Television Heads Into Critical Period

Television begins what one might literally call a critical period this week, and not just because the nighttime Emmy Award nominations will be unveiled Thursday. Today also marks the start of the twice-yearly Television Critics Assn. tour, which brings reporters and critics to Pasadena to sample new shows and interview TV executives, stars and producers regarding the upcoming season.

A nearly three-week endurance test, the tour also provides an excuse for the trade magazine Electronic Media to release the results of its own midyear poll, with the 53 newspaper critics surveyed anointing HBO's "The Sopranos" as best television series, narrowly edging NBC's "The West Wing." "Malcolm in the Middle," "Gilmore Girls" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" rounded out the top five, while "Survivor" had the distinction of being the only program to grace both the best and worst series rosters.

Despite their enthusiasm for "The Sopranos," critics also concluded by a more than 2-to-1 margin that the Mafia drama wouldn't work on a broadcast network. "West Wing" and "Sopranos" will again likely be this year's Emmy front-runners, with the former having claimed best drama en route to a single-year record nine awards last year, though "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini was named best actor in a drama.

Concert Grosses Down 12% for '01

The concert industry is bracing for a sour note this week. Promoters, agents and venue managers have known for months that business is sagging, but the publication this week of Pollstar's midyear industry report will show the situation may be bleaker than expected. The concert trade publication's fiscal snapshot of the top 50 tours in North America so far this year shows that grosses are down 12% from the first six months of 2000, while the number of actual tickets sold fell off more than 15%.

The top tours so far this year have been U2 ($69 million), Elton John and Billy Joel ($57.2) the Backstreet Boys ($51.6), 'N Sync ($38.7) and the Dave Matthews Band ($37.7), but even some of those acts have seen empty seats at some venues.

The mantra in the business these days: "It's the economy, stupid." The economic downturn, combined with ever-rising ticket prices, has fans thinking twice. The average ticket price among this year's top 50 tours came out to $46.69--up a whopping 43% from just three years ago. "If you go to a concert now it's easily into three-figure territory," says Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni, "and a lot of fans aren't willing to do that right now."

Outfest Mixing It Up in 19th Year

Outfest, the 19th annual gay and lesbian film festival, which begins Thursday and runs through July 23 at the Director's Guild of America in West Hollywood and the Laemmle's Monica in Santa Monica, is stretching creatively this year to include a weekend of live performance and mixed media in an 18-hour marathon beginning Saturday at 4 p.m. and running through Sunday morning at 10. Titled Platinum Oasis and housed at Hollywood's Coral Sands Motel, the interactive event will feature 40 attractions, including musical acts, performance artists and video and sound installations.

"The idea of Platinum Oasis is to stretch the festival in new directions," says Outfest programming co-director Shari Frilot, "and to reach a broader audience, both in the gay and straight community."

The event will be hosted by performance artists Vaginal Davis, El Cholo and Ron Athey. The marathon will be broken down into roughly four segments, explains Athey, with the motel's courtyard as the center where visitors will be able to experience musical guests and performers such as Ann Magnuson, the burlesque revue Velvet Hammer and movement artists Osseus Labyrint.

Various rooms in the motel will feature everything from video games and photo sessions to sound installations and even a nail salon. "It'll be everything from low life to high life, academics to people just out of prison," promises Davis.


Compiled by Times staff writers

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