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Entertainment Today: Showbiz news

By United Press International   |   March 19, 2002 at 4:45 AM
'ELLIE' WATCH

The new NBC comedy "Watching Ellie" has only been on the air for a few weeks, but something of a deathbed watch is already being organized.

According to a report in the New York Daily News, if ratings fall too far below where they are now, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show could get canceled. On the other hand, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker told the News the show could have a decent run if it can maintain its current ratings.

"If it settles in where it is now, it's a home run," said Zucker. "We feel very positive. It's been a solid performer. Obviously, it's too early to make any announcements."

Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of the ad-buying firm Advanswers PHD, doesn't share Zucker's optimism.

"This is a show that probably won't be back on the schedule next year," DeCabia told the newspaper. He said "Watching Ellie" is not performing well enough to provide a strong lead-in to any show coming on after it, adding that, "if this were a stock, you'd sell it."

The show features Louis-Dreyfus as a lounge singer trying to make a career in Los Angeles. It has lost 33 percent of its audience since its premiere. But analysts point out that the premiere, which was heavily promoted during NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics, drew unusually high ratings, so despite the steep decline, the show is still attracting a sizeable crowd.

"There are people out there who would like to see this fail, and make a big deal about the drop-off," said Zucker. "This is exactly what we expected."

The speculation only adds to the notion that there is such a thing as a "curse" involving former cast members of "Seinfeld." Michael Richards and Jason Alexander both starred in new half-hour comedies, and both failed after just a few weeks.

(Thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)


STEVEN SPIELBERG AND E.T.

Steven Spielberg will help E.T., NASA astronauts and schoolchildren at Universal Studios Florida make history Tuesday as E.T. places his first phone call in 20 years to the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting hundreds of miles above the Earth's surface.

Utilizing a communications system assembled to connect the filmmaker on the Southern California set of his new movie "Catch Me If You Can" with Universal Studios Florida and NASA's special satellite telephone system, Spielberg will give new meaning to the phrase "long-distance call" as he's linked to the space station along with Orlando-area school children gathered at the "E.T. Adventure" ride at the Universal Orlando theme park.

E.T, Spielberg, the Florida schoolchildren, NASA Astronaut Janice Voss and Chief Scientist for Human Space Flight Dr. Kathryn Clark will speak directly with the ISS crew. The children will have the opportunity to question the crewmembers.

"E.T., The Extra Terrestrial 20th Anniversary" re-release -- with additional never-before-seen footage and digital enhancements -- will open nationwide this Friday.


'PROJECT GREENLIGHT'

Kevin Pollak and Aidan Quinn are blasting HBO -- calling its "Project Greenlight" series a fabricated and manipulative "mockumentary" designed to show tension that did not really exist on the set of their new film, "Stolen Summer."

"(HBO) created drama and built a case with editing," said Pollak. "They made Aidan out to be Richard III and they used something I said that was so out of context that I was floored. I could not believe it. ... They succeeded wildly in creating an unbelievably entertaining show and they raised the profile of the movie and (director) Pete Jones, who, I think, is a wonderful storyteller. And I love that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are giving back to the writing community. All of that is fantastic, so if the series raises the awareness of all that, then it outweighs the negative and my little personal concerns don't rule the day. Quite frankly, I know not to ever do this again to myself."

First-time director Pete Jones won a scriptwriting contest dreamed up by actors/screenwriters Damon and Affleck and sponsored by Miramax and HBO. Miramax gave him nearly $2 million to direct his first film. But there was a catch. The entire film-making process was filmed and select footage shown on the HBO original series, "Project Greenlight," a "Survivor"-style reality show.

And like many of those who were kicked off the island, then went home and saw how they were portrayed in highlights of the CBS reality show, Quinn, Jones and Pollak all complained that the footage aired on "Project Greenlight" was edited to show only the experience's infrequent moments of tension and frustration.

The director and his stars all told UPI they were greatly disappointed the show focused on the few negative moments and not the passion and joy they felt in making a movie they are all very proud of.

"So, is there an appetite in America for a compelling, truthful re-telling of an experience where a crew and the actors and the director really get along and have a lot of laughs and are up late at night, drinking with each other and sharing ideas about tomorrow's work and having a wonderful time," asked Quinn. "I don't know. I think there is. Obviously, the people editing ('Project Greenlight') did not. There is a lot of fabrication. I thought it didn't accurately match the good time that we had making it."

(Thanks to UPI's Karen Butler in New York)


WORLD STUNT AWARDS

The finest stunt professionals in the world will be honored at the second annual World Stunt Awards May 19 at Santa Monica Air Center's Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. The event will be taped for airing May 31 on ABC (at 8 p.m. ET/PT).

Don Mischer -- the 13-time Emmy Award winner who was executive producer of the 2002 Winter Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies -- will executive produce the awards show.

Winners of the Taurus statuette for extraordinary performances in the year's best feature films will be chosen from 14 categories. There will also be honorary and lifetime achievement award categories. Past honorees and participants have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Woo, Alec Baldwin, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Chuck Norris, Michael Keaton, Jackie Chan, Ving Rhames, Burt Reynolds, John Travolta, Sharon Stone and James Cameron.

The producers are also promising a fiery blend of explosive action, exclusive behind-the-scenes features and celebrity presenters backed by thrilling stunt sequences performed live, onstage.

(Web site: worldstuntawards.com)


PAT WEAVER DIES

It's sad that many young people think that Sylvester "Pat" Weaver's greatest achievement was fathering Signourney. But, during his career, most of it at NBC, he revolutionized the way TV shows are produced.

Lee de Forrest may have made the first broadcasts on radio in 1906 and Edwin Howard Armstrong may have brought us FM. But Pat Weaver brought us "Tonight," "Today," "Tomorrow" and "The Home Show" -- along with a concept that we forget someone had to invent.

Watch most of the early TV or radio shows and you'll soon notice that corporate sponsors had their names in the titles. Cigarette companies, carmakers and soap companies bought half-hour and hour-long segments on the networks, produced the shows with their stars and owned the time -- lock, stock and barrel. It was "The U.S. Steel Hour," "The Jello Show (with Jack Benny)," "The Lux Radio Theater," "The Lucky Strike Hit Parade."

What Pat Weaver did was simply to get rid of total sponsorship of programs and start producing them on his own. His shows were then sold to several sponsors -- some even had "local availabilities" that stations could sell to hometown sponsors during broadcasts. His idea that people WOULD stay up after 11:30 at night allowed him to take "Broadway Open House" with Kenny Lester, Wayne Howell and Dagmar and retool it into a national show with Steve Allen, and then Jack Parr, and eventually Johnny Carson and now Jay Leno.

"Tonight" is an American fixture. It was Pat Weaver's brainchild. We owe him quite a debt. Along the way, though, Weaver would tell several interviewers that the concept of network television that showed so much promise to teach and enlighten and enrich had become a channel "for the lowest common denominator."

Outspoken to the end, he died late Friday of pneumonia. Pat Weaver -- the man who changed television, taking it out of the control of a few wealthy companies, invented late-night TV, pushed for quality programming and quit NBC when it refused to agree with him ... the man who gave us Sigourney -- was 93.

(Thanks to UPI's Dennis Daily)

© 2002 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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