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With Anne Becker and Ben Grossman

CNN’s Grace on Dannielynn: “I’m the Dad!”

There’s a new claimant in the Anna Nicole Smith paternity dispute: Nancy Grace.

In the wake of Smith’s Feb. 8 death, the CNN Headline News/Court TV host has been covering the procession of former lovers and hangers-on who claim to be the father of the model/actress’ 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.

When Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, entered the fray Feb. 9, Grace apparently grew so exasperated by the absurd turn of events that she fired off an e-mail to staffers saying, “I’m the father!”

According to a source at Headline News, many staffers followed suit, e-mailing similar mock claims of paternity.

A network spokeswoman does not confirm that Grace sent the e-mail, but she says the former prosecutor, known for her righteously indignant advocacy of victims’ rights, may have been making the point “that she was more of the father” than “all these people who’ve come out of the woodwork.”

It remains to be seen, however, if Grace will be added to the “Anna Nicole Baby Daddy Bracket” at The Final Four-type bracket puts divisions of celebrity contenders in a contest for the title of Baby Daddy.

The No. 2 player for Trimspa Regional: Grace’s CNN colleague Larry King.

Brown’s New Bag

CBS SportsJames Brown hopes his guest-host stints for the network’s Saturday Early Show won’t be his last chance to moonlight in the news division.

“I have always viewed myself as being a well-rounded person with interest beyond sports,” he tells B&C.

A news role wasn’t part of the deal when he left Fox for CBS a year ago to host The NFL Today and cover NCAA basketball, Brown says. But he certainly had it in mind, particularly with CBS Sports chief Sean McManus heading up the news division, too.

“Knowing that CBS has a number of different venues, that certainly was attractive to me,” he says. “I mentioned at the time I had interest in doing other things, and to possibly include some news.”

But Brown admits he was surprised to get a call from the Early Show, which has wanted to replace Russ Mitchell since he moved to weekdays. Brown had imagined filling in one day as anchor on the Evening News, but he likes the idea of the more personality-driven morning show.

As it is, he’s juggling a heavy workload. Along with his day job at CBS, he is a regular on HBO’s Real Sports, and he just shot a sports-themed special on infant development called Baby Madness set to air this spring on Discovery Health. Even if his four Early Show tryouts go well, a full-time gig may not work.

Says Brown, “That’s something I would have to think about in terms of schedule and quality of life.”

Buzz Kill

When CBS executives at last month’s Television Critics Association press tour complained that their network’s shows don’t enjoy the buzz that other networks’ lesser-rated shows get, we had a hard time shedding tears.

Coming from a network that routinely draws the most overall viewers, it all seemed a bit woe-is-me.

But after seeing the indifference that greeted the strong start for CBS rookie comedy Rules of Engagement, we have to admit they have a point.

The comedy, starring David Spade, stepped into the 9:30 p.m. slot on Mondays and actually matched its hit lead-in, Two and a Half Men, in its second week.

And its 4.9 average rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo not only equaled Men but topped every other comedy on network television—including buzz magnets like NBC’s My Name Is Earl and The Office.

But it seems the industry has been too busy lamenting the dearth of successful comedies on network TV to note the early success of Rules.

“Buzz is both quantitative and qualitative,” says Campbell Mithun media analyst John Rash. “Quantitatively, this show is a success. But qualitatively, the show still isn’t groundbreaking and isn’t as overly youth-focused as most or many buzz-worthy shows.”

Sorry, fellas. You’ll just have to make do with big ratings.