Shake-Up Among Cast Of Hit Show ABC World News Tonight

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Vol 32 Issue 03

Microsft Bids $2.1 Billion For Milton Berle Joke File

REDMOND, WA—Continuing its massive content-acquisition drive, Microsoft paid $2.1 billion Monday for Milton Berle's Joke File, the world's most vaunted collection of insults, gags and one-liners. "We aim to build the greatest archive in human history," Microsoft spokesperson Samantha Franks said, "and, as such, we needed to acquire the world's greatest jokes." Culled from the legendary comedian's six decades in show business—spanning Vaudeville, radio and television—the Milton Berle Joke File is believed to be the largest collection of zingers in existence, covering subjects ranging from mothers-in-law to schwartzes. Microsoft is also rumored to be interested in acquiring Rich Hall's extensive "Sniglets" lexicon.

New Toothbrush Slightly Different From Already Existing, Perfectly Good Toothbrushes

BELMONT, CA—At a press conference Monday, Oral-B Laboratories unveiled its much-anticipated new DentuTek 6.0 toothbrush, touted by its designers as slightly different from the hundreds of perfectly good toothbrushes currently on the market. "This toothbrush design is perfect for those who are not satisfied with the 846 existing toothbrush designs currently on the market," Oral-B director of product development Julianne Wuerfel said. "Finally, the American consumer has an 847th choice." According to Wuerfel, the DentuTek 6.0 features a patented ErgoDynamic(TM) handle, tapered to a curve vector almost .002 inches from its nearest competitor, the Colgate 34-XB, as well as a revolutionary new Tri-Level Bristle-Control System(TM). "We're very excited," Oral-B CEO Palmer Esch said. "Our team of toothbrush designers and engineers labored intensely to develop a toothbrush that fit within the infinitesimally small window of as-yet-undesigned toothbrush styles. And they did it."

AARP Calls For 'Comfier Booths' At Denny's

WASHINGTON, DC—Taking a bold stand against discomfort, the American Association of Retired Persons called for "comfier booths" at America's approximately 500 Denny's restaurants Monday. "How long can Denny's management stand idly by while our nation's elderly eat their senior breakfast specials at booths that are merely adequate?" AARP president Marge Littlefield, 77, said. Among its principal demands, the AARP called for increased cushiness, more leg room and an adjustable back-rest feature for those seniors suffering from lower-back discomfort and/or osteoporosis. Additional demands included waitstaff-dispensed shawls, Epsom-salt foot baths at select tables, and specially designated nap areas.

Baseball Hall Of Fame Elected To Hall Of Fame Hall Of Fame

MAPLEWOOD, NJ—In a gala ceremony Monday, the Baseball Hall of Fame was inducted into the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame. Said Hall of Fame Hall of Fame president Darrell Quinlan: "There have been many extraordinary Halls of Fame through the years, but few quite so extraordinary as the Baseball Hall of Fame, with its long, proud tradition of inducting only the most extraordinary baseball players into its ranks." The Baseball Hall of Fame joins such legendary Halls of Fame as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame.

My Short Fiction Will Restore America's Romantic Spirit

Sadly, when I look around America today, I see a lack of romantic spirit. Men and women are no longer filled with wonder for the ethereal forces that drive them together. They're not looking up, starry-eyed, at the shimmering night sky. They're not dreaming of the dawn. They're not talking about love! But once my short fiction starts getting published, that should all change.

The UPS Strike

The weeks-old UPS strike is badly hurting America's small businesses—employers of 50 percent of the nation's workers—prompting many to call for President Clinton to step in and resolve the dispute. What do you think?
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Shake-Up Among Cast Of Hit Show ABC World News Tonight

NEW YORK—In a bold move to stay ahead of the competition in the ratings war, producers of the hit program ABC World News Tonight announced Monday that star Peter Jennings "will not survive next season."

<I>World News Tonight</I> producers expect next season's death of Peter Jennings (above) will be a ratings bonanza.

The secrets of exactly when and how the Jennings character will die are being kept closely guarded by the producers. Speculation from television-industry insiders, however, has ranged from Jennings' getting hit by a mortar shell while covering a February '98 civil war in Turkey to his perishing in a tragic newsroom fire.

ABC is already aggressively promoting Jennings' last episode, airing spots promising "The ABC World News Tonight you must not miss."

Addressing a group of Capital Cities/ABC shareholders Tuesday, World News Tonight executive producer Roone Arledge explained the move.

"Yes, our ratings have been strong of late: Last year's Flight 800 episode did huge numbers, as did the sweeps-week Oklahoma City bombing plotline," Arledge said. "But in this business, you constantly need the big hit, the big 'zazz' that will keep people glued to the screen. This should give us that hit."

With the precise date of Jennings' final episode a mystery, many observers predict a season-long ratings blockbuster for World News Tonight, with viewers tuning in nightly out of fear of missing his death. According to Washington Post TV critic Russell Lembeck, if announced in advance, the death episode could be the show's most-watched ever, eclipsing even the season-ending April 1981 "Who Shot Reagan?" cliffhanger.

"As you probably recall, the American public had to wait until the September 4, 1981, season opener to find out if Reagan got assassinated," Lembeck said. "That summer of '81, the only thing people talked about was whether they thought the president would live or die. It was a brilliant move on ABC's part."

Jennings during last year's presidential-election subplot.

Jennings, a World News Tonight fixture since the late '70s, is widely credited for the show's enduring popularity. He brought ABC viewers news of the Challenger explosion in 1986, was in Berlin for the 1989 toppling of the Berlin Wall and, in 1996, added intrigue to the show by poisoning David Brinkley.

ABC News fans were excited by Monday's announcement. "I'll be sure not to miss the Jennings finale—this could be even bigger than the wedding episode," said Bill Hodges of Covington, KY, referring to the 1989 on-air wedding between Jennings and Barbara Walters. "The only problem is, now we may never find out if he's really Cokie's father."

Despite the huge ratings sure to be generated by the death of the Jennings character, it could backfire in the long run, with detractors citing NBC's decision to "kill off" NBC Nightly News star Tom Brokaw in 1993. Massive viewer protest caused them to bring back Brokaw, in the form of a robot duplicate, but only after the show's ratings suffered a substantial drop from which it has yet to recover.

Arledge said: "We've been trying for years to match the huge ratings we got with the Gulf War—which also won an Emmy for set design—but viewers didn't respond to our midseason Unabomber capture the way we'd hoped. We knew that we needed a big gun, a blockbuster plotline to jolt people."

"We toyed with the idea of bringing back Brinkley," Arledge continued, "but the 'It was all a dream' thing has been done to death. In the end, we decided, 'Let's start phasing out the old guard and bring in some new blood."

According to Arledge, once Jennings dies, the show's lead anchor role will go to 26-year-old model/journalist Rock Palmer. "Get ready, ladies," Arledge said.

Arledge said that the younger, more attractive Palmer should provide a strong lead-in for 20/20's Deborah Roberts, Barbara Walters and Lynn Sherr, hyped in recent promotional spots as "The Bitches of ABC."

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