VH1 slates first original pic

Musician, actor mix hopes to draw aud to 'Sweetwater'

NEW YORK — VH1 has signed Amy Jo Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Frederick Forrest, Kelli Williams and Adam Ant to star in “Sweetwater,” the music cabler’s first telefilm to go into production.

The fact-based film, which starts shooting in Vancouver on Tuesday, tells the story of a TV producer’s efforts to track down the surviving members of Sweetwater, a rock group that played at Woodstock but soon after disappeared.

A co-production with Paramount’s Wilshire Court Prods., the $2.5 million-$3 million film will premiere on VH1 this summer.

Johnson, who plays Julie on the WB’s “Felicity,” will star in the role of Sweetwater’s lead singer, Nansi Nevins.

Untimely accident

Sweetwater was on the verge of stardom when the band played Woodstock in 1969. But Nevins got into a car accident that forced her to have a tracheotomy, and the operation ruined her singing voice for years.

Jeff Gaspin, VH1’s exec VP of programming and production, said he was pleased that the cast of “Sweetwater” includes a mix of TV and film actors and musicians.

“I like that the film is populated with musicians as actors, because these are people that know and understand the world of music,” Gaspin said.

Phillips was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, the seminal 1960s group that recorded classics such as “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday.” Williams is part of the ensemble cast of the ABC drama “The Practice.”

Forrest is a veteran film actor who appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Tucker: A Man and His Dream.” Musician-turned-actor Ant was the singer of the early ’80s New Wave band Adam and the Ants.

Aimed at image

VH1 hopes to achieve a 2.5-3.7 rating (VH1 averages a 0.4-0.5 rating in primetime) for the film. But Gaspin said projects such as “Sweetwater” are designed as loss leaders to draw new viewers and enhance VH1’s reputation.

“It’s about image and programming legitimacy,” Gaspin said. “We now have product that is comparable to the high-end cable channels and the broadcast networks.”

VH1 plans to premiere four original films in 1999 and eight in 2000.