`Roller Derby' rises again, modernized

TV: `Rollerjam' which has its premiere Friday on TNN, puts a '90s spin on the revived '60s skating sport.

January 13, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Sixty-four years after his father, Leo, invented the sport, Jerry Seltzer is convinced the time is right for "Roller Derby" to stage a comeback.

Not that "Rollerjam," premiering at 8 p.m. Friday on TNN, is exactly the "Roller Derby" of old -- those gladiatorial contests in which men and women on roller skates did their best to bash each other's brains out, all in the name of breaking on through to the other side. "Rollerjam" promises to be louder, brassier, gaudier than its predecessors. Not to mention faster: Those newfangled in-line skates put the traditional "quads" to shame, Seltzer says, increasing skaters' top speeds from 22 to as much as 35 mph.

"You'll see the basic rules of `Roller Derby,' " Seltzer, commissioner of the newly formed World Skating League, promises over the phone from his home in Sonoma, Calif., "but it's not presented the way we presented it. It's going to appeal to the Gen-Xers."

A TV staple throughout the '50s and '60s, "Roller Derby" has been a dead issue the past 20 years or so (the name is owned by a company headed by Seltzer's cousin, Ed Seltzer). But the times, Seltzer suggests, may be better in sync with the sport than ever before.

"You know, it's funny," Seltzer says, "but back in the '60s, one of the great `Roller Derby' stars was Ann Calvello, and she wore green hair and stars, all that stuff. And then everyone made such a fuss a few years ago when Dennis Rodman shows up with colored hair."

`Greed' lures `Evil' genius

This is the sort of project that gives vintage movie channels a good name:

Turner Classic Movies has signed film editor Rick Schmidlin, who was responsible for compiling last year's justly lauded "director's cut" of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," to restore Erich Von Stroheim's silent-film masterpiece, "Greed," to something resembling its original glory.

Regarded by many film critics as the most mistreated masterpiece in film history, "Greed" -- the story of McTeague, a struggling dentist who comes into sudden wealth, but at the cost of his soul -- was envisioned by Von Stroheim as an eight-hour film. Horrified executives at MGM were having none of that, so Von Stroheim trimmed it to about four hours and insisted further cuts were impossible. Producer Irving Thalberg cut it anyway, to less than four hours. Even truncated (and in Von Stroheim's opinion, ruined), the film has been hailed as the work of genius.

A version of the full-length screenplay was recently discovered in the MGM archives, and 633 stills from the missing sequences also have been located. Using these materials, Schmidlin hopes to re-create Von Stroheim's original four-hour cut. TCM plans to air the restored "Greed" in December.

Famous casting triumph

A mini-reunion of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is set for next month, as five cast members from TV's greatest sitcom gather to honor the woman who helped get them together in the first place.

The occasion is the 14th annual induction ceremony for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. Among the inductees is Ethel Winant, who as senior vice president of CBS Talent, Casting and Special Projects signed off on the legendary cast that helped make Saturday nights a CBS franchise.

Mary Tyler Moore, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Ed Asner and Gavin MacLeod plan to take part in the Feb. 27 ceremony at ATAS headquarters in Hollywood. UPN plans to air the proceedings as a two-hour special March 11.

Other honorees going into the Hall of Fame are Carl Reiner, "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, Fred Rogers of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," the late Herb Brodkin (who, among other accomplishments, was executive producer of "Holocaust") and Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer.

TNT gets `Law & Order'

Re-runs of "Law & Order," long a staple of A&E's daily lineup (episodes air four times daily), will start showing up on TNT in September 2001.

Initially, "Law & Order" on TNT will be limited to the current 1998-1999 season and beyond. In September 2002, the cable network will acquire rights to the series' first eight seasons -- the episodes currently airing on A&E.

Let's hope TNT follows the same strategy that A&E has employed, randomly scheduling episodes from the series' entire run. It's always a pleasant surprise to see which one of the "Law & Order" casts shows up.

Sun wire services contributed to this article.

TV's top shows

Here are last week's top TV shows, according to A. C. Nielsen Co. figures: Rating

1 ER NBC 21.7

2 Friends NBC 17.6

3 Fiesta Bowl: Florida State vs Tennessee ABC 17.2

4 Frasier NBC 16.9

5 Just Shoot Me NBC 15.7

6 Veronica's Closet NBC 14.7

7 Fox NFC Playoff: Arizona at Minnesota Fox 14.5

8 Providence NBC 13.1

9 People's Choice Awards: 25th Annual CBS 12.9

9 (tie) 60 Minutes CBS 12.9

11 Fiesta Bowl: Pregame ABC 12.8

12 Dateline NBC-Friday NBC 12.7

13 PJS-Preview Fox 12.6

14 Touched by an Angel CBS 12.5

14 (tie) X-Files Fox 12.5

16 Movie Special: Sleepless in Seattle CBS 12.0

16 (tie) Home Improvement ABC 12.0

18 20/20-Friday ABC 11.9

19 Dharma & Greg ABC 11.8

20 The Simpsons Fox 11.6

The rating is the percentage of homes equipped with a TV in use.

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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