Hollywood Analysis: 2002's ups and downs

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Dec. 16, 2002 at 1:40 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The entertainment media had more than enough to do in 2002, beyond the usual drudgery of watching movies and TV shows and then writing about them. There were plenty of actual news stories to cover as well.

Take the obvious examples involving celebrity crime. Please.

Robert Blake, Winona Ryder, Nick Nolte, Paula Poundstone, Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman) and Jeffrey Jones all were accused -- and in some cases convicted -- of crossing the line.

Blake, the Emmy-winning star of the cop-drama "Beretta," was arrested and charged with killing his wife in 2001. Los Angeles police put off arresting Blake for close to one year after the killing, in the interest of building a case so solid that they would run no risk of repeating the investigative fiasco that attended the O.J. Simpson double murder trial in the '90s.

As 2002 comes to a close, Blake sits in jail and there appears to be little prospect that he will enjoy freedom any time soon.

Somehow, Hollywood managed to turn a shoplifting case against Winona Ryder into a bigger story than the murder case against Blake.

The Oscar-nominated star of "Little Women" and "The Age of Innocence" only spent one night in jail following her arrest in December 2001 for trying to steal thousands of dollars in merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. But the trial she went though to try, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to prove her innocence must have felt like a punishment in itself.

Ryder faced public ridicule, magnified by a media presence that at times gave the trial a Golden Globe Awards-type atmosphere. She may have felt a sense of relief when the judge in her case constructed an order that would discourage media coverage of the hundreds of hours of community service she must perform as part of her formal punishment.

Nolte copped a plea and got probation for a DUI, and Poundstone finally regained custody of her adopted children -- after losing custody for more than a year following her arrest on a variety of charges in 2002.

Reubens and Jones are having to defend themselves from what Hollywood reporters used to refer to as morals charges involving young boys. Attorneys for both actors promise all will be cleared up when the facts come out in court.

The Oscars made history as well as news, when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry became the first black actor and actress to win for best actor and actress in the same year -- with Berry becoming the first black ever to win best actress.

During the fall, the comedy "Barbershop" gave the cable chat shows something to talk about when black activists including Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton slammed the mover over a few lines of dialogue they characterized as showing insufficient reverence for such civil rights icons as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

The filmmakers refused to accede to demands that they change the dialogue. Rather, business was so good they announced plans to make a sequel.

Hollywood turned out another ethnic surprise with the almost unimaginable success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which was made for a reported $5 million and has grossed more than $215.6 million -- good for 38th place on the list of all-time U.S. box-office hits.

On the other hand, "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" did more or less what they were supposed to do -- more than less, in the case of "Spider-Man" which grossed $403.7 million and climb to No. 5 on the all-time list. "Star Wars" took in $309.3, good for No. 11 on the all-time list.

As 2002 heads into the final stretch, Hollywood's first $10 billion box office year seems out of reach, but there is little doubt that the box office will finish well ahead of last year. It has been running consistently about 12 percent of last year's pace for months, following a spectacular summer.

Family films had a mixed performance, though, despite repeated -- almost routine -- cries from family-friendly organizations for more G and PG movies. At year's end, Disney's stock price was paying the price for a horrible box-office performance by the reasonably well-reviewed "Treasure Planet."

Some software companies have figured out a way to turn "Saving Private Ryan" into a family movie, using technology to edit out or cover up the troubling bits. As the year comes to a close, Hollywood studios have joined the legal battle over copyright issues involved in the marketing of such technologies.

But, as if to remind all concerned that parents can only do so much to insulate children from certain realities, 2002 also saw the introduction of an HIV-positive character on "Sesame Street." It's the South African version of the program, not the U.S. version, but officials left little doubt that they want to introduce a similar storyline to the U.S. show some time soon.

Such examples of actual news from the entertainment world serve to remind us that show business is often about much more than the show, or the business.

The headlines may be filled with speculation about David Letterman's career direction, or the breakup of Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley's marriage, or a near-death experience for Michael Jackson's infant son. But there are always plenty of stories that serve to make the point that the entertainment business is quite capable of challenging its consumers with important and difficult questions about their lives.

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