Still Gumbel, After All These Years

NBC's "Today" show will undergo a changing of the guard this week, as Bryant Gumbel ends his 15-year run as host Friday with a two-hour tribute devoted to his tenure. In handing the baton to news anchor Matt Lauer (who takes over Jan. 6), Gumbel also sets in motion a three-way race for his services that includes all three major networks. Both ABC and CBS have expressed interest in Gumbel for prime-time hosting roles, and officials at NBC insist they want to keep him as well. Negotiations aren't expected to heat up until next month, and Gumbel has talked in interviews about a less hectic lifestyle than the daily up-at-4 a.m. "Today" grind. Meanwhile, after the hoopla surrounding Gumbel's exit dies down, the question will be whether NBC--having wrested the early-morning crown from ABC more than a year ago--can maintain ratings supremacy there to go with the network's first-place status in prime time and late night. Gumbel, who started his career as a local sportscaster at KNBC-TV Channel 4, officially joined the show on Jan. 4, 1982, anchoring longer than anyone in its 45-year history. Co-host Katie Couric came on board in 1991.

Surfing Aside, What Else Is There to Do?

Michael Jackson still has no plans to bring his "HIStory" world tour to the contiguous United States, but he touches down in Honolulu this week for sold-out performances Friday and Saturday at 35,000-seat Aloha Stadium. To the surprise of promoter Tom Moffatt, who for more than 30 years has staged concerts in Hawaii, the tickets--most priced at $65--sold out in about 12 hours. "There was a big frenzy," Moffatt says, adding that no other act had sold out one show at Aloha Stadium, let alone two. The strong response may fuel speculation that Jackson, who has not toured the U.S. since his "Bad" tour in 1989, is ready to test the market. Jackson's drawing power in his homeland was thought to have diminished greatly after the disappointing U.S. response to the massively promoted "HIStory" album. Before kicking off his current tour Sept. 7 in Prague, Jackson had not toured since reaching an out-of-court settlement in 1994 with the family of a 14-year-old boy who claimed that he had been sexually molested by the entertainer. "He would probably face a political and moral backlash, and he's not anywhere near as big here as he is overseas," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar magazine, which reports on the U.S. concert scene. "But Michael Jackson certainly could stage a very successful U.S. tour."

In Any Language, It's That Time of Year

Today's subject is the Oscars, which took pains to remind the world last week that films must begin their Los Angeles run by midnight on New Year's Eve to be eligible for a nomination. Since everything aching for consideration had already opened by last week (thanks largely to a technicality in the, er, Golden Globes rule book), the motion picture academy's reminder didn't mean much. But it did get us thinking about the 69th annual awards show, whose winners will be determined by a record number of voting-eligible academy members (5,173) and whose March 24 telecast will be hosted by Billy Crystal (for the fifth time). With the show telecast in more than 100 countries, much attention is paid around the world to the frequently controversial best foreign language film award. This year's lineup of 38 official entries includes three nations never before a part of this category, which dates back to 1956. For the first time, eligible films have arrived from Albania, Georgia and . . . Australia, where English was still the primary tongue the last time we checked, but whose official submission, "Floating Life," is mostly in Chinese to reflect the film's story line. Though only two of the 38 pictures--Argentina's "Eva Peron" and France's "Ridicule"--have also qualified for general competition, at least five other non-English-speaking films from abroad, while ineligible for the foreign-language award, will be part of the broader competition. There's no picture with a profile to match last year's "Il Postino (The Postman)," which took home an Oscar for best dramatic score among its five nominations (including best picture) even though it had been bypassed by Italy as an official entry. Nominations will be out Feb. 11. As they say in Australia, stay tuned.

--Compiled by Times Staff Writers and Contributors

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