Local UPN affil airs NRA infomercial

GOOD MORNING: Did you happen to catch the NRA’s infomercial on UPN affil KCOP (Channel 13) Saturday (11-11:30 ayem)? It’s titled “The Truth About Prosecution” and pitches viewers to join the NRA: $25 for a year’s membership and by joining you get a Charlton Heston autograph — on a bullet (empty, I assume). My queries about the show’s airing to several members of the station were passed from one to another (to sales, to account executive to and including manager David Woodcock) met with no response as of my deadline. But I was assured by one staffer that the show had been “screened and reviewed” by station reps and OK’d for airing. Wonder if they got autographed bullets, too? But I must assume the videopitch by Heston was successful: I was unable to get through on the NRA membership 800 line all day … The death of “The Sopranos” grande dame Nancy Marchand leaves an irreplaceable void. She died of emphysema and lung cancer Sunday and would have been 72 Monday. David Chase, creator and exec producer agrees it is “a terrible loss.” Marchand was “a very private person” and Chase admitted, “I would have liked to have known her better. She always shot from the hip, she undercut any of the crap to one or two lines. Her presence was very deep.” He said that Marchand was not feeling well when she was hired, but she never complained. “Even when she was ill she gave a great performance. She was very brave — and very funny, too. She was never concerned about her appearance or how brutal she had to be. It’s funny, but so many people told us that their mother, or grandmother, was just like her character.” As for the third season (of 26 segs), Chase said he’d not yet decided, but it looks certain there will be an important funeral scene: “Her presence was so deep,” he reminded. I reached “Sopranos” exec producer Brad Grey as he was boarding a plane for Israel with his recently Bar Mitzvah’d son, Sam, who is to also receive services at Jerusalem’s West Wall. The saddened Grey said of Marchand, “She really suffered for quite a while. But the show was important to her; she loved working. She was an extraordinary artist, a wonderful actress. Everyone agreed that her contribution was one of the reasons for the success of the show.” The third season starts filming Aug. 1 — without Nancy Marchand.

“I TOLD HER WHAT THIS SHOW would do for her singing career,” says Merv Griffin who had a private lunch with Cybill Shepherd to set her as the star of “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.” Griffin exec produces the talkshow for NBC and Sony. Also, Merv says he will also have Shepherd singing at the Coconut Club in his Beverly Hilton hotel (she’d sung at his Resorts hotels). He’ll also inaugurate a star policy at the Club. Merv had bought TV rights to the talkshow from “Men are From Mars” book author John Gray. Griffin sees the show as a femme version of “Politically Incorrect,” with male guests on a weekly basis. Run-throughs start in August for October airing via NBC and syndication via Sony, which has Griffin’s “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” of which he still owns a piece. His 30-second “think” music for “Jeopardy” is the “song gem of the century” says Merv. “I may have written the shortest, most valuable piece of music, ever” … Talking music, jazz artists praiser Virginia Wicks sez that her sister, concert violinist Camilla Wicks’ CD long hidden in a vault in Oslo, is finally being released by Simax Classics. And Camilla has been knighted by the king of Norway.

MORE THAN $500,000 WAS RAISED at the 27th annual Vision Awards at the BevHilton, Saturday. Phil Collins, one of the honorees (he was intro’d by Ahmet Ertegun), bid $15,000 for his own original lyrics, which he contributed back to a “live” auction. Lesley Stahl, receiving her award (from CBS News’ Jennifer Siebens), said that despite the fact she’s been with “60 Minutes” 16 years, “I keep getting younger, because of 82-year-old Mike Wallace and 81-year-old Andy Rooney!” Don Knotts got a standing ovation for his award (from his old boss Steve Allen). Oscar winners on hand included Jon Voight (being fitted with facial appliances to play FDR in “Pearl Harbor”) and Jack Palance, who gave an emotional speech about the value of sight and a tribute to Helen Harris. Mickey Rooney made a presentation to Steve Stabler; James Cromwell to Frank Darabont; and Timothy Dalton gave the Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert Halmi; the latter is generously readying his library to be transferred eventually into Theatrevision for the blind. (A clip showed President George Bush describing “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Theatrevision.) Other participants included the International Peace Choir in colorful costumes (which the sighted could enjoy), singing “My Sight Goes On,” written by Helen Harris and friends Nick Christian, Janis Liebhart, Alan O’Day and Carol Connors; also there: Jayne Meadows, Don Cheadle, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alan Thicke, Vilma Thomas, Father Boniface Wittenbrink and Larry Romano. Par’s Paul Haggar chaired the event, the 27th for Retinitis Pigmentosa Intl., which I was pleased to host.

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