Through The Wire: Guess It Just Wasnt Foxs Week

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The Y2K-bug fears may have been overblown, but somethingknocked out the power in Comcast's Little Rock, Ark., system during FoxTelevision's New Year's Day Cotton Bowl telecast. That's was particularlyunfortunate, given that the hometown University of Arkansas Razorbacks were playing theUniversity of Texas in that game. Several-hundred Comcast households were unable to seethe start of the game after a power pack at the system's headend blew. The systemwas besieged with calls from upset Razorback fans who were worried that they would missthe game, but system officials said the signal was back up and running within 45minutes.

There was a huge overflow crowd at HBO's movie-typescreening of the first new episodes of The Sopranos last weekat theZiegfeld Theater in Manhattan, which holds 1,100. HBO got back 1,800 RSVPs to thescreening, and it initially expected the normal drop-off rate -- 10 percent to 30 percent-- of no-shows at the event. But as the shindig got closer, HBO officials got the sensethat nearly everyone who RSVPd would actually show up last Wednesday. And they did. Butthe premium service was prepared, having hired buses to bring the overflow to itsheadquarters on 42nd Street for a screening there. As the event'selite -- people like cast member James Gandolfini -- waltzed into the Ziegfeld, moreplebian invitees, like The Wire reporters, were left shivering in the cold, waiting online, finally hopping on the buses for HBO's digs 10 blocks away. HBO made up for itwith its party later at Roseland, where most of The Sopranos' cast membersgraciously mingled with the hordes of guests, civilians and celebs alike. Gandolfini posedfor photos, and Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior) introduced Jamie Lee Sigler, who playsGandolfini's daughter. Sigler then belted out a tune.

A couple of The Weather Channel's forecasters are readyfor broadcast primetime. Bob Stokes will be featured in a Jan. 13 episode ofNBC's ER, as Anthony Edwards' Mark Green talks with his dad about a snowforecast. It looks like weather and medical dramas go together, because TWC's VivianBrown will appear on an episode of Wonderland, an ABC series. Its midseason startdate isn't set yet, but its title has gone through several changes in recent months,including The River and Bellevue.

Cable operators have enough new services to tackle --Internet access, video-on-demand, telephony, electronic commerce -- but they were remindedlast week that they need to keep their eyes on the kitchen, too. During a keynote at theConsumer Electronics Show, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy revisited the recently hotconcept of charging monthly subscription fees for home-networked appliances rangingfrom refrigerators and dishwashers to washer/drier pairs. Sun has partnered with GTEand Cisco Systems to test a home-network service starting with a single market thisspring. Whirlpool Corp. will deliver compatible appliances by the end of the year, andSears, Roebuck and Co. will sell and service them. A Whirlpool executive saidWeb-connected appliances could provide applications that most people haven'tconsidered yet. For example, bar-code scanners on microwave ovens could allow kids who aretoo young to read to let the microwave search the Web for cooking instructions. And youthought the television was the ultimate electronic babysitter.

As usual, that cutup Bill Gates spared no expense inentertaining the throngs at his CES keynote last week. The Microsoft chieftain recruitedjournalists from TheMcLaughlin Group, Tom Brokaw, Diane Sawyer, Judge Judyand others for a tongue-in-cheek look at Microsoft and its current battles inWashington and elsewhere. One segment this Wire reporter could have done without --but one that inspired rowdy laughter elsewhere in the audience -- was a clip of Gatesmasquerading as Mike Myers in Austin Gates.

By R. Thomas Umstead, from bureau reports.

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