Entertainment News from January 1997

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Bryant Gumbel
Archive Photos

The controversial television ratings system debuts on the broadcast networks. The ratings appear for 15 seconds in the upper left-hand corner of the television screen at the beginning of each show, except news and sports programs, which are not rated. Cable networks are scheduled to rate their programs by the end of the month.
An emotional Bryant Gumbel bids farewell to his colleagues and viewers of NBC's Today. Gumbel's pals Muhammad Ali and Prince appeared on the show to wish him well, and Hilary Rodham Clinton, John Travolta and Tom Cruise taped tributes to the 48-year-old journalist who has anchored the show since 1982.
Politically Incorrect debuts on ABC to strong ratings, beating out the second half of both the Tonight Show and the Late Show. Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, which runs in the 12:05–12:35 a.m. timeslot, aired for three years on cable's Comedy Central.
Ted Harbert, a 20-year veteran of ABC, resigns from his post as chairman of entertainment.
Madonna, a guest on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, walks on the set carrying a newborn baby . . . but it's not golden child Lourdes. The baby belongs to the show's producer, Judy Gold.
Producer and songwriter Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds leads the pack with 12 Grammy nominations. Smashing Pumpkins follow with seven. Changes in the nomination process seem to be taking effect; for the first time in recent memory, “cutting edge” acts are represented in major categories.
Martin's Tisha Campbell files suit against Martin Lawrence and the show's producer, HBO Independent Productions, claiming that Lawrence repeatedly sexually harassed her. Saying the mood on the set was “too strained and volatile” to continue working, Campbell left the Fox show in November 1996.
Marcia Clark, prosecuting attorney in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, quits her day job and signs on as host of LadyLaw, a proposed syndicated reality series about “the personal and professional lives of female cops, lawyers, border-patrol agents and judges.”
Frank Sinatra, 81, suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital for the third time in two months.
After months of negotiations, retired school teacher Frank McCourt sells the film rights to his best-selling memoir, Angela's Ashes, for a high six-figure price tag to producers Scott Rudin and David Brown.
President Clinton awards the National Medal of Arts and the Charles Frankel Prize, the nation's top honors in humanities and the arts. Recipients of the medal include Robert Redford, Edward Albee, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Caldwell, Harry Callahan, Zelda Fichandler, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, Vera List, Bella Lewitzky, Stephen Sondheim, the Boys Choir of Harlem and Maurice Sendak. The Frankel Prize went to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Rita Dove, Daniel Kemmis, Arturo Madrid and Bill Moyers.
British rocker David Bowie celebrates his 50th birthday (January 8) with a Madison Square Garden concert to benefit Save the Children. Guests include Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan, Foo Fighters and Lou Reed.
Independence Day wins best picture honors at the 23rd Annual People's Choice Awards. Other winners include: Mel Gibson, motion picture actor; Sandra Bullock, motion picture actress; Tim Allen, male television performer; and Oprah Winfrey, female television performer.
Cochran & Grace premieres on Court TV with O.J. Simpson's former defense attorney, Johnny Cochran, co-hosting with Atlanta prosecutor Nancy Grace.
While filming an episode of her sitcom, Ellen DeGeneres sings, “By the way, I'm gay. Okay. I'm gay.” The impromptu declaration is scheduled to air on an upcoming episode of Ellen.
The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, announces tentative plans to leave the show after the 1997–1998 season to concentrate on making films. He also announces that the 1997–1998 season will end in a cliffhanger that will be resolved in a summer 1998 movie.
Dennis Rodman tops Mr. Blackwell's annual list of the Worst Dressed Celebrities of the Year. Others winning the dubious distinction are Glenn Close, Lisa Kudrow, Helen Hunt, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Sarah Ferguson, Elisabeth Shue, Drew Barrymore, Claire Danes and Lori Petty.
Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival opens in Park City, Utah, with an opening-day tribute to Tim Robbins and a retrospective of German director R.W. Fassbinder's films.
A judge rules that Jerry Garcia's widow, Deborah Koons Garcia, cannot disregard a 1993 divorce settlement agreement between Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia and Jerry Garcia in which the late Grateful Dead guitarist agreed to pay out $5 million.
Bill Cosby's only son, Ennis William, 27, is murdered while stopped on a California freeway to change a flat tire.
The Washington Post reports that reclusive author J.D. Salinger will publish a new novel, Hapworth 16, 1924, in March. Orchises Press, a small Alexandria, Virginia company will publish the novel, which first appeared in the The New Yorker in the 1960s.
Autumn Jackson and Jose Medina are arrested on charges of attempted extortion. The pair threatened to tell a tabloid that Bill Cosby is Jackson's father unless he paid them $40 million.
The English Patient and Evita win top honors at the 54th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Small-screen awards go to The X-Files and 3rd Rock From the Sun.
President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton ring in the President's second term by making appearances at 15 inaugural balls. Celebrities on hand to hobnob with the first couple include Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Smits, Kevin Costner, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Kevin Spacey.
President Clinton makes a cameo appearance on the CBS made-for-television move A Child's Wish. The movie, in which Clinton plays himself, is about a teenager's struggle with cancer and her family's influence in getting the Family and Medical Leave Act signed into law.
An L.A. judge rules that two companies selling merchandise bearing the late Tupac Shakur's image must ask his estate for permission to use his image. In addition, the companies are directed to pay approximately $500,000 to the late rapper's estate for 1996 sales.
A federal jury orders ABC to pay $5.5 million in punitive damages to Food Lion, Inc. The decision stemmed from Food Lion's claims that ABC defrauded the company when two journalists falsified information on job applications to get hired. The journalists, who worked as a meat handler and a deli clerk, wore hidden cameras and videotaped store workers repackaging and selling spoiled meat. Food Lion never disputed the facts in ABC's report.
Following a storm of protest by subscribers, with assistance from Don Henley, Jewel and John Mellencamp, cable giant Tele-Communications, Inc. reverses its decision to drop MTV and VH-1 from more than 70 markets nationwide.
George Heitman, files suit against Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith, claiming the television chef sexually abused the 36 year old when, as a teenager, he worked at Smith's restaurant. Heitman's suit says, “While in the course of hiring and directing his employees, Mr. Smith pursued a pattern and practice of grooming high-school-age boy employees for sexual intercourse and sought and/or coerced sexual intercourse with them by the use of alcohol and other means.”
Sunday, a film directed by Jonathan Nossiter, wins the Grand Jury Prize at the 13th Annual Sundance Film Festival, surprising many festivalgoers. Girls Like Us takes top documentary honors. The awards ceremony closes the 10-day festival.
Super Bowl XXXI boasts the highest price ever paid for commercial time. Advertisers paid $1.3 million for a 30-second spot. Sony paid $3.5 million for a 90-second spot that previews upcoming films The Devil's Own, The Fifth Element and Men in Black. An estimated 128.9 million people tune into the game, the fourth-highest-rated Super Bowl.
In his first interview since the murder of his son, Bill Cosby talks to Dan Rather about his grief and admits that he had an affair more than 20 years ago with the mother of the woman who has tried to extort $40 million from him. Cosby denies being the woman's father. CBS plans to air the interview on the February 2 60 Minutes.
In a passionate and dramatic exchange, playwright August Wilson and critic Robert Brustein debate the racial politics of American theater to a packed crowd at New York's Town Hall. The event, moderated by playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith, discusses the scarcity of black theaters in the United States, the desirability of color-blind casting and the role of black experience in contemporary theater.
CBS's Dan Rather identifies the mugger who assaulted him in 1986 as William Tager. While kicking Rather, Tager shouted, “What's the frequency, Kenneth?” Tager is serving a 25-year sentence for the 1994 killing of an NBC technician. Rather's mugging inspired the R.E.M. song “What's the Frequency, Kenneth?”
Daily Variety reports that Richard Jewell, the security guard named by the Atlanta Constitution as a suspect in the Olympic Games bombing, has signed a movie deal with Twentieth Century Fox.
CBS decides not to air parts of Dan Rather's interview with Bill Cosby on the February 2 60 Minutes because of the tabloid feeding frenzy that followed reports of the interview.
David Bowie issues $55 million in Bowie bonds. Prudential Insurance buys them, gambling on future sales of the 50-year-old rocker's catalog.

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