Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Simpson, and ''In the Motherhood'' were in the news this week

March 13, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Is Marvel Entertainment hoarding a secret antidote that makes it immune to bad economic times? Last year, stock prices sank for numerous publicly traded entertainment companies. But the comic empire held steady and recently announced a whopping $63 million in fourth-quarter profits, mostly due to DVD sales of its first two productions, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. And they’re hammering out a massive deal with Samuel L. Jackson to appear in nine movies as mysterious superspy Nick Fury. Talk about getting off to a Marvel-ous start. ”It’s a big moment,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. ”As long as we keep delivering movies that are unique and unexpected — not just dark and gritty — I think it’s going to continue.” Marvel’s surefire weapon? Its freedom to take the kinds of creative and financial risks that help its product rise above most studio-produced superhero movies. Beyond tapping outside-the-box talent to populate its films, the most audacious (and potentially profitable) gamble has been giving superheroes cameos in one another’s movies. The move is a gimmick to keep buzz alive — and a savvy business strategy that introduces audiences to new characters who may one day headline their own franchises. Anyone who stayed for Iron Man‘s credits saw Jackson as Fury mentioning the Avengers, an enormously popular property due to hit theaters in summer 2011, following next year’s back-to-back releases of Iron Man 2 and Kenneth Branagh‘s Thor. More than just free advertising, the overlapping story lines re-create the integrated Marvel universe that hooked fans in the first place. ”When we were kids, we would pick up a comic and go crazy for the next issue and the one before it,” says comic-book author and screenwriter Brian Michael Bendis. ”The movie version of that is now upon us, and it’s pretty cool.”

If that whole singing thing doesn’t work out, Jessica Simpson may have a future in computer repair. For CBS’ April Fools’ Day special I Get That a Lot — in which celebs like Heidi Klum, Mario Lopez, and Ice-T try to hide their identities while assuming everyday jobs — Simpson proved surprisingly adept at playing ”one of only 4 percent of the population who’s a computer wizard,” says CBS exec Jack Sussman. ”A lot of people knock her, but you have to be good to do this. Her timing is natural, her delivery is strong, and she totally gets it.” The sexy/geeky glasses didn’t hurt either. But then, anything beats an ill-fitting pair of mom jeans.

If your kid did the darnedest thing today, you might want to let ABC know all about it. The network’s upcoming series In the Motherhood — a single-camera comedy about a divorced mom (Cheryl Hines), her free-spirited neighbor (Megan Mullally), and one particularly perfect parent (Jessica St. Clair) that bows March 26 — is counting on viewers to submit embarrassing tales of parenting woe to help fill the episodes. Since the franchise already had a fan base (it started as a webisode series starring Chelsea Handler and Leah Remini, sponsored by Suave and Sprint), ideas have been coming in droves. To wit: One scatterbrained mom wrote in to recount the time she accidentally put a wine cooler in her kid’s lunch box. Viewers get a screen credit if their anecdotes are used. ”We like using them,” says exec producer Jennifer Konner, who admits, ”It makes our lives easier.”

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