Diller Gets Springer … WB Gets Aliens

Wednesday, July 7

Barry Diller gave the order in the spring of ’98: no more fighting on The Jerry Springer Show ! Well, a couple of public outcries and media-fueled mass murders later, Mr. Diller has finally brought order to the program, which is owned by his Studios U.S.A.

Nothing good lasts forever.

“We will either produce a show without profanity, violence or physical confrontation, or the show won’t be produced by us,” Mr. Diller said in a brief telephone interview from his midtown office. “There are no conditions that will change that.”

But here’s the strange thing. The show’s rating hasn’t suffered much. It’s now finishing a tenth of a rating point behind Oprah . That means Mr. Diller may not sell the show, after coming close to giving it up about a month ago.

Rival TV executives were suspicious of the fact that Mr. Diller–who inherited The Jerry Springer Show as part of his Universal purchase in 1997–gave his clean-up-the-show-or-else edict a year before things finally settled down.

“Barry’s a master of manipulation,” said an executive who has had dealings with Mr. Diller. “I think this was a little, public, P.T. Barnum thing.”

But executives at Studios U.S.A. said Mr. Diller is not playing a game. He seems as mad about getting more bad publicity from the show as he does about being disobeyed. And Mr. Diller doesn’t like being disobeyed by anyone in his organization.

Sources at Studios U.S.A. claimed that until early May, Mr. Diller had been unaware of the show’s return to the gutter. (This, even though the return of the fighting has even led to the scheduling of a City Council hearing in its hometown of Chicago.)

Upper-level executives at Studios USA blame middle-management types who were overseeing Mr. Springer’s show: “As much as we’ve tried to figure it out, we think they just said, ‘Nobody’s really looking, it seems to be O.K., the ratings are growing and nobody’s calling us to say stop,'” said one Studios U.S.A. executive.

A second edict went out telling Mr. Springer to again clean it up toward the end of the May sweeps, when ratings are gauged to help determine advertising rates. The Springer studio went black and tamer reruns were put into the time slot where fresh shows had been airing.

After leading The Oprah Winfrey Show by about 100,000 households through most of the May ratings period–6.6 million to 6.5 million–Mr. Springer’s reruns dropped the viewership to 5.1 million households as Oprah held her own. Mr. Diller reportedly decided that if the show couldn’t work without the violence, he would open himself up to bids from companies willing to buy it for the considerable sum of $100 million. (The show is estimated to make Mr. Diller’s company $40 million a year.) Smaller, upstart distributors like New York-based Unapix and Greg Meidel, the onetime Studios U.S.A. president who is starting his own production company, were among those who expressed interest.

The bigger syndicators didn’t show up at the table with anything real. That’s because, as Mr. Diller has learned, Jerry Springer-style television doesn’t do much for the corporate image and leaves syndicators in a bind. “If you let him do the controversial stuff, you get high ratings. But then no one wants to buy it,” said Stacy Lynn-Koerner, a researcher with T.N. Media. But then a funny thing happened. By mid-June, the Springer show’s ratings had stabilized, drawing just about 100,000 fewer households than the Oprah show, according to statistics from Nielsen Media Research.

So Mr. Diller is holding. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Mr. Springer would like nothing more than to see his show go to someone else who will let him be himself and run things his way. [WPIX, 11, 9 A.M.]

Thursday, July 8

NewsStand: CNN and Entertainment Weekly examines Hollywood’s new supermanagers, who are learning how to make more money than ever off their stars. Mike Ovitz! Bernie Brillstein! [CNN, 10, 8 P.M.]

Friday, July 9

Behind the Music with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, now entering a more

mature post-heroin, post-sock-on-penis phase. [VH1, 19, 9 P.M.]

Saturday, July 10

It’s here. The video George Lucas does not want you to see. Tonight. On the great public access program Media Shower .

Get a glimpse into Chewbacca’s homelife–including his wife, Malla, working in the kitchen. Watch Diahann Carroll sing to Chewy’s dad, Itchy. Watch an imperial guard enthralled by the holographic image of Jefferson Starship. Check out how Bea Arthur and Art Carney fit in with the whole gang. It first aired in November 1978, and has been suppressed ever since. Now, through the magic of public access, much of it airs on Media Shower , which is put together and hosted by Jamie Greenberg. (Give that man an Emmy.)

“It’s the bastard child of the canon,” said Mr. Greenberg, who also works as a correspondent on Court TV’s Snap Judgment . “It is appalling. When you look at it, you can’t believe that TV executives put this together.” [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 34, 12:30 A.M.]

Sunday, July 11

The Hunley is TNT’s latest original movie. It’s based on the story of the first successful wartime submarine, which was used by the Confederates in the dwindling days of the Civil War. It glorifies the struggles of this group of Confederates, who had to motor the tiny submarine by hand. The movie tries to make the audience weep for the brave Southerners and doesn’t get into all the messy details of the war, like what they were fighting for. NYTV smelled a rat–no, make that, Ted Turner. Sure enough, the movie was the good ol’ boy’s idea.

“This is something that’s been on his agenda to do for 10 years or more,” said John Gray, who co-wrote and directed the film for Mr. Turner. “It was just a matter of finding your way into the story.” So why doesn’t the movie deal more openly with, you know, the Confederates’ beliefs?

“It wasn’t a story about politics or sides. It was just a story openly about these particular men and just about valour, the same way with Das Boot .”

The film–starring Donald Sutherland and Armand Assante–couldn’t debut at a better time. Just a couple of weeks ago, on June 26, archeologists in Charleston, S.C., unearthed what are believed to be the remains of the sub’s first crew, under the Citadel’s Johnson Hagood football stadium. (In all, the thing killed three crews.) Coincidence? “They’re stunt bodies,” Mr. Gray deadpanned. Actually, the dig had been planned for some time since the Hunley is about the only thing Charleston’s got going for it these days. The movie isn’t bad, but the ending leaves your eyes rolling. [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]

Monday, July 12

Who’s better than Christie, the 6-year-old director in those Independent Film Channel commercials ? In the spots, the mini-auteur, played by Hallie Eisenberg–also of those Pepsi commercials with Aretha Franklin–bosses around stars like Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor. But, alas, the young starlet will be moving on to her flourishing career in the movies and will be replaced in the ads by Ukrainian native Roman Tokar.

NYTV caught up with Ms. Eisenberg to ask her about how the gig went for her. “I liked getting to be the director and bossing everybody around,” she said. “I thought it was really good how they filmed it and everything, and I just thought everyone did a great job.” Can we remind you that she’s 6? It all started in her house, in New Jersey. “When I was little, me and my sister [Kerry, 19] did this little improv thing. From there I thought acting was really fun,” she said. “We just took our animals and just sat them around. The animals were the audience.”

Anyway, you can catch her this Christmas in Robin Williams’ Bicentennial Man and in an upcoming project with Al Pacino, about the Brown & Williamson tobacco scandal. (She plays Mike Wallace. Kidding!) [Independent Film Channel, 81, all day long.]

Tuesday, July 13

Jason Katims never really bothered much with aliens. He barely knew where Roswell, N.M., was, let alone what it represents to hundreds of thousands of alienated humans who believe an Earth-locked alien vessel–bodies intact–is being hidden there by the military.

“I’m not a sci-fi buff,” Mr. Katims said after finishing up a California day, dreaming up plotlines for the upcoming season.

So then, why is the Midwood, Brooklyn, native launching an hourlong drama for the WB about alien teens who look like humans and attend a Roswell high school this fall? He said he’s in it for the story lines. “We feel there are so many stories that come out of the premise of the show,” he said. Mr. Katims, 38, had his biggest success with My So-Called Life . “We’re using the idea of having an alien as a metaphor for teenage alienation,” he said. And then the alien lead will fall in love with a beautiful human. “At the core is an unrequited love story; it’s kind of a Romeo and Juliet love story.”

The show, called Roswell , is another attempt by the WB to build on the success it’s had with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek , which it will follow on Wednesdays at 9 P.M., starting this fall. Tonight, at last, watch the (expurgated) Buffy season finale that was held up because of the Columbine shootings. [WPIX, 11, 8 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Because July 7 would have been director George Cukor’s 100th birthday, Turner Classic Movies is running six of his films on that day in tribute, plus another stray one on July 13, three of them starring Katharine Hepburn, whom Cukor introduced to the screen and with whom he did 10 pictures, among the most fruitful director-star collaborations in movie history. The three are: 1940’s The Philadelphia Story [Wednesday, July 7, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 8 A.M.] , with Cary Grant and James Stewart; 1942’s Keeper of the Flame [July 7, TCM, noon] with Spencer Tracy; 1935’s Sylvia Scarlett [July 13, TCM, 8 A.M.] with Cary Grant and Edmund Gwenn. (More on these anon.) Also, the previously recommended Greta Garbo masterpiece, 1937’s Camille [July 7, TCM, 6 A.M.] with Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore.

Since New York City-born Cukor’s first love was the theater–he was smitten quite young, right from his initial exposure to a Broadway show, and decided he would be a stage director long before he knew exactly what the job entailed–it isn’t surprising that at least 10 of his movies deal with show-business people, specifically actors. Three of these are represented on his centennial day: The uneven but likable 1957 backstage musical, Les Girls [July 7, TCM, 4 P.M.] , with Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor and the divine Kay Kendall, and songs by Cole Porter; the utterly charming, poignant period comedy based on Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical play ( Years Ago ) about her stage aspirations and her father’s disapproval, 1953’s The Actress [July 7, 2 P.M.] starring Spencer Tracy, Jean Simmons, Teresa Wright, and introducing Anthony Perkins; and, as American Movie Classic’s one-gun salute, the dark psychological drama of an actor’s obsession, 1947’s A Double Life [July 7, American Movie Channel, 54, 10 P.M. and July 8, 3:35 A.M.] , starring Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O’Brien and introducing Shelley Winters.

Ruth Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin received an Oscar nomination for A Double Life , for best original screenplay, and the two went on to an extremely productive and valuable relationship with Cukor, separately and together, writing seven of his pictures. This is the story of a famous stage star–Ronald Colman strikingly good in his Academy Award-winning performance–who is playing the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello on Broadway, and gets so “into” the role that it drives him mad and, eventually, to murder. The score by Miklos Rozsa won an Oscar, too, while Cukor was nominated for best director–the third of five such nominations–and his work is awfully good, with some of the most effective backstage sequences ever made, exceptionally photographed by Milton Krasner. Both editor Robert Parrish and art director Harry Horner were so good they soon became directors themselves. As usual, Cukor’s handling of actors is flawless–Signe Hasso is especially fine as Colman’s ex-wife–and Shelley Winters makes a memorable debut. Cukor told me he read a lot of women for her waitress role, but that Ms. Winters “came in and she had a rather comic walk, an amusing slant. And, I thought, for this part–which was a tragic part–this sort of girl might help, would add to the whole quality of the picture: a comic note in the tragic …”

As Cukor also said, he liked “working with young and inexperienced people. I have a knack for it.” And he proved that again with Anthony Perkins in The Actress , the youngster’s scenes as Ms. Simmons’ beau being especially evocative of the 1900’s small-town New England atmosphere.

Indeed, this small gem of a movie also contains really beautiful performances from Ms. Simmons as the dreamy teenager yearning for the footlights and Spencer Tracy as her dubious father who eventually comes around in the most touching way. It’s one of Tracy’s understated best, in fact, with several long, uncut sequences that are amazing in their simple intensity, aided in no small part by Teresa Wright’s typically excellent job as the mother. Among Cukor’s least known movies, it is also among his purest. Happy birthday, George.