It's going to be a crowded marketplace for films this Christmas, but with Santa arriving on Friday, Hollywood studios are hoping that once families open their presents they will drive to the local cineplex that evening. "Fridays don't start doing business until evening anyway," said Tom Sherak, who heads distribution at 20th Century Fox. "The thing you don't want is for Christmas Eve to fall on a Friday." The last time Christmas fell on a Friday was 1992, when theaters were showing such films as "A Few Good Men," "Aladdin," "Home Alone 2," and "The Bodyguard." The box office that weekend took a 5% dip from the previous year. This year, studios are hopeful that there are films to please a variety of tastes. Opening are the Robin Williams comedy "Patch Adams"; the Julia Roberts-Susan Sarandon tear-jerker "Stepmom"; the Disney film "Mighty Joe Young"; a sci-fi thriller about high school students facing an alien takeover called "The Faculty"; and "Down in the Delta," a drama directed by poet Maya Angelou about a woman who tries to save her daughter from the Chicago streets by taking her home to the Mississippi Delta. Also opening, in limited release, are "A Civil Action," "The Thin Red Line," "Hurlyburly" and "The Theory of Flight." One reason "The Thin Red Line" is being released Wednesday in only New York and Los Angeles, and adding only Orange County and San Francisco on Christmas Day, is that the first prints aren't expected to come out of the lab until today. The film is scheduled to expand into another 10 cities on Jan. 8 and then go into about 1,200 theaters nationwide on Jan. 15.
Down the Stretch They Come!
Will Captain Fantastic take the 1998 concert crown, or is a new age dawning? This week, Performance magazine, the concert industry trade, will release its tally of the year's top-grossing domestic concert tours and, as of Friday, the race for No. 1 was neck and neck between venerable pop superstar Elton John and the Greek keyboardist Yanni, according to Performance associate editor Leiann Simpson. "We're still getting shows reported, and it looked like Yanni was going to be first, but now Elton should edge him by less than $100,000," Simpson said. A preliminary chart shows that John grossed $40.6 million with 53 shows, while Yanni took in $40.5 million with 101 shows. The year-end issue, which hits newsstands on Christmas Eve, also tracks the considerable concert draw of country music, which looks to land three tours--Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and the George Strait festival shows--in the top 10. Simpson said there were two surprises in the final top five: the presence of Janet Jackson, who shook off lukewarm reviews and was "a surprise to everybody," and the absence of Aerosmith. "You expect Aerosmith to be right up there, but they had injuries, accidents, health problems, a lot of stuff" that led to cancellation of about two dozen dates, she said. The combined gross of the top 50 tours looked to break the $800-million level, exceeding the 1997 total of $781 million. And who is the early bet to rake in the most money in 1999? "The Rolling Stones were overseas for most of this year, and next year they come back and should be No. 1 here. And Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion tour should be really strong."
CBS Goes for Gold With Infomercials
Fans of "Hollywood Squares" will be in for a rude awakening Tuesday if they tune in KCBS-TV expecting to see center square Whoopi Goldberg. Instead, they'll find four guys sitting around having a "fireside chat" about golf clubs--part of a 30-minute infomercial from a company called Alien Sport. Fifteen CBS-owned stations in major cities will air the ad, which represents a year-end effort to generate additional revenue. The maneuver has upset the syndicator behind "Hollywood Squares" and fueled discord within the network. Sources say CBS' entertainment division worries that the infomercials (two others were broadcast earlier this month) risk chasing viewers away at 7:30 p.m., leading into their prime-time lineup. Stations often run infomercials in late night but not in such key time slots. Even rival TV executives have questioned the strategy, calling it short-sighted while fearing that others may follow suit. The only party that seems happy about the deal is Alien Sport, which gloated in a press release that the club manufacturer will "tell its remarkable story to a prime-time CBS television audience estimated at over 30 million [people]." No offense, but unless there's massive remote-control failure in those 15 cities, don't bet on it.
--Compiled by Times staff writers
Morning Report will continue Tuesday through Saturday.