AFI gets into biz with ‘100 Years’ specs

GOOD MORNING: “The AFI had to get into show business,” AFI board chairman Tom Pollock admits. “We had to get entrepreneurial.” The cutback of NEA funds shrunk the contribution to the AFI from nearly a million-$ to $40,000. Thus, the birth of “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies” specials on CBS and TNT. The AFI is not the only beneficiary from the spex, he reminds. “Studios live on recycling their film libraries,” and will reap countless new “lives” from the spex. Next Tuesday, CBS will air a three-hour countdown of the greatest 100 pics of all time, as determined by a ballot sent to 1,500 film workers and fans. On June 23, TNT begins weekly airings of 10 one-hour specs that look at why these are the best pics ever. (TNT will re-run its 10 one-hour shows plus the three-hour CBS show again in January.) Pollock, AFI director-CEO Jean Firstenberg and Gary Smith, exec producer and director of the June 16 CBShow, revealed a few of the secrets of the spex over breakfast at the Peninsula. They are certain the TV’er will send moviegoers to video stores in droves after seeing clips of the chosen 100 and stars in the special (which is sure to also become a video collector’s item). Pollock says these shows will be “a learning tool” for film students.And fans will probably also go back to theaters, with the increasing number of reissues of the top 100. New Line is readying its “GWTW” reissue, fully confident it’s on the list of 100, natch. Ad spots on the CBS show, by the way, are sold out, the last having come in this week. AFI had bought the three hours from CBS and resold it … Exec producer-director Smith insists the CBS show “is not clips” but scenes plus interviews with celebs who’ll tell what are their favorite films — and why. They range from Ted Turner to the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. Smith says three of the interviewed celebs cried while discussing their favorite film, but he wouldn’t identify the weepers. The opening number does contains 60 film clips — not necessarily pix in the top 100 — in a song, “A Ticket to Dream” by Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch and sung by Trisha Yearwood. The royalties go to the AFI.

THOUGH THE LIST IS SECRET, I can reveal to you that “Godfather” made it into the top five of the 100 greatest movies … Who is the actor who appears in most of the films in the list of “100”? Robert Duvall. Who is the most represented actress? Katharine Hepburn. Which year produced the most films on the list? 1939: That was the year of “GWTW,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” Also “Dark Victory,” “Ninotchka,” and “Love Affair.” There are four silent films on the list. All studios waived clip fees. While all those involved with the show signed confidentiality notes, no one argued about the final choices — only about those left off. The excitement about who are the chosen 100 has given birth to voting by non-AFI voting groups around the country, reported Firstenberg … Thursday, there were 150 in the AFI’s 29th graduating class. Honorary degrees in fine arts were bestowed on Gena Rowlands, Roger Corman and film preservationist Kevin Brownlow. Speaking at the ceremonies were Firstenberg, Pollock, Frank Pierson and Dan Petrie Jr. The board of trustees also met Thursday and were brought up to date on the specials. Newsweek, a media sponsor of the TV’ers, publishes an extra issue the day after the June 16 special, titled “2000, New Millennium — The 100 Best Movies rated by the American Film Institute.”

CONGRATS ARE IN ORDER: Samuel Arkoff, founder of AIP, celebrates his 80th birthday today — and he’s busy readying a remake of “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” … Vic Damone is celebrating his 70th birthday in Vegas. Westwood One dedicates programs to him with messages from fellow warblers … Columbia TriStar TV business affairs exec Charles Smolsky and wife Irene welcomed triplets, two boys and a girl, June 8 at Cedars-Sinai. The Smolskys also have a 3-year-old daughter, Macy Grace … Agent Harry Gold’s daughter Melissa Gold received her doctorate in psychology from Georgetown U. and the Calif. School of Professional Psychology. Gold says, “It’s good to have a shrink in the family — as an agent I can supply many referrals” … Meanwhile, the Shirley Canton Waiting Room at the Motion Picture & TV Fund Hospital is dedicated today. On hand, husband Arthur and sons Mark and Neil … Lorna Luft and Bob Stack co-host Carnegie Hall Celebrates the Music of Judy Garland, June 16-17 … Gary LeMel, WB Music prexy — and singer extraordinaire — recorded two songs for WB Home Video’s “Dennis the Menace Strikes Again,” which WHV will release direct-to-video July 14. One song is “You Make Me Feel So Young,” the latter made famous by Frank Sinatra. LeMel is courageous: he next records an Atlantic album tribute to Bobby Darin in which he’ll even do “Mack the Knife.”