Sources tell me that CBS is back in the Michael Jackson game. I'm told that the Tiffany network was tired of being upstaged by ABC's "20/20," and has finally rescheduled its original special -- which was supposed to air in November -- for the first week of January.
Even more news: Last night, Jackson apparently agreed to the Ed Bradley interview I told you about here exclusively on Dec. 9. My sources say it's been set up for taping on Dec. 27. This wouldn't give Jackson much time to get to England and return to New York or Los Angeles, however. The feeling now is that Jackson will cancel his U.K. trip and give back his passport to the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office.
The original special was designed to promote Jackson's "Number Ones" album, but was cancelled in light of the then just-breaking scandal. But the album has sold poorly in the U.S. and Jackson's handlers -- that is, his original team, not the German managers or the Nation of Islam-- have convinced the beleaguered star to take this course of action in order to generate sales. I'm told that Jackson's attorney, Mark Geragos, helped get Jackson to agree to the deal.
A "60 Minutes"-type interview with Bradley should go a long way to help Jackson's image overall. Certainly Bradley -- who will presumably ask Jackson tough questions -- will not allow the shilling that's gone on over at "20/20."
Last week, that program was accused of funneling money to the Jackson family through third parties in order to get access to them. An ABC News spokesman denied the allegation. "There is absolutely no truth to that. Furthermore, we resent being put in a position of having to deny something that is blatantly untrue," the spokesman said.
I'm a little worried about Ben Affleck. Yeah, he's got millions of dollars, lots of real estate and J-Lo. But what about his movie career?
Affleck's movie report card has gone down to an average C minus since his overnight stardom in "Good Will Hunting." The situation isn't getting any better.
In just a few days, Paramount will launch "Paycheck" against the public as it if were a neutron bomb. Based on a story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, "Paycheck" is about a man whose memory is wiped clean. It's erased so thoroughly that he can't remember either "Total Recall", which was also a Dick story, or Christopher Nolan's excellent "Memento," which is only two years old and a modern classic.
To make matters worse, Affleck has a film in the can that should have come out this season but is sitting on the shelf. Nominally described as a comedy, "Surviving Christmas" has been ready to go for months.
I told you last February that co-star James Gandolfini was so horrified by the script when he arrived on set that he locked himself in his trailer until changes were made. The production shut down in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles for rewrites, and then had to be made, no matter what. We may see it a year from now, at the earliest. My suspicion is that it will go straight to video while no one's looking.
A production insider on "Surviving" says the DreamWorks/Paramount production was always meant to wait a year. Huh?
"'Paycheck' was filmed after us, but we were told they had to go first, at Christmas," says my source. "Then 'Jersey Girl' comes in March. So we're on hold."
Affleck's resume is spotty. Forget about "Gigli." It was the worst of the bunch, but there have been others in the Affleck repertoire nearly as bad.
"Bounce," "Reindeer Games," "Daredevil" and "Boiler Room" all go into one category: forgettable and cheesy. This also applies to the also-unreleased "Third Wheel," the unredeemable "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and the straight-to-video Billy Bob Thornton creation "Daddy and Them." It's not a pretty picture.
There have been hits, of course. "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sum of All Fears" are their titles. "Changing Lanes" was a modest success, but no blockbuster. It's probably the best of the lot, however, and worth seeing.
Otherwise, in the six years since "Good Will Hunting," Affleck has gone for the money instead of the quality of the project. The result is that he's rich but without any standing.
The word is that he's good in Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl," but that more or less brings him full circle. Smith has directed him well in "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." They are a comfortable fit.
Now, looking forward to "Paycheck": Even if it is mindless entertainment, what does that say for the man who shared an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with Matt Damon in 1997?
It's time for Affleck to take a step back and look at his career with an eye toward more than just making money. Otherwise, he'll be on the same road Alec Baldwin took many years ago. It's taken Baldwin more than a decade to get back up to speed.
By the way, don't believe everything you read about the Baldwin/Kim Basinger custody battle heading for court. Yesterday's Page Six story only shed a little light on the subject. I'm told Baldwin's case is in good shape — better than you might be led to believe by Basinger's supporters.
John Lennon was famous for wearing his little round granny glasses, but did you know he once tried contact lenses? He lost one almost immediately, and that was the end of the experiment.
That revelation and many other Beatles tidbits can be found in Ringo Starr's wonderfully inventive new book, "Postcards From the Beatles." If you know a Beatles fan, this is the ultimate gift, and all royalties are going to the Lotus Foundation in the United Kingdom.
The extravagant package, bound in a red faux-metal postal box, comprises the many postcards Ringo received over the years from Lennon and Yoko Ono, Paul and Linda McCartney, and George and Olivia Harrison. The postcards' messages and artwork actually give a rare, intimate look into the Beatles' personal lives.
For one thing, I was surprised that even after the break-up in 1970, they still communicated with each other quite often. Ringo's descriptions of little trips and adventures are fascinating.
Seeing correspondence from all of them, especially Lennon, is exciting. I liked that Ono, not considered a warm person by any means, sent along a little special message to Ringo's wife, Maureen at the bottom of one card.
You can read more about Ringo's Postcards, and order a copy from Genesis Books, at www.genesis-publications.com. There's also a toll-free number (800-775-1111) to call, since the book cannot be bought in stores.
Paul Nathanson, the publisher, tells me there's a limited run of 2500 copies, and they sell for $500 apiece; a lot for a run of the mill book (which this is not), but chicken feed to the average Beatles fan.
TVT Records has had quite a year. It won a $132 million judgment in a case against Universal Music Group, then saw the award cut by half. At the same time, its own financial picture looked bleak at the beginning of the year, but as always in the record business, you never know how things will work out in the end.
Now TVT has the top five albums on Billboard's Top Independent Albums chart. Owner Steve Gottlieb can feel pretty good as he closes the books on 2003. After all, the name TVT came from "TeeVee Toons," a compilation of television-show theme songs he released to kick off the label many moons ago.
The top 5, by the way, are:
No. 1, "Kings of Crunk," from Lil Jon & The EastSide Boyz; No. 2, Lil Jon & The EastSide Boyz again with "Part II," including a DVD; No. 3, "Me & My Brother," from The Ying Yang Twins features the hit "Naggin"; No. 4, Dashboard Confessional's "A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar," which TVT distributes for Vagrant/Interscope; and No. 5, "Crunk & Disorderly," the definitive compilation of the "crunk" movement that is sweeping hip-hop.
What is "crunk," by the way? Does it matter? At this point, if you can sell CD's and not have them stolen or downloaded for free, you're ahead of the game. Congrats.
We were pretty upset when this professional sports player decided to leave New York. We thought it was for more money, but we were wrong.
For years this guy professed to have a "special relationship with God." But it turns out he had a special relationship with a woman who was not his wife. When the wife found out, she went ballistic. The player had two choices: stay in New York with his mistress, or return home and play with a new team.
Wisely, he chose the latter, which was why you didn't hear the thunder that usually accompanies such transactions. His New York employer knew the score, and had to acquiesce. Sometimes being a sport is more important than playing one.