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IN THE KNOW / A LOOK AT THE WEEK A HEAD

Russell Soldiers On With Everyman Image

October 19, 1998

Was it really almost four decades ago that Kurt Russell got his start in show business as a child actor? During the intervening years, the 47-year-old Russell has not only managed to make the treacherous crossover into adult roles, but also has miraculously morphed from an average guy into a steel-jawed, mini-Arnold Schwarzenegger who reportedly commanded $15 million for his latest film, "Soldier." In the futuristic action movie, which Warner Bros. will release Friday, Russell portrays a veteran of numerous galactic conflicts who is forced to fight a new breed of warrior whose stamina and ruthless capacity for killing is second to none. Unlike Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, audiences seem to accept Russell in action films, dramas or comedies. "The beauty of Kurt Russell is he's not just known as an action star," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. "I think he has this Everyman quality. Women like him and men aren't threatened by him. He gets both audiences." It seems like only yesterday that Russell appeared as an all-American young man in such routine Disney comedies as "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" and "The Barefoot Executive." Russell is something of a chameleon who could easily have been pigeonholed as "that kid from Disney." But he shed his image as Mr. Nice Guy when he assumed the role of Snake Plisskin in John Carpenter's bleak 1981 action film, "Escape From New York." "His collaboration with John Carpenter certainly helped to change his image," Dergarabedian said. "He wasn't a skinny teenager any longer. He was all buffed out." Russell's been a steady draw at the box office; his biggest-grossing film was "Backdraft," which made $77.8 million in 1991. Other recent films include "Stargate" ($71.5 million), "Executive Decision" ($56.6 million) and "Breakdown" ($50.1 million). One recent flop was the 1996 sequel "Escape From L.A.," which grossed $24.5 million.

Is It a Good Time for Dylan's Latest?

Pop historians will be watching with a playful eye Wednesday for the first-week sales figures of Bob Dylan's latest album. By one account, the timing for the first-ever official release of Dylan's legendary 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" concert couldn't be better. After all, Dylan's haunting 1997 album, "Time Out of Mind," not only was one of his best sellers in years, but also won a Grammy for album of the year. The collection, which entered the sales charts at No. 10, has sold nearly 750,000 copies. But an even better timing for the live album would have been 22 years ago, because there was so much interest in Dylan's concert at Manchester's Free Trade Hall that it became one of the most celebrated bootlegs of its era (the album location was misidentified on the bootleg). If Dylan had released it then, the album might have leaped right into the Top 10. So the question now is how much interest remains in the album after all these years. One thing in the collection's favor is that it is coming out before an upcoming onslaught of reissues from other rock legends. "It's good the album didn't come out in November, 'cause you've got Bruce Springsteen's boxed set coming as well as the John Lennon box," says Stan Goman, chief operating officer for Tower Records. "People can only spend so much money." Early sales figures from Tower stores were encouraging for the Dylan album, he noted. "We've always sold a lot of Dylan," Goman says. "And this recording is a good thing for his fans to have."

NBC Pitches 'Will' and Reruns vs. Baseball

Rather than risk being beaned by Fox's World Series coverage, NBC decided to bail out by scheduling reruns of its popular Tuesday and Thursday sitcoms this week, while shuffling its lineup to showcase some rookie comedies in different time slots. The big beneficiary is "Will & Grace," the new sitcom about a gay man (Eric McCormack) and straight woman (Debra Messing), which has delivered promising ratings airing Mondays. NBC will run the show at 9:30 p.m. both Tuesday and Thursday, no doubt watching closely to see if the program looks worthy of a time-period promotion to one of those nights later this season. The network has additional incentive to make "Will" a hit, since NBC produces the show and would cash in on the syndication sale of reruns if it becomes the next "Friends." NBC has reason to consider moves that might bolster its key Tuesday and Thursday comedy blocks, with ratings down both nights. Last week's "ER"--hurt in part by an ESPN Thursday football telecast--dropped 15% compared to the corresponding week in 1997, while "Frasier" fell nearly 30% short of "Seinfeld's" year-ago audience. Declining network ratings at least support the premise of NBC's summer promotion campaign, which noted that reruns of episodes you haven't seen are "New to You."

--Compiled by Times staff writers and contributors

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