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Terror Has a New Name, and It's... Um, Give Me a Second...

Next week, as part of his master plan to lure even more unsuspecting viewers to his already-overwatched network, NBC's sinister programming genius Warren Littlefield will unveil "Asteroid!," a TV movie about an asteroid that plummets to earth, crushing a lot of bystanders. "Asteroid" follows the tried-and-true disaster movie plot in which a horrible act of nature wreaks terror and havoc upon a disparate group of people -- usually including a sickeningly cute moppet and his pet dog -- unlucky enough to find themselves in harm's way.

No word if, in a Littlefield-ian cross-promotional twist, TV's Kramer will be on hand to be smashed into bits by the eponymous asteroid.

"Asteroid!" will be streaking its way on to our nation's TV sets about the same time "Dante's Peak" will be erupting in cineplexes from coast to coast. "Dante's Peak" focuses on a group of disparate people living in the shadow of a long dormant volcano, which suddenly springs to life crushing a lot of bystanders.

"Asteroid!" and "Dante's Peak" follow in the wake of last November's "Titanic" mini-series on CBS, in which a luxury ocean liner hits an iceberg, crushes a lot of bystanders and sinks into the sea, much to the chagrin of a group of disparate people who find themselves unlucky enough not to have booked passage on The Love Boat, instead.

"Asteroid!," "Dante's Peak," and "Titanic" come on the heels of two of last summer's mega-box office hits -- "Twister" and "Independence Day" -- in which tornadoes and aliens, respectively, wind up crushing a lot of bystanders.

My keen journalistic eye spots a trend.

Now more than ever, our cultural landscape is undergoing a Renaissance of "City Go Boom!" disaster movies. Typically, such movies follow a simple recipe -- take an act of God, mix in hearty doses of terror, mayhem and havoc, combine with a group of disparate people, throw in a pinch of plot, a dose of bystander-crushing and wham-o! You've got yourself a motion picture and/or mini-series suitable to take home to mom, give or take a George C. Scott cameo for seasoning.

The "City Go Boom!" movies have a long tradition, dating back to the 1936 motion picture "San Francisco," in which a group of disparate people manage to survive an earthquake that smashes the city to bits, all so that they can break into joyous song and dance by the end of the flick. This was before scientists were able to invent terror, mayhem and havoc, mind you.

Then, in the 1970s -- a decade which gave birth to disco, glam rock and double-digit inflation -- disaster movies had their first major boomlet, thanks to one Irwin Allen. Like many auteurs before him, Irwin Allen had a vision, a cinematic leitmotif that would appear again and again in pictures he produced and directed -- the image of horrible natural disasters causing great suffering, terrible anguish and general irritation among a disparate group of people, some of whom wind up getting crushed to death.

It was Irwin Allen who taught us the horror of fire in a high-rise building ("The Towering Inferno"), the scourge of earthquakes ("Earthquake!"), the dilemma posed by killer bees ("Swarm") and the sheer terror of being trapped on a capsized ocean liner with Shelley Winters ("The Poseidon Adventure"). It was Irwin Allen who gave a young O.J. Simpson his first shot at big screen stardom and who revealed, rather painfully, that Charlton Heston's best work was behind him. And it was Irwin Allen who gave us the image of Richard Chamberlain falling to his death from a high-rise penthouse, a sight that has more than once offered solace to those of us unfortunate enough to have sat through the Allan Quatermain movies.

And now, though Irwin Allen has long since dropped off the face of the earth, his legacy of horrible deaths captured on film lives on. Who knows why there's been the sudden jump in the number of "City Go Boom!" movies. Perhaps it's because these movies speak to the concerns of all of us, the questions that plague us late at night when the children are tucked into bed and the demons come out to play. What would I do if my loved ones and I were among the disparate group of people swept up in a horrible disaster? Have I taken the necessary precautions to make sure my cow won't sucked away by a deadly Twister or that Martians won't vaporize my stereotypically gay friend as portrayed by Harvey Fierstein? Does my homeowners' insurance cover damage caused by an asteroid smashing into the earth? You know, questions like those...

Well, more power to them, I say. And just so Hollywood's movers and shakers don't have to cut into the valuable time they would normally spend attending gala premieres and deflowering starlets to think up ideas for more "City Go Boom!" movies, I humbly submit a list of my own, with complete plots and casting already in place. I do this as a public service, because I want to give back to the Hollywood that's given so much to me.

Just make sure my name is spelled correctly on the residuals check...

"Tidal Wave!" -- Newlyweds Crystal Bernard and Jameson Parker are enjoying their Hawaiian honeymoon... that is, until a killer tidal wave hits Honolulu, crushing a number of bystanders including taxi driver Pat Morita, tourist Larry Linville and lounge singer Pia Zadora. With special guest appearances by Don Ho and Jack Lord.

"Tsunami!" -- Not to be confused with "Tidal Wave!," "Tsunami!" focuses on newlyweds Fran Drescher and Jason Priestly enjoying their honeymoon on Krakatoa -- that is, until a really big wave threatens to destroy all in its path. With Wayne Newton as the hard-headed coast guard who refuses to evacuate the island until its to late, Abe Vigoda as the well-meaning but superstitious island chief and Patrick Swayze as an alcoholic fisherman who regains his self-respect while losing his life in a vain effort to fight back the tsunami. Features the hit single "Swept Up By Your Love Tsunami" as sung by Celine Dion.

"Whirlpool!" -- That's no regular circular current produced by opposing tides, winds and currents. That's a deadly "Whirlpool!," sucking unsuspecting ships into its cold and unyielding vortex. Burt Reynolds is the hard-bitten sea captain who tries to warn other sailors about the dangers of the "Whirlpool!" but to no avail. Dom DeLuise is his friend cast in all his movies for no discernable reason. And Fred Grandy is the quick-thinking yeoman purser whose heroic actions save a cruise ship and passengers Ricardo Montalban, Charo, Bob Uecker, Frank Whaley and Anne Bancroft.

"Hurricane!" -- Despite the warnings of a well-meaning bartender (Ted Lange), a businessman (Kevin Nealon) visiting New Orleans tries to drink the deadliest cocktail ever assembled -- a "Hurricane!" Robert Loggia plays the crafty military general who wants to use the concoction for evil purposes. Tori Spelling plays a Bourbon Street stripper. And Melissa Joan Hart is a freckle-faced moppet caught in the crossfire.

"Monsoon!" -- When Christina Applegate signed up for a trip at a tropical resort, she didn't count on sheer terror and havoc in the form of a "Monsoon!" Bob Denver plays the hard-bitten recreation director who leads a ragtag group of disparate people (George Clooney, Jane Seymour, Willie Tyler and Lester) to safety in spite of the dangerous actions of the resort's hard-headed chief financial officer (Howie Mandel).

"Tropical Depression!" -- The weathermen downgraded the storm, thinking that danger had passed. But they were wrong -- dead wrong! "Tropical Depression!" will unleash steady rain, falling barometric pressure and sheer terror on a group of disparate people including Joe Piscopo, Tyra Banks, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Martin Sheen and John Lithgow as "The Admiral."

"Heat Wave!" -- Someone has moved the Earth far too close to the sun, and the result is total mayhem! Fred Willard and Sarah Jessica Parker are two strangers in a deadly race against time to stop Planet Earth from bursting into flames. Gordon Jump is the hard-bitten ice cream salesman who stands in their way, while Debbie Reynolds plays a lonely old spinster whose face melts off. With special appearance by Warren Beatty as Ra, the Sun God.

"Sandstorm!" -- It started out as a simple trek across the desert for a brilliant archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes), his new bride (Courteney Cox) and their lovable Arab guide (Donny Most). But it quickly turned into a descent into mayhem, terror and havoc! Audiences will thrill as Ralph, Courtney and Donny race against the billowing clouds of sand in a deadly game of cat and mouse to save a stranded moppet (Jonathan Taylor Thomas).

"Locusts!" -- Moses (Judd Hirsch) is a hard-bitten prophet having a bad day. Pharaoh (Dennis Franz) is a hard-headed ruler who won't take "yes" for an answer. Together, they're on a collision course with sheer terror when Yahweh (the voice of Jm J. Bullock) unleashes a plague of locust on their sleepy Egyptian town. With Jay Thomas as Aaron, Jean Kasem as Miriam and Ben Savage as a tousle-haired young Hebrewite who finds himself in harm's way.

"Hailstones The Size of Golfballs!" -- Those aren't your run of the mill hailstones falling on the town of Terre Haute, Indiana. Those are frozen pellets of instant death. James Brolin is a hard-bitten weatherman, struggling to regain his self-respect. Charles Durning is the wrong-headed Chief of Police who won't heed his warnings and evacuate the town until its too late. And Yasmine Bleeth is the Miss Indiana pageant contestant crushed to death by the unrelenting hailstones. No one will be seated during the heart-stopping aluminum siding scene.

"Santa Ana Wind Condition!" -- Kurt Russell is Renko, a hard-bitten cop on the edge, whose sinuses flare up when these easterly winds blow through town. Isabella Rosellini is a damsel in distress who tearfully watches fiancee Andrew Shue get crushed by a pear tree that's blown over by the fierce gusts of wind. As two lovable orphans (Mary-Kate Olsen and Emmanuel Lewis) and their Catholic nun guardian (Joan Collins) struggle to find shelter from the unforgiving wind, a gruff but lovable telephone repair man (Chuck Connors) saves the day.

"Drizzle!" -- When a light rain falls, it's lights out for Los Angeles, as motorists careen into lamp posts, children are trapped in puddles of water and hyperventilating local TV news anchors (Barbie Benton, George Gaynes) are reduced to babbling nincompoops.


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