Ready, Set . . . All Hail to the Sony Chief

Compiled by Times Staff Writers and Contributors

Think of it as another blockbuster premiere, only without sleek limousines, red-carpeted celebrity arrivals and searchlights sweeping the sky. But the premiere will likely be more important than any single movie released by Columbia Pictures or TriStar Pictures. It is the opening of the John Calley era at Sony Pictures Entertainment. Calley is scheduled to arrive Wednesday at Sony's Culver City lot to take the reins as SPE's president and chief operating officer. The former president of United Artists, Calley comes to Sony at a time when the studio is attempting to right its struggling movie operations. Calley will occupy the Louis B. Mayer suite on the third floor of Sony's Irving Thalberg Building--the same suite once occupied by former top company executives Peter Guber and Alan Levine. The first order of business, sources say, will be for Calley to huddle with newly named SPE co-president Jeff Sagansky and executive vice president Yuki Nozoe. "I think at that point," a source says, "Calley and his team will begin taking stock of the executives in place, looking at the best possible configuration of those assets and figuring out how to tackle challenges and opportunities in each of the company's core businesses--movies, television and home video." There have been unconfirmed reports in the Hollywood trade press that Calley will elevate Columbia's executive vice president of production Gareth Wigan to a senior slot overseeing both Columbia and TriStar alongside motion picture division vice chair Lucy Fisher.

Don't Mean to Snoop, but Just Wondering

Before Tupac Shakur took over the spotlight at Death Row Records, Snoop Doggy Dogg was the controversial label's star rapper. His 1993 debut album, "Doggystyle," sold an estimated 4.8 million copies in this country alone, according to SoundScan. And he seemed in place for another blockbuster, after being acquitted in March of murder charges involving the 1993 shooting of a young man in a Palms park. But questions are now being raised whether the new Snoop album, "Tha Doggfather," will be somewhat lost in the wake of recent turmoil and tragedy at his record label. For one thing, Dr. Dre--the master hit-maker who helped shape the music on "Doggystyle"--wasn't in the studio with Snoop this time out. More importantly, Tupac Shakur, the fellow Death Row rapper who was slain in September in Las Vegas, has become such a revered figure in the rap community that Snoop's album may be bypassed in the rush for Shakur's posthumous album, which is expected to enter the sales charts strongly this week. The question of Snoop's ability to be the commercial anchor of Death Row was even headlined in the cover line of the latest issue of Vibe magazine, the hip-hop bible: "Last Man Standing: Without Tupac and Dre, Is Death Row Still America's Most Wanted?" Retailers seem to be optimistic about "Tha Doggfather." "It will sell quite well," predicts Violet Brown, urban music buyer for the Wherehouse music chain. "Customer anticipation has been huge. As soon as record executives found out they were opening against Snoop [this week], they shifted the release dates of some rival rap albums to avoid the Snoop sales rush."

The Dalai Lama Will Be Proud, Cerritos

Although China has occupied Tibet for 46 years, its attempts to dominate Tibetan culture have been consistently upstaged by Tibetans-in-exile, led by the Dalai Lama. Case in point: the program of Tibetan music and dance scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. At the end of 1994, Cerritos and other presenters formed an agreement with Columbia Artists Management of New York to book a touring group called China's National Song and Dance Ensemble of Tibet. But a few months later, before contracts were signed, those presenters found the Internet awash with criticism of their plans to showcase Beijing's view of Tibetan culture--and warnings of possible protests. According to Cerritos marketing director Walter Morlock, "Presenters around the nation took their concerns to CAMI, which immediately made a connection with Tibet House," the watchdog organization founded by actor Richard Gere, composer Philip Glass and others. However, Andrew Grossman, CAMI senior vice president, says that he had found the Chinese group "inauthentic" long before hearing the presenters' objections and was already negotiating for a replacement. Either way, the Chinese Tibetans were out by July--dumped in favor of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, a company established by the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile to preserve the culture of its homeland. It was the first time a booking was changed because of Internet lobbying, Morlock claims, as well as the first appearance in America by the full 55-member Institute.

Sure, They're Aces, but Does Anyone Care?

The cable television industry will hand out its 18th annual CableACE Awards Saturday, but despite the black ties and TNT telecast, the event may generate marginal notice. That's in part because the ACE has seemingly become a bit irrelevant--or at least a second-class citizen--as cable keeps increasing its share of Emmy Awards. Cable programs became eligible for Emmy consideration in 1987 and have gradually added to their take, this year accounting for a record one-third of nominations. Pay service HBO has consistently led that charge with well-orchestrated campaigns for its big-budget movies, resulting in grumbling from the broadcast networks about an unequal playing field. HBO traditionally dominates the ACE contenders as well, with 111 of the 373 nominations this year. A CableACE spokesman noted that there's still considerable enthusiasm for the ceremony, especially among newer networks that have less of a chance of competing for Emmys. "People like getting awards," he said. The show has put together a solid lineup of presenters, with Drew Carey hosting the live broadcast from the Wiltern Theatre. Besides, if the CableACE were retired, what would the National Academy of Cable Programming do?

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