Plus, news about Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Nigel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances Fisher, Clint Eastwood, Larry Kramer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Glover, and others
Mariah Carey
Credit: Mariah Carey: Kevin Winter/Image Direct

SOUND BITES Eight months ago, it seemed like a major coup when EMI’s Virgin Records signed Mariah Carey to a multi-album deal. A $20 million advance per album (the Los Angeles Times reports the deal as $80 million for four albums, though other estimates have gone as high as $115 million for five albums) didn’t seem too much for a star who’d sold 100 million records for Sony, the label run by her ex-husband, Tommy Mottola. But then came Carey’s public meltdown, her movie flop ”Glitter,” and the disappointing performance of her first Virgin disc, the ”Glitter” soundtrack, which Virgin spent an estimated $10 million to promote but which sold just 2 million copies worldwide. Now, the Times reports, Virgin is purgin’, trying to cut its losses by buying Carey out of her contract for a lump sum. Since the release of ”Glitter,” EMI has a new cost-cutting CEO, Alain Levy, whom the Times credits with initiating the buyout negotiations, though neither Virgin nor Carey’s reps have commented on a possible settlement….

Among the casualties of the exclusivity battles between rival TV music specials is Britney Spears. Her duet with Michael Jackson on ”The Way You Make Me Feel” had to be cut from CBS’ November broadcast of Jackson’s 30th anniversary concerts because she had already contracted to air her live-from-Vegas concert special on HBO the same month. (In fact, Spears almost didn’t perform in the Jacko shows, taped in September, until she was assured that CBS wouldn’t air her segment.) However, when the CBS special is rerun on Jan. 9, the Britney-Michael duet will be back in. The program has, of course, been a flashpoint of exclusivity struggles for Jackson, too. At the time of the initial broadcast, CBS’s exclusivity clause meant that Jackson had to ask ABC to cut him out of ”United We Stand–What More Can I Give,” the terror benefit concert he headlined and helped organize. CBS’ announcement that it was rebroadcasting Jackson’s show on the same night as Dick Clark‘s American Music Awards on ABC came days after Clark filed suit to stop the Grammys (which air every February on CBS) from using exclusivity practices to keep top performers — including Jackson this year and Spears two years ago — off his show.

PASSING NOTES Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who late in life found success as an actor in TV, stage, and movies, died at 72 of a heart attack at his home in Hertfordshire, north of London. He had been fighting pancreatic cancer for months and had recently undergone chemotherapy. Hawthorne became a star in his fifties as devious civil servant Humphrey Appleby in the 1980s BBC comedy series ”Yes, Minister,” and its sequel, ”Yes, Prime Minister.” On Broadway, he won a Tony in 1991 for his starring role as author C.S. Lewis in ”Shadowlands.” The next year, he won the British equivalent, the Olivier, for his mercurial monarch in ”The Madness of George III,” and he was nominated for an Oscar when he starred in the 1994 film version, called ”The Madness of King George.” Hawthorne also starred in the movie ”The Winslow Boy” and had notable roles in the movies ”The Object of My Affection,” Disney’s animated ”Tarzan,” ”Amistad,” ”Twelfth Night,” and ”Demolition Man.” His last appearance was as St. Nick in the recent TNT movie ”Call Me Claus.”

REEL DEALS ”Ali” came out swinging, earning $10.2 million for the best Christmas-Day opening ever. (The previous record holder was ”Patch Adams,” with 8 million.) It does not, however, hold the record for best Christmas-Day box-office take; that goes to ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” which rang up $11.6 million in ticket sales on Dec. 25. It’s Wednesday-through-Tuesday total of $94 million marks the best December opening week ever….

The first episode of HBO’s ”Project Greenlight” documented the nail-biting anxiety of the screenwriting contest’s 10 finalists, with winner Pete Jones ultimately winning the opportunity to direct his film, get a $1 million budget from Miramax, and have the movie shoot chronicled for the HBO series. But don’t feel bad for the nine also-rans. Thanks to the exposure of the contest, at least four of them have sold screenplays to studios, including two to Miramax. Plus, having watched Jones’ steps and missteps over the last few episodes, some of the runners-up are relieved not to have the pressure or embarrassment of having their rookie directing experience broadcast to millions. ”Part of me is definitely glad I didn’t win,” Katie Fetting told The Hollywood Reporter. ”I’m a bad loser, but I also realize that being a celebrity is one of those things that sounds good from the outside. A lot of people are not cut out to be stars.” Fetting parlayed her contest experience into a deal to have her movie directed by veteran Sidney Lumet (”Serpico,” ”100 Centre Street”).

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