Godfather Director  | Six Feet Under  | Jacko Redux

Godfather Director Gets Good Rap

What do you do when you've made the two best movies of the modern era and your daughter asks for help on a new TV show? Why, you get hands-on.

Working on the new UPN series Platinum was evidently an offer Francis Ford Coppola — whose The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II are the aforementioned cinema classics — could not refuse. Even though he's listed as an executive producer of the series, I've heard that he is incredibly involved.

"You should see the pages and pages of notes we get back from him on each script," a production source told me recently. "Long sentences that run on and on. It's like stream of consciousness, but he knows what he's doing."

The idea for Platinum came to Francis' director daughter Sofia, who knows a lot about hip-hop. Sofia hooked up with writer/producer John Ridley, and the two of them hatched the idea for a serious one-hour TV drama about the world of rap, hip-hop and the record business. The show eventually came under the umbrella of Greenblatt Janollari Studios, the same company that makes the excellent Six Feet Under (see below).

Sofia — who directed The Virgin Suicides — has also learned a lot about the music video business through her husband, Adaptation director Spike Jonze, who's directed dozens of videos himself. On Platinum, which is a co-venture with MTV, groups will be discovered, and videos made and then played on MTV. The show should be sort of like mixing Making of the Band with The Godfather and Six Feet Under. Now that should be interesting.

The show debuts in March with a mostly unknown cast. But if FFC has a hand in the casting too, expect a lot of breakout stars. From Al Pacino to Matt Dillon, The Godfather to Rumble Fish, Coppola is famous for minting new superstars.

Six Feet Under Returns With a Surprise Beginning

You've heard of surprise endings? When HBO's Six Feet Under returns on March 2, the opening scenes of the first episode are very much don't-miss. If you're taping it, start the tape a few minutes early. If you're home, run and make that sandwich before the show starts. What happens is not violent, but it is disturbing and sad.

One of the characters, a member of the Fisher family, appears to meet their maker. I won't tell you which one. But at the New York premiere, actor Peter Krause — who plays Nate — told me he wished the premise were carried out for the whole season.

"There was talk of doing a real near-death experience with all the aftershocks," Krause told me. "Something clearly has happened to the character. We just don't know what."

What I can tell you is, just as I wrote in this space last summer, Rachel Griffiths does not return as Brenda until the fifth episode.

What happened? The show's creator, Alan Ball, told me it was his idea. "We wanted Lili Taylor's character to get solidified in the show. Then Brenda comes back, and we'll see what happens and how that affects everyone."

Of the first two episodes, which we saw last night, the second one is just as amazing. Kathy Bates and Patricia Clarkson guest star. At one point, the two actresses and regular Frances Conroy have a few scenes together. They're just wonderful. Clarkson is perfectly cast as the sister of Conroy's Ruth Fisher. They look they could be twins. In fact, they did play sisters once before, in the cult movie Rocket Gibraltar.

In person, Conroy is plain spoken and elegant. Having just flown into New York from Los Angeles, she was concerned about her dachshund, Nelson, who was left behind in the limo.

"We rescued him," she told me. "He was wandering around our neighborhood and no one knows where he came from. We put up signs, did everything, but no one claimed him. So now he's got a home."

Conroy — who should have Emmys all over her mantel for her extraordinary performances as the Fisher family matriarch — brought her two brothers and her sister, as well as Nelson, with her. Her brothers were just as you might imagine Ruth's siblings — they don't have HBO and have really seen almost nothing of Six Feet Under.

"I have rabbit ears on my set," said one of the brothers very charmingly. "I have a friend with a DVD player, and he just bought the first season and invited me over. So I've just seen the first two episodes."

The HBO shindig that followed at Capitale was chockablock with HBO stars and associates, including Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell, Sopranos stars Edie Falco, Vince Curatola, Robert Iler, Aida Turturro and John Ventimiglia; and the entire Six Feet Under cast, including Golden Globe winner Griffiths in an all white suit.

So what will happen this season beyond the first jolt? "I don't know how it ends yet," said Ball. "We still have three more episodes to shoot."

But do look for Catherine O'Hara as a hilarious recurring character who ties the morose L.A.-based Fishers to nearby glamorous Hollywood  — even if it's just by means of name-dropping.

Jacko Redux: Oprah Said It Best a Long Time Ago

Michael Jackson's outtakes show, or his response to Martin Bashir's bashing of him, airs tonight on Fox. Not Fox News — Fox Entertainment. (See our exclusive reports from Monday and Tuesday this week regarding Fox, Dateline and Jackson.)

But I think it's so interesting how people have glommed onto Jackson's recent "revelations" as if they were new. I already told you that, back in 1994, GQ magazine did a thorough investigation of the family that settled with Jackson for $20 million over child molestation charges. Writer Mary A. Fischer concluded that the family conspired to extort millions from Jackson.

Many other "revelations" in all these documentaries are now a decade old. On February 10, 1993, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Michael at Neverland for ABC. Here are some excerpts:

Oprah : Your father teased you about your pimples?

Michael : Yes and tell me I'm ugly.

Oprah : Your father would say that?

Michael : Yes he would. Sorry, Joseph.

Oprah : So he would tease you, make fun of you.

Michael : Yes.

Oprah : Would he ... did he ever beat you?

Michael : Yes.

Oprah : And why would he beat you?

Michael : He saw me, he wanted me ... I guess I don't know if I was his golden child or whatever it was. Some may call it a strict disciplinarian or whatever, but he was very strict, very hard, very stern. Just a look would scare you, you know.

Oprah : And were you scared of him?

Michael : Very. Like there's been times when he'd come to see me, I'd get sick, I'd start to regurgitate.

Oprah : As a child or as an adult?

Michael : Both. He's never heard me say this. I'm sorry, please don't be mad at me.

Oprah : Well, I mean, I suppose everybody has to take responsibility for what they've done in life. And your father is one of those people who also has to take responsibility.

Michael : But I do love him.

Oprah : Yes, I understand this.

Here's more, Jackson talking about how he came to he photographed in a hyperbaric chamber.

Oprah : ... I've been all over the house upstairs when you weren't looking, looking for that oxygen chamber and I cannot find an oxygen chamber anywhere in the house.

Michael : That, that story is so crazy. I mean it's one of those tabloid things, it's completely made up.

Oprah : OK, but you are in something there, there's a picture of you, where did that come from? How did it get started?

Michael : That's ... I did a commercial for Pepsi and I was burned very badly and we settled for $1 million and I gave all the money ... like we built this place called the Michael Jackson Burn Center and that's a piece of technology used for burn victims, right, so I'm looking at the piece of technology and decide to just go inside it and just to hammer around, somebody takes the picture. When they process the picture, the person who processes the picture says, "Oh, Michael Jackson." He made a copy and these pictures went all over the world with this lie attached to it. It's a complete lie. Why do people buy these papers? It's not the truth and I'm here to say, 'You know, do not judge a person, do not pass judgment unless you have talked to them one on one.' I don't care what the story is, do not judge them because it's a lie.

On plastic surgery, Jackson was more forthcoming with Oprah than he was with Bashir, certainly.

Oprah : Are you pleased now with the way you look?

Michael : I'm never pleased with anything. I'm a perfectionist, it's part of who I am.

Oprah : And so when you look in the mirror now and so the image that looks back at you are there days when you say I kinda like this or I like the way my hair ...

Michael : No. I'm never pleased with myself. No, I try not to look in the mirror.

Finally — and there is no real finally with Michael Jackson — I wonder why Bashir, Dateline, Oprah and Diane Sawyer never bothered to raise this aspect of Michael hosting children's groups at Neverland. There's a plain and simple reason to bring non-profit groups: It's tax deductible.

The document that would be of more interest than any allegation of molestation would be Jackson's personal income tax filing. The write-offs on Neverland are what's keeping the place afloat. Jacko, it seems, is not so wacko after all.