WHEN LIFE AND ART COLLIDE: Last season, when The Naked Truth moved from ABC to NBC, the Peacock transformed the Tea Leoni vehicle from a risque sitcom about a tabloid paparazzo into a generic office comedy. The results were less than stellar, and this season Naked was heading back to its roots. But with the death of Princess Diana and the resulting backlash against guerrilla photographers, producer Brillstein-Grey Communications is said to be regretting the decision.
The first three episodes of the new season — which find Leoni’s Nora Wilde resuming life as a member of the paparazzi — are already in the can, but, says an exec close to the show, ”We have tweaked anything that comes close to the line of questionable taste.” Furthermore, there won’t be any celeb stalking a la the show’s freshman season on ABC, when Nora was seen hounding Tom Hanks and trying to steal a urine sample from Anna Nicole Smith.
Leoni (now married to noted paparazzi hater David Duchovny) is said to be particularly unhappy with the tabloid setting. Some wonder, though, if her concern is really just a smoke screen, masking her real desire to quit the shaky series. You can’t blame her; if Naked flops, she becomes a two-time TV loser (anyone remember Flying Blind?).
SEMIANNUAL OPRAH RETIREMENT WATCH: On Sept. 15, Oprah Winfrey must decide whether to sign on for at least one more year, and, of course, there’s the usual speculation that the queen of yak will hang up her crown.
Unlikely, say industry insiders, though they do point out that Winfrey has reason to be miffed at King World toppers Michael and Roger King, who, while selling their latest talk diva, Roseanne, apparently hinted to TV stations that Winfrey might walk after the 1997-98 season. They certainly don’t want that to happen (King World makes an estimated $300 million plus from Oprah annually, or about 40 percent of the company’s revenues), but they also couldn’t resist a chance to position Roseanne as a possible heir.
In 1995, the last time Winfrey toyed with quitting, she said the decision to keep going was ”difficult” because she ”wanted to feel completely confident that the show can stay fresh and entertaining.” Though it’s still on top of the ratings, Oprah has become more celebrity driven of late, no doubt in response to the stunning success of Warner Bros.’ The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
Of course, if Oprah should decide to walk, Rosie would be the big winner, thanks to smart dealmaking by Warner Bros. When the studio was launching O’Donnell, it put clauses in many of its contracts with stations that also carry Oprah indicating that if Winfrey leaves, Rosie gets her much-coveted time slot. King World is taking a similar approach with Roseanne, which debuts in the fall of 1998.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE: As Access Hollywood enters its second season, the question is, Will there be a third? The show’s owners, NBC and Fox’s Twentieth Television, are looking to end their joint partnership to produce and distribute the would-be challenger to Entertainment Tonight. While the show’s ratings have remained steady, it has never really threatened ET’s dominance, and Fox’s decision to move Access into less, well, accessible time periods isn’t helping. One thing’s for sure: Sportscaster Pat O’Brien, who just left CBS to become an Access host, should have a serious chat with his agent.