Who'll Win Battle: Nerd or Witch?

Compiled by Times Staff Writers and Contributors

Can Steve Urkel, the resident nerd on "Family Matters," muffle the ratings magic of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"? CBS is hoping so, having appropriated "Family Matters" and "Step by Step" from ABC in order to launch its own youth-oriented comedy block Fridays, taking on ABC's "TGIF" franchise beginning this week. "Meego"--starring Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny--and "The Gregory Hines Show" round out the night for CBS, while ABC will counter with reruns of "Sabrina" and "Boy Meets World" before rolling out the new fantasy-themed sitcoms "You Wish," about a single mom who inherits a genie, and the self-explanatory "Teen Angel" on Sept. 26. Given that CBS generally appeals to an older audience, most handicappers give the edge to ABC. Yet having "Family Matters," with Jaleel White, opposite "Sabrina"--two of TV's most popular prime-time shows with kids and teenagers--threatens to split that audience, leaving slim pickings left over for both networks. Friday is also a big night for Fox, which will introduce not only "The Visitor"--a new sci-fi drama from the producers of "Independence Day"--but the second year of "Millennium," which is getting a bit of a face-lift after just so-so ratings last season.

It's the 'D'-Word Again for Disney Hall

How many deadlines does it take to build a concert hall? With 10 years-and-counting of hit-and-miss design, fund-raising and ground-breaking deadlines, downtown's Walt Disney Concert Hall project may be headed for some kind of record. The latest deadline looms Thursday, when architect Frank O. Gehry and builder M.A. Mortenson are expected to complete "a detailed plan and firm budget for the completion of working drawings and pre-construction for Disney Hall, as well as a preliminary guaranteed maximum price." That last item, however, has become the bane of Disney Hall in recent months, as Gehry and fund-raising Chairman Eli Broad have estimated total hall costs that differ by a whopping $40 million ($260 million according to Gehry, $220 million according to Broad). The debate put a significant damper this summer on the hall's newly revitalized fund-raising effort, since it's hard to raise money when you don't know how much you need. Sources say Broad and Gehry are no longer feuding, just negotiating (today, anyway)--and the Gehry-Mortenson report will be on the agenda of Friday's scheduled meeting of a newly formed Disney Hall oversight board, chaired by Broad. A spokesman cautions that the date is a "loose deadline" and that the "preliminary guaranteed maximum price" may not actually be on the table for several more weeks. But then, that's just an estimate.

Will LeAnn Light Up the Charts Again?

Is teen country-pop star LeAnn Rimes in danger of burning out her popularity? That's the question many industry insiders will have on their minds Wednesday when first-week sales figures on her third album in 14 months--"You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs"--are announced by SoundScan. Rimes' first two albums, "Blue" and "Unchained Melody: The Early Years," have sold a combined 6.3 million copies, and the latest has already spawned two hit singles. Even Rimes, 15, may be wondering about the burnout factor because she has delayed work on her next album to concentrate this fall on starring in a TV movie based on a novel she has co-written about--guess what?--a teenage singer named LeAnn Rimes. Titled "Holiday in Your Heart," the book, which Rimes wrote with author Tom Carter, will be published Nov. 3 by Doubleday and the movie is scheduled to air on ABC on Dec. 14. John Sebastian, program director of KZLA-FM (93.9), L.A.'s leading country station, doesn't believe Rimes has anything to worry about because the new album, he says, won't generate a lot of radio airplay because of the nature of the collection, which includes gospel-tinged pop (the title track) and patriotic numbers ("God Bless America"). "This album is meant to show her legion of fans another side of her," Sebastian says, "to give them something unusual from one of their favorite artists."

The Guggenheim's Dubious Partnership

The strict wall of separation between the tax-exempt, nonprofit world of museums and the commercial, for-profit realm of art galleries is frequently fudged, but rarely is it utterly breached. On Friday, though, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum goes head-first over the wall when it opens its massive, 400-work Robert Rauschenberg retrospective in three Manhattan locations: at the main museum uptown, the museum's branch in SoHo and (bombs away!) the Ace Gallery on Hudson Street. Dubbing the latter venue the Guggenheim Museum at Ace Gallery, the museum plans to fill the cavernous commercial space with Rauschenberg's "The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece" (1981-present), a sprawling accumulation of collage pictures. It's hard to recall the last time a museum annexed a commercial space, but the cozy relationship with Ace--a gallery owned by Doug Chrismas that is based in L.A. but with a SoHo satellite--is shocking many. Why? In 1986, Chrismas, 52, pleaded no contest to charges of grand theft for defrauding a Canadian collector out of art valued at more than $1 million. Chrismas, one of L.A.'s most important dealers in the late 1970s, has also been successfully sued for failure to pay artists for works he sold and not delivering art bought by collectors. And his companies filed three Chapter 11 federal bankruptcies, effectively barring many creditors from collecting money owed them.

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