Plus, stalker pursues Claudia Schiffer, Robert Downey Jr. pleads not guilty, and more

By Gary Susman
Updated May 30, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
N Sync: Preston C. Mack/Image Direct

‘POP’ ART ‘N Sync finally kicked off their much delayed PopOdyssey tour Wednesday night at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. For the first time, fans got to hear some of the new music from the similarly delayed ”Celebrity” album, which won’t be released until July.

Reportedly the largest stage production in concert history, the show had the quintet emerging from a translucent pod, à la Spinal Tap, on a set that featured elevators, conveyor belts, aerial harnesses that whisked the singers across the stadium, and video screens showing the band in various movie spoofs.

There was smoke, fireworks, lasers, and multiple costume changes, from 1920s gangster suits to cowboy outfits for the number where the fivesome rode mechanical bulls in unison. (Ripping off his chaps, Chris Kirkpatrick told the crowd, ”These are the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my life.”) Oh, they also sang some songs.

TV SCORECARD The race for network supremacy over the 2000 – 2001 season came down to the wire, with CBS edging out ABC in the final days. CBS claimed an average of 12.53 million viewers to ABC’s 12.51 million for the season that ended this week. NBC, its Thursday night lineup no longer invincible, came in third overall but first in the age 18 to 49 demographic that advertisers crave. Fox was fourth overall but second among 18 to 49 year olds for only the third time in its history, thanks to the strength of its comedies and ”Temptation Island.” The WB was fifth and UPN sixth.

Total network viewership was down only 3 percent this season, despite the dearth of popular new shows. Among the top 20 series, only one was new, CBS’ ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (No. 10). Although ”Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” lost its novelty, leading to a 12 percent slump in ABC viewership, the show was still popular enough for three of its weekly airings to be among the top 10 shows (at No. 3, No. 5, and No. 7), holding five of the top 20 slots altogether. The year’s top series, of course, was CBS’ ”Survivor,” with an average of 29.76 million viewers. Rounding out the top 10 were ”ER” (No. 2), ”Friends” (No. 4), ”Everybody Loves Raymond” (No. 6), ”Monday Night Football” (No. 8), and ”The Practice” (No. 9).

Meanwhile, a multi-ethnic coalition of civil rights organizations gave the season a D for diversity, complaining that the big four networks have done little over the last 16 months to increase the number of Latino, Asian, and American Indian faces on and off screen. (As far as African Americans, a report by the NAACP is due in July.) ”People are left with the impression that not only don’t we count but that we don’t exist,” said spokesperson Karen Narasaki. For their parts, the networks disputed their low grades, with ABC claiming a 39 percent increase in minority lead and recurring roles since last season, CBS boasting an 83 percent increase since 1999, and Fox claiming a 71 percent increase over the last two years. The coalition threatened possible boycotts or litigation. So does that mean that there will be only white people watching only shows about white people?

LEGAL BRIEFS The man accused of stalking Nicole Kidman apparently had a thing for Claudia Schiffer too. Matthew Hooker, who now describes Kidman as a horrible woman for filing a restraining order against him and allegedly siccing her bodyguards on him, has himself filed a suit against American Airlines and Iberia Airlines, claiming that they ruined his attempt to spend Easter with Schiffer at her home in Majorca.

Hooker says two men drugged him on his flight to Barcelona and stole his driver’s license and credit card, making it impossible for him to rent a car to drive to Schiffer’s villa, forcing him to schlep his luggage on foot, causing him to suffer a double hernia. Once he arrived at the supermodel’s house, he was twice rebuffed by her family, who finally called the police and made him leave.

Robert Downey Jr. pleaded not guilty yesterday to reduced drug charges stemming from his November arrest in a Palm Springs hotel. A deputy district attorney told reporters at the Riverside County courtroom that prosecutors are working with Downey’s attorneys on a plea bargain arrangement that could send the actor to mandatory rehab instead of jail. Downey faces a felony count of possessing cocaine and a misdemeanor count of being under the influence; another count of possessing Valium was recently reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. His next court date is July 16.

U.S. District Court Judge David Carter threw out the bankruptcy court ruling that awarded Anna Nicole Smith $475 million from her late husband’s estate yesterday. The judge agreed with stepson Pierce Marshall that the bankruptcy court should not have had jurisdiction over the dispute involving his father J. Howard Marshall’s will. Carter cautioned that his ruling was not necessarily a victory for either side; it only means that he will now rule himself on whether Smith is entitled to the assets she claims from the nonagenarian Texas tycoon.

THE BAND WHO Don’t think that Travis‘ new album is longer than Wagner’s ”Ring Cycle” just because it will take 12 days to listen to. The Scottish rockers are previewing ”The Invisible Band” over the Web, streaming one song per day starting this Monday, May 28, and ending June 8, when they’ll host three online ”listening parties” streaming the whole album, which hits stores four days later. If you don’t like the music, you can still visit the Travis website and play a Shockwave game that lets you pelt the band with food.

CAPITAL IDEAS Ralph Cifaretto sang for the Feds this week, and no one even had to flip him. ”Sopranos” costar Joe Pantoliano was part of a Hollywood delegation that met with several congressmen this week to discuss ways to stem runaway production, the common practice of shooting TV series and movies outside the U.S. to save money. Although a tax incentive seems a likely solution, Pantoliano, representing the Creative Coalition, said: ”I don’t know what the solution is. There are different ideas on how to deal with the problem. All I’m saying is there is a problem.” You gotta problem widdat?

Q CARD No matter who plays 007 in the next James Bond flick, his gadgetmaster will be the character John Cleese introduced in 1999’s ”The World Is Not Enough.” Cleese confirmed that he’ll play Q in the next three films in the franchise, succeeding Desmond Llewellyn, who played Q in nearly every Bond film since the series began 40 years ago. Cleese’s R had been brought on as Q’s protégé in the last movie but became his successor when Llewellyn died in a car accident shortly after the film’s release.