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.
Improved ratings for the NBA Finals last week helped give NBC a solid win for the week, even as viewers for its entertainment reruns disappeared. The basketball contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers produced ratings that were 4.3 percent higher than last year and 7 percent higher than the 1999 series (but never approached the numbers garnered in previous years when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated the sport). For the week that ended Sunday, NBC was on top with an average 6.5 rating and a 12 share. CBS placed second with a 6.1/11. ABC followed with a 5.5/10. Fox ranked fourth with a 3.3/6.
The top 10 shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:
1. NBA Finals Game 4 (Wednesday), NBC, 12.6/23; 2. NBA Finals Game 5 (Friday), NBC, 11.2/22; 3. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Tuesday), ABC, 10.1/19; 4. Millionaire (Thursday), ABC, 9.8/17; 5. Primetime Thursday, ABC, 9.7/17; 6. NBA Final Tip-off Game 4 (Wednesday), NBC, 9.6/18; 7. Weakest Link (Monday), NBC, 9.3/15; 8. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 8.9/15; 9. 20/20, ABC, 8.0/15; 10. (tie) Becker, CBS, 7.5/12; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 7.5/12.
Just one day after ABC announced its surprising fall 2001 lineup, CBS followed suit Wednesday with some curveballs of its own.
The Eye Network will bring back 16 primetime programs, CBS President Les Moonves announced Wednesday - including Survivor, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Everybody Loves Raymond and Judging Amy - and also will introduce eight new series starring some of Hollywood's heavyweights.
Survivor and CSI will remain Thursday's double-threat, and the Monday lineup of strong sitcoms, including King of Queens, Yes, Dear, Raymond and Becker, also will stay untouched.
New blood, however, will shake up CBS' remaining primetime schedule. The network's offering of rookie shows is as follows:
Thursdays, 10 p.m. EST
Set in Washington, D.C., this drama follows a brave group of CIA agents who risk life and limb in the name of national security. The series stars Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), as a no-holds-barred agent who's haunted by the mysterious death of his brother, and Will Patton (Remember the Titans), as the veteran agent who knows the truth about Bellows' sibling. Also stars David Clennon (thirtysomething) as a fraud expert and Paige Turco (Party of Five) as the determined rookie. Produced by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm).
"The Amazing Race"
Wednesdays, 9 p.m. EST
Think of it as Survivor unrestrained. Eleven teams, each comprised of two members, traverse the globe in a month-long competition to be the first to reach the final destination. The winning team nabs $1 million. But, alas, here's the catch: all team members must have a pre-existing personal relationship - be it family, friend or foe - adding some tension to the overall scheme. Executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon) and Bertram van Munster (Cops).
Fridays, 8:30 p.m. EST
In one of only two new sitcoms debuting on CBS in the fall, Daniel Stern (City Slickers) stars as a single father who operates a run-down community center populated with a diverse group of people. As the neighborhood ruffians learn lessons in life at the center - receiving guidance, playing sports and seeing tutors - Stern's character also learns what is important in life. Produced by Stern, Howard J. Morris (Home Improvement) and Michael Hanel (Titus).
Saturdays, 9 p.m. EST
James Cromwell (Babe) stars as a man who has spent his entire life as a success in the political arena - having served three terms in the Senate - until, in a shocking defeat, he loses his seat on Capitol Hill and is forced to return to civilian life. His three daughters timidly attempt to make the transition a smooth one, yet their own personal conflicts with other family members render the former senator's homecoming a nerve-racking affair. Produced by John Wells (ER), Lydia Woodward (China Beach) and Christopher Chulack (The West Wing).
"The Education of Max Bickford"
Sundays, 8 p.m. EST
Possibly the most creative of CBS' new dramas, Bickford delves into the bizarre life of college professor Max Bickford (Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss). Max is denied a promotion at work, is regularly stabbed in the back by the college president (Regina Taylor) and is forced to deal with the fact that his former best friend, Steve, is now a woman (Helen Shaver) named Erica. Executive produced by Nicole Yorkin (Judging Amy).
"The Ellen Show"
Fridays, 8 p.m. EST
Ellen DeGeneres returns to primetime TV as an overworked Internet executive who realizes that life in the slow lane is the way to go. Her solution? She moves back to her small hometown to live with her peculiar mother (Cloris Leachman) and sister (Emily Rutherfurd) - but will the pressures of living back at home outweigh the stresses of her previous life on the fast track? And is her former high school sweetheart moving back in on her? Produced by DeGeneres, Carol Leifer (Seinfeld) and Mitchell Hurwitz (The Golden Girls).
Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EST
Half legal drama, half a journey of self-discovery, Simon Baker (L.A. Confidential) plays Nick, a high-powered lawyer who, following a drug bust, is forced by the courts to work in a child advocacy office to set him straight. Though Nick is still determined to please his former legal clients, he slowly warms up to the children he's ordered to assist, shedding his cold exterior. Dabney Coleman (9 to 5) stars as Nick's stern father. Executive produced by Mark Johnson (Donnie Brasco) and Michael Pressman (Chicago Hope).
Wednesdays, 10 p.m. EST
This bizarre drama follows the investigation of a Bureau of Wildlife Management agent (Lou Diamond Phillips) obsessed with unlocking the mystery behind a rash of human disappearances in a Seattle suburb. His investigation centers upon a pack of wild wolves that can morph into human beings at will. Only one man-a Native American biology professor (Graham Greene)--knows the truth behind the supernatural creatures. Executive produced by John Leekley (Kindred: The Embraced) and Bernard Lechowick (Hyperion Bay).
As for returning shows with new time slots, four programs are being shuffled around. 60 Minutes II stays on Wednesdays, but will shown at 8 p.m. EST, not 9 p.m. EST, its current time slot. Another news magazine show, 48 Hours, will be shown on Fridays at 10 p.m. EST, a day later than its current home at 10 p.m. EST Thursdays. That's Life will jump back from Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST to Fridays at 9 p.m. EST. Finally, the family hit Touched by an Angel moves from Sundays at 8 p.m. EST to Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST.
Fox is expected to release its fall schedule sometime Thursday.
Psst! Wanna buy an ex-movie star?
Step right in. We have recognizable has-beens to suit your every entertainment need. Looking for the leading-man type? We have great deals on Eric Roberts, Patrick Muldoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Dean Cain. In the market for a tough guy? Take your pick of Ray Liotta, Roy Scheider, Michael Ironside and other fine choices. We have leading ladies, too -- Morgan Fairchild, Jennifer Beals and Ally Sheedy.
What's that? You say these guys are box-office poison? Guess again. Even though they were scratched off the Hollywood A-list a while ago, these names still mean something in places such as Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan. And if you'd dropped in here at the weeklong American Film Market, or AFM, wrapping up today, you'd realize that being big in the Netherlands might not be glamorous, but it's nothing to sneeze at.
Case in point: Jeff Fahey.
You might remember Fahey from his supporting roles in movies such as "Silverado" and "Wyatt Earp," or maybe even "The Lawnmower Man." But you might not know that Fahey is a certifiable movie star overseas, top-billed in dozens of thrillers and action films (search the Net and you'll find numerous Web sites paying homage to the hard-working actor). Strolling through the hallways of the Loews Hotel, where distributors at the AFM hawk their wares, you'd have seen posters for some of his latest: "The Sculptress," "Blind Heat" (co-starring the venerable Maria Conchita Alonso) and "Epicenter."
"Jeff's got a lot of movies out there right now," says Anthony J. Lyons, vice president of IFM Film Associates, an Aussie company based in Los Angeles that makes movies for $1 million to $3 million. "He's an internationally known actor, and he's not too expensive to get. Rather than charge $200,000 for one movie, he might charge you $50,000, but he'll get 20 movies instead of two. These days you need known actors to sell your films overseas, and Jeff is a good value."
How many times have you heard an actor praised as a "good value?" Money talks at the AFM, and Fahey is a favorite son here because his films fall into those tried-and-true genres (action movies, thrillers, lowbrow comedy, T-and-A, horror/sci-fi) that cross cultural and language barriers. These kinds of movies appeal to the dozens of international distributors who come here each year looking for stuff to buy. Films that will go straight to video or cable TV in the United States (that is, if they are released here at all) but can pull in a nice chunk of change in overseas markets.
The foreign rights to about 350 movies were up for grabs at this year's AFM, and an estimated $400 million in deals were made. Not all the films represented were of the low-budget, guns-and-car-crashes, monsters-and-scantily-clad-babes variety. TFI International was peddling foreign rights to "The Golden Bowl," the forthcoming Merchant-Ivory production starring Uma Thurman and Anjelica Huston; the new Roland Joffe movie "Vatel," with Thurman, Gerard Depardieu and Tim Roth, was also advertised, as was "Brother," the new movie from Japanese director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.
But it was loads more fun to troll the market for the wreckage of once-thriving acting careers. There was Judge Reinhold from the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies, heading up a slam-bang actioner called "Crackerjack 2: Hostage Train," from North American Releasing. Reinhold plays Jack Wild -- no, not the guy from H.R. Pufnstuf -- a "rogue cop with a mission ... obsessed with capturing the notorious Hans Becker, a '60s-style Red Brigade type who has transformed himself into a '90s-style terrorist for hire," or so says publicity materials from the production. The film co-stars Michael Sarrazin as the bad guy. (Curiously, Reinhold did not appear in "Crackerjack 1," nor is he in the forthcoming "Crackerjack 3." Really.)
Other blasts from the past who have become AFM stalwarts include Steve Guttenberg, who gets the Most Interesting Title award for his directorial debut, "P.S. Your Cat is Dead!" Guttenberg is billed by the film's backers as the "acclaimed star of several billion dollars worth of top box-office and critical winners." Elsewhere, another company was dealing a different Guttenberg film, "Second Chance," a comedy with an all-star lineup of Pauly Shore, Robert Wagner and Tim Conway (no word, however, if Conway did the film in his ever-popular "Dorf" disguise).
If the definition of celebrity is skewed a bit in the films paraded here, the same can be said for the event itself. The American Film Market isn't a film festival -- there are no awards ceremonies, no paparazzi stampedes, and although there are premieres, they don't include big red-carpet entrances for celebrities.
It's not unusual for workaday actors such as Eric Roberts or Gary Busey to show up and do a little press for one of their films here, and they can walk through the hotel without being hassled. And you don't hear about wild antics on the after-hours party scene here. This is about as racy as it gets: One night last week, Jamie Kennedy (the film geek from the "Scream" films) got lost while walking around in search of the buyers' party for "The Specials," his new low-budget superhero comedy -- and he had to ask a bystander for directions.
"I've been to a few festivals before, but I've never been to something quite like this, which is pure marketing," said "Star Trek" actor George Takei, who was here promoting an as-yet unmade sci-fi film, "Overload," made by and starring a crew of former child actors including Tony Dow ("Leave It To Beaver") and Bill Mumy ("Lost in Space"). "But I know what the rules of the game are. I'm here to help sell the movie, which is something I never did with 'Star Trek.'"
If they ever hand out a lifetime achievement award to an actor at the AFM, it should probably go to Karen Black, the veteran of "Five Easy Pieces," "Nashville," "Airport 1975" and other 1970s classics who still works constantly, albeit in the relative obscurity of low-budget offerings, including many titles up for grabs at the market in recent years.
Black does it all -- from children's films ("Malaika," a movie about an elephant), to boring dramas about people over 40 ("The Donor," with David Carradine) and soft-core stuff (such as "Dinosaur Valley Girls," a movie from a few years back, in which she wore a loincloth) -- which makes her a fine role model for some of the other actresses such as Jasmine Guy, Carol Alt and Tahnee Welch following in her footsteps at the market.
"Karen is making a comeback, believe it or not," said Eric Louzil, president of RHG/Lions Share Pictures, which is peddling an independent film called "Oliver Twisted," in which Black stars. "... I've seen her name in quite a few films lately. She's quite a talent."
And at the AFM, a little talent goes a long way.