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The Eye turns to D.C. for ‘Millennium Gala’

Will Smith hosting live event

CBS has locked up exclusive broadcast rights to the White House-sponsored “America’s Millennium Gala,” a 2-1/2-hour music and entertainment extravaganza to air live from Washington, D.C., on New Year’s Eve.

Thesp Will Smith has been tapped to host the event, which is being produced by Quincy Jones and George Stevens Jr. No firm talent deals have been inked yet, but Jones and Stevens are expected to lure several major names to take part in the event, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year (Daily Variety, Sept. 24, 1998.)

Deal also gives CBS the exclusive U.S. broadcast premiere of “The Unfinished Journey,” an 18-minute film being produced by Steven Spielberg with a score by John Williams. Short will capture the highlights of the 20th century.

Eye will air the entire fete live from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. EST, giving local stations a 30-minute insert at 11 p.m. to cover local turn-of-the-century events. Viewers in the Pacific and Mountain time zones will see a tape-delayed version.

The “Millennium Gala” is the cornerstone of CBS’ Dec. 31 primetime plans.

Net is also looking to have David Letterman host a special hourlong millennium edition of “Late Show” from 8-9 p.m. To fill the 9-10 p.m. slot, CBS hopes to ink deals with several major music acts planning to perform live on New Year’s Eve. Eye would cut live to various concert venues to broadcast one or two songs from each act’s respective concerts. Some of the performers may return later in the night for the “Millennium Gala.”

Eye’s Y2K Eve programming block will compete directly with the climactic portion of ABC’s previously announced 27-hour coverage of the century’s turn. Alphabet’s broadcast will have a global feel, with producers planning to cut to New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world before coming back to Dick Clark for a souped-up version of the traditional Times Square ball drop.

“Millennium Gala” producer Stevens says his event will be distinct from other New Year’s telecasts.

“We hope our show will separate itself from the rest. Our show will have a continuity to it,” he told Daily Variety Tuesday, adding that his goal was to make the entire evening “emotional and moving.”

Stevens said President Clinton and Hillary Clinton will both play a prominent role in the event. In the one portion of the night for which CBS does not have exclusive rights, Clinton will address the nation at around 10 minutes before midnight.

Rather than cut to Times Square for the ball drop, Stevens and Jones plan to create a “midnight moment” light and sound display between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Washington, D.C. aud for the event will include 100 prominent cultural, social and business leaders invited by the White House for a pre-show black-tie dinner.