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Power to the People

The People's Choice Awards, marking its 20th year tonight, is a Hollywood ceremony with a proletarian touch: The winners owe their trophies to we, the people.

Not TOO proletarian, though. The CBS special aims to provide as big a wallop for star-watchers as the Emmys or Oscars, with presenters including Anthony Hopkins, Tim Allen and Angela Bassett and a tribute to Steven Spielberg.

The public's favorites in movies, television and music of 1993 _ selected in a nationwide Gallup poll of some 4,000 Americans _ will be honored during the show hosted by actor-comedian Paul Reiser.

(The program airs live on the East Coast at 9 p.m. and in tape-delay at 9 p.m. PST in the West.)

Producer Don Mischer said the People's Choice Awards have not only withstood an increasingly crowded awards field; they've gained in credibility.

"This show is not subject to trade ads, PR campaigns or industry executives marshaling voters," said Mischer. "People who receive this award understand this is a pure, simple choice by the American public."

"You can't argue with the people," says Reiser, who is making his solo debut as an awards show host.

"They asked me and it just so happens I own a tux, so I said okay," he joked.

The top three vote-getters in 18 categories, as determined by the Gallup Organization, have already been announced. The poll surveys a cross-section of people age 12 and older to represent the general public.

Picks include Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire and The Firm for favorite motion picture; Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Clint Eastwood as favorite actor in a dramatic motion picture; and Demi Moore, Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone as favorite actress in a dramatic motion picture.

TV stars up for honors include Roseanne Arnold, Candice Bergen and Oprah Winfrey (favorite female TV performer) and Allen, Martin Lawrence and Jerry Seinfeld (favorite male TV performer).

Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses and Pearl Jam are vying for favorite rock group honors, while singers Michael Bolton, Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Wynonna Judd, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton also are up for awards.

Note the awards are for "favorite," not "best." No pretension here; we Americans may not know art, but we know what we like, darn it.

Unlike the Emmys or Oscars, nominees can enjoy a tension-free evening _ the winners have already been notified, although the results are otherwise kept under wraps until the ceremony.

Michael Douglas will present the tribute to Spielberg, whose films last year include the acclaimed Schindler's List and the top-grossing Jurassic Park.

Other presenters will include Carol Burnett, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Lansbury, Jay Leno, Carroll O'Connor, Rosie Perez, Janine Turner and Melanie Griffith.

Don't expect to see lavish musical production numbers, said Mischer and Lou Wechsler, an advertising executive who helped launch the awards and has worked on them since.

"We found unless a singing-and-dancing number was directly related to the program, the audience viewed it as stage weight and the ratings went down," Wechsler said.

Viewers also won't have to squirm through contrived, unfunny banter between mismatched pairs of presenters, Mischer promised.

"Much of what is false in awards shows is when two people are thrust together 30 seconds before walking on stage," he said. "We'll only be using pairs that make sense," such as former Knots Landing TV costars William Devane and Michelle Lee.

Mischer is intent on ensuring that the show _ at two hours, about a third shorter than the Oscars or Emmys _ moves briskly and wraps up on time.

"By the time we're on the air for four or five minutes, we'll already be projecting if we're long or short. Then it becomes a little checkerboard game as you go down to the wire, trying to make this thing come out," he said.

In honor of the ceremony's two-decade milestone, Mischer plans to showcase highlights from previous shows that could also serve as a gauge of popular taste over the years.

"We are going to try to include moments that are charming or funny, and to show who was winning 15 or 20 years ago," he said. "The first show, (Barbra) Streisand was there, John Wayne. ... It's been quite a list of impressive people through the years."

And who do all those winners have to thank? Okay, then. You're welcome.

Notebook

Walter Cronkite wants TV shows that pay for interviews with celebrities like John Bobbitt and Tonya Harding to tell all themselves _ including how much they paid. "I think, by gosh, that we ought to have an FCC rule that any time anybody's paid for an interview, the price should be superimposed right under their face on the screen," the former CBS anchorman says in the March 12 issue of TV Guide magazine. "If we were told what people had been paid for these stories, we might be able to better judge their truth or falsity."

NBC has renewed its top-rated 8-10 p.m. Thursday comedy block _ Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld and Frasier _ for the 1994-95 season. ... Meredith Baxter stars in My Breast, a TV movie for CBS now in production in Toronto. Baxter plays Joyce Wadler, an unmarried woman in her 40s caught in a simultaneous battle with a stormy relationship and a diagnosis of breast cancer. ... Elizabeth Montgomery and Dennis Farina star in The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, a TV movie airing March 27 on CBS. Montgomery stars as Edna Buchanan, the real-life Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami-based crime reporter ... CBS Video is rushing to release an Olympic highlights package to video stores. The officially licensed 1994 Winter Olympics home videos _ The 1994 Winter Olympics Highlights Video and the two-cassette The 1994 Winter Olympics Figure Skating Competition and Exhibition Gift Set _ will be in stores April 6, just 38 days after the close of the Olympics. The highlights video will retail for $19.98, and the figure skating package will go for $39.98. An Olympic three-pack of all the tapes will sell for $49.98. ... Academy Award winner Kim Hunter guest stars in the March 10 episode of the NBC comedy Mad About You. Hunter, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire, plays a former tenant of the apartment of series stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt.

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