Jack is back--and this time around we get to see how effusive CIA analyst Jack Ryan got his start in the game of world politics. The green Ryan (Ben Affleck) has been working for the CIA on the Russian intelligence desk for just a short while and has started dating beautiful medical resident Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan). When the president of Russia suddenly dies and is succeeded by Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds) a man the U.S. knows very little about old paranoia springs up anew between the two countries. CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) recruits Ryan who had written an in-depth paper on Nemerov to supply insight and advice. But things get ugly fast. First a bombing attack levels the capital of Chechnya. Then the unimaginable happens--a nuclear bomb explodes on U.S. soil at the Superbowl outside of Baltimore. U.S. blames Russia but Jack bets his life that an outside terrorist faction is responsible. When Jack's suspicions are found to be true it's up to our hero to try and stop the two world superpowers from starting WWIII.
Affleck joins the growing list of actors to portray Clancy's hero Jack Ryan and in all fairness to the actor his performance isn't really one to compare. This isn't Harrison Ford's Ryan who in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger is the established CIA honcho having played the game a long time. It isn't even Alec Baldwin's Ryan who in The Hunt for Red October is already a proven CIA analyst with a wife and young child. Affleck's Ryan is just starting out full of youth and idealism. He's a little nervous to be working with the CIA but excited to be involved in it--and he is falling in love for the first time. Plus he gets to save the world. All combined the performance is a cakewalk for the affable actor and he handles the action chores well. As far as Affleck continuing the Clancy franchise it remains to be seen because we've already seen the different stages of Jack Ryan's life played out. Where is there left to go? As always Freeman is also excellent and quite convincing as the CIA director; the actor could read a phone book out loud and make it compelling. Liev Schreiber also does a nice turn as a secret CIA operative who helps Ryan discover the terrorists.
Tom Clancy takes his material directly from real-life world conflicts and it's understood that his novels however far-fetched they may seem in some ways could actually happen. The fact is there are 164 transportable nuclear warheads currently unaccounted for (according to the film's production notes)--and a terrorist group could get their hands on one at any time. Still like reading a fictitious novel Fears is a Hollywood movie. Director Phil Alden Robinson orchestrates plenty of tense moments that you know are highly implausible--i.e. surviving a nuclear blast and then running through a debris-strewed street while trying to use a cell phone--but we go along with it anyway because we are action junkies. There are two aspects however that differentiate this film from the hundreds of other films of its genre. First it actually shows a nuclear bomb going off. It's somewhat shocking when it happens since we are used to the hero stopping that in time. It's powerful stuff. The second is that the Russians aren't the bad guys (Nazi fascists are but that's another matter)--a definite and refreshing change of pace. Even if Fears mirrors the current unsettling climate the film is still an enjoyable ride.
The show that reinvigorated the primetime quiz show genre and its most recent, well-hyped competitor will now duke it out in syndication. Buena Vista Television's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and NBC's Weakest Link are poised to start their daytime versions in syndication 2002. Link will debut first, in January, while Millionaire is slated for a fall release.
Millionaire became so powerful on its inception that it was almost solely responsible for halting several industry trends dead in their tracks. Among them: the erosion of broadcast TV at the hands of hard-charging cable, the decline of family viewing, and NBC's decade-plus dominance of Thursday night primetime.
Millionaire also spawned a whole host of copycat programs.
But Millionaire and Link proved that quiz shows, marketed and promoted well, can attract large audiences with a wide demographic.
Now the shows will try to duplicate their primetime success in syndication.
"The one advantage that these shows have is that they are known commodities," media buyer Bill Carroll of Katz Television told The Associated Press. "Both shows have been very much embraced by audiences in primetime. When you have that, you have the potential to translate to daytime."
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is expected to debut as a half-hour weekday syndicated show in the fall of 2002, with the same format as its primetime progenitor on ABC. Primetime executive producer Michael Davies will reprise his duties for the daytime Millionaire. The quiz show is produced by the Disney-owned company, Buena Vista Television.
Rosie O'Donnell--a self-described big fan of the show and Regis Philbin--is rumored to be interested in hosting the show. Buena Vista Television is rumored to be interested in O'Donnell, Reuters reports. Her current contract with Telepictures, and her expected appointment as producer of a Telepictures game show, may preclude the deal.
There are two game shows in development at Telepictures for O'Donnell's debut as a producer: a new version of Let's Make a Deal and a trivia-based quiz show from first-season Millionaire writers.
But Philbin has not ruled himself out of the hosting picture. Jim Griffin, Philbin's agent, told reporters that "[Regis] told the network, if the network needs him or wants him, he's available."
Philbin would bring immediate star presence and publicity to the show, as would O'Donnell, but Buena Vista may be concerned about Philbin's overexposure and the consequent weakening of the primetime version.
Rival NBC's Weakest Link also is going to a half-hour syndicated format, but will roll out in January 2002, nine months ahead of Millionaire.
Surprisingly, WNBC in New York City appears not have exercised its right of first refusal for the syndicated version of Link. Rather, the contract will go to WCBS, Variety reports. WPIX in San Francisco and WJZ in Baltimore, both CBS affiliates, also have signed on for the daytime Link.
CBS also has its eye on acquiring the daytime Millionaire. An hour-long block of Link and Millionaire would help shore up sagging daytime ratings for CBS.
When contacted, WNBC refused to comment on why it did not pick up the option for the syndie Link.
Linda Finnell, NBC Enterprises Domestic Syndication's senior vice president of development, will oversee production of the syndicated version of Link, much as she does for primetime. Additionally, executive producers Phil Gurin and Stuart Krasnow also will pull double duty for the daytime version.
NBC did announce, however, that Link host Anne Robinson would not spit out the questions for the syndicated version.
Julia Roberts is no stranger to Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios. Already pegged to star in Revolution's "Project 3" and "American Sweethearts," Roberts might apparently also star in the studio’s upcoming "Perfect Strangers," Daily Variety reports.
The script will be written by Jon Bokenkamp, whose credits include "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows."
'FIRE' IT UP: "American Psycho" star Christian Bale is in talks to star in "Reign of Fire," an apocalyptic tale about an England overrun by fire-breathing dragons, The Hollywood Reporter says. Bale will play the leader of the surviving earthlings.
SPIDEY SINGS A NEW TUNE: Don't expect that catchy TV theme song for the "Spider-Man" flick. Cinescape.com reports today that Danny Elfman, the composer who also gave the "Batman" franchise a new sound, will score the new Sam Raimi adaptation.
'FEAR' NOT: "Field of Dreams" director Phil Alden Robinson is set to helm "The Sum of All Fears," an adaptation of the 1992 Tom Clancy novel, Variety says. The project will star Ben Affleck as CIA analyst Jack Ryan.
It's the last gasp for the February sweeps (running through Wednesday), and the mini-series "events" are coming fast and furious.
NBC leads the way this week with its ambitious test of our collective attention span, "The 10th Kingdom" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST, Sunday; 8-11 p.m. Monday; 8-11 p.m. Wednesday; 9-11 p.m. March 5; 8-11 p.m. March 6 ... See what we mean?). Executive producer Robert Halmi Sr., who has scored with some bold and nifty TV productions in the past ("Gulliver's Travels," "Merlin"), along with the occasional air ball ("Leprechauns"), seems to be taking a "bigger is better" approach this time around. More of a maxi than a mini, with a pretty slim story about a Central Park "vortex" that links Manhattan with the world of fairy tales, "Kingdom" looks to be a bit of a programming gamble. It might be a little too grown-up and lengthy for kids and a little too goofy (and lengthy) for grown-ups. The ensemble cast includes Kimberly Williams, John Larroquette, Dianne Wiest, Ed O'Neill, Rutger Hauer and Camryn Manheim. If you're hungry for fantasy, and "Kingdom" doesn't quite do it for you, hang on until Halmi returns this spring, with what looks to be a more "event" worthy production of "Arabian Nights" for ABC.
"A Perfect Murder, A Perfect Town" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST; 9-11 p.m. Wednesday), CBS's entry into this week's mini-series battle, also challenges the audience to stay interested. While "The 10th Kingdom" might seem like it has no ending, this four-hour portrayal of the JonBenet Ramsey murder and aftermath actually has no ending. Ronny Cox and Marg Helgenberger deliver admirable studies in subtext as the grieving parents or crazed murderers, since no one knows for sure who is what in this story. In the end, "Perfect" (our second JonBenet biopic of the month, after Fox's "The JonBenet Ramsey Story") is a dramatization of speculation about an unsolved murder investigation. This one might work better as a documentary.
Hoping to counter other programming that is either "heavy" or just plain ponderous, ABC jumps in with yet another multi-parter, "The Beach Boys: An American Family" (9-11 p.m. EST/PST Sunday; 9-11 p.m. Monday). It might be a long way to go, from humble birth to humble rebirth as one of rock 'n' roll's greatest bands, but the soap-opera-like conflicts between the Wilson and Love clans and the groovy soundtrack make for a pretty good ride.
Of the first-run productions offered this week, "Freedom Song" (7 p.m. EST/PST Sunday), another made-for-cable original from cable's TNT, might be the most worthwhile. The cable studio just continues to bring big star power to its projects. Danny Glover ("Buffalo Soldiers") returns to the TNT fold as producer and star, teaming with writer/director Phil Alden Robinson ("Field of Dreams") for this wrenching story of a young man trying to join a black voter registration drive in an early 1960s Mississippi.
In conjunction with "Sport's Illustrated's" continuing effort to convince the American public that a bunch of girls lying around in bikinis is actually a very rare sight worthy of major promotional tours, TNT offers "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2000" (which actually premiered Saturday but encores Monday at 10 p.m. EST/PST). Of course, what has always set the annual SI swimsuit issue apart from the competition is the element of class that the magazine brings to the subject matter of "a bunch of girls lying around in bikinis." This year, SI classes things up a little more by presenting some of the pictures in 3-D (free glasses provided). The TNT show will be presented in the standard 2-D.
Speaking of class, it's "Greed" week on Fox. New episodes air Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 p.m. EST/PST. "Greed" is entertaining enough, but what's most interesting about this entry into the primetime game-show wars is that a contestant's stupidity can actually cost other people hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. With its ability to crush self-esteem and generate real resentment among contestants, "Greed" is not exactly the "feel-good hit of the season," but it can get pretty dramatic.
And finally ... for fans of pop-culture documentaries such as VH-1's "Behind the Music," Fox offers "TV Guide's Truth Behind the Sitcoms" (8 p.m. EST/PST Fox). Romance, jealousy, drug abuse and racial tension on the sets of three 1970s staples -- "Happy Days," "One Day at a Time" and "The Jeffersons." Ladies, you might finally get an answer to one of that decade's most burning questions: "What is Anson Williams really like?"