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Buzz Prediction: Hats Off to Janet Jackson

April 23, 2001

A pop showdown begins Tuesday, but only one of the combatants will be wearing a Stetson. New albums from Janet Jackson and country heavyweight Tim McGraw arrive in stores that day, raising the question of which will have the stronger first week. McGraw's previous studio album, "A Place in the Sun," sold 252,000 copies during its first week of release in May 1999, while Jackson's "Velvet Rope" chalked up 202,000 copies in its initial week in October 1997. That was a surprisingly low figure for Jackson, whose previous album, "janet.," posted a 350,000 debut week in 1993. Few think her new "All for You" will have any trouble trouncing "Velvet Rope's" first week, given that the title track has been the nation's best-selling single for three weeks. And in her case it appears that absence will make the sales grow faster, giving her the edge over McGraw in the first-week derby. "The Janet Jackson record is so much more highly anticipated," says Scott Levin of the Musicland/Sam Goody chain. "It's not that Tim McGraw's is going to be a poor record, but Tim and [his wife] Faith Hill have been all over the place, in the press and on TV, for a long period of time, and Janet really hasn't for the last three or four years. That absence creates a pent-up demand, and obviously her single is doing very, very well. Those ingredients will propel Janet's album ahead of Tim's."

'Town & Country' Arrives With Baggage

When director Peter Chelsom's marital comedy "Town & Country" hits movie theaters Friday, it will finally give moviegoers at large a chance to see what all the fuss and negative publicity has been about in Hollywood for the past few years. "Town & Country" began filming in the summer of 1998, with an original release date of April 1999. In the intervening time, Hollywood has been rife with rumors of cost overruns and script problems that led New Line Cinema to pull the film off its release schedule. Warren Beatty, who stars with Diane Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Goldie Hawn, Jenna Elfman and Garry Shandling, bristled at any suggestion that he was to blame for the delay, noting that he was merely one of the actors hired to perform a role. The saga of "Town & Country" brings to mind other Hollywood films that were plagued by gossip before ever reaching the big screen. As far back as the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton spectacle "Cleopatra,' which Leonard Maltin calls a "flat, four-hour misfire," some movies just seem destined for misfortune. In 1980, it was Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate," a sprawling western that some critics said was hopelessly muddled. In 1987, it was "Ishtar," Elaine May's big-budget comedy starring Beatty and Dustin Hoffman that feebly attempted to mimic the "Road" pictures of Crosby and Hope. "It usually raises a red flag whenever a film is delayed or postponed," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co.. "But I wonder if the average moviegoer is aware of all this? For people in the middle of the country who are seeing 'Town & Country' for the first time, it might be the first time they ever heard about the movie."

NAACP's Mfume to Showcase Success Stories

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume in 1999 launched an aggressive campaign protesting the lack of cultural diversity in new entertainment shows premiering that year on the four major TV networks. This week, almost exactly two years later, Mfume will host his own special on a TV station here that is owned by one of those networks. "The Remarkable Journey," which is scheduled Saturday at 3 p.m. on KABC-TV Channel 7, profiles people who have excelled in the face of overwhelming odds. Among the profiles in this installment are comedian Chris Rock; civil rights humanitarian Dr. Levi Watkins; singer Patti LaBelle and artist-architect Maya Lin. The program, which is being syndicated by NBC Enterprises, is an outgrowth of a Baltimore-based series that Mfume has hosted for the last eight years. Mfume said he is well aware of the irony of doing a show that is being distributed by NBC and is airing on an ABC outlet: "Yes, it is indeed a little ironic considering the way I've gone after the networks, and will continue to do so when I feel they have not done all they could in terms of hiring minorities in the talent, production and executive ranks. Life is full of ironies." Mfume added that he's done two other "Remarkable Journey" installments that he hopes will air later this year. Mfume said he would like to devote more time to television in the future: "My love really lies with documentary. I'm very attracted to the educational aspects of documentaries." Still, his aspirations in the television field haven't distracted him from his continuing protest against the networks. He says he plans to make an announcement before the start of the fall season targeting one or two of the major networks "who are not performing as well as they should" in terms of diversity for a possible consumer and advertiser boycott.

'Lion King's' Reign Extended at Pantages

If "The Lion King" is on your list of shows to see, you can start your holiday theatergoing planning now. Disney, which produces the musical, is extending the extravaganza through February of next year at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Tickets go on sale Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Pantages box office and Ticketmaster outlets. The extension will take the production through its first birthday at the Pantages, where it opened on Oct. 19. So far, more than 850,000 tickets have been sold to the Hollywood run. A slight change in the schedule will accompany the extension; starting Oct. 3, Tuesday performances will begin at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

--Compiled by Times staff writers

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