Arts and entertainment reports from The Times, national and international news services and the nation’s press.


Divine TV: HBO will showcase Bette Midler in a concert special premiering on the cable channel Jan. 19. The concert, to be taped Jan. 10 and 11 at an undetermined venue in Las Vegas, will be the Divine Miss M’s fourth HBO special in 20 years. The Las Vegas performances will be part of a multi-venue West Coast concert tour that the “First Wives Club” star is kicking off Dec. 3 and 4 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Midler is also scheduled to perform Dec. 23 and 24 at Universal Amphitheatre. Tickets go on sale Sunday.

Shapiro Joins CBS News: CBS News made it official on Thursday by announcing that the network had hired O.J. Simpson criminal defense attorney Robert Shapiro as a consultant to provide “insight and expertise” on Simpson’s civil trial. Shapiro, who will be joined on air by attorney Greg Garrison (he was lead prosecutor for the New York rape trial of boxer Mike Tyson), will contribute to various broadcasts including the “CBS Evening News,” “This Morning” and “48 Hours.”

‘Toy’ Rentals: “Toy Story” debuted at No. 1 on the Video Software Dealers Assn.'s VidTrac rental chart, taking in an estimated $5.19 million at rental outlets in its first week. Another new video release, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Eraser,” placed second in rentals last week, with a take of $3.6 million. That pushed “Twister,” the year’s biggest rental (it took in $8.4 million its first week), into the third spot. “Twister” does remain atop Billboard’s rental chart, however; because Billboard surveys fewer dealers, new releases usually take longer to show up on that chart, and neither “Toy Story” nor “Eraser” made it into this week’s Top 40.

Dealing in V-chips: An organization of television producers has drafted its own TV ratings proposal that the group maintains would be more specific than the current movie-ratings system. Under guidelines suggested by the 250-member Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors, programs raising concerns would be labeled S for sex, V for violence and L for language, and the intensity level of the offenses would be designated as “occasional,” “frequent” or “widespread.” Labels would be determined by a program’s producer and its network, which as the FCC licensee would be the final arbiter. A group spearheaded by Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti has also been working to devise a TV ratings system and has suggested various methods, including one more closely approximating MPAA’s movie guidelines.


Will, Call Your Agent: It may be “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” but the writing credit in the new hit film doesn’t go to the Bard. Although the actual language used is Shakespeare’s, Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann, the film’s director, “adapted” the original text for the film, and thus get the screenplay credit. Says Tom Rothman, head of production for 20th Century Fox: "[Shakespeare] obviously didn’t write the screenplay since he’s not around to do it. But clearly he is prominently, conspicuously and appropriately credited [in the movie’s title]. . . . It wouldn’t have been accurate to say he wrote the screenplay, but Baz went to great lengths to make sure the words are proudly and gloriously Shakespeare’s.”



Cancer Sidelines Pyros: The rock band Porno for Pyros has postponed until sometime next year the rest of its current tour dates--including a Nov. 18 show in San Diego--to enable guitarist Peter Distephano to undergo chemotherapy treatment. The band’s label, Warner Bros. Records, did not disclose what type of cancer Distephano had, but noted that the disease “was detected in its early stages, and doctors are optimistic that chemotherapy and rest will enable him to recover fully.”

Charges Dropped: Noting that charges could still be refiled at a later date, Florida prosecutors on Thursday dropped felony battery charges against singer Bobby Brown, who was due to stand trial for allegedly beating a Chicago man and nearly severing his ear in a 1995 bar fight in Disney World. The move came after the victim, Neil Kelly, 38, reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount, Brown’s lawyer Robert Buonauro said. Kelly had initially demanded $6.6 million.


SCR Takes ‘Final Offer’: “BAFO” stands for “Best and Final Offer,” and it’s also the title of a South Coast Repertory-commissioned play that the Costa Mesa company will premiere Jan. 21-Feb. 23 on its Second Stage. Set in Southern California’s downsizing defense industry, Tom Strelich’s drama will feature five of the 33-year-old SCR’s original founding actors.


Former Beirut hostage and AP correspondent Terry Anderson has returned to Lebanon for the first time since his 1991 release from captivity to tape “Lebanon: A Return to the Lion’s Den,” a Dec. 1 CNN special. . . . ABC, CBS and NBC combined for their worst ratings ever on an election night Tuesday, just below viewing levels in 1988. ABC was first with 12.7 million viewers from 7-11 p.m., followed by 10.9 million people watching NBC and CBS’ 9.4 million. The networks and CNN combined for 42% of the available audience, compared to 57% in 1992. . . . Longtime Los Angeles radio personality Bob Coburn, last heard in the afternoon drive slot at KZLA-FM (93.9), today takes over the 2-6 p.m. drive slot at classic rock radio station KCBS-FM (93.1), known as “Arrow 93.” . . . Advance ticket sales for “101 Dalmatians” at the El Capitan Theater have already passed the $1-million mark, outpacing by nearly two weeks the advance sales of 1995’s “Toy Story,” Walt Disney Pictures says.