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Countdown to 2000: Millennium madness hits the airwaves

Sunday, December 26, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's not the dawn of a new century.

The next millennium doesn't actually begin until 2001, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.

But the media won't let facts get in the way of an opportunity to seduce the public in a whirlwind of hype.

Like it or not, New Year's Eve will be Millennium Eve, and the broadcast and cable networks are going all out - and in some cases overboard - to grab viewers.

Among commercial broadcast networks ABC gets the showboating award for a 24-hour special beginning at 4:50 a.m. Friday and ending in the wee hours of Saturday morning. All the ABC News celebs will be on the air (Barbara Walters in Paris, Charles Gibson in London, Connie Chung in Las Vegas, Deborah Roberts in Orlando, etc.) with Peter Jennings serving as ringmaster in New York where Diane Sawyer will also be stationed.

"ABC 2000," as they're calling this overwhelming telecast, will include performances by Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, Aerosmith, Enrique Iglesias, Los Lobos, Ray Charles, Andrea Bocelli, N'Sync, Barry Manilow and Roger Daltry performing a tribute to the Beatles with the British Symphony Orchestra. As always, Dick Clark will announce the ball drop at midnight.

Friday at 8 p.m., CBS offers a prime-time edition of "The Late Show with David Letterman," followed at 9 p.m. by an hour of "Grammy's Greatest Performances." Starting at 10 p.m., Will Smith hosts "America's Millennium," which will feature musical performances and the premiere of Steven Spielberg's new short film "The Unfinished Journey." A CBS publicist described Spielberg's film as "a musical tableau of the millennium," with an original score by John Williams.

Fox will air the film "Star Trek: Generations" at 8 p.m., followed by "Fox 2000" at 11 p.m. after local news. Fox News Channel anchors Brit Hume and Paula Zahn will host the special from Times Square, mixing musical performances (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neville Brothers) with breaking news in the event of Y2K-related catastrophe.

On NBC, the "Today" show will expand to three hours Friday morning. "Dateline NBC" will cover future technology at 8 p.m. At 9 p.m., Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric will anchor a live two-hour news special from Times Square. After local news at 11 p.m., Brokaw and Couric will return after a shortened "Tonight Show" for New Year's coverage as midnight nears.

Gwen Ifill ("Washington Week in Review") and Will Durst ("Livelyhood") will host "PBS Millennium 2000," a 25-hour broadcast beginning at 4:45 a.m. Friday. The program will be co-produced by WGBH Boston, the BBC and a consortium of 58 countries.

Maori warriors dancing in New Zealand, an acrobatic ballet in Australia and love songs performed at the Taj Mahal in India are among the expected highlights.

Locally, KDKA and WQED plan to go with network feeds. WPGH will air its regular "Ten O'Clock News" and also offer cut-ins during Fox's coverage at 11 p.m. At midnight, WPGH will show a split screen of festivities in New York and live in Downtown Pittsburgh.

WPXI also plans to go the split screen route during fireworks after the countdown to 2000. A few minutes after midnight, Channel 11 will pre-empt NBC coverage for local news until 1:30 a.m.

WTAE will stick with the "ABC 2000," which offers many cut-in opportunities for local affiliates, including 20 minutes of local news at 7:30 and 11 p.m.

On Saturday during the Orange Bowl, WTAE will pre-empt ABC to show fireworks from Allegheny Energy Supply Millennium Pittsburgh "at an appropriate time, probably during half-time," said director of broadcast operations Jim Byrne. Those fireworks will be shown again as a half-hour program Jan. 9 at 2:30 p.m.

Just in case the Y2K bug infects satellite systems, WTAE has a contingency plan prepared. If the station can't get its ABC feed on Jan. 1, tapes of "Cheers," "Family Feud," "Baywatch" and "V.I.P." will be broadcast.

On New Year's Eve, WCWB offers two commercial-free movies. "Predator 2" starring Danny Glover airs at 10 p.m. and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Running Man" starts at 11:30 p.m.

Cable networks won't be left out of the faux millennium mayhem.

Naturally CNN will cover the new year from a news perspective in the event planes start dropping from the sky.

Pittsburgh's PCNC will cablecast from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. with "Night Talk" host John McIntire and WPXI sports anchor John Fedko live at the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Fireworks, live music from the Clarks and news updates will make up the hour. Two weeks ago, McIntire said Mayor Murphy is expected to appear along with "whoever the hell else I can line up between now and then."

A recent reader's poll in React magazine found only 2 percent of children 18 and under planned to watch Dick Clark ring in the new year on ABC. Chances are they'll tune to MTV, which promises live performances from 98 Degrees, Jay-Z, Christina Aguilera, Blink-182, Bush, the Goo Goo Dolls and Puff Daddy beginning at 5 p.m. MTV will also send six happening dudes and dudettes - three guys, three girls - into an underground bunker so just in case the apocalypse arrives, a few people will be left to repopulate the planet.

For the younger set, Nickelodeon presents a 24-hour, commercial-free event called "Nickellennium," beginning at one minute past midnight on New Year's Day. Thousands of children from around the world describe what they think will happen in the next 1,000 years.

The Disney Channel's "Z2K: Zoogin' New Yearz Eve Party" features rebroadcasts of favorite Disney Channel concerts, original movies and series episodes voted on earlier this month at the network's Web site (www.zoogdisney.com).

Fox Family Channel prepares for the New Year with "Backstreet Boys: Coming Home" (5:30 p.m.), a concert filmed in Orlando. Cartoon Network offers every episode of the futuristic family "The Jetsons" beginning Thursday at 10 a.m. and ending Friday at midnight.

Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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