Under fire, Michaels returns to ‘SNL’

GOOD MORNING: “I never worked harder. This is harder than when I first started –‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Lorne Michaels, who heads back to N.Y. Sunday. “And all my focus will be on ‘SNL.'” He’s wound “The Drug” feature for Par’s release in the spring and “Black Sheep” completes principal photography next week with director Penelope Spheeris, who dates back to early “SNL” with Michaels. “Why are you going back?” she asked, knowing he’s taken and been shaken by an unending barrage of critical blows. Michaels told her, “You don’t quit when you’re down.” He added to me, “I think it’s important — after 20 seasons — that it survives. It’s an integral part of my life”… David Spade, who co-stars in “Black Sheep” with Chris Farley, returns to N.Y. and “SNL” with Michaels Sunday to prepare a weekly 4- to 5-minute seg on the show, “Spade in America,” bowing Sept. 30. Michaels tells me Spade can have “complete control” over it –“until dress rehearsals!” Spade tells me he will not do a movie during the TV season. Too tough, he found out when doing the feature “Tommy Boy,” also with Farley. Meanwhile, Farley told me he has no plans to do “SNL.” Michaels says, “They (the pair) deserve a break from each other.” But exec producer Robert K. Weiss (who also exec’d “Tommy Boy”) insists, “They get along so well onscreen — they even talk to each other between takes”– even during a break in a scene on Par’s Stage 7 after Spade chased a bat in a mountain cabin, eventually captured it in Farley’s hair, whacked Farley with a frying pan. You get the idea of the movie. The story’s about a gubernatorial candidate (Tim Matheson) whose campaign is nearly ruined by his brother (Farley). Campaign worker Spade comes to the rescue — sorta. Farley’s got several pic offers — wants one that’s not strictly slapstick — something with heart, “Not just ‘the fat man falls down and everybody laughs.'” So he’s been looking at Chaplin pix, like “The Gold Rush,” “The Great Dictator,” etc. Spheeris is also looking for a change of pace — and how — with the Janis Joplin and/or the Howard Stern story … And producer Weiss, who also did the “Naked Gun” pix, sez not to write off the Leslie Nielsen series — despite “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.”

A $13 MILLION ADVANCE is already racked up by “Victor/Victoria” with the box office taking in $100,000 a day. This week, Julie Andrews stepped back on a Broadway stage (the Marquis) for the first time since “Camelot,” more than 30 years ago — and starts rehearsals for the Oct. 3 preview start in advance of the Oct. 25 opening. She will record part of the cast album (Philips) during rehearsals with Ian Fraser conducting, Tom Sheperd producing … Tawny Little, Miss America of 1975, is in Atlantic City to participate (a number with Johnny Mathis and one with 40 former winners) in the 75th competish Saturday night. Her opinion of the bathing suit category: “I hated it, I loathed it, but — I think it’s traditional. I’m in favor.” Tawny also admits, “I haven’t worn a bathing suit in 20 years!” Among friends cheering Tawny in Atlantic City is Ron Silver, “although we’re not seeing each other anymore.” She returns to L.A. to ready her bow on KCOP’s 10 p.m. news Oct. 2 “with a new take on local news — pro-involvement of the audience”… During the filming of the problems-beset “Grass Harp,” both producer-director Charlie Matthau and his dad and co-star Walter Matthau, plus partner Jack Lemmon, called to tell me the problems they were having with Fine Line — and vice versa. That was then, and now Daily Variety’s Daniel Kimmel in his review calls the pic “a jewel of a film.” And Fine Line, viewing the review(s) and Toronto fest reaction, is considering moving the picture from Nov. 17 to prime December release.

FRESH FROM THE TORONTO FEST, Castle Rock’s “The Run of the Country” was previewed Wednesday at the Academy, where producer-director Peter Yates thanked Castle Rock for its support of filmmakers and films of lower budgets. Yates introduced the young, debuting cast — Matt Keeslar (who has since gone on to two films), Victoria Smurfit, Anthony Brophy — and writer Shane Connaughton (star Albert Finney’s in England filming “Nostromo”). Later at a lavish Chaya Brasserie supper, veteran award-winning composer Elmer Bernstein revealed he had conducted the “Country” score (sans credit) of first-time feature composer (and Bernstein’s protegee) Cynthia Millar. And Bernstein’s daughter Emilie orchestrated the effective score. Yates is next readying “Cage” and Castle Rock’s “Goodwill Hunting”… Mark Levine, assistant film editor on “Diabolique,” and set decorator Beth Emerson marry Saturday at the home of John Landis … Casting director Eddie Foy III and Jan Standly (non-pro) marry Saturday … Baker/Winokur/Ryder talent VP Tom Estey heads to N.Y. to head the Gotham office. BWR staffer Toni Bianco Estey (his wife) joins him, natch … Bruce Willis, who appears Sunday with his Heaters at the Planet Hollywood opening, is expected to play Monday at the new Century Club in Century City.

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