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TV CRITICS HOLLYWOOD PRESS TOUR / VH1 Puts New Spin on Programing

Pasadena, Calif.

VH1'S LIVE debate tonight at 11 over the greatest song of all time is just the

start of a huge original programing push by the "Music First" channel in the

year of its first $100 million programing budget ever.

"The List" goes live tonight after the last hour of VH1's "100 Greatest Songs

of Rock & Roll" ends. The live hour hosted by Meat Loaf features "Frasier" star

Kelsey Grammer, rock legend Alice Cooper, "Veronica's Closet" star Kirstie

Alley and Spice Girls member Sporty Spice, with a performance from Train.

On Sunday at midnight, Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten debuts "Rotten

Television," which he calls "the last words in folk art. . . a journey through

John's Shoes"-in other words, a most individual construction. Next Friday at

10:30 p.m., "Rock & Roll Record Breakers" checks out things like the Longest

Hotel Ban (The Who's been bounced from Holiday Inn properties since 1967). And

VH1 joins game-show mania Jan. 29 at 6 p.m., with "Pop Up Quiz."

This year, VH1 will feature 500 hours of new programing, with original programs

expanding to 90 percent of prime time, network chief Jeff Gaspin told TV

critics at the midseason press tour.

The centerpiece bio series "Behind the Music" gets a younger sibling in

February's "BTM2," which will profile emerging music artists. Starting in

March, the hour magazine "For the Record" will take an in-depth look into

events in music history, from the concert violence at Altamont to John and

Yoko's "bed-in" protest of the Vietnam War. Gaspin sees this as "our next great

documentary franchise and will be talked about in much the same way 'Behind

the Music' is."

Critics were ready to believe him after seeing intense and/or amusing clips

from shows recounting the 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati at which several fans

were killed and the extensive federal investigation ofThe Kingsmen because of

the alleged pornographic lyrics of its unintelligible 1963 hit "Louie Louie."

The entertainment value of archive footage of a hilariously in-your-face

appearance by Twisted Sister's outrageous front man Dee Snider during

Congressional hearings over record labeling was balanced by "For the Record's"

newsy approach to that subject, including an update interview with Snider today.

Original movies are also on VH1's slate, the latest being the Feb. 1 premiere

"Two of Us," which speculates on the emotional fireworks that might have

occurred if Paul McCartney had spent an afternoon in The Dakota with ex-Beatles

mate John Lennon in 1976.

***

SOPRANOS TALK. "I can't yell at my kids in the supermarket anymore, and I hate

that," says Lorraine Bracco, summing up how the smash success of HBO's "The

Sopranos" has affected the lives of those who have suddenly become household

faces. "I get a lot of 'Miss Bracco!'" in public, says blond co-star Edie

Falco, who plays mobster Tony Soprano's wife. Bracco, who plays his shrink, is

a brunette who doesn't look much like Falco, but she has a more famous name and

they both grew up on Long Island.

The tidal wave of publicity and viewership doesn't seem to have much affected

James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself. Talking to TV critics, the journeyman

actor was just as soft-spoken, even bashful as when he met the group last year

right after his show debuted. "I get a lot more 'Hey, Tony' from cars," he

says, now that the show has blossomed into a phenomenon. "It just requires a

little more energy" to cope with it all, says the actor to whom publicity

demands are a bit of a chore because "I don't think I'm that interesting. The

character is interesting."

Tony Soprano stays that way in the early second-season episodes that critics

have screened. Series creator-producer David Chase is not likely to soften the

sharp edges of his audience-challenging protagonist's complex demeanor: The

loving family man who just happens to be a criminal capable of murder. "I react

negatively to characters who want to lick your face like a dog," says Chase,

who previously shepherded the multifaceted characters of "I'll Fly Away" and

"Northern Exposure."

That's why this man born with the name DeCesare also reacts negatively to

complaints from many Italian-American activists that his "Sopranos" characters

reinforce ethnic gangster stereotypes. "We've received three psychiatry awards

from three different psychiatry groups, and this young woman plays a

psychiatrist of Italian descent," said Chase, gesturing toward Bracco and

edging toward anger as he spoke. "Nobody talks about that. They just talk about

this gangster and it's really tiresome."

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