Whitney Houston accepts BET's lifetime achievement award
Plus, ''Phantom Menace'' DVD will compete with pirated edit, another movie ad scandal, and more
KUDOS Another week, another awards show. Last night, Black Entertainment Television presented its first annual BET awards, broadcast live from the Paris Las Vegas hotel, with Denzel Washington winning best actor for ”Remember the Titans” and Sanaa Lathan winning best actress for ”Love and Basketball.” OutKast won for best male music group and best video (”Ms. Jackson”), while Destiny’s Child won best female group. Top male and female rapper awards went to Jay Z and Eve, respectively. A lifetime achievement award went to Whitney Houston.
TWO THUMBS DOWN Last week, after Sony Pictures had been caught using a made-up critic in print ads for several movies and its own marketing employees in a person-on-the-street testimonial commercial for ”The Patriot,” a Sony ad exec defended the ”Patriot” spot, saying that other studios did the same thing. Turns out she was right. Variety reports that Fox Searchlight did it for lottery-scam comedy ”Waking Ned Devine” in 1998. Caren Lipson, then executive assistant to Fox Searchlight ad VP Samantha Hart, appeared as an ordinary moviegoer in the commercial, calling the film ”hysterical!” Both the ”Devine” and ”Patriot” ads could face investigations by the Federal Trade Commission for violating guidelines by concealing the affiliations of the movies’ endorsers.
The revelation comes days after Fox Searchlight boasted of its integrity in print ads for ”Sexy Beast.” In apparent contrast to the Sony ads quoting fictitious critic David Manning, the ”Sexy Beast” ad said, ”Read Honest-To-God Rave Reviews,” reprinted the full review by EW’s Owen Gleiberman, and noted that ”20 more unedited reviews” are reprinted at Fox Searchlight’s website. Fox Searchlight president Nancy Utley noted that Lipson, Hart, and some others involved in the ”Devine” ad campaign belonged to an earlier regime and no longer work for the studio, but she didn’t exactly apologize for the deceptive spot. But then: To err is human, to forgive, Devine.
RADIO SILENCE The Dallas DJs behind last week’s hoax report of a car crash that supposedly killed Britney Spears and put Justin Timberlake in a coma have been fired. Kramer and Twitch (a.k.a. Keith Kramer and Tony Longo) told the Dallas Morning News that their spoof had been approved by KEGL-FM’s program director, and that they didn’t expect to be taken so seriously. Actually, their original idea was to report the death of James Hetfield of Metallica, but decided that was too cruel a prank for their rock audience, so they picked bubblegum popsters whose fans, they figured, probably wouldn’t be listening. But teenpop fans around the world did pick up on the report and deluged Los Angeles police, firefighters, and hospitals with distraught phone calls. The singers have threatened to sue the station. With Kramer and Twitch having been responsible for other pranks, offensive remarks, and on-air profanity, KEGL management decided the duo ”would probably be better off elsewhere.” Maybe they can get jobs reviewing movies for Sony or Fox Searchlight.
TV RATINGS The NBA finals and ”Fear Factor” struck fear into the hearts of NBC’s rivals this week. Wednesday’s Game 4 of what turned out to be a five-game series between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers was the week’s top program, with 20 million viewers. NBC was the most watched network, averaging 9.4 million viewers, followed by CBS (8.3 million), ABC (7.8 million), Fox (5 million), UPN (2.8 million), and the WB (2.5 million). Judging by these numbers, most people spent the week outdoors instead of watching reruns.
FLAWED STEWART Be prepared for some surprises when Martha Stewart publishes her autobiography. Clarkson Potter, publisher of Stewart’s how-tos for 19 years, has signed her to write a memoir, due in 2003. (No word on whether the 59-year-old will also pulp her own paper out of worn table linens.) She says that the book will reveal her little-known catalogue of struggles, mistakes, and heartbreaks. ”To many onlookers, what I have accomplished may appear easy, but it was all done with hard work, old-fashioned elbow grease and a certain amount of emotional pain and suffering.” That’s right, folks, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade–and then zest the rinds to make fragrant sachets.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS Call it ”Sleepless in Siam.” Meg Ryan has packed her trunk and is trekking across Thailand to shoot a documentary about elephants. The elephant is the national animal of Thailand, but the dwindling numbers of pachyderms in the wild prompted Britain’s Tigress Productions to make the 60-minute film to promote their conservation.
Veteran entertainer Harry Belafonte defended South African President Thabo Mbeki‘s controversial stand on AIDS during a visit to Johannesburg yesterday. Mbeki has earned worldwide criticism for questioning the causal link between HIV and AIDS, especially when 4.7 million South Africans are infected with the virus, with that number expected to grow to 7 million by the end of the decade. ”I was pleased that he [Mbeki] did not only open the AIDS debate but gave others a chance to speak,” said Belafonte, who was completing a weeklong AIDS fact-finding tour of the country on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund.
REEL DEALS Having played Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson is ready to adapt another piece of classic detective fiction. He’ll star in ”No Good Deed,” based on Dashiell Hammett‘s story ”The House on Turk Street.” Shooting begins July 9 in Montreal, with director Bob Rafelson (”Five Easy Pieces,” ”Blood and Wine”) and costars Milla Jovovich and Stellan Skarsgard (”Good Will Hunting”)….
Ewan McGregor goes home to Scotland in August to shoot ”Young Adam” with costar Tilda Swinton (”Orlando”). He’ll play a drifter working on a Glasgow barge who finds a woman’s corpse in the water….
Harvey Keitel will produce and star in ”Murder Trust,” to shoot this fall in Europe. It’s based on a true story about five guys whose scheme to kill people for their insurance money goes horribly awry. Directing will be James Riffel, who previously wrote, produced, and directed a 1991 thriller called ”Dead Dudes in the House.”
LEGAL BRIEFS Aaron Sorkin agreed yesterday to attend a court-ordered rehab program to avoid a felony conviction and jail time for drug possession charges. The ”West Wing” creator entered a guilty plea to charges stemming from his arrest at a Burbank airport in April, when authorities said they found marijuana, crack, and hallucinogenic mushrooms in his carry-on bag. But no judgment will be entered against him if he successfully completes the program. If he fails, he could face more than three years in prison and a $10,000 fine….
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against a motion filed by AOL Time Warner (EW.com’s parent company) to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the families of the fishermen portrayed in the movie ”The Perfect Storm.” The plaintiffs argued that they and their relatives had been depicted in the Warner Bros. movie without their consent, and that the fishermen, particularly Captain Frank William ”Billy” Tyne Jr. (played by George Clooney) had been portrayed as unseaworthy and unprofessional for steering their boat into the 1991 deluge of the title, causing the deaths of all six men on board. The producers argued that they had the right to depict the men, having bought the film rights to Sebastian Junger‘s book about the incident. The trial will begin next June.
CLASS ACT You see pranksters dropping trou at colleges all the time, but not on stage at graduation. At the University of California at San Diego on Sunday, commencement speaker Dr. Hunter ”Patch” Adams persuaded UCSD student body president Mehrdad Khaleghi to join him in mooning the crowd of 4,000. USCD responded with an official apology, saying, ”It was unfortunate and we apologize to students and guests who were offended by this gesture.” Fine, so long as we don’t have to watch the hirsute Robin Williams reenact the stunt in ”Patch Adams 2.”
DADDY’S GIRL Novelist Victoria Gotti has a new job: columnist at the New York Post. Her first column, featuring a backstage interview with ‘N Sync, appeared last Sunday, two days after new Post editor-in-chief Col Allan fired six longtime editors, claiming the need to take the paper in a ”new direction.” At the end of this past Sunday’s column, which was mostly an interview with Diana Ross, Gotti added a brief Father’s Day tribute to her dad, who taught her the values of ”love, loyalty, respect, compassion, and strength,” and how to ”hold your tears, only the weak cry.” No mention that her father is incarcerated mob kingpin John Gotti. Maybe that part of the article got whacked.