Entertainment options to abound in 2008

Olympic athletes compete in Beijing. Indiana Jones goes on another adventure. David Mamet returns to Broadway. And horror erupts on an idyllic Florida key.

The Hollywood writers’ strike has put a damper on television and movie production, but the entertainment industry still has a lot of product in the pipeline for 2008. TV viewers might be confronted by an overload of last-minute reality shows to fill the gap in between scripted series, but fans of science fiction, historical drama, ”The Wire” and ”Law & Order” should find enough to fill their TiVos in the first half of the year.

Moviegoers will be able to choose from a slew of summer blockbusters featuring the Hulk, Batman and Meryl Streep singing ABBA songs. And best-selling authors Stephen King, John Grisham and Isabel Allende all will have new books out.

Music fans will see new releases from established acts like the B-52s and up-and-comers such as soul-jazz singer Lizz Wright and alt-rocker Kathleen Edwards. Besides the January Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs and a new baseball season, sports fans are looking forward to the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Here’s a preview of how we’ll be amusing ourselves in 2008:


”Law & Order” returns to NBC on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. next week, its home for its first 15 seasons. But it will look a little different. With Fred Thompson stumping for the Republican presidential nomination, the role of Manhattan district attorney is now filled by Sam Waterston, kicked upstairs from his former position as assistant D.A.

HBO has lain low for the past few months, following the send-off of ”The Sopranos” and the lackluster reception of some of its new series. On Jan. 28, the cable network launches ”In Treatment,” starring Gabriel Byrne. Each half-hour show follows a session with a psychologist and a patient. It will run over nine weeks, with a new episode five nights a week.

In March, HBO will unveil a seven-hour adaptation of David McCullough’s best-selling biography of our second president, John Adams. It stars Paul Giamatti as Adams, Laura Linney as his wife Abigail, Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin, David Morse as George Washington and Stephen Dillane as Thomas Jefferson. The network also begins broadcasting the final season of its acclaimed series ”The Wire,” about criminal and everyday life in Baltimore, on Jan. 6.

While the hit show ”24” is on hold this season, to the dismay of many fans of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, Fox has high hopes for ”Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which will air on Monday nights, beginning Jan. 14 (after a Jan. 13 pilot), at the same hour ”24” usually runs. The series takes place between the time of the second and third installments of the movie franchise. Fox has nine episodes of the series shot, and expects it to run through early March.

Another hit science-fiction show, ”Battlestar Galactica,” begins its final season later find who set him up to get kicked out of the agency while making ends meet as a detective in Miami. Production starts will be delayed, and the show premieres aren’t set.

AMC, which had a hit with ”Mad Men” this year, has a new drama premiering Jan. 20, ”Breaking Bad,” about a high-school chemistry teacher who discovers he is dying of lung cancer and decides to become a criminal. It stars Bryan Cranston, of ”Malcolm in the Middle.”

The PBS series Masterpiece Theater begins the year with a Jane Austen season, with ”The Complete Jane Austen,” starting Jan. 13. Over the course of four months, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater will feature new productions of ”Northanger Abbey,” ”Sense and Sensibility” and ”Emma,” with a rebroadcast of the now-classic 1995 ”Pride and Prejudice” that starred Colin Firth as Darcy.

And for those for whom TV’s second season doesn’t begin until mediocre hopefuls start to sing, the seventh season of ”American Idol” returns Jan. 15 on Fox.


The NFL playoffs begin the first Saturday in January. The teams with the two best records in the AFC (the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts) and the NFC (the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers) will sit out the first weekend of games. The big if for fans, though, is whether the New England Patriots, which became the first team ever to start a season 15-0, will beat the Giants in their final game and finish the season with a 16-0 record. With Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey suffering a broken leg, the Giants might have difficulty. In college football, the Bowl Championship Series title game between Louisiana State and Ohio State takes place Jan. 7.

Baseball’s steroid scandal is likely to resurface once we approach the start of the baseball season. Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone, returns to the Yankees, and the team will likely get even more scrutiny than usual. The Yankees also re-signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year contract that may be worth more than $300 million if he meets certain benchmarks, such as breaking the all-time home-run record, currently held by the still-unsigned Barry Bonds.

In the off-season, the National League West has made the most noise. The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Gold Glove centerfielder Andruw Jones from Atlanta, despite his iffy season there last year. The Arizona Diamondbacks recently acquired pitcher Dan Haren, one of the game’s top young pitchers, in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. With him and Brandon Webb, who won the Cy Young Award in 2006 and was among the top vote-getters for this past season, Arizona has one of the league’s strongest one-two pitching punches. The Colorado Rockies, who were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, are keeping most of their strong young roster.

The Red Sox are looking to win their third World Series title in five seasons, attempting to become the Yankees of this decade. The team re-signed Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP.

The big story in pro basketball is the turnaround of the Boston Celtics, which have gone from being one of the worst teams to a title contender this season. The San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns are making the Western conference the most competitive in the game.

Come August, of course, the big event is the Summer Olympics in Beijing, which run for much of August. While the bulk of the events will take place in and around Beijing, several will be held in other cities in China, with equestrian events being held in Hong Kong.


The writers’ strike is unlikely to affect Hollywood films until late 2008, and in the meantime, the industry is looking ahead to its blockbuster summer season, which actually begins in early May. It will kick off with two comic-book movies: ”Iron Man,” based on the Marvel character, starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard. The same month, ”Matrix” directors Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski are bringing the Japanese animated cartoon ”Speed Racer” to the big screen in a live-action version.

”The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” the sequel to 2005’s ”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which grossed $272 million domestically, also opens in May. Memorial Day weekend, one week later, will see the release of ”Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the fourth Indiana Jones adventure, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett and Shia LaBeouf (as Indy’s son).

Later in the summer, the comic-book movies continue with ”The Dark Knight,” in which Christian Bale returns as Batman, and ”The Incredible Hulk,” starring Edward Norton. Also up next summer, a big-screen adaptation of the hit musical fashioned from ABBA songs, ”Mamma Mia!,” starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.


Stephen King’s new horror novel ”Duma Key” comes out in January, and unlike most of his books, this one isn’t set in Maine, but Florida. John Grisham is back, after his first nonfiction book and some lighter novelistic fare such as the current best seller ”Playing for Pizza,” with ”The Appeal,” a thriller of the sort that made him famous. Also in January is a new novel from Pat Barker, who won acclaim for her ”Regeneration Trilogy” of novels. Her new novel, ”Life Class,” concerns a group of students who gather in an art studio for a life-drawing class as World War I begins.

Among other books by established writers is a new Russell Banks novel, ”The Reserve,” set in upstate New York, coming in February, and the return of Inspector Lynley in Elizabeth George’s new mystery, ”Careless in Red,” in May. Adriana Trigiani, known for such best sellers as ”Lucia, Lucia” and ”Big Stone Gap,” is out with the first novel in a new trilogy, in September. ”Bella Rosa” is the story of Valentine, a 33-year-old apprentice shoemaker to her grandmother, Teodora, who has owned and operated a shoe company for more than 50 years in Greenwich Village.

James Frey, who became famous for his memoir, ”A Million Little Pieces” – and then notorious for making much of it up – is back in June with a novel titled ”Bright Shiny Morning,” set in Los Angeles.

Actual memoirs coming next year include ”The Sum of Our Days,” by Isabel Allende, out in April, and in May, ”We’ve Always Had Paris,” by the cookbook writer and cooking-school teacher Patricia Wells and her husband Walter, about their life in France.

In nonfiction, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright has a book out in January, ”Memo to the President Elect,” in which she offers advice for whoever takes over running the country. Putnam is bringing out a collection by the late author Kurt Vonnegut titled ”Armageddon in Retrospect,” timed to the first anniversary of his death in April. It’s made up of new and unpublished writings on war and peace.


Record sales may be down some 14 percent this year, but the music industry remains ever hopeful, though sometimes stuck in the past. For instance, Sony will be releasing a 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller” in February, with additional unreleased tracks.

But new talent is cropping up too. Liam Finn’s debut album, ”I’ll Be Lightning,” hits stores later next month. Mr. Finn’s father, Neil Finn, was the guiding force behind the 80s-90s pop/rock group Crowded House, which last summer released its first new record in more than a decade. The younger Mr. Finn has played with his father’s band.

A couple of other relative newcomers, Lizz Wright and Kathleen Edwards, have new recordings. Ms. Wright, a soul/jazz singer and composer, is releasing her third record, ”The Orchard,” in February. Her first two records were hits. Alt-country Canadian singer-songwriter Ms. Edwards gained notice with her first album, ”Failer,” in 2003, which spawned the hits ”Six O’Clock News” and ”Hockey Skates.” Her third album, ”Asking for Flowers,” is out in early March.

The rock band Marah, whose music calls to mind the working-class milieu of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, has a new album out, ”Angels of Destruction,” in early January. The Philadelphia sextet is known for its live shows, and the new record seeks to re-create that live energy.

The B-52s release their first studio album in 16 years next February, ”Funplex.” The band recorded the album in its native Athens, Ga., and wrote all 11 songs, working with producer Steve Osborne, who has produced music for New Order and KT Tunstall, among others.


A strike by the Broadway stagehands union hobbled the Great White Way for almost three weeks this holiday season, pushing back several anticipated openings. Among them: Disney Theatrical Productions’ stage adaptation of its hit 1989 movie ”The Little Mermaid.” It now opens Jan. 10 and features familiar songs from the movie by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, as well as 10 new songs by Mr. Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater.

Other coming shows include a new production of William Inge’s ”Come Back, Little Sheba,” opening in January and starring S. Epatha Merkerson of ”Law & Order,” and an all-black version of Tennessee Williams’s ”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” starring Anika Noni Rose of the ”Dreamgirls” movie. Also in the cast are Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad. It opens in March.

A comic take on Alfred Hitchcock’s ”The 39 Steps,” imported from London, opens in January. A musical version of the 1950s television play and big-screen movie ”A Catered Affair,” with a script by Harvey Fierstein and starring Faith Prince and Tom Wopat, opens in April. Another movie-to-stage adaptation, based on John Waters’s 1990 ”Cry-Baby,” also opens in the spring. And back with a new Broadway premiere for the first time in a decade is David Mamet, with ”November,” a political comedy starring Nathan Lane as the president of the U.S. on the eve of an election. It opens Jan. 17.

In May, Los Angeles’s Ahmanson Theatre is premiering a new play of Mr. Mamet’s, a farce about a troupe of actors in ancient Rome entitled, ”Keep Your Pantheon.” Later in the year, the Ahmanson will premier the stage adaptation of the 1980 movie ”9 to 5,” with music by Dolly Parton, who wrote the hit title track.


Operagoers and Wagnerians (who don’t always agree) are looking forward to soprano Deborah Voigt singing her first Isolde with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in Wagner’s ”Tristan und Isolde.” Operagoers and Wagnerians (who don’t always agree) are looking forward to soprano Deborah Voigt singing her first Isolde with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in Wagner’s ”Tristan und Isolde.” Ms. Voigt, one of the world’s leading Strauss and Wagner singers, has sung with the Met often, first performed the role in a production in Vienna several years ago and has sung it in concert. The Met production premieres in March; tenor Ben Heppner is Tristan to Ms. Voigt’s Isolde.

The Met is also presenting a new production of one of the 20th century’s greatest operas, Benjamin Britten’s ”Peter Grimes,” directed by John Doyle. The opera, about a fisherman implicated in the death of his apprentice, stars tenor Anthony Dean Griffey and soprano Patricia Racette.

The Houston Grand Opera, which often commissions new works, is premiering ”Last Acts,” a new work by composer Jake Heggie (”Dead Man Walking”). It is based on a play by Terrence McNally, and was written for mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. It follows an actress and mother and her two children. The opera premieres in February.

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