- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Cleaning up Oscar

Oscar host Billy Crystal might be a tad extreme come Sunday — but don’t expect any outrageous television commercials between his shtick.

The shock waves emanating from the Super Bowl halftime show continue to roil the entertainment industry, so Oscar officials are promising squeaky-clean commercials during ABC’s telecast of the 76th annual Academy Awards starting at 8 p.m., the Associated Press reports.

“We want the show to reflect, not a stuffiness, but a dignity appropriate for film’s highest honor,” said Ric Robertson, executive administrator for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tell that to Tim Robbins and Sean Penn — who, as we speak, may be rehearsing some virulent anti-Bush tirades.

Aside from Mr. Robbins and Mr. Penn, both among this year’s nominees, the show’s advertisers also are on a very short leash despite the megabucks they’ve shelled out for television commercials.

ABC is charging a record $1.5 million for each 30-second Oscar ad, and slots have been sold out since September. By comparison, CBS took in $2.3 million for half a minute of ad time during the Super Bowl.

Still, nervous network suits may be watching the approved commercials more carefully this year, although the Associated Press reports that Oscar broadcasts have followed a rigid list of advertising rules for at least the past two decades.

Among the commercial no-no’s:

• No feminine hygiene products.

• No mention of Oscars, the Academy Awards or any other awards show. Mr. Robertson forced one advertiser whose script included people sitting in the Oscar audience to remove the reference.

• No mixed messages. The academy accepts ads from only one car company. This year, it’s Cadillac, so no other advertiser can show any other car in its commercials.

• No use of an Oscar nominee or presenter in any ad. Oscar-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones’ telephone company commercials, for instance, were forbidden when she was a nominee last year.

• No ads that mention or use clips from nominated films. In fact, the Oscars prohibit all movie ads. The academy doesn’t want any questions raised if a studio that advertised heavily wins a lot of Oscars.

‘Sex’ appeals

Cable viewers bid adieu Sunday to Carrie Bradshaw and her “Sex”-obsessed pals in record numbers.

HBO’s final installment of the saucy “Sex and the City” drew the show’s biggest audience ever, the Associated Press reports.

An estimated 10.6 million people saw Sarah Jessica Parker’s character exit Paris in the arms of Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Nielsen Media Research said this week.

That was the biggest HBO audience for any program since the fourth season premiere of “The Sopranos,” seen by 13.4 million viewers in September 2002.

As HBO’s luck would have it, “The Sopranos” returns with all new episodes March 7.

Among viewers aged 18 to 34, particularly women, HBO beat the broadcast networks with “Sex and the City.” HBO is seen in about 30 percent of the nation’s television homes.

Meanwhile, ABC was buoyed Sunday by the return of Regis Philbin, who drew 17.5 million viewers to “Super Millionaire.”

The network, however, shouldn’t uncork the champagne just yet. The second installment of “Millionaire” Monday drew a more modest 12.3 million viewers. The big winner that night was Fox’s odious new reality show, “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” — drawing a little less than 21 million viewers, or rubberneckers, for the night.

For the week ending Sunday, CBS continued its dominance by averaging 13.6 million viewers (8.7 rating, 14 share). NBC was second with 12.8 million (8.1, 13), but won handily among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic it cares about most. Fox was third with 9.7 million viewers (5.8, 9), followed by ABC with 9.2 million (6.0, 10), WB with 4.2 million (2.8, 4), UPN with 4 million (2.6, 4) and Pax TV with 1.2 million (0.8, 1).

A ratings point represents 1.084 million households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 108.4 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Feb. 16 through 22, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships are: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 30.9 million; “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 25.2 million; “Friends,” NBC, 24.3 million; “ER,” NBC, 22.8 million; and “Survivor: All-Stars,” CBS, 22.8 million.

Backlash continues

The performers behind the most controversial Super Bowl halftime show in recent memory are still feeling the heat from the ill-advised stunt.

Singer Justin Timberlake yesterday announced that he won’t co-host ABC’s “Motown 45” special, to be taped April 4, because of a prior film commitment, his representatives explained.

His planned appearance on the special had outraged the Los Angeles-based group Project Islamic Hope, which issued a press release saying unnamed black leaders disapproved of the selection of Mr. Timberlake, who is white, according to CNN.com.

An ABC representative told CNN the group’s concerns had nothing to do with Mr. Timberlake’s leaving the project.

That news comes on the heels of word that Janet Jackson won’t be playing Lena Horne in a planned ABC biopic after all.

The embattled singer was to star as Miss Horne in “Stormy Weather,” but given the repercussions from her breast-baring exploit, Miss Horne herself forced Miss Jackson to leave the project, according to Variety magazine.

The movie seemed an ideal vehicle for the pop star and occasional actress to resuscitate her career.

Now, not only is Miss Jackson out, but so are the film’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The pair quit to show solidarity with their star.

If those names ring a bell, it’s because the duo were responsible for CBS’ contentious miniseries “The Reagans.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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