Free 'Ranger' Westward, no! While a hip remake of The Lone Ranger will air on The WB, it's unlikely to go to series as previously planned. With a projected cost of $2.5 million per episode (from $500,000 to $1 million more than a Smallville episode), the tale of a young masked cowboy (Dawson's Creek's Chad Murray) and his Native American sidekick (American Outlaws' Nathaniel Arcand) proved too pricey for the net, so it'll air as a two-hour movie on Feb. 26 instead. ''You have to rent Western towns, and they are few and far between,'' says exec producer Susanne Daniels of the exorbitant costs. ''And you need a lot of horses and extras to fill up a Western town. It's an enormous undertaking.'' The WB may change its mind if the Ranger movie corrals an audience; meanwhile, NBC and TNT have expressed interest in creating their own take on the franchise, but no deal's been made. ''There's certainly a place for a sexy Western on network TV,'' says Daniels.
Theme of the Crop The spirit of former ABC entertainment president Jamie Tarses is alive and well...at NBC. The Peacock is borrowing Tarses' theme gimmick (remember her thrilling Las Vegas night and 3-D week in '97?) by planning a blizzard night on Jan. 27. NBC is giving its Monday-night lineup a snow job with a frosty set on Fear Factor, a nasty blizzard (and the requisite body-part loss from a snowblower accident) on Third Watch, and the ol' gee, we're trapped in the clinic with a mysterious disease because it's snowing reeeallly hard outside plot on Crossing Jordan. If that's not enough convoluted drama for you, NBC's also planning an entire theme month: Flashback February. They haven't finalized stories yet, but don't rule out some sort of childhood bathtub brouhaha between a young Frasier and Niles. ''It creates excitement,'' insists NBC scheduling guru Mitch Metcalf about the programming themes. ''If we get really lucky, a real blizzard will hit the Midwest or East Coast and bring in even more viewers. I'd look like a genius.''
AND SO ON... Pamela Anderson has completed work on the first six episodes of Stan Lee's Stripperella, the TNN action cartoon debuting this summer, in which the former VIP and Baywatch star will play ''an exotic dancer at night and a superhero later at night.'' One of four adult animated shows planned for Friday nights (others include the new Ren & Stimpy and Gary the Rat with Kelsey Grammer), Stripperella will also feature voice-overs from Anderson's fiance Kid Rock and, says the actress, the Farrelly brothers, ''who come on as evil henchmen.'' (Additional reporting by William Keck)
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WINNERS OF THE WEEK
WINNERS OF THE WEEK
Stiller & Meara The classic comedy team will shtick together again when Anne Meara guests on a February-sweeps episode of hubby Jerry Stiller's CBS sitcom The King of Queens.
LOSER OF THE WEEK
James Van Praagh The psychic claims he can speak to the dead, but he couldn't keep his rookie series, Beyond, alive in syndication.