*HLN host Ryan Smith will start off the New Year with a new gig.
In January, the host of HLN’s nightly news program “Evening Express” will join ABC News as a New York-based correspondent and legal analyst, complementing the work of the network’s chief legal analyst and “Nightline” anchor Dan Abrams, ABC News president Ben Sherwood said in a memo to staff today.
Ryan will also offer legal analysis on ESPN, ABC’s sister network under Disney.
*A lawyer for Ray J has come out swinging against Bobby Brown’s sister for suggesting he is withholding information about Whitney Houston’s death.
Houston’s official cause of death was ruled as accidental drowning, in addition to the effects of heart disease and cocaine use.
As previously reported, the singer’s former sister-in-law, Leolah Brown, appeared on HLN’s “Dr. Drew” on Thursday to discuss her version of events leading up to the superstar’s passing. She accused Ray J of helping Houston get drugs, since he allegedly “knows somebody that sells drugs.”
Recounting the night of Whitney’s death, Brown said, “I saw Ray J coming out of the hotel, hiding his head, being pushed into a car. Why? I looked and I said, ‘Why is he hiding his face? He’s always trying to show his face around Whitney. Why now? Why are you trying to hide Ray J?’”
A rep for Ray J has lashed out at the claims, insisting her interview was “rife” with “false” allegations.
“Though Leolah Brown was nowhere near the Beverly Hilton hotel on the day Whitney Houston died, CNN [sic] proceeded to broadcast an interview with Ms. Brown in which she falsely claimed that Ray J was at the hotel and contributed to Whitney Houston’s death.
“Even the most minimal inquiry with anyone actually in contact with Whitney would reveal that Leolah Brown had been out of contact with Whitney for more than a year and was nowhere near the scene on the day of her death.”
*Shortly after the Los Angeles County coroner announced that Whitney Houston died as a result of accidental drowning with cocaine use and heart disease as contributing factors, the sister of Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown was on TV pointing the finger at Ray J.
Leolah Brown went on the “Dr. Drew” show on HLN last night and said she saw Ray J, Houston’s frequent companion, leaving Houston’s hotel room in a hurry on the night of her death in February.
“I saw Ray J coming out of the hotel, hiding his head, being pushed into the car,” she told Drew. “Why? I looked and I said, ‘Why is he hiding his face?’ He’s always trying to show his face when he’s around Whitney. Why now? Why are you trying to hide now Ray J?”
She went on to allege that Ray J was never Houston’s boyfriend, as widely reported, but that he was her “runner boy,” and that he often fetched and gave her drugs. [Scroll down to watch.] Drew said that CNN/HLN could not independently confirm Leolah Brown’s claims.
But a spokesperson for Ray J denied the allegations, telling TMZ that he didn’t that Houston was using again before her death. The unnamed rep also said Ray J was not even with Houston on the day she died, but was in San Diego.
While a final coroner’s report is not due for two more weeks, the initial report claims that traces of cocaine were found in Houston’s system at the time of death along with anti-anxiety drug Xanax, muscle relaxant Flexeril, marijuana and Benadryl, which officials said played no role in her death.
No cocaine was found in the singer’s room when she died, but coroner spokesman Craig Harvey noted that cocaine metabolites were found in her system, leading them to conclude that Houston was a chronic user of the drug.
A number of prescription pills were recovered in the Beverly Hills hotel room, but officials from the coroner’s office said there wasn’t an unusual amount of medication.
The six-foot-eight New Jersey native, dubbed the “Gentle Giant,” was shown learning about his fate during Wednesday night’s performance show. Producers decided to film themselves confronting Jones about his record, then ousting him permanently from season 11.
“I thought they were bringing it to my attention,” Jones told HLN’s Showbiz Tonight on Thursday, “letting me know that now they are aware of, you know, this, that and the third. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“Until they said it, I had no clue what was going to happen,” he added, saying: “I was shocked, but I can’t really express what my emotions were at that time.”
According to The Smoking Gun website, Jones had a history of arrests, including two last year for giving false names to police officers. The singer and voice coach, who hails from Pine Hill, N.J., was arrested in 2006 on narcotics charges, in 2008 for an open container violation and the following year for once again giving police the wrong name, the site said.
“I know that when I filled out my application, I circled ‘yes’ that I was previously arrested before,” Jones said on Showbiz Tonight. “And, you know, they did a background check on me and there were some information that I had to get a lawyer to take care of before I could even be on the show.”
Jones said he was arrested for “minor, small infractions” in his youth, admitting to using false monikers and dismissing “an allegation of a fight, which was not true.” He continued: “It was not actually a fight. And then one for driving suspended and things like that.”
Asked about those warrants, Jones said he had no knowledge about the situation, noting: “Everything that needs to be taken care of, as far as that’s concerned, my team is handling it very well.”
Jones said he was not concerned with speculation that producers had planned the show scandal in advance as a ratings ploy, and also clears up recent reports that he lied to producers about being estranged from father.
*CNN was the most watched network of all cable news competitors in the ratings for Whitney Houston’s funeral, averaging five million viewers during its coverage of the singer’s Baptist memorial on Saturday, according to Nielsen.
The event was televised without commercial breaks from 12:15 to 3:45 p.m., resulting in a spike of 5.4 million viewers between 1:30 to 1:45 p.m. On a normal Saturday, without a unifying televised event, CNN draws about 10 times less viewers, notes the Hollywood Reporter.
Meanwhile, the network’s softer-news sibling HLN averaged 1.42 million, followed by Fox News (1.38 million) and MSNBC (709,000). Ratings for E! and BET, which also carried the funeral, were not released at press time.
*During a visit to HLN’s “Joy Behar Show” along with son Emilio Estevez, activist-actor Martin Sheen defended President Barack Obama against the handful of Hollywood liberals who have claimed the leader has not done enough since taking office.
“Matt Damon and Michael Moore are bashing Obama a bit,” says Behar on the segment, set to air tonight. “They’re saying they’re not happy with what he’s done. Where do you come out on that?”
“Steady, steady. No,” Sheen cautions. “You’re talking about a very special man. I adore him, and I think he’s doing a great job.”
Behar says: “They’ve been criticizing him mercilessly because the economy has not come back.”
“But had they, you know, focused on the real problem?” Sheen asks about his celebrity-activist colleagues.
Corporate America needs to be chastised more and Obama less, according to Sheen. “You know, they talk about patriotism. They’re more interested in profits, you know? That’s where the problem lies. It’s corporate America.”
Sheen and Estevez were promoting their film, “The Way,” which stars both father and son, and was written and directed by Estevez.