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— DIANE CLEHANE

It’s a lo-cal edition of lunch today. We’re chalking it up to near Spring-like weather (I don’t know about you, but I’m burning my winter coat when we finally have two days over 60) and plenty of recent rumblings about companies tightening the reins on expense accounts. What’s a media maven to do? You’ve still gotta eat. And if there’s business to be done — or you’re looking for your next big thing — Michael’s is still the place to be to connect with the power brokers that aren’t chained to their desks. Today, besides the regulars, the crowd was sprinkled with a liberal (no pun intended) dose of media mavens and business types with a former senator (Bill Bradley) thrown in for good measure. The mood in the dining room was a bit low-key, but I’m guessing there was still plenty of deals being struck over those burgers.

I was lunching today with my pal Brian Balthazar, HGTV’s director of programming. Brian and I met at Michael’s when he was working as supervising producer of Today‘s fourth hour with those chatty gals Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. Now that Brian is getting up at a far more civilized hour, he’s got time for things besides television, including doing stand-up (His next gig is on April 15 at Comix). His new-ish job at HGTV is keeping him plenty busy, though, overseeing 18 shows with some great new projects in the works, including programming that will offer viewers an up close and personal look at celebrity homes. Brian also tells me he’s retooling the network’s popular House Hunters series to inject a bit “more reality” into the show and reflect more of what buyers are going through during these recessionary times. Still, though, there’s plenty of escapism (Thank God!) on offer. “During tough times, people really like to see beautiful homes and be inspired. There’s a voyeuristic quality to real estate that people love.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Laurie Tisch and a table full of pals

2. Peter Brown

3. Kerry Kennedy and James Wolfensohn, former head of The World Bank. Second seating: producers Jon Hart and Fred Zollo

4. Steve Rubenstein and Norman Pearlstine

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