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Backstreet Boys are back on top of the charts

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CHART-TOPPERS The Backstreet Boys are back at No. 1 on the record charts with ”Millennium,” after taking three weeks off at No. 2 to let Limp Bizkit have a turn. After nine weeks, ”Millennium” has sold nearly 4 million copies.

MAKING MUSIC No, Will Smith isn’t spending all of his time buying tickets for ”Wild Wild West” to keep its grosses up: He’s currently in the studio working on his next album, which should be out in mid-October, according to MTV News. Meanwhile, his next movie role will likely be the lead in a Muhammad Ali biopic, directed by Smith’s ”West” partner, Barry Sonnenfeld, this fall.

EGO TROUBLE? Rumors are flying that Kevin Costner is up to his old heavy-handed tricks again, demanding that his edit of his new baseball film ”For Love of the Game” should be released, even though director Sam Raimi’s version received much better test scores, according to Variety. ”This is an old rap that’s easy to hang on Kevin, but not a fair one,” says the film’s producer, Armyan Bernstein, who adds that the film is not officially finished and that Raimi is still in the editing room while Costner is out of the country. However, he did allude to some differences of opinion by saying, ”Creative contention creates excellence and makes everyone bear down harder” Sure. Everyone remembers how well that worked on ”Waterworld.”

MORE ”EYES WIDE SHUT” CONTROVERSY The MPAA’s forcing of Stanley Kubrick to add digitally created figures to block out the nude characters in the orgy scene of ”Eyes Wide Shut” to avoid an NC-17 does not sit well with L.A. movie critics. Thirty-five members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association signed a letter to the organization chastising it for its prudishness on sex, while permitting violence in such PG-13 movies as ”Wild Wild West.” ”The decision to (edit ”Eyes” for an R rating) once again proves the deeply chilling effect the ratings system is having on creative expression in film,” reads the letter. In Tuesday’s Variety, MPAA chairman Jack Valenti lashed out against what he saw as a minority of critics and filmmakers who were ”infected with a bad case of the ‘whines.”’ Meanwhile, if you’re waiting to see ”Eyes” when it comes on network TV, don’t bother: Warner Bros. announced that it will not allow the film to be edited for television, as per its agreement with Kubrick.

CASTING Johnathon Schaech (”That Thing You Do!”) has joined the cast of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s ”Party of Five” spin-off, ”Time of Your Life.” He’ll play Hewitt’s love interest, a musician who’s on his way down. Are you listening, Carson?!… Snoop Dogg may make his bow (wow!) as a lead actor in ”Bones,” a thriller about a ghost trying to track down his murderer 20 years after the fact. Ernest Dickerson (”Juice”) would direct.

REEL DEALS NBC and Michael Douglas (in a producing role) are negotiating to turn Tom Wolfe’s best-seller ”A Man in Full” into a miniseries for fall 2000. According to Variety, movie studios have stayed away from buying rights to the novel, thinking it was far too unwieldy for a two-hour film, and their ears are undoubtedly still rattling from the bomb that was the last adaptation of a Wolfe book, ”The Bonfire of the Vanities”…. Nora Ephron (”You’ve Got Mail”) has lined up another romantic-comedy remake. She’ll update the 1945 British film ”Perfect Strangers” (calling it ”Vacation From Marriage,” which is what the older film was called when released in the U.S.), about a shy couple who separates for a year and both become far more outgoing on their own…. Director Tom Shadyac (”Patch Adams”) may take on ”Slow Man,” a drama about a patient whose metabolism has slowed so he ages 100 times slower than a normal person.

UNDER FIRE Fox president Doug Herzog was assailed during his presentation of his fall schedule at the Television Critics Association press tour by reporters who wanted to know why there was so much sex and violence in the network’s lineup. Herzog defended the envelope-pushing programming as a competitive decision to be compelling and innovative. Upon further grilling, he pointed out that when a cable network like HBO puts on a violent show like ”The Sopranos,” it’s complimented for being innovative, while broadcasters are chastised for doing the same thing.

OBITUARY The drummer for The Waterboys, Kevin Wilkinson, was found dead in his England home over the weekend from an apparent suicide, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was reportedly extremely depressed over personal and family problems, according to MTV News, but he had been preparing to rejoin the Waterboys (which he had left earlier in the decade) for a new album starting Tuesday.

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