Chuck Barris

left the city for New York, he says, he got so home

sick he would call information locally to hear the operator's Philly accents. He's out this week with his newest book "The Big Question," (Simon & Schuster, $24).

The creator and producer of "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show" and other classic television has written a novel set in 2011 about a TV show in which contestants compete to win a hundred million dollars, but are executed on live TV if they lose.

He calls the book "my commentary on the greed and avarice of the networks." "I don't want to sound like a reverend but I'm amazed at what's on TV now."

Barris, 77, doesn't care whether anybody believes his claim, from his memoir "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," that he was a paid assassin for the CIA while working in television. The CIA has denied his claim, but also does not usually identify its employees - unless the White House has a grudge, that is.

Barris will be in town this week for readings Wednesday at his alma mater, Drexel, and the following night at the Borders in Wynnewood. He's now at work on a book about his daughter, Della, who died of an overdose in 1998.

Decoding author's 'Dear John'

Along with "Ludwik Brodzki for teaching me why to read," writer Sasha Issenberg thanks "John Kennedy for showing me why to write" on the dedications page of his book "The Sushi Economy," out Wednesday (Gotham Books, $26). Brodzki is Issenberg's late grandfather, but the "John Kennedy" he refers to is John F. Kennedy Jr., for whom the writer worked at George magazine from 1995 through 2001.

Asked why he left out the "F" and the "Jr.," Issenberg explains, "John Kennedy is what he went by around the office." Issenberg, 27, calls his old boss "a restlessly curious individual who sought out journalism as a means to make sense of the world, and that example played a significant role in my deciding to become a journalist." His book explores the worldwide market for sushi.

Actor admits affinity for herb

West Philly native Gary Dourdan, of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," confesses his love for weed to Philadelphia magazine's Rich Rys in May's Exit Interview. Dourdan says he has an appreciation for the herb because he's a Rastafari. "Everyone I know smokes weed," he says, adding that "Everybody thinks I'm the guy who knows where the good weed is." Do you? Rys asks. "I actually do," says Dourdan.

Preston's a proud papa again

It's a girl for 93.3 WMMR morning man Preston Elliot and his wife Rachelle. The couple welcomed a beautiful new baby Thursday. Caroline Marie, who was 8 pounds, 10 ounces, joins brothers Parker, 6, and Carter, 4. Rachelle asked "Preston and Steve" sidekick Kathy Romano to join her in the delivery room as a birthing coach, which Romano says cured her fears of childbirth.

Engvall out with show, movie

Comedian Bill Engvall was in town Friday to play a corporate gig at a dentists' convention. He played regularly at local comedy clubs a decade ago and says what he remembers most about Philadelphians is our hatred "for Jersey drivers."

Some things just never change.

While here Friday, the ex-"Blue Collar Comedy" co-star stopped by the Daily News to chat about his "Bill Engvall Show," on TBS, premiering in July, and the film "Delta Farce," with Larry the Cable Guy and D.J. Qualls, opening May 11.

Athletes on the town

* Eagles Jon Runyan and Todd Herremans and their former teammate Hank Fraley, now with the Browns, and 610 WIP's Howard Eskin were among the crowd at Vesuvio (8th & Fitzwater) the other night for the restaurant's fifth anniversary party, which also doubled as the after-party for the Dining Out for Life campaign.

* Phillies slugger Ryan Howard and Sixers star Kyle Korver were among the crowd at John Legend's show at the Tower last week. Each was with a babe, says a female fan who swoons, "They were both hot." *

* Pat Morris, Shawn Boney, Ptah Myers and the rest of the Kixx recently celebrated their Major Indoor Soccer League Championship victory with Johnny Walker Black and shots of Patron at 105 Social (105 Grape.) *