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Showbiz Today

Jim Varney Dies of Lung Cancer; 'Millionaire' Sweeps ABC to Ratings Victory; Kids in the Hall Stages Reunion Tour

Aired February 10, 2000 - 4:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JIM MORET, CO-HOST: Hi, everyone. I'm Jim Moret in Hollywood. Laurin Sydney is in New York.

One of Hollywood's most bankable has died. Jim Varney, who shot to fame playing the character Ernest, died of lung cancer on Thursday. He was 50-years-old.

Paul Vercammen reports on Varney's comedy career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM VARNEY, ACTOR: Oh, you don't have to be so formal. You can just call me Ernest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His alter ego, Ernest, may have been better known than the actor himself.

Jim Varney was born in Kentucky in 1949. More than three decades later, the actor step into the shoes of Ernest P. Worrell for a couple of TV commercials, and he would wear them for years to come.

Eventually, Ernest made his way to the movies. Starting with 1987's big-screen adventure, "Ernest Goes to Camp." The film was made for $3.2 million. It took in $25 million at the box office. It paved the way for "Ernest Saves Christmas," "Ernest Goes to Jail," "Ernest Goes to School" and many other Ernest adventures.

His career didn't begin and end with that goofy, yet lovable character, though. Varney began acting in high school and continued with stage and stand-up.

Varney also managed to shake his alter ego for some other big- screen roles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES")

VARNEY: I'm moving us to Beverly Hills.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VERCAMMEN: In 1993. Varney loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. The film version of "The Beverly Hillbillies." He also lent his voice to Slinky Dog in both "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2."

But audiences will always remember Jim Varney as Ernest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAURIN SYDNEY, C0-HOST: Did Sean "Puffy" Combs offer his driver a bribe after a December nightclub shooting?

A Manhattan prosecutor said today, the rapper offered his driver, Wardel Fenderson (ph) $50,000 and a diamond ring, a birthday present from girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, to say he owned a gun police found in the car they were riding in.

Combs' lawyer denied that his client offered anyone a bribe and said he was "astonished" by the accusation.

MORET: No one can deny that February means one thing in TV land: sweeps. The networks pull out all the stops to attract viewers during this ratings-intensive period. NBC's "Freaks and Geeks" is being swept away for the sweeps. The show was pulled temporarily from the network's lineup after taking a big hit from ABC's "Mary and Rhoda," which proved that Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper still have what it takes.

In other scheduling news, ABC may scrub in and launch a medical drama called "Wonderland," opposite NBC's "ER," starting in mid-March.

ABC is certainly reaping the Regis rewards this sweeps period. But it wasn't always so. One year ago, ABC was struggling as the No. 3 network.

Michael Okwu reports that when it comes to staging a comeback, one network knows it's ABC's.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The confetti's flying at ABC and for good reason. At this time last year, the network was No. 3 in the ratings. Now, 20 weeks into the 36 week-long television season, ABC is enjoying ratings supremacy. Who wants to guess why?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?")

REGIS PHILBIN, HOST: Final answer?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

J. MAX ROBINS, SENIOR EDITOR, "TV GUIDE": The lion's share of that has to do with one show: "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

"Millionaire" lifts everybody else. It's given them such a tremendous promotional platform for the rest of their schedule. OKWU: ABC says its three-night juggernaut has raised the ratings of shows that follow it by 41 percent, which is partly why "The Practice, " "Dharma & Greg," "NYPD Blue" and newcomer "Once and Again" are winning new fans and providing fodder for the competition.

ABC is now averaging more than 13.8 million viewers a night. That's almost a million more viewers than CBS and NBC, its closest competitors.

TOM DECAMBIA, GENERAL MANAGER, SCHULMAN/ADVANSWERS: In the past, if you had one show to turn one night around, as NBC did years ago with "Cosby" or later on with "Seinfeld." -- to turn one night around, that puts you in the race. But with putting a show on three nights a week, that wins the race and it wins it real quick.

OKWU: So, in addition to the hype, the drama, and Regis Philbin's charm, what's the secret for a multi-night show?

ROBINS: This is the right show at the right time. The economy's booming. Everybody hears stories on the news and the newspapers about instant millionaires with the whole kind of dot.com revolution.

It's almost like we've got a culture that's pushing the idea, we have a media that's pushing the idea of instant success.

OKWU: Relative to dramas, "Millionaire"'s a bargain.

ROBINS: I mean, once they built that elaborate set, once they paid for the licensing of the idea, once they pay Regis' salary, they don't have a whole lot of cost.

LARRY HYAMS, VP AUDIENCE ANALYSIS ABC TELEVISION: If you're there in front of your TV and you're watching at that particular time, you could put on "Millionaire" and enjoy it and suddenly start to play along, where with a drama you have to know the characters and be involved in the story line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?")

UNIDENTIFIED CONTESTANT: If this was a $4,000 question, I'd tell you right now.

PHILBIN: Well let me -- let...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OKWU: ABC officials say this formula attracts young and new viewers every night.

The network says 86 percent of all households in the U.S. have tuned in at least once. That means more than 193 million people waiting for the confetti.

Michael Okwu, CNN entertainment news, New York.

SYDNEY: See it in the kids. New York comes to honor Caesar.

And the reunited Kids in the Hall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: It's a good look for him. Leonardo DiCaprio beached himself in Britain for the premiere of his new film. He turned out in London Wednesday night for the screening of "The Beach," which was, by the way, opens here in North America on Friday.

His Scottish and French co-stars joined him in the British capital. And there was also a Spice Girl spotting.

SYDNEY: Extra, extra, read all about it. The self-proclaimed king of all media, Howard Stern, and real estate mogul Donald Trump were just a few of the stars who leapt off the hot gossip pages of "The New York Post" last night to attend a party for the paper's "Page 6." The soiree celebrated New York's fashion week.

MORET: Believe it or not, it was 50 years ago "Your Show of Shows" made Sid Caesar a household name. Now, a half a century later, the Museum of Television and Radio is giving the comedian the honor of honors. The stars were there to salute the comic legend, and so was our camera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR: Sid was this brilliant, this comic genius, who came at a time when they would have been happy to watch anything pretty entertaining. But he set the pace for television for years to come.

SID CAESAR: It was not just me involved, but it was a lot of people -- Nanette Fabray, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner.

NANETTE FABRAY: I think Sid's greatest contribution was his genius at finding talent, when you think of the writers that he found, new writers.

CAESAR: I had a group of geniuses. I had -- I mean, my God, the names of these -- Lary Gelbart, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS")

CAESAR: The sign there -- what does it say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parking limits one hour. During week days, from 3:00 to 4:00 a.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 6:00 to 8:00. Sundays, parking permitted between 7:00 and 7:01 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FABRAY: Up until Sid's big show started, most television shows were little 15-minute shows. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS")

CAESAR: What's the matter with you? Don't you got any brains or anything?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER CRONKITE: The wonderful thing at that time was that television was all live, and therefore, live performances had a certain spirit that you just can't capture on tape. It was an hour and a half every week. And no cue cards, no color prompters -- it's a different world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS")

CAESAR: I am going to pack my bags and get out of here. So long.

Here's my bags. They're all packed.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALDA: He did parodies of movies that you probably wouldn't do today on a network program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS")

CAESAR: "Movies talk. Sound comes to the screen. Silent movies doomed."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FABRAY: After a while, they began to clamp down on us. We couldn't make fun of motion pictures anywhere, a lot of censorship came in. Sid's genius is of bringing television up to date. And we're still living off of some of the stuff that he invented.

ALDA: Sid will be funny to people 500 years from now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CAESAR'S HOUR")

CAESAR: Rex, do you realize what talking movies will mean for you?

At last...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYDNEY: Sid Caesar opened the door for television sketch comedy and led the way for comedy troupes like "Kids in the Hall." The "Kids," whose cult following has grown in recent years, have come back in from the hall for a reunion tour.

Mark Scheerer caught a show and spoke to the Canadian comedy troupe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK SCHEERER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The Kids in the Hall" are in town hall. The New York theater is filled with fans welcoming the reunion tour of the five-man troupe, which started doing sketch comedy in Toronto nightclubs in the 1980s. "Saturday Night Live's" Lorne Michaels brought them to the U.S., first on HBO, then late nights on CBS. Their penchant for dressing in drag set them apart.

Dave Foley, who went on to a role in NBC's "NewsRadio," says it wasn't premeditated.

DAVE FOLEY, ACTOR: We only started cross-dressing because we had a TV show. And we only started playing women in the club show because we couldn't get any women to stay in the group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "KIDS IN THE HALL")

SCOTT THOMPSON, ACTOR: It's OK, I took her wallet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHEERER: Scott Thompson, whose post-"Kids" work included a gay character on "The Larry Sanders Show," says "Kids in the Hall" reruns on Comedy Central have built a whole new fan base in college dorms. And they go nuts. And I think the world's changed in the five years since we left TV. You know, because we were in TV, and this was before Monica, before "South Park, " before Ellen, before, you know, all that stuff, before "Something About Mary," and I think people are a lot more -- we were just considered so shocking, and we never thought we were shocking.

SCHEERER: Not enough people thought their one movie was electric. "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy," was a 1996 flop.

MARK MCKINNEY, ACTOR: In terms of it's commercial performance? Oh, absolutely. But in terms of the film, no, I kind of liked it.

BRUCE MCCULLOUGH, ACTOR: We're talking about doing another film. We're shooting a documentary now. And of course, you're in this documentary, we're going to expose you as well. And you know, we may do something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "KIDS IN THE HALL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm chicken lady. Yes, yes, I work in a freak show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHEERER: The reunion tour includes plenty of the "Kids" most popular pieces and some new material.

It doesn't hurt that there most rabid fans know all the lines by heart.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We go blank a lot, so...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: ... it helps. It helps very much.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We look at them as prompters. They should get a salary actually.

SCHEERER (on camera): Could this tour lead to more from "Kids in the Hall?"

MCCULLOUGH: That's, like, a conversation that we're sort of, like, slowly having on the bus.

SCHEERER: The "Kids in the Hall" really, then, appear to be late bloomers.

THOMPSON: I think in hindsight, you know, now that I've been around a bit and I've seen what overnight success does to people, I'm really glad it's happening like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, I guess we better be going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHEERER: Mark Scheerer, CNN Entertainment News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYDNEY: Software that's inspired by some of your favorite musical artists, and we're on thin ice with the pop group "Nobody's Angel."

They call him "Mellow Yellow," and it's '60s rocker Donovan's 54th birthday. Actress Laura Dern is 33, and "Austin Powers'" Robert Wagner is 70.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: Record buyers helped "Voodoo" outdo every other album this week. The new release from soul singer D'Angelo remained number one with sales of 191,000 copies, and that was just enough to edge Santana's "Supernatural." There's a new number-one song on the singles chart.

Here's a look at the top 10.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

10: "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," The Backstreet Boys. 9: "Bring it All to Me," Blaque. 8: "Maria, Maria," Santana. 7: "Hot Boyz," Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. 6: "All the Small Things," Blink 182. 5: "Smooth," Santana. 4: "Get It On Tonite," Montell Jordan. 3: "What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera. 2: "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden. 1: "Thank God I Found You," Mariah Carey.

(END GRAPHIC)

SYDNEY: One new group hoping to land atop "Billboard" charts is Nobody's Angel. Their self-titled album spawns the single, "If You Want to Dance," but instead of dancing, the four girls strapped on some ice skates and hit the rink.

Cynthia Tornquist took to the ice and has more on these angels.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's lock and load.

CYNTHIA TORNQUIST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's Amy Sue Hardy, Sarah Smith, Ali Navaro and Stacy Harper.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from St. Louis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: L.A., California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm from Virginia.

TORNQUIST: They call themselves "Nobody's Angel." The all-girl group hopes to go places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On your mark, get set, go!

TORNQUIST: However, their mission on this day was simply to stay standing. The foursome met three years ago.

SARAH SMITH, NOBODY'S ANGELS: At auditions and stuff, we'd see the same people all the time. We just became friends and hanging out and we just clicked, so we just decided to do this. It was a great idea.

TORNQUIST: Last season, they appeared on the ABC comedy "Boy Meets World." Now, with their self-titled debut album, the four women hope to make their mark on the music scene.

SMITH: It's very danceable. You can party to it. There are some beautiful ballads. So it's a good variety of different kinds of music.

STACY HARPER, NOBODY'S ANGELS: Sarah has always been like into the '70s and everything that happened then. She loves "Charlie's Angels." So she was like, you guys, we've should do something with "Charlie's Angels." And I was like, Sarah, you are nobody's angel, and we were like -- that's it, that's it, that's it!

SMITH: I honestly didn't know what they were talking about.

AMY SUE HARDY, NOBODY'S ANGELS: I think that I'm the worry wart. I worry about everything, I go through the contracts and make sure everything is cool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a thinker. Like I try not to worry about things too much. I kind of just like, you know, have fun with it and make the best of it.

ALI NAVARRO, NOBODY'S ANGELS: I'm very bubbly, very social, so I think I would be like the P.R. woman of the group. She is the outspoken one.

HARPER: They all come to me when something is wrong, they come to me, and then I say it. OK, you know what, this is not working!

We made a pact among ourselves that when it stops being fun, we're going to stop doing it.

TORNQUIST: It's too early for that, because the fun has just begun for Nobody's Angels.

Cynthia Tornquist, CNN Entertainment News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DENNIS MICHAEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hip-hop group the Wu Tang Clan has not lost sight of the fact that the digital game business is one of the giants in the entertainment industry. With Activision, they've put some musical interest in the otherwise rather standard PlayStation fight game "Shaolin Style." Don't go looking for anyone named Grasshopper around here.

Boy bands 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys are both represented in "Puzzles In Motion" computers games, if you don't mind some soft rock on your hard drive.

And the Motor City Madman may be on your personal computer, but there's nothing otherwise P.C. about "The Ted Nugent Wild Hunting Adventure Game." Nugent's track, "Let's Go Hunting," plays under much of the action, and Ted himself is around to offer some helpful hunting hints, like where to shoot to hit a vital organ. As far as Ted Nugent is concerned, mountain sheep, deer, buffalo -- they're all going down.

TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: Now you're an American!

MICHAEL: Ted Nugent obviously won't be playing at the next People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals party.

I'm Dennis Michael with the "Tech Guide."

(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: More films are being shot in Canada and elsewhere and that's forcing Hollywood film workers to turn to the world of porn to make a living, and we go into the recording studio with Broadway's eclectic Blue Men Group.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: The Oscar nomination ballots are being counted as we speak, and we will know the results early Tuesday.

Join us live for the dramatic announcement from Academy headquarters on our special "Who Wants to Be an Oscar Winner?" That's Tuesday 8:30 a.m. Eastern, 5:30 a.m. Pacific right here on CNN.

SYDNEY: And you did say 5:30 a.m. Pacific, right?

MORET: Yes, rub it in! We wake up early for that one just for you.

SYDNEY: OK, two words for you anchorman, think caffeine.

MORET: I gotcha. Tomorrow on SHOWBIZ, Chevy Chase declares a "Snow Day," and Hollywood production heads to Canada, so what's the affect on the porn industry? We'll tell you.

In Hollywood, I'm Jim Moret.

SYDNEY: And in New York, where I will be waking up a little later, I'm Laurin Sydney. We'll see you tomorrow. So long for now.

(MUSIC)

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