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Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Sept. 16, 2002 at 4:06 PM
HOLLYWOOD'S ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Hollywood's healthy box-office performance in 2001 and 2002 is helping lead to an expansion in the entertainment industry, with 9,500 more jobs expected to be created in 2003 and 5,000 more jobs coming in 2004, according to a report in Daily Variety.

Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, told Variety the expansion is something of a catch-up for an industry that has been in decline for three years.

"The recovery is simply going to get the entertainment industry back to where it was three years ago," said Kyser. "The de facto strikes by actors and writers in 2001 have had a depressing impact into much of 2002."

The EDC's regional quarterly forecast, issued Monday, said that strong box-office numbers combined with other factors to brighten the immediate future for Hollywood. The other factors included a healthier bottom line for theater chains, a possible rebound in advertising and a weakening U.S. dollar, which makes runaway production less attractive to producers.


SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT, $21 MILLION

"Barbershop" was the No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office this weekend -- and not by a whisker, either -- taking in an estimated $21 million, more than twice as much as the No. 2 finisher, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

"Wedding" added an estimated $11 million to its running total, now at $110.7 million after 22 weeks in theaters. The new Robin Williams psycho-thriller "One Hour Photo" finished third with $7.7 million in its first weekend in wide release.

The new Tom Green-Jason Lee comedy "Stealing Harvard" opened at No. 4 with just $6.3 million.

In limited release in New York and Los Angeles, the new comedy "Igby Goes Down" averaged close to $32,000 per theater in 10 theaters. The comedy is getting good reviews as it plans to expand to 100 locations this Friday.

Overall, the U.S. box office took in an estimated $81.5 million, up 23 percent from the same weekend last year. It was the first time in nine weekends that grosses were up from the corresponding weekend in 2001, but the U.S. box office is still running about 12 percent ahead of last year's pace, with close to $6.5 billion in the bank so far.


BIG WHITE HOUSE SPENDING INCREASE

According to The Hollywood Reporter, producers of "The West Wing" are planning to raise the license fee for the show to a figure more than six times as high as the current fee.

NBC currently pays about $1.6 million per episode to John Wells Productions and Warner Bros. for the Emmy-winning White House drama. Citing a knowledgeable source, The Reporter said Wells and Warner Bros. are contemplating jacking up the license fee by 525 percent after the current season, the show's fourth on NBC.

The show consistently finishes in the Nielsen Top 15, but its audience tended to be among the most affluent in all of prime time. That gives NBC a strong selling point for sponsors willing to pay premium prices to reach viewers who enjoy higher-than-average discretionary income.

The Reporter said producers might not be likely to get $10 million per episode for the show, but they are sure to get more than they're getting now -- given the likelihood that rival bids from ABC and CBS will drive up the price.


MORE REALITY

NBC has picked up eight episodes of a new reality-based show that might do for comedians what "American Idol" did for singers.

"Funniest Person In America" -- the show's working title -- will be hosted by comedian Jay Mohr ("Mohr Sports," "Saturday Night Live"). The show will search the country for 10 comics, and then follow them as they live together in a house and compete for a prime time development deal with the network.


HAS IT REALLY BEEN 30 YEARS?

ABC will celebrate the 30th anniversary of disco during the upcoming TV season, with plans to televise a two-hour special featuring live performances by some of the genre's leading lights -- including Gloria Gaynor, Rick James, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Pointer Sisters, Thelma Houston and the Village People.

"The Disco Ball: A 30-Year Celebration" will be taped Oct. 13 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, which producers plan to make over into "Club Shrine" for the occasion -- complete with two discos with five performance areas and go-go stages. Proceeds from ticket sales to the evening will benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles.

The show will also feature appearances by contemporary performers including Aaron Carter, Carmen Electra and Whoopi Goldberg.


BRAUGHER'S NEW READING GIG

Emmy-winning actor Andre Braugher has a new gig as national spokesman for BookPALS, a national reading program of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, the charitable arm of the Screen Actors Guild.

Braugher will represent BookPALS at literacy events and participate in Storyline Online, an on-line streaming video program featuring SAG members reading children's books aloud.

"As a parent and as an actor, children's literacy and education are vitally important to me," said Braugher. "It is my hope that I can bring further awareness to the BookPALS program."

Braugher was nominated for outstanding lead actor in a drama series in 1996 and 1998 for his performance as Lt. Frank Pembleton in "Homicide: Life in the Street," winning the Emmy in 1998. He was nominated in the same category last year for his performance as Dr. Ben Gideon on "Gideon's Crossing."

His feature film credits include "City of Angels," Get On the Bus," "The Tuskegee Airmen" and "Glory."

© 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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