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What's going on in Hollywood

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Oct. 24, 2001 at 10:53 PM   |   Comments

SHAMELESS PLUG

Bill Gates filmed a guest appearance Tuesday on the NBC comedy, "Frasier," using the occasion to talk up his company -- Microsoft -- and its product line, which includes the new Windows XP operating system for personal computers.

The multi-billionaire played himself in the show's 200th episode -- scheduled to air Nov. 13, during the major ratings sweeps period.

In the episode, Gates drops by the Seattle radio studio where the series' central character -- psychiatrist Frasier Crane, played by Emmy-winner Kelsey Grammer -- is doing his 2,000th call-in show. According to published reports, Gates graciously consents to take calls from listeners, which drives Crane to boredom.


JULIA ROBERTS' NEXT?

There are published reports in Hollywood that Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts has agreed to star in "Mona Lisa Smile."

The project is described as the story of a free-spirited woman who graduates from the University of California-Berkeley and faces the challenge of going on to join the faculty at the more traditional Wellesley College campus in 1953.


LEO AND MARTY TOGETHER AGAIN?

Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are reportedly planning to work together again -- following up their upcoming movie, "Gangs of New York," with a movie about the life of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered the known world before dying mysteriously at 33.

"Gangs of New York" -- which had been projected as a Christmas holiday release by Miramax, has been put off until some time in 2002. There had been speculation that the account of the struggle for street dominance between Irish and Italian gangs in New York would get a limited release this Christmas in order to qualify for this year's Academy Awards, but that does not appear to be in the cards.

Several other filmmakers, including Oliver Stone, are reported to have been working on film versions of the Alexander story.

The DiCaprio-Scorsese project will have to wait awhile before filming can begin, since the "Titanic" star has plans to shoot "Catch Me If You Can" with Steven Spielberg early next year.


WILL SMITH'S 'TRUE GREATNESS'

As the buzz builds around his upcoming movie, "Ali," Will Smith is beginning to sound a bit like the three-time heavyweight boxing champion he played in the movie.

Muhammad Ali was famous for -- among other things -- claiming he was "the greatest." He even played himself in the movie biography, "The Greatest," in 1977.

In the December Playboy interview, Smith shows he can boast with the best of them -- either that or he's a real kidder.

The star of "Men in Black" and "Independence Day," who is also a four-time Grammy-winning rapper, told the magazine his accomplishments in the entertainment business are "just a pit stop on the way to my true greatness."

How great does Smith think he can be?

"I honestly think I could be the President of the U.S. if I really wanted to," he said.

Smith has yet to join the top tier of Hollywood stardom, but he's anxious to get there -- and beyond.

"I want Tom Cruise to take movies that I turn down," Smith told Playboy. "I want you to have to ask Tom Cruise, 'So what does it feel like to have to wait until Will turns it down?' I want you to have to ask Tom Hanks, 'If Will turns down the next whatever, will you take it?'"

"Ali" may put Smith in the inner circle of Hollywood's A-list. If and when that happens, he apparently will regard it as fate.

"I felt like there was nobody in the world who could do this but me."


GOING, GOING, GONE!

The winning bid was $101,300 for the courtside seat next to Spike Lee for Michael Jordan's return to Madison Square Garden with the Washington Wizards next Tuesday.

It wasn't immediately announced who came up with the bid -- online auctioneers needed to confirm the legitimacy of the offer before going public with the name.

Lee, who decided to auction the ticket to raise money for the Fire Department's USA Widows and Children's Fund, told the New York Daily News he was thrilled with the outcome.

"I think it's a great thing," he said, "the best part being that all of the money is going directly into the hands of the widows and children of New York's Bravest."

Lee expects much from Jordan next Tuesday.

"Michael rarely disappoints," he said. "He's going to put on a show, and it's going to be a great night. I just hope the Knicks win."


BENEFIT CONCERTS DELIVER RATINGS FOR VH1, CMT

The Concert for America was a ratings success for VH1 Saturday night, and the Country Freedom Concert in Nashville was good for ratings at Country Music Television on Sunday.

VH1 drew an average of 4.9 million viewers -- a record for the cable music channel -- from 7 p.m. to nearly 1 a.m. Sunday. The attraction was obvious -- with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Joel and others taking the stage to raise funds for victims and heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

CMT also enjoyed record ratings, attracting 1.9 million viewers from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Sunday's Michael Jackson-headlined concert in Washington, D.C. was not televised, but highlights of the show -- titled United We Stand: What More Can I Give? -- will be packaged into a TV special, scheduled to air Nov. 1 on ABC. CBS is expected to air a one-hour special next week featuring performances from the Madison Square Garden show.


NOT YOUR FATHER'S 'E.T.'?

Word is getting out that the upcoming re-release of Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi fantasy, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," will go beyond the typical digital enhancements and remastered audio, to offer viewers editorial alterations that some critics say violate the character of the original.

According to the movie fan Web site aintitcool.com, one scene in the new version has been digitally altered to show police officers holding walkie-talkies instead of the rifles they held in the 1982 original.

One of the stars of the movie, Dee Wallace Stone, was quoted recently as acknowledging that she was called into a recording studio to read some dialogue, intended to replace a line in the original in which she tells one of the kids in the movie he looks "like a terrorist."


AARON EXPLAINS IT ALL

Aaron Sorkin, creator and executive producer of the NBC White House drama "The West Wing," has responded to critics who said the special episode he wrote for the show following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was too preachy.

Speaking at a panel discussion at Occidental College in Los Angeles Monday, Sorkin said he didn't mean to preach when he wrote the episode, in which fictitious White House staffers delivered homilies about terrorism, racial profiling and other related issues.

Sorkin defended the episode -- which drew 25.2 million viewers when it ran on Oct. 3 -- by saying he felt it was necessary to confront the terrorist attacks. Acknowledging that he had received bad reviews before, he said some critics who panned the episode "reacted as if I had hit them over the head with a bat and taken their money."

Sorkin spoke at a discussion intended to explore the impact of the terrorist attacks on the entertainment industry.


IT'S A NEW WORLD FOR FAN MAIL TOO

Hollywood is putting a new twist on the old expression: "Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks."

They'll take the postcards, but not the letters -- for at least as long as the anthrax scare persists.

Law enforcement officials say no one in Hollywood has yet received a specific threat, but as a matter of prudence letters from fans are being treated differently than they traditionally have been.

According to studios and network executives, thousands of letters are being returned to sender -- or simply set aside to be opened some other time. Warner Bros. is returning letters that bear return addresses, with a request for fans to use e-mail from now on.


OSCARS DEADLINE NEARS

Nov. 1 is the deadline for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive entry forms in four categories for the 74th Annual Academy Awards -- animated features, live-action and animated short films and foreign language films.

"This is the first year for the animated feature category, said Academy executive director Bruce Davis, "and we're anxious about assembling a quorum.

eight eligible films are required to trigger for the Academy to award an Oscar for best animated feature film.

"There were easily enough qualifiers released this year," said Davis, "but with just a week to go we still don't have any entries."

Davis said entries for all the special categories are "like college term papers -- they tend to arrive on the last possible day."

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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