Inspector Clouseau dons dancing shoes

Bungling Inspector Clouseau as a song-and-dance man? Monitor contributor Ward Morehouse III in New York talked this week with Blake Edwards, who wrote, directed, and produced the eight "Pink Panther" movies. Mr. Edwards is now in the process of turning the franchise into a Broadway musical.

Isn't replacing comic genius Peter Sellers, who starred in the memorable films, going to be a problem? Morehouse asked him. "You bet it's going to be difficult!" Edwards says. "But if [the new Clouseau is] a really good singer, dancer, and comedian, it won't be as difficult as it was to replace Sellers in the movies." The last two Pink Panther films without Sellers were unsuccessful.

Kevin Spacey is reportedly being considered for Clouseau's role in another film sequel, which Edwards has given MGM his permission to do. Edwards was behind the Broadway musical version of "Victor/Victoria," starring Julie Andrews, his wife. That show ran for almost two years on Broadway beginning in late 1995. "I haven't picked a target date" to open the "Pink Panther" musical, Edwards says. "I'm just finishing the book [dialogue] now."

Thoughtful yet entertaining family shows don't have a great track record on network TV. Networks seem to have less patience than ever to let shows "find their audience."

Last season's most outrageous cancellation (apologies to you "Sports Night" fans) was NBC's axing of "Freaks and Geeks," a teen comedy-drama set in the 1980s that was in turns charm-ing, funny, touching, and just plain entertaining. Despite a flood of letters and e-mails, the network hasn't changed its mind. But at least NBC will air three unseen episodes July 8 from 8 p.m to 11 p.m. Tune in if you want to see why the show developed such eager fans.

CBS Television President Leslie Moonves responded this week to critics of the coming reality TV show "Big Brother," which has been controversial, but popular, in Europe. The show debuts July 5. Ten "house guests" will have their lives exposed "24-7" through cameras and microphones placed throughout the house. Every two weeks, a contestant will be voted out. The winner takes home $500,000.

Is the show simply voyeurism? Said Mr. Moonves to the AP: "I guess it is voyeuristic TV, and I don't think it's necessarily bad. There is a desire to see this kind of programming.... There are 500 channels. You don't like it, change the channel." Good thought.

Finding plenty of elbow room around you at that matinee at the megaplex? You're not alone. Theater chains went celluloid silly in the late '90s and drastically overbuilt. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out that some movies now play to completely empty auditoriums during weekdays. What's more, fewer films were made last year, making it harder to find enough "product" for a 25- or 30-screen megaplex. And although movie revenues continue to climb, to more than $7 billion last year, the increase is due solely to higher ticket prices. The number of tickets sold actually dropped slightly.

Under the headline "There's No Free Hollywood," movie industry spokesman Jack Valenti warns in an opinion column in Wednesday's New York Times that "free" downloading of movies via the Internet is nearly upon us. The music industry is already facing this issue of pirated copies recorded via the Internet. As more and more homes get broadband connections, video is expected to follow.

Said Mr. Valenti: "Do the thieves really expect new music and movies to continue pouring forth if the artists and companies behind them are not paid for their work?" Maybe not, but is there a way to stop it?

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