''500 Days of Summer,'' George Clooney, and ''Lipstick Jungle'' were in the news this week

January 23, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

The prognosis was bleak: After a rough year that saw at least three independent-film divisions go belly up, nobody expected any miracles at Sundance ’09. Just listen to Susan Sarandon, who arrived with three-hankie drama The Greatest. ”Festivals aren’t my favorite,” she told EW, ”but I think it’s the only hope for independent films.” And once the 10-day gathering began, hope — to everyone’s surprise — was in abundance. At press time, distributors had snapped up at least eight films: Antoine Fuqua‘s bleak urban drama Brooklyn’s Finest, starring Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Gere, sold to Senator Entertainment, while Fox Searchlight snapped up the unconventional love story Adam, with Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy. Other movies were greatly admired — like Lee Daniels’ Push, the heartbreaking tale of an abused teen headlined by Mo’Nique and Paula Patton — but had yet to find a distributor thanks to tricky subject matter. Which meant the most successful screenings were still carefully calculated debuts of films that already have release dates: Miramax’s March 27 comedy Adventureland (starring Jesse Eisenberg and Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart) coerced an audience into some serious ’80s nostalgia, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel lit up the screen in Marc Webb’s anti-love story 500 Days of Summer (out July 24). ”People who come to watch movies at Sundance don’t consider it disposable entertainment,” says Gordon-Levitt. ”Movies mean something to them, and they mean something to me. Sundance has always been a land of milk and honey.” And that stays the same, no matter the economy. — Nicole Sperling, with additional reporting by Adam B. Vary

George Clooney will return to the NBC series that made him famous. A source close to the situation says that he has agreed to appear on ER before it wraps its 15-year run on April 2. (NBC and Warner Bros. Studios had no comment.) + NCIS star Mark Harmon tells EW exclusively that he didn’t exactly do a victory lap when he learned CBS was developing a spin-off of his popular drama. Like William Petersen — who chafed when CBS first expanded the CSI universe — Harmon says he ”wasn’t a fan” of the idea because he’s protective of his show, which remains CBS’ No. 2 program with 18.5 million viewers. ”Anything that takes our writers away from the focus of our show is something we pay attention to,” he says. Though it hasn’t been ordered to series, the spin-off, which focuses on an L.A.-based unit of NCIS agents who specialize in undercover operations, will begin as an NCIS episode later this spring. — Lynette Rice, with additional reporting by Whitney Pastorek

Don’t mourn the death of Lipstick Jungle yet. In one of her first decisions as NBC’s new prime-time president, Angela Bromstad announced that the Brooke Shields drama (which completed its second season Jan. 9) has not, in fact, been canceled and remains in contention for fall 2009: ”We have to see what the [other] pilots are.” — LR

Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) is preparing to turn 9-year-old Alec Greven‘s How to Talk to Girls into a feature film for Twentieth Century Fox. Levy and his company, 21 Laps, will produce with an eye to directing this youngster’s simple, astute advice manual, which he originally sold at his school’s book fair for $3. (Sample line: ”You have to be aware that girls win most of the arguments.”) Greven became a popular guest on the talk-show circuit once his book deal with HarperCollins was announced. Levy’s next film, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, opens May 22. — NS

You May Like