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IN THE KNOW / A LOOK AT THE WEEK AHEAD

Third Time Was a Charm. But the Fourth?

July 06, 1998

Can Warner Bros. roll seven with the dice a fourth time? This Friday, the studio will release "Lethal Weapon 4," the latest installment in what some see as a tired franchise. But Warner Bros. is pinning much of its hopes this summer on whether stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver can prove the cynics wrong. The price tag hasn't been cheap. The film is said to have cost $115 million--some say $130 million--with Gibson being paid $25 million up front. In addition, the studio reportedly gave away more than 35% of the back-end gross to Gibson, Glover, Donner and Silver, who have been involved with every "Lethal Weapon" film. This time around, the filmmakers had to scramble to meet the release date. Shooting wrapped in mid-May, allowing precious little time for Donner and Co. to edit the footage and apply the finishing touches. When journalists arrived two weeks ago for a press junket, they were ushered onto Sound Stage 21 to conduct their interviews with cast members Gibson, Glover, Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock and Jet Li. The set, which was a wharf for the final scene, had yet to be dismantled. By now, moviegoers are familiar with the two main "Lethal Weapon" characters: Gibson plays a borderline psycho cop who is partnered with Glover, a stable family man. The movies blend action, suspense and humor--and the public has flocked to them every time. The original "Lethal Weapon" took in $6.8 million on its opening weekend in 1987. Two years later, "Lethal Weapon 2" debuted at No. 1 with $20.4 million, while "Lethal Weapon 3" opened in 1992 to $33.2 million. While the world may not be clamoring for a fourth film, the addition of Rock and Li will probably expand the demographics. Rock, perhaps the hottest stand-up comic working today, is popular with younger audiences, while Chinese martial-arts star Li could be a boon for ticket sales overseas.

Sweeps in Summer? Dust Off the Miniseries!

While viewers usually associate TV sweeps periods with the screaming promotion and local-news hysteria common during the months of November, February and May, there is a more sedate (and less significant) competition conducted each July as well. This Thursday marks the beginning of the July ratings survey, which helps explain the barrage of high-profile miniseries the networks will repeat over the next four weeks. NBC gets the ball rolling by airing the Ted Danson version of "Gulliver's Travels" over two nights starting Friday, followed by another mythical epic, "The Odyssey," on Sunday. Odysseus and crew will battle not only the Trojans and Cyclops, however, but also face a rebroadcast of the eight-hour Stephen King miniseries "The Stand," which ABC will air over four nights. CBS weighs in with the "Gone With the Wind" sequel "Scarlett"--another eight-hour production that begins July 19--and offers the two-part Larry McMurtry western "Buffalo Girls" in early August. Big tune-in for these programs would appear unlikely, despite strong ratings for their original runs, but they'll at least fill plenty of time as the networks muddle through what's thus far been a ratings-starved summer.

Paying the Price to Visit Planet Janet

Janet Jackson's four-month, 48-date "The Velvet Rope" tour kicks off Thursday in Washington, D.C., amid conflicting reports of the pop superstar's drawing power. Some industry insiders say that ticket sales have been slow in certain parts of the country. One obstacle, they say, could be ticket price. "When you're asking upward of $65 for tickets, it becomes harder for kids to get that kind of money from their parents," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a concert industry trade publication. "If you're appealing to baby boomers, high ticket prices are less of a factor." Jackson representatives say things are going fine--and, indeed, her two Southland stops, Aug. 20 at the Great Western Forum and Aug. 23 at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, are nearly sold out. They're confident that the release of a new single, "Go Deep," will draw attention to the tour while boosting sales of Jackson's 1997 album, "The Velvet Rope," which has already sold more than 2 million copies.

--Compiled by Times staff writers and contributors

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