Redstone, Eisner Ponder…Dick Wolf’s G-Boys…Pat Buchanan Rejects Presidential Voiceover

Wednesday, April 5

At Tuesday, April 4’s Variety/Schroders Big Picture Media Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Sir David Frost lobbed soft- balls at soon-to-be-married Sumner Redstone, and various television titans basked in the glow of a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire- fueled record-breaking season. It was a jolly meeting.

Of course, there was some uneasiness, too –about the Internet, about declining TV viewership, about how no one seemed sure of what happens next. NBC president Bob Wright described an “enormous delta in terms of usage” between TV and the Web.

In their first joint interview since the CBS-Viacom deal was announced last fall–it still needs Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice approval–Mr. Redstone and CBS Chairman Mel Karmazin kicked back in easy chairs and answered questions from Mr. Frost. Mr. Redstone, who kept strumming his arm-rest in some kind of itsy-bitsy-spider maneuver, revealed that regulators have given him “strong signals” that Viacom will be able to own CBS as well as UPN, the struggling network it took full ownership of Monday. Mr. Karmazin said he’s paying closer attention to smaller competitors. “They are very lean and they are very hungry,” he said.

Then Disney’s chief executive Michael Eisner got up, showed a sneak peek of his digitally-animated movie Dinosaur , and protested Internet piracy. Nobody asked him to congratulate Dreamworks S.K.G. on American Beauty ‘s Academy Award.

Tonight, Millionaire rests. But on Spin City , Mike borrows the mayor’s convertible. Convertible? [WABC, 7, 9:30 P.M.]

Thursday, April 6

The last person you’d expect would have a nice word about Washington, D.C. is producer Dick Wolf–as that delightful Bill Maher would put it, he produces Law and Order –who battled over the V-chip in the Capitol with Beltway titan John McCain.

But now he has produced D.C. , a prime-time soap about a fivesome of 90210’s in the land of 20500.

Mr. Wolf still loathes Washington’s big guns, but he’s got a lot of love for the Federal Kids who want to make the world a better place–at least at first, when they get to town. The show was conceived in the summer of 1998, “when the Lewinsky thing was white-hot,” Mr. Wolf said. The Clinton scandal “gave a false impression of most kids in their 20’s who are in Washington.”

D.C. ‘s G-boys and girls have jobs like legislative assistant, Supreme Court clerk and junior lobbyist, and although they are beautiful civil servants (this is the WB, after all) they say things like, “I came to D.C. because I wanted to be part of a system that would make people’s lives better on a macro scale.”

D.C is decidedly serious for the WB, which has a target viewership that is beginning to think of Katie Holmes as aged.

“Look,” Mr. Wolf said. “I’ll tell you something: If we don’t get good people going down there, we’re really screwed 20 years down the pike.”

But what if his viewers grow up, move to D.C. then demand the V-chip? That was the issue on which con-Mr. Wolf battled pro-Mr. McCain. Mr. Wolf said he was “stunned” to see the media bootlicking of Mr. McCain this winter. “The guy has a temper,” Mr. Wolf said. “He’s not a guy I would have voted for President.” Looks like Frank Lautenberg just won himself a celebrity walk-on spot on D.C. ! [WPIX, 11, 8 P.M.]

Friday, April 7

Leeza Gibbons hosts a Scared Straight-style special, The Truth About Drugs , on UPN. Think about it, and have some brownies. [WWOR, 9, 9 P.M.]

Saturday, April 8

Tiger Woods in The Masters . Has anyone ever done a study on the top three soporifics on television? 1) The classical music videos on the ARTS network. 2) Craig Kilborn. 3) Soft-voiced golf announcers describing a ball moving on a sea of green as interludes to Dean Witter commercials. [WCBS, 2, 3:30 P.M.]

Sunday, April 9

British film director Peter Yates (the greatest car chase ever in Bullitt , the greatest bike race ever in Breaking Away , Eyewitness ) cast his TV version of Don Quixote with John Lithgow in the title role and Bob Hoskins as Sancho Panza. Isabella Rossellini and Vanessa Williams also show up.

But before getting behind the camera, Mr. Yates had actually plowed through Cervantes’ epic. “Frankly, when you read the book,” said Mr. Yates, “one realizes that a lot of the book is pretty boring. It really needs editing.”

That’s what TV is for! In the end, Mr. Yates and screenwriter John Mortimer crunched Don Quixote into two-and-one-half hours, including commercials, and no songs. ( “I am I Don Quixote…the Lord of La Mancha!” ) Does Mr. Yates think he’ll ever read the book again? “Well, I don’t think so… but I hope other people do, ” he said. Meanwhile, crank up your LP of Richard Kiley singing “The Impossible Dream,” then turn on Mr. Yates’ film. [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]

Monday, April 10

The Amazing Kunhardts are at it again. America’s leading high-wire historian family–Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Peter W. Kunhardt, and Philip B. Kunhardt III–who splice and edit in a two-story brick building in Mount Kisco and who created Lincoln for ABC, have produced a 10-hour mini-series, The American President starting on Sunday, April 9, and ending Thursday, April 13 on PBS.

The Kunhardts recruited a chorus of famous voices to narrate segments on each of the 41 Presidents: George Will does John Quincy Adams, Bob Dole does Herbert Hoover, Mario Cuomo does Martin Van Buren.

But when all The American President slots were divvied up, “No one wanted to take Andrew Johnson,” said Philip B. Kunhardt III. “He was an irrational type of person, he was a white supremacist, he did a lot of damage at the time of the Reconstruction to inflame passions–and he was impeached! He nearly was removed–he was only saved from impeachment by one vote.

“And so we were casting his part during Clinton’s impeachment trial–Johnson was back in the news–and none of the famous political journalists or politicians, or retired politicians, wanted to be associated with his [Johnson's] name.

“There was one exception. Pat Buchanan we offered the role to.”

Then he read the script.

“He turned it down, saying he was a big fan of Johnson’s and that he thought we were too tough on him,” Mr. Kunhardt said. “He wouldn’t touch it for that reason. We sent the script to [him] and asked him to look it over and he said, ‘Tennessee Johnson is one of the great men and I wouldn’t touch your trashy scripts.'” (Mr. Buchanan could not be reached by press time.)

So the Kunhardts got Don Imus.

On tonight’s installment of The American President , John Glenn talks about Rutherford B. Hayes, David Gergen talks about James Buchanan, and Jimmy Carter talks about himself. [WNET, 13, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, April 11

Divas 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross . Featuring Mariah Carey, Donna Summer, and Faith Hill. And Diana Ross. [VH1, 19, 9 P.M.]