- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

Hold on to the remote control, now. It's just 149 days away, and counting. Super Bowl XXXV, that is, set for Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla.

Great alliances are already in place, though, poised to bring the event's most glittering spectacle into being. The NFL and CBS, which will broadcast the game, have asked the ever-hip MTV to produce the big halftime show.

This is a cultural match made in heaven or hell, depending on one's viewpoint.

In the past 35 years, Super Bowl viewers have witnessed Cher, Vicki Carr, Barry Manilow and Kathie Lee Gifford, among others, singing the national anthem.

And animals, helicopters, fireworks, a cruise ship, colored smoke and giant puppets have been jammed into the 12-minute, multimillion-dollar halftime production.

MTV, meanwhile, features entertainment like "Celebrity Death Match," "Lyricist Lounge," "Love Line," "Jailbait," "The Blame Game" and "Undressed."

"People think MTV and automatically think over the top and risque," said executive producer Salli Frattini. "Well, this will be over the top, but it won't be risque. We haven't forgotten who the audience is they're 8 to 80."

It is also global. A billion people from 190 countries are expected to tune in to the Super Bowl.

"I've got 20 years of halftime shows on tape. I stay up nights, watching them over and over. Now I wonder: What are all those thousands of people doing, running around down there?" she continued. "I'm learning what not to do, in many cases."

Ms. Frattini is flirting with the idea of simplifying things.

"We don't have a theme or the acts yet, but we will bring some fresh blood into this," she said. "We will embrace youth and pop culture, but still speak the universal language of music."

"Survivor" set to a beat perhaps? Something with Web cams and video streams? A sing-along? Ms. Frattini is mum.

This is the first joint exercise between CBS and MTV "sister networks" after CBS was bought by Viacom last year. The media giant already owns MTV, and lots more.

This is the first Super Bowl for CBS in nine years; the network also has upgraded its staid image with hipper programming.

MTV, meanwhile, still offers fare that pushes limits. One show on New Year's Eve, for example, sealed six people inside a bomb shelter under New York's Times Square with video cameras just in case the world came to an end.

The network has done a little Super Bowl programming on its own, including a Claymation parody of the halftime show. Last year's "Rock 'n' Jock Super Bowl" told viewers to pull their TVs over by their computers and chat on line about the game with musicians.

Will the traditional overblown halftime become hip and high-concept minimalism? Not likely: Dennis Despie lurks in the wings, a "veteran halftime producer" who will put the show together, according to CBS.

An entertainment guru for Disney theme parks for 23 years, Mr. Despie already has produced such Super Bowl halftimes as "Rockin' Country Sunday" (1993) and "Blues Brothers Bash" (1997) not to mention hooplas for Radio City Music Hall and the White House.

"Listen, MTV, football and CBS is a welcomed marriage in the industry," noted Ms. Frattini. "And we're going to involve the audience, no matter what. Besides, the NFL has given us a clear slate to do whatever we want."

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