The good, bad and the ugly on the tube this past week:
Alexander's finger lickin' good
Ex-Seinfeld star Jason Alexander appeared Sunday in the first of a series of new commercials for fast-food restaurant KFC. Good for him. While Alexander's raking in the bucks for the new national campaign--and starring in his own new sitcom, ABC's Bob Patterson, in the fall--his former Seinfeld cohorts seem to have vanished from the tube altogether.
Michael Richards made a half-hearted attempt last fall with his own new sitcom, but it appears he's taken the cancellation of that show to heart, lying low. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been planning a sitcom of her own, but can't seem to get it off the ground. Good ol' Jerry shows up now and then for talk show interviews--and has been toying with the idea of a new sitcom, as well-but just don't expect to see him on the small screen anytime soon.
At least Alexander's got his head on straight: even if his sitcom fails, as Richards' did in 2000, he's got a steady paycheck from the Colonel in his pocket.
The "Becker" bailout
So there's a new trend on the sets of TV's most-watched shows. Nope, it's not this "reality" business. It's not this gameshow craze either. It's a revolution among supporting cast members, and it's getting out of hand. On Wednesday, five supporting actors on CBS' hit show Becker were curiously absent from the first script read-through of the fall season, claiming they were all sick. The actors--Hattie Winston, Terry Farrell, Alex Desert, Shawnee Smith and Saverio Guerra--appeared to be protesting their contracts with Paramount TV, demanding a drastic pay hike, according to the actors' reps.
This tactic was used to perfection earlier this summer by four members of NBC's The West Wing. Four Emmy-nominated actors: Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford. Each more than doubled their salaries. However, the Becker five are not Emmy nominees. They are not recognizable. I could have spelled his or her names incorrectly and nobody would know the difference. Wise up, guys. Go to work.
A hipper Charlie Rose?
You hear the words Charlie Rose and instantly an image pops into your head. Nice suits, nice hair, a dramatic black backdrop, a dramatic politician sitting across the table. But Charlie's not as stiff as you'd think these days. On Tuesday, while interviewing talk show host/comedian Bill Maher, Rose passionately argued in favor of the Internet and all of its uses, while the usually hip Maher admitted he has no use for the Web at all--and doesn't even know how to use it. So the next time you see a fairly liberal Democrat in your next chatroom, well, ya just never know....
There was a time when watching a syndicated show on F/X meant you were watching Aaron Spelling drivel. Not anymore. The network recently announced that it has secured exclusive cable runs of three of TV's biggest shows: The Practice, Ally McBeal and Buffy. Score one for the little guys. The three shows begin running on Sept. 24.
New timeslot for "Big Brother II"
CBS will change timeslots for its struggling series Big Brother II: from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Eye Network execs attributed the move to the show's controversial content--including a knife-wielding incident that got one houseguest booted off the show--in an effort to keep younger viewers from seeing such occurrences. Very compassionate. However, earlier this year, when Survivor was airing (at 8 p.m., mind you), we saw pigs slaughtered, babes in bikinis and heard the word bitch about 80 times an episode. Is CBS really that concerned that Big Brother II's corrupting the minds of youngsters--or is this a last-ditch effort to attempt to better the show's flaccid ratings?
Wednesday night, the scent of aerosol filled the skies above New York City. The '80s had returned. As MTV celebrated its 20th anniversary on the tube, rockers such as Billy Idol and Bon Jovi cranked out their old-school hits to an adoring crowd. When's the last time you saw a group of fortysomethings chanting the lyrics to "Rebel Yell" and "You Give Love A Bad Name"? By Thursday morning, these audience members likely returned to their law offices and accountants' cubicles, but for a couple hours, they shed two decades of aging and adulthood. It was surreal, but strangely poignant.
The four Emmy-nominated West Wing actors who've been demanding salary hikes--Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford-have finally settled their dispute with Warner Bros. Television.
The quartet will now receive a reported $70,000 per episode of NBC's hit White House drama--more than double their previous payouts of $30,000 per episode last year. However, according to Variety, each actor agreed to limited-time commitments on the show, though they had been promised eight-year contracts before the massive raises.
Though the foursome's new $70,000 paychecks are a dramatic increase for the actors, they still make salaries well below that of fellow supporting actor Rob Lowe, who nabs $90,000 per episode.
The week's best and worst on the small screen:
A belated "Survivor"
CBS announced Tuesday that Survivor: Africa will debut an entire month after the Eye Network's fall lineup premieres. While CBS executives attribute the delay to "turnaround time," they're forgetting something fairly important: Friends (competing with Survivor at the 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot) will have already attracted a loyal following by mid-October, especially with the Monica-Chandler nuptials keeping viewers abuzz.
Last winter's debut of Survivor--during Friends reruns--was brilliant. This fall, don't expect the reality show's ratings to be as stellar as the previous two installments. NBC's execs are shrewd. They'll find a way to keep viewers onboard.
Calista gets "Scary"
Actress Regina Hall is perfectly happy as a regular on Fox's Ally McBeal. She's also perfectly happy with insulting the show's star, Calista Flockhart, in a major motion picture. Hall currently stars in Keenen Ivory Wayans' Scary Movie 2, in which she battles a living skeleton she nicknames "Calista." Gotta love that. Thank god there are still people in Hollywood with a sense of humor.
Conan's racial woes
Late last week, Conan O'Brien apologized to the press for a comment made by one of his guests during a taping of his late-night talk show. The comment, uttered by comedienne Sarah Silverman, involved the racial slur "chink"--referring to the Chinese. Silverman is yet to apologize for the comment, so NBC and Conan felt it was up to them to put out the PR fire with their public statement. While the comment may have been out of place, it isn't Conan's burden to bear--it's Silverman's. Conan should be completely off the hook here. Ever hear of another NBC late-night program called Saturday Night Live? Racial slurs are commonplace on SNL, and the show runs before Conan's 12:30 a.m. slot. Rest easy, Conan. Silverman can apologize if she wants to, but you're in the clear.
"Wing"ers hold strong
The four Emmy-nominated actors from NBC's The West Wing who threatened to quit the show if contract negotiations were denied returned to work last week to continue production. The dispute remains unsettled--Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and John Spencer still make $30,000 per episode, though they claim they were promised a major pay hike if the show entered a third season (which it has). Nevertheless, the foursome continues their struggle with Warner Bros. as production moves on. Note to Warner Bros.: Pay 'em whatever they're asking for. They're good. Otherwise you'll end up with Pauly Shore as Press Secretary.
"Resurrection" retains its quality
Last season, viewers who watched Showtime's Resurrection Blvd. probably did so with a wince on their face, awaiting the next instance of something cornball and cliché. This season, however, the show has maintained a level of quality, that's, quite frankly, shocking. The balance of drama and comedy thus far has been superb, and the performances seem to be getting better. Young star Marisol Nichols shined in a recent episode in which she stumbles through an alcoholic stupor to realize she's given her virginity away. On Tuesday night's episode, the only major character on TV who has never spoken a word--Ruben Santiago (Daniel Zacapa)--finally broke down in a fit of anguish in a crowed L.A. intersection. Good stuff. Keep it up, Showtime.
Actress Katharine Hepburn will probably be released by the weekend, Reuters reports. The Academy Award-winning actress was hospitalized last week for a urinary tract infection but is responding well to treatment. Hepburn, 94, was going to be released last week but lost strength while being hospitalized and underwent a brief course of physical therapy.
A judge has accepted evidence that actor Jason Priestley has completed a three-month alcohol treatment program, BBC News reports. The former Beverly Hills 90210 star was sentenced to five days in prison last year by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor for a drunk driving conviction. Priestley also was ordered to serve three years probation and enter a drug and alcohol treatment program. In December 1999, Priestley crashed his silver Porsche into a lamppost and a parked car in the Hollywood Hills. The actor claimed he swerved to avoid a deer in the road. Chad Cook, a friend and passenger in the car, suffered a broken arm. Priestley appeared in Aaron Spelling's teen drama Beverly Hills 90210 and recently acted in London's Apollo Theatre in the Broadway play Side Man.
An Indianapolis homebuilder will have to pay more than $98,000 restitution to rocker John Mellencamp for allegedly falsifying billing invoices, The Associated Press reported. Timothy O. Eldredge is scheduled to appear Sept. 14 in Marion Superior Court and is expected to plead guilty to theft. Prosecutors charge that Eldredge double-billed John and Elaine Mellencamp after the couple hired The Eldredge Group of Indianapolis to build a $2.5 million home near Lake Monroe. If convicted, Eldredge could face up to three years in prison.
Missouri's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Access Resources Services Inc., the Florida company that promotes TV's Miss Cleo's tarot psychic reading, The Associated Press reports. Attorney General Jay Nixon said Missourians were billed for free services and that the company misrepresented rates and waiver fees. Some Missouri residents complained that they were billed for time spent on hold waiting to speak to a psychic or being billed without ever having requested the service. Attorney Sean Moynihan says the state has no basis for the lawsuit and blamed billing errors on telephone companies.
Sen. Joseph Liebermann (D-Conn.) will convene on a hearing on entertainment ratings on Wednesday, Variety reports. Lieberman has been a longtime critic of Hollywood, claiming that the separate ratings used for films, music, TV programs and video games are too confusing and therefore not effective in shielding children from sex, violence and vulgarity. Nearly the entire entertainment industry opposes the idea of a universal rating system, arguing that movies, video games and music are fundamentally different. The House Telecom Subcommittee on Friday asked RIAA president Hilary Rosen to read aloud lyrics to Eminem's song "Kill You," but Rosen refused, arguing that words in such songs are not meant to be taken literally. It is the first time the House of Representatives has weighed in on the Federal Trade Commission study of Hollywood's marketing practices.
Justin Timberlake of 'N Sync wants to do a duet with gal pal and pop sensation Britney Spears, Rolling Stone magazine reports. Timberlake said he is helping Spears, 19, move away from bubblegum pop in favor of a harder sound. He said they would record together when the timing is right. "I want it to be somethin' new that they haven't heard us do, that they don't think we could de," he told the magazine, "It would be huge."
Bruce Willis is officially dating 23-year-old Versace model Emily Sandberg, Entertainment Tonight reports. The two have been dating since November, but her identity was kept under wraps until now. Apparently, Willis' ex-wife Demi Moore has given her stamp of approval on the lanky blonde. According to US Weekly magazine, Willis invited Sandberg to celebrate July Fourth in Hailey, Idaho, with Moore and their children.
Ray Romano wants to appear on a celebrity version of CBS' hugely popular show Survivor, according to Reuters. The network is contemplating an all-star installment of the reality show but CBS president Leslie Moonves was sketchy on details about when the show would air or how it would look. Several other celebrities have expressed interest but did not want to be named just yet. The shooting of the celebrity series would have to be compressed to about 10 days, Moonves said, without assistants, phones or faxes. Someone would be voted off every two days. Moonves joked that being voted off in front of 20 million viewers would be devastating for an actor. The concept for a celebrity Survivor is currently on the backburner while producer Mark Burnett focuses on the show's third and fourth editions. Survivor: Africa is currently in production in Kenya and will premiere Oct. 11. Survivor 4 will be shot at an unspecified location this fall and will air in March.
Nicole Kidman is committed to star in Lars von Trier's Dogville and is denying rumors that she was dumped from the movie, Reuters reports.
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet said Tuesday that executives at von Trier's production company Zentropa grew frustrated with delays in getting the actress to sign a contract. Daily Variety also reported that talks with Kidman had broken down, prompting producers to search for a replacement. "We've had enough of the Hollywood system. It may be commonplace in major movies that stars play the diva and don't bother to sign contracts, but we can't handle that, either psychologically or financially," Zentropa chief executive Peter Aalbaek Jensen told Aftonbladet. Kidman's publicist insists the actress is still doing the film, but has not yet signed on the dotted line.
Lawyers for actors Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, John Spencer, and Richard Schiff are in advanced talks with producers for Warner Bros.' West Wing, the New York Post's Pagesix.com reports. The new contracts would earn the actors about $1.4 million each a season. A rep for the actors said that while they are still negotiating, talks are not too far apart. The four actors failed to show up for work when production began on its third season two weeks ago. Rumors swirled that the actors were unhappy with their $30,000 per episode salary.
The West Wing
costars Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and John Spencer reported to work Monday, despite hints by their lawyer that they would skip the first day of production on the NBC's hit political drama unless their salary demands are met, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The four leading cast members looked like they were heading for a showdown Monday with Warner Bros. producers over how much they are paid.
"What they are asking is merely for Warner Bros. to make good on what it
promised when they made their original deals," attorney Peter Nelson told Variety last week. "The best way to put it is, the actors are fully prepared to
meet their work obligations Monday, assuming Warner meets its obligation to
would haved considerd the actors to be in breach of contract if they had failed to show up Monday.
Contract negotiations are continuing.
The actors are seeking about $90,000 per episode, with their salaries increasing
to about $200,000 per segment by the seventh season, but they are reluctant
to commit to an eighth season, the trade paper said.
The four missed a costume fitting last week and failed to show up for an
initial table reading of the script for the season premiere, Variety reported.
Executive producer Aaron Sorkin was forced to proceed with star Martin Sheen
and other cast members without the missing actors.
All four costars received Emmy nominations Thursday for their work on the
show last season. Janney and Schiff won a Emmys last year for their roles in the
The hit series, which stars Sheen as fictional U.S. President Josiah
Bartlett, won nine Emmys for its first season and claimed nominations for 18
more on Thursday. The show begins its third season in the fall.
In other West Wing news, NBC has announced that Stockard Channing will become a series regular. Channing, who has played the first lady on a recurring basis, is nominated for an Emmy in the category of supporting actress.
You'd think the cast of The West Wing would rejoice after Thursday's Emmy nominations presentation--as the show was given the best drama nod, yet again.
Instead, actors Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and John Spencer have surprisingly entered into intense contract negotiations with Warner Bros. and John Wells Productions to have their salaries pushed up to the level of costars Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe, Variety reports.
"This is not a typical negotiation, in that they are not asking for raises because the show has become a hit,'' said Peter Nelson, the attorney for all four actors. "What they are asking is merely for Warner Bros. to make good on what it promised when they made their original deals."
The actors were told when they joined the show that no one would earn more than $40,000 per episode because of the show's high budget and the uncertainty that its political content would make it a ratings hit, Nelson said.
The salaries for the four actors reportedly range from $30,000 per episode to slightly higher.
Lowe reportedly earns $70,000 per episode, while Sheen earns six-figures.
The four actors and Warner Bros. seems some distance apart from an agreement.
The actors each want $90,000 per episode, increasing to $200,000 per episode by the show's seventh season.
Warner Bros. has offered to pay each of the four actors a reported $65,000 per episode, with a raise of $10,000 per season, in exchange for them to sign onto the show for another two years through an eighth season.
Warner Bros. will sue for breach of contract should the actors stage a walkout.
"We don't begin filming until Monday and I'm sure it will all be taken care of," West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Everybody's happy to get back to work" to start on the White House-set political drama's third season.
The West Wing received 18 Emmy nominations Thursday, with Janney, Schiff, Whitford and Spencer all receiving nominations. Janney and Schiff have already won Emmys for their roles.