The November "sweeps" ratings period won't officially end until tonight, but the blockbuster performance of ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is already altering the prime-time landscape and shaking up network strategy for the next important audience measurement in February and beyond.
CBS yesterday announced it will launch a new quiz show, "Winning Lines," in early January, while NBC said it hopes to have its remake of "21" on the air by February.
"In the vein of networks being copycats, we're jumping on the quiz show bandwagon like all our other competitors," CBS chairman Leslie Moonves said yesterday during a teleconference.
"I admit I probably wouldn't be putting `Winning Lines' on our schedule if it wasn't for `Millionaire,' " Moonves said. "Look, ABC came into sweeps pretty much out of it, and, thanks to `Millionaire,' wound up with victory. I take my hat off to them."
As for NBC, in addition to adding a game show, the network also announced a major shake-up in its plans for February. After seeing "Millionaire" knock off its "Leprechauns" mini-series as well as CBS' "Shake, Rattle and Roll," NBC said yesterday that it is pulling back from the big-event, multi-night mini-series that it has been relying on for the last several years with such hits as "Gulliver's Travels" and "Merlin."
While it is far too late to cancel "10th Kingdom" -- a collection of ancient fairy tales and myths reworked for TV by Robert Halmi Sr. -- NBC said it has rescheduled the mini-series to start later in the month so that only part of it will air during February "sweeps."
The prospect of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" as a regular series three nights a week starting in January, which ABC declined to confirm or deny yesterday, is not exactly cause for celebration. But I'll take Regis Philbin several nights a week if it means putting an end to Halmi and his practice of turning great books into prime-time mush.
While ABC took the big prize, NBC and CBS did have some success in November. NBC's "ER" again finished as the highest-rated regular series of the month and season to date, while CBS's "One Special Night," starring James Garner and Julie Andrews, became the highest rated network movie of the year thanks to its overwhelming margin of victory Sunday night.
Von Stroheim's `Greed'
One of the most ambitious restoration projects in film gets its world television premiere Sunday, as TCM presents a four-hour, 40-minute version of Eric Von Stroheim's "Greed."
The 1924 film by the legendarily stubborn Von Stroheim, whose career was marked by a chronic inability to work within the confines of Hollywood's studio system, has long been regarded as one of the classics of world cinema -- even though the 9 1/2-hour version Stroheim first envisioned (as well as the 4 1/2-hour version he eventually submitted to MGM executives) was never released. The studio eventually released a two-hour version.
The story of a dentist and his wife who escape poverty when she wins the lottery, only to find their riches a decidedly mixed blessing, "Greed" shot to pieces all sorts of film conventions. It also features one of the all-time classic endings, as the dentist, McTeague (Gibson Gowan) and his erstwhile friend and now sworn enemy Marcus Shoulder (Jean Hersholt) face down each other in Death Valley.
The TCM broadcast begins at 8 p.m. Sunday.
-- Chris Kaltenbach
HIV films on MTV
Five short films from MTV viewers dealing with the subject of HIV/AIDS will be shown tonight as part of the music channel's observance of World AIDS Day.
"Director's Cut: World AIDS Day '99," produced in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation, will air at 10 p.m. tonight on MTV. Jennifer Love Hewitt will serve as host for the program.
The five films were chosen from more than 250 submitted. A panel of judges, including musicians Sarah McLachlan and Coolio, actor Sharon Stone and film directors Ted Demme, John Singleton and Allison Anders, will choose a grand-prize winner to be shown at the AIDS Action National Leadership Awards in Washington in April.
-- C. K.
TV's `Golden Age'
Good news and bad news with MPT's latest pledge drive. The good: we're already at Day 5. The bad: there's still six more days to go.
But included in the coming days' programming is at least one show that should prove worth enduring the latest beg-a-thon for: "Omnibus: Television's Golden Age" (8 p.m. Monday) offers Alistair Cooke the chance to relive his years working on the revered TV showcase -- and viewers the chance to enjoy, once again, such talents as Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein, Nichols and May, James Dean, Eartha Kitt and the Benny Goodman Trio.
-- C. K.
Larry King chatfest