The last time an epic fantasy miniseries came along, it was NBC's exercise in stamina "The 10th Kingdom." We suggested then that you wait until the next sweeps period for impresario Robert Halmi Sr.'s more promising "Arabian Nights" (8-10 p.m., tonight, and 9-11 p.m., Monday, ABC). Well, the sweeps are here again, and "Arabian Nights" has been worth the wait. Filmed in exotic Turkish and Moroccan locations, it features very cool and moody visual effects, and most importantly, a great story, er, stories, as "The Thousand and One Nights" of Middle-Eastern folklore has provided some of the most bulletproof material in entertainment for about 1,000 years now. The cast is strong and looks like they were having a lot of fun throughout, with Jason Scott Lee ("Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story") as Aladdin and John Leguizamo as the genie. "Arabian Nights" also features a very sexy narrator in Mili Avital as Scheherazade, the sultry weaver of the ancient tales. Fortunately, first-choice James Earl Jones was already booked. (He couldn't have pulled off wearing her outfits, anyway.)
In other highlights:
-- For anyone who was alive during the 20th century's most embarrassing decade, we all know that the last thing we need is to have any of the 1970s documented in an epic miniseries. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened in "The '70s" (9 p.m., today and Monday, NBC). It's the sideburn-heavy sequel to last year's mini "The '60s." Some of "The '70s" is, as you might expect, pretty "mellow," but much of drama in this film comes from an extended series of "hangups" and "bummers" ranging from Watergate to disco. Amy Smart ("Felicity") stands out as a possible breakout performer.
-- As the venerable "X-Files" (9 p.m., Sunday, Fox) perhaps winds down, the show proves it's still very capable of giving us a special episode. This week's installment might sound like a recipe for self-indulgence and disaster as star David Duchovny not only wrote and directed (remember what eventually happened to "M*A*S*H?"), but cast his wife (Tea Leoni) and his friend (Garry Shandling) in major roles. But you know what? It's a lot better than it sounds. "The X-files" has always been smart, even when it's being funny, and with Leone and Shandling guest starring as actors in a movie based on the work of Scully and Mulder, this pip of an hour continues the tradition.
-- Finally, two staples of quality teen/twentysomething programming deliver series farewells this week. In a satisfying two hours of closure, Fox's engaging study in angst, "Party of Five" (8 p.m., Wednesday), finally sees the Salingers go their separate ways after six seasons. Somewhere among the tears, alcoholism, terminal illness and more tears, "Party" also provided the launching pad for several present and future stars, including Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Scott Wolf. We're sorry to see them go here but suspect we'll be seeing them all again. Meanwhile, "Boy Meets World" (8 p.m., Friday, ABC), the always warm and surprisingly intelligent teen comedy, ends its seven-year run with a special one-hour finale. Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) are all grown up, married and moving to New York. It almost sounds like they are ready to start their own little spin-off.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- The infectious bug that has been plaguing TV series of late -- you know, the "I feel that my time with the show is up and I've decided to move on" epidemic -- has claimed another victim.
The latest casualty is none other than "Veronica's Closet's" Kathy Najimy. Trade papers report today that the actress, who plays Olive, Veronica's (Kirstie Alley) trusted sidekick and confidant, will bid farewell to the NBC comedy at the end of this season.
Najimy tells Variety that her decision to leave the show is based purely on personal reasons. With "Veronica's Closet" behind, Najimy reportedly plans to spend more time with her 3-year-old daughter, not to mention more of the same said time on a would-be "feature career."
Of course, the concept of "leaving" "Veronica's Closet" might become a moot point. The unbeloved comedy series, now in its third season, was already benched once this season by NBC for low ratings. It is currently mired in 85th place among all shows and is considered a long shot for fall renewal.
SUPERHERO SAVES FOX: Patrick Warburton, the guy who played Elaine's mechanic beau Dave Puddy on "Seinfeld," will return to the tube in the form of a blue superhero in the Fox comedy pilot "The Tick."
Once a Saturday morning toon on Fox, "The Tick" follows the adventures of a dim-witted crime fighter and his ex-accountant sidekick as they battle bad guys with names such as Chairface Chippendale, El Seed and Breadmaster.
The new live-action half-hour pilot will be directed by the enthusiastic Barry Sonnenfeld ("Wild Wild West").
"I've been a huge fan of 'The Tick' for years," Sonnenfeld told the Hollywood trade papers. "I like it even more than my 6-year-old daughter. It's really up my alley. It doesn't feel like anything on television today."
(Let us guess -- Mr. Sonnenfeld doesn't have cable.)
Warburton, meanwhile, has handled superhero duties prior to "The Tick." Dig this, "Seinfeld" fiends, the actor was the voice of Superman in those American Express commercials starring Jerry Seinfeld.
'LEEZA' IS DEAD: No, not Leeza Gibbons, but her fast-sinking eponymous talk show. Cause of its likely death? Ultra-bad ratings.
Word on the street is that "Leeza" will not live to see a second season in syndication.
The daytime talk show went through various transformation and network shuffles in its (technically) 7-year history. It was first conceived by NBC in 1993 as "John & Leeza," the John, of course, being Gibbons' "Entertainment Tonight" co-hort John Tesh. The show downsized to simply "Leeza" in 1994 when the above-mentioned Tesh bailed. In September, NBC decided to sell the show to non-NBC outlets, thereby banishing the show to syndication.
"LIP" SERVICE: Oscar- and Emmy-winning director-producer James L. Brooks ("Terms of Endearment," "As Good As It Gets," "Jerry Maguire") is set to endow the tube with a live-action romantic comedy series for ABC.
The comedy, still untitled, will be based on a character from the 1988 radio series "Lip Schtick." Joan Cusack, whom Brooks collaborated with on the 1987 flick "Broadcast News," will stake the title role.
Slated for a slot in ABC's 2000-2001 lineup, the show will mark Cusack's prime-time debut and Brook's first TV gig since his stint as the executive producer of the animated series "The Critic" in 1994.
RANDOM BITS: NBC has picked up a half-hour comedy pilot starring David Alan Grier ("In Living Color"). Grier is slated to play a Secret Service man in charge of protecting the first lady. ...
... CBS has greenlit a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced ("Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor") drama pilot for the new fall season. The project is said to be an hour-long drama called "CSI." Starring William Petersen, the series revolves around forensic crime-scene investigators working in Vegas. ...
THE COURT OF POPULAR OPINION: Democracy sometimes flourishes in the most unlikely places, just ask Judge Judy -- one of the many, many finalists chosen by TV viewers of America for the 2nd Annual TV Guide Awards.
More than 1.5 million viewers cast ballots to determine nominees in 22 categories. NBC led all networks in mentions with 20 finalists. Winners will be announced March 5 in a Fox broadcast.
Here's the complete list of the TV Guide Award nominees, as announced today:
Favorite Actor in a New Series David Boreanaz, "Angel" (WB) Billy Campbell, "Once and Again" (ABC) Dan Futterman, "Judging Amy" (CBS) Martin Sheen, "The West Wing" (NBC)
Favorite Actress in a New Series Amy Brenneman, "Judging Amy" (CBS) Tyne Daly, "Judging Amy" (CBS) Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC) Sela Ward, "Once and Again" (ABC)
Favorite Actor in a Comedy Bill Cosby, "Cosby" (CBS) Michael J. Fox, "Spin City" (ABC) David Hyde Pierce, "Frasier" (NBC) Ray Romano, "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS)
Favorite Actress in a Comedy Jenna Elfman, "Dharma & Greg" (ABC) Calista Flockhart, "Ally McBeal" (FOX) Lisa Kudrow, "Friends" (NBC) Phylicia Rashad, "Cosby" (CBS)
Favorite Actor in a Drama David Duchovny, "The X-Files" (FOX) David James Elliott, "JAG" (CBS) Dennis Franz, "NYPD Blue" (ABC) Sam Waterston, "Law & Order" (NBC)
Favorite Actress in a Drama Gillian Anderson, "The X-Files" (FOX) Roma Downey, "Touched by an Angel" (CBS) Melina Kanakaredes, "Providence" (NBC) Julianna Margulies, "ER" (NBC)
Favorite New Series "Judging Amy" (CBS) "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC) "Once and Again" (ABC) "The West Wing" (NBC)
Favorite Comedy Series "Ally McBeal" (FOX) "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS) "Frasier" (NBC) "Friends" (NBC)
Favorite Drama Series "ER" (NBC) "Providence" (NBC) "The Practice" (ABC) "Touched by an Angel" (CBS)
Favorite Soap Opera "All My Children" (ABC) "Days of Our Lives" (NBC) "General Hospital" (ABC) "The Young and the Restless" (CBS)
Favorite Sportscaster Terry Bradshaw (FOX) Bob Costas (NBC) Howie Long (FOX) John Madden (FOX)
Favorite Daytime Talk Show "Judge Judy" (Syndicated) "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" (Syndicated) "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (Syndicated) "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (Syndicated)
Favorite Game Show "Hollywood Squares" (Syndicated) "Jeopardy!" (Syndicated) "Wheel of Fortune" (Syndicated) "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (ABC)
Favorite News Personality Tom Brokaw (NBC) Katie Couric (NBC) Peter Jennings (ABC) Matt Lauer (NBC)
Favorite Late Night Show "Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS) "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher" (ABC) "Saturday Night Live" (NBC) "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (NBC)
ONLINE NOMINEES Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy Show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB) "Charmed" (WB) "The X-Files" (FOX)
Favorite Reality TV "Biography" (A&E) "Behind the Music" (VH1) "The Real World" (MTV)
Favorite TV Pet Eddie, "Frasier" (NBC) Happy, "7th Heaven" (WB) Salem, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (ABC)
Favorite TV Movie or Miniseries "Annie" (ABC) "Joan of Arc" (NBC) "Tuesdays with Morrie" (ABC)
Favorite News Program "Dateline NBC" (NBC) "Entertainment Tonight" (Syndicated) "20/20" (ABC)
Favorite Music Show "Behind the Music" (VH1) "Total Request Live" (MTV) "Pop-Up Video" (VH1)
Favorite Children's Show "Blue's Clues" (Nickelodeon) "Rugrats" (Nickelodeon) "Sesame Street" (PBS)
AOL KEYWORD: TV GUIDE EXCLUSIVE CATEGORY
Favorite Teen Show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB) "Dawson's Creek" (WB) "Popular" (WB)