by our audience as being involved in something that was just a publicity stunt, it might be more hurtful than helpful."

Diamond and Jennifer were very upset when they learned that the telethon had been yanked, Damata continues, and they proceeded to run up a $700 bill at the Adam's Mark hotel on ManiaTV!'s tab. Meanwhile, ManiaTV! announced the programming change by placing a "CANCELLED" banner across Diamond's photo on its website, www.maniatv.com, and adding the phrase "Screech Sucks."

As if that were new information.

Real dismissal: Back in the real world of reality TV, Matt Lawrencehad wanted his day in Denver County Court on August 9 -- but he never got to tell his story to the judge. That's because when he sat down with a city attorney to explain what had happened -- how he'd been walking down Market Street one Monday evening in July, with a snootful, sure, but walking, and had stopped by the Real World Denverhouse at 1920 Blake Street to open the gate for some people leaving the building, then wound up getting popped for his gallantry by an off-duty Denver police officer, charged with disturbing the peace and thrown into detox overnight -- the city attorney decided there was no reason to go forward on charges that would be very difficult to prove.

"After an hour and a half, he dismissed them," recalls Lawrence, whose harrowing tale was first recounted in the July 27 Off Limits. "After that waste of time and a night in the service of Denver C.A.R.E.S."

But Lawrence isn't so worried about the time and money he wasted. "I'm just concerned that with these frivolous charges, really, who's paying for uniformed officers to hang out there and essentially do the bidding of MTV?" he says. "What an incredible waste. I lost out, but so does the city."

Not the officers doing the off-duty work, however. They're being paid real money by the Real Worldcrew.

Reel world Denver: No, the Denver Art Museum's new wing isn't supposed to represent the Rocky Mountains on methamphetamines or a pirate ship wrapped in tinfoil; it's actually a $90.5 million drive-in movie theater! At least, that's how the merry media pranksters behind Deproduction Drive-In see architect Daniel Libeskind's fractured creation. A nonprofit that's spending its daylight hours rehabilitating Denver's public-access television channels, Deproduction has been using its solar- and biodiesel-powered yellow school bus to project progressive films and art flicks onto the addition's skewed west wall for the past few Thursday evenings.

At previous locations, Deproduction's free-to-the-public guerrilla movie theater has been quickly banished by unenlightened cops or uncultured neighbors. But so far, no one from the DAM -- not a tsk-tsking curator, not a broom-wielding Libeskind -- has complained, and the 10 p.m. screenings have gone without interruption. "They aren't doing any harm to us," says Andrea Fulton, the DAM's communications director. "We've actually been brainstorming for ages about how to project on it. We've just obviously been a little busy."

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