You'd think our big scoop about 10 days ago, that Oscar winning actress Dianne Wiest is unhappy and will leave Law and Order at the end of this season, would have been enough. Enough!
Hey — I like Law and Order so much, it pains me to write bad things about the backstage shenanigans.
But it seems that fans of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the spin-off which stars Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, has its own special problems.
Viewers are wondering what happened to Richard Belzer's partner, a beautiful character named Monique Jeffries, played by Michelle Hurd. Hurd had been on all of last season and for the first two episodes of this one, then disappeared. She was replaced by, of all things, the rapper Ice-T, whose character Det. Odafin Tutuola is now the partner of Det. Munch (Belzer).
Two Fridays ago, Hurd turned up on CBS's The Fugitive — a rival series — as Tim Daly's love interest. So what gives?
Hurd's run on SVU is indeed over. Her departure was sudden, too, since NBC still features her on the show's Web site. According to my sources, the ever-delightful Belzer is the reason. "He didn't want to partner with her on the show," says my source. "Michelle was getting a lot of the attention and storylines." Indeed, Belzer's character suffers on SVU from being a second-banana to Meloni and Hargitay and used mostly as comic relief. Hurd's character had already gotten a major storyline. "Belzer felt with a male partner there would be more parity," said my source.
Executive producer Dick Wolf of course disagrees. He sent me a statement about both Belzer and Hurd, reaffirming his support of both. "All final casting decisions are made by me," wrote Wolf. "There's never been a situation where one actor has dictated of influenced the fate of another actor on any of my shows."
Of course my sources also tell me that Belzer's high paycheck may get amortized some more, since Wolf is considering featuring him in the new Law and Order show, Criminal Intent, which stars Vincent D'Onofrio. I say, how about Law and Order: The Belzer Years and just get it over with.
Meantime, since Law and Order seems to be rife with good gossip lately, let me add that according to completely other sources — folks who worked on the now-canceled Deadline, another Wolf show — there was a tricky minute this fall when L&O's Angie Harmon almost became a casualty of the revolving door policy. But "the network really wanted them to keep her," so Wolf Productions had to acquiesce.
What I want to know is, where did they send George Dzundza?
Tone and Poke, the record producers behind Destiny's Child's long running number one record Independent Woman, are leaving their record label, Sony Music. They're looking for a new deal.
You might be asking, Huh? IW has been at the top of the charts for weeks, and Destiny's Child has given Sony its one glimmer of Grammy glamour at a time when Ricky Martin's record sales are slipping and Jennifer Lopez is fighting with boyfriend Puff Daddy about which tracks should be on her new album.
Samuel "Tone" Barnes and Jean Claude "Poke" Olivier had been outside producers until Sony lured them inside. They were put in touch of Sony's Black music division a couple of years ago. The guys could be victims of at least three different scenarios, however. One theory — their closeness to the departing Mariah Carey, ex-Mrs. Tommy "CEO" Mottola. Theory 2 — Their production deal, like the one with Wyclef Jean, cost Sony too much dough at a time when the hits aren't coming. And the 3rd Theory — they themselves were not cost effective to have on the payroll.
A source close to them says about the high-cost idea, "That's what Sony's trying to put out there."
But since T&P have hits with Nas, Foxy Brown, Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, LL Cool J and others, one has to wonder: does someone up there at Sony not like them anymore?
Ballots were mailed today to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 2001 Academy Awards. Or the 2000 Oscars, given in 2001. Whichever — you get it.
My choices for the Best Picture award are no surprise, but I don't mind reiterating them in case voters missed them. They are: Almost Famous, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, and Gladiator.
There are no doubt fans of a lot of other films I've left out including Traffic, Billy Elliott, and Cast Away. Choosing the best films of the year is entirely subjective. The debate can rage on and on.
I do think though that Cast Away is 100% Tom Hanks and that without him, there's a lot of weird implausible stuff there. Hanks is just too good and too watchable. So nominate him for Best Actor, I say.
Billy Elliott is a case of a nice movie that came out a time when the releases had been all bad the reviewers were starved. Good film, but it hasn't held up through the Christmas season. The Golden Globes kind of abandoned it too, which is a bad sign. I think Billy Elliott may be over, but never say never in Hollywood.
Traffic is a flawed work, sometimes reaching toward a Robert Altman kind of success, but failing ultimately. I feel strongly in the nominating process that director Steven Soderbergh only be nominated for one film, not two, and that Erin Brockovich will the choice of the Academy. As for actors: Michael Douglas is OK in it, but he's outstanding in Wonder Boys, for which he should be nominated. Traffic's standout performance is by Benicio del Toro, who'll be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Of the movies I suggest are the best, the Academy may decide to nominate Crouching Tiger only in the Foreign Film category. That would be a shame, but if it should happen, I think then I might relent and agree that Traffic should have the fifth spot. I think Gladiator and Erin Brockovich are locks, as they say.
As for Almost Famous and Chocolat, I am completely devoted to them. Directors Cameron Crowe and Lasse Hallstrom have demonstrated superior personal artistry with them and delivered some terrific Oscar-worthy performances at the same time. I don't want to jinx either of them, but I feel that they each may fall in the category of last year's Three Kings — great movies that get overlooked. I really hope that doesn't happen again.
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan, are finally being inducted into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame in March. They're also nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year for Two Against Nature, their first studio album in 20 years.
Such acceptance and approbation hasn't stopped them from employing their usual good humor. They posted the following letter on their Web site just prior to their Hall of Fame nod:
To the distinguished members of the Board of Directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio:
We have just received word and wish to acknowledge that we have been [chosen/again passed over] for membership in the internationally renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is indeed a [great honor/great honor] to even be considered and short-listed for this prestigious award and we stand prepared to [join/be blackballed from] the august company that comprises the inductees of the Hall of Fame, including but not limited to Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Paul McCartney, and the Yardbirds including Eric Clapton.
As you may be aware, we are in the midst of a [spectacular comeback year/demeaning sequel to an otherwise perfectly serviceable career] which has already been acknowledged and honored in a profound and moving way — and [induction into the Hall/having been nominated, considered and ultimately rejected by you guys again] is certainly the icing on the cake for us.
Rest assured that we will be celebrating this momentous occasion by [lollygagging at our ranch with a dog named "Spot" and a boil on our face/skulking out to Starbuck's for a double decaf latte and a pistachio cone]. Of course we shall stand ready to [participate in/boycott] the festive induction ceremony at the pleasure of our fans, to whom we owe everything and whom we have vowed never to disappoint, [ever/or as infrequently as possible]. We shall be [wintering/falling back to lick our wounds] in Hawaii starting any day now, so please let us know as soon as possible [where we can pick up our trophies/that we should go f*** ourselves] and what, if anything, we should wear. Mahalo and aloha nui loha
— Donald Fagen & Walter Becker