Chris Rock, Dustin Hoffman, and Mark Haining were in the news this week

By Jess Cagle
October 19, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

”Not too many black people watch Saturday Night Live,” says 22-year-old Chris Rock, the newest Not Ready for Prime Time Player. ”I don’t know why that is, but the show gets almost no black viewers.” As the first black regular on NBC’s SNL since Danitra Vance left in 1986, Rock wants to change all that. The Brooklyn-born stand-up comic has kept a low profile on the show — he was in one skit on the Sept. 29 season premiere and appeared briefly in three sketches on Oct. 6 — but he’s no stranger to TV: He has been featured on MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, and Showtime at the Apollo. Says SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels: ”We’re starting him off slowly. We don’t want to turn him into Fresh Prince. He’s got genuine talent, but he’s got some growing to do.”

Another great moment in the annals of product placement: During an elevator scene in the Sept. 27 Knots Landing, one of the show’s regular characters was shown thumbing through the skin mag High Society. How’d it get there? ”I just snuck it onto the set,” says Mark Haining, who plays Mort, a henchman of Gregory Sumner (William Devane). ”I’m always trying to sneak weird props onto the set. My character is a real eccentric. He’s the kind of guy who’d read High Society in an elevator.” Last year Haining snuck an inflatable love doll into one scene; earlier this year he slipped a few cigar catalogs into the action. High Society‘s publisher, former porn star Gloria Leonard, is, of course, delighted by the exposure. ”It just goes to show that Knots Landing has exceptional taste in periodicals,” she says.

Dustin Hoffman has played some challenging parts over the years — ”Ratso” Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, Mumbles in Dick Tracy — but now the Academy Award-winning actor is attempting the most animated role of his career: He’ll do a voice on one episode of The Simpsons. ”He decided to do the show because [executive producer] Jim Brooks himself asked him to,” a spokesman for Hoffman said, ”and also because his kids love the show.” Fox wouldn’t give details on Hoffman’s character — ”It’s a secret,” a spokeswoman insisted — but did say his episode will be ready for broadcast early next year.

In the NBC drama Extreme Close-Up (airing Oct. 22; see review on page 7), a camcorder-toting teenage boy (Morgan Weisser) comes to terms with his mother’s sudden death by watching a set of home videos that he himself shot. The downbeat subject matter is unusual, and so is the technique: shaky camerawork, blurred images, and foggy lenses. If it looks amateurish, that’s fine with – director Peter Horton (better known to TV viewers as thirtysomething‘s Gary Sheperd), who sought to make the film’s simulated video footage as realistically wobbly as possible. ”We tried to screw it up as much as we could,” he says of the scenes, which feature Blair Brown as the mother and were mostly shot by Weisser with a hand-held video camera. ”There’s a whole different rhythm to acting on video — nothing can look polished or sound scripted.” Horton filmed Extreme Close-Up under the title Home Video during his summer break from thirtysomething; possible confusion with America’s Funniest ”may have gone into the decision to make a change,” says an NBC spokkswoman, ”but the producers just felt Extreme Close-Up was a better, more psychologically accurate name.”

”And now Eyewitness News with anchorman Homer Simpson…” Well, no, of course not — but cartoon characters may be a part of some local newscasts as early as January. The New York firm Man in the Moon Productions Inc. is pitching daily 15-second animated editorial cartoons — by John Luckovich of The Atlanta Constitution, John Branch of the San Antonio Express News, and Bay Rigby, on sabbatical from The New York Post (who drew the one above, captioned ”Sorry About That”) — to news shows around the country. ”The artists send us their single-framed pictures,” says company president Bill Miller, ”and using computers, our animators turn them into moving cartoons. It’s the first time anything like this has ever been done.” Well, not quite: PBS experimented with political cartoons on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in the early 1980s, and CBS is using still cartoons on Face the Nation. But Miller says the new ”Politoons” are different: ”This is state-of-the art, cutting-edge animation,” he says. ”These are the first political cartoons that actually move.”
Additional reporting by Benjamin Svetkey