WINNERS What does it take to top the weekly prime time television ratings? Million dollar prizes, jump shots, and a rat barbecue. ABC’s ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” scored three of the top four spots on the latest Nielsen charts, and CBS’ third installment of ”Survivor” was seen in 14.8 million U.S. homes. For the second week in a row, ”Survivor” was the most watched program among viewers aged 18 to 34 – a group that the older-skewing CBS had trouble reaching in the past. (A fourth ”Survivor” gets booted tonight during the 8:00 p.m. EST telecast). However, NBC won the week with its coverage of the National Basketball Association playoffs. The only regular drama or comedy series among Nielsen Media Research’s list of top ten programs was ABC’s ”The Practice,” which came in tenth.
SHAQ ATTACK He may have been the hero of the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA championship run, but Shaquille O’Neal angered the striking actors unions by filming a non union commercial (for Disneyland) moments after the series’ final buzzer. Officials from the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA have been picketing commercial shoots since May 1 in a bid for a new contract agreement.
TV REALITY Comedy Central has commissioned a ”Survivor” parody called ”Totally Stranded” – which the cable net describes as a ”comedic version of ‘Lord of the Flies.”’ … Not to be outdone, ABC has signed a deal to adapt a Belgian program called ”The Mole,” in which 10 contestants compete in a series of mental and physical challenges and try to figure out who among the group has been hired to sabotage their efforts. … ABC’s news division announced yesterday that it is dropping out of group coverage (with CBS and FOX) of the U.S. presidential campaigns, and will rely instead on its own national reporters and affiliates. Maybe politics would get more coverage if George W. Bush and Al Gore pledged to roast rodents on the White House lawn.
MUSIC NOTES Want to get something for nothing? Limp Bizkit has lined up a series of free, Napster sponsored concerts, which begin July 4 in Chicago. The hip hop band Cypress Hill will also be on board for the summer long tour … Former Third Eye Blind guitarist Kevin Cadogan, fired in January, is suing his former bandmates, manager, lawyer, and record label for fraud and breach of contract.
FAMILY WAYSharon Stone and her newspaper-publisher husband Phil Bronstein are the proud parents of a son, Roan Joseph Bronstein. The couple adopted the baby boy last month.
CASTING Fans of Wallace and Gromit have reason to rejoice. ”Chicken Run,” directed by Aardman animators Nick Park and Peter Lord, opens today, and its studio, Dreamworks, announced that Park’s most famous creations will get a movie of their own. However, a ”Wallace and Gromit” animated feature won’t hit screens before 2004… ”Mission: Impossible 2” director John Woo has found another lead actor for his next movie, the WWII-set ”Windtalkers.” Roger Willie, a Native American Navajo who has never acted before, has been cast as a Navajo code talker opposite Christian Slater, who will play a Marine bodyguard… Literary adaptations are on the menu for Matt Damon. The actor is in talks to join ”Swingers” director Doug Liman in a movie of Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller ”The Bourne Identity.” The actor’s next movie, based on Cormac McCarthy’s ”All The Pretty Horses” is due out this fall… ”Gone In 60 Seconds” star Giovanni Ribisi is in final talks to join ”Elizabeth”’s Cate Blanchett in ”Heaven,” a drama directed by Tom Tykwer (”Run Lola Run”).
CRASH UPDATE Federal aviation officials investigating Patrick Swayze’s June 1 plane crash say they found a mechanical problem that could have led to the mishap. Still, they have not ruled out other possible causes, including the rumor that the actor had been drinking alcohol on board.
WEB The downloadable success of Joe Nussbaum’s ”George Lucas in Love” has landed its director a feature gig. A year after he debuted his ”Shakespeare In Love” parody of the ”Star Wars” creator’s college years, Nussbaum has signed a deal to direct ”How to Eat Fried Worms,” based on the children’s book. (Have the ”Survivor” folks been notified?)
STOP THE PRESSES TLC isn’t breaking up. Singer Rozonda ”Chilli” Thomas issued a statement yesterday saying that she’ll ease up on her schedule with the band to raise her two year old son, Tron, but that she’ll ”always be with TLC.” … The canceled ABC comedy series ”Sports Night” won’t get new life on HBO. Show creator Aaron Sorkin has nixed a deal with the pay network…. Mark Wahlberg of ”The Perfect Storm” won’t be starring in ”Criminal Conversation,” though director Iain Softley (”Hackers”) remains attached.
SCRIPT DEALS USA Films and Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures have purchased ”The Code,” a WWII thriller script about resistance fighters who communicate orders through music – which sounds frighteningly like ”Newsies,” but there it is… George Clooney’s production company is looking to option ”Bad Connection,” a novel about a telephone lineman who overhears a lucrative stock tip.
LOOKING BACKWARD It’s never too late to say you’re sorry. Jane Fonda, dubbed ”Hanoi Jane” when she posed for photos with North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam war, says she now regrets doing so. In next month’s O magazine, the Oscar winning actress tells Oprah Winfrey: ”It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could have done.”
HONORS James Brown, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, James Taylor, Brian Wilson, and the late Curtis Mayfield will all be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame tomorrow night in New York City. … Stevie Wonder and the late Marvin Gaye top the list of honorees at this year’s Rhythm & Blues Foundation awards, to be held September 6 in New York. ….”Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz will be posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.