Well, the February sweeps are finally over.
Once the remainder of NBC's "10th Kingdom" is flushed from the system, it will all be just a distant memory. Regis Philbin won, if you were scoring along at home. If the February sweeps were like network TV's playoffs, Regis was Michael Jordan -- only shorter and dressed like a bootlegger from the 1920s.
The good news? Now that the quarter-hour numbers don't mean as much to the bean counters, you might find a few higher-quality shows on the air -- not that Fox's "Robbie Knievel: Head On Train Jump" wasn't "high quality" as head on train jumps go. ... But, um ... Hey, everybody, let's get ready for those mid-season replacements!
-- Right after HBO's "The Sopranos" airs today at 8 p.m. (this is old news, but yes, the series really is as good as everybody says it is), stay tuned for "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (9 p.m. EST/PST). It's a long overdue look at changing lesbian lifestyles from the 1960s through 1990s. Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Williams ("Dawson's Creek") and Oscar-nominee Chloe Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry") star in the kind of film that portrays lesbianism in a more positive light than we are used to seeing on TV -- you know, minus the laugh track and drooling men. It's sort of "lesbianism for women," if that makes any sense. Howard Stern spoke the truth when he said "lesbians equal ratings." But we're not sure this is what he had in mind.
-- No longer afraid of losing good shows in the crush of all those February network "specials," cable's USA network premieres two pretty good "based on actual events" originals this week. Producer Shaun Cassidy, a former teen "heartthrob" who will never live down his past if we have anything to say about it and the creator of the intensely spooky but short-lived "American Gothic," is the scribe behind the first episode of "Cover Me" (8 p.m. EST/PST today). It's an hour-long drama about an FBI agent who feels that the best way to keep his family safe from the bad guys is to put the wife and kiddies to work on his cases -- so, um, they can be more directly in the line of fire. You know, that doesn't sound like the greatest plan in the world, but it might make a good TV show. ... Hey wait a minute! Oh, nevermind.
-- And Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST/PST, USA offers the made-for-cable movie "The Huntress." If the title alone hasn't sold you, it also stars Annette O'Toole! And if, like us, you're not sure who that is (actually she's very famous and was in "Nash Bridges"), it's also based on the true story of Dottie Thorson! And if, again, you're not sure who that is, either, you'll just have to take our word that this movie is pretty cool. When a (based-on-a-real-person) professional bounty hunter (Craig T. Nelson) explodes in his driveway, his (based-on-real-people) wife (O'Toole) and daughter (Aleksa Palladino) decide to press on with the family business. It's smart and funny in a seedy Quentin Tarantino kind of way ... the good Tarantino, before "Destiny Turns on the Radio" and that vampire movie.
-- Kevin Spacey takes the chair on Bravo's always interesting interview show "Inside the Actor's Studio" (8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST today). Count on the intrepidly probing host, James Lipton, to get a lot out of the Best Actor Oscar nominee (for "American Beauty") in this hour.
-- And an hour later (at 9 p.m. EST/PST), E! premieres another installment of its stately "True Hollywood Story" doc series. This time the subject is Burt Reynolds. From his days as a No. 1 box-office attraction (long before "Stroker Ace," and "Cop and a Half," if you're trying to remember) to Loni Anderson to Dinah Shore to ... You know, if Burt Reynolds hasn't actually done it all, he's certainly done most of it. This should be pretty good.
-- Fox reanimates "Family Guy" for another run Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST. It's a funny toon and certainly deserves a regular spot in its struggling line-up (not that worth ever stopped a network from canceling anything before). Meanwhile, NBC finally moves into the 1990s (in the year 2000, no less) and joins the animation revolution by giving a prime spot (right behind "Friends") to the mid-season replacement "God, the Devil and Bob" (8:30 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). When all creation seems to have lost its luster, God (voiced by James Garner) gambles with the devil (Tony-winner Alan Cumming) that a guy named Bob ("3rd Rock from the Sun" co-star French Stewart) can restore his faith in humanity. If Bob isn't up to the task, then basically the universe becomes a "do-over." Don't knock "Bob," yet. It's got to be better than "Jesse."
-- Hoping to capitalize on the ratings success CBS had with the Grammys last month, VH-1 will televise the "Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony" (9 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday). Inductees include Eric Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez is busy (picking up boyfriend Puff Daddy at court is like a full-time job now), so Clapton has volunteered to "take one for the team" and wear the thin-strips-of-delicate-fabric-taped-to-the-breasts outfit.
-- And finally, the Sci-Fi Channel will be running the entire "Indiana Jones" trilogy on consecutive nights this week. If you don't know what we're talking about, the "Indiana Jones" movies are about an archeologist who travels around and digs for ancient artifacts. (They're a lot better than they sound). Anyway, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. (EST/PST), followed by "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (8 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday) and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (8 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). As an extra-special treat, Sci-Fi is presenting the flicks in extra-special widescreen format. Sounds like hunkering down time in front of the television.
Hollywood is ready for a relatively blah box-office weekend that could see New Line's R-rated urban-appeal comedy sequel "Next Friday" hold on to the top spot.
"Nothing looks real exciting," said one studio executive at mid-week. "'Down To You' (opening at about 1,900 theaters via Miramax) actually dropped a little in the tracking. It's down to a 5% first choice -- although you would think that kind of movie with teen-age appeal would be strong on Friday.
"I don't know what it does for the (full) weekend. But right now, it's not looking to me like any of these films get into double digits."
Written and directed by Kris Isacsson, the PG-13-rated teen-appeal romantic comedy "Down" stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles.
"'Down To You' has a real opportunity here because it's the only (new) thing for teens," an insider said. "I'm sure they'd like to duplicate the success of 'She's All That,' which opened next weekend last year to about $16 million. And that's even with 'Varsity Blues' having been in its third weekend at the time and taking $6 million from that young audience.
"But the tracking for 'Down To You' doesn't show that kind of number right now. But I think 'She's All That' took people by surprise." Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated boxing-theme comedy-drama "Play it to the Bone" opens at 1,556 theaters and has some insiders speculating that it could muscle in on the top of the chart action while others say it might not even make the Top Five.
"Bone" was a 5% first choice at mid-week, according to one of the more optimistic observers. By the weekend, he said: "It could jump up in the tracking and get to $8-9 million. Remember, its audience is male and, probably, more young male. They're more likely to act on their choices."
On the other hand, another insider commented: "I think if they did $5 million, they'd be ecstatic. The research is not showing any sort of want-to-go among anything other than males -- a little older than teen-agers, more like college age -- because of the characters and the boxing (story line). But anything can change. There's not much else new (this weekend)."
The insider sees "Friday" as the weekend's top grossing film and adds that "Bone" "may not make the Top Five."
Projecting grosses for the weekend, a studio executive said, "'Next Friday' is probably around $7-8 million. Of all the holdovers, I think 'Next Friday' will be No. 1. So the question is, 'Can any of these new movies get above $7-8 million? I think the only one with a chance is 'Play it to the Bone.'"
Directed by Steve Carr, "Next Friday" was written and produced by and stars Ice Cube. "Play it to the Bone" was written and directed by Ron Shelton and stars Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas.
With a first-choice tracking of 8%, the distribution pro said Paramount's R-rated drama "Angela's Ashes" is looking good as it widens after its late December platform release.
"It took a nice bump. Yesterday, it was 6%," the exec said. On the other hand, "Ashes" is only playing at about 600 theaters, so that's not likely to translate into big grosses. "And the limited runs in New York and L.A. have not been all that great.
"'Angela's Ashes' is tracking very well among older females, but they don't necessarily run out the first weekend." Directed by Alan Parker, "Ashes" stars Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle.
Also widening this weekend to 686 runs is Columbia's R-rated drama "The End of the Affair." "It's at 1% first choice," an insider said, suggesting that it is unlikely to perform significantly at the box office. Directed by Neil Jordan, "Affair" stars Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea. "Affair" is a Golden Globe nominee for best picture, actress (Moore) and original score (Michael Nyman).
What ticket sales are likely? "'Angela's Ashes' is probably in the $3-4 million range, maybe $5 million at best," he said. "'End of the Affair' is probably $2-3 million. 'Play It To The Bone' is really the only one of the new openings with a chance to come in first. If 'Next Friday's' down 45%, it's $8 million. Given its audience (of young urban males), it could be down as much as 50%."
Normally, with an 8% first-choice tracking, "Ashes" would be heading for a gross of about $8 million. "However, in this case, it's a much more limited movie," a distribution executive said. "It's primarily older female (in its appeal), and they don't necessarily act on their choices opening weekend the way the young male or even the young female audience will.
"When you see these engagements in New York and L.A. that have been disappointing, it generally means that your appeal goes down rather than up as you fan out across America."
If Columbia's PG-rated blockbuster family comedy "Stuart Little," last weekend's No. 2 film, drops 35%, it will do about $6 million. "It won't have as big a hit as 'Next Friday,'" the exec said. "It's business is more matinee business, so it didn't get as big a boost from last Sunday night (the eve of the Monday holiday) as some of the adult-oriented films did. So I don't think its drop will be as big." Directed by Rob Minkoff, "Stuart" stars Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki.
Universal's critically acclaimed R-rated drama "The Hurricane" went wide last weekend with respectable but unspectacular results.
"I think 'Hurricane' is between $5-6 million," he said. "And 'Green Mile,' just by virtue of it holding up well, if it's down only 35%, it does $5.5 million." Directed by Norman Jewison, "Hurricane" stars Denzel Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxing champion Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. "Hurricane" received three Golden Globe nominations, including best picture, actor/drama (Washington) and director (Jewison).
A senior marketing executive at Universal said the studio is encouraged by "how much audiences are loving this film. The exit polls have been fantastic (with a) CinemaScore overall grade of A. Yahoo! Movies rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars, the highest rating of any film currently playing.
"The closest comparison for a film like this with a similar release pattern would be 'Good Will Hunting,' which did the same kind of business, had the same kind of enthusiastic response and word of mouth and, obviously, had legs and attracted major Academy attention."
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated prison death-row drama "The Green Mile," written and directed by Frank Darabont, stars Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan is a Golden Globe supporting actor nominee for his performance.
Also likely to come in between $5-6 million, he said, is Columbia's R-rated drama "Girl, Interrupted." Directed by James Mangold, "Girl" stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
The Globes telecast Sunday night will come too late in the weekend to be of much help to the films that win. It might, actually, cut into movie-going Sunday night for adult-appeal films since the Globes and its new pre-show are likely to do very well in terms of ratings.
"It's not an exciting weekend," a studio source said. "Of course, what that means is that you'll see better holds percentage-wise from the holdovers than you did last weekend. Without strong openers, it means the holdovers will hang in there better.
"I think you'll see the business spread more evenly than you've seen recently because you're going to have a lot of movies in that mid-single digit range of $4-6 million."
Filling out lower rungs on this weekend's chart will be Paramount's R-rated drama "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and MGM's R-rated sci-fi horror thriller "Supernova." Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, "Ripley" stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett. "Ripley" received five Golden Globe nominations, including est picture/drama, actor/drama (Damon), supporting actor (Law), director (Minghella) and score (Gabriel Yared).
"Supernova," which opened to mediocre business last weekend, stands to fall sharply in its second weekend. Directed by "Thomas Lee," it stars James Spader, Angela Bassett, Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Forster.
On this weekend's exclusive front in New York, USA Films will reissue its PG-rated suspense/cop drama "Rear Window," the Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Robert Harris and James Katz have restored the 1954 film.