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"Ellie' going off air after April 2 episode

Julia Louis-Dreyfus' NBC series Watching Ellie may be the latest victim of the so-called Seinfeld curse. Ellie will officially leave the air after April 2, NBC confirmed late last week.

Ellie joins two other shows that starred Seinfeld cast members _ The Michael Richards Show and Jason Alexander's Bob Patterson _ that failed to attract viewers' interest.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether this is the official end. NBC _ still high on the show even if the audience isn't _ insists that Ellie was likely to air only six times this spring. (The show will air twice April 2, giving it a total of seven outings.) Three Sisters will then replace Ellie in the time slot.

It's difficult to believe NBC would send Ellie to the showers if its numbers were great. They are not. Since its much-hyped Feb. 26 premiere, Ellie has dropped steadily. NBC will make a final decision early next month.

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If you've ever wondered what it takes to become a Playboy Playmate _ besides that _ Fox has a special for you.

The network has picked up the two-hour special Girl Next Door: The Search for a Playboy Centerfold from Bunim-Murray Productions, creators of Real World and Love Cruise.

The special, which could air during May sweeps, will follow 12 women _ among them a college student, a stockbroker and a mom _ who are vying to become the July Playmate.

It will conclude with the magazine's founder, Hugh Hefner, selecting the winner. All 12 women will appear in the magazine's June issue, and the winner will get the spotlight to herself the next month.

_ Times wires