CULTURE IN BRIEF

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The American television world is approaching a historic moment: there will soon be 100 million television sets in the United States. According to new figures issued by Nielsen Market Research, there are now 99.4 million sets, a 1.4 per cent increase over the 1997 figure.

Private Ryan rakes it in

Saving Private Ryan has become the eighth film this year to make more than $100m at the US box office. Last weekend's takings ($17.4m) took its total earnings to $103.8m. It simultaneously became the 10th Steven Spielberg-directed film to break the pounds 100m barrier. The other seven films are Titanic, Tomorrow Never Dies, As Good As It Gets, Deep Impact, The Jackal, Godzilla, and Armageddon.

Eau dear

A burst water main in the West End led to the cancellation of a number of major productions last week. Blood Brothers, Cats, Grease, Show Boat and Smokey Joe's Cafe all drowned when a burst pipe in Russell Square left a large area of central London without water. According to The Stage, staff at the Palace Theatre poured mineral water in the lavatories, and the show - Les Miserables - went on.

Let's stay together

Movie-making brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly have never been known for their good taste. Their first big hit, Dumb and Dumber, relied on jokes about laxative overdoses and urine-drinking. Their new comedy, There's Something About Mary - currently riding high in the US box-office charts - features Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon peforming gags about masturbation and dog electrocution (it also stars Lee Evans - see interview, page 4). But they have just announced a new project that may make their previous work seem decorous. It's a comedy about a pair of Siamese twins who move to Hollywood when one of them announces that he wants to be a movie star. There's no word yet on whether he'll be played by one actor or two, but they do have a title - Stuck on You.

Upstairs, downstairs

The anniversary of the suicide of the former Brazilian President Getulio Vargas, on 24 August 1954, is this year being marked by a play about the events that led to his death. The Shot That Changed History, written by Carlos Eduardo Boraes and Aderbal Freire Filho and staged by the cultural section of Rio de Janeiro, incorporates Vargas's own furniture, including the bed in which he killed himself (since preserved as a museum piece), into its set. During the performance, the audience climbs up and downstairs several times to view the three floors of the presidential palace. Some theatre-goers have been taken ill with vertigo.

The towaway zone

Ray Brown, 26, the traffic warden who had a starring role in BBC1's Clampers, is to host a blind-date show for the channel Gay TV. He is giving up his day job and hopes to establish a full-time career in television. A spokesman for the Gay TV said, "Instead of clamping vehicles, Ray will be clamping hearts together."

The great Swede

The hunt is on in Stockholm's Great Lake for a Swedish "Loch Ness" monster. The creature is said to have inhabited the lake for at least 360 years, and reported sightings have described it alternatively as either a snake or a horse-like creature. Fifteen vessels with researchers, divers, underwater cameras and sonar have set out with the expert help of Adrian Shine, who has hunted for the Loch Ness Monster for 20 years.

Lighting-down time

The first big London lottery-funded arts project to be completed, the Sadler's Wells Theatre, has announced that it will ban smoking in its rebuilt building. Dancers, however, will be allowed to smoke - in a specially designated "sin-bin". Rambert Dance, Britain's foremost contemporary dance company, will be the first to test the new facilities. The new stage provides a performance area bigger than both Covent Garden and the Coliseum.

Look on the Sonny side

A movie about the 1960s singing duo, Sonny and Cher, attracted dozens of hopefuls to Times Square last week. Scores of would-be Chers, in feather boas and tight trousers, and a handful of Sonnys, with droopy moustaches, arrived to audition for the television film, which will be based on the late Sonny Bono's 1991 biography and called And the Beat Goes on: the Sonny and Cher story. Auditions are also being held in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Coming soon to a home near you

Cable and Wireless Communications plc have unveiled an interactive television service to compete with British Interactive Broadcasting. The new service, TV Mall, will be based on Internet technology and aims to provide high- speed retail, 200-channel digital TV, entertainment and information. Cable and Wireless are looking to take a substantial share of this burgeoning market, which is expected to be worth pounds 7 billion by 2008.

Rediscovered masterpiece

An oil painting by the French artist Jacques Joseph Tissot has been recovered by police in Auckland, New Zealand, after it was stolen from the Auckland Art Gallery on 9 August. Its value is estimated at $1m.

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