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IN THE KNOW / A LOOK AT THE WEEK AHEAD

A Blockbuster Opening Without Bruce?

June 29, 1998

Imagine having a potential summer blockbuster movie coming out and the star of the film is a no-show at the gala premiere? Or he doesn't hit the talk-show circuit during the final week, either on "The Late Show With David Letterman" or "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Yet, that seems to be a real possibility this week for Disney as it prepares to launch its mega-hyped movie "Armageddon." Just days before tonight's premiere at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the announcement went out that the film's star, Bruce Willis, and his wife, actress Demi Moore, were ending their 10-year marriage. As a result, it doesn't appear that Willis will be attending the premiere. "We're completely supportive of [his decision]," a Disney spokeswoman said. "This is life. [The premiere] is Hollywood. He's got kids. That's a pretty major thing." Some suspect that Willis doesn't want to address questions about his crumbling marriage put to him by inquiring journalists as he walks up the red carpet lined with paparazzi. Still, it is odd that a star of Willis' caliber (he remains one of Hollywood certified box-office draws in action films) will not be out there on TV this week hawking "Armageddon," which opens Wednesday. Although the actor attended a press junket before the divorce was announced, he is not scheduled to appear on "Letterman" this week and Leno is on vacation. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck, who is part of the ensemble cast headed by Willis, will also be unable to do the Letterman show as had been planned, Disney says, because he is making a movie in Savannah, Ga. "Because of his shooting schedule, we weren't able to get him to New York," the spokeswoman said. And Liv Tyler, who plays Willis' grown daughter in the movie? Disney would only say she's "between movies." Still, she and cast members Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton and Steve Buscemi are expected to be in Florida for the premiere.

Summertime, and Network Livin' Is Queasy

No one will mistake the firecrackers you hear Saturday for the sound of champagne corks popping at the major networks. That's because the Fourth of July holiday has also become a time when people display their TV-viewing independence, often ranking as the least-watched week of the broadcast year. Prime-time results could prove especially grim for NBC, CBS and ABC, who have already seen their ratings dip to record lows. NBC, for example, ranked first for the June 15-21 ratings period despite its worst performance, in terms of the percentage of homes tuning in, excluding weeks disrupted by the Fourth of July, Olympics or political conventions. ABC required no such disclaimers, scoring its lowest rating ever. Much of the Big Three networks' loss can be attributed to the explosion of choices now available to viewers inexorably whittling away at their audience. Yet even network officials privately acknowledge the swoon that occurs during the summer can only hasten that decline if once-faithful network watchers lose the habit of checking them out first. As one TV executive observed regarding the most recent Nielsen totals, "If this is what it's like [in June], what's going to happen in August?"

A Familiar, Perhaps Too Familiar, Rap Story

Further evidence will come Wednesday, when SoundScan's weekly sales figures are reported, but early indications are that the recent arrest of rapper DMX on a rape charge isn't having much impact on sales of his Def Jam Records debut, "It's Dark and Hell Is Hot." The New York rapper, whose real name is Earl Simmons, sings about sexually abusing a woman on the album, which was released May 19 and shot to No. 1 on the national pop music sales chart after its first week in stores. It is now at No. 13, having sold about 620,000 copies in five weeks, including nearly 69,000 during the week after his June 14 arrest in New York--down only about 8,000 from the previous week. "It's selling the same as it was before this happened," says Violet Brown, urban music buyer for the Wherehouse retail chain. "It's no big deal, I don't think." The 27-year-old rapper, who reportedly has been arrested nine times under eight aliases, was charged with rape, sodomy and unlawful imprisonment this month after a 29-year-old stripper told police that Simmons attacked her at a Bronx apartment. Simmons has denied the charges and is free on $10,000 bail. He is touring with Onyx and the Def Squad and recently wrapped his first movie role, playing a Queens-based hustler in "Belly," according to the Source, a monthly magazine devoted to rap and hip-hop. Irv Gotti of Def Jam Records told Newsweek that the bad-boy image is part of the rapper's appeal, comparing DMX to slain rapper Tupac Shakur.

--Compiled by Times staff writers and contributors

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