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Happy New Year! Watching Television Like It's 1999

By Lisa de Moraes

Thursday, November 25, 1999; Page C01

You say you can't decide whether to ring in the new millennium at the MGM in Vegas watching Princess Babs, at the Great Pyramids of Egypt watching a 12-hour laser-lit opera, or swimming with dolphins off the coast of New Zealand?

What are you, nuts? Didn't you see NBC's "Y2K: The Movie" last weekend? Haven't you been watching "Dateline"? You gotta stay at home, pal, protecting your little ones--you know, all those greenbacks you oughta be stuffing under your mattress so you're ready when the banks shut down. And that two-week supply of bottled water and tinned meats you should be socking away for when the clock strikes midnight and those nut-jobs from Montana and the Dakotas unleash their millennial fury on our nation's capital.

Which is not to say you can't have some fun while at home, guarding the fort. There's loads of entertaining things being planned by various TV networks for Millennium's Eve and Day--assuming you've still got power and the aliens or the Dakotans haven't seized control of the airwaves.

ABC has for months and months been crafting plans to commemorate the debut of 2000 with The World's Biggest News Division On-Air Talent Ego Stroke of All Time.

Over about 25 hours, starting at 5 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, "ABC 2000" will deliver: Barbara Walters in Paris, Diane Sawyer in New Zealand, Charles Gibson in London, Cokie Roberts in Rome, Sam Donaldson in Washington (you got rooked, Sam), Connie Chung in Las Vegas, Carole Simpson in Chicago, Elizabeth Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, Kevin Newman in Newfoundland, Morton Dean in Moscow, Jim Wooten in Tanzania, Bill Redeker in Tokyo, George Stephanopoulos in New Hampshire (a hotbed of millennium activity, for sure), Deborah Roberts in Orlando (isn't that the home of ABC parent's Disney World?), and others too numerous to mention. The whole mess of them will be massaged by Peter Jennings from ABC's new Times Square studio.

Advertising sales on "ABC 2000" have hit the $20 million mark, according to network and outside sources--nearly three times the amount the network might usually see on New Year's Eve and Day.

To help stage its day-long extravaganza, ABC News joined a group called Millennium Day Broadcast Consortium 2000 Today, which includes some of the world's bigger broadcasters: the BBC, TV Asahi in Japan, CBC in Canada, TV 3 New Zealand and ONCE TV in Mexico. They're all going to share their millennium celebration footage. Watching ABC try to squeeze in anyone else's footage, plus performances by Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, Sting, Andrea Bocelli, 'N Sync and Barry Manilow, plus Dick Clark's annual Times Square ball-drop gig and still service its cadre of news division celebs sure will make for some exciting television.

PBS is also a member of MDBC2000T, and it doesn't have as many stars to serve as ABC does, so you might catch more of that internationally culled footage over on public broadcasting. PBS's coverage, which kicks in at 4:45 a.m. on New Year's Eve, will include everything from Maori warriors dancing on a holy mountaintop on New Zealand's East Cape to prepare themselves for the challenges of a new age, to the royal opening of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, England, and footage of the last baby born in 1999 as well as the first born in 2000 (the consortium has put cameras in all 70 maternity hospitals in New Zealand, which PBS says is the earliest "major country" to celebrate 2000).

CNN may lack ABC's on-air ego-might, but it's going to leave the alphabet network eating its dust when it comes to millennium-coverage tonnage. The cable news network plans 100 hours of the stuff, starting at 5 a.m. on Dec. 31 and not letting up until Tuesday, Jan. 4.

CNN's 100 hours will feature: Christiane Amanpour from the Millennium Dome in Greenwich; Jim Moret from the Great Pyramids in Egypt, Brent Sadler from Rome, Wolf Blitzer at the Mall here (you got rooked too, Wolf), Michael Holmes from Sydney, Walter Rodgers from Israel, Sonia Ruseler from Buenos Aires and Lucia Newman from Havana, among others.

For the lulls that must inevitably occur when one is trying to fill 100 consecutive hours, CNN has produced no fewer than 50 reports and programs reviewing the major cultural issues that have affected the course of history in the past 1,000 years. That includes, CNN says, population concerns, science, faith, the environment, human rights, natural disasters, war and peace.

There will be a pop quiz on Jan. 5.

NBC's millennium news coverage is more low-key than ABC's, but then it can rely on MSNBC to bear the load. The peacock network will feature top-of-the-hour news break-ins from NBC News correspondents around the world, Dec. 31's "Today" show will run three hours instead of the usual two, and Tom Brokaw will anchor "NBC Nightly News" from Times Square. In prime time, a special "Dateline" will air at 8, followed by an NBC News "Special Report" from 9 to 11. "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno is the only guy on the planet to do the millennium twice--did you see him featured on NBC's "Y2K: The Movie"? His second millennium appearance won't be much longer than his first; he's going to do a monologue only, then it's back to Brokaw live in Times Square for the Big Ball Drop and continued reporting until 3:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, MSNBC will provide 30 straight hours of coverage beginning at 4:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve with the network relying heavily on NBC correspondents for updates from across the globe. Brian Williams will anchor the network's prime-time coverage from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and will return at sunrise with Soledad O'Brien to let us all know whether the world is still standing. Williams will be a busy boy as he returns the next night to host a special edition of "The News With Brian Williams."

CBS got exclusive dibs on the White House-sponsored "America's Millennium Gala," which it will air live from our fair city on New Year's Eve, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. The gala, produced by Quincy Jones, will feature crooners Trisha Yearwood, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, the New York cast of musical hit "Stomp" and an 18-minute film produced by Steven Spielberg and scored by John Williams.

Before the Mall crawl gets underway, CBS will air a prime-time David Letterman special from 8 to 9, followed by a music special on which details haven't been secured, according to the network. CBS will also feature those ubiquitous top-of-the-hour news break-ins during the day.

Over at the Fox network, End of the Millennium Eve begins with a rerun of the flick "Star Trek: Generations," starring Patrick Stewart and William Shatner as Enterprise captains who time-travel together to stop a dangerous alien who's out to destroy civilization in order to answer an ancient mystery. The mood set, Fox will bring on Fox News's Brit Hume and Paula Zahn from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., anchoring a special that will feature Fox News correspondents reporting live from New Orleans, Miami, Washington, Las Vegas, New York City, London, Rome, Moscow and--because this is Fox--Roswell, N.M. Fox will spice up the serious stuff with the Red Hot Chili Peppers live in concert in downtown Los Angeles and the Neville Brothers from Harrah's New Orleans casino, as well as updates from the Federal Y2K Center here.

Pax-TV will spend New Year's Eve demonstrating that truth is stranger than fiction. The Christian broadcast network, which caters mostly to sexa- and septuagenarians, has bought U.S. broadcast rights to an internationally syndicated 25-hour special that will be hosted by Carmen Electra and feature Sting, Phil Collins, Ricky Martin, the Spice Girls, 'N Sync, Simply Red, the Bee Gees, Aerosmith, Chicago, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Blondie, Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, Steel Pulse, Maxi Priest, 10,000 Maniacs, Roger Daltrey and more. None of PAX's viewers will actually know who these people are. The "Millennium Live" special, from the producer of Live Aid, also starts at--you guessed it--5 a.m. on New Year's Eve.

(This is not to be confused with MTV's millennium party, which kicks in at 7 p.m. New Year's Eve and features Puff Daddy, Blink 182, 98 Degrees, Goo Goo Dolls, Jay-Z, Bush and Christina Aguilera. Pax viewers won't know who they are either.)

Over on cable, there's a cornucopia of millennium viewing options. Turner Classic Movies presumes there will be Elvis sightings aplenty on Millennium End Eve and has appropriately planned an Elvis Presley movie fest for that night, including his tour de force performances in "Jailhouse Rock," "Viva Las Vegas" and "Kissin' Cousins."

TBS will say so long to the millennium by saying so long to its telecast rights to "The Andy Griffith Show"--which is leaving the network after more than 25 years. TBS will run its entire 33-episode collection starting at 6:15 a.m. New Year's Eve and ending at the stroke of midnight.

The Sci-Fi Network will ring in the new with its annual "Twilight Zone" fest, while USA Network pays tribute to its man of the millennium, Jean-Claude Van Damme, with a movie fest all his own--interrupted for one hour at 11 p.m. so that USA can bring you a very special World Wrestling Federation millennium spectacular.

The Movie Channel opted for a "Friday the 13th" marathon, beginning at 6 p.m. New Year's Eve with the movie that started it all: "Friday the 13th." Eleven hours later, the endurance test ends with "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan."

You'll want to keep your kids away from that channel; for them, Nickelodeon has planned a 24-hour kids-only TV marathon, as kids around the world describe the future as they see it. The "Nickellennium," which is being telecast to 122 countries, starts at midnight in various time zones; it'll run commercial-free in the United States.

Discovery's going for "Real Millennium Bugs" from 7 p.m. New Year's Eve through 2 a.m. New Year's Day--we're talking ants, cannibal mites and tarantulas here.

And, just because, Animal Planet has scheduled a 10-hour rerun marathon of "The Crocodile Hunter" followed by an 18-hour "Judge Wapner's Animal Court" marathon to mark the millennium.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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