- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Harry’s ‘Holiday’

Harry Connick Jr. became a star thanks to his anachronistic pipes, a voice that echoed those of great crooners gone by.

For others, though, he became a household name only when he joined NBC’s “Will & Grace” last season.

A driver picked him up recently, and when she heard about an upcoming Christmas special he was recording, she said, “I didn’t know you were a singer,” he recalls.

“It’s a fascinating process to see people who don’t know anything about my musical career,” Mr. Connick says. “It shows me the power of television.”

Tonight, he returns to his first love, music, to headline “Harry for the Holidays.”

The new seasonal special, airing at 10 on NBC, just happens to coincide with a CD release of the same name.

What are the odds?

Mr. Connick, in a recent tele-press-conference to plug the show, said he handpicked stars such as Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane and Marc Anthony to help him ring in the holidays. The talented performer sings “Auld Lang Syne” with Mr. Anthony and “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” with Miss Goldberg and belts out “Frosty the Snowman” among other yuletide chestnuts.

Mr. Connick, who will perform at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for two nights starting Monday, said hosting a network television special is “a great honor” — particularly around this time of year.

“It’s a sense of responsibility. …You wanna put a good product out there,” he said, recalling how a simple Claymation-style program, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” is now a cherished part of our culture.

He doesn’t mind the pressure. In fact, he said ignoring expectations helps him get by, especially when he pens new Christmas songs.

“As soon as I start thinking about it, its un-inspirational,” Mr. Connick said. “I’m not trying to write classics. That ain’t gonna work.”

As for his sitcom chores, Mr. Connick said his “Will & Grace” run is about to expire.

“It was supposed to be six shows, and it ended up with 20,” Mr. Connick said, adding he’ll appear only in a few more episodes. (“Will & Grace” gets the holiday off this evening.)

He swore he didn’t know the fate of his Leo character, the man Grace (Debra Messing) married last season.

“I hope he doesn’t die. I don’t know how they’re gonna end it. I always see the script the day of the table read. Now, with Debra being pregnant in real life, they have quite a mountain to climb.”

Still, Mr. Connick knows some show fans will breathe a sigh of relief once he checks out for good.

“I was the first one to say that there’s nothing worse than a character coming on and disrupting the show,” he said.

“There must be other people who can’t stand me.”

CBS is still tops

The Tiffany network shrugged off its self-created “Reagans” crisis — and the cancellation of a poorly timed Michael Jackson special — to win the ratings race yet again.

CBS claimed its best performance during the November sweeps since 1980 for the week that ended Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

Not only has it dominated its closest rival, NBC, by more than 3 million viewers per night on average, it improved over last year’s showing, while ABC, NBC and Fox all slipped.

The November sweeps, when ratings are closely monitored to set local advertising rates, are the first big test of the new TV season.

CBS’ two embarrassing cancellations barely broke the network’s stride. It scrapped a two-night miniseries on Ronald and Nancy Reagan under pressure from conservative critics, who claimed it was unbalanced after reading the leaked script. Then, it swiftly ditched Mr. Jackson’s special when the pop star was charged with child molestation.

CBS’ victory can be traced most directly to the performance of its Sunday movies, which did twice as well as last year’s crop of films, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said. “The Elizabeth Smart Story” (Nov. 9) and last Sunday’s “Fallen Angel,” with 17.4 million viewers, were strongest.

NBC claimed a win in the 18-to-49-year-old ratings bracket, which it says is the only demographic it cares about. CBS was second.

NBC, ABC and Fox all had double-digit losses from last November in that demographic.

Fox was burned by the failure of “Joe Millionaire,” on which it was counting to help carry two nights of the week.

When the reality series tanked, it took the scripted series “Skin” with it.

Fox was particularly disappointed that its strong postseason baseball ratings had no lasting effect.

NBC, meanwhile, has been hurt by the aging of some of its stalwart shows (“Frasier,” “Friends”) — and a failure to develop replacement hits — while ABC is encouraged that its comedies are slowly drawing an audience. But it, too, has no breakout hit.

For the week of Nov. 17 to 23, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 26.6 million; “ER,” NBC, 23.4 million; “Friends,” NBC, 20.7 million; “Friends” special, NBC, 19.9 million; and “Survivor: Pearl Islands,” CBS, 19.9 million.

Zahn plays on

CNN’s Paula Zahn will ring in the Thanksgiving holiday by performing with the International Sejong Soloists.

Miss Zahn, an accomplished cellist, will show her creative side during tonight’s “Paula Zahn Now,” airing at 8.

The New York-based International Sejong Soloists, under the artistic direction of Juilliard School professor Hyo Kang, will perform Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor.

Miss Zahn will join cellist Ani Aznavoorian as a second soloist.

Miss Zahn, a former CBS correspondent, received a cello scholarship to college and performed with Yo-Yo Ma on national television in 1992.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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