Is DMX risking his considerable street cred to warm up to a more mainstream audience? Watch this week for the intense, gritty rapper to perform on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the first in a series of television gigs in upcoming weeks that include Queen Latifah's talk show, the sitcom "Moesha" and music specials on BET and MTV. The Yonkers, N.Y., rhymer will also stride across the Shrine Auditorium stage in March to be honored as "entertainer of the year" at the Soul Train Awards. So what's the problem? In the world of hip-hop, rappers risk a certain amount of fan allegiance when they stray too far into the mainstream--witness the backlash against Will Smith among rap fans who frown on his pop leanings and non-music projects. DMX, who in 1998 scored two No. 1 albums in a single year, has also succeeded in the past with a more low-key approach. "One thing DMX has done well has been not being overexposed," says Tom Calderone, MTV senior vice president of music and talent. "His albums never disappoint his core fans and his face hasn't been everywhere in the mainstream. . . . He has picked the right shots." Sure, but "Moesha"? "It's kind of nuts to me," says Carlito Rodriguez, editor in chief of the Source, the nation's leading hip-hop magazine. "But DMX is definitely street, he's definitely hard-core, and his performances are so stirring and soulful . . . with [the 'Moesha' appearance], it depends on the role, but to tell you the truth, the fans won't mind no matter what."
They're Jazzed at 'JAG'
Fans of the CBS naval action drama "JAG," get your salute hands ready. The series will be celebrating its 100th episode Tuesday at 8 p.m. with the first of a two-part installment that concludes next week. The milestone is especially satisfying to series creator and executive producer Donald P. Bellisario, particularly since the drama was unceremoniously canceled in 1996 by NBC following its first season. "JAG," which stars David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, was immediately picked up by CBS President Leslie Moonves, who had faith in the series' premise and characters. The drama has since developed into one of the mainstays of CBS' schedule, regularly trouncing its rivals, ABC's "Spin City" and NBC's "Just Shoot Me," in total viewership. "I feel very satisfied about this landmark, although I don't know how NBC feels about it," Bellisario quipped Friday. "It's become the show I always knew it could become." Bellisario added that "JAG" has never been "a favorite with critics or the Hollywood elite, but it is a favorite with audiences all over the country. The Hollywood elite thinks the show is all about flag-waving, which it's not. We deal with real issues." He said that the series will feature a show revolving around gays in the military later this season. The 100th episode, "Boomerang," written and directed by Bellisario, was filmed in Australia and features several historic locations, including the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.
The Scribes' Day in the Sun
And now for the "I don't get no respect" awards. On Wednesday, the Writers Guild of America will announce its nominations for the best work by writers of theatrical films and television shows during 1999. Every year, about 40,000 screenplays, teleplays and story treatments pour into the guild's West Coast offices, which duly registers the transactions. About half of those submissions involve feature films in various stages of development, but as every harried, meeting-weary screenwriter knows, only a couple hundred Hollywood scripts actually reach the big screen in any given year. This year's field for theatrical films appears to be wide open, but if previous awards and nominations are any indication, some favorites for WGA feature film nods are Alan Ball for "American Beauty," Charlie Kaufman for "Being John Malkovich," John Irving for "Cider House Rules" (he also wrote the novel on which it's based), and Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor III for "Election," from a novel by Tom Perrotta. While writers are notorious for grousing about how studios and networks need to place more emphasis on the written word, Hollywood has never employed a larger work force of writers. Charles Slocum, director of strategic planning at the WGA's western branch, said that out of 8,352 dues-paying members on the West Coast, 53.8%, or 4,490, were working in the business in 1998. That growth is not being fueled by an increase in feature films, Slocum notes, but by UPN and the WB television networks, as well as by cable TV. The median income for guild members in 1998, he added, stood at $82,169. While top screenwriters can earn between $1 million and $2.5 million per script and as much as $250,000 a week for production rewrites, Slocum says, a script for an hour show on the WB, for example, pays about $17,000. The WGA contract with the studios expires in May 2001, and you can be sure there will be some hard-nosed bargaining on both sides.
--Compiled by Times staff writers