Hollywood digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   March 19, 2002 at 4:12 PM   |   Comments

'POLITICALLY INCORRECT' ON THE ROPES?

Bill Maher says the days are numbered for his late-night ABC show "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" -- and he's known it since he set off a controversy just days after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. when he used the word "cowardly" to describe U.S. policy on retaliating for terrorist attacks.

Maher also says "Nightline" is on its way out the door at ABC.

Speaking with the Seattle Times, Maher said that "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel has never been willing to promote "Politically Incorrect," which follows "Nightline" on the network's late-night schedule.

"Suddenly, (Koppel)'s not a sacred cow," said Maher. "He's a slaughtered cow."

After David Letterman announced that he would remain at CBS -- rejecting overtures to jump to ABC -- Koppel's network said it wants to work things out with "Nightline," but has been quiet about "Politically Incorrect."

Adding to speculation about the future of Maher's show, ABC announced Monday that it will follow the Academy Awards telecast Sunday with a special, late-night edition of its daytime talk show "The View." "Politically Incorrect" had filled that spot for the past two years.

"After Party at 'The View"' -- a one-hour special airing live after the Oscars show and local news -- will feature a guest appearance by two-time Oscar nominee Peter Fonda.


MORE CUTS AT DISNEY

Walt Disney Studios Animation president Thomas Schumacher informed senior executives and top creative staff this week that the studio will lay off as many as 265 employees at its Burbank facility over the next year, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

That will reduce that staff from 1,300 to about 1,000 by May 2003. It comes after Disney's animation division cut 500 jobs -- and slashed animators' salaries by 30 percent to 50 percent -- last year, in response to rising production costs.

The Times reported that Schumacher told his colleagues the company is not getting out of the traditional animation business, but is expanding its digital animation business.

Disney has cut 4,000 jobs company wide in the past 18 months, in response to the slowing economy.


JON VOIGHT'S NEXT

According to a report on FilmStew.com, Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight is close to a deal to join Sigourney Weaver in the movie adaptation of Louis Sachar's Newberry Award-winning children's book "Holes."

Weaver will play the mean warden of a juvenile detention center where the main character -- Stanley Yelnats -- is mistakenly sent for a crime he did not commit. Voight reportedly will play the warden's right-hand man.

Boys being held at the camp are forced to dig holes. It's supposed to be a character-builder but Yelnats discovers the real reason for all that digging is buried treasure.

Voight is nominated for a supporting actor Oscar this year for his performance as legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell in "Ali."


CASTING NOTES

Tim Curry ("Charlie's Angels," "The Wild Thornberrys") and Gary Cole ("The Brady Bunch," "American Gothic") are joining the cast of an updated version of the classic TV series "Family Affair" (CBS, 1966-71).

Curry will play the British butler Mr. French, played in the original by Sebastian Cabot. Cole will play Bill Davis -- originally played by Brian Keith -- a rich bachelor who winds up raising his nieces and nephew. The remake is being produced for the WB.

Katey Sagal ("Married ... With Children," "Futurama") is joining John Ritter ("Three's Company") in the cast of "8 Simple Rules." Ritter plays a protective father in the series, based on humor columnist W. Bruce Cameron's book "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, and Other Tips from a Beleaguered Father (Not That Any of Them Work)."


NEW NBR HONORS

The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures has announced the creation of a new NBR award, this one to honor movies "of particular merit in the realm of freedom of expression."

The NBR Freedom of Expression Citation will be presented throughout the year "to films that address reflect or provoke concern for prejudice, intolerance, persecution and censorship," according to the group's announcement.

The New York-based organization said the first citation would be presented to Justine Shapiro and B.Z. Goldberg, the writing-producing-directing team behind the documentary film "Promises." The picture features interviews with seven children -- Israeli and Palestinian -- who describe what it is like live in Jerusalem in the midst of Middle East violence.


STARS LINE UP FOR OSCARS

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that Ian McKellen, Nathan Lane and Hugh Jackman will appear as presenters at the 74th Academy Awards on Sunday.

Lane -- who made his final appearance last Sunday in the Broadway musical "The Producers" -- appeared in "The Birdcage" with Robin Williams and has done voices in the animated movies "The Lion King," "Stuart Little" and "Titan A.E."

McKellen -- who is nominated for best supporting actor for his performance as the wizard Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" -- will be making his first appearance as a presenter on an Oscars telecast.

It will be the first appearance as a presenter for Jackman, who stars with Meg Ryan in "Kate & Leopold." Jackman is currently preparing to reprise his role as Wolverine in the sequel to "X-Men."


SO THAT'S WHAT IT WAS

Health officials in Los Angeles say that a disease that spreads through food infected with sewage pollution is probably what made about 100 people sick on March 2 at the presentation of Scientific and Technical Oscars in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Most of those affected were sick for days with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

Epidemiologists said the most likely culprit was a type of Norwalk virus, a common infectious agent that causes gastroenteritis. They aren't sure how the virus was introduced at the event.

The sick roll included about 20 employees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- including Laura Ziskin, the producer of this Sunday's Oscar telecast -- who missed some work the week after the event.

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